Diving In with Annette Kellerman – 100 Years Ago in Bar Harbor

Annette Kellerman at Schooner Head in Bar Harbor, Maine on September 23, 1917. This photo was found in her 1924 book, Fairy Tales of the South Seas.
Annette Kellerman at Schooner Head in Bar Harbor, Maine on September 23, 1917.
This photo maybe found in her 1924 book, Fairy Tales of the South Seas.

I originally wrote this post two years ago, but since September 23, 2017, marks the hundredth anniversary of Annette Kellerman’s final movie stunt in Bar Harbor, here’s the story again!

Who was Annette Kellerman?

In her day, Annette Kellerman was well-known swimming, dancing, diving, and the creator of the one piece bathing suit. Not only that, but she was one of the highest paid stars in vaudeville and on the screen. Her movie, Neptune’s Daughter, was the first movie to earn a million dollars at the box office, and her next movie, A Daughter of the Gods, was the first movie to cost a million dollars to produce. That’s why she earned the moniker, the Million Dollar Mermaid.

Annette did all her own stunt work. She was thrown over cliffs and into pools with live crocodiles. She rode horses, dove off towers, and waterfalls. She was never a mere damsel in distress waiting to be rescued. She did the rescuing.

For the featured stunt in Queen of the Sea, engineers constructed an eighty-five-foot tower called the Tower of Knives and Swords on one end of the shore at Schooner Head and a scaffold on the other. They connected the two structures by a wire that spanned 125 feet and was 65 feet high over the bay. Despite the best efforts of the engineers, there was no way to keep that wire from swaying.

Tower of Knives and Swords - Jonathan Silent Film Collection
Tower of Knives and Swords – Jonathan Silent Film Collection

On Sunday, September 23, 1917, hundreds of spectators stood along the shoreline at Schooner Head while the U.S. Navy kept curious boaters at bay.

It was late afternoon when Annette emerged from the tower. She stepped onto the wire gripping her parasol for balance. There was no net and the first fourteen feet she crossed were over submerged rocks. The wire was at least six times higher than any wire Annette had used on stage. Slowly she walked across the wire. Her calves ached from clutching the swaying wire.

At one point, Annette hesitated and appeared to lose her balance. She steadied herself, tossed her parasol into the sea, and leapt off the wire. The wind buffeted her, but she twisted into a dive position and smoothly entered into the cold, choppy waters of Frenchman’s Bay.

Her stunt was a remarkable feat on its own and would still be considered so today. What’s even more extraordinary was that a year prior Annette was thrown from a horse, hospitalized and warned that she might never walk again. She called her recovery, the most dramatic episode of her life. It took nearly a year of grueling physical therapy to recover. According to her biographer, she devised her own therapy routines.

Here’s what the Bar Harbor Times wrote about Annette’s daily routine while filming in Bar Harbor, Maine.

The popular idea of a motion picture star is that she lives a life of ease. This is not true in Miss Kellerman’s case. She is up ever morning at 6 o’clock and puts in a day that exhausts the trained athletes of her company. After her bath and massage she puts in an hour or two rehearsing ballet dancing and following this there is half an hour of gymnastic exercises. She has breakfast about 9 o’clock and walks to the location where the picture is being made. After a strenuous day of picture making she leaves about 5 o’clock in the afternoon when the light fails for photographer work, and starts for a ten or twelve mile walk over the mountain paths of Mt. Desert. On this jaunt she is usually accompanied by three athletes who have been selected as her personal body guard when she is working in the icy waters of the ocean. These men are regarded by Miss Kellermann as the most expert swimmers in the United States. They come from New Rochelle, New-York, and are William Noel, Eddie Carroll and “Toots” Brady- all as hard as nails and men who are in constant training. Miss Kellerman can outlast any one of these three. After the ten or twelve mile “hike,” the men are practically all in, while Miss Kellermann is as fresh as when she started. She sets a pace in excess of five miles an hour and keeps it up. After returning from the walk Miss Kellermann has a bath and rub down and except on the evenings when she gives a dance to members of her company is in bed at 8.30 o’clock. In addition to these strenuous activities during the day she finds time to practice wire walking and other activities expected of her for “Queen of the Sea.” (Bar Harbor Times, September 1, 1917)

Annette Kellerman was thirty years old when she graced Bar Harbor and made Queen of the Sea.

Sadly there are no known copies of this movie. Like so many movies of her day, these early movies were filmed on nitrocellulose, which is highly flammable and deteriorates into dry powder or a black mass of goo. Movie studios threw out many old movies. Film historians estimate 90 percent of all silent movies are lost. Only Annette Kellerman’s 1924 Venus of the South Seas remains intact.

Annette Kellerman as Merilla in Queen on the Sea
Annette Kellerman as Merilla in Queen on the Sea courtesy of the Jonathan Silent Film Collection

Books to Explore:

For more on the amazing Annette Kellerman read:

For Children: Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular Story of Annette Kellerman who Swam her Way to Fame, Fortune and Swimsuit Beauty by Shana Corey

For Adults: The Original Million Dollar Mermaid: the Annette Kellerman Story by Emily Gibson

 

 

Websites/Blogs to Navigate:

Online photos from the the Queen of the Sea can be found at the Jonathan Silent Film Collection at Chapman University.

For information on Annette Kellerman’s pioneering role in the silent film industry see How Women Worked in the US Silent Film Industry.

To discover the beauty of Mt. Desert Island combined with the Queen of the Sea read The Coast Watch Project: Art and Science at the Edges of Mt. Desert Island, Maine.

Acknowledgements:

I am grateful to Deborah Dyer of the Bar Harbor Historical Society, Claudia Horn Coordinator, Frank Mt. Pleasant Library of Special Collections and Archives and Karin Carison of Northeast Historic Film for helping me piece together this story.

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WWI Wartime Sweets

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, WWI Posters, [LC-USZC4-9740]

 When America entered WWI, food was as important as bullets. Feeding American Expeditionary Forces and our allies required sacrifices of nearly every household. Americans were asked to cut their wheat consumption by at least a half, conserve meat, fats, and sugar.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA LC-USZC4-10218

If you were a child back then, it meant no wheat cereal, macaroni, cookies, pastries, cakes, or doughnuts. Luckily homemakers were resourceful and clever.  Cornmeal, barley and rice flour were substituted in pie crusts and cakes. Molasses, corn syrup, maple syrup, maple sugar were used to sweeten food instead of granulated sugar.

Across the country, newspapers ran features filled with recipes submitted by readers that used less wheat or sugar.

Here are a few recipes from newspapers out of Boston and Indianapolis that might have appealed to a kid’s sweet tooth.

WAR TIME CANDY—One small boiled potato; 1 tablespoon butter; 1 pound of maple sugar; 1/4 pound nut meats. Mash potato and butter and mix well. Shave maple sugar as fine as possible then work into the potato until mixture is like fondant. Mould into shape and place nuts on top. (The Attica Daily Tribune May 1, 1918)

MOLASSES NUT DROP COOKIES —Cream 1-3 cup of shortening; beat into it 1/2 cup of Karo syrup, 1/2 cup of chopped nut meats, 1 egg beaten light and 2/3 cup of molasses. Sift together 1 1/4 cups each of wheat and rye flour; 1/2 teaspoon each of salt, soda and cinnamon and teaspoon each of ginger and baking powder. Drop by teaspoon fulls on greased tins. Bake in a moderate oven. (The Attica Daily Tribune May 1, 1918)

BARLEY GINGERSNAPS

One cup molasses heated, add 1/2 cup melted fat, 1 teaspoon salt, one teaspoon soda, 1 heaping teaspoon ginger, barley flour to make stiff enough to roll thin, cut and bake in not too hot oven. (The Boston Sunday Globe in April 21, 1918)

CHOCOLATE CORNSTARCH PUDDING

Scant 2 1/2 tablespoons of cornstarch, 1 pint milk, 1 square chocolate, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon 1/8 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla. Scald milk to which chocolate has been added, Dissolve cornstarch in a little cold milk, and add slowly to hot milk.  Add sugar to which salt and cinnamon have been mixed. Cook ten minutes, stirring often. Pour into individual molds and serve cold with thin cream or whipped cream. (The Boston Sunday Globe in April 21, 1918)

To be honest, I haven’t tried any of these recipes. I don’t know what a “moderate” or “not too hot” oven means for today’s modern oven. I’ve never scaled milk either. However, if you’d like to learn more, check out War Fare, A Culinary Exploration of World War 1, an online exhibit of The National World War 1 Museum and Memorial in  Kansas City.

Pardon the Interruption: Stuck in Surveys

Feedback

Two months ago I moved four states away. If you’ve ever moved, you might understand how that would put  posting on the back burner. Truth is I’ve been buried under a deluge of feedback, surveys, and reviews I am asked to provide. From teeth cleaning to oil changes everyone wants my input.

“Did we meet your expectations?”

“We’d welcome your feedback.”

“Help us make our company even better.”

“Let us know how we are doing.”

“How’s our packaging?”

Even the most mundane shopping seems to warrant a survey. Department store cashiers hand us receipts and circle online web addresses for our feedback. Websites request quick surveys before we can continue reading their site or add an item to our shopping cart.

shutterstock_averageOffers of a chance to win a gift card entice us to take a store survey. Some salesmen or service providers play the guilt card. If I don’t rate their service highly, they might lose their promotion or worse yet, their job. I’d feel horrible if that ever happened.

shutterstock_406715191I realize consumer research is valuable, and I routinely check reviews before making a purchase or finding a new dentist.

As a writer, I could argue that being able to write a tightly worded commentary is also a great writing exercise. It is also another excuse for procrastination. Unfortunately, time is a finite commodity. I am so woefully behind in all the requests for feedback that I can barely see my computer screen under all the sticky note reminders to provide feedback.

shutterstock_243596590

I’ll be back to posting when I finish expressing my opinion on my new paint brush and cable service.

The Music Behind Your Story

My first record player.
My first record player.

We all have a soundtrack or playlist running in throughout the background in our lives. Playlists abound for running, relaxing, romancing, and writing. I have one created for swimming laps on a waterproof iPod. YA Novelist and one of Hamline University’s notable MFA professors, Swati Avasthi, uses a playlist to set the mood for writing. She advises her MFA students to create a playlist as part of their process.

Music defines us, and our times. Consider the music that influences the characters we write about? Does they prefer love songs or protest songs? Song that relate stories, or amuse? Perhaps they prefer music without lyrics, classical or instrumental? What music makes a character want to dance or consoles them? Do they listen to live music, an MP3 player, a gramophone, a Wurlitzer jukebox or record player where the needle skips? Is their grandmother singing them a song from her youth?

For my WWI novel, I researched music that came out of “Tin Pan Alley” or the trenches. I scanned old sheet music and books. The best online source for recorded music from this era from is the Library of Congress’s National Jukebox. Searchable by artist, genre, and ethnicity there are over 10,000 acoustical recording from 1901 to 1925. Some of the music from that era contains slur, slogans, and stereotypes we’d find abhorrent today. These songs reflect the racial attitudes of the day and illustrate the tremendous hurdle our fellow citizens had to overcome to gain respect and equality.

Sheet Music from WWI
Sheet Music from WWI

Music from that era echoes differing sentiments about the war from “I Didn’t Raise My Son to Be a Soldier” to “Over There.” There are songs about children missing their daddies like “Just a Baby’s Song at Twilight” and “Hello Central, Give Me No Man’s Land” and songs lamenting racial segregation in the army like “Diggin.” No one song defines the era.

Music adds a unique background to your novel. Even if you don’t write about your characters favorite songs explicitly or listen to them on your playlist, knowing the music of a particular era informs your character, and setting.

The Books He Took

movingFinished with college and eager to start his new career, my son has moved halfway across the country.

Besides his laptop, tablet, multiple gaming platforms, video games, board games, clothes, textbooks, and camping gear, he took boxes of his favorite books–as well as a bookcase to hold them all.

So at this is the time of year, when lists of “Best Books”are published everywhere, I thought I’d share some of my son’s best books—the books he took. They span the years from first grade to adult.

The Books He Took

  1. Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. (He read this over and over again from first grade on.)
  2. The Secret Knowledge of Grownups and The Secret Knowledge of Grownups: The Second File by the late Caldecott Winner, David Wisniewski. (Funny for kids and adults.)
  3. Dinotopia by James Gurney
  4. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. (For months after reading this book my son wanted to go off to live alone in the woods.)
  5. A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park. (Thanks to his fourth grade teacher who required book reports, this turned out to be a keeper.)
  6. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (Borrowed from his sister and never returned.)
  7. Holes by Louis Sachar
  8. The Eye, the Ear, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer
  9. The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
  10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows by J.K. Rowling
  11. Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
  12. Eragon, Eldest, and Brisingr by Christopher Paolini
  13. The Big Over Easy and The Fourth Bear by Jasper Fforde
  14. World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks
  15. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller
  16. The Far Side by Gary Larson
  17. The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide by Douglas Adams
  18. Under the Dome by Stephen King
  19. The Heritage of Shannara series by Terry Brooks
  20. Numerous books by his all time favorite author, the late Terry Pratchett

My son has an e-reader and plenty of electronic gadgets at his disposal for reading. But there is nothing like the comfort of a physical book. Electronic devices morph and change rapidly. The look of the text changes. When you open a physical book, the words are in the same place on the same page where you left them several months or several years ago. Tactile senses awaken memory and a sense of well-being  thumbing through the pages of a well-worn book.

It’ll feel like coming home.

Creating Toys Based on Your Picture Book Characters

Toys Made for Your CharactersDear Children’s Book Writers,

Ever wonder what it would take to have a toy made after one of your picture book characters?  Then check out this wonderful article,  How to Get a Soft Toy Designed and Manufactured by writer and sewing pattern designer, Abby Glassenberg. Abby recently interviewed Karen Laude, a professional toy designer, about the process of turning your character into a soft toy.

By the way, Karen, is the owner of Simon, the talented equine painter and entertainer.  Karen has created toys for Simon, as well.

In Search of Misty, Chincoteague’s Famous Pony

King of the Wind,Misty of Chincoteague, Justin Morgan Had a Horse
King of the Wind, Misty of Chincoteague, Justin Morgan Had a Horse

One of my favorite childhood books was Marguerite Henry’s Newbury Honor Book, Misty of Chincoteague. Earlier this month, I had the good fortune to see the wild ponies Henry made famous. I wasn’t able to interview these ponies as I did Simon, the painting pony. The Chincoteague ponies are wild after all. Many of them are “painted ponies,” but they don’t paint like Simon.

These ponies are technically a “managed” herd residing on Assateague Island. In July, they are they rounded up by the “saltwater cowboys” during the annual Pony Penning Days immortalized by Marguerite Henry’s novel.

Wild Ponies of Chincoteague taken September 6. 2015

At other times of the year, the ponies can be seen at lookouts throughout the beautiful Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. An even better way to see them is by boat. (We used Daisey’s Island Cruises.) With the help of a terrific guidebook, The Field Guide to the Chincoteague Wild Ponies by Kelly Lidard, I was able to identify a few of the ponies. The painted ponies are much easier to recognize from a distance than the bays, buckskins, chestnuts, and palominos.

Misty's Hoof print outside the Island Theater on Main Street in Chincoteague
Misty’s Hoof print outside the Island Theater on Main Street in Chincoteague

The real Misty was quite a celebrity in her day. She made public appearances at schools and libraries all over the country and even attended an American Library Association meeting. (Click link to read all about it and view photos!) A movie was made from the book in 1961, and when the movie premiered at the local  Island Theater, Misty left her hoof prints in the cement!

When a storm in 1962 pummeled the Eastern Shore ripping up houses and claiming half the herd of wild ponies on Assateague, it appeared the annual Pony Penning Day would be a casualty as well. Misty came to the rescue. She and her foal, Stormy, went on tour making personal appearances at theaters holding benefits for the Chincoteague community.

Miss Molly Inn
Miss Molly Inn

Today Main Street in Chincoteague is full of Misty memorabilia. From the Miss Molly’s Inn where Marguerite Henry stayed to Misty’s hoof prints pressed into the cement sidewalk outside the Island Theater, the spirit of Misty is everywhere. I found a $400 signed first edition of Misty of Chincoteague was at Sundial Books on Main Street. It’s still in the glass case with other rare books if you care to have a look.

Misty at the Chincoteague Museum
Misty at the Chincoteague Museum

More memorabilia and the taxidermied remains of the real Misty and Stormy reside at the Museum of Chincoteague. This attraction might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and according to A Pictorial Life Story of Misty, it wasn’t back in 1972 when Misty died at the grand old age of 26. Some people approved and some didn’t. Personally, I liked the statue of Misty on Main Street better than the stuffed Misty, but the museum is well worth the trip! So many interesting artifacts!

Misty Statue on Main Street
Misty Statue on Main Street

So what is it about Misty of Chincoteague or any children’s book that hold a place in our hearts decades after we read it? The characters? The plot? The love of horses?

Original book cover
Original book cover

What enchants young readers today? It’s been sixty years since Misty of Chincoteague was published, and it is still selling well enough to be on the shelves of independent bookstores, Barnes and Noble and featured on Internet retailers like Amazon.

I reread Misty with the eye of a writer and found what appealed to me then and now. Here’s my list.

 

 

  1. Agency: Both Paul and his sister, Maureen, have quite a bit of freedom to think and act upon their desire to own Phantom and her foal, Misty. Their parents are in China, and the children live with their grandparents who encourage them to go for their dreams. As Maureen explains early on in the story, “grandparents aren’t as strict as parents.” No helicopter parents here! Writers always need a way to get adults out of the way, so their young protagonists act with their own agency.
  2. Teamwork: The high-spirited siblings labor together to raise money for Phantom and Misty. Together they tame and train Phantom. Both are equally capable of riding Phantom in the annual pony races. Paul enters the race because of a wishbone, and not because his sister isn’t as good a rider.
  3. Love of Horses: The bond between horses and humans is an enduring theme.
    The true story of Misty and her life as a celebrity
    The true story of Misty and her life as a celebrity

    Henry wrote numerous books about horses and animals. Two were Newbury Honor books and one won the Newbury. The real life pony, Misty inspired Misty of Chincoteague. As Henry wrote in her book, A Pictorial Life Story of Misty, it was love at first sight for Misty. “The first time I really saw Misty, my heart bumped up into my throat until I thought I’d choke. It was a moment to laugh and cry and pray over, especially if all your childhood you’d wanted a pony and couldn’t have one on account of your rheumatic fever.” Henry’s passion for horses and animals comes out in all her books.

  4. Illustrations: When I was young, some teachers frowned on reading books with pictures past a certain age. So I loved having a book with chapters and illustrations by the talented Wesley Dennis. Even today, I am charmed by the illustration of young Maureen Beebe jumping over a hurdle bareback with bare feet in a dress. Oh, what freedom!

Marguerite Henry wrote fifty-nine books, two were Newbury Honor books, and one won the Newbury. Misty of Chincoteague and Stormy, Misty’s Foal were my favorites. Today, I adore A Pictorial Life Story of Misty. It’s hard to find, but well worth reading about the life of Misty, Marguerite Henry, and the impact of her books.

The spirit of Misty is alive and well in Chincoteague!

Interviewing Simon, an Equine Artist and Entertainer

Simon - A Painting pony
Simon Laude

There are plenty of resources online and in print for how to prepare and conduct an interview. But what if your subject is a horse?

Last September I interviewed a Haflinger Cross pony named Simon. He’s not just any old horse. He’s a well-known known abstract painter in Upton, Massachusetts. I prepared for Simon’s interview in the same manner as I did with people.

First I did some background reading. It is always good to do a little research before an interview. I read a great book called, How to Speak Horse: A Horse-Crazy Kid’s Guide to Reading Body Language and Talking Back written by Andrea and Marcus Eschbach. Since I don’t speak “horse,” I thought this book was especially useful.

Simon Actively Listening
Simon Actively Listening

While I’ve done interviews over the phone and via email, I recommend interviewing a pony in person. You always want to look your subject in the eye and a horse wants to look you in the eye. And unless your subject is like Mr. Ed, the talking horse from the old television sitcom, your conversation will be one-sided.

Simon ponders my questions.
Simon ponders my questions.

 

Simon was well prepared for “yes” or “no” answers. He’s been trained well to shake his head “yes” and “no.” But a good interviewer asks questions that demand answers beyond a simple “yes” or “no”. So when I asked Simon he found his inspiration, he considered his answer carefully.

Simon painting one of his masterpieces.
Simon in action.

Simon was too modest to tell me, but his owner, artist and toy designer, Karen Laude revealed that he was Artist of the Month at the Upton Library in February 2014. In fact, Simon is a huge supporter of the library. He donated one of his paintings to help the library buy a new circulation desk.

Simon donated one of his paintings to the Wild Hearts Horses for Heroes Charity Benefit, a therapy program for veterans and active-duty soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Simon regularly donates part of the proceeds to the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals at Nevins Farm to help horses in need.

So is he motivated by altruism? Well, not entirely. He is truly inspired by peppermint cookies. He’ll do anything for treats–cookies, carrots, and apples. Simon’s paintings have a food theme–like “Apples in the Fall.”

By the way, his preferred medium is water-soluble, non-toxic tempera paint.

Simon is more than a one-trick pony. He plays basketball, soccer, and the maracas. He enjoys versatility competitions at his home, Spring Willow Farm.

DSC_0085
Simon smiling

He is also extremely personable. Simon shakes hands, wiggles his lower lip to talk, smiles and gives hugs. A true gentleman, Simon pushes open the gate for Karen, picks up his lead and give it to her, stands quietly, and lifts his foot up when asked.

I had a wonderful afternoon with Simon and Karen. Visiting in person, I was able to get a real feel for Simon and his world. It was so much better than an email or phone interview. I met a few of Simon’s friends, too, like the little burro who lives next door and Max, a retired rodeo mule. Thanks to Simon and Karen, I now have a full set of characters for a brand new story.

Simon, the pony holding a sign
Thanks for stopping by!

 

 

 

Water Safety – Mae West or Annette Kellerman?

Summer’s in full swing, and it’s time to be out on the water with a Coast Guard approved personal flotation device. That’s a mouthful to say so a personal flotation device is nicknamed PFD for short. PFDs (or life-preservers) have had other nicknames throughout the years.

A3WMG1 MAE WEST - US actress 1892 to 1980
A3WMG1 MAE WEST – US actress 1892 to 1980

 

In World War II, PFDs were nicknamed a Mae West after the movie star famous for her sexy image. To this day, sailors still refer to personal flotation devices as Mae West.

 

 

Annette Kellerman

 

Back in the First World War, PFDs were nicknamed after another movie star, Annette Kellerman, the Million Dollar Mermaid. Known for her swimming, she was considered to be the “perfect woman” with measurements equal to Venus de Milo. (See my previous post for more on Annette Kellerman.)

Here’s a snippet from Private Lawrence Henry Foster’s letter to a friend from aboard the USS Leviathan in 1918, “We have these nifty little life-preservers [sic] that go on like a chest protector. We was told that if the ship went down, to keep cool, and take one blanket with us, and take an Annie Kellerman off the stoin.” (From Into the Danger Zone: Sea Crossings of the First World War by Tad Fitch and Michael Poirer)

So which do you prefer? PFD, Annie Kellerman or Mae West?

Given her athleticism, I’d call it an “Annie Kellerman.”