Thursday, August 02, 2018

More on Bridget Sullivan's grave

Me connecting with Bridget
Raise your hand: how many of you visit cemeteries on your road trips?  When one of my children found out the incredible coincidence that my novel's real-life character Bridget Sullivan's grave was in the small town we'd be visiting, she said—and I quote— "Here we go again."

Anaconda, Montana, has a population of about 9,000, the same as the Vermont town I grew up in. It was founded by Copper King Marcus Daly in 1883; he tried to call it Copperopolis (which is really fun to say) but the name was already taken. Bridget Sullivan—Lizzie Borden's maid— is listed on Wikipedia as one of 25 notable people who lived there. Bridget settled here sometime after the 1892 murders in Massachusetts; intriguingly, no one knows what happened to her for an intervening period of years before she wound up in Montana. Perhaps she went back to Ireland for a bit? That's definitely a happy thing to consider.

See the preceding post for a little bit about the uncanny nature of learning I'd be visiting Anaconda.

The east-west streets in Anaconda are named for charmingly named for trees, but not alphabetized. Tucked in there between Oak and Hickory is Main Street, and at the end of it is a stunning county courthouse.

Anaconda courthouse
Check out that eagle of justice!

I sometimes like to think I have intuition about things and I just felt like the cemetery must be near. Sure enough, to the right of the courthouse we spied a little curving road up into the hillside. Jackpot!
We had a decision to make: choose between the upper cemetery or the lower. We chose upper, parked the car and started walking. There were four of us, and we fanned out to better seize upon Bridget.

View of Anaconda from upper cemetery

There were some incredible markers there, like this one that has tree limbs "falling off" in a beautifully stylized manner.

We quickly found some Sullivans, but not a Bridget.

Then, one of my children called excitedly from a few rows away. She had indeed found a Bridget Sullivan, but someone whose birth date was about twenty years off (even given that it's not fixed in stone—ha ha—when Bridget was born, but she claimed to be 26 years old at the time of the 1893 trial). So we kept plugging. It was a hot day. I decided it was time to call it quits, that I'd go to a local establishment where I could pick up wifi, check the website, and then go straight to Bridget. (My cell carrier gave zero service in Montana).

My laptop malfunctioned and I couldn't get wifi on it, but I did pick up the wifi in my phone...for all of ten minutes before it died. I had been left at the wifi place for an hour while the rest of my family went for ice cream, so I spent some time cursing my luck; I couldn't call them to return earlier! I was over-air conditioned and shivering, went outside and boiled. Am I complaining enough yet? Luckily, those ten minutes of scant wifi did let me ascertain that the whole time we'd been plugging through that cemetery near the courthouse, we were in the WRONG CEMETERY.

So much for intuition!

When the family picked me up, I directed us straight to Mount Olivet Cemetery, which was small enough that we could troll the paths in our car. Even better, I had seen a picture of the gravestone so could describe what we were looking for. We found it pretty quickly.

I loved it that Bridget was up on the hillside. Here's her view of the town (you can see that smelting chimney in the distance). I'm glad she found love, that she had a husband beside her in the ground. And I thoroughly believe she must've loved the wild landscape of Montana, its breathtaking mountains...she traded a busy river town for a remote area where you rotate 360 degrees and see nothing but mountains. Montana is gorgeous.

What Bridget "sees" from her grave. See the smelting tower at the upper right.

A writer friend Genevieve Beltran joked that I dig deep as a writer...six feet down. It's true that it was moving for me to see Bridget Sullivan's grave. Although reports from her relatives are that she was stern and had no sense of humor, I hope that she did find peace.

Rest in peace, Bridget Sullivan.

Bridget and John's grave in the foreground

If you want to know more about Bridget, my novel The Murderer's Maid tells the Lizzie Borden story from her point of view.

“Erika Mailman writes a page turner of a thriller that will fascinate as well as terrify….Don’t read this at night; it will give you nightmares.” -New York Journal of Books
“Erika Mailman’s kaleidoscopic narrative melds true crime, historical fiction, and elements of a psychological thriller, all hinging on a singular question: ‘Who isn’t a survivor from the wreckage of childhood?’” -Foreword Reviews
“A complex and riveting parallax view of domestic crimes, decades apart.” -Kirkus
“Those interested in the Lizzie Borden tale…will appreciate Mailman’s research and be rewarded with this new perspective.” -Booklist

. . . . .