Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happy New Year! Pass the Black-eyed Peas!

Personally, I despise black-eyed peas.  I love traditions.  I love honoring the seasons and the change to the New Year.  But I hate, loathe, detest, and abhor black-eyed peas.  To me, they taste like dirt, not good fortune.

All my life I've heard:  "Eat 365 black-eyed peas to ensure good luck all year long."  No thank you.  I could get by on the tradition of eating just one pea.  That makes sure you share the wealth with everyone else in the upcoming year.  (I'm nothing if not a giver.)  Still, once I learned the historical background of the tradition, I must admit I have been a bit more inclined to open up and chow down this year.

Some sources say that the tradition of eating black-eyed peas on New Year's Day originated in the South during the Civil War.  Apparently, the peas were first grown as a field crop for animals, then for slaves.  When Union soldiers marched through and torched everything, it seems that the fields of black-eyed peas were all that were left.  They were humble enough to escape even Sherman's troops.  The Confederates that were left gathered around and ate, grateful to have black-eyed peas, much less anything at all.

Some people have their peas with cornbread, to symbolize gold.  Some people have their peas with cooked greens (again, no thank you) to represent coins and paper money.  Some people have their peas with stewed tomatoes to ensure good wealth and health in the upcoming year. 

Honestly, my family has never participated.  This year, however, I might think about my ancestors, hungry and finding themselves in hard times.  A war was going on and they were going without.  They found themselves thankful for some field peas that had originally been meant for their animals and they decided that the humble pea was a symbol of good fortune for the next year.  Things could surely not get much worse, could they?

I could use a symbol of hope and prosperity about now.  I could enjoy some good luck in the next year.  I'll be raising children and working on big projects and really, I could use all the help I can get.  So, pass the peas please.  Even just one.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

East Tennessee Christmas

There is a lot to do in East Tennessee at Christmas time!  If you find yourself in the Knoxville area, come check out some of these events:

- You can ice skate on Market Square now till January 8th.  See for more information.

- The annual WIVK/Fowler's Christmas Parade is downtown Friday, December 2nd, at 7:00 p.m.

- Come see the Comcast Christmas at Chilhowee Park and take a free horse drawn carriage ride around the historic site. 

I hope you have a wonderful holiday, wherever you spend it!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Bell Witch of Tennessee

What is the best state to reside in during the month of October?  Why Tennessee of course!  Not because of the beautiful weather, gorgeous foliage and bright blue skies, but because we are home to the most documented haunting in the United States!  We even have a state marker dedicated to her shenanigans.
I am sure that you have heard of the infamous Bell Witch of Tennessee in some form or another.  Every few years there are new movies and books made about Old Kate. 

Theories abound about Kate's identity and origin.  Was she a disgruntled neighbor of John Bell, a prosperous farmer in middle Tennessee during the early eighteen hundreds?  Did John cheat Kate and her family out of some land?  Was the spirit a remnant of a Native American demon? Or was the spirit a poltergeist stirred up by John's daughter, Betsy Bell?  We may never know the true identity of the Bell Witch, but she sure showed us her true nature.
The Bell Witch loved to cause trouble.  She made noises in the night and pulled covers off of the sleeping Bell family.  She soon found her voice and the family would hear her sing hymns and quote the Bible.  As her power grew, so did her reputation.  Even General Andrew Jackson heard of her antics and visited the Bell family to catch a glimpse of the spirit.

The Bell Witch meddled in every aspect of the Bell's family life, but took a special interest in young Betsy Bell.  The spirit went as far as to break up the engagement between Betsy and her neighbor Joshua Gardner.  Irritating behavior for a spirit, but harmless when compared with her interest in John Bell.  After the patriarch was found dead in his bed with an unknown bottle near him, the spirit claimed to have 'given him a big dose  last night, which fixed him!'
The Bell Witch promised to return to the family after seven years, and by all reports, she kept her word.  Supposedly she predicted the outbreak of the Civil War.  She then promised to visit John Bell's descendent 107 years later, in 1935.  There was one family descendent in Nashville at the time, Dr. Charles Bailey Bell, who wrote his own book about the witch.  Apparently she has not been seen or heard of since.

October is a wonderful time to take a scenic trip to Adams, Tennessee.  You can enjoy the spectacular fall colors and stop in to visit at the site of the old Bell Farm.  The caverns on the property are open for tours, that is if you aren't too scared of Old Kate.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book Signing at Southland Books in Maryville!

Come join Susan Dorsey at Maryville's coolest book store, Southland Books, located at 801 E. Broadway, Maryville, TN!
Susan will be signing her debut novel, A Civil Death, from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. on Friday September 30th, 2011.
Grab a cup of coffee and learn how Jane, a hairdresser from Knoxville, deals with the murder of a client during a Civil War Historical Contest. It will be fun!
(It is shameless self promotion - I know, but please do come out and visit me!  I would love to see you there!)

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Wampus Cat

The new student orientation taking place at the University of Tennessee this fall will surely be lacking.  While there will be maps of the campus and good reminders about personal safety, I am willing to bet  there will not be one mention of the Wampus Cat.

Now, I attended UT and I never once saw a large cat with hypnotic eyes walking on two legs around the campus.   I did have a run-in with the Baptist Student Union's dog, but that is another story entirely.  Unlike me, several people have claimed to have spotted the infamous cat.  The sightings go back hundreds of years.
One Cherokee legend claims the cat was a woman who was forced to wear a fur skin for eternity after she was caught spying on her husband's hunting party.  Another legend claims a young Cherokee brave decided to confront the terrible Wampus Cat that had been terrorizing his people.  He snuck up on the cat and the sight of the monster drove him insane.  His brave wife decided to take her revenge.  She donned a horrible mask and scared the cat away. 

East Tennessee settlers had their own opinions about the origin of the cat.  They claimed a local witch would turn herself into the large animal to steal livestock.  She was caught mid-change and had to remain as the Wampus Cat forever.
In March of this year,  the Eastern Cougar  was declared extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.  Most probably the cat has been extinct since the 1930s.  The early settlers could have seen a lost Mountain Lion wandering through the streets of Knoxville, but that sure would not be the case today.  If you happen to be walking through U.T's campus at night and chance to see a large cat, I'd play it safe and assume it was indeed the Wampus Cat.  And then, I'd run.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mark Your Calendars!

Some great events are planned to celebrate the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Civil War!  You can check out a list of all the activities at

Here in Knoxville you can take part in a variety of events including:

August 20-21 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
East Tennessee History Festival
"It's All History" features a special Civil War emphasis
Downtown giant 2 day street fair - Gay Street and beyond

August 6-7
The Bethel Cemetery Civil War Museum Opening
The Mabry-Hazen House Foundation
Bethel Cemetary
1917 Bethel Ave.

I also hope to attend the 2011 Signature Event: The First Shots of Tennessee's Civil War September 6-7, 2011 at Tennessee Tech University.  Maybe I will see you there!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Martinis and Murders

My friend Justin recently mentioned the astounding amount of Civil War Ghost stories floating around our area and I was reminded of my favorite martini, the Lemon Drop with Chambord Kiss from the Baker Peters Steak Mansion and Jazz Club.
Now most everyone in Knoxville knows the restaurant.  It sits right behind a gas station just off of Kingston Pike and Peters Road in West Knoxville.  If you are lucky, you will be able to have a martini there soon.  And if you are really lucky, the host/hostess will unlock the door to the dental office on the first floor and let you in to see the bullet hole made when Union soldiers entered the home of Dr. Baker in 1864. 
Dr. Baker was treating wounded Confederate soldiers when the Union soldiers shot and killed him.  When his son, Abner came home from the war, he was heartbroken about his father's murder.  He discovered evidence that suggested that the Knoxville Postmaster William Hall was the one who informed the Union troops of Dr. Baker's aid to the enemy.  Abner proceeded to shoot and kill William Hall to revenge his father's death.  Now, there is a marker in front of the house to honor Abner and his love of family.
Oh, and if you are really, really lucky, the host/hostess may show you a photograph where you just can make out a ghostly face looking through the window.  A ghost and a martini?  What more could you ask for?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Civil War in Your Backyard

While writing my first novel, A Civil Death, set in Knoxville, Tennessee, I did a lot of research on the Civil War in this area.  I was amazed by just how much happened here and how very important East Tennessee was to the Union and the Confederate causes.  What really got me excited though, was the discovery that Confederate General James Longstreet marched his men up a road right behind my house during November of 1863.  He was in hot pursuit of Union General Burnside.  They were racing from Loudon County to see who could take control of Campbell Station.

Burnside beat Longstreet by fifteen minutes.  If Longstreet had been able to take Campbell Station, he would surely have been able to take Knoxville.  The war may have had a much different ending if East Tennessee had been under the control of the Confederate Army.

Knoxville never felt like an old town to me, but learning more about it's historic past has changed the way I look at things.  Now, as I drive toward U.T. Campus,  I can see General Sander's being shot near the Presbyterian Church on Kingston Pike, wounded by sharp shooters working from the tower of Bleak House, General Longstreet's campaign quarters.

This year commemorates the 150 anniversary of the Civil War.  I fully intend to learn more and share more about The Civil War in our own backyards.