Saturday, October 31, 2015

Haunted Colorado: Miramont Castle

Kerry Hammond is here today to report on her recent visit to a haunted castle located in Manitou Springs, Colorado. What could be better than ghost stories on Halloween...

Miramont Castle, built in 1895, is not only on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s also rumored to be haunted. The museum curator who was on duty told stories of strange happenings at the castle. There have been several instances where workmen have returned to the castle to pick up their tools, only to find that they were moved to a different location. When questioned, none of the staff had touched any of the tools. One guest on a tour was a bit freaked out when her phone started to play a religious song. She not only didn’t listen to that type of music, but her phone wasn’t connected to itunes, nor did it contain any music files. We were shown several photos left by guests that contained orb-like images. They were quite large (way too large to be dust specs that you often see in photos when the light is right). Many of the photos had multiple orbs in varying sizes.

The castle was originally built as a home for Catholic priest Father Jean Baptist Francolon. It is located about 70 miles south of Denver, in the small town of Manitou Springs, which is also known for its many fountains of carbonated spring water. Father Francolon had a bit of a checkered past, and Elizabeth Hall published a book called Miramont’s Ghost, blending fact and fiction. The story uses Francolon’s background and his move to Manitou after the castle was built, and contains facts about his dark secrets that eventually came to light.

Father Francolon, who was very unpopular with the locals, eventually left for France in 1900. The castle was purchased by the Sisters of Mercy, who previously used his first residence, located behind the current castle. They ran the Montcalme sanitarium at Miramont, treating patients suffering from tuberculosis from 1895 to 1928.

The castle is now a museum that offers a self-guided tour. The rooms are decorated as they would have been when Father Francolon lived there, showing a variety of furnishings, clothing, and other items used during that time. There is even a glassed in area showing a bit of original wallpaper still on one wall. It’s glassed in because the wallpaper contains arsenic, which was a common additive back in the day.

There is also a Tea Room that services a wonderful High Tea, offering tasty treats and excellent service. They even have a hat rack where you can choose a hat to wear during your tea. If you’re ever visiting the area, this is a great place to stop. Don’t forget your camera, you never know when you might capture an orb.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Look Both Ways and the Poison Apple

Carol J. Perry, the author of the Witch City Series, is here today brewing up something special for Halloween Drinks with Reads...

“Looking glass upon the wall, who is fairest of them all?”
The Evil Queen in “Snow White”
Grimm’s Fairy Tales

That’s the epigraph at the beginning of Look Both Ways, latest in the Witch City Mystery series. The evil queen from the fairy tale liked looking into mirrors, but Lee Barrett doesn’t. Lee is, reluctantly, a scryer—a person who sees visions of the past, present or future in shiny, reflective surfaces. Some would welcome such a gift, but for Lee, mirrors, crystal balls, even shiny patent leather shoes can produce scenes of death and dying. Of course, things aren’t all gloomy and doomy for this Salem born, red-haired, TV star. She has a great apartment, drives a Corvette, has a handsome detective boyfriend, Pete Mondello, and a cat named O’Ryan who seems to have some mystical powers of his own. 

Everyone knows that in Salem, there are secrets everywhere. This time, Lee has reason to believe that even the furniture might be haunted---and it all begins with a mirror. It’s a tarnished, blackened old mirror on an antique bureau she bought to replace one she’d lost in a fire, a bureau with concealed compartments. One problem. It came from an estate where a famous Salem murder happened. Later, when Lee discovers the bludgeoned body of the antique shop owner, the blackened mirror begins to reveal a trail of deception and death, while the bureau itself gives up long-hidden secrets of dark misdeeds.

Lee knows there’s a killer somewhere in the city—and the killer may know that she knows.

* * * *

Want to catch up with Lee’s earlier adventures? “Caught Dead Handed” is a good place to start. Lee goes for a job interview at Salem’s waterfront cable TV station WICH-TV.  Disappointed because the position she wanted has been filled, Lee discovers the drowned body of popular TV psychic Ariel Constellation, face down in Salem Harbor. Lee winds up with Ariel’s show, “Nightshades” pretending to be psychic and introducing spooky old movies. It’s a show prop black obsidian ball that gets her into scryer trouble this time. But hey, she meets Pete and inherits Ariel’s cat, so it’s not all bad.

“Tails, You Lose” is the second Witch City book. Did you know there are old tunnels running under much of Salem? Lee didn’t know either, but there are. (For real!) Lee is teaching a TV Production class at Salem’s newest academy. It’s located in the long closed Trumbull’s department store which is rumored to be haunted. (Some folks say the whole darned city is.) Lee sees visions in giant patent leather pump, left over from Trumbull’s shoe department, revealing clues to the strange death of the school’s handyman.  Ghosts in the old store’s attic are the least of her problems with a killer on the loose.

Drink Recipe – “The Poison Apple”

In keeping with that Evil Queen’s quote, what could be more appropriate for your Halloween celebration than a poison apple?  This one is quite sweet and yummy, so don’t be tempted to drink a lot of it. You don’t want to wind up in a deep sleep like Snow White.

2 ounces Crown Royal
1 ounce Sour Apple Pucker Schnapps
3 ounces Cranberry-Apple juice

Pour whiskey, schnapps and juice into a mixing glass filled with ice. Stir with spoon until wicked cold. Strain into glass and garnish with apple slices.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Quick DIY Mystery Themed Halloween Costumes

Kerry Hammond is here today to show us a few mystery related Halloween costumes that you can throw together this year, some of them in a pinch.

Halloween is one of the only times when adults can dress up and not look foolish or feel like an out cast, since it’s frowned upon the other 364 days of the year. I thought it would be fun to celebrate our one public dress up day with a few costumes that have a mystery related theme. Some of them require a bit of preparation, but others may be thrown together from items in your closet. Of course, it does depend on what you’ve got hiding in your closet.

Miss Scarlet, in the Library, with the Candlestick

This costume only requires three things: a red dress, a book, and a candlestick. Feel free to tweak this idea for any of the clue characters, weapons, or rooms. If you’ve got five adventurous friends, you can even use them all as a group costume for a party. If you have time, you can embellish with a wig, red lipstick, and a faux fur collar or veiled hat.

Lizzy Borden

For this costume, you can really customize it to your own personal style. The one shown here uses a long sleeved dress (purchase one at a thrift shop because you don’t want to ruin a good dress), old-fashioned footwear, fake blood, red wig, and an ax. It’s helpful if you have someone else throw the blood at you. After all, you want the authentic blood spatter look of a crazed killer. Carry around your ax and look young and innocent.

Hercule Poirot

This one is pretty simple, but it helps if you’re slightly crafty. Download and print this fabulous mask from Eudeline Moutarde. You'll need a color printer. If you want to go the extra mile, wear a dark suit, add a cane and a bowler hat (Halloween costume shops have these and they’re inexpensive) and waddle around speaking in a French accent, telling everyone about your “little grey cells.”


This costume is more for fans of the Victorian inspired, HG Wells time travel phenomena. I am a big steampunk fan, so I wanted something that could be used for Halloween as well as other occasions. I don’t follow the rule of only one dress up day each year, so I am currently planning to use this costume for the adult Sherlock Holmes exhibit event in November. I purchased the brown felt hat and goggles at a costume shop, and the vest at a thrift shop for the male character, shown above. I added the pocket watch accessory to dress up the vest. 

Happy Halloween.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Bouchercon 2015 Wrap Up White Collar Panel

Kerry Hammond is here for the post-Bouchercon wrap up to tell us about a panel she attended at this year's Bouchercon in Raleigh, North Carolina. Bouchercon is the world's largest mystery convention. It will be held in New Orleans in 2016

What do you get when you put John Hart, Alafair Burke, Joseph Finder, Harry Hunsicker, and Michael Sears together in the same room? A wonderful panel at this year’s Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, North Carolina. The topic: The White Collar Criminal in Mystery and Thriller Fiction.

The panelists talked about their portrayal of crime and criminals in the books they write. Each of the panelists had a different personal background that led them to be writers, and it was interesting to hear how these differing backgrounds are portrayed in the type of books they write and the characters they create.

When the moderator, Michael Sears, introduced each panelist, he told a little known fact about them. It was interesting to learn that Joe Finder sang next to Ella Fitzgerald, that John Hart is the only author in history to win the best novel Edgar for consecutive novels, that Alafair Burke once received a handwritten letter from a serial killer, and that Harry Hunsicker has never been convicted of a crime… this hemisphere.

The panelists discussed how they make their stories compelling and write the characters in such a way as to drive the story forward. They also discussed the use of research to gain authority but not to overstate facts in a novel. The reader doesn’t want to be told too much. I think John Hart, a former attorney, said it best when he explained that research seems like work, and he got into fiction so he didn’t have to work.

When the panel ended and the audience shouted out for Joseph Finder to sing, I am happy to report that he immediately leaned forward and sang us a few lines into his microphone. He didn’t even need to be asked twice. You don’t become a best-selling novelist by denying your fans. Another great panel at a great conference.