Review: ‘The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden’


This film might have been titled: The Perils of Pursuing Paradise.

Ever since the late 1800s when Jules Verne began publishing his international best-sellers, the world has been fascinated by the idea of dramatically escaping from civilization. Flash forward to 2014 and a dozen popular TV series are fueled by that same desire. In late September, the National Geographic Channel will debut another one: Live Free or Die, a series that looks at Americans trying to survive in remote woods and swamps.

Now, Zeitgeist Films brings us one of the strangest true stories of escaping adventurers. This mixed bag of misfits converged on a remote island in the Galapagos chain between the two World Wars. Their tale is so wild that a writer for the Smithsonian Institution, reporting on the Smithsonian’s extensive archives about this strange adventure, described the story as “a screwball farce peopled by eccentrics” that “abruptly turned to tragedy.”

During the heyday of this Galapagos experiment, lurid magazines around the world published fanciful dispatches from this little colony with headlines that included: “The Nudist Empress of the Galapagos” and “Mad Empress in the Garden of Eden” and “The Insatiable Baroness who Created Her Own Paradise.”

As it turns out, the real pioneer in this “paradise” was a German doctor with a grandiose vision of his role as a philosopher and naturalist. He apparently was a very effective wilderness pioneer, building many hand-made devices to make his island home a pleasurable place to live. But he also was motivated by a selfishness that amounted to loathing other people. When an odd-ball mix of other adventurers showed up on this doctor’s remote island, trouble was all but certain.

The adventurer who was chiefly responsible for the island’s global acclaim was a woman with even more grandiose visions than the doctor. She called herself a baroness (even though she wasn’t) and very publicly set up a household with a rotating series of male lovers. She even began production on a silent film with herself starring as a savage, scantily clad pirate! Some footage of this bizarre movie is included in the documentary.

No wonder the Smithsonian columnist wound up publishing a long, four-part summary of this strange tale as the saga is “told” through the Washington D.C. archives. (Here are the four parts: One, Two, Three and Four.)

Much more dramatic than this Smithsonian Internet series is the two-hour documentary by Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller, the folks who brought us the acclaimed documentary, Ballet Russes, which also dipped back into this pre-World War II era to give us a vivid portrait of the world-famous Russian troupe.

Why is ReadTheSpirit magazine reviewing this film? Because dreams of finding a remote paradise run throughout the long and tangled history of the world’s great religious movements, from some of the founding communities in what is now the United States (Remember the Pilgrims, the Puritans and the Shakers?) to tragic cults like Jim Jones’ Jonestown in Guyana where more than 900 people died in 1978.

Perhaps most fascinating about this cautionary tale from the Galapagos is that the German doctor’s master work of philosophy was ultimately of no interest to publishers in the civilized world and, instead, in 1935 his lover Dore Strauch published her own version of the island experiment, Satan Came to Eden: A Survivor’s Account of the Galapagos Affair.

This definitely is a mesmerizing two hours! It’s also a good choice for sparking conversation in any small group that enjoys discussing either new films or global issues.

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

Civil Rights Era: The Mark Pinsky interview on putting ghosts to rest

MARK PINSKY isn’t laughing. And, this is a writer who is famous for his humor. He ranks as one of the nation’s most creative journalists in covering religion—and is the author of two fun books for the whole family: The Gospel According to Disney and The Gospel according to The Simpsons.

Now, however, Mark is turning to the True Crime genre for a gripping story of murder and corruption that springs from his own life. In the book, Met Her on the Mountain: A Forty-Year Quest to Solve the Appalachian Cold-Case Murder of Nancy Morgan, Mark returns to his roots as a young journalist in North Carolina in 1970.

Most top journalists at the zenith of their careers find themselves still haunted by a few stories they encountered that remained unresolved. Writing as the Editor of ReadTheSpirit with 40 years of journalism behind me, at this point, I agree with Mark: These memories of cold cases spark in us the kind of yearning you’ve seen in television dramas when veteran detectives remember cold cases they were never able to lay to rest. Journalists feel the same lingering concern.

Here’s what is especially timely about Mark’s return to his own cold case after 40 years:

The horrific murder he re-investigates (and seems to solve in this new book) revives the life of a popular, young, VISTA-anti-poverty worker whose body was found in the trunk of a car along an unpaved logging road in the mountains. To place this in historic context: Nancy Morgan’s brutal murder came two years after the assassinaton of Martin Luther King Jr. The year Nancy Morgan was killed opened with the trial of the Chicago Seven, young white and black activists whose convictions in 1970 wouldn’t be reversed by an appeals court until two years later. While incidents of civil rights-related violence popped up all over the U.S. in 1970, Americans’ fears still focused on the South. James Dickey’s gripping novel, Deliverance, hit bookstores in 1970 and would become a major movie in 1972.

As Pinsky’s investigation shows, Nancy Morgan’s murder involved the kind of deeply entrenched, small-town political networks that had become so tragically corrupt in many communities across the South. Deliverance was set in an isolated wilderness area in northern Georgia; Nancy Morgan’s murder was in mountainous Madison County, which borders on Tennessee in the far-western section of North Carolina where that state touches the northern tip of Georgia.


At ReadTheSpirit, we selected this author interview with Mark Pinsky to appear in this special week of remembering Dr. King’s teachings. As 2014 opens, we are hearing reports of another national wave of layoffs at newspapers and magazines. As veteran journalists leave the long-time resources of their once-powerful publications, we hope that new forms of journalism will arise and continue to pursue important stories, involving justice for the vulnerable—as Mark Pinsky has done in this case. As a reader, you can support this effort by buying a copy of Mark’s book from Amazon (click on the cover above) and by reading the profiles in our own Interfaith Peacemakers Month series.

Bono and the band U2 wrote one of the most eloquent hymns of hope for Dr. King’s legacy, from which we borrow our front-page headline this week:
Sleep tonight
And may your dreams
Be realized.
If the thundercloud
Passes rain
So let it rain
Rain down on him.


DAVID: You open this page-turner of a book with two lines from the American folk song Tom Dooley, which is loosely based on a 19th-century murder in North Carolina. The lines are: “I met her on the mountain, There I took her life.” This book taps deeply into our American anxiety about evil lurking in remote Southern towns.

MARK: It’s true that we are connecting with a long tradition that, in music, sometimes is called a “murder ballad.” That includes Tom Dooley and so many other songs like Pretty Polly, Banks of the Ohio and so many others.

DAVID: You and I both were part of the wave of young journalists in the 1970s who headed into the South, particularly into the Appalachian region, to write about communities that had been largely isolated from mainstream American culture. There was a great deal of injustice to write about both coming from these communities—like racism—and being forced upon these communities—like destructive mining. While you were in North Carolina as a reporter, I was over in eastern Kentucky. This really was a time in which the divisions between “insiders” and “outsiders” still were quite turbulent.

MARK: Yes, as a journalist, I was very much aware of the cultural insularity and the position of outsiders in those areas. There was a long history of outsiders coming in, claiming that they wanted to help—but doing more harm than good. Some of the missionaries who went into the mountains came with what they thought of as aid—but their aid was accompanied by what felt like disdain and condemnation for people living there. Even as the culture from this region became popular—like the music of the mountains—it didn’t benefit many people there. This particular region of North Carolina in my book was known for its musicians and a lot of people came from the outside, learned from the musicians—and went back home and profited in their own careers from the traditional musicians’ work.

DAVID: Right. I was in eastern Kentucky at a time when a lot of people where cruising through the mountains picking up “folk art” for pennies and reselling it at a profit. Remember that 1976 was the bicentennial and everyone seemed eager to grab hold of a bit of the mountains, as we entered the 1970s.

MARK: We have to remember as journalists: We always will be outsiders in that region, even if we lived and worked there for a time as reporters. Honestly, I would have preferred it if a regional author had written the true-crime book on Nancy Morgan at some point over the years. But, now that more than 40 years have passed and no one has written her story—I just felt it was my responsibility to finally tell her story.

And, it wasn’t as though I suddenly drove back there and wrote this book. I had been visiting that region over a 20-year period, getting to know people as I worked on this research. Many people were very helpful and encouraged this project.  I have friends who live there. I’ll always be an outsider, it’s true, but this book is something I’ve been thinking about and working on for many, many years.

What inspired Nancy Morgan?

DAVID: Describe Nancy a little bit. I don’t want to confuse readers. Nancy wasn’t a crusading activist. She wasn’t like a hero in a John Grisham novel who suddenly found herself locked in an angry feud with evil forces. She was a well-meaning and apparently well-liked VISTA worker helping poor families.

MARK: Yes, she was widely liked, but not universally. The people who worked most closely with her did love her and they developed a loyalty to her. But she did butt heads with some leaders in the county. Remember that in this region there was a general suspicion and dislike for people who arrived through this kind of program. VISTA workers were seen, by some, as the latest in a 200-year-long parade of outsiders arriving to change people’s lives.

A lot of American women who today are in their 60s would recognize Nancy’s story. Her life tracked the kinds of influences that shaped many lives in that era. She was raised in a middle-class home—in a military home with a father who served in the Air Force. She had a fairly stable, middle-class suburban life. She didn’t think too much about what she wanted to do in life, but then the civil rights movement and Vietnam War unfolded. She saw the series of assassinations that we all remember at that time. You can see in her letters that she changed from a sheltered suburban kid into this young woman with a rising social conscience. She came to oppose the Vietnam War. She changed her major in college to social welfare, which was like a social-work course of study today.

She decided that, before going on to graduate school, she would try working with VISTA and she wanted to help people. She was a spiritual searcher, not someone who was locked into one particular religious doctrine. She attended various churches looking for a place she felt was consistent with her political consciousness. But she also was inspired by Catherine Marshall’s novel, Christy, the story of a young woman who moves into the mountains to teach at a Quaker mission school. There are parallels with Nancy’s experience, although Christy is set much earlier. And, it was a combination of those influences that brought Nancy to the southern Appalachians in North Carolina.

DAVID: In our interview, I’m not going to spoil the book by asking too many questions that will reveal what happened to Nancy. The book is less than 300 pages and is a gripping “read.” I don’t want to give away too much. But I will say this: The reason her murder wasn’t solved had to do with this deep chasm between insiders and outsiders. No one in the region was willing to really go after a suspect who was among the inside circle of power brokers in that county.

MARK: That’s right, the insider-outsider division is an important part of this story. You have to remember that this is a beautiful part of the country, so people have moved into this region. Outsiders keep coming. Well, in an unsolved case like this, opinions become deeply divided. The outsider view is: This was such a horrible crime that only a local person could have done it. The insider view among people whose families have lived there for generations is: This was such a horrible crime that it had to have been committed by outsiders.

DAVID: The assumptions are mirror opposites. But, as we read your book, you seem pretty sure that you’ve solved the case.

MARK: I would describe my certainty as “80 percent sure.” I am persuaded that I have identified the figure who was responsible for what happened to Nancy. This was a man who, at that time in that area, was able to act with virtual impunity. He had a record of assault, but he managed to avoid prison.

DAVID: The irony is that he wasn’t convicted of Nancy’s murder, but you found that he is in prison.

MARK: Yes, he is effectively serving a life sentence for poisoning his own daughter, so he’s not free and he’s not going anywhere. But, of course, he was never charged with Nancy’s murder.

DAVID: As we close this interview, I don’t want to leave readers with the impression that this region of North Carolina, today, is out for your blood, Mark. In fact, you wrote a note in your Mark Pinsky website some weeks ago about a warm reception you received down there. You appeared at a number of events to share the book with folks in that part of the country. After one appearance, you wrote: “In Hot Springs, near where Nancy Morgan’s body was found … we had our best turnout: 60 people for a reading-and-signing benefit for the county library. Most were post-1960s ‘newcomers,’ but we had a good representation of older natives, too. … Good discussion following.”

MARK: When I went to these events, I was unsure of the reception I would receive. From all my visits over the years, I have some friends who live there and I knew they would be sympathetic. And it turned out to be a very good experience. In one of the audiences was the first VISTA worker assigned to Madison County in 43 years. She works with adolescent girls to provide educational enrichment programs. So, VISTA is returning to the region. People were very very interested in the book and they asked a lot of good questions.

DAVID: And I’m going to recommend the book to our readers, as well.

Care to Read More?

INTERFAITH PEACEMAKERS MONTH: Working with international peacemaker Daniel Buttry and guest writers, we are publishing 31 stories about 31 men and women who risked crossing boundaries to make peace. If you are intrigued by Mark Pinsky’s work, then you will enjoy these inspiring stories of Interfaith Peacemakers.

(Originally published at, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

TV: Hallmark Channel debuts Beverly Lewis’ Amish drama

DALLAS meets the Amish. That’s a four-word summary of the storyline in Beverly Lewis’ trilogy of novels about an idealistic Amish woman trying to find her way in the dangerous realm of the rich and powerful.

There’s no question: “Putting a bonnet on it” is a guaranteed sales strategy for novels and made-for-TV movies these days. Beverly Lewis has been pumping out dozens of Amish-themed, best-selling melodramas for two decades and is widely recognized as a queen in this genre. Lewis is a conservative Christian writer with family links to the Amish, although she is not Amish herself. Her stories always deliver inspirational messages.


Want more stories about the popularity of the Amish?

VANNETTA CHAPMAN INTERVIEW: If Beverly Lewis is a queen of the overall Amish genre, Vanetta Chapman rapidly is becoming a top author of Amish murder mysteries. That’s quite a trick, given that Amish are pacifists. Read our interview with Vanetta Chapman for more.

A “REAL” AMISH AUTHOR: Currently, there are no observant Amish writers producing best sellers. Instead, we get books by friends of the Amish like Lewis and Chapman, authors who do care about the Amish and try to respect their culture. There are a handful of formerly observant “real” Amish authors, however. In our view, the best of those writers is Saloma Furlong, who we also featured in an author interview.

TOP SCHOLARS HELP SORT FACT FROM FICTION: Dr. Donald Kraybill is widely acknowledged as the leading scholar studying Amish life in America. He works with other top scholars in researching and reporting on these communities that decline to speak for themselves through the media. Saloma Furlong is one of the Amish writers who has been associated with Kraybill as a mentor. You’ll enjoy our interview with Dr. Donald Kraybill about his nonfiction book, The Amish Way.


THE CONFESSION is the second major Hallmark made-for-TV movie in Beverly Lewis’ trilogy of novels about courageous Katie/Katherine Lapp. This brave young Amish woman leaves her Lancaster County Amish community and eventually unravels a series of mysteries that have twined around her life.

In 2011, Hallmark debuted Beverly Lewis’ The Shunning, Part 1 in the trilogy, which now is on DVD. In that first part, Katie reaches adulthood, hopes to marry a young Amish man she loves—until the young man tragically appears to drown and disappear. Instead, Katie’s family arranges a loveless marriage for her. She rebels, eventually pushing her out of the community. She is shunned.

The new Hallmark film, The Confession, debuts on May 11 and will be repeated at other times. Now, Katie is trying to connect with her biological mother, a very wealthy woman with a terminal illness who wants to bestow her huge estate to her long-lost daughter. If that last sentence sounds wildly unbelievable, just chalk that plot twist up to the Dallas influence in Lewis’ trilogy and simply enjoy the drama as it unfolds.

In the opening scenes, a friend warns Katie that she’d better stop being so “gullible.” Outside the Amish world, the friend tells Katie: People “are liars and thieves and the sooner you accept that, the better off you’ll be.” Cue the greedy schemers. Watch out Katie!

Can you watch The Confession without having read or seen The Shunning? Absolutely. In reviewing the new film, as Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I started with The Confession and, later, went backward to the first part. I enjoyed the new melodrama on its own. Going back to Part 1, however, I discovered that the cast has changed significantly between the first and second films. Katie/Katherine—currently played very effectively by Katie (yes, Katie) Leclerc—actually was portrayed by actress Danielle Panabaker in the first movie. Laura Mayfield-Benett, the wealthy biological mother, continues to be played by Sherry Stringfield in a grand style suited to this Dallas-style plot. However, her scoundrel husband, the evil Dylan Bennett, now is played with gusto by newcomer Adrian Paul. You’ll be hissing at him almost immediately.

For years, Lewis’ formula has been obvious: “Put a bonnet on it—and it’ll sell” is now a well-known marketing mantra. In shorthand, these novels often are called “Bonnet Books.” Nevertheless, romantic melodrama is fun. Dallas’ producers already have announced that a new season is coming in 2014. And, General Hospital just celebrated its 50th anniversary in prime time. This Hallmark drama also is gorgeous to watch and has an supporting cast of characters cut from the Downton Abbey mold

When you get a load of all the scheming among the rich and powerful—you’ll truly appreciate the simple wisdom of the Amish. And, in the end, that’s the real message behind all these bonnet tales.

Reviewed by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, values and cross-cultural diversity.

Vannetta Chapman, spinning Amish murder mysteries

Amish and murder mysteries!?!
They go together like Golden Retrievers and Christmas or Vampires and Thanksgiving—or James Bond and Bible Study, don’t they?
Well, the truth is: All of these are red hot cultural combinations this year. Big dogs have taken over the shelves of Christmas movies once reserved for Wonderful Life and Christmas Carol. The latest Twilight blockbuster debuts this month just in time for Thanksgiving. (See our separate story today on Twilight.) And we reported on the James Bond Bible Study last week.

The current popularity of Amish mysteries isn’t a fad. Today’s very successful Amish genre, sometimes called “Bonnet Books,” stretches back almost 30 years to the 1985 hit movie Witness, which earned Harrison Ford his one and only Best Actor Oscar nomination. Ford played Philadelphia police captain John Book, who took a temporary detour into Amish country to protect a beautiful Amish widow (Kelly McGillis who later starred in Top Gun) and her young son. While visiting a big city, they witnessed a murder and the bad guys wanted them dead. When that movie hit theaters, real-life Amish—distinctive for their pacifism and their separation from the modern world—were not amused. They described the movie as an assault on their culture and, in one public statement, an Amish spokesman said his people feared that “the crowding, souvenir-hunting, photographing and trespassing on Amish farmsteads will increase.”

Flash forward to 2012 and Vannetta Chapman’s third murder mystery, once again, turns on the huge popularity of Amish culture. All three of her murder mysteries are set in Shipshewana, Indiana, where a world-famous weekly “sale” draws more than 1 million visitors each year to a town with less than 600 residents. Most rural towns of that size could scarcely support a single general store, but real-life Shipshewana boasts more than 100 thriving shops. In Vannetta Chapman’s fictional world, one of those stores is a quilt shop owned by a non-Amish woman named Callie. The smart, compassionate and gutsy Callie stands between three worlds. Callie interacts with the tourists; she has close Amish friends and there is an unfolding romance with local detective Shane Black. We won’t spoil the mystery series by saying more about those relationships.

But, today, you can meet Vannetta Chapman as ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviews her.


DAVID: Even fans of the super-popular Amish genre chuckle and call these “Bonnet Books.” One book-marketing expert says, “Slap a bonnet on the cover and double the sales.” Right now, you’re fortunate to be right in the heart of this Amish craze, writing novels for three different publishers.

VANNETTA, laughing: Sure, I’ve heard that, too. “If we put a bonnet on it, we can sell it!” But, seriously, this reflects a real fascination with Amish culture. To those of us who are not Amish, they seem to be frozen in time as they live in communities where our grandparents or great grandparents once lived. That’s part of the appeal. People read these books and say: “Oh, I remember this!” Or: “I remember that.” They remember a grandmother canning vegetables. They remember an aunt who quilted. Plus, most Amish lead lives that seem picture perfect to outsiders. Drive around the area of Indiana where my mysteries are set and you’ll see neat houses, manicured yards and gardens that a professional might show off in a television show on gardening.

There’s more than outward appearance. Readers admire their values and the way they manage to live. These are hard workers. They don’t spend their money on all the things that we are so drawn to buy. People latch on to this genre of fiction because they want to immerse themselves in the lives of people who really do slow down and simplify. We all say we’d like to make some of these changes in our lives. These are people who actually live that way.

DAVID: Let’s be clear that you’re not Amish, nor was your family Amish—at least not the recent generations in your family. Our readers have met Saloma Furlong, who was raised Amish and left as an adult. Saloma is writing her memoirs and touring the country talking to groups about Amish life. You don’t even live in an Amish region. You’re from Texas, which isn’t known as an Amish homeland. So, do you get complaints about  your books from the Amish? You’re an outsider looking in and selling books about them.

VANNETTA: I really haven’t gotten negative feedback at all. One reason, I think, is that I do my research very well. If I’m going to write about a place, like Shipshewana, I go stay there for a while. I walk through the town. I meet people and get to know them. I spend time in the town. I don’t do research just sitting at home and looking through the Internet. I also have some connections that help me. My grandfather lived in Pennsylvania. I have a strong German background and there possibly is some Amish background in my family tree. All of my family’s early correspondence in this country is in German. Most importantly, though, I’m a writer. Lots of authors write mysteries about terrorists, for example, and readers don’t expect them to be terrorists themselves. I write fiction.


DAVID: The other thing readers need to know about your Amish mysteries is: They’re cozies. Now, mystery fans understand that phrase immediately, but we should explain it. In fact, I’m curious to hear your description of what makes a cozy.

VANNETTA: There are many types of mysteries today. First, there are the more graphic murder mysteries with all the blood and violence and lots of explicit details about the killing and, later, gruesome details about the dead body.

DAVID: Some might call them “procedurals” or CSI-style mysteries. These mystery sub-genres really are evolving toward lots of detail—even on prime-time TV—about the most gruesome crimes and the scientific investigation of the dead body, right?

VANETTA: Yes, that’s the more graphic kind of mystery and I can tell you: There are a whole lot of people who just don’t want to see all those autopsy details! At least I can say: Cozy readers don’t want that level of explicitness. They’re much more interested in the motivations and the relationships surrounding the crime. They want to help the characters puzzle out what happened. Then, there also are suspense books and a lot of them involve murder mysteries. But the suspense story always has some kind of a ticking clock and some kind of terrible explosion that’s going to happen if the characters don’t move quickly enough. You’re always anxious about whether the main characters can complete the next thing they have to do before the ticking clock reaches whatever terrible disaster might happen.

My novels are cozies and they’re also described as Christian fiction. Zondervan contacted me, based on other Amish fiction I had written, and asked me to write the series like this—as cozy mysteries that are Christian fiction. Zondervan already had an Amish romance writer and they specifically needed an Amish mystery writer. I had never even considered such an idea, but I agreed to try it. Now that I have published three of these Shipshewana mysteries, I define this kind of cozy as a story where someone stumbles on the body. As in most cozies, I’ve got a semi-professional investigator who pairs up with an amateur sleuth. When the body appears, the two of them are thrown together in trying to work out the mystery.

This is Christian fiction because it’s clean and it has spiritual values in it. If your teenage daughter picks it up and reads it, that’s perfectly fine with you. This genre is definitely a pendulum swinging away from the crime dramas that are so popular on television right now that seem to have more and more graphic scenes with each new season. In these mysteries, we’re not focused on the violence. We’re focused on who is responsible. How did this happen? And the overall message is that, even in these terrible situations, God’s grace can be found and shared.

DAVID: I enjoy your style of storytelling. For this interview, I finished your third mystery and it really is focused on these well-drawn characters. There is a heart-pounding mystery, once an Amish woman is found dead in Shipshewana. And we genuinely care about several of your main characters, so we keep turning your pages. But, I have to point out—and this isn’t a “spoiler”—that you’re already thinking about one of the most common problems in mystery series: After several books, the bodies begin to pile up, right? A long-running murder spree in peaceful Shipshewana? That begins to defy common sense.

VANNETTA: I’m already moving down the road. The Shipshewana series is now finished. Seriously, I’ve had readers email me and say: “I’m planning to go to Shipshewana and I’m nervous.” We can’t have too many murders in Shipshewana!

DAVID: I’m laughing because this is such a common problem in murder series! My wife and I are fans of the BBC series Midsomer Murders, set in a fictional rural region of England. As much as we love that series, it just gets ridiculous to believe that so many murderers could live in such a tiny, picturesque spot. So, you’ve solved the problem! You keep moving!

VANNETTA: Yes, I’m already working on the next Amish mystery series and it is down the road a ways. This time, my main character will be a woman who is a little older. She’s the general manager of a facility somewhat like the famous Essenhaus.

DAVID: I love that idea. My own family has deep roots in northern Indiana and I’ve eaten at Essenhaus a number of times throughout my life. It’s a lovely landmark. And that general idea, I hope, will tease our readers to keep in touch with you. The best way is to follow your main website. I’m also going to give readers a link to the About page within your website, which lists all of your books in order of publication.


DAVID: Before we close, I think it’s important to sketch your cast of characters. I could take a stab at that myself, as a reader, but let me invite you to describe your main trio. Can you start with our heroine throughout the series—Callie Harper?

VANNETTA: Callie Harper is a character in her 20s from Texas who inherits the shop in Indiana. At first, she knows nothing about being a shopkeeper or being in an Amish community. Her life literally is falling apart. She quit her job. Her husband died the year before. She doesn’t know what she’s supposed to be doing with her life. She’s adopted by these Amish women who really need to see that the quilt shop stays open. There’s a lot of growth in Callie from the first to the third book. Not that she wasn’t Christian from the beginning, but in the first novel she really has lost her way in life.

Deborah Yoder is a quintessential Amish woman. She’s in her 30s and has five children and lives on a farm. Her life is simple and she’s satisfied with it but she also loves quilting and likes seeing how the patterns turn out. She carries those principles over into her daily life. She’s very good at taking clues they are seeing and putting them together to discern what they mean. She has no doubt that ultimately God is in control, so she is a wonderful role model for Callie. I’ve had so many readers write to me and say: “I wish I had friends like Deborah.”

Then, there’s Shane. His back-story comes out more in the third book. He’s a detective. He works with the Amish. In general Amish are reticent to contact legal authorizes about any problem. But, they will sometimes. I’ve met and talked to people who have called on legal authorities. But generally their preference is not to pursue legal remedies. So there is that tension already between Shane and half of his town who are Amish. They believe they have God’s protection yet it his legal duty to follow through and to try to protect and serve this community himself.

DAVID: I’m going to give readers one last enticement to check out your website, Vannetta. You really do seem to enjoy interacting with your readers. And—here’s the enticement—you often like to give away things on your website, right?

VANNETTA: I do. It’s not big stuff, but I’m often giving away something. I get to travel a lot in the work that I do. I know my readers love these settings I’m describing, but most of them don’t have the resources to travel as much as I can. So, when I go out to visit in these Amish communities, I like to pick up a little something for my readers. Then, later I give these things away online. When I’m able to send something to a reader, I think of it as their chance to have some real contact with the places I’ve told them about in the novels. I enjoy doing that.


You can order the first novel, Falling to Pieces (A Shipshewana Amish Mystery) from Amazon now. Then, the second volume is A Perfect Square, also available from Amazon. The latest novel—Vannetta’s third and final Shipshewana mystery—is Material Witness.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Inspiring Zombies and Vampires and Ghouls (oh my!)

First, enjoy Part 1 of our coverage of Clay Morgan’s UNDEAD: Revived, Resuscitated, Reborn.
Also, meet historian, educator Clay Morgan in our author interview.

From the Zombie Psalm to Twilight:
3 Millennia of Popular Milestones

A look at some of the many pop-culture references related to Clay Morgan’s UNDEAD.


Tommie Harris and what Clay Morgan calls The Zombie Psalm.Search the precise phrase “The Zombie Psalm” (in quotes) in Google today and you’ll see an amazing sight—less than 1 page of results. That’s because Clay Morgan is just now trying to coin that phrase to describe a very popular and downright haunting passage in Psalm 91. It’s the passage that declares:
You will not fear the terror of the night,
or the arrow that flies by day,
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.

According to Clay, the Psalmist probably was envisioning the ghastly death and pestilence associated with ancient battlefields. Thousands were dead or dying; disease was running rampant and into this zombie landscape, the faithful warrior was stepping once again. In fact, this isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Psalm 91 has long been known as The Soldier’s Psalm. Wallet-sized copies have been carried into battle by countless men and women. How popular is it today? Pro football defensive standout Tommie Harris writes Psalm 91 on the adhesive breathing strip he sticks to his nose before each game. Tommie has said in interviews that the particular Psalm 91 passage Clay highlights is his own prayer on the football field.


Do you doubt that our current fascination with the undead stretches back to ancient roots? Just start singing along with “Dem Bones,” which retells a famous story from the prophet Ezekiel. That vision inspiring African-American slaves to trust in God’s power to overturn the cruel system that bound them. We have the poet James Weldon Johnson to thank for writing the melody and preserving that spiritual for us today.


For more on this, see Part 1 of our coverage of UNDEAD: Revivied, Resuscitated, Reborn.


Reverently preserving the bones of the dead began long before Christianity. Then, after Jesus, some of the earliest Christian worship services during the era of Roman persecution were held near the graves of martyrs. Later, when Rome officially recognized Christianity, many of the faithful focused their faith on the spiritual power of relics associated with Jesus and the first Christian saints. By around the year 400, the competition for relics was growing, partly because relics drew pilgrims to major shrines and pilgrims brought money. St. Jerome felt that this was becoming enough of a problem that he had to clarify the practice: “We do not worship, we do not adore, for fear that we should bow down to the creature rather than to the creator, but we venerate the relics of the martyrs in order the better to adore Him whose martyrs they are.” There’s not a wilder tale of the competition for relics than the holy hopscotch involving John the Baptist’s head. THIS WEEK brings one of the oldest commemorations in the worldwide Christian church, involving that dramatic beheading.


The brilliant Italian poet Dante Alighieri lived until his mid 50s before dying in 1321, but he cast himself as 35 in the year 1300 as he set off on his famous tour of hell, purgatory and heaven. He produced one of the world’s greatest literary masterpieces (and undead-fest supreme), The Divine Comedy. This lengthy epic is packed with sophisticated word play and symbolic twists and turns. The souls being tortured in hell for the sin of lust, for example, are forever pushed this way and that way by a powerful wind. Those being punished for the sin of anger find themselves endlessly fighting other lost souls—or sinking into a deep swampy pool of anger. Dante supposedly was warning readers of the dangers of temptation, and the pathway to heaven, but he also gave us all a deviously imaginative vision of foul play. Mystery writers in particular have found themselves drawn to Dante. In fact, one of Dante’s many famous translators was the British mysery writer and outspoken Christian activist Dorothy L. Sayers.


It’s tough to pinpoint the origin of the terrifying bedtime prayer, but by 1690, it was distributed to American families in the form of The New England Primer. Remember the prayer?
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I shall die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

In his book, Clay Morgan says this is just a glimpse at “how terrifying” it was to live with the prospect of earlier understandings about the fate of our souls upon death. Today, he writes, he doesn’t know a parent who would make young children recite this prayer.


Mary Shelley lived in a maelstrom of creative energies—surrounded by her husband, a great Romantic poet, and their friend Lord Byron—not to mention other like-minded writers, artists and activists. She created the first of the great monstrous figures of 20th-century pop culture in Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. But she also turned out other books as well. That includes a pioneering work in what we would call today science fiction: the apocalyptic The Last Man. One can only imagine what Mary Shelley and her crowd would make of our fascination with the undead, today.


Something amazing was stirring the women in Britain in this era of Romantic arts and letters. The second of the great undead figures of 20th-century pop culture, The Mummy, debuted as an 1827 novel by the English botanist Jane C. Loudon. (That’s right, she and her husband were most famous for serious studies of plant life.) Before penning her own classic, Jane Loudon almost certainly had read Mary Shelley’s influential novels. Plus, historians say that Loudon, as a little girl, is likely to have attended a public unwrapping of a mummy in a London theater in 1821. In that era, European exploration of Egypt was yielding widespread fascination with all things having to do with the wonders of the ancient pharoahs.


The Brits didn’t have an exclusive corner on fantasies of the undead. The Romantic movement had crossed the Atlantic and one of the chief proponents of a very dark romanticism was Edgar Allen Poe. Before he died at a youthful 40, Poe had written some of the most haunting tales of death and the undead that the world has ever seen. His Mask of the Red Death debuted in Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine in 1842. The genteel publication, aimed pointedly at women as well as at male readers, is another sign of the huge popularity of undead tales with female readers.


Even Clay Morgan admits that his favorite version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the comic versions: Bill Murray in the 1988 movie Scrooged. What with musical versions and a very popular Muppet rendition, it’s easy to forget that Dickens wrote a flat-out ghost story that featured bone-chiling warnings from the undead. That’s why Dickens opens his classic Christmas story with these lines: “Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a doornail. Mind! I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a doornail. I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade. But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for. You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a doornail. Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did.” Get it!?! Despite all the songs and laughs that we associate with Scrooge today—this is truly a tale of the undead.


In our recent coverage of the noted historian of American religion, Stephen Prothero, he describes Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as “the greatest American speech ever.” A lot of historians of religion—including Clay Morgan—refer to the speech at the Civil War battlefield as a turning point in our collective religious culture. Some scholars have argued that the leaders of the George Washington era invoked a Moses-like image of the nation’s religious destiny. At Gettysburg, Lincoln invoked the dead, sacrificial blood and summoned a Jesus-like image of our American spirit. This is such a rich chapter in our history that Clay Morgan also focuses on the spiritual lessons of Lincoln’s life.


Before the 19th century ended, a man who was well known in London for his work as a theatrical manager gave the world the last of the great 20th-century undead monsters: Dracula. Bram Stoker spent a long time researching European folklore on vampires before writing his horrific novel. The book was not a runaway bestseller, but it receive high praise from British literary lights. The Daily Mail lauded Stoker as surpassing both Mary Shelley and Edgar Allen Poe.


Earlier this summer, ReadTheSpirit published a two-part story about Sherlock Holmes’ creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his embarassing declaration later in life that he had scientifically proven the reality of fairies in the English countryside. At that point in his life, Doyle was crushed by a series of deaths in his family that clustered around World War I. That horrific war also scarred other writers, including C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. In Doyle’s case, the loss of a series of relatives around WWI led to a period of deep depression. It also led Doyle to embrace spiritualism and a fond hope that either science or the Christian faith would find a way to pierce the wall between life and death.


Almost exactly a century after little Jane Loudon is likely to have watched a public unwrapping of a mummy in London, explorer Howard Carter rocketed Egyptian mummies to front-page news around the world. (That’s Carter in the photo at right.) In late 1922, Carter and his sponsor Lord Carnarvon caused a sensation by entering the tomb of King Tutankhamun. Not only did mummies leap back into pop culture with a vengeance—but also with distinctly evil intent after rumors of an eternal curse of the pharoahs. That myth arose after Lord Carnarvon died in 1923 while still in his 50s. He died of a mosquito bite that became infected and resulted in blood poisoning—enough to fuel nightmares of mummies reaching from beyond the grave. Today, serious historians call the “mummy’s curse” nothing but hysteric claptrap, but that didn’t stop a steady flow of shocking headlines. The King Tut tomb also shaped a century of fanciful media. For example, the oldest surviving Dr. Who science-fiction series from 1960s television is The Tomb of the Cybermen. The robot-like creatures later became regular foes of The Doctor on British television, but the original multi-part series was designed by BBC producers to mirror the opening of King Tut’s tomb in the 1920s.


Most of the 20th Century’s great undead monsters stepped onto the silver screen in the era of silent film. The most chilling of the silent horrors was the 1922 version of Dracula, called Nosferatu. The eerie imagery of Max Schreck as the vampire—sometimes just Schreck’s shadow cast on a wall—hasn’t been surpassed since the creepy film was first shown in theaters. When sound began bursting from Hollywood, Bella Lugosi brought Dracula back to life in a sleek new style and Boris Karloff gave us Frankenstein’s monster complete with the bolts in his neck and an over-sized physique. One year later, in 1932, Karloff gave us his classic Imhotep, aka The Mummy.


As Clay Morgan points out in his book, our current love of zombies dates back roughly to the 1930s with the movie White Zombie. Of course, American assumptions about zombies in that era are mingled with cultural bias and racism related to the Haitian roots of what Haitian’s refer to as Vodou. Zombies are not a major part of the faith that blends elements of African and Christian cultures. In fact, from a Haitian perspective, Vodou’s proudest moment was the Bois Caiman, a 1791 Vodou invocation of the spiritual power to throw off the nation’s slave-owning powers. Within the complex spiritual tradition, zombies are regarded as a dark art in which powerful drugs are used to control a person’s will.


For all intents and purposes, Clay Morgan points out, our current obsession with zombies was born in 1968 in the gritty, black-and-white, low-budget horror film, Night of the Living Dead. Clay writes: “Tragedies struck in quick succession in 1968—the Vietnam War had already divided the country before January of that year when the Tet Offensive showed anxious citizens that the end of the conflict was not coming soon. Then both Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy were assassinated within one moth of each other. Racial divisions and protests drove national conflict as many found ways to escape the madness of it all. By that point, flesh-eating zombies fit in quite well with the absurdity of life that millions of people found so hard to understand.”


Clay Morgan actually begins his book with his own childhood memories of Count von Count, who first appeared on Sesame Street in 1972. After all the other ghastly associations with zombies, vampires, ghouls and other forms of the undead, a warm and fuzzy version of Dracula ushered in a whole new era of vampire love.
REMEMBERING THE ORIGINAL COUNT: Millions, like Clay Morgan, immediately recognize the Count’s look—but they also know his voice and distinctive laugh. The original voice of the Count, Jerry Nelson, recently died. CNN online has a tribute to Nelson that includes several memorable Count video clips.


Flash forward 30 years from Count von Count and there is absolutely nothing warm and fuzzy about the sharp-toothed, blood-dripping vampires in the comicbook epic by Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith. 30 Days of Night refers to the odd geographic phenomenon of long-term darkness in Barrow, Alaska—a natural allure for light-sensitive vampires. Clay Morgan is a fan of comics and graphic novels and calls this comic tale “a blood-sucking Mardi Gras.” And, no, he’s not talking about a family-friendly Mardi Gras. Clearly, Americans may want to fall in love with the undead sometimes, but we also want to scare ourselves silly along the way.


By 2005, the stage was set for chills and thrills—horrors and hugs from the undead realm. Originally published as children’s literature (Breaking Dawn won the British Book Award in 2008 for Children’s Book of the Year), Twilight now has crossed over from girls to adult women. Stephenie Meier has sold more than 100 million copies—and the Twilight odometer keeps spinning.


That autumn, HvZ debuts at tiny Goucher College near Baltimore. Now supported by a non-profit website, Humans vs. Zombies is turning into a worldwide phenomenon.


The AMC network, crowing about its rave reviews for Mad Men and Breaking Bad, jumped into the realm of the zombies in 2010. The third season of The Walking Dead starts in autumn 2012. Clay Morgan says our current zombie fad is strong evidence of widespread anxiety in American culture. He writes: “Tragedy and zombie popularity are inversely proportional. The worse things get, the more we buy into the apocalypse. The 1980s and 1990s weren’t perfect, but they were relatively peaceful and prosperous. Not surprisng then that you won’t find massive mainstream appeal to zombies like we see in a post 9/11 world.”


By last year, American culture was overloaded with zombies. The 2006 novel, World War Z, has given way to a big-budget movie version starring Brad Pitt, due to hit theaters in summer 2013. Even the federal government is getting involved through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Starting in 2011, the CDC began producing some of its most popular guides to public health using tongue-in-cheek zombie themes. Most famous is Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse by the CDC, posted online in 2011. Now, in 2012, the CDC is back with a graphic novel called Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic (cover at right). We think the staff at the CDC should be praised for the creativity. In this era of dire budget cutting, the CDC is finding a way to put the undead to work for the public good!


Apparently, the Twilight film series will end with the debut on November 16 of Breaking Dawn Part 2—although some online rumors suggest that more films with the Twilight characters might follow. You may think that we have strayed far from Christian connections, but that’s not true. Enjoy our coverage of Jane Wells’ Glitter in the Sun, a Twilight Bible study book.

Got a question or an update that we shouldn’t miss in our chronology?
Email us at [email protected] with your thoughts.

And, enjoy Part 1 of our coverage of Clay Morgan’s UNDEAD: Revived, Resuscitated, Reborn.

Meet Clay Morgan in our author interview.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

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Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Interview on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Cottingley Fairies

Frances Griffiths with some of the “Cottingley Fairies” in a photograph taken by her cousin Elsie Wright.In Part 1 of our coverage of Mary Losure’s new book, The Fairy Ring, we explained how two girls from a tiny village fooled Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Their clever use of arts and photographs fooled Sir Arthur so completely that he bet his career on the truth of the girls’ photos. That was a bittersweet detour in the life of the author who millions know as the creator of Sherlock Holmes. As we indicated in Part 1, Mary Losure is not ridiculing Sir Arthur. In fact, she compassionately explains his eagerness to find invisible realms. However, the focus of this new book actually is not on Sir Arthur; it’s on the girls who produced the photographs. They were cousins: Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths.
Today, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm talks with Mary Losure in …


DAVID: You and I are veteran journalists, so let’s start with the truth. And, I know that this point is important to you, because you’ve set up a page on your website stressing that “the book is not fictionalized in any way. It’s not ‘based on’ a true story. It is a true story.” This is historically accurate in all details. Tell us a little bit about your background as a journalist.

MARY: My main career in journalism is that I worked for almost 20 years for Minnesota Public Radio, covering first farming and then later the environment. I also did pieces for National Public Radio. In my career, I’ve also done international reporting. This book, The Fairy Ring, is narrative non-fiction.

DAVID: Candlewick is most famous for producing picture books. We have reviewed a number of those new titles, most recently King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson. Why didn’t you and your editors at Candlewick make this a picture book?

MARY: Again, I wanted everything in this book to be real. The photos that do appear in this book are the real photographs. Also, I didn’t want pictures to dominate this text. I wanted children to envision the story for themselves as they read it.


A photograph of Elsie with a fairy is on the book’s cover. (Click this cover image to visit the book’s Amazon page.)DAVID: I have followed the Cottingley Fairies story in recent decades, particularly the various ways that the truth finally was confirmed: The girls faked the photos. But your book is different than what I’ve seen before. You aren’t so focused on the de-bunking of the photos. This book is about the girls themselves.

MARY: That’s right. I want to write true stories that have real children as the heroes. Those stories are very hard to find. Children do not leave many traces in the historical record. I got started with this book when I was in a bookstore one day and I saw a copy of Arthur Conan Doyle’s book, The Coming of the Fairies. It had the famous picture of Elsie holding her hand out to a gnome. Seeing that book, I thought: Perhaps I should write a book about what happened from the children’s point of view. The whole point of this new book is seeing what happened from the perspective of the children at the center of it. These two girls took photographs that bamboozled Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the rest of the world.

One of the things that Frances kept saying throughout her life was: No one has ever listened to what I have to say. There’s a lot of truth in that. Frances actually believed she saw fairies and believed it to her dying day. In newspapers, she was called a hoaxster and a liar. But, the truth is: The only thing she lied about was that the photographs showed real fairies.

DAVID: So, they were at the middle of this international news story, but really weren’t allowed to say much?

MARY: You have to remember that Frances was this little girl with a big bow in her hair. Nobody thought she had anything worthwhile to say. Elsie hoped to become an artist. That’s what Elsie really cared about, but people dismissed her art. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle told the world that she couldn’t possibly have drawn those fairies and couldn’t possibly have taken those pictures because she was just a simple little working class child from a little village. But, in fact, she was a very bright girl. Elsie started this wild ride and took Frances along with her. All the past accounts I’ve read of the Cottingley Fairies never approached the story from the girls’ point of view.


DAVID: Today, even young readers of this book may be shocked that people a hundred years ago did not leap to the conclusion that the photos were faked. Today, you can manipulate photos on your iPhone before sending to your friends. But, people had different assumptions about photos a century ago, right?

MARY: That’s Right. People thought that it was possible for cameras to photograph things that humans couldn’t perceive. In the late 1800s, people were making X-ray images that could see the bones inside your hand. So, somehow it was possible for images to be made that went beyond the power of the naked human eye. That’s how people thought about it.

DAVID: And, around that time in the late 1800s, the telegraph system was moving to wireless telegraphs and early radio transmissions. So, there was this wonderment about invisible messages in the world around us—like radio waves—that we couldn’t perceive through our normal senses.

MARY: Conan Doyle thought it was possible for cameras to capture images of things we couldn’t normally see. Afterward, many people thought this was a shameful episode in his life. A lot of biographers act as though it was ludicrous that he ever believed in these fairies. But I admire him for standing up for what he believed in. He believed there were other worlds we can’t perceive with our everyday senses. He believed in spiritualism and he took a lot of grief for that.

He did come to believe that the fairies heralded a new era in world history. He wanted to believe in this so much. Somewhere, I recall, he wrote a passage that expressed how wonderful it would be if it was possible to look out over a little glen and see a couple of fairies hovering. If the world is no more than what we can see, he argued, then the world is as bleak a landscape as the moon.

DAVID: As we already have told readers, this book is absolutely wonderful. As a journalist, I admire the depth of your research. Please, come back to ReadTheSpirit when your next book for young readers is ready. I’m sure our readers will welcome that news!

You can order The Fairy Ring: Or, Elsie and Frances Fool the World from Amazon.

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How the Cottingley fairies fooled Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Click the book cover to visit its Amazon page.Nearly 100 years ago, the world-famous creator of Sherlock Holmes—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—pushed aside his detective tales to publish a non-fiction book that he thought would change world history and become his most famous work by far! Thanks to photographs taken by two little working-class girls in the village of Cottingley about 200 miles north of London, Sir Arthur thought he was making history by proving the existence of fairies!

This is not a joke.
This is not a fictional tale.
In Sir Arthur’s book, now virtually fogtten compared with the enduring fame of his Sherlock Holmes stories, claimed that he had “actually proven the existence upon the surface of this planet of a population which may be as numerous as the human race.” Sir Arthur meant: Fairies.

Until today, there have been a few fanciful books and films loosely based on this world-famous case. In 1997, for example, Peter O’Toole and Harvey Keitel co-starred in a feature film, Fairy Tale: A True Story. Although the movie is entertaining and we can recommend it for family fun—unfortunately, there’s a lot of fiction in the movie script. The major fakery in the movie version is that somehow Harry Houdini gets involved in the international news story—which is not true. We won’t spoil the movie for you, but the movie’s ending is fictional as well.

To this day, tourists show up in the village of Cottingley to see the spot where the little girls fooled the whole world. And a common question since the 1990s is: “Where did Harry Houdini stay while he was here?”
The answer: Houdini never set foot in Cottingley.

Of all the myths surrounding this sensational story, veteran journalist Mary Losure says the biggest myth was this: Until now, most people think the story of the Cottingley Fairies is all about adults. According to reams of journalism published over the past 100 years, the main characters in the tale are Sir Arthur, then all the famous journalists who stepped into the story themselves—and then a long parade of journalists after the story resurfaced in more recent decades. For many years, Losure was a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio and a regular contributor to National Public Radio. After considerable trans-Atlantic research into the story of the Cottingley fairies, Losure corrects the record in her new book. After all that work, her main correction is this: The Cottingley story is fundamentally about the children who made all those adults run in circles for so many decades.

That’s why she calls her new book, The Fairy Ring: Or, Elsie and Frances Fool the World, and retells the entire story from the point of view of the two young cousins: Frances (whose photo is on the book cover with a fairy) and Elsie. Most of Losure’s Fairy Ring centers on their lives and experiences. In the middle of her book, however, Losure does explain why Sir Arthur was so eager to accept this crazy story as a sciencific breakthrough.


Cottingley Beck, today. “Beck” is a term once used to describe a stream. It was in the woods around this stream that Elsie and Frances had their fun with fairies.Sherlock Holmes was a keen-eyed, hawk-nosed man who had made detective work into a precise and rational science. Sherlock Holmes could put the tiniest clues together to find the truth. He was almost impossible to fool. So it might seem surprising that his creator, Sir Arthur, believed in fairies. But he did.

To Sir Arthur, fairies were part of a spirit world that coexisted with the everyday world he saw all around him. The spirit world was invisible, though. Only special people could see it or hear the voices of the spirits who lived in it. Those spirits included the ghosts of dead people, Sir Arthur believed. His own son, who had died of sickness after being wounded in the Great War, was one of them.

(Then, Losure tells how Sir Arthur heard about the snapshots taken by girls in the distant village. He got his hands on the photos. The book resumes with …)

Sir Athur went to his men’s club, the Athenaeum, and showed the fairy pictures to a friend of his, Sir Oliver Lodge, an expert in “psychic maters.” Sir Oliver was skeptical: he suspected the ring of fairy dancers had been somehow imposed on a different background.

Sir Arthur didn’t agree. “I argued that we had certainly traced the pictures to two children of the artisan class, and that such photographic tricks would be entirely beyond them,” he wrote. Working-class children, surely would not be able to pull off such a sophisticated trick.

In fact, they could—even though the girls had two strikes against them back in Sir Arthur’s judgment. The girls were just “working class” (Sir Arthur, in his day, called them “artisan class”) and just “little girls” as Sir Arthur kept emphasizing in his own writings and talks about the Cottingley fairies. Losure shows us in her book that it was these strong biases, universally accepted in that era, that allowed the girls to keep their fanciful story going for decades. And, in fact, the little girls didn’t think of the whole experience as fraud. They were simply … Well, to find out more, we recommend that you order a copy of The Fairy Ring: Or Elsie and Frances Fool the World.

Continue by reading our author interview with Mary Losure on her search for Elsie’s and Frances’s true story—nearly a century later.

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Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.