Historic Heroines: Is she too prissy? Too unbelievable weilding that ax?


I’m trying to find heroine for my next book. The period is the 1910s, the place, small town Ohio. And it’s HARD! Everyone dressed the same, talked the same, entertained the same, at least if their papers have been saved in the town archives. To find an unusual woman in the 19teens — It’s like looking for a boyfriend:

She can’t be too tidy. They ALL wore white!

She can’t be too educated: Um, if there are any records on a woman at all in THIS day and age it’s because she was valedictorian at Oberlin.

She can’t be too famous — or her book’s already been written. Back to my point that the non famous women don’t have their diaries donated to libraries.

So, how do I find my leading lady? It ain’t easy. I’m having to twist a lot of arms. The two adorable ladies at the Granville Archives last week both had scads of women for me to consider. One was a professional piano teacher, also a librarian, the chief fundraiser in town. Didn’t I want her as my protagonist. Ummmmm. No, she’s a fait accompli.

How about the president of the traveler’s club. She never went anywhere but she had charming tea parties every week with the most accomplished ladies. Again, too upper class. I want someone with some grit, some scandal to throw around. No one was going to let my gal in the traveler’s club with the baggage I expect her to have.

So, I made my way from the archives, a humid two-room affair with exactly one computer (Internet down), one non functioning photocopier, a microfilm reader as big as my car, oh, and no A/C but with windows sealed shut, and found what had been referred to as “the haunted boarding house.”

This establishment, one Buxton Inn, almost threw me on the ground upon entry.


It had one of those doorstops at the entrance that’s a little elevated so your toe catches. After I pulled myself up to standing I had to make my way past a 4 by 8 foot glass cabinet full to bursting with ceramic cats and just east of it found a reception desk, underneath which, a house cleaner whose vacuuming at the volume of a 747. I made what noise I could above this din and in a few minutes, a lady I took for the manager came down the stairs. She said yes, this was the haunted hotel (handed me two brochures, a menu, and a postcard). She had nothing to tell me beyond “haunted” except that the current owners weren’t in, they might give word to the previous proprieter who knew some of the building’s history. Didn’t I want to buy a copy of the $5 DVD? About hauntings?

So, I bought it. Still haven’t watched it.

What might be useful, though, is a single woman who did appear in the archive material as a Buxton lodger. An Ella Spayd, spinster and milliner, who lived at the Buxton for something like 20 years. Can you imagine? Boarding at a hotel for that long? Where other folks only stayed a very short time? Having no furniture or objects of your own for 20 years. Wouldn’t that be odd? Maybe not, at that time, for a single woman hat-maker. Maybe that was normal. I don’t know hat makers. It just sounds so . . . lonely.

I will go back to the Buxton and the lovely Laura and Teresa at the Granville archives. Maybe even see a ghost. Mostly, I want to find more on my milliner. I’ll post what I do. And meanwhile, if readers know about hats circa 1910 or spinsters in small towns, drop me a line. I’m hooked!

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