About earthriderjudyberman

Stories, and the art of telling them, fascinate me. I am a writer, a teacher and former reporter - both in newspapers and on radio. In this blog, I will share some of the stories I heard growing up, from our travels, our family and experiences on the job and off.

Taking Shortcuts

Cheating - using illegal cheat sheet on exam

By Judy Berman

Plans imperfectly conceived and carelessly executed. That’s usually the downfall of those who decide to cheat.

Cheating comes in all forms. The kind that leads to broken hearts or empty bank accounts. Or, in this case, the type related to academic shortcuts.

I confess. When I was in high school, I did some book reports for a boy in my class because I liked his brother.

His teacher knew something was odd. Suspicion was that he didn’t know where the library was in our two-story, smallish building.

He was caught. End of caper.

Some might dismissively write this off as a childish prank. But it’s not funny if you’ve ever had your work ripped off, and someone else took the credit for it.

In 11 years of teaching, I’ve stumbled on some lackluster schemes and foiled the culprits. No doubt, I’ve missed more than a few.

There are missteps to avoid, for those like Maynard G. Krebs, who cringe any time they hear the word “work.”

Cheating - crib notes

My first year of teaching a student handed in his report about hurricanes. I was really blown away (pun intended) by his phrasing and observations about the storm.

“Rory’s” group was one of the ones that used a poster board for their presentation and posted his essay on the board, despite me encouraging them NOT to.

One day, Rory and his teammates rushed into my room and began routing thru the trash. He told me they were looking for his essay.

Later, as I’m grading the essays that were turned in, I realized that one of them looked awfully familiar. Turns out, I was right. It was Rory’s.

Another student liked it so much that she tried to pass it off as her own. When quizzed about it, she didn’t deny it.

Other situations require the suave skills of a Sherlock Holmes.

For one project, students were to write a five-page journal about a country they “visited.” The writing was supposed to be based on research they’d done over a few weeks.

One student’s writing was very impressive – too much so. The vocabulary was definitely higher than middle school level. I did a quick Google search, and found that she had taken her “experiences” directly off a blog. Word for word.

Cheating - cheat sheet in a roller pen

When you try to pass someone else’s work off as your own, that’s plagiarism. Students are warned not to do it.

When I called the Mom, Mom insisted her daughter did the report on her own.

I told the Mom that I had the blog up on the screen, and offered to read it to her. She declined. The student had to re-do the project.

Some suggestions on how to avoid getting caught when you cheat:

  • Remember to get rid of the blue highlighting of words that link you to another source.
  • Different-size fonts in the same report are a tip-off that it was copied from various sources.
  • Spelling is another red flag. Not only do the British pronounce some words differently, they also spell them differently. (example; “color” – United States; “colour” – British)

OK, I left out a few tips. Also, at some schools, teachers have access to a program that quickly detects plagiarism.

The downside is: If the lesson is not learned early, the consequences for those caught can range from failing a grade, being kicked out of college or fired from a job.

What cheating scam – business, school or life – ticks you off?


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Music Video: “Baby It’s You” by The Shirelles (1961). This might seem an odd choice, but the lyrics … ‘cheat, cheat’ … were calling me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8clnxViHdp8 

Photo: Cheating – using illegal cheat sheet on exam – Photo taken May 30, 2007, by Hariadhi   http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5a/Cheating.JPG/640px-Cheating.JPG

Photo: Cheating – crib notes – cheat sheet in a juice box. Taken Sept. 20, 2007, by Stmichael. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c4/Spicker_trinkflasche.jpg/400px-Spicker_trinkflasche.jpg

Photo: Cheating – cheat sheet in a roller pen – Photo by ABF – taken Jan. 27, 2008. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8c/Spickzettel_im_Kugelschreiber_2.JPG/640px-Spickzettel_im_Kugelschreiber_2.JPG

Gone Missing

London Underground

By Judy Berman

Every morning, “Melissa” drove the same route to work. All day, she just typed stats. She was in a rut, and it was really getting to her.

What if she ditched her boring routine and took a detour?

That’s what a New York City bus driver did in 1947 and a famous author did about 20 years earlier.

“Melissa” parked her car near the airport, and watched as planes landed and others took off for parts unknown.

What would it be like to be on one of those flights?

She glanced over at a book on the passenger’s seat, and smiled as she looked at the author’s photo.

The author, a famous mystery writer, went missing for 11 days after a fight with her philandering husband. Archibald Christie wanted a divorce and left to spend the weekend with his mistress, Nancy Neele.

Agatha Christie - 1925

That same night, Dec. 3, 1926, Agatha Christie vanished. Her car was found abandoned, and it’s believed she boarded a train to London.

For 11 days, there was an intense search for her.

Her disappearance made front-page news, across the pond, in The New York Times.

What happens when a well-known author goes missing? Police seek out the usual suspects. The spouse is usually the first to fall under suspicion.

For Christie, the author of many who-done-its, it had the makings of a plot from one of her novels.

For such a recognizable woman, Christie managed to hide in plain sight at the Swan Hydrophathic Hotel (now “Old Swan Hotel”) in Harrogate. She had registered under a pseudonym.

Still, a man staying at the hotel recognized her, and reported it to police.

Some thought she wanted to frame her husband for murder. Others thought that her disappearance was just a publicity stunt.

Agatha Christie

In an article in The New Yorker, “Queen of Crime,” “It was hypothesized that (Christie) had experienced fugue, a form of amnesia, in which a person travels to another place and assumes another identity.”

Christie and her family seemed to have accepted that. “She claimed to have no recollection of what happened, and her autobiography says not one word about the incident,” according to The New Yorker article. (Aug. 16, 2010)

The Christies divorced in 1928. Two years later, she married archaeologist Max Mallowan, who she met at an archaeological dig.

For the writer who loved to keep us guessing as we read her novels, the mystery remains. Why did she decide to run off? Christie never did say publicly.

New York City bus driver, William Cimillo, had a similar urge in 1947. But he was quite clear as to what drove him to it. He got tired of the same old routine on his route – same people, same stops, same transfers.

One day, after nearly 20 years on the job, Cimillo decided to take a busman’s holiday. He said in an interview that aired on “This American Life” that he “decided to make a left turn instead of a right.”

Cimillo drove his bus out of The Bronx, stopped for some sight-seeing at the White House in Washington, D.C. Then, he headed for a beach in Florida.

It wasn’t until Cimillo was running low on money that he contacted his company. He hoped they’d wire him some money. Instead, they sent the cops, and he was brought back in handcuffs.

Bus driver - William Cimillo - who took a detour from the Bronx to Florida

For Cimillo, the publicity surrounding his escapade made him a hero. The company dropped the charges, and he got his job back.

“Melissa” could identify with that desire to get away from it all. She also wanted a change of pace.

She put her car in reverse, backed out of the parking lot. “Melissa’s” bags were packed. She was ready to go, and headed toward the airport.

Her final destination was uncertain, but not knowing was energizing and exciting – an abrupt departure from the same old, same old.

Would you take a leap and risk it all just to start fresh in a new setting?

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Music Video: “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul and Mary   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8jEapecSqc 

Photo: London Underground – taken March 16, 2014 – Author: Au Morandarte, London, Middlesex, England http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/da/Au_ Morandarte_Flickr_DSC00925_%2813231942933%29.jpg/640px-Au_Morandarte_Flickr_DSC00925_%2813231942933%29.jpg

Photo: Agatha Christie – British writer of crime and detective fiction. (1925) Source: http://www.themakeupgallery.info/lookalike/writers/christie.htm  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/e2/Christie1925.jpg

Photo: Dame Agatha Christie (1954). (Photo by Walter Bird/Getty Images)    http://history1900s.about.com/od/people/a/Agatha-Christie.htm?nl=1

Photo: Bus driver – William Cimillo – who, in 1947, took a detour from his bus route in Bronx, New York, to Florida. http://www.radiodiaries.org/busmans-holiday/


Queen of Crime, The New Yorker – Aug. 16, 2010 http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/08/16/queen-of-crime

Agatha Christie – Official site – (videos and more) http://www.agathachristie.com/about-christie/christies-life/a-difficult-time/

This American Life radio show – “The Leap” – Ira Glass tells the story of William Cimillo, a New York bus driver who snapped one day in 1947, left his regular route, and drove his company’s municipal bus to Florida. http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/539/the-leap?act=0#play

Buried Treasure

Treasure hunter

By Judy Berman

A beachcomber shuffles along the sand, shifts his metal detector slowly left, then right, in search of something shiny or black.

He scores a few bottle caps, loose change … and, then, he spots pieces of eight (gold), and silver that has a black silver sulfide patina on its surface.

It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.* Treasure hunters today hope to strike it rich like Kip Wagner did in the 1950s.

Wagner, a retired Florida contractor, frequently went to the beach in search of driftwood next to the Sebastian River. Instead, after a hurricane, he found a piece of eight – also known as a cob, a Spanish silver coin dating back to the 1700s.

He wondered why gold and silver kept washing ashore near his home. None of the coins were dated past 1715.

He began working with his friend, Dr. Kip Kelso, in researching shipwrecks from that time.

They discovered that the treasure came from the 1715 Spanish Treasure Fleet. During a violent hurricane, 11 of 12 Spanish Galleons and one French ship sank between Sebastian and Fort Pierce.

About 700 people – crew and passengers – lost their lives, and the fleet’s precious cargo of gold, silver, jewels and jewelry now lay on the ocean floor.

Some 1,500 survivors struggled to shore and set up camp while awaiting rescue. This site, now known as the Survivors’ and Salvagers’ Camp, is in the Sebastian Inlet.

Treasure Island - book cover - 1911

Help did arrive within weeks. “Over the next four years, official Spanish salvors, Indian divers, English pirates, and privateers and river pirates of various nationalities flocked to the area to retrieve – or steal from each other – as much treasure as they could,” according to the McLarty Treasure Museum in Sebastian, Florida.

“Less than half the material originally listed on the ships’ manifest reached the Spanish treasury. The rest, so recently pried from the mountains (of Mexico and South America), now lay buried in sand and silt of the shore.”

Wagner purchased a $15 Army surplus metal detector. That led to finding the encampment, cannonballs, swords and artifacts from that site. Later, he took his search to the ocean and discovered remnants of one of the ships.

With the aid of their subcontractor, Mel Fisher, Wagner’s group – the Real Eight Company – salvaged the wreck of El Capitana from the 1715 Fleet.

By the mid-1960s, they hauled in “silver pieces of eight, gold doubloons, bars and plates of both metals, pearls, jewelry, and rare Chinese porcelains.”

Efforts continue to “coax from the seabed what 18th century divers left behind.”

Mel Fisher's Treasures, Sebastian - Oct. 2014 (4)

There are still untapped treasures and areas to explore along the Treasure Coast. Who knows what the next major storm will stir up from the ocean?

But some try to resist that siren’s call as young Jim Hawkins did in the last lines of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, “Treasure Island”:

“The bar silver and the arms still lie, for all that I know, where Flint buried them, and certainly they shall lie there for me. Oxen and wain-ropes would not bring me back again to that accursed island, and the worst dreams that ever I have are when I hear the surf booming about its coasts, or start upright in bed, with the sharp voice of Captain Flint still ringing in my ears: “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”


Have you ever searched for treasure? Gold? Books? Memorabilia? What was your best find?


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Video: The Spanish ship Atocha Shipwreck Found – Gold Treasure Discovery – Mel Fisher Story. It also includes search for the 1715 Spanish Fleet.     https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jNdi4pbUIwc 

1.Main Photo: Treasure Hunter

2.Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – book cover (1911) – Illustrator: N. C. Wyeth (1882-1945) http://www.openlibrary.org/details/treasureisland00steviala http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/7/77/Treasure_Island_title_1911.jpg/436px-Treasure_Island_title_1911.jpg

3.Photo: Mel Fisher’s Treasures – 40 pound “clump” of about 500 silver coins as a diver would find them on the ocean floor.

* Quote: “The, eh, stuff that dreams are made of.” Humphrey Bogart (Sam Spade) telling Ward Bond (Detective Tom Polhaus) what the black statuette is in the movie, “The Maltese Falcon.” (1941)

Link to: McLarty Treasure Museum at Sebastian Inlet State Park – http://www.floridastateparks.org/sebastianinlet/activities.cfm

A Grand Weekend

Connor and Kaitlyn at the McLarty Treasure Museum, Sebastian, Fl

By Judy Berman

Gold was within our reach. But we walked away empty-handed.

To some, that would be mighty disappointing. For the grands, Kaitlyn and Connor, it was just one of the adventures we had during their visit in October.

All great excursions involve food. Right? We stopped for lunch at Capt. Hiram’s Restaurant in Sebastian, Florida. While we ate, we sat on an open deck and watched plovers and sea gulls scurry back and forth hunting down their meal.

Mel Fisher Treasure Museum, Sebastian, Florida

Then we went down the street to Mel Fisher’s Treasures Museum.

After searching for 16 years, “a salvage team led by Mel Fisher recovered the mother lode of the Atocha” in 1985. The Atocha, which sank in 1622, met a similar fate as the eleven Spanish vessels that sank in 1715 in a storm near present-day Sebastian.

gold bar at Mel Fisher's Museum, Sebastian, Fl

Seven hundred lives were lost and more than 14 million pesos worth of treasure went down with the eleven Spanish Galleons. No wonder this area is referred to as the Treasure Coast

It’s typical to take the sites and attractions for granted. In our role as tour guides, we discovered the many treasures close to us.

The next day, we were transported from visions of gold, silver and jewels hauled from the depths of the sea to a ride up a seven-story tower overlooking Port Canaveral on the Space Coast in Brevard County.

Exploration Tower, Port Canaveral - Oct. 2014 (24)

What is it like to navigate a boat? The “pilots” made it looks easy, but I bet it’s harder to do than parallel-parking a car.

On the fifth floor, Connor, and then Kaitlyn, safely steered their vessel via a simulator through Canaveral Harbor to greet a cruise ship. Not a dent or a scratch on either boat.

We shifted our course from the present to the past. It was all just a touch screen away.

Where did early native populations live? Where did the first European settlers land? We discovered this and more thru an interactive map.

Exploration Tower, Port Canaveral - Oct. 2014 (44)

When you enter the Exploration Tower, and when you leave, visitors are reminded of our fragile environment via the exhibit, “Embrace,” by Sayaka Ganz.

Vivid blue and white right whales, red jellyfish and stingrays can be seen from the lobby and second floor. It’s remarkable not just by its size, but from the elements used to create it. Ganz recycled items that people toss away: kitchen utensils, plastic toys and bottle caps.

From trash to treasure. That, too, is worth more than gold.

What attraction near your home do you want to see or return to?


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Video clip: Wallace & Gromit’s “A Grand Day Out” – ‘We Forgot the Crackers.’ (No, we didn’t forget the crackers, but we did have a Wallace & Gromit video marathon … and we had a grand time.)  http://www.spike.com/video-clips/czwml1/wallace-gromit-a-grand-day-out-we-forgot-the-crackers

Music Video: Jimmy Buffet singing “Cheeseburger in Paradise” (with apologies to our vegetarian granddaughter) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBsPZV14I-k 

1.Main Photo: Connor and Kaitlyn outside the McLarty Treasure Museum which is part of the Sebastian Inlet State Park in Florida.

2.Photo: Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum, Sebastian, Florida – photo taken by Ebyabe on April 25, 2011 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/67/Sebastian_FL_Fisher_msm04.jpg/640px-Sebastian_FL_Fisher_msm04.jpg

3.Photo: Gold bar from Mel Fisher’s Treasure Museum

4.Photo: Exploration Tower – Port Canaveral, Florida – Connor and Kaitlyn piloting and navigating a boat using a simulator thru Canaveral Harbor to greet a cruise ship.

5.Photo: Exploration Tower – “Embrace” exhibit by Sayaka Ganz. She captures the movement of right whales, rays and jellies out of discarded objects such as kitchen utensils, plastic toys and bottle caps.

Links to sites:

Mel Fisher’s Treasures in Sebastian, Florida http://www.melfisher.com/Sebastian/Sebastian_Museum.asp

McLarty Treasure Museum at Sebastian Inlet State Park – http://www.floridastateparks.org/sebastianinlet/activities.cfm

Exploration Tower at Port Canaveral - http://www.explorationtower.com/


The Legend of Sleepy Hollow


By Judy Berman

A narrow creek glides thru a quiet, secluded glen that is nestled in a little valley among high hills.

The gurgling brook could lull you to sleep as you wait for a fish to bite. A walk in the woods in the fall as the sun glints among the trees is calming. Autumn leaves litter the forest floor.

By nightfall, that same setting is menacing.

Each innocent sight and sound becomes more ominous. This is what a very superstitious Ichabod Crane encounters in Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

One day, Ichabod, a lean and lanky bookish fellow, wanders into the village of Tarrytown (now known as Sleepy Hollow, New York). Single ladies there consider the new schoolmaster to be quite a catch.

But he longs for the lovely Katrina Van Tassel, the only child of a Dutch farmer.

Ichabod’s attracted to Katrina’s beauty and to the wealth she would inherit when her father, Baltus Van Tassel, dies. Ichabod is consumed by daydreams of overseeing the spacious farmhouse on the “green, fertile banks of the Hudson River.”

Katrina doesn’t lack for suitors. Ichabod’s main rival was Brom Van Brunt, known as Brom Bones. Brom also was courting the very flirtatious Katrina.

One day, a messenger rode up to the schoolhouse and announced that Ichabod was invited to a quilting party that evening at the Van Tassel home.

Ichabod borrowed a broken-down plow horse from Hans Van Ripper, an ill-tempered farmer that he was staying with. The steed, Gunpowder, must have inherited his owner’s very nasty disposition.

Sleepy Hollow cemetery-bridge

At the Van Tassels, Ichabod was delighted to see a mountain of food on the tea table. He danced the whole night with Katrina while Brom Bones brooded and fumed.

When the dance ended, Ichabod joined Baltus and other men on the porch.

They swapped stories about goblins and ghosts. Brom Bones claimed he had a run-in with the Headless Horseman, the main spirit that haunts their region.

“Some people say it is the ghost of a Hessian soldier, whose head was carried away by a cannonball during a battle of the Revolutionary War.”

Locals believe his body is buried in the graveyard of the old Dutch church. At night, they say, his ghost continues to ride in search of his head.

Ichabod was the last to leave the party late that night. It’s believed he proposed to Katrina, and left with a heavy heart when she turned him down

His overactive imagination kicks in as he rides through the dark woods to get home.

As he approached the scene where many of the ghost stories had been set, he began to whistle nervously.

Huge, gnarled limbs appeared to be outstretched human arms. To his relief, Ichabod discovered that it was only a large tree.

Suddenly, there was a groan. Ichabod’s “teeth chattered and his knees knocked furiously against the saddle. Again, it turned out to be another innocent sound: one branch rubbing against another in the breeze.”

He was about to cross the stream when Gunpowder stubbornly refused to move. Ichabod panicked. He dug his heels into the horse and whipped him.

Then, he heard a splash. When Ichabod looked up, he saw a towering black shadow ready to spring on him.

Twice, Ichabod stammered “who are you?” But he got no reply. Soon the race was on between Ichabod and the terrifying figure that appeared to be carrying his head in front of him.

Sleepy Hollow - The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane

Both headed for the church bridge. Gunpowder’s saddle came undone and Ichabod clung to the horse. He heard the goblin’s black horse trample the saddle.

The old horse made it to the bridge and thundered across on the opposite side. But the Headless Horseman did not vanish as the legend said it would, and threw its head (a pumpkin) at Ichabod.

The next morning, Gunpowder was found nibbling the grass outside Van Ripper’s gate. Ichabod didn’t show up at the school house. A search party found no trace of Ichabod – only of the saddle, Ichabod’s hat and a shattered pumpkin.

Shortly after Ichabod’s disappearance, Brom Bones wed the lovely Katrina. When anyone mentioned the pumpkin, Brom burst out in a hearty laugh, leaving some to believe that he knew more than he chose to tell.

Some say that Ichabod fled the area in terror and moved to a new community, where he settled down and got married.

Others insist that he was spirited away by supernatural means. They claim they’ve heard him singing a melancholy tune as they take an evening stroll thru Sleepy Hollow.

Ichabod’s spirit – and that of the Headless Horseman – live on in Sleepy Hollow.

The historic community has hayrides and other events for little ghouls and goblins, and an opportunity to hear about the author, Washington Irving, in “the legend behind the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” http://visitsleepyhollow.com/

Happy Halloween!

What’s your favorite non-gory ghost tale?


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Video: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – a short story by Washington Irving (1820) – narrated by Glenn Close https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmImfSZ6Nl8 

Main Photo: Spooky (Ghost Light) – taken 2004 by Popperipopp http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/e/e2/Ghost_light.JPG/640px-Ghost_light.JPG

Photo: Sleepy Hollow – Cemetery Bridge – used with permission from photographer Jim Logan http://visitsleepyhollow.com/legend-landmarks/

Photo Reproduction of artist John Quidor’s “The Headless Horseman Pursuing Ichabod Crane” (1801-1881) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4c/The_Headless_Horseman_Pursuing_Ichabod_Crane.jpg/640px-The_Headless_Horseman_Pursuing_Ichabod_Crane.jpg

Quotes are from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” – a Treasury of Illustrated Classics adaptation.

Ghost Tour in New Orleans

Misty Graves

By Judy Berman

Fog enveloped Bourbon Street. We stepped inside a dimly lit gift shop in New Orleans where we spotted a book on ghosts.

That inspired us to book a walking ghost tour that weekend. Our guide, Richard, looked like he stepped out of Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles.”

Like Lestat, he was an imposing figure – tall, dressed in black, and blond. But Richard’s hair was long and braided.

He could have passed for an outlaw, but he was a very entertaining storyteller.

Our tour was briefly interrupted outside voodoo Queen Marie LeVeau’s home. I doubt she was resting in peace as a heckler chose that moment to hassle Richard.

Several paying customers urged Richard to move on and continue with his stories. He did. Our next stop was at a voodoo woman’s home.

Except for a huge snake curled up in a cage, lit candles, burnt offering and dolls with pins in them (OK, I made that last part up), the voodoo woman’s home was like any other.

She gave us a quick tour. Then, we gathered in the backyard. The woman asked Richard if he wanted his future told. Perhaps, thinking of the unpleasant encounter, he just shook his head sadly.

“Knowing how bad my past was, I don’t want to know what my future will be,” he said.

The voodoo woman chided him, “If you know your future, your past may look good.”

We laughed and Richard joined in.

After we left her home, we continued our stroll through the French Quarter.

Each block appeared to harbor spirits. Richard stopped at one building, the Old Ursuline Convent on Chartres Street, and told us about suspicions that it was connected to vampires.

Old Ursuline Convent, French Quarter - Chartres side balcony above entrance

In the mid-1700s, young women were brought over from France to be married off to men who settled in Louisiana. The nuns at the convent gave the girls shelter and an education.

While there were women in New Orleans already, some were plying the world’s oldest trade. Definitely not marriage material.

As the legend goes, 50 girls were sent here along with 50 “casquettes” or “caskets.” They were mockingly referred to as ‘casket girls.” (The number varies according to the storyteller.)

Odd! Many were dying in France at the time. So, there should have been a shortage of coffins – not chests – for their clothes and personal effects.

Their chests, containing a dowry, were locked in on the convent’s third floor. They would be opened when the girls married. But Richard said the chests were empty.

The shuttered gable windows on the convent’s third floor are nailed shut, he said. Superstitious residents say that was done to prevent any vampires – believed to be in the coffins – from escaping.

We hastened out steps as we left the sidewalk outside the convent. Would a light from the moon reveal that one of the windows was open?

Far from being repelled by holy things, Richard believes vampires are drawn to them. He said that’s why the vampires were sent to the convent. (I’m sure the church is delighted with this theory.)

Mysteriously, there is no record of what happened to the 50 coffins.

He wrapped up his story by telling us that in Rice’s “Interview with the Vampire,” the vampire has beignets (a pastry with powdered sugar) at Café du Monde.

Cafe du Monde - Cafe au Lait and Beignets, New Orleans

The truly spooky thing is that lighter-than-air beignets do vanish into thin air along with the coffee.

Richard’s stories, however, have stuck with us for many years.


Do you have a non-gory spooky tale to share?


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Music Video: Bobby Bare singing Marie Laveau, voodoo queen from Louisiana    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xpZzehuWdM4 


1.Main Photo: Misty Graves – Easton Maudit churchyard, taken by R. Neil Marshman http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b0/MistyGraves.jpg/536px-MistyGraves.jpg

2.Photo: Old Ursuline Convent – French Quarter – taken March 1, 2010 by Infrogmation of New Orleans http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/44/UrsulinesFQExtChartresSideBalconyAboveEntrance.JPG/640px-UrsulinesFQExtChartresSideBalconyAboveEntrance.JPG

3.Photo: Café du Monde – café au lait and beignets – taken Jan. 12, 2013 by Ed Johnson http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/b/b6/Cafe_au_Lait_and_Beignets_New_Orleans.jpg/640px-Cafe_au_Lait_and_Beignets_New_Orleans.jpg

An Unexpected Twist

Pier - sunrise on Indian River, Suntree, Florida

By Judy Berman

How could I not see that coming? That’s often my reaction when I am shocked by how a movie ended. What did I miss?

I have that same reaction to a joke’s punch line that surprises me or to a story that finally reveals a hidden truth.

Most teachers will tell you that they went into teaching because they want to inspire their students. This week, a student turned the tables on me.

We’d been reading Eleanora E. Tates’s short story, “Big Things Come in Small Packages.”

Narrator LaShana Mae tells about her friend, Tucker Willis, who was teased unmercifully about being so short. She recounted his friendship with a man named Richard who said he worked with the U.S. Lifesaving Service.

As captain in the lifesaving service, Richard said he and his men “went into the ocean in the middle of hurricanes and no’easters’ to save passengers and crew members whose ships were sinking.”

Tucker was inspired, but lamented that he couldn’t do the job because of his size.

Richard told Tucker “it wasn’t the size of a person that got the job done. It was how bad the person wanted to do it.” He pointed out that tugboats pull in ships many times their size.

surfer - Huntington_Pier_Surfer

A few days later, Tucker was out surfing near the Atlantic Beach pier. As he rode a wave in, Richard was cheering him on and hollered: “Do it, Tugboat! Pull that ole wave in!”

Tucker remembered Richard’s story about tugboats, and waved back before he swam out to catch another wave.

Then he noticed a storm brewing, and that meant he better get out of the water. A huge wave crashed down on him. Tucker took the wipeout in stride and just got back on his board.

But a man who fell off his raft was thrashing about and “screaming that he couldn’t swim.”

Tucker, 12, swam over to help the man even though he was concerned for his own safety. In a panic, the man lunged at Tucker’s surfboard and they both were struggling.

That’s when Tucker saw Richard and Richard helped both Tucker and the man get safely to shore.

**SPOILER ALERT** (If you plan on reading this story, stop now because I’ll be giving away a key plot detail.)

News reporters crowded around, wanting to hear Tucker’s story. Tucker credited his friend, Richard, for the save. But when Tucker turned around, Richard was no where to be found.

Later, Tucker discovered who Richard was.

In the pier gift shop, Tucker bought a book about the coast guard. That’s when he saw an old photo of Richard and learned that Captain Richard Etheridge died about 70 years earlier in 1900.

Richard was a ghost.

One student, Brandon, amazed me with his insights into the story. He had unraveled the mystery before the author revealed this.

When Brandon told me the clues he’d spotted in the story, I was stunned. I’d missed some of the foreshadowing and the author’s hints.

This put me so much in mind of watching the movie, “Sixth Sense,” with my husband, Dave. Dave had figured out the ending long before it was revealed.

Me? I was clueless until nearly the end of the movie.

We went to see the movie again that same weekend. I wanted to see “Sixth Sense” thru “new eyes” to learn what clues I’d missed.

I did the same with this short story after Brandon shared what tipped him off. On my re-reading, I discovered subtle clues the author dropped throughout her story.

Diana Bedford Pittenger, a friend and teacher, said: “That is so much fun! I love when students can teach us.”

I’m still learning …

What plot twists in a movie or book took you by surprise?

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-14. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider, earth-rider.com, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Movie Video: “The Pink Panther” Theme Song. Really, did you see those plot twists coming? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhHwnrlZRus 

Photo: Pier – Sunrise at Indian River, Suntree, Florida. Photographer – Dave Berman, Sept. 2014

Photo: Surfer – Huntington Pier – Author: Sameer Khan, Aug. 15, 2005 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/18/Huntington_Pier_Surfer.jpg