Daddy's Christmas Angel

Monday, March 25, 2019

Rose Hall, Jamaica and the White Witch

"Rose Hall Great House" Acrylic Painting ©Mary Montague Sikes
Stories of haunted houses have always fascinated me. Rose Hall Great House, overlooking the Caribbean Sea on the island of Jamaica, is an eerie old mansion that is haunted by the "white witch". Years ago, when I first visited Rose Hall and heard the legend of Annie Palmer, I was captivated and, of course, needed to know more.

Standing on the grounds of the historic old building, one can easily imagine Annie peering from behind the curtain of her bedroom window on the upper floor. Climbing up the entrance steps to the main level, visitors cross the open portico and enter the famous location where even today the presence of Annie Palmer is felt. According to stories related there, she viciously beat the slaves who cared for the plantation and murdered three of her husbands as well.

No wonder visits to Rose Hall encouraged me to learn the history of the land and house that dates back to 1746. That's when Henry Fanning discovered the property featuring 300 acres of sugarcane fields that bordered a long stretch of the Caribbean coastline. Earlier that year, Fanning married Rosa Kelly, for whom the mansion was named. However, building his dream home was not to be for Fanning who died before the project was started.

In 1750, it was Annie's second husband, George Ash, who began construction of the white stone mansion. He died two years later. After that, Rosa suffered through 13 years of an unhappy marriage with a man named Norwood Witter. It was John Palmer, Rosa's fourth husband, who finally completed the Rose Hall project between 1770 and 1780. Palmer who was King George III's representative to Jamaica owned Palmyra, a neighboring estate.

Palmer outlived Rosa as well as another wife and, at his death in 1797, left both Rose Hall and Palmyra to John Rose Palmer, his nephew. When John Rose Palmer sailed from England to Jamaica, he was disappointed to find both estates needing repair. He started restoration and refurnishing the Great House.

In 1820, Palmer met 18-year-old Annie May Paterson in Kingston and later married her. The beautiful Annie was born in England, but reportedly was raised in Haiti under the care of a voodoo priestess who taught her unusual black magic practices.

According to legend, John Rose Palmer was most likely a drunk who beat and mistreated Annie. His mistreatment of her might have led to Annie's later cruelty. It probably led to Annie poisoning Palmer three years into their marriage. She is said to have ordered that the slave, who helped her in his murder, be flogged to death. Annie strangled her second husband and stabbed to death her third, all according to legend.

Fearing Annie's power, the village obeahman tried to have her killed, but that effort failed and she continued her torturous practices. She was often seen at night, dressed in man's dark clothing and riding a black horse. Her own slaves despised her. They believed Rose Hall held an evil spirit.

According to tales, Annie took many of her slaves for lovers, then murdered them when she developed a new interest. Eventually, following a slave uprising when cane fields were burned, Annie herself was murdered.

So many years later, the ghostly tales persist. Annie was buried in the garden by the east wing of Rose Hall. No one lived in the Great House after her death. It is said that until Rose Hall fell into ruin, a large bloodstain from one of the murdered men could be seen clearly on the wooden floor.

What a story. No wonder I was compelled to write a book featuring Annie and those long-ago times that somehow relate to present day characters and a love that crosses the centuries. Hearts Across Forever is that magical story of forever love. It will be available starting April 18.

Friday, March 8, 2019

Being an Artist and a Writer is Hard, So Let's Make it Harder

Being both an artist and a writer is hard work. In addition to writing books and making art, you need to promote both as well as create a brand image for yourself.

Getting Manager Mike Shildt's autograph
Although I understand all of the challenges a creative life involves, I've decided to make it even harder. That's because I'm a baseball fan. I'm not just a casual, follow your team, look at the scores fan. No, I am a crazy watch every pitch of every game on satellite TV fan. It's possible that sometimes I might know almost as much about the games as some of the coaches do.

When I was about 10 years old, I fell in love with the St. Louis Cardinals. Through the magic of KMOX radio, their games resounded across the country, and while listening I got to know all of their players and became a fan of each one. How exciting when, years later, I got to meet one of those players, Red Schoendienst, on the Spring Training fields in Jupiter FL.

Every year, we go down to Florida for two weeks to watch the Cardinals train on both the back fields
Jim Edmonds, my all-time favorite player, signing
and in regular games at Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter. For me, it is the most exciting time of the year. Every team has a chance, and excitement fills the air. I like seats located behind the bullpen where the action involves watching the pitchers who will play that day warm up. These are box seats and are the same price as seats behind the catcher that are actually better locations for seeing the game. However, games in the spring are just exhibition events, so I enjoy the bullpen location much more. This year, it was especially fun to see fire-baller Jordan Hicks practice for some of his many 100+ mph throws from the picher's mound after he entered the game.

Tyler O'Neill signs in the dugout.
Another place I really like to be for spring training, is next to the Cardinals dugout before the game. That's when I feel like a "groupie" edging into the crowd, standing there and leaning into the dugout for player autographs. It's also a good place to get the signatures of TV
broadcasters, Dan MacLaughlin and Ricky Horton. Although I'm not a big autograph-collector, it is fun to be in the mix and to listen to the conversations there.

We are back home now, and I am looking forward to next spring. In the meantime, I will watch every pitch of every game this spring, summer, and fall. And somewhere along the way, I will write books, promotional material and press releases. I will also paint paintings and hang them wherever possible.

Still, it would be so much easier if I weren't a crazy, fanatical fan. I shouldn't add to the difficulties of the creative life.