Wednesday, August 5, 2015

IWSG and the Confederate Ghosts of Johnson's Island


Happy August, all! The first Wednesday of the month means it's time for the Insecure Writer's Support Group, hosted by the Ninja Captain himself, Alex J. Cavanaugh. Click here to see this month's co-hosts and the list of participants, and add your name to the list if you'd like to join us!

Earlier in the summer I said I was going to work on two manuscripts at once in the hopes of getting my butt in gear on the writing front. Sadly all I managed to do was stall and get nowhere on two manuscripts instead of one. With the summer winding down, I'm feeling irritated with myself that I have been so unproductive, and insecure that maybe I will just never get these manuscripts completed.

But then I remembered there are still five months left in the year so I have time to make sure 2015 isn't a total wash. I went back over both stories and I still love them and want to finish them, so I'm not throwing in the towel yet. I hope by next month's meeting I'll be able to share some progress.

In other news, a few weeks ago when I was on vacation I traveled around Lake Erie and had a great time visiting some of the towns and sites there. It's only a 4 hour drive from Cincinnati so it's kind of nuts I'd never done any exploring there, but better late than never. Anyway, I actually managed to get some inspiration for one of the stories that I've been stewing over while I was there.



I visited Johnson's Island, which was the home of a Union POW camp during the Civil War. The camp was made up of 13 barracks which sat right on the shores of Lake Erie. During the winter, the icy winds and snow coming off the lake made for miserable conditions for the prisoners, to put it mildly. Over the course of the war more than 11,000 Confederates were housed at the camp.

Today all that remains of the camp is a cemetery which holds 200 graves. There is also evidence to suggest that unmarked mass graves can be found around the island outside the gates of the cemetery. As you can guess, such a place is a fertile ground for stories of ghosts and hauntings.

Source
This statue of a Confederate stands at the entrance to the cemetery and looks out over the lake. There are numerous stories of him coming down and moving around the cemetery, or just changing positions on his base. In addition, several people have reported seeing soldiers moving through the trees or hearing their disembodied voices.

The most interesting story by far to me was about a group of Italian immigrants who were hired to work at the nearby limestone quarry some years after the war. The immigrants spoke no English, yet they were heard singing Dixie, the anthem of the Confederacy. According to legend, the Italian workers heard the ghosts of the dead singing the song of their homeland and picked it up for themselves.

I sincerely doubt that the Italians learned the words to Dixie from ghosts, but it's still a fun story. And as for my own story, it includes a Civil War prison camp in Chicago and a Confederate soldier who is imprisoned there. I wouldn't have thought of it before, but now I think I might just have my ghost sing a little Dixie. :D

54 comments:

  1. I've never heard of a statue changing positions before. Very interesting.

    Don't worry about not getting as much done on your stories. It's probably just some little thing that needs to click into place for you. :-)

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  2. The Confederate prison and ghost idea sound great! Sad to think of the 11,000 men on the island though. It must have been hard for the Union to feed so many. I wonder if many died of starvation. Good luck with your writing! Keep at it and no matter if it's slow steps, it's still steps forward. :)

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  3. Sounds like you'll have some great ideas for your own stories now.
    I wonder where those Italians did hear the song?

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  4. Oh, I would so have your ghost sing Dixie! :)

    And you're right about there still being plenty of time left in the year. And we still have a whole month of summer to go! Let's get cracking! :)

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  5. Where else would the Italians have heard the song?

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  6. @Misha, thanks, I hope that's what it is.

    @Lexa, I bet they did, it had to be an awful situation in all of those camps. Thanks for the encouragement.

    @Alex, maybe it really was the ghosts. Or maybe they never really sang it LOL.

    @Madeline, I definitely will! And I will get cracking if you do LOL.

    @Karen, true enough, I just wonder if they ever really sang it. I hope they did and did learn it from ghosts since it's such a cool story!

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  7. That sounds like a really interesting trip!

    Good luck with your writing. I'll wish for you that your muse will light a fire under you and cause you to have a huge spurt of progress (and hopefully not a roasted backside. :P).

    IWSG #119 until Alex culls the list again.

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  8. Learning a song from ghosts... I love it. I'm sending virtual cheese to keep you moving (and feed the muse). Keep at it, woman!

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  9. I work on several writing projects at once, but rarely two fiction ones. I constantly work on multiple non-fic, articles for clients, that sort. That's about all I can handle so I'm impressed you tried to do both this summer.

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  10. Looking back over our stories and seeing why we love them is a good start to get back into writing. I hope you can make progress this month and meet your goals by the end of the year! :)

    Hearing ghosts singing would be quite the experience. And I bet visiting that camp helped you a lot with your WIP.

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  11. It seems we've both been involved with ghosts this summer. That's all I've been "talking" about on my blog since my ghostly visit to an Irish castle.

    Great that you're still at work on those WIPs. Keep up the good work.

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  12. I love hearing ghost stories. I like that one about the ghosts singing. Keep up the great work on those WIPs! :)

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  13. @Emaginette, I definitely do. :D

    @Melissa, LOL, knowing me I'll manage to end up with the roasted backside. :D Thanks!

    @Crystal, thanks for the cheese!!

    @Worddreams, I definitely don't think I will try it again, although maybe it will end up working out yet.

    @Chrys, it really did, it was fun and a bit eerie.

    @Lee, I love your castle stories!

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  14. If you love a story enough, you won't let it go:) Glad you are back on track for the year. We can do this!

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  15. My summer has been the same. Sigh. Here's to fall, right?

    I live three hours from Lake Erie and just started exploring the region a few years ago. It is crazy that I waited so long. Beautiful country.

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  16. @Jennifer, we can, thanks!

    @Elizabeth, yep, here's to fall. We will make it. :)

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  17. You're not allowed to throw in the towel, if you do, I'll do too and where will that leave us? We're getting to it, we are!

    So interesting about the song! Ghost stories are the best ;)

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  18. Hi Julie, I too have never heard of a statue changing its position. Gives me an idea for a story :)

    I have been very unproductive in the last few weeks :( Need to write seriously now.

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  19. @SK, well I definitely can't be responsible for you throwing in the towel so I'll suck it up and keep going. :D

    @Rachna, ooh, that's a cool that it gave you a story idea. Awesome.

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  20. What a great trip, isn't it interesting how some of the most lucrative sights for such stories are in our own backyard. I live near Gettysburg. WOW! Been there a number of times, but never with writing in mind. Lots of antique shopping. LOL
    Need to give it a new look!

    Lot's of time left in the year, you'll soon surprise yourself!

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  21. Oh your ghost HAS to sing Dixie! I love that story.

    Don't be so hard on yourself, Julie, you'll get that writing done now that you've been re-invigorated!

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  22. @Yolanda, oh, I went to Gettysburg once and it was such a fascinating place. I'd love to go again sometime. Thanks!

    @Gwen, he does LOL. I just love the story so much. :D Thanks!!

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  23. There's still time, even though the year is going by very quickly. That's really neat about the statue and ghosts singing Dixie.

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  24. "There's still five months left in the year."
    My thoughts exactly, although in a couple of months I'm sure I'll be telling myself, "There's still three months left." Sometimes, things we just have to accept that things won't always get done when we want them to.

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  25. What an interesting story about the prison camps and "Dixie"! When we were in St. George, Utah last month, I learned that they have a college and other things in the area named "Dixie" because Brigham Young brought in cotton to southern Utah as a crop. Now some people are questioning the name, which seems unfortunate.

    Good luck with both your books!

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  26. Ooo, what a great story idea. My new ghost hunting group would love to explore that cemetery.

    I was having the same troubles writing until I set a deadline with my editor.

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  27. Great post and a fascinating story. Sometimes, our travels take us in entirely new directions in our writing.

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  28. Hopefully the ghosts were good singers. I don't know if I'd be able to put up with bad singing for long enough to learn a new song. :D

    Best of luck with your two works!

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  29. Ok, but - this year isn't a total wash, no matter how much writing you get done. You LIVED, and did a lot this year, and that will fuel your writing, whenver you return to it.

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  30. "According to legend, the Italian workers heard the ghosts of the dead singing the song of their homeland and picked it up for themselves." That is such a fabulous thing to learn - your time was well spent. I do hope you work a ghost singing into your story. I love ghost stories, so I'll be interested in the progress of this tale. Have a great August.

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  31. Hi, Julie,

    Sounds like you had a great time! How cool... Very interesting about the Italian immigrants....

    You'll bet back to writing ... I know you will!

    OOOooo a prison camp HERE in Chicago... You must make a trip and visit! DO IT BEFORE WINTER sets... LOL...

    Looking forward to seeing you soon...

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  32. Good luck with your stories, Julie. Rather than try to write 2 at the same time, why not pick one--the one where the characters are yelling the loudest. :)

    Best wishes,
    Diane IWSG #95

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  33. Julie, even though I have a couple of WIPs in the works, I can only work on one at a time or my brain goes bonkers. I tried working on 2 at a time and it didn't work for me. I wish you Luck!!!

    Sounds like a wonderful vacation!!! We live near Lake Erie, Love the water!

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  34. Creepy story...I like it! I am also a sucker for a good ghost story. Sounds like you have strong foundations for your stories. A lot of writing can be done in five months. You could even whistle a little Dixie while you type. :)

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  35. I think it is fantastic that you got some inspiration. Don't worry, you can still get a lot of work done in the remaining months. I find unmarked graves to be so sad. But at least you got some great stories:) Wishing you the best, Julie.

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  36. @Cherie, true enough, there's still plenty of time left in the year, thank goodness. :)

    @Ken, I will be saying that about three months too, no doubt. Oh well.

    @Mary, Oh that is interesting too. I love learning the backgrounds of things like that. Thanks!

    @Mary, your group would definitely need to go at night. It wasn't creepy at all when we were there unfortunately LOL.

    @Loni LOL LOL. I never thought of that. For the immigrants' sake I hope they were too. Otherwise, what hell for those guys. :D

    @Liz, aww, you always have such a great way of putting things!

    @Elizabeth, yay, another ghostie lover! Thanks so much.

    @Michael, I hope to get to Chicago next year, it's been too long since I've been there. The camp was Camp Douglas - have you heard of it?

    @Diane, good idea and it does seem this story's characters are yelling the most right now. Thanks!

    @Cathy, that's right, I forgot you are on the other side of Lake Erie from where I was! I love the water too.

    @Michael, LOL I could, if only I could whistle!

    @Murees, totally agree about the unmarked graves. There's something so tragic about them. Thank you!


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  37. Summer is full of distractions. Don't beat yourself up over not writing "enough." But, yes, do travel. That is often the source of all kinds of story inspiration. Gets the creative juices flowing. :)

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  38. Sounds like that place stirred up some great ideas for a ghost story!

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  39. Sounds like that place stirred up some great ideas for a ghost story!

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  40. Oooh, that story gave me chills. See? You've made progress - inspiration generation counts.

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  44. A story about a singing ghost?
    I like the idea!
    Go for it Julie!
    I now have Polar Day and The Turnagain Arm on my Kindle. I just need the time to read them.
    The TBR pile is teetering... dangerously... ready to collapse any minute. LOL
    Enjoy the rest of your month!

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  45. Definitely sounds like a place that would spark your imagination. I'm hoping to get my butt in gear for the rest of the year too!

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  46. That's eerie about the statue. We all hit unproductive patches. You'll be zipping through those words when the time comes.

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  47. Don't feel bad, I can defintely relate to being unproductive with a manuscript. I'm glad some ideas sparked for you during your adventures, that is always exciting :) sounds very interesting.

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  48. Oh I would love to visit. I'm a history nut and I've been to some Civil War sites. I'm going to believe that they did learn Dixie that way. Stranger things have happened, so they say.

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  49. Oooh, creepy! You dig up the best stuff!

    Glad you still like both of our stories! Good luck in moving forward with them!

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  50. Indeed. A lot can be accomplished in five months. I'm sure you can still surprise yourself.

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  51. Sorry you've felt so insecure and unproductive lately! I'm the same way with my art, most of the time. (Okay, all of the time, haha.) Hope you're able to make heaps of progress over the next five months!

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  52. Write what you can, when you can. It'll get there. And don't beat yourself up. I love these stories! There were a lot of Civil War related ghost stories around where I grew up in Maryland. Totally different from the ghost stories here in Colorado, or the ones in Oregon, where I lived as a kid. I love the regional aspect of so many ghost stories.

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  53. Hey, "writing" doesn't have to be limited to something you do with a pen in your hand or a computer in front of you. Adventures, like your trip to that old POW camp, provided much-needed food for your imagination, and encouraged enthusiasm for your writing. Sorting things out in our minds and getting fired up with new ideas is a vital part of writing.

    We visited Andersonville, a notorious Civil War POW camp in south Georgia, some years ago. Seeing the tiny cells and the rows and rows of tightly-spaced grave markers was a very sobering experience.

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Thank you for your comments!