Friday, October 19, 2007

Barney L. Ford Museum - Breckenridge

Barney Ford was born into slavery on January 22, 1822, but he died at the ripe old age of 80 years, a prosperous man.

Ford was the son of a slave and wealthy plantation owner. As a young man, he was moved to South Carolina where he was taught to read and write by a neighboring servant. His mother, in an attempt to save her son from slavery, tried to contact a representative of the Underground Railway, but it is said she drowned in the process.

After being sold to a slaveholder in Georgia, Barney was given the duty of driving hogs and mules, laboring in the fields and working the barges. He continued to educate himself in all aspects of the arts, mathematics, and business matters. When he met his future wife, Julia and proposed marriage, he realized he did not have a last name to use on the marriage certificate. He particularly liked the name Lancelot Ford, the name given to the pioneer railroad engine, and decided to take that name as his own. He was known thereafter as Barney L. Ford. The Ford's were blessed with two children, Lewis Napoleon and Sadie.

The life of the Ford family was complex and challenging as Barney saved money, opened businesses, lost some to fire, borrowed more money and opened more businesses in Denver, Chicago and Breckenridge. The family eventually made Breckenridge their permanent home and built the house that is now the museum seen in the photograph. The Victorian home was built by Elias Nashold and was once considered one of the finest homes in Breckenridge. The wood framed home has rectangular bay windows with hand-jigsawed, diamond shaped inserts. These features became so popular that Nashold incorporated them in several other buildings in town.

Throughout his life, Barney fought against racial discrimination and rallied for equal rights. As he did so, he used his influential contacts, persuasive personality and wonderful smile to accomplish those needs. He was the first black man in the State of Colorado to serve on a U.S. Grand Jury, he was inducted into the Colorado Business Hall of Fame and listed as one of the 100 Greatest Coloradans in 1992. He was truly an astonishing man.

The museum is located on 111 East Washington Avenue, Breckenridge and well worth a visit. There is no charge for admittance but a donation is greatfully received. Call for museum hours at 970.453.5761.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Christmas Past in Essex

I am pleased to say that my latest book Christmas Past in Essex has just been launched in England and that I will be in the U.K. next month for book signings, radio and other events.
As I collected the wonderful stories, traditions and customs of the people of Essex, I began to feel as excited as the interviewees who shared their most personal recollections. I was pleased to discover that families still sing songs on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day that I sang as a child. It was comforting to know the songs and traditions that came with Londoners and others who migrated to Essex are still observed and flourishing. Londoners brought their own special blend of customs that merged nicely with the centuries’ old traditions of Essex. Traditions such as stirring the Christmas pudding three times in a clockwise direction, breaking the wishbone for luck, and wishing a family good health and wealth with the first footing ceremony (Scottish tradition) on New Year’s Eve.

Within the covers of Christmas Past in Essex, a reader will not only discover personal glimpses into the hearts and minds of the people of Essex, but will also find many stories, sketches and photographs that have not previously been published. There are heartwarming stories of a little girl placed in an orphanage, a family who took in prisoners-of-war, policemen, firemen, nurses and physicians all of whom offer an intriguing and unusual insight into their lives at Christmastime.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Ghostly Apparition at Book Signing Event

I must admit to being a little apprehensive about having a book signing event in a shop known for its resident ghost. Stories of assistants having their braids pulled from behind, feelings of “being watched” and experiences such as “I felt a sharp pain on my forearm and then saw bite marks” all seemed quite extraordinary and far fetched. Needless to say, I was a little nervous but intrigued.

On the day of the book signing, the store owner sat me in a prominent part of the shop and served me a wonderful pot of English tea. As people walked into the store, purchased my books and brought them to me for signature, I noticed a young man taking lots of photographs. He was a military man, home on leave from the service due to a leg injury and was enjoying himself taking photographs.

At the end of the event, having drunk a whole pot of tea, I needed to use the rest room before my long journey home. I asked where the rest room was located and the owner said, “Well, if you’re ever going to see the ghost, that’s where it hangs out – down by the store room, next to the restroom.” Great! This was just what I needed to know. Nevertheless, not being a timid person by nature, I decided to be very brave (or very stupid) by challenging the ghost and said, “If you’re here – show yourself!” Nothing happened. Absolutely nothing! Confident of no ghostly apparitions, I strode confidently back to the table, collected my books and belongings and drove home.

Two weeks later, I was back at the store and asked the owner why the young man had taken so many photographs. “Oh, he was hoping your presence would stimulate some activity with the ghost,” she replied. I chuckled at the thought, but then she showed me the photographs taken at the book signing event. I couldn’t believe my eyes; one photograph clearly showed the image of a man standing in the aisle close to the table where I was signing books! Although I could see the man’s image, I could also plainly see the product on the shelves! Another photograph showed the Scottish flag that was pinned to the top of a wall. On the bottom left hand side, the flag was inexplicably curling up from the corner – very strange indeed!

In an attempt to identify the ghost, the owners brought in the ‘Ghost Busters’ with their sophisticated electronic devices, and set up for the night in the 100+ year shop. Evidently they were able to pick up voices and noises that the average individual could not detect – that of a man, woman and I believe a child’s voice. It’s the owner’s understanding that the shop was once a mortuary in the late 1890s and a fire at the mortuary had taken the life of a young child. The ghost busters also said the resident ghost was an “angry man” who liked cheap perfume and that his favorite color was red. Believe it or not!