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Book Jacket

1582294372
Trade Paperback
358 pages
Mar 2005
Howard Publishing

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt

Excerpt:

Prologue

“Excuse me, Judge.”

“Hmm?”

“Your ten o’clock appointment is here.”

Judge Harrison Quincy Shaw glanced at the mantel clock. It was only 9:40. He frowned. “He’s early.”

“She, sir,” the servant clarified.

“She?” Judge Shaw lifted an eyebrow.

“Yes, sir.”

“Are you sure?”

The question puzzled the house servant. He stared at the polished wooden floor. “I do believe she’s female, sir.”

Now the judge was amused. “You’re certain, Hendricks?”

“Mostly certain, sir.”

Judge Harrison glanced again at the clock. “Tell her to wait.”

“Yes sir.” The servant stepped back, quietly shutting the door.

Rectangles of morning sun, matching the shape of the window frame, stretched lazily across the floor, warming the room.

Judge Shaw returned to his morning reading of the Scriptures. The Bible in his lap lay open to Galatians. He read a paragraph. It didn’t register. He read it again. He still couldn’t recall what he’d read. The inspiration was gone.

Irritated, he tossed the book onto his desk. The closer he drew to an arm’s reach of threescore years, the more routine his life became. Judge Shaw liked routine, and so did most of the men he knew. Routine gave a man’s life a semblance of order and peace. Anyone who disturbed a man’s routine was as foolish as someone who poked a slumbering grizzly bear with a stick. Men understood this; they respected another man’s routine. But women seemed neither to understand nor respect a man’s need for routine. Without even thinking about it, they poked the grizzly. And then they seemed startled when he roared. They acted surprised, like they’d done nothing wrong.

“Hendricks!” he shouted.

The house servant reappeared.

“Show her in.”

Moments later the study doors opened.

“Miss Nellie Bly,” Hendricks announced.

The judge stood, his stiff knees complaining. At six-foot-four, he took longer than most people to unfold. At full height he towered over his female guest. She extended her hand. It was swallowed up by his.

“You’re early,” the grizzly grumbled.

Miss Bly’s hand flew to her chest. “Am I? I sincerely hope I haven’t disturbed you.”

Judge Shaw said nothing; he simply offered her a seat.

Hendricks stepped out, closing the door behind him.

Miss Bly began to talk even before she was fully seated. “Thank you for your time, Your Honor. As you probably know, I write for the Pittsburgh Dispatch. Human-interest stories mostly.”

“What makes you think I would know that?” Judge Shaw said as he sat back down in his desk chair.

Since entering the room, Miss Bly’s expression had been fixed, as though a sculptor had fashioned a bust titled Cordiality and set it on her shoulders. Now the image faltered. What was it about writers that made them assume everybody was familiar with their work?

To her credit, Miss Bly didn’t brood over her disappointment. “Anyway,” she continued, “two days ago my managing editor approached me—”

He cocked his head. “How old are you?”

“Pardon me?”

“Was the question difficult?”

Miss Bly pursed her lips. She contemplated the blank page of her reporter’s pad before replying. “With all respect, Your Honor, it’s not polite to ask a woman her—”

“I don’t put my manners on until after ten o’clock. You were early. Just answer the question. How old are you?”

“Eighteen, Your Honor.”

Judge Shaw stared across the room, his mind flipping through past years. Same age, he thought. Same height. The similarities were intriguing.

“As I was saying, Your Honor . . .”

He smiled. Same energy and determination.

“. . . my managing editor thought, and I agreed . . .”

Her features are rounder, but she has the same quick eyes, the sign of a quick mind. And that can be dangerous for a woman, especially if it’s attached to an unbridled tongue.

“. . . that your wife’s story would make a good column for our newspaper. In fact, I’m hoping it will be the first of a series of stories on prominent women in Pittsburgh history. With your permission, I’d like to ask you some questions about her.”

“What do you know about my wife?”

Miss Bly smiled. “Your wife is my inspiration. When I first—”

“Your inspiration? How?”

The reporter’s eyes flashed annoyance, but she held her tongue.

The judge chuckled to himself. Now that wasn’t like Tori at all.

“As I was saying, Your Honor, when I first became interested in writing, I read everything I could get my hands on, especially newspapers since I’m interested in journalism. I read every article on every page. Even the obituaries. That’s where I saw the notice of your wife’s death. It said she wrote for the New York Herald. That intrigued me, given the fact that women weren’t allowed to be reporters in those days. I did a little research. Your wife was a remarkable woman, Your Honor.”

“How extensively did you research the times?”

“The times?”

“The times, Miss Bly. People don’t exist in a vacuum.”

She stiffened. “I know that, Your Honor.”

“Well, what did you find?”

Nellie Bly swallowed hard. “What I meant, Your Honor, was that I know people don’t live in a vacuum. I didn’t exactly research the times in which your wife lived.”

“Then you know nothing about her, Miss Bly.”

The reporter squirmed in her chair like a student who was failing an oral history examination. “Neither did I say I was ignorant of the times.”

The judge folded his arms. “Tell me.”

“Well, for one thing, I know that the mid-1850s were a time of unrest. That slavery was an extremely divisive issue—”

The judge waved a dismissive hand. “Abolition. Slavery. The war. Yes, yes. What else?”

Miss Bly searched the ceiling as though she were hoping to draw inspiration from on high. She brightened. “The Lincoln-Douglas debates . . . and gold was discovered in California.”

He scowled. “Not the whole blessed nation, Miss Bly. The part that pertains to my wife.”

“I’m . . . I’m not sure I know what you mean, Your Honor, unless you mean the role of women.”

The judge sighed heavily. “Spiritually, Miss Bly. What do you know about the state of the nation’s spirituality in the mid-1850s?”

She appeared surprised. “You mean religious history? Preachers and the like?”

“I mean, Miss Bly, what was the spiritual condition of the nation in those days?”

“Good?”

The judge slumped in his chair.

She tried again. “Not good?”

“1857, Miss Bly.”

The reporter searched her memory, all the time shaking her head.

“Fulton Street,” said the judge.

That was no help either.

“The old North Dutch Church.”

Miss Bly had had enough. She repositioned herself in her chair. “Excuse me, Your Honor, but if we could get back to your wife—”

“No wonder our nation is in the state it’s in if its citizens are ignorant of the great visitations of God!” the judge proclaimed. “Miss Bly, if you know nothing of the revival of 1857–58, you know nothing of my wife.”

For a time neither one of them spoke.

“September 23, 1857,” said the judge.

Miss Bly looked at him.

He pointed at her tablet. “You’re not writing.”

“Sir?”

“September 23, 1857. Write that down.”

She wrote it down.

“Fulton Street. 11:58 a.m. The morning dawned like any other morning, with no indication of the momentous events that would soon take place. We were a generation in search of a soul, Miss Bly. The Unitarians sought it through logic and reason; the transcendentalists peered inward. One utopian society after another sprung up, hoping to create the ideal community, while those of us who remained in the church prayed for revival. We hungered for it, Miss Bly. We’d read about former times when God’s Spirit revealed Himself in America with might and power—the Great Awakening of the 1730s and ’40s, the Yale revivals of the 1790s, and the revival in New York’s Burned-Over District in 1825. We prayed that God would do it again. And He did, Miss Bly. He did, beginning September 23, 1857.”

As Judge Harrison Shaw settled into a storytelling posture and began to narrate, Nellie Bly recorded his words on her pad. Later, when she wrote up the interview, she used the story as a sidebar.

Two minutes to noon.

A tall, forty-eight-year-old businessman sits alone in an upstairs room of the old North Dutch Church in lower Manhattan. A stack of handbills lies at his feet.

Prayer Meeting

12 – 1 o’clock

Stop 5, 10, or 20 minutes

or the whole hour as your time permits

A weariness washes over him, the kind that goes deeper than tired feet and aching legs.

For three months Jeremiah C. Lanphier had walked the streets surrounding the church, distributing Bibles and tracts, temperance pledges, and handbills as part of a systematic visitation effort. Hired by the trustees of the North Dutch Church, he set out to visit every house, to speak to every person. He wanted to determine the religious condition of the families in the neighborhood. He had no special training for this enterprise. No prior experience. He was a merchant, not a minister. The decision to leave his business to do the Lord’s work at a greatly reduced salary was not an easy one for him.

Once he decided, however, Lanphier launched into the task with enthusiasm. One of his more successful ideas was to make arrangements with hotels and boardinghouses for their guests who needed a place to worship. Chambermaids placed in each room small cards that indicated the times of the church services. Then, when guests attended a service, all they had to do was mention which hotel they were staying at, and an usher would seat them in a pew specifically reserved for residents of that hotel or boardinghouse.

The weekday prayer meeting had seemed like a good idea too. But now he isn’t so sure.

12:10 p.m.

Lanphier lets out a sigh.

He knows the neighborhood around Fulton and William Streets has changed since the North Dutch Church was built eighty-eight years ago. In those days the streets were populated by families; now one sees mostly businesses. The idea of a prayer meeting for businessmen seemed like a logical one. Why not give merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers, and other businessmen an opportunity to pause in their busy day and call upon God? They could come and go as needed.

Lanphier had printed invitations and placards. For more than a month, he had visited all the business establishments in the area. The response he had received was encouraging. “That’s what this city needs!” everyone told him.

Yet the minutes tick by, and he is still the only person in the room.

12:20 p.m.

Elbows on knees, hands clasped, Lanphier hangs his head.

The idea of a prayer meeting for businessmen had been born out of his personal prayer life. More than once he’d come back to his residence at the church, bone tired and discouraged at the day’s lack of progress.

Now, his voice the only sound in the room, Lanphier repeats the words that came to him on the day he surrendered to the Lord’s work:

’Tis done, the great transaction’s done,

I am the Lord’s, and He is mine;

He drew me, and I followed on,

Charmed to confess the voice divine.

12:30 p.m.

He stands up. No one’s coming, he tells himself.

He sits back down. No, I’ll stay the hour. I announced that the room would be open for prayer for the hour, and so it shall be.

Moments later, the back stairs creak. A man enters the room. He says he’s come to pray.

Another man follows.

Then another and another and another, until there are six.

They pray, agreeing to return again the following Wednesday.

Judge Harrison Shaw leaned forward in his chair. He was getting excited. “The following Wednesday twenty to thirty people came to pray. The week after that, thirty to forty. Exciting, but not earthshaking. Then . . .”

He opened a desk drawer. The first item he removed was a lady’s pink fan.

Miss Bly smiled when she saw it.

The judge’s gaze lingered on the fan. Setting it aside, he dug deeper until he found what he was looking for. A file folder plopped on top of the desk.

“These speak your language.” He opened the folder. In it was a collection of newspaper clippings. He selected one of them. “The New York Times.”

Miss Bly took the article and read with interest.

During their busiest hours, merchants, clerks, and working men gather day after day for worship. . . . A theater is turned into a chapel, churches of all denominations are open and crowded by day and night.

The judge handed her another. “This one’s Harper’s Weekly.”

The Christian churches of the land are now in the midst of an extraordinary awakening, the greatest, perhaps, which they have ever known. The movement is on so grand a scale that it commands universal attention. . . . The most indifferent and most incredulous lookers-on, even those who profess no belief in Christianity at all, cannot choose but to gaze, if it be only in wonder, to see the heart of almost a whole nation moved by one spiritual impulse.

“Also from Harper’s Weekly,” said the judge, “a regular feature called The Lounger.”

“I’m familiar with The Lounger columns.” Miss Bly took the article.

Not even The Lounger can help seeing the universal interest in the great religious movement of the moment. When, at high noon, in the densest business parts of the city, swarms of men are hurrying in various directions, and an observer learns that they are not going to the bank, and that they are not in all this hurry to save their credit but their souls; and when for the first time in his experience, he sees that in a Christian community the Christian churches are not closed for six days in seven but are open; that they are not attended by a few decorous listeners upon one day but thronged with multitudes of eager and excited people several times a day, he will naturally do as this Lounger did—follow the crowds and observe the scene.

“And not just New York,” said the judge. He read place names aloud as he picked up one account after another. “Philadelphia. Chicago. Omaha City. Cleveland. St. Louis. Louisville. Baltimore. Hartford. Providence, etc., etc., etc.” He handed a fistful of clippings to Miss Bly.

She read one byline aloud. “T. E. Campbell, your wife’s pseudonym.”

Headline after headline appeared before Nellie Bly as she leafed through the news clippings.

New Haven, Connecticut—City’s Biggest Church Packed Twice Daily for Prayer

Albany, New York—State Legislators Get Down on Knees

Schenectady, New York—Ice on the Mohawk Broken for Baptisms

“Your wife had quite an interest in spiritual revival,” Miss Bly said. “Something the two of you shared?”

Judge Shaw gave a nod. “I was one of the six who attended that first prayer meeting on Fulton Street.”

“Is that where you met? At church?”

The judge leaned back in his chair, his hands interlaced comfortably across his belly. “Miss Bly, have you ever heard of the court case that the newspapers dubbed The State of New York v. The North Dutch Church?”

A puzzled expression formed on the reporter’s face.

“James Kittredge Jarves prosecuted the case. I was the defense.”

Miss Bly’s eyebrows arched. “You went up against your wife’s father?”

The judge smiled. “She wasn’t my wife at the time. The outcome of the trial would determine our future. You see, Miss Bly, I made a promise to her father that if I lost the trial, I wouldn’t marry his daughter. And in order to win, I had to prove in a New York court of law that the Holy Spirit not only existed, but that He was behind the extraordinary events of the time.”