Friday, June 23, 2017


I read Cat Winters' book In the Shadow of Blackbirds a few years ago, and I enjoyed it, so when I found this book on our shelves recently, I decided to give this one a go, too.

Both stories take place in the early 20th century, amidst World War I and the Spanish Influenza epidemic. The description for The Uninvited says that Ivy sees ghosts, so I purchased this book for our horror collection. But upon reading it, I realized that it's really more of a historical fiction romance story, with a supernatural element in it. I don't think I'd really call it a horror story or a ghost story. In fact, throughout most of the book, I kept thinking "So when are these ghosts gonna show up?" It does have a good twist in it though, kind of like The Sixth Sense.

After that, I was kind of in a "book hangover," and I needed to read some more about WWI. This book is a collection of short stories that are inspired by objects from that era. The end material has photos of the actual objects that are featured in the stories, as well as a brief description and explanation of each. It would work well as a crossover book for a young reader who loves historical fiction, but avoids non-fiction texts, or vice versa.

These stories were very informative. One story mentions a soldier who has a "Fray Bentos" face; I didn't know what that meant, so I did a little research. World War I helped give birth to the plastic surgery industry; soldiers were returning from war with their faces and bodies ravaged by shrapnel. They wanted to try to integrate back into society, but that's very difficult when you're a reminder of war and death, so doctors sought a way to help these soldiers restore their appearance. Harold Gillies is considered to be the father of plastic surgery. There were also a number of prosthetics and 'masks' available. For example, a soldier who lost an eye could have a partial mask sculpted that contained a glass eye, and was attached to wire spectacles. Wearing the facial prosthetic was as easy as putting on a pair of glasses!

Also, some soldiers had prosthetic noses sculpted out of tin (they were painted a flesh color). The soldier is described as having a Fray Bentos face because Fray Bentos corned beef came in a tin container. Fascinating stuff!

Reading these books about WWI got me thinking about the people in my family who served in that war.

I know two of my ancestors served in WWI. The first one I know of was my great-grandfather, Stephen Mawn. He enlisted 5/29/1918 and was discharged 7/17/1919. This photo was taken in France, where he was seriously injured by mustard gas.

And my great aunt, Claire Ledden, was a Red Cross nurse in the Army Nurse Corps. She was killed in an accident when she was only 22 years old. I brought her photo into a college English class that I taught years ago, (we were discussing the origin of Veterans Day)  and I was so happy when one of the students said my face resembles hers.

Most of the sources on her list her cause of death as simply "accident." Years ago, my grandmother told me she thought it was a train accident, but I could never confirm it. While doing some more research online, I stumbled across a WWI discussion forum in which someone was inquiring about her, and one of the respondents is her 3rd cousin! Not sure if that makes this person a relative of mine though.  .  .anyways, this person states that she was walking on some railroad tracks at night, and was struck by a train. (The train was moving without lights, in order to avoid detection.) Very tragic. She was buried in France until her family raised enough money to have her body brought back to Pennsylvania, where they resided. 

I get very excited about genealogy! Connecting with other people, whether they are family members or people in an online forum, to discuss these people and their contribution  to a historic event is one of the reasons I wanted to study history.

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