Nancy's Notes From Florida

Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Posts Tagged ‘Florida history’

Shipwrecks and Suspense

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on July 19, 2017

Research Insights – Shipwrecks and Suspense

I like adding bits of history into my mysteries. In Facials Can Be Fatal, I mined our Florida past concerning shipwrecks. Did you know the waters off Florida teem with sunken vessels? Spanish galleon ships alone may account for up to forty wrecks off our coast. Millions of dollars in silver, gold, and jewels lay at the bottom of the sea, much of it undiscovered. But Spanish treasure ships are not the only ones sunken off our shores. Pirate vessels, slave ships, merchant transports, and Civil War ships plied these waters, too. Storms, shallow water, coral reefs, and pirates were responsible for many of the wrecks.

Shipwreck

Buried treasure has long been exploited in stories, and my book is no exception. An old family journal is recovered that hints at a nefarious past for a couple of characters. How does this relate to the present? That’s the key that my hairstylist sleuth must uncover. Marla and her husband, Detective Dalton Vail, travel to Key West to learn more about Florida’s history from a reporter who has an interest in Dalton’s latest case. The victim is society matron Valerie Harper, who expired in the middle of a facial at Marla’s day spa.

Treasure Chest Reveals A Luminous Secret  Notebook

Here’s how the conversation goes with the reporter:

“The waters around Florida have seen ships flounder for decades, starting with Native Americans who used dugout canoes to travel up and down the coast. As civilization increased, ships and boats became vital to our development. Waterways were the most efficient means to transport people and cargo. Florida became a hub for maritime trade routes, but our waters can be treacherous. Hence we have a large number of shipwrecks offshore.”

“What about treasure ships from Spanish fleets?” Marla asked, shifting in her seat.

“My estimate is that maybe thirty to forty Spanish ships, dating from the 1500s to the late 1600s, lay at the sea bottom. The Spaniards would pick up gold, silver, jewels, and rare spices from the Caribbean islands and the South and Central Americas. Sometimes, they’d stop at a mint in Mexico before grouping together to return home. Or they’d gather in Havana and leave from there under convoy.”

“But not all of them made it.”

“That’s right. They’d get grounded on our reefs or floundered during hurricanes. For example, the Tierra Firme fleet set sail in 1622 from South America. Twenty-eight ships headed home to Spain. They ran into a fierce storm off the Florida Keys. Both the Nuestra Señora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita were lost. In 1985, Mel Fisher discovered the Atocha’s resting place and its treasure.”

“That’s amazing,” Marla said. “Those ships must have been heavy with all the gold coins, silver bars, and jewels aboard. No wonder they sank. Who owns the salvage rights to a sunken ship?”

“According to the Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1988, any historic find becomes the property of its respective state.”

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To accomplish my due diligence, I paid a visit to the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, a fascinating attraction in Key West. Here you can see many of the relics recovered from the Atocha. Read about my experience and see my photos HERE. Shipwrecks and buried treasure will always provide fodder for stories.

Do you like a bit of history mixed in with your mystery? Does it enhance the story for you?

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For more details on Facials Can Be Fatal, CLICK HERE.

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Posted in Book Excerpt, Excerpt, Florida Musings, Research | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Crane Point Museum and Nature Center

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 26, 2017

Located on Marathon in the Florida Keys, this 63-acre hidden oasis has nature trails, a tram ride, historical houses, and a nature museum hidden away near the highway at mile marker 50. We bypassed the orientation film to stroll down the tree-lined paths in a mile-and-a-half loop. If you’re not a walker, you can take the tram instead. We wanted to get in our exercise before the rain clouds moved in.

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We reached The Point at the end, where we came across a lovely water view of Florida Bay. Crane House is here, built for Francis and Mary Crane in 1954.

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We didn’t stop to view the Wild Bird Center that rehabilitates rescue birds as we have something similar at Flamingo Gardens in Davie. The Adderley House was the next attraction, built in the early 1900s for Bahamian immigrant, George Adderley. The white structure was made from tabby, a concrete-like mixture of sand, lime, seashells, and water. We peeked inside the bedrooms, the dining area, and the separate kitchen.

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From here, we headed back on the trail past the Butterfly Meadow and the Cracker House with exhibits and on to the gift shop and museum to cool down. The museum portion houses exhibits on native culture and marine life.

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Visit http://www.cranepoint.net for more information.

See all my Florida Keys Photos Here. Click on Photos and then Albums.

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Posted in Florida Musings, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

Pirates – Fact or Fiction?

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 7, 2017

Research Notes: Pirates – Fact or Fiction?

Pirates have always fascinated readers. Witness the myriad romance novels wherein the hero, or even the heroine, is a pirate. How about the swashbuckling movies featuring pirate heroes? Yet for all their romantic image, these scourges of the high seas reaped death and destruction in their wake. We tend to overlook the reality and cling to the fictional counterpart.

Pirate With A Treasure Of Gold Behind A Lot Of Candles

Florida has a romanticized pirate named José Gaspar. Tampa has a Gasparilla Pirate Fest every year to celebrate this renowned character. So how does this apply to Facials Can Be Fatal, my latest Bad Hair Day Mystery featuring South Florida hairstylist Marla Vail?

GasparillaParade

Marla uncovers an old family journal belonging to a lady who died while getting a facial at her day spa. This journal tells about a pirate and his buried treasure. Here is a conversation Marla and her husband, Detective Dalton Vail, have with a journalist in Key West. My fictionalized pirate is based on the Gasparilla legend. The reporter is speaking.

“I recalled the story of the infamous brigand known as Red Ted. Born Thaddeus Montoya, he was a nobleman’s son from Spain whose exploits with the ladies caused his hasty departure aboard a naval vessel. Because he could read and write, he rose to officer’s status and got himself appointed as a liaison to the court. But his old habits died hard, and he once again found himself fleeing Spanish authorities. He commandeered a ship and set sail, forcing the crew to either join him or be hanged. His nickname came from his fondness for bloodshed.

“Wanting to get even with Spain, he set out for the next decade to raid helpless merchant ships. But his inflated ego eventually caused his demise. Before his last voyage, Red Ted was getting set to retire. He’d loaded his goods onto a mule train and told his second in command to take it to Key West, where he planned to hole up in his later years. Then a sighting came for one more merchant ship that appeared to be unarmed. He couldn’t resist this last kill and set sail. The vessel turned out to be a warship hiding under a merchant flag, and Red Ted shot himself rather than be captured.”

“What happened to his mule train?” Marla asked.

“They were attacked by Indians on the route south. The natives made off with horses and mules and left them with fewer pack animals. They had to lighten their load and so buried some of the chests. They didn’t have much better luck as they headed into swampland and were beset by storms as well as bandits. With dwindling resources, they buried more loads along the way.”

How do these past events relate to the present? Facials Can Be Fatal has real journal entries from my father’s 1935 trip to Florida. He discovered a buried chest along the wilds of Fort Lauderdale beach. What was in this chest? In my fictional tale, it’s something quite different than what my father found. Read more in Facials Can Be Fatal.

What’s your favorite pirate movie?

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FacialsCanBeFatalFront

Facials Can Be Fatal (Bad Hair Day Mystery #13)

Salon owner Marla Vail’s new day spa hits a snag when a client dies during a facial. To salvage her reputation, Marla jumps on the trail of the killer. Soon she’s unraveling clues involving historic buildings, family journals, pirates, and shipwrecks off the Florida coast. The victim may have stumbled onto secrets others would kill to keep.

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Model Train Exhibit

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 24, 2017

My brother has exhibited model trains ever since I can remember. So when he came to visit and we noticed a Transportation Exhibit at the Plantation Historical Museum, it became imperative for us to make a trip there. The exhibit included displays by the Florida Citrus Model Train Society. Below is a replica of an early 1900’s train depot.

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The details in these dioramas were incredible. We watched the model trains go around the tracks, complete with sound effects, but what fascinated me more were the little buildings and the attention to detail.

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One display talked about train bandits and how the Pinkerton Detective Agency foiled these fearsome thieves and protected railroad shipments. Printed materials were available, such as brochures on the myths and realities of safety around train tracks and a brochure about train crossing warning signs. A bookmark I’d picked up says “Never walk or ride around highway-rail crossing gates!” and “Look, Listen and Live!” Trains can’t stop quickly, but you can. About every three hours, a person or vehicle is hit by a train. For more information on safety factors, go to Operation Lifesaver.

I’ve been on the Auto Train between Sanford, FL and Lorton, VA. I took a commuter train from New York to Washington D.C. Otherwise, after graduation from high school, a friend and I bought Eurail Passes and spent six weeks exploring Europe. We rode the trains around and stayed in cheap places where we could rent a room. I kept a journal, one of many travel journals still in my collection. Maybe I’ll share those adventures with you someday if you’re interested. A trip like that one would be impossible today. Meanwhile, would you call yourself a train enthusiast? What trains have you ridden?

 

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Posted in Florida Musings, Research, That's Life, Travel | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Pirates and Pirating

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 9, 2016

We have seafaring pirates, and we have book pirates. Let’s talk about the former type first.

Last weekend, my husband and I went to an exhibit at Plantation Historical Museum about Florida pirates. The seas off the coast of Florida have seen many shipwrecks along with pirates who’ve taken advantage of our broad coastline. I’ve a special fascination for these highwaymen of the seas as they play a role in Facials Can Be Fatal, my next full-length Bad Hair Day Mystery. This story delves into Florida history as described in my post below, Florida Escape.

After a grand introduction at the museum, the action went outside for a sword fight. Indoors were a variety of exhibits including these clever dioramas. I especially liked reading about the women pirates. Many of them disguised themselves as men and became quite famous. Today we have our modern version of seafaring pirates who steal boats instead of cargo, and they can be just as scary.

 

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From Boats to Books

Then we have pirates who steal books and offer them free to readers. I hope every download comes with hidden malware. Not a day goes by that I don’t get a notice one of my books is available online for free. I don’t bother to send takedown notices, because for every site I would shut down, two more will pop up. It’s an unstoppable plague. What readers need to know is how this hurts us. I’m not talking about my wonderful, loyal fans who follow my work. This doesn’t apply to you, and I am grateful to each and every one of you. But there’s a subculture out there that we all should be aware of since it affects us adversely.

I am not getting paid for these downloads. It robs me—and other authors—of royalties. Would you ask your doctor or financial advisor for free advice? Not really. So why should you expect authors to give away their products for free? We slave over our books for months. Our dedication takes time we could be spending with our families. Then we have certain marketing expenses. And for what? So people can steal our work and give it away without regard for an author’s rights.

I can understand if you’re on a budget. My response is to tell you to go to the library. You can get plenty of books there for free, and you can even ask your librarian to order a title you want. That counts toward an author’s sales. Or subscribe to BookBub or The Fussy Librarian and get their daily newsletter of free reads that are paid promotions by authors. Many authors offer free reads on their websites or books as giveaways. You can find plenty to read within legal means.

But don’t steal an author’s work by downloading her book from a dubious site. Or pretty soon, your favorite author will determine the negative return to her investment is going to put her out of business. Free books have their place. They help us gain new readers. But not when our work is pirated without permission. What can you do about it? Don’t support these sites. Support your authors instead! And again, my heartfelt thanks go to those readers who do value and respect our work. Hugs to you all!

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Posted in Business of Writing, Research, The Writing Life | Tagged: , , | 26 Comments »

Florida Escape

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on June 7, 2016

New Release: Florida Escape

In 1935, my father and two fellow adventurers headed to South Florida hoping to discover an idyllic paradise. Instead, they found boggy wastelands, rats and mosquitoes, sticks of dynamite, black panthers, rushing rivers, and skunks.

An explorer at heart, Harry I. Heller had already spent one summer hitchhiking 12,000 miles across the United States, which he describes in his book titled Thumbs Up. Not to be daunted, he and his friends persisted in their search until they came upon an abandoned log cabin on a deserted beach. Here they recreated their fantasy of a tropical paradise.

Harry Heller_restored

Harry wrote his adventures in a short journal titled Florida Escape. I’ve edited his work and have now made it available for readers of Florida history, travel memoirs, and true-life adventure.

Note that passages from this work will appear in Facials Can Be Fatal, my next Bad Hair Day mystery from Five Star due in Feb. 2017. If you want a sneak peek at the real story behind those excerpts, you’ll find it in Florida Escape.

FLORIDA ESCAPE_eBook

Excerpt from Florida Escape

Lester and I were pretty well disgusted by the time we reached Fort Lauderdale. We had investigated a number of possibilities for a campsite, but nothing suited us. Murray was of the diehard breed and urged us to keep going. Rather than argue with him, we agreed. His persistence was not fruitless.

At a fork in the highway, we decided to take the dirt road that ran parallel to the ocean. The sight that greeted us when we had travelled a short distance brought forth cries of enthusiasm and joy. The sky blue waters of the ocean and a wide expanse of beach stretched into the far distance. In the middle of this panorama of beauty, sitting in splendid isolation, was a rugged log cabin. It seemed to have been built to order for our benefit. A few lonesome coconut trees stood romantically outlined in the reflected glory of the setting sun.

A strong odor of skunk filled the air. We turned up our noses in disgust as we approached the door that stood invitingly open.

When we entered, it was to find a scene of disorder. Rubbish littered the cement floor. Piles of empty tin cans, old newspapers, and a varied assortment of odds and ends covered every inch. The wind had blown in sand through the many holes between the logs. Where there had once been windows now were yawning gaps. Someone had attempted to close the openings with boards, which hung loosely from rusted nails. Thousands of fast-moving ants scattered at our arrival. Spider webs stretched overhead, and their disturbed occupants scurried around in great excitement.

But this sight did not discourage us. We were only interested in the knowledge that we had at last found our ideal spot. Without bothering to make inquiries regarding the place’s ownership, or to consider that we might be trespassing upon private property, we rolled up our sleeves and began to clean house.

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Pictures of the Log Cabin Below

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Posted in Book Reviews, Florida Musings, Travel | Tagged: , , , , , , | 62 Comments »

Hatsume Fair

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 21, 2011

Yesterday we drove north to Morikami Museum and Japanese Garden in Delray Beach, anticipating a pleasurable stroll around the park followed by a lunch box meal at the Cornell Café adjacent to the main building. Supposedly the museum opens at 10:00am on Sundays. We arrived at 10:30 to find police directing traffic and Festival signs emblazoned along the road. It appeared we’d come during the Hatsume Fair, a weekend event that must draw thousands. And the gates didn’t open until 11.

Annoyed that we’d have to stand around for a half hour and yet excited by the prospect of something new to do, we waited in line until the fair opened. It cost $12 per person to get in, and that included the festival tents, museum, and grounds. Unfortunately, the restaurant wasn’t serving the normal menu, we realized as we selected a fixed meal. I got teriyaki salmon and barbecued chicken with rice. We sat outdoors on the terrace overlooking the lake, a serene spot with a fabulous view.

The whole park imbues the visitor with a sense of serenity. Lakes and waterfalls, stone lanterns, rock gardens with combed gravel designs, and winding paths invite exploration. During the festival, we were allowed inside the simple one-story Japanese house which normally costs extra. We saw the sliding panel doors and various rooms. I was fascinated by the toilet and shower facilities and the kitchen. The rooms were arranged around a central courtyard, again with raked pebbles instead of grass.

All of the bushes and shrubs throughout the park are carefully shaped and pruned. It was a perfect day, breezy with low humidity, and fluffs of clouds providing momentary shade. Temperatures in the seventies didn’t allow things to get too hot. We paused by the bonsai gardens to view the turtles and large golden (Koi?) fish swimming around the murky brown waters. Have you noticed the resemblance between a turtle head and a snake? Ugh.

Booming sounds reached us from the festival field, where you could watch a thundering Taiko Drum performance or a martial arts demo. Yamato Island housed a Tea Ceremony. Food vendors offered everything from hot dogs to vegetable tempura and soba noodles. People roamed around costumed like Anime characters, while various Japanese goods could be bought at the different stands.

We left by 2:00pm, and a line of cars snaked all the way out to the main street with people waiting to get in. The crowds were incredible. We’d happened upon the festival purely by chance, yet our arrival time couldn’t have been planned better.

Nonetheless, next time we go, we’ll choose a weekday when the peaceful gardens will be truly tranquil.

Posted in Florida Musings | Tagged: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

Setting the Scene

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on March 13, 2011

Last week, I took a trip to the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach. In my WIP, my sleuth visits there to interview one of the docents who has information on the victim in the story. Claire goes on the tour with a friend and then they treat the docent to lunch in the café. Claire gets the scoop from Ann, the part-time docent who also has a business selling faux jewelry to wealthy women. I took pages of notes and lots of photos at this National Historic Landmark. Back home, I condensed this information into my story, trying to focus on the mystery rather than a history lesson. It’s not easy when the history is so fascinating.

Flagler Museum

Flagler Museum

 

 
Grand Hall

Grand Hall

Henry Morrison Flagler was one of the founding fathers of Florida real estate and a railroad magnate as well as being a founding partner in Standard Oil. He built the railroad going all the way down to Key West and erected many of the resort hotels in Florida still standing today. But what intrigued me more was his family history. He had three wives and only one surviving heir.

His first wife was Mary Harkness. They had three children: a daughter, Jennie Louise; a second child, Carrie, who died when she was three years old; and a son, Henry Harkness, nicknamed Harry. Mary’s health deteriorated after the birth of their son and she died some ten years later. In 1883, Flagler married Mary’s nurse, Ida Alice Shourds. Then tragedy ensued. His daughter Jennie died in childbirth in 1889, and the baby girl didn’t survive. Flagler’s wife, Ida Alice, became insane and was institutionalized. Flagler later divorced her after providing for her care. Then in 1901, Flagler married an old family friend, Mary Lily Kenan. He died at age 83, less than eighteen months after his Florida East Coast Railway reached Key West.

Gold trim

Gold leaf trim

 

Grand Ballroom

Grand Ballroom

Breakfast Room

Breakfast Room

Drawing Room

Drawing Room

          

Here the plot thickens. I’ll let my characters show you how the story unfolds. Characters: Claire, the amateur sleuth, her friend Grace, and Ann the docent. This is unedited material from my first draft:

 

“After Henry Flagler died, Mary Lily married Robert Worth Bingham in November of 1916. She died within the year under mysterious circumstances.”

My interest peaked. “Tell us more.” Outside, a barge drifted past on the Intracoastal.

Ann took a sip of her brewed tea. “When Flagler died at age eighty-three, he left Mary Lily a fortune worth millions. His first wife had died after an illness, and he’d divorced his second wife, who’d been the first wife’s nurse. She was declared insane and institutionalized. So Mary Lily became one of the wealthiest women in America.”

“Didn’t Henry leave any money to his son, Harry?”

“They were estranged. Henry left his son shares in Standard Oil stock. When Harry died, he was survived by three daughters. He left each one twenty thousand shares of Standard Oil stock, giving them an inheritance worth over a million dollars apiece.”

Grace’s brow folded. “So Mary Lily inherited most of Flagler’s fortune.”

“Correct.” Ann sat back while the waitress delivered a two-tiered platter, cut triangular sandwiches on the bottom and desserts on the top. “Bingham was an old family friend. He was a lawyer, newspaper publisher, and politician. He and Mary Lily signed a pre-nup before their marriage waiving any claims to each other’s fortunes.

“Upon their marriage, she presented him with a wedding gift of fifty thousand dollars. From what I understand, he gave her nothing in return. Within six weeks, her health deteriorated. She had chest pains. Her husband hired a doctor who gave her shots of morphine. Sometime before June 1917, she’d added a secret codicil to her will giving Bingham five million dollars upon her death. The following month, she was found unconscious in her tub. They treated her again with morphine. She had convulsions and died.”

“That certainly sounds suspicious.” I stuffed a cucumber and cream cheese sandwich in my mouth.

“The family thought so, too. Her brothers had a team of doctors perform a secret autopsy. Presumably they found high levels of morphine and heavy metals, like arsenic or mercury. They sued Bingham but the case was dropped. It could have been murder, or she might have died from syphilis contracted from her first husband as some people suspect.”

I gulped down a morsel. “Mary Lily didn’t have any children, did she? Who inherited the rest of her fortune?”

Ann helped herself to a tuna salad and apple sandwich. “She left Whitehall to her niece. The niece sold the estate to a group of investors, and the property was turned into a resort. Eventually the hotel fell into financial distress. Flagler’s granddaughter, Jean Flagler Matthews, bought Whitehall and formed the nonprofit corporation that runs it today.”

So tell me how you like this excerpt. Does it hold your interest? Isn’t this bit of Florida history an intriguing story?

        
Nancy at high tea

Nancy at high tea

     

Cafe

Cafe

   

Outside

Outside on the grounds

                                                                                                                       
         
Florida

Don't you wish you were here?

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