Witch Dance – Let’s Go Camping!

My new book is inspired by a campground on the Natchez Trace Parkway, just south of Tupelo, Mississippi, called Witch Dance. At the entrance stands a sign which reads:

The very name conjures visions of eerie midnights, swirling black capes and brooms stacked against a nearby tree. The old folks say the witches gathered here to dance and wherever their feet touched the ground the grass withered and died never to grow again. Impossible? Maybe so, but look around. Look for a hidden spot where no grass grows.

The sign and the place bring to mind one of my favorite authors, poet Jack Prelutsky. One of his poems, The Witch, inspires wild imaginations of scary witches. 

She comes by night, in fearsome flight,
In garments black as pitch,
the queen of doom upon her broom,
the wild and wicked witch

Another tale of Witch Dance that I find interesting is the story of a group of Chickasaw Indians who lived on the spot and were massacred by the hostile Creek Indians. Legend has it the Great Spirit turned the soil the color of blood, cursing it for all time. That is why the ground is red in Mississippi.

If you’ve ever read any of my books, you know I always look for the connection between the place, the truth, and the legend.

The result of the above is my book Witch Dance. Here’s the blurb:

Just south of Tupelo, Mississippi on the Natchez Trace lies a place of mystery called Witch Dance.

When Thomas and Margaret Speedwell took their twins to Witch Dance for a weekend camping trip, they never imagined they would be pulled into a vortex of witchcraft, tragedy, and karma. One of the girls goes missing; the other won’t say what happened on the other side of the hill.

The tragedy pulls together a cast of characters from Margaret’s childhood and beyond – Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians, Toltec ancestors, the extinct Hopewell tribe.

With the help of a childhood friend, a concerned newspaper reporter, and visions by a strange old woman, a two-thousand-year-old mystery begins to unfold, uncovering missing children throughout generations. Who is taking them? Could it be the infamous witches of Witch Dance?

Grab a copy at Amazon for the pre-release price of only $0.99 until the release date, Sept 15.

I didn’t mean for it to happen, but sometimes synchronicity takes over. I believe instances of synchronicity are the way you know you’re on the right path. They happen frequently in my life.

The opening chapter of Witch Dance starts August 25, 2018, which is a little easter egg for my family, as August 25th was my mom’s birthday. The story takes place over three weeks (and 2000 years) and ends Sept 15 – Release Day!

Coincidence?

witch dance cover

 

WITCH DANCE IS HERE!

witch dance cover

pre order

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WITCH DANCE is now available for pre-order at Amazon for the incredibly low price of $0.99.

Order your copy before September 1st and get a FREE Lori Crane ebook to tide you over until the September 15th release.

Simply follow the steps below:
1. Order Witch Dance at Amazon.
2. Email a copy of your receipt to LoriCraneAuthor@gmail.com.
3. Let us know which FREE Lori Crane ebook you’d like to receive. (List below.)
4. Include the email address you’d like your FREE ebook sent to. (Hint: Use the email address hooked to your Kindle account.)

Please allow 24 hours for your FREE ebook to arrive in your inbox. Your FREE ebook will be formatted to use on your Kindle reading device or the Kindle app. Requests will be honored through midnight Central Time September 1, 2018 for pre-sale purchases of Witch Dance made between July 7, 2018 and September 1, 2018. One FREE ebook per person.

Please choose one title from this list:
Okatibbee Creek
An Orphan’s Heart
Elly Hays
The Legend of Stuckey’s Bridge
Stuckey’s Legacy: The Legend Continues
Stuckey’s Gold: The Curse of Lake Juzan
I, John Culpepper
John Culpepper the Merchant
John Culpepper Esquire
Culpepper’s Rebellion
Savannah’s Bluebird

If you’d like to read the blurbs about the books to help you choose, please visit www.LoriCrane.com and click on “Lori’s Books.”

If you’d like a sneak peek of the opening chapter of WITCH DANCE, click here.

Please forward this to your friends and family, and watch for my coming television special about Stuckey’s Bridge this October on “America’s Most Terrifying Places” on the Travel Channel!

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A to Z – B is for Benjamin Berry Pickett

a2z-h-smallA to Z Blog Challenge

B is for Benjamin Berry Pickett

Ben was born November 15, 1893 in Lauderdale County, Mississippi. He was the second of six children born to Joseph Lawson Pickett and Caledonia “Callie” Fisher. Five boys and one girl. Joseph died in 1910, leaving Callie with young children between the ages of 6 and 13. There wasn’t much money. Their home had no ceiling, only the Cyprus shingles above their heads. The floors had cracks in the wood where one could see the chickens running under the house. They were, in a word, poor.

moonshineIn 1919, the entire nation had gone dry when prohibition was passed, and the boys needed a way to make money. There was no better way in that south than by making moonshine.

All of the boys, Robert Elbert “Ebb”, Ben, Joe Jr, Mark, and Clyde had moonshine stills. By this time, the three older boys had their own homes and families but came back to the family farm to run their stills.

On July 10, 1924, a Federal Prohibition agent with an itchy trigger finger, Dan Cleveland, bought some ammo at a local store and said to the clerk, “I’m going to start me a Pickett cemetery.” He blackmailed one of the local boys who had been running moonshine for the Picketts to show him the locations of the stills.

That morning, all of the boys except Mark were there. Fifteen-year-old Clyde had a pistol and twenty-year-old Ben had a shotgun. The others were unarmed. When the revenuer approached the scene, he aimed at Ben and yelled, “Put your guns down!” After that, it was mayhem.

At the end of the bloody gunfight, Cleveland was dead, Ben was shot in the shoulder, and the boys high-tailed it out of there in Ben’s Packard.

It had been raining all day and the tire tracks were easy to follow. By nightfall, the boys were taken into custody and placed in the local jail.

parchman-1200x695During the trial, witnesses testified that Cleveland was heard to say he was going out to kill Picketts, and that he had no intention of going out to simply shut down stills. Ben also testified that Cleveland shot first. The State didn’t waiver. Both Ben and Clyde were sentenced to life in Parchman Penitentiary. Ebb and Joe were convicted of distilling and both received short sentences. They resumed moon-shining upon their release.

In October of 1928, Joe was hauling some pure alcohol up from New Orleans and ran into a Mississippi police barricade. His car was riddle with bullets and he died at the scene.

In Spring of 1933, Ben and Clyde were released on good behavior.

Ben was my great grandfather. He was married to Eula Keene. Read her story here.

ben and eula

On This Day in 1852

A quiet life. An almost uneventful life. A nondescript life.

On this day in 1852, Martha Jane “Mattie” Mercer was born to Amos Windham Mercer and Amanda Sylvester. She was somewhere in the middle of a dozen kids, 8 boys and 4 girls. Her father was 52 years of age when she was born. Her mother was 23. Hmmm. The family made their home in Clarke County, Mississippi, and Mattie lived her entire life there.

At the age of 21, she married Andrew Jackson “Jack” Crane on 4 Dec 1873 and had three children: Ella Jane 1874, Minnie Lee 1878, and my great grandpa Amos Bolivar 1881.

There is nothing outstanding in the genealogy records – no loss of large numbers of family members due to war or disease, no records of still-born infants, no legal records of incarceration, no newspaper clippings, no higher education, nothing out of the ordinary. It seems she lived a quiet life in the same small town she was born into.

After 32 years of marriage, her husband died in 1905 at the age of 53. The subsequent census records show she lived with her daughter Ella, where she remained for the rest of her life. She never remarried. She died at the age of 93 on 28 Nov 1945.

She is laid to rest at McGowan Chapel Cemetery in Clarke County, Mississippi, just down the road from her home. Even her tombstone is nondescript, only referring to her at Mrs. A. J. Crane.

Rest in peace, Grandma Mattie.

mercer martha jane mattie mercer

This story brought to you by On This Day: A Perpetual Calendar for Family Genealogy

On This Day in 1899

On This Day in 1899, this cute little girl was born to Thomas Gilbert Lafayette Keene and Sarah Elizabeth “Bettie” Brown. I’ve written about her before as she was one of my favorite people in the whole world. She was my great grandmother, and I had her in my life until I was eighteen years old.

Earl Vandorn and Eula KeeneEula Ouida (WEE-duh) Keene Pickett was born in Lauderdale County, Mississippi and lived there her whole life. She had an older 1/2 sister from her mother’s first marriage and two older biological sisters. She also had two older brothers and one younger brother (shown in the photo), and she had a brother who died as an infant before she was born.

At the age of 17, she married Benjamin Berry Pickett. The Pickett clan was a wild bunch, caught up in moonshine stills, run-ins with local law enforcement, as well as a shoot-out with a revenuer (tax collector) over a moonshine still that landed her husband in jail for a time.

 

 

I didn’t know much about her life when she was alive – the Keenes didn’t speak much of the past – more on that later – but as I started looking at that side of the family through ancestry research, I found her to be quite fascinating. She had a son at the age of 18 and a daughter at the age of 19 (my grandmother). Life seemed to be going along as expected.

At the age of 22, things began to turn sour.

In September of 1921, he father died. She was six months pregnant with her third child. In December she gave birth to a daughter and named the child Fleta Clarice after her 1/2 sister. Though fourteen years apart, the two sisters must have had a great relationship, as a few months before, Fleta had a daughter and named her Eula.

Seventeen months later, Fleta Clarice died of pneumonia. They held the funeral in their living room.

pickett fleta clarise headstoneThe Meridian Star, May 8, 1923

 Fleta Marie (Clarice) Pickett Born: December 1, 1921 in Lauderdale County, MS 

Died: May 8, 1923 in Lauderdale County, MS 

Fleta Marie (Clarice) Pickett Fleta Marie Pickett, 17-month-old daughter of Ben Berry and Eula Keene Pickett, who reside near Zero, MS., passed away this morning at 4 o’clock. Funeral services will be held from the residence Wednesday morning at 10 o’clock. Interment is to follow in Fisher Cemetery. 

A month later, Eula’s sister Fleta died at the age of 38.

This was just before the bloody shoot-out with the revenuer which landed Ben in jail from 1924 to somewhere around 1933. I’m glad Eula didn’t endure those tragedies without her husband by her side, but he certainly wasn’t home in 1926 when Eula’s mother passed away.

These tragedies helped me to understand why she was such a woman of faith. Sometimes you just don’t have anything else to hang on to.

Okay, I promised some family background on the Keenes. In 1859, her father was the last born to Green Keene and Sarah Tabitha. He had an older brother and three older sisters. In the 1860 census, the Keens also had grandpa Gilbert Keene and aunt Elizabeth Keene living with them. By the 1870 census, Thomas was eleven and living with his aunt Elizabeth and two of his sisters. Somewhere between the 1860 and 1870 censuses, his parents and his grandfather had died. In the 1880 census, he was living with his married sister Martha, her husband, and their three children, as aunt Elizabeth had died. In 1887, his sister Martha died. I always found it interesting the Keenes didn’t discuss the past, but in Thomas’s case, he may have been too young to remember his parents or his grandfather. It seems every adult who took care of him died, so maybe he didn’t see any point in dwelling on the past or the sadness. I’m thinking Eula inherited that trait from her father.

In September of 1936, she received the phone call every parent dreads. Her son had been involved in an automobile accident and on the verge of death. He was nineteen.

Eula Keene Pickett with Howard and AzaleaThe Meridian Star, September 5, 1936

Howard Benjamin Pickett 

Born: November 19, 1917 in Lauderdale County, MS 

Died: September 3, 1936 in Newton, MS 

Howard Benjamin Pickett, 19, son of Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Berry Pickett of Meridian, who was injured in an automobile crash near Newton on Highway 80, died in a Newton hospital late Thursday. Miss Hazel Brasfield, 15, also of Meridian, remained in a critical condition Friday morning. Pickett, who was said to have been driving the automobile when it crashed at 5 a.m., received internal injuries. He never regained consciousness. Miss Brasfield is suffering from a crushed thigh. Other occupants of the machine were Jim Edwards, Billy White, Neva Ezell, Jack Ward, and Geneva Burt, all of Meridian. All were slightly injured but were able to return to Meridian soon after the accident. Pickett is said to have rented the automobile from a 630 taxi driver at 7 a.m. Wednesday, stating he intended to go to Jackson. The crash occurred when a tire blew out, causing the machine to leave the highway, overturning several times before striking a stump. Funeral services will be held at 4 p.m. Friday from the Eight Avenue Baptist Church. Surviving are his parents: Mr. and Mrs. Benjamin Berry Pickett and one sister, Azelea Pickett, all of Meridian. The Rev. Ed Grayson and Rev. Blanding Vaughan will officiate at the funeral. Interment will follow in Fisher Cemetery.

While Eula’s family grew to include a son-in-law, two grandchildren, and eventually six great grandchildren, over the years, she lost everyone from her youth. Her brothers died in 1939, 1947, and 1960. Her sisters died in 1964 and March of 1981. Her husband died in 1973.

She died 3 Oct 1981 and is laid to rest in the Fisher family cemetery in Zero, Mississippi with her husband and her children.

Happy birthday, Grandma! ♥

Pickett Ben and Eula Pickett

This post brought to you by On This Day: A Perpetual Calendar for Family Genealogy

On This Day in 1828

On This Day in 1828, my 3rd great grandpa Jeremiah William Crane Jr was born.

He was born March 17 to Jeremiah William Crane Sr and Mary “Polly” Weldon in Alabama. He was the last of eight children who were born between 1798 and 1828. And, yes, they were celebrating St Patrick’s day around the world on that day. Places like New York and Boston were already hosting parades.

But, I stray from the story…

ted-states-1812-05-1812-06.pngDuring the turn of the century in Alabama, the Creek Indians were in the middle of a civil war, as well as fighting off the white men who were encroaching on Indian territory. The War of 1812 in the North was a fight between the British and the Americans, battling over waterways and trade routes. The War of 1812 in the South was between the Americans trying to expand their newly formed nation and the Indians who were armed by the British. The Mississippi Militia was formed across the Mississippi Territory to battle the Indians. At the time the Mississippi Territory encompassed all of Mississippi and Alabama. Alabama didn’t become a state until 1819.

In 1830, the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed and was the first step in the removal of the Indians from the area. The American government began selling parcels of land quickly to get the area settled, and people soon began moving west from Alabama into Mississippi. At the time of the treaty, Jeremiah was only two, but his family had certainly witnessed great war and great change before he came along. His father had actually enlisted and served in Carson’s Regiment in the Mississippi Militia in 1814, but he only served for two months.

I assume things in the area calmed down a bit by the time Jeremiah became a man. I don’t have an official record of his marriage, but he was married to Sarah Frances Grimes, who was about four years his senior. They had their first child, a daughter whom they named Francis, in Alabama in 1847. Jeremiah was 18.

The whole family moved across the border into Mississippi during the next year, and this is where Jeremiah and Sarah’s second daughter, Emily, was born in 1848. Their third child was a son, George William Crane, in 1850, and all were residents of Clarke County, Mississippi in the 1850 census.

In 1852, they had my 2nd great grandfather Andrew Jackson “Jack” Crane, and in 1856, a daughter, Jerry Elizabeth.

After the birth of Jerry Elizabeth, there are no further records of Jeremiah.

The 1860 census shows Sarah living alone with the children- Francis, Emily, GW, Jack, and Jerry, but there is no husband listed. Above and below their names on the census are many of Jeremiah’s brothers with wives and families, and Jeremiah’s parents. They are all listed as farmers. Next to Sarah’s name, the occupation space is blank.

I don’t know what happened to Jeremiah, but he died somewhere between the ages of 28 and 32. The 1860 census states his wife was now 36 and his children were between the ages of 4 and 13.

Whatever happened to him, I hope he’s resting in peace.

Happy birthday, Grandpa Jeremiah William Crane!

forgetmenots

This post is brought to you by On This Day: A Perpetual Calendar for Family Genealogy

Witch Dance

I’ve been working on a new book called Witch Dance. I went down to the real place and took this photo at a nearby location…

bynum mounds photo

Here’s what my amazing book designer came up with, using MY photo. He’s awesome.

witch dance cover

WITCH DANCE

Just south of Tupelo, Mississippi on the Natchez Trace lies a place of mystery called Witch Dance.

When Thomas and Margaret Speedwell took their twins to Witch Dance for a weekend camping trip, they never imagined they would be pulled into a vortex of witchcraft, tragedy, and karma. One of the girls goes missing; the other won’t say what happened on the other side of the hill.

The tragedy pulls together a cast of characters from Margaret’s childhood and beyond – Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians, Toltec ancestors, the extinct Hopewell tribe.

With the help of a childhood friend, a concerned newspaper reporter, and visions by a strange old woman, a two thousand year old mystery begins to unfold, uncovering missing children throughout generations. Who is taking them? Could it be the infamous witches of Witch Dance?

***********************

Here’s an unedited snippet…unedited being the key word there. You, my friends, are the very first to get a sneak peek! 🙂

***********************

Emily and Sarah squealed as they raced each other toward the pair of small hills that sat at the edge of a field. No tree or bush grew on top of the mounds. They were simply two barren knolls of smooth earth, offering neatly manicured grass and clear views of the surrounding land. These hills, historically known to be the ancestral burial grounds of the Hopewell Indians, are today known as the Bynum Mounds, a minor tourist attraction on the Natchez Trace Parkway.

The six-year-old girls raced to the hills as fast as their legs would run. This was nothing new. They raced everywhere. They’d done so since before they learned to walk, crawling faster and faster to beat the other to the prize at the end of the race. Born mere minutes apart, they held the typical sibling rivalry, vying against each other for the prized possession, the favorite toy, or the brightest crayon. But, their favorite competition was racing to the next spot, always endeavoring to be in the lead.

Margaret and Thomas Speedwell had driven down the Natchez Trace from Nashville for a long-overdue getaway with their girls. They arrived yesterday, excited for their weekend camping trip at a place just north of the Bynum Mounds—a campground called Witch Dance.

Witch Dance sounded like a fun place to spend the weekend. It sported an elaborate history, rumored to be the place where witches held their eerie rituals and ceremonies. Legend has it that witches danced around bonfires, and where their feet touched the ground, no grass ever grew again—even until this day. The sign at the entrance stating the legend about the witches was a popular place for souvenir photos by the people who frequented the site – families, ghost hunters, and the curious. The Speedwell family didn’t come down for a ghost hunting expedition. This weekend was simply a chance for Margaret, Thomas, and their girls to shed the stress of their everyday lives and have a little fun.

“I wish they wouldn’t run ahead like that,” Margaret grumbled from the parking lot.

“It’s okay. Let them run,” Thomas replied. “We can see them from here.”

Thomas sensed his wife’s tension, marked by a crease of concern peppering her forehead. He gently reached for her hand as they strolled from the parking lot toward the mounds, following their daughters. The lack of shrubbery and trees made it easy to keep an eye on the girls, but the clear line of sight didn’t help Margaret relax.

“But they always run; through the grocery store, the playground, the parking lot. I’ve scolded them a million times, but I can’t get them to stop racing, no matter the punishment for disobeying.”

Thomas squeezed her hand. “You should let them run as much as they want. Someday they’ll win medals in track or become world-class cross-country runners.” He chuckled softly, attempting to lighten her mood.

Margaret puckered her brow. Thomas knew his carefree tone of voice wasn’t going to make her concerns disappear. He knew she wanted her girls to be proper ladies, not sweaty athletes.

He felt her stiffen when they heard Emily shriek and they both watched the girls run up to the top of one of the hills.

***

Emily shrieked as Sarah grabbed the back of her pink shirt, attempting to catch up, but the material slipped from her fingers. Emily stretched her arm back for Sarah to grasp, and they both laughed as Sarah grabbed on and Emily pulled her forward. The curly-headed blondes crossed over the ridge on the top of the hill and began their descent down the other side when they suddenly stopped in their tracks, their eyes wide at the vision looming in front of them.

On a perfect late summer day with a clear blue sky and bright sunshine, a large cloud rested on the other side of the hill. Not a puffy white cloud—more like a menacing shadow. It slowly swirled and circled about a foot above the ground as if some imaginary wind was trying to create a tornado, but there was no wind, not even the slightest breeze. The shape and movement resembled the twister the girls had seen in the movie with Dorothy and Toto, but there was no dirt or debris or witches or houses in the vortex, just blackness.

The girls froze and squeezed each other’s hands. Emily wanted to scream, but she could only open and close her mouth like a fish washed up on a beach. No sound came. It was as if the shadow had sucked all the air out of her lungs. The black maelstrom quickly increased in size and volume as the whirling winds began to howl, starting first as a low hum and growing louder with each passing moment. The hum grew to an ominous sound, simultaneously emitting an ear-piercing shriek and a low agonizing moan. The girls instantaneously released each other’s hands and covered their ears against the painful sounds. The turbulence continued to expand, growing larger and larger as it moved closer to them.

Even with her hands over her ears, Emily thought she heard human voices mumbling something beneath the roar of wind. She narrowed her eyes and cocked her head as if doing so would make the voices clearer. She couldn’t take her eyes off the vortex, but she felt Sarah reach for her arm. Sarah took a step forward, trying to pull Emily forward with her, but Emily pulled back and Sarah’s fingers lost their grip. Emily didn’t want to go forward. As a matter of fact, everything in her gut told her to turn and run in the opposite direction. Run back to her mother, back to her father, back to safety. She sensed a great wickedness in the sight before them, something evil in the whirling darkness. She knew a malevolent presence lurked inside of the shadow. It watched them from the blackness, wanting them to come closer. Sarah grabbed a handful of Emily’s shirt and pulled harder. Emily pulled back again. She turned to run, the pink cotton material of her shirt, again, slipping from Sarah’s grasp. Emily ran back the way they had come as fast as her legs would carry her. She was certain Sarah would follow. Sarah always followed.

The moment she reached the top of the hill, the roaring stopped. The sound of the whirring, the voices, the wind instantly vanished. She saw her parents casually strolling, hand-in-hand, toward the hill. Why weren’t they running? Didn’t they hear the horrible tornado that almost devoured their children? Emily turned around to look for Sarah, but there was nothing behind her but the bright, sunny valley below. The tornado had vanished. There was no sound, no vortex, no Sarah.

Emily collapsed like a rag doll.

****************

Available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, Kobo. You can compare this rough draft with the final. My editor rocks!