Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke and the “Dare Stones”

 The origins of one of the America’s oldest unsolved mysteries can be traced to August 1587, when a group of about 115 English settlers arrived on Roanoke Island, off the coast of what is now North Carolina. Later that year, it was decided that John White, governor of the new colony, would sail back to England in order to gather a fresh load of supplies. But just as he arrived, a major naval war broke out between England and Spain, and Queen Elizabeth I called on every available ship to confront the mighty Spanish Armada. In August 1590, White finally returned to Roanoke, where he had left his wife and daughter, his infant granddaughter (Virginia Dare, the first English child born in the Americas) and the other settlers three long years before. He found no trace of the colony or its inhabitants, and few clues to what might have happened, apart from a single word—“Croat”—carved into a wooden post.
The “Dare Stones

In 1937, a twenty-one-pound quartz stone was found in a swamp 60 miles west of Roanoke. On one side was a cross and the instruction “Ananias Dare & Virginia went hence Unto Heaven 1591.” On the other were carvings that, when deciphered by faculty at Emory University, were a message from Eleanor Dare to her father, John White, that the colony had fled inland after an Indian attack.
The story told by the stones matched some of the details of Strachey’s account, and a number of academics believed them. During the next three years, nearly forty more stones were found in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. Together, they told a story of the colonists’ journey through the southeast, ending in the death of Eleanor Dare in 1599.
The timing of the discovery, exactly 350 years after the English settlement of Roanoke, made the “Virginia Dare Stones” a perfect story, and the media jumped on it. In 1941, though, an article in The Saturday Evening Post revealed the “discoverers” of the stones to have staged an elaborate hoax.  The stones were quickly forgotten by most people, although there are others that state that the article in the Post was biased for “tourist” reasons. There are many scholars that still believe the first stone found to be authentic. But the other forty stones, conveniently “found” after the fact, are definitely suspect and most likely a hoax.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Mystery of "Nancy Drew" and the Author that Never Was

 The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Bobbsey Twins, and Tom Swift were all the product of one man, Edward Stratemeyer, a New Jersey author who wrote more than 1,300 books and eventually founded a syndicate of ghostwriters who pounded out juvenile mysteries based on his instructions. Thus book syndication was born. They were referred to as “book factories” and were extremely profitable.
Stratemeyer conceived the syndicate when his Rover Boys series proved so popular that he could not keep up with the demand for more books. He corralled a stable of hungry young writers, and in 1910 they were producing 10 new series annually. Each writer earned $50 to $250 for a manuscript he could produce in a month, working with characters and plot devised by Stratemeyer. He would review each completed manuscript for consistency and publish it under a pseudonym that he owned — Franklin W. Dixon, Carolyn Keene, Laura Lee Hope, Victor Appleton. Each book in a series mentioned the thrilling earlier volumes and foreshadowed the next book.

The formula worked so well that when Stratemeyer died in 1930 his daughter continued the business; when she died in 1982 the syndicate was selling more than 2 million books a year.

This sounds cynical, but it worked because Stratemeyer had a sympathetic understanding of what young readers wanted. “The trouble is that very few adults get next to the heart of a boy when choosing something for him to read,” Stratemeyer wrote to a publisher in 1901. “A wide awake lad has no patience with that which is namby-pamby, or with that which he puts down as a ‘study book’ in disguise. He demands real flesh and blood heroes who do something.”

The Restless Ghost

The pale apparition, accompanied by the music of Chopin, appeared frequently in the mansion. Her appearance at Heale House had always been a mystery until the discovery of a long-lost painting solved the ordeal.
Mr. Smith’s family had seen the apparition many times at the house near Bideford, Devon, before he was approached by the owner of a local junk shop who asked him, “Are you the master of Heales?” She told him that she had something that should be returned to its rightful home and showed him a painting. The face in the painting was eerily familiar to Mr. Smith and he quickly realized that it was the same woman who had been haunting their home.
Smith said her ghost “would walk along the corridors and in the bedrooms, usually around one o’clock in the morning. She was usually wreathed in a blue haze and just drifted around - you couldn’t see her legs. Sometimes she would even arrive at the bottom of my bed in the middle of the night. I thought there must be some kind of scientific explanation, but other people who visited the house were terrified and they now believe she’s been put to rest because she got her painting back.”
Smith was so fascinated he decided to investigate the history of the painting and uncovered a sad story behind the music loving ghost. He identified the woman as a Mrs. Bell, the wife of an Argentine beef rancher and one of the fifteen bedroom mansion’s previous occupants. She had been bankrupted and forced to sell all of her possessions, including her beloved portrait, shortly before her death in the early 1900’s.
When he took the painting of Mrs. Bell home and hung it in the parlor room, her ghostly appearances suddenly stopped. Smith even confessed that the family tried to communicate with her spirit using a Ouija board on several occasions, but they had no luck reaching her. Apparently, all her ghost wanted was to be recognized as a resident of the house. She is at peace…for now.