Lea Wait, here. And it’s June 12 — launch day for Death and a Pot of Chowder, the first in my Maine Murder Mystery series. And, yes, it’s written by Cornelia Kidd.
There are many reasons an author writes under more than one name. That’s really the subject of another blog. (Hint: it’s usually the publisher’s decision.) But in this case, a special story goes along with my change of name.
Because Cornelia Kidd was my father’s mother.
Born in 1876, in Montgomery, New York, a farming community in Orange County, north of New York City along the Hudson River, in 1897 Cornelia married George Wait, a well-to-do local farmer. She was twenty-one and he was forty-three. They lived on his farm on the Walden Road, and by 1911 she had given birth to three children. Her second child, Thomas, had died.
On the evening of August 18, 1911, Cornelia and her husband and their two remaining children, Helen, aged thirteen, and George, who was three, got in their automobile to drive to Walden to hear the band concert.
According to The New York Times, “their automobile was struck by a train on the Wallkill Valley Railroad … about two miles from Montgomery, where there is a sharp curve. It was dark when the machine approached the crossing. Mr. Wait was driving about fifteen miles an hour up the slight incline to the track, and apparently did not hear the train approaching. The automobile was squarely upon the tracks when it was hit.”
Both children were thrown about twenty feet from the track, and sustained numerous cuts and bruises, but survived. Cornelia was thrown in front of the train, which ran over her. Her husband’s body was found under the wrecked automobile.
In 1911 automobiles were relatively new, and no signals marked where roads crossed railroad tracks. (During the following four years three other people died in similar accidents in the same location.) The Times also reported that during the three previous months several serious auto accidents had taken place at other crossings near New York City.
If such an accident happened today the area would quickly be swarming with police, ambulances and tow trucks, along with investigators. What happened in 1911?
According, again, to the Times, “The train was quickly stopped and the crew and passengers ran back. As they approached the crossing they heard the crying of children and found them at the side of the track. Not far away was the mangled body of Mrs. Wait. At the side of the crossing was the smashed automobile and underneath it the body of Mr. Wait. The train was run to Walden with the bodies and the children.”
Cornelia’s three-year old son, George, was my father. His sister, Helen, was taken in by their Uncle Charles, but no one in the family wanted George, so another uncle rented the family’s farm to an assortment of different people during the next fifteen years, on the condition that they also take care of George. That, too, is another story.
But when I was asked by my new publisher, Crooked Lane, to choose a pseudonym, I decided to honor the grandmother I had never met, and use her name for The Maine Murder Series. I know more about how Cornelia died than about how she lived, but these books are a tribute to her.
If you’d like to find out more about Death and a Pot of Chowder, I’ll also be launching Cornelia’s first book with three other Crooked Lane authors — Eva Gates, J.G. Hetherton and R.J. Koreto — on a special Facebook page (CLB June 12 Launch) today. I’ll be there from 2 until 3 p.m. and from 6 until 7 p.m. Giveaways, sneak peaks, quizzes — and I’d be happy to answer any questions. See you there!