Book Talk Bangor Public Library Pink Chimneys

By Ardeana Hamlin, Hampden, ME 

Fact to Fiction 
 FACT, according to the 1957 edition of Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, is defined as: a thing that has actually happened or is true; something said to have occurred or is supposed to be true. 
 FICTION, according to the same dictionary, is defined as: anything made up or imagined, especially novels and stories; something accepted as fact for the sake of convenience, although not necessarily true. 
 Fact is the raw material from which the narrative of Pink Chimneys is woven.  I spent two years collecting those facts, some of which I wrote on index cards and arranged in a recipe file box I borrowed from my kitchen.  Other facts occupied manila folders which collected in a cardboard box under my bed.  At that time, fiction did not concern me.  But facts, I quickly discovered, really aren't much good, and can be fairly dull, unless you figure out something to do with them.  I was not a scholar, then or now, and I had no desire to add to the store of knowledge about local history.   I just wanted to learn something I didn't know.  But the simple act of learning wasn't enough; a collection of facts about a particular subject or time period tends to take on a weight which expects the intellect to respond.  I found myself interpreting those facts.  What did they mean?  Did they mean what I thought they meant?  What happened to those solid, staid facts when they encountered the chaos of my mental processes?   Were the compilers of the facts in the sources I consulted leaving anything out?  If so what?   Were they picking and choosing, as I was?  Did they have favorites, as I did?  What had they got wrong?  Why were there so many facts about men and their lives and so few about women and theirs?  Many questions.  Questioning the facts led me to speculate about them. Speculation led me to embroider them.  And embroidering them, even a little bit, led me to bend some of those facts to suit my own purposes.  An example: the scene where Maude Richmond defies the British and ends up saving Bangor from being burned to the ground.  Colonel John and Captain Barrie are facts, they existed, they were there, but Maude is a fiction and her interaction with them is purely invention.  Fact into interpretation, into speculation, into invention  - which is fiction.  Turning fact in fiction is an elusive, blurry process, but that was how I created Pink Chimneys.  I can't begin to tell you how much that amused me and how enjoyable it was. 
 At that time, in the mid-1980's, I didn't have a room of my own where I could collect my facts and work with them.  Indeed, my house was full to overflowing - I had five children - two 13 year olds, two 14 year olds, and a 15 year old, one of whom had a clarinet and another who had a full drum set and a rock and roll band that practiced in the barn.  And all their assorted friends and school activities.  And an old house that was in a constant state of renovation.  And a husband with a sled dog team consisting of five huskies.  And a cat that was always asleep in my manuscript box, especially when I was typing and wanted to use it. 
 Pink Chimneys was first published in 1987; it's become an adolescent.  In the past twelve years it has lived a life quite independent of me.  It has found its way into libraries all over the United States.  It has gone to Russia, Great Britain, Canada and Bolivia.  It has been read by men and women and young people.  It is included in the Maine Women's Writing Collection amassed by the late Dorothy Healy at Westbrook College in Portland.  It has been optioned for film twice, unsuccessfully, another heart broken by Hollywood, to quote author Cathie Pelletier.  It is, however, back in Hollywood, although not yet optioned for film.  And now it's back in print by popular demand ( and I thank all of you who may have had a hand in it's rebirth.)  It's been called, by some, a Maine classic. 
 Basically, Pink Chimneys is the story of three women, Maude Richmond Webber, Fanny Abbott alias Hogan, and Elizabeth Emerson, whose destinies entwine and are resolved at an infamous house, known as Pink Chimneys, in Bangor, Maine, in the nineteenth century.  Most of the characters in the book and most of the events they participate in are fiction, made up, imagined.   Yet, readers frequently respond to Pink Chimneys as if it were fact - they assume it to be true. 
 Maude Richmond Webber is a fiction.  However, her calling as a midwife is informed by records kept by Martha Moore Ballard who practiced midwifery in Hallowell from 1795 to 1812.   Mrs. Ballard delivered 996 infants during that time and had only one maternal death.  She also doctored the ills of those who called for her help.  She treated burns, sore backs, sprains, frostbite, cuts, accidental poisonings, coughs, sore throats, colds, fevers, earaches, headaches, asthma, worms, shingles, rashes, dropsy, colic, apoplexy, chicken pox, whooping cough, and mumps.  She charged 8 shillings for her services, but often accepted her fee in trade - she took rum, sugar, coffee, salt, flatirons, shoes, butter, wheat, rye, calico, linen, and rice.  Mrs. Ballard's diary has been wonderfully analyzed and made more accessible in Laurel Ulrich's book, A Midwife's Tale, published in 1990.  A documentary film of Mrs. Ballard's life was aired on Public Television several years ago. 
 Women learned midwifery from other women by attending the birthings of their friends and relatives, but whether or not they served formal apprenticeships with established midwives is one of those places where I bent the facts.  Thus we come to Sally Cobb Robinson from whom Maude learns midwifery.  Mrs. Robinson is a fact. She lived in Orrington, she was a midwife, and it is said, (notice how the line between fact and fiction blurs here just a tad), she rafted alone across the Penobscot when the river was in flood, more than once, to attend laboring women.  Did she smoke a pipe?  I don't know, but I like the image of her doing so.  Was she concerned with the cleanliness of her hands and her linen when she attended her lying-in cases?  I have no idea. Certainly, she would have been concerned with the cleanliness of her cheeses, which would spoil if not properly washed, so it seemed to me that she might have drawn a comparison between the cleanliness of cheeses and the cleanliness of the materials that touched the bodies of the women she attended.  A perfect example of speculation, on my part. 
 Did a man midwife, (fact) like Edmund Damon, (fiction), find his way to the Penobscot region?  I never found a fact that said so, but it is a fact that during that period midwifery was passing from the hands of women into the hands of men because women were denied medical training and access to advances in medical technologies of that time - such as the use of forceps. 
 Midwives knew about certain measures to prevent pregnancy, but how, or if, they passed that information on to other women, and whether or not they charged for that service, as they did for attending a birth, is not clear.  And where fact is vague, or missing, fiction is clear, giving me, as a writer, plenty of room to invent a way for Maude to tell Anne Stinson, soon to be married, what she needed to know. 
 Fanny Abbott alias Hogan (fiction) is based on the very real Fan Jones. However, when I shaped Fanny Hogan the only thing I knew about Fan Jones was that she presided over the Sky Blue (not pink) House of Pleasure which was frequented by sailors and woodsmen intent on having a boisterous good time.  But that fact interested me so much, and held out such imaginative possibilities, I didn't want any other information.  I wanted the fun of inventing a life history for Fan Jones, embodied in the character, Fanny Hogan. 
 In Pink Chimneys, Fanny, a country girl from Fort Point, is left pregnant by a ne'er-do-well sailor.  She is rescued, in a sense, by Joshua Stetson (fiction), a man unable to give or receive love.  Those circumstances propel Fanny to Bangor in it's boom-town, lumber capital of the world years.  And there she finds herself the mistress of Pink Chimneys. 
 It was only after the publication of Pink Chimneys that I discovered how close to fact I was in my fictional portrayal of Fan Jones/Fanny Hogan.  Wayne Reilly and Dick Shaw of the Bangor Daily News published an article in Down East Magazine about Fan Jones.  In the article I discovered some interesting parallels.   Fan Jones was from West Brooksville, not all that far across the water from Fort Point where Fanny Hogan is from.  Fan Jones is known to have associated with the son of a wealthy Searsport seafaring family, the Havener's.  Fanny Hogan associated with the wealthy son of a Portland seafaring family.  Fan Jones, at mid-life, adopted a 16 year old girl (I've always wondered if that girl was, in fact, her real daughter whom she had left in the care of someone she trusted).  Fanny Hogan's illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth, appears in Fanny's life just when she's certain she'll never see her child again.  Fan Jones was once described as a 'tailoress', that is, a seamstress.  Fanny Hogan, in her earlier years, had been trained to sew, by her sister, Mercy, a skill she disliked. 
  I am acquainted with two books on the history of prostitution - The Lost Sisterhood by Ruth Rosen, published in 1982, and Daughters of Joy, Sisters of Mercy by Anne Butler, published in 1987.  Both authors suggest that women who found themselves living the life of prostitution did not do so as a career choice.  They suggest that the women in prostitution were frequently the victims of sexual exploitation at a fairly young age, usually early to mid-teens.  That exploitation included rape, incest, and pregnancy.  In the 1800's, the standards for women's sexual behavior were very rigid and very narrow.  A woman was either 'pure' or she was not.  And if she wasn't, she was considered not fit to associate with 'pure' women; she was viewed as a sexual outcast and became fair game for ongoing exploitation.  If her family cast her out, then she had little choice but to sell the only thing she owned, her body.  Thus, Fanny Hogan, and perhaps, Fan Jones, is caught in that very situation.  Fanny Hogan got life lemons.  What else could she do? She made lemonade.  Was that also true for Fan Jones? 
 Elizabeth Emerson is a fiction.  But it is a fact that young women from farm and working class families of that time had little choice of employment open to them if they found themselves, as Elizabeth does, alone and obliged to make their own way.  She could  'take in' sewing or 'hire out' as a seamstress.  She could 'hire out' as a cook or housekeeper or as a nurse-companion to an aged invalid if she happened to have those skills.  She could teach school, go to work in the spinning mills, or work in a shop making and selling hats.  She would not earn much money.  She would  have to 'board' with relatives or family members and be dependent on them for a roof over her head.  Her best hope for the future was to marry. 
 Sewing was, for the most part, a female fact of life in the 1800's. Susan Burrows Swan in her book, Plain & Fancy: American Women and Their Needlework, 1700 -1850, offers this quote from The Young Lady's Friend, published in 1837: 

"A woman who does not know how to sew is as 
 deficient in her education as a man who cannot 
 write.  Let her condition in life be what it may, she 
 cannot be ignorant in the use of her needle.  [It is] 
 truly feminine employment, a moral power which is 
 sedative effect in needlework; it composes the nerves, 
 and furnishes a corrective for many of the little 
 irritations of domestic life." 
 Ready-made clothing was not widely available in the mid-1800's when Elizabeth was trying to make her way in life.  Every garment, including socks, gloves, and slippers had to be made by hand, one patient stitch at a time, even after the invention of the sewing machine in 1845.  Not only did clothing have to be made, fabrics of all persuasions - be it tablecloth, sheet, petticoat, or pants - had to be maintained, i.e., mended, patched, taken in, let out, buttons sewn on, or darned.  And that doesn't take in account the decorative stitching - embroidery, crochet, tatting, and knitting - that women did. 
 In a way, sewing is the metaphor that guides the characterization of Elizabeth.  The decorative sewing, the embroidery, she does on the baby's dress gets her the job at Pink Chimneys.  The frilly nightgown she mends for one of Fanny's girls, and tries on, leads her to the tragic event that changes her life.  She is mending towels when she confronts a new fact of her life.  And she has become the proprietor of a seamstress shop when happiness comes to her, at last. 
 Indeed, the stitching metaphor is one of the narrative threads that binds the lives of Maude, Fanny, and Elizabeth (binds, indeed, the lives of women of that time) together.  They quilt, they embroider, they mend, they darn, they patch, they knit, they weave - warp and weft, embellished or left plain, mended at the worn places, something plain made beautiful, something out at the knee and elbows made whole and serviceable. 
 Writing Pink Chimneys made me understand that the line between fact and fiction is a tenuous one, a line on which, for all it's vagueness, balances infinite opportunities for imagining, inventing, and improvising.  It made me understand that sometimes fiction is as true, or more true, than fact.   But, after all is said and done, Pink Chimneys is a story, nothing more, nothing less. 
 I'd like to add that when I received my first royalty check for Pink Chimneys, I spent it on a chimney for the ell that was being added to my house.  I bought the brick, I paid the mason.  But I did not paint the chimney pink.  Someday, I hope someone bends that fact to say that I did.

Pink Chimneys: an engaging story of three women on the Maine frontier.  In
1814 British troops sail up the Penobscot terrorizing the inhabitants of
Hampden and Bangor.  Dr. Richmond goes to aid the militia leaving his
daughter, Maude to treat the sick, and in doing so, she discovers her
calling as a midwife.

In 1831, Maude is living in Portland.  She is called to the lying-in of
Fanny Abbott alias Hogan seduced and abandoned by a sailor.  Rescued by the
charming and unscrupulous Joshua Stetson, Fanny is manipulated into Johsua's
schemes to become the wealthiest, most powerful man in Maine.

In 1851, Bangor is a boom-town, it's commerce fuelled by lumber barons and
shipping magnates, one of whom is Joshua Stetson, who has installed Fanny
Hogan as the mistress of an infamous house known as Pink Chimneys.  Fanny's
illegitimate daughter, Elizabeth Emerson, unaware of her relationship to
Fanny becomes a seamtress at Pink Chimneys.  A random act of violence
reveals Elizabeth's identity and leads Fanny, with Maude Webber's help, to
come to terms with her life.

First published in 1987, Pink Chimneys, by popular demand, was recently
reprinted a third time.  It is available at Bookmarc's Bookstore on Harlow

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