Wednesday, January 26, 2022

The Stuff of Story and Legends: Ellis Island



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: If you say the words Ellis Island, a picture instantly comes to mind, doesn’t it? And every person who stepped into that place carried a story – – hopes and fears and dreams and beliefs. We could never tell all of the stories, right? And the fabulous Heather Webb has discovered that there’s more to Ellis Island than we even imagined.

Because as Heather discovered, some stories are true, some are created to be “true,” and some stories are so grand--that they become legend.

Legends. There’s not a bone in my body that does not believe Camelot was real. I could be convinced about Atlantis. The room of gold in the Czar’s place. That Anastasia lives. Totally true.


Come with Heather Webb today, to find out about her intriguing new book
THE NEXT SHIP HOME.  (LOOK at that COVER!)  And more about the story below, but here's a hint: An unlikely friendship, a terrible secret, and a system that is out to destroy them

And at the end, a question for you. (And a giveaway!)






The Draw of Legends in Fiction

by Heather Webb

Ever since I was old enough to drag stacks of books around, I lost myself in stories about legendary people and places and events. Mythology, too, and worlds that swept me away to a very different time and place from the four walls of my bedroom. Not much has changed. In fact, not only do I read books about legendary characters and places, now I write them!

 Fiction and the almighty Story with a capital “s” is such a pliant and magical medium all on its own, but stories still somehow become grander—sometimes even withstanding the test of time—when a legend is woven into its tapestry.

What is a legend anyway? A legend is a story from the past that is believed by many people but cannot be proved to be true. And yet, as J. R. R. Tolkien said, “Legends and myths are largely made of 'truth'." If there weren’t some truth to the story, would it be worth passing down over decades and centuries?

Another great quote about legends comes from Sarah Bernhardt, a legend in and of herself, "Legend remains victorious in spite of history." I agree with her—it’s true that legends need time to develop. After the initial event, word of mouth must take over followed by embellishments, thoughtful and also careless chatter, and finally, having the legend immortalized in some way with each generation. These days, that means through some sort of art form or entertainment medium.

What is it about legends that makes them so fascinating? Why are we so drawn to them? Perhaps it is the truth hidden within them, as Tolkien believed. Maybe it’s because they strike upon universal truths that we can all identify with on some level. Or perhaps it’s really because we love a good mystery. Isn’t every legend shrouded in delicious secrecy and mystery? (I know here at Jungle Red Writers, you all love a good mystery!)

Many novels use legends as a basis for their plot and they ripple across all genres. A few that come to mind include:

· Sci-fi based on UFO lore

· Fantasy and alternative histories based on Arthurian legends and all sorts of mythologies

· Historical fiction based on legendary people, events, or places

· Horror is particularly rich in legends with its haunted houses/buildings/locations and fetishizing religious beliefs or practices

· Crime fiction can also see legends incorporated in a myriad of ways. The legends surrounding serial killers for example, or in the Da Vinci Code, the religious legends associated with relics..

The legends surrounding Ellis Island are what drew me in when I first started thinking about writing my new novel that’s set there. The island was a place where captured and convicted pirates took their last breaths on the scaffold before being hung for their crimes.

The island changed names three times and grew from a few acres to 27+ over the course of its prominence. At one time, its waters served as some of the finest oyster beds in the world.

Most recently, the buildings there have served as an immigration center and a detainees’ ward for prisoners of war. Over twelve million people passed through Ellis Island’s storied halls in the six and a half decades it was open. Their essence still permeates every corridor.

Its history is rich, fascinating, hopeful—and far darker than you might first imagine. People, history, and the many, many legends that are a part of Ellis Island. THIS is what brought me to its shores with a notebook in hand, my cellphone poised at the ready for as many photos as the phone would hold, and a head full of ideas ready to be put into words.

The Next Ship Home releases in just two weeks, and I hope I have captured some of those elements of legend in its pages, and also shed light on the truth…or some version of the many truths that exist there.


What kinds of legends hook you? What’s the name of a novel based on a legend?



HANK: Ooh, such a good question! Eager to hear what you have to say. But wait, wait, Heather. We are waiting in the comments--tell an  Ellis Island legend! (Or two!)

(And a copy of THE NEXT SHIP HOME to one lucky commenter!)




Heather Webb is the USA Today bestselling and award-winning author of seven historical novels. In 2015, Rodin’s Lover was a Goodread’s Top Pick, and in 2018, Last Christmas in Paris won the Women’s Fiction Writers Association STAR Award. Meet Me in Monaco, was selected as a finalist for the 2020 Goldsboro RNA award in the UK, as well as the 2019 Digital Book World’s Fiction prize.


Heather’s new solo novel, The Next Ship Home (Sourcebooks/Feb.8), is inspired by true events and reveals the dark secrets of Ellis Island as two unlikely friends challenge a corrupt system, altering their fate and the lives of the immigrants that come after them.



To date, Heather’s books have been translated to sixteen languages. She lives in New England with her family, a mischievous kitten, and one feisty rabbit.


THE NEXT SHIP HOME

Inspired by true events and for fans of Kristina McMorris and Hazel Gaynor, The Next Ship Home holds up a mirror to our own times, deftly questioning America’s history of prejudice and exclusion while also reminding us of our citizens’ singular determination. This is a novel of the dark secrets of Ellis Island, when entry to “the land of the free” promised a better life but often delivered something drastically different, and when immigrant strength and female friendship found ways to triumph even on the darkest days.

 

A young Italian woman arrives on the shores of America, her sights set on a better life. That same day, a young German American woman reports to her first day of work at the immigration center. But Ellis Island isn’t a refuge for Francesca or Alma, not when ships depart every day with those who are refused entry to the country and when corruption ripples through every corridor. While Francesca resorts to desperate measures to ensure she will make it off the island, Alma fights for her dreams of becoming a translator even as women are denied the chance.

 

As the two women face the misdeeds of a system known to manipulate and abuse immigrants searching for new hope in America, they form an unlikely friendship—and share a terrible secret—altering their fates and the lives of the immigrants who come after them.

87 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Heather, on your newest novel . . . I’m looking forward to exploring those legends! It sounds like an amazing story . . . .

    A novel based on a legend? "The Adventures of Robin Hood" comes immediately to mind . . . .

    What kinds of legends hook you? Well, not necessarily the really, really spooky ones, but the legends of heroism and someone doing good are always intriguing . . . .

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    1. Oh perfect! Robin Hood. Well, all true as far as I’m concerned :-)

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    2. Thanks so much, Joan. I love heroism legends, too. There's nothing I love more than an underdog!

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  2. The one that is jumping to my mind immediately isn't a book so much as a TV Show - Once Upon a Time. A great twist on the legends that make up fairytales. And yes, they do include Arthur and Camelot for a story arc in season 5.

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    1. Oh, I remember that! Fascinating to think of the connection between fairy tales and legends. They all come from somewhere, right?

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    2. That's a great show, Mark. I love the way they show dualities to the villains and the heroes. Great character writing. Thanks for stopping by today!

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  3. Welcome to btl on JRW's Heather. I just reserved The Next Ship Home. I suspect there might be a slew of ghost stories tied to Ellis Island; such a 'legendary' location.
    I am drawn to trickster legendary heroes. Robin Hood, Coyote, Loki, or Sun Wu Kong (the Monkey King). I like that they used cunning to win the day.

    The first title that came to me is Giants in the Earth by Rolvaag. It is a Norwegian family saga set in the Dakota Territory. published in 1924.

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    1. Ghost stories, yes! How could there not be?
      Yes, the "trickster" hero--when they're the good guy, it's really fun. Hmm...Coyote?

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    2. Ooo, yes, Coralie. Tricksters are a lot of fun, or the sort of down on his luck hero who has to fly by the seat of his pants. I'm thinking of Finn in the Disney movie, Tangled. Thanks for stopping by today!

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  4. The Next Ship Home sounds fascinating. My parents and I left Indonesia for our "homeland," the Netherlands during its war for Independence in 1949. Generations of my family had lived there, but it was not safe for those of Dutch descent. My parents eventually divorced, and my mother and I, at age 4, came to the U.S. with my American stepfather in 1952. The immigrant experience has, therefore, always been a plot I enjoy.

    I can be persuaded that the Arthurian legend is true, too, and have read several novels based on the stories, notably the trilogy by Mary Stewart.

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    1. OH, what a saga..that is fascinating, Marianne. And you you are here with us. That is so touching! xxx

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    2. What an incredible story! I find immigration stories so fascinating and inspiring. It takes so much courage to leave one's life behind. Thanks for sharing today!

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  5. The book sounds wonderful, Heather.

    As I mentioned here yesterday, I'm polishing a novel with Amelia Earhart as an amateur sleuth in Boston - before she became famous for her flying.

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    1. Edith, are you aware of Earhart's time in Wyoming? She had a camp south of Meeteetse, along the Wood River. The US Park Service manages it now, and there are three log cabins, and the remnants of her swimming pool! I've visited it several times, during the 15 years our friends had a ranch on that road.

      I'm not sure what time period she was there, though, in relation to her flying era.

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    2. I'm not, Karen. Wyoming isn't in the index of her biography, East to the Dawn - I just checked.

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    3. Karen, that's so cool! I can just imagine that!

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    4. Edith, standing ovation for that idea!

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    5. It's the Double D Ranch, on the way to the ghost mining town of Kirwin, in the Shoshone National Forest. Our friends' ranch was midway between the Double D and Meeteetse, and so when friends came to visit they tried to take guests out to Kirwin for a picnic and stop at the Double D, just because it's so beautiful there.

      On one visit the river was too flooded to ford to get to Kirwin, so we had a picnic in a cabin instead.

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    6. Thank you, Edith! I love Amelia Earhart myself and have long contemplated a novel about her, but this detective angle is fantasticly unique! I can't wait to see it on shelves one day!

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  6. HEATHER: Congratulations on your new book. Living in Canada, I have heard of Ellis Island, but don't know much about the manipulations, abuse and dark secrets that took place there.

    The first legends I remember reading are the Arthurian legends, as well as Robin Hood.

    For crime fiction, I think of recent mysteries that are set in small towns where unsolved disappearances have become legendary among the inhabitants, and are used to taunt/scare newcomers. Jess Lourey's recent standalones are good examples.

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    1. Oh, yes, Heather Gudenkauf does that beautifully, too. (Was there a a pathway to Canada that's similar to Ellis Island? This is making me realize how much I don't know about Canadian history..

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    2. Yes, Hank, there is at least one similar port pathway here in Canada: It was Pier 21 in Halifax. Now it's a museum that evokes the experience of immigrants back in the day.

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    3. AMANDA: Thanks for answering Hank's question.
      Pier 21 is right on the Halifax waterfront and the site now has an interactive museum.
      I visited the Pier 21 museum when I was there in 2015.
      http://www.pier21.ca/exhibitions

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    4. SO fascinating! I had no idea, and that is embarrassing... Thank you!

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    5. Grace, excellent point about small town legends. It seems as if evwry town has something...๐Ÿค” And I, too, didn't know about Pier 21 in Hailfax and now I'd like to go! Thanks for stopping by today

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  7. Looking forward to reading your new book. My grandparents all came through Ellis Island. Their names are inscribed on the wall. We have visited several times. We are always grateful for their courage and determination to give us opportunities not available in "the old country".

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    1. I can barely imagine! You only exist because of that. That is so chilling--and so inspirational.

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    2. Exactly, thank you. I look forward to reading your book.

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    3. Marcie, that's so special that they're on the wall! And I love that you've visited. It's such a compelling place! Thanks for sharing today

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  8. Welcome Heather and congrats on the new book!

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  9. Your new book sounds so intiquing! And the cover art is just so appropriate and beautiful! I look forwarding to reading it. Lizzie Bordon is my legend story - did she or didn't she?

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    1. Oh, good one! I gotta say...well, I was about to say h=yes, but then I thought--how do >I< know? :-)

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    2. Lizzie Borden is SUCH a character. I can see why you're fascinated by her and her twisted mind! Intriguing how someone can think that way. Thanks for stopping by today!

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  10. My first thought was Dracula, a book that I have never read. The second thought was The Odyssey, a book that I have read several times.

    Heather, welcome to JRW and congratulations on your new book. My father's parents came to the US through Ellis Island and possibly my mother's mother's family. Her father's family had already been here for a few generations. When you really think about the corruption of that time, it's amazing for descendants of those immigrants to be here at all.

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    1. Dracula is the scariest book I have ever read. Bar none. Seriously, I read it in college and I was traumatized.

      I am trying to think if my relatives came through Ellis Island--I'm not sure there's anyone who knows, now. It would have been 1901, ish? And they came from Russia. Would they had to have come that way?

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    2. Judy, my first thought was also Dracula because I watched the film when I was only ten and I have been frightened
      of vampires since then, never reading books or watching films about them.

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    3. It really is crazy to think about the corruption then, Judy. Sadly, I'm not sure how much has changed in any sort of significant way. Changes for sure but still so easy to take advantage of the disadvantaged. And I've never read Dracula, but I've been obsessed with vampires since I was a kid! Dark Shadows and the like!

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  11. The novel sounds intriguing; I would love to read it!

    Like many who have lived in NYC, I have never visited the Statue of Liberty, and the one time I might have made it there, my sister and I took her two sons-- then in grade school-- to Ellis Island instead. My siblings and I had bought a brick there as our contribution to the preservation efforts some 25 years ago-- in honor of our paternal grandfather, although we are not certain he came through there.

    We know our paternal grandmother did not. She arrived on the Bremen (out if Bremen) in Baltimore in the summer of 1906.

    Our maternal grandmother spoke of Castle Garden, but it ceased to be a processing center in 1890, and we're pretty sure she and our grandfather arrived a decade later-- probably at Ellis Island-- twice. (And thereby hangs a tale I will, perhaps, tell someday.)

    The research required for historical fiction can take over one's life. Forty years ago, I spent the better part of a year getting deep into the records of the wartime relocation of Japanese Americans (and Aleuts-- most people do not know about that part!) The book has, so far, failed to materialize, but the materials fill a huge plastic bin in one of my storage rooms.

    I salute anyone who can do the research AND write the resultant book.

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    1. You can do it, Ellen! It sounds riveting. The world is waiting for it! One page at a time.

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    2. You're my kind of person, Ellen, getting lost in research. And just a quick note for you about Castle Garden. It closed in 1892 when Ellis Island opened but then reopend for 3 years from 1897-1900 after a fire ravaged the first all-wooden immigration center on Ellis Island. The new building opened in 1900, made of stone and brick, which is what you see today so she may have come through CG! :)

      Thanks for sharing your story. I just love hearing these!

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  12. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was based on the legend of Prometheus, wasn't it? So there's a long history of using legends to spin new tales. How many other stories have come from the Frankenstein and Dracula novels? So many. The Arthurian legends were my favorite for a long time.

    And there are family legends, some of which turn out to be as flimsy as wet tissue. I recently had my DNA tested, curious about the family lore that gave us Native American heritage. If it's there, it's pretty minute, as it turns out.

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    1. Did you have any other surprises? (I have not done that..It's just going to say Eastern Europe, done. :-))

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    2. Yes, the Scottish and Irish! I'd always thought it was 100% European, too, except for the mysterious Native American, but I suspect there was some fraternization between the French ancestors and the Scottish--maybe the wine industry? Because the French heritage is from Normandy. All speculation, but interesting possibilities.

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    3. That's so interesting, Karen, as I have the same family lore. My dad just finished the 23 and Me DNA test kit and it turns out the Native American genes are nonexistent or infinitesimal! And he has lots of Irish we didn't expect, nearly half! Craziness. I absolutely love genealogy research though it's a little sad when a legend is laid to rest. And Frankenstein is a great example!

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  13. Congratulations on your captivating book. It sounds memorable. Legends are wonderful, and fascinating. A book legend that has always been interesting is The Fountain of Youth.

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    1. Thank you so much! And I must find this Fountain of Youth one day soon...

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  14. Welcome and congratulations! This book is a treasure which interests me greatly. Many legends are intriguing. Paul Bunyan, The Hope Diamond.

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  15. Welcome, Heather - members of my family came through Ellis Island so it's always held a certain fascination. And of course DC's holocaust museum. And I remember driving the twisty turny road to Monaco and thinking of the legendary Princess Grace. Another kind of legend entirely. I always loved Legend of Sleepy Hollow with the headless horseman for scaring myself to death.

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    1. Hallie, when was that, that your family came? And oh, that twisty road. Chilling.

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    2. Thank you, Halle! I absolutely adore The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, grew up with it as a kid. There's a wonderful retelling of it called THE SPELLBOOK OF KATRINA VAN TASSEL by Alyssa Palombo. And that road in Monaco, among other things, inspired me to write a book called Meet Me in Monaco about Grace Kelly's wedding. What a terrifying road that is!

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  16. The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart, along with the others in her series, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment and The Wicked Days. Merlin is a fascinating character. I absolutely loved reading them.

    I think my great-grandparents and their surviving children entered through Ellis Island but Grandpa was so angry with his family that he barely spoke of them.

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    1. Merlin! Yes. Good Merlin.
      Oh, wow, Deana, there's a cautionary tale...

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    2. Oh no, that's so sad about family hostilities and traumas. They're the most difficult, I think. But Merlin!!!!! YES. I've always adored books and shows or tales about Merlin. Great idea.

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  17. Congratulations on your new release! Ellis Island has always fascinated because my grandparents had to pass through Ellis Island when they came to America. Can't wait to read the book.

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  18. Congratulations on the new book. They mysteries of Ellis Island are so embedding in the American mind. It will be an interesting read.

    Myths and legends, hmmm. For me, it has always been the Greeks. Antigone, Athena, Artemis and the Furies. And a few other minor ones like Achilles, Oedipus and Socrates. Though I'm also partial to hair-tearing, grieving women like La Llorona and banshees mostly because they are such a contrast to the beatific female images that often bombard us.

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    1. I love those edgy females myself. I find them endlessly fascinating and far more true to human nature. Thanks for your comments today!

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    2. My mother used to call me the Banshee. xoo

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  19. Hello and Congratulations on your new release! I like the Legend of La LLorona, the mother that drowned her 2 children to punish her husband for having and affair. Thank you for sharing about your book, Have a great rest of the week and stay safe. Thank you for the chance. aliciabhaney(at)sbcglobal(dot)net

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  20. I always loved the Arthurian legends especially T.H. White's Once and Future King and Steinbeck's The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights..

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    1. The Once and Future King is one of my very favorites. I think of it all the time....

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  21. I need to read Once and Future King! I'm such an Arthurian legend fan, but I've never gotten around to it. Thanks for stopping by today!

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    1. Oh, yes, I wish I could read i again for the first time. Lucky you! xx

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  22. Heather, congrats! Your book sounds fabulous. I grew up in NOLA with not only the legend of Marie Laveau,(& visited the Voodoo Queen's grave) but my paternal Cajun grandma & her mother passing along the accepted version of the real story behind Longfellow's poem "Evangeline". It was supposedly inspired by the actual people, Emmeline Labiche and my ancestor Louis Arceneaux, who were to be wed when the Great Expulsion happened in Acadia (Nova Scotia). The lovers were caught trying to flee Canada, were separated & put on different boats to America. Emmeline & Louis(her "Gabriel")finally met up years later in St. Martinville, under an old oak tree on Bayou Teche, both thinking the other dead. Louis had married someone else and Emmeline became a nun and died of a broken heart shortly after. That was all romantic and spooky, esp. when I went to St. Martinville as a young child, and thought the woman giving a tour of an old plantation home there was a witch, yikes!

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  23. Other than the Once and Future King, which I read so long ago I can barely remember it, I cannot think of any book based on a legend.

    Although all of my ancestors came here way before Ellis Island was processing immigrants, I am still very interested in Ellis Island and all of its history. A favorite book that features EI is the wonderful Molly Murphy book by Rhys Bowen. I think it was the first in that series.

    Really looking forward to the book, Heather!

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  24. Ellis Island is a place I'd like to learn more about, and it's a great setting for a book. I looked up when it opened as an immigration station and found the date January 1, 1892 and closed in 1954, the year I was born. My Boone ancestors from England came over too early to have been processed at Ellis Island, but I'm wondering about my mother's family. I'll have to check on that.

    This has already been mentioned by Judi above, but I love the MOlly Murphy series by Rhys, which sees Molly coming from Ireland to the United States through Ellis Island.

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    1. And YAY Kathy! You WIN Gabriel Valjan's book! Send me your address!

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    2. I'm so excited! I'll send you my address right away!

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  25. Ellis Island is fantastic. Definitely a place everyone should visit. Congratulations on your release, Heather. I am definitely putting your book high on my TBR - a perfect winter read.

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  26. The Loch Ness monster is about the only legend I can think of right now. And who knows maybe it’s real ๐Ÿคท‍♀️

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    1. I honestly can’t think of a book I’ve read that it’s based on a legend. Probably have but just can’t remember any right now. I would love to read this book because I’m so interested in immigration and this one sounds very interesting about Ellis Island

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  27. So excited to read this book….it is next on my TBR pile!!!! As a Retired Critical Care Nurse the legend I chose is Florence Nightingale!!๐Ÿ’œ๐Ÿ“š

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