Author Event: Peter Manseau

March 30th, 2018

On Tuesday, April 3rd at 7 PM at the Perryville library, we are welcoming Peter Manseau, acclaimed author of The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost. The book was dubbed one of the “Best Books of 2017” by NPR and Publisher’s Weekly. We had the opportunity to ask him some questions about the origins of the book.

What inspired you to write about history?
I began my writing career wanting only to be a novelist, and I still enjoy writing fiction, but the more I engaged with history the more I felt that grappling with the facts of the past can often be more compelling than creating works of the imagination. History is also not just trivia but something of vital significance. We cannot hope to understand our own complicated times without an awareness of the ways in which the experiences of previous generations were far more complex than we often assume. The lives of those in history were equally as conflicted and full of uncertainties as our own; only by telling the stories of historical figures in all their full humanity can we make sense of how we got where we are now.

How did you decide to write a book on Mumler and the trial?
Each of my books has grown out of a lingering question from the one before. In this case, after my 2015 history One Nation Under Gods was published, I realized that though that book had successfully told the stories of many minority religious groups in America, I had somehow missed Spiritualism. The massive popularity of ideas concerning communication with the dead in the 19th century struck me as full of narrative potential, so it was just a matter of finding an individual in that world who had a story that cried out for telling. With that in mind I read Spiritualist newspapers from the 1850s and 1860s and soon Mumler crossed my path. Mumler’s career as a so-called spirit-photographer who claimed he could take pictures of ghosts was exhaustively covered in both Spiritualist and secular newspapers. It was possible reading through those accounts to recreate the story in a dramatic way down to the smallest details.

What’s the most surprising thing you discovered in your research?
Though The Apparitionists may seem to tell a strange story of a different time, it is also very much a story that resonates with our own image-obsessed age. I began my research looking for a quirky story that would bring the era of Spiritualism to life, yet the story that soon emerged was eerily relevant to our own world, in which questions of faith and technology often intersect. Collectively, we take a billion photographs every day; we do so often in order to hold on to people and moments we fear we might lose — just as the clients of Mumler and other photographers did before us. Spirit photography has now managed to outlived Mumler by more than a century. It continues online in the form of widespread digital photographs that claim to capture ghosts and auras. Seen more broadly, the digital sphere generally is a place where technology allows us to feel we are accessing a world of invisible entities. Facebook has an estimated dead population of 50 million — when we interact with the social media pages of the dead, we participate in some ways in the kind of communication that 19th century Spiritualists pursued through seances.

What are you currently reading?
I recently finished Maya Jasanoff’s The Dawn Watch, a surprising and engaging exploration of the life and works of Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness and other dark explorations of colonial ambitions. A Harvard historian with the soul of a natural storyteller, Jasanoff combines biography with literary criticism to create a portrait of a troubled writer who anticipated our globalized world like no other. The book knits together the strands of Conrad’s life story and the fiction it inspired to form a web of human hopes and tragedy. It’s doesn’t sound like it should all fit together as a coherent whole, but it does—in the haunting, evocative way that I hope The Apparitionists also does with its tales of photographers, hucksters, and the ghosts that connect them.

Don’t miss Peter Manseau at the Perryville library on April 3rd! To register, call 410-996-6070 x 3, or go online to our website!


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Amelia Earhart: Pioneer of Flight

April 4th, 2016

Amelia Earhart biography      Amelia Earthart biography      adult2          adult3

There has always been a bit of a mystery around Amelia, due to the fact that she disappeared along with her navigator during an attempt to become the first woman to fly around the world. There are many theories about their fate, but Amelia is foremost remembered for her courage and groundbreaking achievements, both in aviation and for women.

If we go back to when Amelia was a young girl in the 1900’s, she always fought the occasional disapproval of being a bit of a tomboy. She loved to climb trees, ‘belly slam’ her sled downhill and she hunted rats with a .22 rifle. Even at a young age, she felt defiant about what was expected of her and kept a scrapbook of clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields.

Amelia first felt the pull of the sky in her teens, when she attended a stunt-flying exhibition with a friend. A pilot spotted them and thought he’d give them a thrill…diving his plane down at them on the ground. Earhart stood her ground and she said later, “I did not understand it at the time, but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.” On December 28, 1920, pilot Frank Hawks gave her a ride on a flight and that forever changed her life and she knew she had to fly.

She finally took her first flying lesson on January 3, 1921 and in only six months’ time she managed to buy her first airplane…a second-hand Kinner Airster. It was a bright yellow two-seater biplane and she named it ‘The Canary.’ She set her first women’s flying record in it by flying at an altitude of 14,000 feet.

In April of 1928, a group including book publisher George P. Putnam asked Amelia if she’d like to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic and she immediately jumped into the project. Her team included pilot Wilmer ‘Bill’ Stultz and co-pilot/mechanic Louis E. ‘Slim’ Gordon. They left Newfoundland, Canada in a Fokker F7 on June 17, 1928 and arrived in Wales about 21 hours later. Their success was hugely celebrated with a ticker-tape parade in New York and a reception by President Coolidge.

Amelia went on in May of 1932…five years to the day after Lindbergh took his historic flight…to become the first woman and the second person to fly solo across the Atlantic. Earhart felt the flight proved that men and women were equal in “jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness, and willpower.”

As Earhart neared her 40th birthday, she was ready for her biggest challenge: she wanted to be the first woman to fly around the world. On June 1, 1937, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, left from Miami and began the 29,000 mile journey. By June 29th, when they landed in New Guinea, they had completed all but 7,000 miles of the trip. Their next hop to Howland Island was the most challenging and it was during that flight that contact was lost with them. The rescue attempt was the most extensive air and sea search in naval history at that time.

In a final quote in a letter to her husband before her final flight she wrote, “Please know I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”

If you are intrigued to learn more about this pioneering tom-boy, join us for “History Alive – Flying High with Amelia Earhart” at the Chesapeake City Branch Library, Wednesday, April 20 at 6 PM. Mary Ann Jung, will bring to life the fascinating story of Amelia Earhart in this special, after-hours event. Call 410-996-1134 to register.

Have you dreamed of flying solo?


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