When a Department Store was an Experience

Department Stores, they ain’t what they used to be. There was a time when a trip to the department store was an experience. You had a nice meal, you got personal service, and you were pampered.

Before department stores came about, upper- and middle-class women didn’t go shopping. Door-to-door salesmen brought their wares to the home. Or servants went to stores for groceries and such. People thought it was too dangerous or risqué for a woman to be on the streets alone.

The First

The first department store opened in London in 1796. They sold furs, fans, haberdashery, jewelry, clocks, and hats. It was called Howell & Co’s Grand Fashionable Magazine 

Macy’s opened in 1878.

Department store owners sought upper- and middle-class customers. Everyone else lacked the time or the money to shop at their leisure. 

Whoever said that money can’t buy happiness simply didn’t know where to go shopping.

— Bo Derek

The Experience

Aimed at women with money, most stores had elegant tea rooms or full restaurants. The buildings had high ceilings, luxury fixtures, and beautiful views. They had lounging areas, personal assistants to help you shop, and weekly fashion shows.

Women loved the freedom that shopping gave them. They got out of the house. And—learned to love to shop. Read more about how 19th-century women gained their freedom thanks to department stores. 

Happiness is not in money, but in shopping.

— Marilyn Monroe

You could buy anything at a department store. Each floor of the larger stores was a “department” like men’s clothing, women’s clothing, shoes, housewares, etc.

Around 1900 American department stores began selling cosmetics. It was such a high-profit item, it became a feature of the first floor of all department stores.

Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.

— Oscar Wilde

They considered men to be too timid to walk all through the store. Thus men’s departments were on the first floor. There were smoking rooms set off from everything else, so they wouldn’t “disturb” the ladies. 


Image of Garfinckel's Department Store Building--when shopping at a department store was an experience
image by AgnosticPreachersKid [CC BY-SA 4.0]

In My Soul to Keep Miranda makes her escape from Garfinckel’s Department store. Learn more about My Soul to Keep.

Garfinckel’s opened its first retail store in 1918 in Washington D.C. Known for its high fashion, it closed in the 1990s.

Have I visited Garinckel’s? Only virtually. You can learn a little more about Garfinckel’s here or here


Image of a former Lazarus in Philadelphia--when a department store was an experience
public domain image of a former Lazarus store in Philadelphia

After their escape from Redemption, Miranda and Beryl shop at a department store called Lazarus. 

F&R Lazarus & Company was founded in 1851. Commonly called, Lazarus, its headquarters were in Columbus, Ohio. It operated in the midwest until 2005. Learn more about Lazarus here and here.

A first reader laughed out loud at the name of the department store and thought I’d named it that for its Biblical association. Granted, the implications did occur to me, but the real reason I had them go to Lazarus? I lived in the Columbus, Ohio area in the ’60s and had visited the store more than once. 

Experience or Convenience?

Our department stores today are pale shadows of what they once were. Back when a trip to the department store was an experience, women loved to go to the store. Shopping was an added bonus. Somehow internet shopping, while convenient, doesn’t create an experience. Would you prefer a shopping experience or shopping convenience?

Unimpressed to Loving the Blue Ridge Mountains

A soft blue haze enveloped the first mountains I ever saw. They didn’t impress me much. In the distance, they looked like rolling hills. Then came the drive up the mountains, through the mountains, and along the ridge. Each curve, dip, and climb yielded breath-taking vistas of forested mountains, bald knobs, and valleys swathed in the blue haze. I was in grade school during that first trip. I went from unimpressed to loving the Blue Ridge Mountains and that mysterious blue haze.

public domain image

I made many trips to the area as a child. I no longer recall all the details, when and exactly where, but there are moments etched in my memory. Memorable moments include a walk to a gorgeous waterfall, a climb to a rocky knob, and the larger-than-my-sister bear cub that sat three feet behind my little sister who played on the picnic table in the next camping site.

Little did I know then that these mountains would become the backdrop and setting for the world of My Soul to Keep. They are integral to the story of Fellowship.

World’s Second Oldest

The Blue Ridge Mountains formed about 1.1 billion to 250 million years ago. South Africa’s Barberton greenstone belt are the only mountains in the world that are older than the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Located in the eastern United States, these mountains are part of the Appalachian Mountain range that spans from Georgia to Pennsylvania.

They were the home of Siouan Manahoacs, the Iroquois, and the Shawnee and other tribes. The Powhatan name for the Blue Ridge was Quirank. The Virginian branch of the Siouan called them Ahkonshuck.

The Blue Ridge Mountains encompasses two major national parks and eight national forests. More than 100 mountains in this range reach or exceed, an elevation of 5,000 feet. Learn more here.

The Haze

The blue haze is a result of all the trees. When excess heat stresses the trees, they release a hydrocarbon called isoprene into the air. The isoprene reacts with other molecules in the air and causes the blue-tinted haze.

The Parkway

Franklin Delano Roosevelt visited the newly finished Skyline Drive in 1933. During that visit, U.S. Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia suggested extending the road. He envisioned it connected with the recently established Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A meeting between the governors of Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee took place. Plans for the park-to-park highway were drawn up.

There were protests about the Parkway. People’s homes were taken in the name of greater good and conservationists worried about the impact on the mountains and their ecology. Years of construction, refunding, and negotiations finally saw the Blue Ridge Parkway completed in 1987. (Learn more about the construction and more about the Parkway.

An Alternate History

These are the kinds of things I must research to make the alternate history world of My Soul to Keep. In that world, the U. S. did not get involved in World War II. The ramifications are huge. There would be no financial growth due to the war efforts and there would be no population boom when the soldiers returned. Thus, in Fellowship we learn that the Blue Ridge Parkway project was never finished. Those areas nourished by the tourist trade up and down the Blue Ridge Parkway would not have flourished. At least not the way they have in the real world.

Writing an Alternate History is fun but fraught with research. But it isn’t boring when I get to relive (physically and virtually) how I went from unimpressed to impressed and in love with the Blue Ridge Mountains.

My Story Went to the Dogs

What do a bloodhound, a satellite, and a tracking device have in common? The answer is a search and research. I researched all three were subjects for my short novel, Fellowship (formerly Ian’s Trust). After the research, my story went to the dogs. 

Fellowship is the story of Ian Hobart, an eighteen-year-old high school student. Ian lives in an imaginary town between Lynchburg, Virginia and the Blue Ridge Mountains. His parents and older brother are Taken by the Fellowship. Ian in a desperate attempt to save his younger siblings takes them into the mountains. 

The pursuit of Ian and his siblings takes place in the same world but a couple of years before My Soul to Keep. To create a believable pursuit, I needed to learn about methods of tracking escapees. 

Early Communication Satellites

I dove into the history of early satellites and telemetry to learn about tracking methods like GPS. 

The first artificial Earth satellite was Sputnik 1. Launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957, Sputnik had an on-board radio-transmitter. A major step in space exploration, it was not a communications satellite.

The first satellite purpose-built to relay communications was NASA’s Project SCORE in 1958. It stored and forwarded tape-recorded voice messages. 

Image of Echo I, a balloon satellite launched by NASA and part of the research that meant my story went to the dogs.
public domain

Launched in 1960 Project Echo was the first passive communication satellite. Signals from one location on Earth bounced off Echo to another earthly location.

The U.S. Department of Defense launched the GPS project in 1973. Intended for use by the United States military, it became available to the public in the 1980s. 

That’s where my research ended. My timeline and the world of My Soul to Keep would not have as advanced a space program as we did in reality. So, GPS tracking was out. 

Electronic Tagging

An electronic tracking device and its receiver--another item that failed to fit my story so my story went to the dogs.
The electronic tracking device (bottom) is surgically implanted in paddlefish. The device sends a signal to the receiver (top) which records data that can be downloaded wirelessly. U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region [Public domain]

Electronic tagging is a method of surveillance. A tracking device is attached to the animal or person. Devices can use GPS technology or RF (radio frequency) technology.

Ralph Kirkland Schwitzgebel led a team Psychological Experimentation at Harvard University. He created a tracking device to relieve inmate crowding. His 1968 experiments with prototypes are the basis of today’s technologies for electronic monitoring systems. 

And so, electronic tagging was also not available in my story’s timeline or world. 


Photo of a bloodhound tracking a scent in the field--this is what I mean when I say my story went to the dogs.
John Leslie from London, UK [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Bloodhounds are a scent hound. Their origins reach far back into history.

The French monastery, St. Hubert, bred hounds in 727 AD. This may be the origin of the true bloodhound.

Robert the Bruce (King of Scots 1306-1329) and William Wallace, a Scottish knight (1270-1305) used Sleuth Hounds (bloodhounds) to track and hunt people. 

 In 1860 Bloodhounds entered England’s second national dog show.

Bloodhounds can track a scent in the air and on the ground. A bloodhound can follow his nose for 130 miles or more. He can pick up a trail that’s almost two weeks old.

My Story Went to the Dogs

Enter a tracker named Fischer and his bloodhound, Xena. 

With a bloodhound on their trail, can Ian and his siblings escape? 

Did you really think I’d answer that one? My story went to the dogs but you’ll have to read Fellowship to find out what happens to Ian and his siblings. Coming soon to your favorite online bookstore,

Inspiration Behind the Scenes with a Female Sniper

She was seventeen years old in June of 1943. Klavdiia Efremovna Kalugina (also spelled Klavdiya Yefremovna Kalugina) a Russian, born in 1926 came from a “not rich” family. She became the youngest sniper-in-training at a school for Komsomol (Communist Union of Youth). All the other pupils were eighteen. She could stay in the school as long as she didn’t “fall behind.”

Public Domain image via Wikimedia Commons

Sniper School

They divided the young women into pairs. Marusia Chikhvintseva, Klavdiia’s first partner, became her best friend. 

Accustomed to hard work, Klavdiia helped build the firing range for the school. But when it came time to shoot, she could only hit “milk” (jargon for a complete miss). Her squad commander took her aside and gave her private lessons. 

She learned tactics and camouflage and ballistics. And she qualified as a sniper. 

After graduation, they grouped pairs into squads and sent them all around the front. On March 1, 1944, six pairs of snipers, including Klavdiia and Marusia, were sent to the Belorussian front. 

On the Front

They rode in cattle cars with heaters as close to the front as they could get. The truck sent to take them to the fighting couldn’t get through the snow. Klavdiia said they carried the truck on their backs. 

The first day at the front, German soldiers who cleared snow from their trenches and equipment were easy targets. But neither Klavdiia nor Marusia could make themselves to shoot. They berated themselves that night. Why come to the front if they weren’t going to shoot? So, the next day they shot their first Germans. 

As a sniper, Klavdiia’s job was defensive. When her mission was to clear a machine gun nest or a sniper, she would find a position during the day. At night, she’d camouflage herself and take up the position and sit as still as possible. Her partner always sat within an arm’s reach. When her eyes grew too tired to watch, her partner would take over. 

When the time came, Klavdiia moved to a firing position. She took her shot. Once she fired, she returned to her watch position and waited for Marusia to take her shot. Then, Marusia returned to the watch position where they would wait without moving a muscle until after dark. 

After lying all day in the swamp or the snow, she’d return to her base camp and tear off her foot wrappings. Her feet always hurt. Everyone’s feet hurt. 

When she wasn’t being a sniper, Klavdiia stood in for the soldiers. She kept watch during the daylight while the Russian soldiers slept. The soldiers kept watch at night. One day when she grew tired, Marusia shifted her position to take over watch. A single shot killed her instantly. Klavdiia screamed so loud the soldiers begged her to stop for fear they’d get targeted. She cried all day. 

Klavdiia recounts that the snipers carried the wounded to safety. Sometimes the wounds were mortal. One time she recalls that there were more wounded than the sniper team could carry in a retreat. Germans moved in and bayonetted the wounded who remained in the trenches. How did Klavdiia know? Because of their screams.

Eventually, Klavdiia got assigned another partner. She and her partner fought in several different locations on the front.

Klavdiia has been credited with 28 kills. Kills were any German who fell when she shot him. The commander of the trench she stayed in would write her kills down on a slip of paper that she then carried until she could turn them in. Only her sniper shots were counted. The Germans she shot during an attack didn’t count toward her total killed. 


A total of 2,484 Soviet female snipers fought at the front, of whom only about 500 survived. An interview with Klavdiia is available at histomil. As far as I can determine, Klavdiia is still alive today.

I’m sharing this information with you for several reasons. It’s women’s history month and these women should be remembered as much as any male sniper. 

I learned of the female Soviet snipers during my research before writing My Soul to Keep. Reading about these women helped me create the character of Beryl. 

“Inspiration Behind the Scenes with a Female Sniper” is also part of my celebration. The hardcover version of My Soul to Keep is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Your local bookstore should be able to order it as well. Watch for special celebratory ebook pricing beginning March 10th.

Inspiration from Real-life, Heart-wrenching History

We Americans, like many other people, don’t like to acknowledge our less honorable moments. I found inspiration from real-life, heart-wrenching history while writing my novel, My Soul to Keep. I’m talking about Eugenics. Specifically, Negative Eugenics.

Negative eugenics is the type we associate with the Nazis. Unfortunately, America has a long, dark history of negative eugenics that pre-dates the Nazis’ use.

An Act to Regulate Immigration

It began in 1882 with the passage of “An Act to Regulate Immigration.” That act established criteria for allowing immigrants into the United States. The act included the right to deny any passengers entry into the country if they appeared to be lunatics, unable to care for themselves, or convicts.

The Father of Eugenics

Photograph of Sir Frances Galton, Darwin's cousin who coined the term eugenics part of my inspiration from real-life heart-wrenching history for my book, My Soul to Keep.
Sir Frances Galton, public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

Sir Francis Galton, Darwin’s cousin, coined the term eugenics in 1883. In it’s simplest form, eugenics means “well-born.” More to Galton’s concept, it meant “the science which deals with all influences that improve inborn qualities.” Galton studied the upper classes of Britain. He concluded that their social positions were due to their superior genes. Selective marriage was his recommendation. He hoped to end poor genetics by having more healthy and above average intelligence producing more children. This type of genetic manipulation is considered positive eugenics. Many countries practiced or encouraged positive eugenics. In the 1880’s, the United States was, like many other countries, afraid. There was a perceived degradation of society. People pointed to rising populations in prisons and institutions for the feeble-minded and predicted “racial suicide.”

The Laws

Connecticut was the first state in the U.S. to pass a eugenics-type law regulating marriage in 1896. It prohibited marriage for anyone who was epileptic, imbecile, or feeble-minded.

In 1887, Michigan became the first state to propose a law to sterilize criminals and the feeble-minded. The law did not receive enough support and did not pass.

The First Sterilizations

Dr. Albert Ochsner documented the first known vasectomy performed on criminals in 1899. He suggested sterilizing all hardened criminals to stop the procreation of criminals.

Photograph of Charles Davenport an American eugenicist who was part of my inspiration from real-life heart-wrenching history for my book, My Soul to Keep.
Charles Davenport, public domain image from Wikimedia Commons

In 1904, Charles Davenport, an American eugenicist, and biologist became the director of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory located in Cold Spring Harbor, New York. He set up a biological experimentation station to study evolution through testing done on plants and animals. It was this research that eugenists used as a basis for and to support their research. Davenport eventually set up the Eugenics Record Office (ERO) in Cold Spring Harbor.

Indiana became the first place in the world to pass a sterilization law in 1907. Eugenics-based, it allowed for compulsory sterilization of institutionalized individuals who were “unfit to reproduce.” Shamefully, many states followed suit.

More Heart-Wrenching History To Come

I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of my Inspiration series of posts. This is only the tip of the inspiration from real-life, heart-wrenching history I used in writing My Soul to Keep. Did you know about the practice of eugenics in American’t history? Next week, there will be more about sterilization laws, the ERO, who in America who supported eugenics, and the shocking length of time eugenics has been practiced in the US. Stay tuned for more Inspiration from Real Life Heart-wrenching History, Part II and learn how I used the inspiration. My Soul to Keep is available on Amazon, and many more online stores.