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The Monster in the Closet


When Rome-based journalist and author Judith Harris set out on her roller coaster ride deep into the past, she had barely a handful of names, and nothing more. She ended up discovering pirates and Puritans, steamy sex exposed in a l7th century court in New England and even a close family connection to Abraham Lincoln. Settlers who arrived from England on a Winthrop ship in 1630, the Harrises were among the founders of Boston, where they ran the first ferryboat service.
In the early l8th century a descendant became a successful Manhattan manufacturer before setting out for the prairies of Illinois. Thanks to land grant purchases he was a founder of Tremont, a town near Peoria. This prairie pioneer's young grandson built his own airplane and became a barnstormer at county fairs. A pioneer in American aviation, he was a pluri-decorated major who fought the world's first air war in World War One France. In civil life he was a prestigious architect in the steel-rich Cleveland of the Van Sweringen brothers, and helped to build one of America's most handsome suburbs, Shaker Heights.

Very little of this fascinating detail was known to anyone in the author's family. But the Age of the Internet has made the search for family roots possible as never before. Volunteers everywhere are scanning distant church records and the minutes of town meetings held centuries ago. Magazines of genealogy churn out advice. Websites introduce complete strangers across continents who may turn out to be distant cousins. Professionals are there to keep the amateur on track.

Today's post-pedigree genealogy, which is among the world's top hobbies and the second most popular among all Internet searches, goes beyond the personal. While providing an exciting and personalized gateway into history, the electronic portal has sweep that extends beyond the personal into the shared past.

Journalist and author Judith Harris was born in Bay Village, Ohio, and is a graduate of Northwestern University. During a long career as a free-lance reporter in Rome, Italy, she worked on investigations into the Mafia and terrorism for NBC News, BBC TV and Time magazine, and traveled into Pakistan and Afghanistan in a probe of the international heroin traffic. Here her investigation is into a family mystery that carried her back four centuries and from the West Coast of England to Boston, New York, Peoria and Shaker Heights, Ohio.  


ISBN: 978-0-9830827-7-4
LCCN: 2012950489
Size: 6”x 9” perfect bound paperback
Page count: 216
Illustrations: 52, including original family photographs, etchings and line drawings


Introduction: Icarus in Shaker Heights

            The crash when (metaphorical) wings of wax melt

            At the funeral, vapor trails in the sky

            The face of the mad monster resurfaces

            Chicago museum suspects Nazi loot

            Timid entry into the labyrinth of the past


1. Hats

            How I became the archaeologist of my own life

            Get your very own crested coffee cup

            Betty finds the family's missing silver teapot

            But can a family history also be fun?

            Mutation of genealogy from pastime to passion

            The 1800s: twice prisoner of war, twice swapped

            From boy apprentice to riches in Manhattan

            Nothing mad about John the New York hatter

             Great expectations for a great Illinois adventure

            Canny land speculators convene in Manhattan's finest mansion

            When "Westward ho!" meant wolves and wilds


2. Prairieland

            From Wall Street to New Orleans sailing on the "packet"

            "Mud banks, monstrous bulrushes and a huge crocodile"

             Through the tall-grass Illinois prairie on horseback

            "A distant wolf stood in relief against the snow"

            Mother Slough opens Peoria's first hotel

            "All nations and kindred and people and tongues"

            The "Winter of the Sudden Freeze"

            Laying out a brand new town in the 1830s

            "Brandy and betting, hunting and farming"

            An Eastern lady's diary of life in a prairie village

            The hatter donates a courthouse

            No, buffalo do not graze on fine china


3. Puritans

            Shared deep genetic thoughts (if not genes)

            Oprah Winfrey and mitochondrial DNA

            1600s, when Catholic soap burned Puritan hands

            A Puritan businessman moulders in the Tower of London

            John Winthrop invests in ships for the New World

             A family flees from the Cotswalds

            Massachusetts and the "Mynes of Gould and Silver"

            A thousand set sail in England's "Great Migration"

            Writing letters home by firelight

            "Supplies bought in England had been left behind"

            All the goats in the hold are dead

            Let's call it Charlestown


4. Winnowing

             Sailors fined for getting drunk at Mr. Maverick's tavern

            "Harris hath undertaken to set up a ferry"          

             Hurricane strikes just as the ferryboat lands

            For Native Americans, red cloth, wine, hoes and catechism

            The white man's God "doth better than other gods"

            Nearly killed in battle, Royalist Edward Lake is knighted

            Margaret Lake sails away from husband and stately home

            A stylish marriage for Tom, the fisherman's son

            Puritan Tom is promoted to religious sheriff

            "Drag the Quaker female preachers through the streets"

­            Dead boy bequeaths coverlet to his aunt "for her pains and love"


5. Kidnap

            Colonists swarm into the Connecticut River valley

            Dutch forts are attacked and conquered

            "Payment for the land: 12 coats, 12 hoes, 12 knives, 4 kettles"

            Puritans rename Pattaconk "Fourth Ecclesiastical Society

            "Sacrifices offered, and it is supposed sometimes human"

            More gifts to Native Americans: smallpox and yellow fever

            "To my daughter Martha, my gold ring and a mantle"

            A diplomat on an island plantation in the river

            Not Wordsworth's romantic dancing millers

            Pirates capture hostage and hold him for ransom

            For each unwed daughter, one cow

            The first society in history when grandparents were common

            "A genealogically difficult collection" of Harrises


6. Fornicator

            1701, the brutal tail end of Salem witchcraft trials

            Death sentences for blasphemy, gay sex, stubborn children

            Connecticut Catholics conduct "filthy ceremonies"

            "Fornication, in particular, was a familiar problem"        

            Robert Harris convicted of fornication

            Robert the Fornicator becomes Bob the Bigamist

            New riches from Bob's tidal saw, fulling and grist mills

            Bigamist's son and grandson carry on the milling trade

            The War of Revolution and a passel of 14 children

            Fight for America, get paid in acres

            Full circle: middle child John, the Manhattan hatter


7. Lincoln by candlelight

            Riding the Amtrack in search of John the Hatter

            A stroll down Harris Road in Tremont, Illinois

            Meet Robert Mazrim, the archaeologist of the prairieland

            Lincoln's two decades on the road for the Eighth Circuit

            "I had studied law, and removed to Springfield to practice it"

            Lincoln's law practice and debt collecting

            Cases Lincoln tried for John the Hatter in Tremont

            Honest Abe fights on behalf of Harris hogs

            "If the Lord has been in Springfield once, he will never come again"

            Lincoln battles judge in a pillow fight

            A challenge to a duel in Tremont

            The big case: Illinois Supreme Court, Abe and John the Hatter


8. A wonderful life

            A sorrowing letter to a soldier in the Civil War

            "Stick faithfully to your bargain, as I do mine"

            Gentleman farmer tends his fields and the post office     

            Where grass still grows in the streets

            One hotel, three saloons, a dozen churches

            Widow Bradley invents a university in Peoria

            In Chicago, architects build the world's first skyscraper

            Expo celebrates 400 years of the discovery of America

            Prairie houses with medieval accessories

            With Barney Oldfield at the Indianapolis Speedway

            Build your own airplane in 1910

            Barnstorming young hellions nearly drown


9. Steel

            Ancient glaciers dig a port for Cleveland

            A compass spinning in 1844 begets a boomtown

            Big steel sings the grace notes

             "This will be an air war"

            Inventing U.S. military aviation for World War I

            In France, beauty and the beast of war

            The Flats in the quintessential factory town

            From gaslight to Rockefeller's Standard Oil

            A skyscraper for Cleveland

            How to get filthy rich from dirty mortgages

            At home with Elliot Ness 


10. In the Valley of God's Pleasure

            Mother Ann Lee founds the "Shaking Quakers"

            Shaker convert donates vast East Cleveland settlement

            No sex, no children - the Shakers die out

            Cleveland wheeler-dealers snap up 1,400 acres

            The selling of Shaker Heights, "home of the happy family"

            Architect-inventor Allie Harris back from the war

            County fair amusement becomes commercial aviation

            Moreland Courts, "A narrative of English architecture"

            Quaint English gardens, fountains and flowers

            Mail fraud and jury fixing send mortgage mogul to prison

            Cleveland as bellweather of the American economy


11. Afterthoughts: Armchair genealogy

            Post-pedigree genealogy

            Just who do you think you are?

            Celebrity ancestry hunts

            Fishing for family history on the Internet

            "Discover the skeletons and scandals in ancestors' closets"

            Let your family story retell American history

            The future in a shared past


Format: 6” x 9” perfect bound paperback on acid-free white paper
Pages: 216, including table of contents, acknowledgments, foreword, bibliography and complete index
Illustrations: Photographs of the family, as well as various architectural landmarks and designs
ISBN 10: 0-9830827-7-4
ISBN 13:  978-0-9830827-7-4
Price: $18.95

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This product was added to our catalog on Wednesday 10 October, 2012.

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