Beauty & Grace is an intensely moving work of historical fiction telling the stories of Teagan Cormick and Grace Reid, women from different worlds and different eras, brought together within the haunting confines of Midland’s Wood Haven asylum.
Teagan leads readers through her early life in Queenstown, County Cork, through to her youthful immigration to America and her chilling, involuntary commitment to Wood Haven following The Crash of 1929.
Grace arrives at Wood Haven in 1978, hired as a consultant to deinstitutionalize the ten remaining patients trapped for decades within the asylum walls and to deal with Midland citizens determined to prevent “asylum people” from moving into their community.
Together, Teagan and Grace lead Wood Haven patients from the dark past into new lives, in the process telling stories and sharing memories that form a lasting imprint in reader’s hearts.
Targeted Age Group:: 15 and Up
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Beauty & Grace is a work of historical fiction based on a story told to me by Mary Jo Hodge,M.S., D.P.A. Mary Jo was a NYS Certified Treatment Team Leader of Nurses in the 1960's and 70's.
At one of the asylums that Mary Jo supervised, she oversaw nurses caring for immigrant women. Some of these women had been locked away for as long as 50 years, for one simple reason. When they came to America they were unmarried and they were not meeting a man to marry upon their arrival.
Due to those facts American Immigration Officials often considered them to be financial liabilities. Rather than allow them entry to the United States they would order the women to be institutionalized on the spot, despite the fact that they were of sound mind and body.
From the moment I heard Mary Jo's story I was driven to write about it. That drive led to me to two years of research and writing, which expanded the scope of my work to a much broader stage of the unimaginable reasons why people in early-to-mid 20th Century America were committed, and the heinous treatments they received behind asylum walls.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
I created fifteen characters in Beauty & Grace that were institutionalized between the years of 1920 through 1940.
I began the process by researching reasons why people were institutionalized. From there I decided if the character was a man or a woman, their nationality and what year they were institutionalized.
With those details in place, I would search for popular first names of a man or woman from the chosen nation and year. Once I found a first name, I would make up a last name to match.
From there I decided if the individual was going to live or die in the 50-year time span of the book and then I began asking myself questions about the individual and crafting the story of their life.
Introduction June 25, 1928
The Mornin’ air lay thick with layered odors o’fish, seaweed and bilge seepin’ from nearby moored ships. The briny smells weaved inta every bit o’me life growin’ up in the oceanside village of Queenstown, County Cork.
Me family’s heritage was woven through a long line o’Irish seafarers, tracing back ta the first-century life of St. Brendan, the Navigator. As me da was forever sayin’, “Never forget me darlin’ girl, salt water runs through your
Truth be told, I was always lookin’ fer ways ta be on the docks.Whether bringin’ lunch ta me da at his shipyard job, skippin’ school fer my passion o’paintin seascapes along the rocky coast or escaping me bed fer midnight communion with the endless shoreline o’stars, me soul was
always bein’ pulled by the tides.
“Twas me deepest dream ta one day cross the ocean ta America. Not that I was wantin’ ta leave behind me family, mind ya. More I was wishin’ ta follow the path o’Bridget Hanlon, the sister of me best friend, Margaret
Bridget was a poet, celebrated within Queenstown for her work oft’ published in the church bulletin and every now and then in The Examiner Newspaper. Everyone said she was born ta follow in the footsteps o’Cork’s own Mary Ellen Patrick Downing, whose poems were featured in Dublin’s
Irish Nationalist Newspaper.
Oh but Bridget, she had a greater dream, one she
shared with me and Mary Margaret one Sunday after our families come home from church.
Truth be told, Bridget didn’t exactly mean ta be sharin her dream. Twas only on accounta me and Margaret Mary comin’ upon her and Padric Mahoney kissin’ in the alley behind where we lived. We was always bein’ thorns in Bridget’s side, sneakin’ around and spyin’ on her. We did it ‘cause she always give us somethin’ good ta stop us from tellin’ what we knew. No doubt, the kiss was big news and me and Margaret Mary was beyond excited o’er what treasure Bridget might be offerin’ for our silence.
“I’ve not a sweet nor a nickel ta be givin’ the two of ya little devils. And I’ve not a care what ya be tellin’ anyone ‘bout me and Padric. It makes no never mind, as I’ve got me bag right here and the two of us are leavin’ straight away fer America. A newspaper editor there wants ta hire me ta write and that’s just what I’m goin’ ta do. But if ya promise not ta tell ‘til I’m gone, ya can have me lace hankie that nanny embroidered fer me.”
Pushin’ the delicate linen and lace square into me hand, Bridget give a quick kiss and hug ta her sister and off she went.
Margaret Mary started bawling on the spot, so’s I give her the hankie to dry her face and wipe her nose. ‘Twas only a few minutes afore her temper replaced her tears.
“I’ll only have ta share a bed with one sister now, so good riddance. She was nothin’ but trouble ‘round here anyhow.”
Seein’ how Margaret Mary wasn’t of a mind ta tattle, I asked if she wanted ta sneak off ta the harbor ta watch Bridget board the ship. I was hopin’ ta do just the same one day, so’s I could become a famous painter in America.
The thing was, I was in need of a bit o’courage. Me hope was by watchin’ someone else take the steps, I’d be able ta do the same.
So’s off we went and watched, and we made a pact ta never tell all weknew ‘bout Bridget kissin’ or her leavin’.
As for me, I made me own pact that come a year’s time, I’d go aboard a ship, leavin’ behind Ireland’s green shores for America’s gold-paved streets.
As fate would have it, in a few months time a handbill was posted on the wire fence surrounding the shipyard. I first noticed the artwork cross the top. ‘Twas a design I knew by heart. The red flag with a white star belonged
ta one o’the finest shipping lines in the world. Yet the bold words below was what I cared most about.
“RMS Olympic Sails to America.”
Bein’ the daughter of a ship builder, I knew the names and histories o’most vessels come ta port. The Olympic was the sister ship o’the Titanic, itself sailed from Queenstown on April 10, 1912, never ta return. Ever since, no matter when the Olympic come to port I was sure ta be there ta see it.
‘Twas a never-endin’ thrill ta see the grand ship glide into the harbor and watch the wealthy first-class and steerage-class Irish bein’ ferried from her gangplank.
When I saw the list of sailing dates on the handbill, I set
me heart on the final one and went ta makin’ a plan.
I started work, sweepin' floors at O’Brien’s Market and keepin’ every bit o’me wages in a leather satchel hid ‘neath the mattress I shared with me three sisters.
As months passed, I saved enough fer me ticket and the new birthie I’d be needin’ to buy from a bootlegger ‘long the docks, as bein’ only 16, Irish emigration regarded me not legal to be travelin’ on me own.
I also went ta squirrelin’ away a bit o’food from the larder each week and packin’ a small satchel so’s mam didn’t miss a few o’ me clothes here and there on wash days. I made sure as well ta pack up me rosary, me drawing pad and pencils and me best sketch o’the harbor, so’s I’d never forget from where I come.
As the time fer leavin’ drew near, the excitement of startin’ a new life began bubblin’ up within me. I knew the only way ta ever leave me family would be without word or hug. Still I needed ta tell someone ‘afore I burst.
Margaret Mary was me only choice.
“Are ya daft, girl? You’re not but 16 and certainly not smart enough ta go off on yer own. At least Bridget had the good sense ta sail away with Padric, and knowin’ that when she got to America she had a job. I’ll tell ya straight. From what Padric’s family is hearin’, life in America ain’t the craic. In fact, I heard Padric’s da tellin that there’s people dyin’ goin’ ‘cross the ocean in them lower parts o’ships. Irish like us are bein’ crowded tight next ta one ‘nother in small spaces, makin’ ‘all of ‘em sweaty and smelly, no better than animals. And mind ya, if they manage ta survive the voyage, they’re bein’ forced ta go ta work in buildin’s with little light and not enough air ta breathe for most all hours in a day. And another thing ‘bout goin’ on
your own, what’s ta keep ya safe from any harm?”
Margaret Mary’s words flamed me temper. They also left me thinkin’‘bout goin’ away from the only life I’d known and maybe never returnin’.
Just the same, I knew me heart was driven by waves of wanderlust. Surely the same that sent me granddad to worldly sailing adventures at thirteen years.
No matter the fears and homebound pleas of me heart, ‘twas no denying the call o’the tides on me soul.
So ‘twas one foggy mornin’, wearing me brother Quinn’s jacket and me da’s woolen cap I stole off a hook as I left out the back door, I made me way up the Olympic’s gang plank as 18-year old Taylor Eagan.
Mam often told the story of me birth and how da straight away named me, Teagan, the Irish word for “beauty”. Not wantin ta ever lose that connection, I’d heard tell o’ American school teacher Annie Edson Taylor—
first ta go over the world’s natural wonder of Niagara Falls in a barrel. Her story made up me mind ta take away the T from me name fer Taylor and be leavin’ Eagan for the rest.
As I made me way down the ship’s stairs ta third class, I managed ta weave inta a small space of bunk beds. There I wormed me way among five women and their six beibis, gatherin’ me satchel up close to me chest. And once settled, I shut me eyes and dreamed o’all that lie ahead.
As I did, I whispered a prayer to Mary, Mother o’God, that me new life in America not end up in a miserable place with little light and not enough air, and where I be forced ta be for all the rest o’me days.
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