Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Historic Places: Ottawa, Illinois

I know what you're thinking. What? Where?

Hear me out. (If you do, there's a surprise at the end!)

Ottawa is a little city that you've probably never heard of, but it boasts a hefty historical background that includes Abraham Lincoln, the I&M Canal, and the Radium Dial Corporation. Murals throughout Ottawa's downtown depict scenes like Native Americans hunting buffalo, soldiers marching to join the Civil War, turn-of-the-century children playing with marbles made in their own Peltier Glass Factory, and the centennial of the Great Debate.

Ottawa's Great Debate and proudest moment in history occurred on August 21, 1858, and there is no way to visit Ottawa without learning this! Starting with a giant monument in the center of Washington Square, where the debate occurred, but also included in multiple murals, every local museum & historical society, and tourism marketing, the Lincoln-Douglas debate is a pretty big deal.

Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln were debating the hot topic of the day: slavery, in a debate that was attended by a crowd of 14,000, an astounding turnout for a senatorial debate in the mid-19th century. If your brain is churning through dates right now, you will have calculated that Lincoln lost to Douglas. Otherwise, he would not have been able to be elected President in 1860. One might say that Lincoln excelled at losing the battle but winning the war.

Washington Square is also home to memorials to Ottawa soldiers in the Civil War, Spanish American War, WWI & II, Korean War, and Vietnam.

Across the road from Washington Square, Douglas supporters watched the debate from the Reddick Mansion. Ardent democrats and the wealthiest family in town, the Reddicks had finished their Italianate mansion just a month before the Big Day, so it was a great opportunity to show off the four story, 22-room beauty. When William Reddick died in 1885, he left his luxurious home to the city to be the home of the Ottawa library. It served in this capacity for almost 90 years, and since the 1970's, efforts have been made to restore the Reddick Mansion to its former glory. A few spectacular examples of workmanship have survived, such as woodwork painted to create the appearance of different species of wood and detailed trimwork.

Just east of the Reddick Mansion is a construction site. It is a future Subway - the sandwich shop, not underground trains - but some local residents have vowed never to eat there. Why? The lot used to be the address of Radium Dial, a company that left the town poisoned by radioactivity and caused the painful unnecessary deaths of many young women who worked there from WWI until they closed in 1934.

Catherine & her children, Chicago Daily Times, 1938
One of those young women was my reason for visiting Ottawa. Catherine Wolfe, later Donohue, started working at Radium Dial in 1922 when she was 19 years old. It was a dream job for a young, working class girl. Women painted watch faces with glow-in-the-dark paint, a job that was considered a step above other manual labor and paid 2-3 times as much. Little did they know that they were slowly and irreversibly poisoning themselves. The girls would dip their brushes in the radium-infused paint and then point the bristles with their lips to create the point necessary to trace the fine markings of the watch dials. They would also paint their nails & faces with the paint, just for fun, or wear their going-out dresses to work to collect the omnipresent factory dust, so that they would glow like angels when they went on their dates.

Long after experts understood the dangers of radium and long after Radium Dial understood what was happening to these girls, the girls themselves figured out that the teeth they were losing, the diseases they were suffering, the pain coursing through their bodies, and the cancers they were dying of were caused by radium poisoning. Radium Dial fought with lies, lawyers, and deep pockets to avoid paying restitution to the women and their families or making changes to the workplace.

Catherine Donohue worked at Radium Dial until 1931, when she was fired because her limp (caused by radium poisoning) was disconcerting to the other girls. When she and some of her friends brought suit against Radium Dial, they became the basis for reform in workplace safety and employer responsibility. Safety standards were finally established for radioactive materials, but it was too late for Catherine. She died in 1938, her body riddled with poison and weighing only 70 pounds. She left behind two children, aged 3 & 5. In Catherine's lead-lined, concrete encased casket, her body is still glowing.

Catherine is the reason I went to Ottawa. She will be featured in my next novel, because the story of the Radium Girls, as she and her friends became known, needs to be told. It is a story not just of worker exploitation and corporate greed, but more importantly of friendship, faith, and resilience.

I know that I am asking my readers to take a big step out of the early Tudor era and into those years between The Wars. Into the years of scientific advances that outpaced safety, years of prohibition and women's suffrage. But every era & every woman's story share timeless connections of life, love, and discovering our purpose. 

Catherine faced her calling and a fate that no one would ever ask for with courage, determination, and the deep faith of a little midwestern Catholic girl in a way that both breaks my heart and makes me want to be a better person. I hope you will enjoy her story.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Katherine - Tudor Duchess

New release from Tony Riches!

Attractive, wealthy and influential, Katherine Willoughby is one of the most unusual ladies of the Tudor court. A favourite of King Henry VIII, Katherine knows all his six wives, his daughters Mary and Elizabeth, and his son Edward. When her father dies, Katherine becomes the ward of Tudor knight, Sir Charles Brandon. Her Spanish mother, Maria de Salinas, is Queen Catherine of Aragon’s lady in waiting, so it is a challenging time for them when King Henry marries the enigmatic Anne Boleyn.

Following Anne’s dramatic downfall, Katherine marries Charles Brandon, and becomes Duchess of Suffolk at the age of fourteen. After the short reign of young Catherine Howard, and the death of Jane Seymour, Katherine and Brandon are chosen to welcome Anna of Cleves as she arrives in England.

When the royal marriage is annulled, Katherine’s good friend, Catherine Parr becomes the king’s sixth wife, and they work to promote religious reform. Katherine’s young sons are tutored with the future king, Prince Edward, and become his friends, but when Edward dies his Catholic sister Mary is crowned queen. Katherine’s Protestant faith puts her family in great danger - from which there seems no escape.

Katherine’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Tony Riches is the author of the best-selling Tudor Trilogy, available in eBook and paperback from Amazon UK and Amazon US. Also, find it on Goodreads.(Audiobook edition coming in 2020)

Connect with Tony

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony’s other published historical fiction novels include: Owen – Book One Of The Tudor Trilogy, Jasper – Book Two Of The Tudor Trilogy, Henry – Book Three Of The Tudor Trilogy, Mary – Tudor Princess and Brandon – Tudor Knight. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on Facebook and Twitter.