Saturday, October 31, 2015
History Professor Johnny Lynn had just finished a lecture on Maggie Davies, the granddaughter of Confederate Colonel Jesse Davies, at the Museum of Florida History in Tallahassee.
“Love to take questions,” Johnny said to the audience. He pointed to a woman near the front. “Yes.”
“You have already written a book on the Davies family. What made you decide to write another book on Maggie?”
“Good question. Actually, there are two reasons. My wife, Jenny, had always been fascinated with Maggie’s portrait hanging in this museum and actually did a research paper about her while in college. She got me interested. While working on the first book, I originally planned to have only one chapter about Maggie, but there was such a plethora of information I decided to write another book about her.” Johnny pointed to another person. “The woman in the back.”
“You mentioned that Maggie died at the young age of 34. What was the cause of her death?”
“They believe it was water intoxication. I’m not a doctor, but it’s my understanding that people can drink too much water and flush the electrolytes out of their bodies. Keep in mind that medicine in 1925 was not what it is today. The story is that it was a blistering hot summer day and Maggie was drinking an inordinate amount of water. She passed out and never regained consciousness. Her death certificate listed the cause of her death as heat stroke.” Johnny paused. “The gentleman in the back,” he said.
“You mentioned in your talk that Maggie never married, but was once engaged. Were there other serious relationships afterward?”
“Yes and no,” Johnny said, smiling. “There were not any other serious romantic relationships, but she did have a very close relationship with her youngest nephew, George, her sister Tara’s son. It was said Maggie did everything but have him. When you see pictures of Maggie after 1919, they usually have George in them. George even lived with her. It’s not as strange as it may sound, as Maggie lived just down the street from Tara and her family.”
A person in one of the middle rows asked, “Can you tell us about Maggie’s grandfather?”
“I need money first,” replied Johnny jovially. The audience laughed. “Well, that’s in my first book, but I’ll give a brief synopsis. Jesse Davies was a native Hoosier who was a senator when the war broke out. His sympathies were with the South, so he resigned as senator and joined the Confederate Army, rising to the rank of colonel. He was with John Hunt Morgan in his raid of Indiana in 1863. After the war, Davies moved to Key West and became a successful lawyer.”
“Seems strange that a Northerner would fight for the other side,” commented another man in the audience.
“Not as strange as you may think. Much of southern and central Indiana had strong ties to the South. Many of the region’s early settlers had come from the Confederate state of Virginia and from Kentucky. The governor of Indiana feared that the legislature’s Democratic majority would attempt to hinder the war effort and vote to secede. Boggstown and the surrounding township did secede!”
Susanna Lassiter was a fifth-generation Floridian. When she was 19 she met Jim Lynn, two years her senior. He was in the army and visiting Florida while on leave with Dave Floyd, an army buddy. Within six months, Susanna and Jim were married. Susanna had accepted Jim’s marriage proposal contingent upon his agreeing to retire in Florida. Jim was more than willing to oblige. After his four-year term in the army was over, he became a police officer in Valparaiso, Indiana. It took seven years, but finally they were able to have a child, a son, Johnny.
Johnny was a precocious child and from an early age loved history. He had a special fondness for early American history – Jamestown through 1877. Even though he had been born and raised in Northwest Indiana, he was a staunch supporter of the Confederate side in the War Between the States. As early as age 4 he played only with Confederate – not Union – toy soldiers. He enjoyed visiting relatives in Florida during the summers, and as early as junior high he had plans to attend college there, as well as live there.
A tragic event in 1982, when he was 11, influenced the decisions Johnny made as an adult. While off duty, his father was struck and killed by a drunk driver. He had no life insurance, so Johnny and his mother struggled, although she did have a good-paying job. Johnny was close to his father and vowed that he would never taste alcohol. He was true to his word and became a lifelong teetotaler. The death of his father, combined with the fact that his uncle was an alcoholic, turned him staunchly against alcohol. The unexpected death of his father taught Johnny the necessity of being financially prepared for the unexpected. Once he got married, he made sure both he and his wife had life insurance.
As Johnny drove back to Tampa, he thought of his wife, Jenny, who had died six years earlier. Johnny and Jenny had married when they were both 22 and had only 16 years together. Their marriage didn’t produce any offspring, though they both wanted children. There was a stillborn child produced by their union when Jenny was 28. Johnny was willing to adopt, but Jenny would have none of it. Losing the baby had turned her against the idea of adoption. Johnny thought about that difficult period.
It was Johnny who had broken the bad news to Jenny in the hospital.
“They gave you the privilege of telling me,” Jenny said lovingly. “Do we have a son or a daughter?” she asked with excitement.
“We had a son.”
“What’s wrong?” Jenny replied, a worried look on her face.
“Our child was stillborn.”
“Oh, no. Our baby. Our son.”
“There’s more. I don’t have the words. All I can say is I’m sorry.”
“We can’t have any more children. We almost lost you, Jenny. It was the only way to save you.”
Jenny began crying uncontrollably.
Johnny and Jenny, like every couple, had disagreements, but when it came to adoption, they were diametrical opposites. Johnny remembered the last time he tried to sell her on the idea of adopting a child.
“Forget it, Johnny. For the last time, I won’t live a lie,” shouted Jenny.
“Why do you keep thinking of adoption as a lie?”
“Because it is. I wouldn’t be its mother. If I can’t have a child, I won’t have one.”
“You won’t, your tragedy. Did you ever stop to consider that it was my son, too? Doesn’t that mean anything to you?” Johnny asked as he stormed out of the house.
He quickly turned his thoughts toward more pleasant memories of their life together. He remembered that during their first year in college they hadn’t shown any particular interest in each other, but that had changed in year two. As Jenny later told Johnny, he had been at the show with another girl, their first and only date, and Jenny was a few rows behind them. Suddenly she felt jealous. She wanted to be the one sitting next to Johnny. She had been raised in a strict, moral family and had been taught that guys were the hunters, while gals were the hunted. She was hoping that Johnny would be that hunter.
One day in the cafeteria, she pretended to read a book, all the while sneaking glances at Johnny. Unbeknownst to her, the book was upside down. Johnny spied the book, made a beeline to her, and said, “Miss Wells, you have a peculiar way of looking at things.” He took the book out of her hands, turned it right-side up, and handed it back to her, saying, “There.” He walked away without another word. Jenny was red with embarrassment.
A couple of weeks later there was a Halloween party that Jenny was sure Johnny would not attend. When he arrived, she was surprised to see him. When he saw her, he said, “What brings you here, Miss Wells?”
“You can call me Jenny.”
They talked for nearly 30 minutes. Johnny asked her to get a bite to eat after the party.
“No, I...I...can’t,” she said, pausing after each “I.”
Not about to take “no” for an answer, Johnny asked, “Why not?”
“I’m seeing someone else at the moment.”
Jenny thought, “I blew it,” but Johnny Lynn wasn’t done yet.
“I didn’t ask you to marry me. Do you want to go or not?”
Jenny wasn’t about to blow it twice and accepted his offer. From that moment, they were an item. They were married three years later. Johnny got a master’s degree in history, while Jenny became a civil engineer. Family meant a lot to both of them, and when discussing the number of children they would have, Johnny told Jenny they would have as many or as few as she wanted. He figured this was only fair because she was the one who had to give birth. They were both ecstatic when, five years later, she announced that she was pregnant. Unfortunately, the feeling of ecstasy turned to sadness upon the death of their son.
Johnny had taken the death of his wife hard and eventually started going to grief counseling. He didn’t attend for long. He was told that he hadn’t accepted Jenny’s death, and until he did he would continue to suffer emotionally and physically. A light bulb went on and he made a determined effort to get on with his life.
“I can’t forget her,” Johnny told his counselor.
“Nor should you. Accepting death doesn’t mean forgetting.”
“So I should never reminiscence?”
“It’s fine to reminiscence. Just stay focused on the present.”
“I can do that. I would like to take one day a year, go somewhere remote, and reminiscence about the time we had together. We had been together since I was 19 and I lost her when I was 38. That’s half my life up to that point, lots of memories.”
“Think of the happy memories. Don’t torture yourself by reliving the unhappy ones.”
“You mean the battle she lost with cancer?”
“Yes. You can’t totally forget it, but you can stop making that the main focus when you do think of her. Think of how she lived, not how she died.”
“That’s sage advice.”
“That’s what I’m here for.”
Even though he was no longer attending grief counseling, Johnny appreciated the help the counselor had given him and made a point of sending her a Christmas card every year.
Johnny also thought about the strange dreams he had been having. The dreams were similar to each other, yet different. They were similar in that the people in the dreams were always him and Maggie Davies, the woman about whom he had written his latest book. The dreams were also similar in that they took place in The Chateau, the former grand hotel in Key West. Johnny and Maggie were seated at a luxurious white marble table, about the size of a breakfast table, with him seated on the left and her across from him on the right. In these dreams, they were shrouded by white clouds. The conversations they had from the beginning were like those of two people who had known each other all their lives. What was different in the dreams was the clothes they wore and the conversations they had. The color of Maggie’s dresses was almost always white, though in different shades and styles. She was always wearing a dress.
The first dream Johnny had occurred not long after his book was published.
“Thank you for remembering me and writing a biography about me. It’s very flattering,” Maggie said.
“I felt your story needed to be told,” replied Johnny.
“You’ve got it all wrong about my former fiancé, Fitz Welks. I wasn’t melancholy in my portrait because I was pining for Fitz.”
“I didn’t say that. I said that some people speculate you looked melancholy because of your breakup with Welks. That’s not even in the book; it’s something I mention only when I give talks about the book.”
“Those people are wrong.”
Johnny changed the subject. “Where are we?”
“This is some hotel.”
What Maggie said next absolutely mesmerized him.
“The design and construction of this hotel represented a marriage of the elegance of Europe and the vigor and enterprise of the rebuilt South. The foundations were made of rocks left behind by glaciers thousands of years ago. The beams and supports were cut from ancient local forests. The plaster walls were made from crushed clam shells and horsehair. Bricks were imported from Holland. That chandelier – brought over from France – gleamed with hypnotic brilliance. That faded wallpaper was specially designed by a Belgian artist. The parquet floors were installed by an Italian craftsman. Cornices and moldings were the effort of a Spanish craftsman. It was a hotel to be envied by a prince.”
Maggie looked at Johnny and added, “Would you like to see it? Would you like me to take you on a guided tour?”
Johnny woke up at that moment, before he had a chance to answer. Intrigued by the description of the hotel, he got out of bed, logged onto his computer and familiarized himself with facts about The Chateau. It had been built in 1881 and was owned by the Beaumarchais family. Tragically, it caught fire in 1934 and was left dilapidated. Eventually it was torn down and conch houses were built on the property. Today there was only a marker on the site where the hotel had once stood.
Even though it was only a dream, during his real-life talks about the book, Johnny never again mentioned what people posited was the reason for Maggie’s melancholy appearance in her portrait. He realized that repeating what other people thought, without clear proof or evidence, was not fair to the memory of Maggie Davies. He believed in reporting facts he had learned while combing through his various research material.
The portrait in question was one done by Marcel Duchamp shortly before Maggie’s death in 1925. In the portrait she had gorgeous red hair and beautiful grey eyes. She was wearing a lovely white dress with an alexandrite brooch and a gold necklace with a hanging gold pendant attached by a single beautiful, glistering diamond. Maggie looked the epitome of a graceful, dignified woman.
That first dream with him and Maggie Davies had him thinking long term about writing a book about The Chateau. He thought, ‘The story of that treasure needs to be told.’
Johnny’s thoughts turned again to the strange dreams with Maggie Davies. The last dream had caught his attention: Maggie told him he was going to be a father. He realized these were just dreams, but they were unlike any dreams he had ever had. They were so real. He had had dreams that seemed real before, but the realness of these dreams was much more intense.
Johnny was already thinking about the next book he would write. He was planning a book about the 2nd Florida Cavalry CSA, a unit in which an ancestor on his mother’s side had served. He wanted to write a book about the 7th Missouri Infantry CSA, too. He had done some research on his dad’s side of the family and discovered that he had both Confederate and Union ancestors. His Confederate ancestor had served in the 7th Missouri Infantry.
Johnny pulled into his driveway, glad to be home. It had been a long day. He lived in a nice, quiet, middle-class neighborhood in south Tampa. He had taken out a $500,000 life insurance policy on both himself and Jenny. He never thought he would be the one to use it. His purpose in getting life insurance was to make sure Jenny was provided for in case of his death. Life insurance on Jenny for himself had been an afterthought. He would have gladly traded places with Jenny had the decision been his to make. He hadn’t spent any of the insurance money save for what he invested. He had a financial adviser, Phillip Corley, and in six years had seen his $250,000 initial investment double. Phillip had advised diversity in investing. To Johnny, this money represented Jenny’s life and he was determined not to squander it. Johnny decided he would invest half and hang on to the rest. Money hadn’t changed him. He still lived in the same modest 2500-square-foot house and still drove leased Toyotas, the current one being a 2014 white Avalon. He had toyed with the idea of leasing either a BMW or Lincoln, but decided against it. Jenny liked Toyotas and had driven one all 16 years of their marriage.
Johnny really liked Phillip. He was so affable, so genuine. He got along well with other people and had the perfect personality for a financial adviser. Loving history as he did, Johnny had decided, just for fun, to look into the past 100 years of investments in America, particularly the stock market. What started as a way to simply get a general overview quickly became an in-depth study. He would occasionally ask Phillip questions, which Phillip always patiently answered. Johnny even toyed with the idea of writing a book about the subject, The History of Investing in America, but upon further contemplation decided others were more qualified; he wasn’t sure of the market for such a book.
As he got ready for bed, Johnny sat in a chair in the family room and looked at the portrait of Maggie Davies. He remembered how he and Jenny had both thought how nice that portrait would look above their fireplace.
That night he had another dream with him and Maggie.
“Do you like the food?” asked Maggie.
“What do you not like to eat?”
“Liver. Never have liked it. What about you?”
“Really?” Johnny asked in surprise. “I always thought of black-eyed peas as a Southern staple.”
“Maybe so, but I never cared for them. Don’t much care for tomatoes, either. I like tomato soup, tomato pie, tomato bread, but just don’t care for tomatoes.”
“I’m that way with apples. I like apple pie, apple bread, apple juice, applesauce, but not apples. I like soft fruit.”
Changing the subject, Maggie looked into Johnny’s eyes and said, “You’re going to be a father.”
When Johnny woke up the next morning, he thought briefly about the recent dream and convinced himself that it was just a dream and didn’t mean anything.
Thursday, November 5, 2015
This was the six-year anniversary of Jenny’s death. It was the day of the year when Johnny went to a quiet, remote place so that he could be alone and reminisce. He would take DVDs and CDs. Watching the DVDs would bring back memories of happy times together, as would the CDs. This day was her day and he played the music she liked. Luckily, they had similar musical tastes. There was very little one liked that the other did not. Johnny liked classic country music more than she did, but eventually Jenny came to like it almost as much. They both loved Patsy Cline. Jenny loved The Beatles and her favorite song was Lucy in The Sky with Diamonds. She loved the imagery in the lyrics.
The first thing on Johnny’s agenda was placing flowers on Jenny’s grave. She was buried in a lovely, peaceful, quiet country cemetery in Plant City. He enjoyed the serenity, if not the reminder that she was gone.
Johnny and Jenny loved the outdoors and nature. They also liked exploring. Ever since the 2002 discovery of Werner Cave in Citrus County, they had wanted to go there and look for other undiscovered caves. They never got around to it. Other weekend getaways had been higher on their priority list. This year Johnny decided to go to Withlacoochee Lodge near Inverness in Citrus County. Withlacoochee Lodge was on the Withlacoochee River, a pristine waterway with wonderful views of cypress trees and an abundance of wildlife. Johnny looked forward to staying in one of its log cabins, watching the magnificent birds, walking the nature trails, and enjoying the scenic atmosphere.
Inverness was about an hour-and-a-half drive from south Tampa and Johnny arrived about 10:00 a.m. He was immediately smitten with the serenity and wished he had taken the opportunity to share the experience with Jenny. Still, he had no regrets. The weekend getaways they had taken were indelibly etched in his mind. Upon arriving, Johnny struck up a short conversation with the man behind the check-in counter.
“I couldn’t help noticing the outside sign: Established 1919. That’s impressive, almost 100 years. Do you know the history of this resort?”
“It started out small, maybe a half dozen cabins with a small store. It didn’t really evolve to what it is now until the 1980s. That’s when the boats, canoes, and other amenities came along.”
As Johnny looked around, he noticed an old framed photo. He walked up to it to take a closer look and noticed the writing underneath it. It was a 1919 photo of the original small store. Johnny couldn’t hide his enthusiasm.
After driving to his cabin and unpacking, Johnny sat on a rocking chair on the porch, admiring the beautiful landscaping and wondering what it may have looked like when the resort first opened in 1919. He decided to take a walk on one of the nature trails to the waterfall he had read about in the brochure. After closing the cabin door, he realized he had locked his keys inside. He decided to wait until he got back to have maintenance unlock the door.
It was a three-mile walk from his cabin to the waterfall. As he walked, he enjoyed the scenery and the sound of the birds singing. He marveled at the serene atmosphere.
He had gone about two-and-one-quarter miles when suddenly, out of the blue, a torrential storm began. There were flashes of lightning, peals of thunder, and sheets of heavy rain. Johnny was soaked and began running, trying to find protection from the pounding fury. He had gotten off the beaten path and suddenly found himself in front of a rock formation about a half mile long and 50 feet high. Overgrown foliage and vines were visible. He had lost his bearings and didn’t have a clue where he was. All he knew was that the storm was fierce and he needed to find protection.
Suddenly he was startled by a loud “meow” from a stray cat. He wondered if his eyes were playing tricks on him. It looked as though the cat had darted right through the rock. He stared intently at the place where he had seen the cat seemingly disappear. He noticed a small opening large enough for a cat to have gone through and using considerable effort began tearing the vines loose. The opening became larger until finally he was able to go through it. Upon entry, he realized he had stumbled upon an undiscovered cave!
Johnny was grateful to take shelter from the storm. He was drenched and was planning to head back to his cabin and change clothes once the rain stopped. He sat and started to close his eyes, relaxing, when suddenly he saw something that looked like a beam of sunshine. He jumped to his feet. To his astonishment, outside the cave not only had the storm stopped, but it was bright with sunshine.
Bewildered, he darted outside. He was puzzled. It looked as if it hadn’t rained in weeks. He felt the ground and it was dry, as were the foliage and vines. ‘What’s going on?’ he thought.
Suddenly he heard gunshots, boom boom.
“There he is.”
Johnny heard the voice but didn’t see anyone. More gunshots rang out, boom boom.
Another voice shouted. “After him!”
Terror raced through Johnny’s mind. ‘These people are nuts,’ he thought as he began running for his life. He kept running faster, his heart pounding. He heard another shot and glanced behind him. When he did, he failed to see the large tree root in front of him. He tripped over it, hitting his head on a large boulder.
One final shot rang out, followed by a voice which exclaimed, “We got him!”