Batavia 1882

This post is a scene from a book that I am writing. The characters are based on real life people from a scandalous major event in the history of my hometown. Oddly, this story has never been novelized, or turned into a Hallmark Movie, so I am rushing to fill the void. I may, or may not, post further excerpts in the future depending on how good they are.

The noon day sun glints off of the steel rails, and shimmers on the horizon until the tracks disappear in an illusive pool. The smokestacks of the Johnston Harvester factory spew out lazy black plumes into the cloudless sky. On the loading platforms along the tracks, Irish laborers are loading harvesters into the box cars. Rowell stands waiting on the platform. The station is quiet, save for a few wagons waiting to meet the train. Passengers sit in the shade of the platform, fanning themselves. There is no sound but the buzzing of flies around the swishing tails of the horses. He pulls his watch out of the pocket of his vest and checks the time. The train is late, but he has waited this long to see his family a few more minutes seem hardly to matter.

In the distance the bells of St. Joseph’s ring out the Angelus. He wonders if the Irish will stop their work to pray, but they keep to their task. Perhaps he should mention this to Palmer the next time they discuss hiring one. For 6 months he has been renting a room as they have been getting the factory running. The transfer of the equipment from Utica has gone smoothly, and production has been picking up. The inventory has gone quicker than their calculations, and he is glad of it. He has been working long hours keeping the books, while Palmer has been tending to the manufacturing. Rowell puts his watch back into his pocket, and removes a handkerchief. Lifting his hat, he wipes the sweat from his brow.

He has only seen Jennie and the girls twice in that time. This time they are coming to stay. Just a few finishing touches and the house will be complete. It is larger, and more spacious than the one they have been renting in Utica. He has been busy setting up the furnishings as they have arrived, and just this morning has placed a large bouquet of lilies in a vase in the front parlor. He hopes that Jennie will be pleasantly surprised. This is a chance for them both to have a fresh start, away from the scandals, away from the worries, away from the temptation of that man.

Across the tracks on Ellicott Street, people hurry between the storefront awnings to escape the sun. The population is already over 10,000 souls and seems to grow by the day as immigrants arrive, and move into the tenements of the South Side. Labor has proven cheap compared to the wages in the Mohawk Valley, and land is plentiful. This move may prove more profitable than he had hoped.

Looking up he sees the train emerge from the mirage, slowing as it crosses the switch yard near the factories, and approaches the station. The people on the platform stir to life. Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulls out the paper bag with the peppermint sticks that he bought on the way to the station. They will be sticky and soft from the heat, but the girls will be thrilled to have them. In his heart he feels the ache of their absence from his life. He has had nothing but work, and the fellowship of Palmer and the others in the Eagle tavern. How good it will be to have their vivacious company to fill the hallways and rooms of the new house with laughter. How good it will feel to hold Jennie in his arms.

The black iron beast steams from every opening. Rowell can feel the heat of the engine on his face as it rolls past the platform. He scans the windows of the coaches as they pass looking for their faces. The conductor steps down onto the platform, as the train rolls to a stop in a long sigh of steam.

Searching the crowd of passengers stepping off of the train he hears the girls scream “Daddy!”. Turning he sees them running towards him across the platform. He kneels down, and catches them in his arms.

“Oh Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!”. Clara says, “We missed you so much! We didn’t think we would ever get here.”

“You will have to tell me all about the journey.” Rowell says, holding out the candy, “Look here, I brought you something.”

The girls squeal with delight, as Rowell turns his gaze toward the train to see Jennie stepping from the coach onto the platform, her long blond hair tucked up under a wide brimmed white hat. Even in this infernal heat she seems a center of calm, untouched, and unfazed by the commotion around her. She smooths the folds of her dress and looks down the platform at Rowell and the girls, huddled together in the crowd. Despite all that has happened, and all the troubles that have come before, he has never felt more in love with her. Meeting his gaze, she smiles and looks upward and to the side in that way of hers that says “You are the most absurd thing I have ever seen”. Rowell feels a laugh swelling in his chest, and in that instant he knows that this place will do them good.


21 thoughts on “Batavia 1882

  1. OK, I’m in. Write the book already.

    Tommy, I hate to break this to you, but my buddy Bob Brown’s dad William F. Brown (he used to operate WBTA radio) already wrote a book that included the Rowell Murder. The title is The Linden Murders and covers 4 or 5 grisly slayings in Genesee County during the Victorian Age. So the bad news is, it’s been done.

    On the bright side, you’ll love reading it. I had a copy a few years back but I have no idea where it went. I’m sure one of my siblings has it. I’ll ask around and send it to you if you can’t locate a copy. If I recall, the work lacked serious editing, but I enjoyed it all the same.

    Great writing Mr. 20 Prospect. Cheers.

  2. Tom, this is brilliant. The little details…the lilies, the peppermint sticks, the watch in the vest pocket. It’s so magical. And of course, the first thing that Jenny would say to Rowell is “you’re absurd.” Yes, yes, as Jim mentions, Brown wrote about the facts, but you are writing historical fiction. Please keep going. For my own personal and selfish reasons.
    And Jimmy’s just bitter about the “irish” comment. (Love ya, sudsy 😉

    Stay golden, PB.

    • I’m with Bella on this one Tom, someone may have already covered the facts but each facet of a story can be woven a million different ways. Get out that freaking loom and get to work.
      Wow us Descripto.
      If this excerpt is any indication I’d say you’ve got something big on your hands.

    • Bitter? Me? Surely you jest. Now leave me alone, I’m late for my 9am prayer. Love you too Bella – we need to hook up for beers very soon. O’Lacy’s on the 12th before St Patty’s Day perhaps?

      • How about Saturday the 19th? Hockey ends on the 13th and the hubster will be able to join in the merriment. You’ll like Dan, a much needed upgrade from the last husband….

        I’ll get Mom to babysit while Dad joins us at the bar. Or we join him, as he is a permanent fixture at O’Lacey’s. Hope this works, would love to see you and Tracy. It’s been way too long.


        PS. Hopefully Tom doesn’t mind us using his blog for playdates?

  3. I just want to be one of the groupies that goes on the book signing tour with you. I think that Dufmanno and I could be soul-sisters!


  4. There was a famous murder story in my hometown too (Belle Gunness) unfortunately that story has been told a hundred times. And, also? I can’t write like you.

    Keep going, I want to hear more.

  5. Well done! A friend of yours sent me a link. My only comment is that you use the phrase “save for a few” twice. I find unique words, descriptions, or phrases in close proximity distracting or unpleasant. Maybe I’m a nut.

    People have been telling stories on the same subjects since the beginning of time. Its the story teller that makes it unique and special. Go for it!

    • Thanks John! Does this mean you are volunteering to be my editor?


      Thanks for visiting. Let me warn you though that if you are hanging around my friends you really should consider finding more reputable company.

  6. Well, you all seem to know this story, but I’m glad I don’t because I don’t want to lose the mystery evoked by this opening.

    There is this one sentence “This is a chance for them both to have a fresh start, away from the scandals, away from the worries, away from the temptation of that man.”


    I like the way that appears so casually, so innocuously. Very artful. In the mean time, I was given a very fine portrait, complete without anything else being needed. I want more.

    • Thanks for the suggestion. I had considered it before I started, however there are a lot of key scenes in this story that take place outside of the experience of the main character. I also considered alternating 3rd person POV, but ultimately decided on 3rd person omniscient. It’s kind of “old fashioned” like many of the novels written during the Victorian era. Since that is the timeframe of the story, I thought it might help place this story in that era for the reader.

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