The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder

by Daniel Stashower

The Beautiful Cigar Girl: Mary Rogers, Edgar Allan Poe, and the Invention of Murder by Daniel Stashower

Congrats to Stashower for introducing me to a true crime that I knew next to nothing about. Sometime, somewhere, in some article or book or other I knew that Edgar Allan Poe had based one of his stories on the murder of Mary Rogers, but that is about it. I looked forward to learning a bit more about the whole affair. And MAN, affair it was. Really this book tells two stories. The first is of Edgar Allan Poe, a lonely, kind of ungratious, impetuous writer. The second is of Mary Rogers, a young girl with secrets who happens to get killed and to this day no one knows exactly who did it. I hate to admit it, but the Poe stuff was very secondary and when the story switched to follow him it always took me a couple paragraphs (or pages!) to actually care again. Not a good sign, but overall, I enjoyed the book.

History tells us that Poe was a bit of a drunk. No one disputes that. Apologists will speak of genetic conditions. Self medicating for mental illness. Stress. Condemners will point out he drank, married his underaged relative, and was always in debt. The book starts with Poe writing a letter peddling a story idea to a friend because he needs a little money. The story will be about a french girl named Marie Roget who is murdered in a manner that mimics the famous death of Mary Rogers of New York. He was hoping to drum up a little publicity by using a well known murder and also offered to give fresh insight to an unsolved case. Poe’s greatest works had already been written, as Stashower points out, but he hadn’t received notoriety or monetary comfort. He was better known as a merciless literary critic, but was hoping his fortunes would turn. The Mary Rogers case was an interesting one. She and her mother (or grandmother??? another mystery!) moved to New York City to the household of John Anderson and Mary began work behind the cigar counter in Anderson’s Tobacco Emporium. She became known in several newspapers of the day as the ‘beautiful cigar girl’. It was the first case of a person becoming ‘famous’ if you will for simply being. When you look at the Kardashian phenomenon of today, it all started with Mary Rogers.

There was a fair amount of supposition and misinformation spread at the time, but the rough facts are these. In October 1838 Mary disappeared. Later that day, her mother found a suicide note. The note was taken to the Coroner who said that is seemed Mary had indeed meant to commit suicide… though there was no body but this was the 1830s and lets just imagine that things were done differently then. People supposed that Mary had taken up with a widower and was then disappointed in love. She re-appeared later (some newspapers reported she’d only been gone a few hours) and life resumed as usual. Even now there are theories upon theories about whether or not that first disappearance happened (even though newspapers reported it at the time) or whether it was a publicity stunt by John Anderson. She soon left cigar counter work to run a boarding house with her mother. It is at this home that she receives the attentions of two suitors, one ne’er do well to whom she becomes engaged Daniel Payne and Alfred Crommelin. She ends engaged to Payne but leaves a few urgent messages for Crommelin to return to the boarding house to meet her. On Sunday July 25th 1841 Mary told her fiance she was going to her aunt’s to attend church and would not be home until evening and arranged to meet him at an intersection so he could walk her home safely. He never saw her again.

Her body was later discovered near Elysian Fields (the other side of the Hudson) and that created confusion as to which jurisdiction should lead the investigation, which had dropped the ball, which was to blame, etc. Since Mary was a citizen of New York and her body had been found floating in water… lets just say, no one wanted to be responsible. Several theories emerged, as did several suspects. Her body had been battered and a horrific sexual assault seemed to have taken place. She’d been strangled by a sailor’s knot. They even arrested a man for her murder, who turned out to be innocent. When Poe offered his version of the story, it was meant to come out in installments and the murder was unsolved. By the time the third and final bit was going to be released, there was a break in the case.

I’m not going to ruin it for you, but I will give you a hint, they may or may not have found the primary crime scene and it may or may not have been near an illegal abortion clinic. Reviews were mixed about Poe’s Marie Roget story, as they were about the real Mary’s murder. Stashower captures the time well, but his transitions are lacking. True crime junkies and Poe enthusiasts will enjoy this one.

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The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms

by Amy Stewart

The Earth Moved: On the Remarkable Achievements of Earthworms by Amy Stewart

At this point, I’d read anything Amy Stewart published. I love her non fiction. I love her fiction. I’d even read this book about worms. Read More »

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

by Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

I tend to read a lot of non fiction, so I am inevitably behind on good fiction reads. This was recommended to me via a social media request by several of my trusted reader friends and it did not disappoint. I laughed. I cried. I cringed. I hated everyone and loved them all at the same time. Read More »

Running for Women: Ditch the Excuses and Start Loving Your Run

by Danica Newon

Running For Women: Ditching the Excuses and Start Loving Your Run by Danica Newton

This is an internet age, and from what I can tell all of the information in this book is very basic, and very much on the internet. In short, it doesn’t need to be in book format. The information isn’t horrible or false, it just is surface level stuff that if you aren’t a beginning runner, you already know. Read More »

Alexander Hamilton

by Ron Chernow

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

As I write this, of course I am assailed with the soothing sounds of Lin Manuel Miranda singing, “Alexander Hamilton, my name is Alexander Hamilton.” I read this book previous to the musical being the hit that it turned out to be, and was skeptical about it because a reader friend of mine had read it and not loved it, but what can one do? It looked big and bulky, and hey, I like history as much as the next gal, so I knew I’d give it a try. Read More »

Wonder

by R. J. Palacio

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

My friend/neighbor both a book reader and elementary teacher highly recommended this one. She teaches 5th grade and swears by this book so I felt I had to read it. It is a sweet story that involved lots of tears and can see why she requires her class to read it together. Read More »

The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer

by Kate Summerscale

The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale

Another book that I wanted to love, but just didn’t. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher , written by Summerscale, is one of my favorite true crime books, and a book by which I judge other books a lot of the time. This one was a disappointment. Read More »

Girl Waits with Gun

by Amy Stewart

Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart

For regular readers of this website (hi, Mom), you are aware I have a thing for Amy Stewart books.  I’ve read about worms, how to make alcohol from plants, killer bugs, etc… So when I saw she had a fiction book coming out that wasn’t about natural earth science, I was intrigued. I honestly did not expect to like it. Read More »

The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story

by Douglas Preston

The Lost City of the Monkey God by Douglas Preston

Full disclosure, I struggled to read this one. I kept picking it up and putting it down, though the subject matter is something I typically enjoy. Searching for lost civilisations in the jungle? Yes, please? A potential curse involved? Even better! But no, Preston managed to make it more boring than it needed to be, or perhaps I was expecting something other than the book that I read. Read More »

Confessions of an Unlikely Runner

by Dana L. Ayers

Confessions of an Unlikely Runner by Dana L. Ayers

Back to my task of reading one running book a month until I am running again. Good news on that front, I have started shuffling (it would not be fair to call it running) again, but I’ve been doing this weekly and while my mileage and speed are nothing to brag about, well, I am doing it, and perhaps one day I will brag again. Confessions of an Unlikely Runner was a great addition to my running library. I feel like Ayers and I could be friends if we met in real life because we are both unlikely runners. In Ayers case, the very first sentence of the very first chapter I’m not naturally athletic is basically my rallying cry, and when she continues that she was more of a book nerd growing up… well, lets let this website speak to that, shall we? Read More »

Of Time and Memory: A Mother’s Story

by Don J. Snyder

Of Time and Memory by Don. J. Snyder

Folks, this is a sad one. A truly sad one. This book first came to my consciousness when I was watching a film that used a quotation from the text “Let us hope that we are all preceded in this world by a love story”. I furiously tried to copy the reference because it sounded like a book I needed to have in my life. I was right. Of Time and Memory (I’ve also found the same book with A Parents’ Love Story) tells the story of a man trying to piece together the story of his mother’s life. Read More »

Jim Henson: The Biography

by Brian Jay Jones

Jim Henson the Autobiography by Brian Jay Jones

I was not, like so many of my peers, brought up on the muppets. Sure, I remember Kermit singing, Rainbow Connection, and quite liked it, but I never watched the movies or the tv show. I also didn’t enjoy Sesame Street. I didn’t like Fraggle Rock. My biggest exposure to Jim Henson was through the puppets on Star Wars or The Dark Crystal, which I genuinely thought was one of the most amazing things ever. My seven year old self spent a long time playing the Dark Crystal, and I’ve been tempted to re-watch it as an adult, but I fear that I’ll dislike it and have no desire to destroy the nostalgia. Read More »

Best Boy

by Eli Gottlieb

Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb

This is another audiobook, so I’ll review the content as well as how I enjoyed the audio narration. I’d seen little blurbs for this book on my internets and had wanted to read it for a while before it was on sale on my audible account (speaking of which, I am reminded of credits that I need to spend…). I am particularly interested in books of this nature as they deal with a subject that I am interested in. What does life look like for mentally disabled adults once their parents have passed away? Read More »

Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

by Nathaniel Philbrick

Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

We all have eras of history that we find more fascinating than others. While I find US history interesting, it doesn’t usually captivate me in the same way that Latin American history does, but Nathaniel Philbrick is changing that. I read In the Heart of the Sea and quite enjoyed it. Read More »

The Blooding: The Dramatic True Story of the First Murder Case Solved by Genetic “Fingerprinting”

by Joseph Wambaugh

The Blooding by Joseph Wambaugh

If you know me, or read this website, you know I like true crime. Maybe that is wrong. No one should like crime. Let us just say that I am always interested to read about true crime, or watch a documentary, listen to a podcast, etc. Read More »

The Zodiac Legacy: The Dragon’s Return

by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore

The Zodiac Legacy: The Dragon Returns by Stan Lee and Stuart Moore

In my quest to find engaging books for my own kids to read as they get older… I keep reading middle grade or YA books, even though they aren’t my favorite genres. I just want to let you know up front that if you like the aforementioned genres, you’d probably give this book a higher grade than I did.  Read More »

Assisted: An Autobiography

by John Stockton with Kerry L. Pickett

Assisted an autobiography by John Stockton

Full disclosure. I care less than not at all about professional sports. Well, perhaps that isn’t entirely accurate. I am an only girl, raised with boys who LOVE sports. Though football is the big one in my family, all other sports are also welcomed. And local teams… well, mostly they love the local teams. I am from Utah and was a teenager in the glory days of the Utah Jazz when Stockton and Malone were making playoffs left and right and losing championships to the Chicago Bulls. Read More »

Midwinterblood

by Marcus Sedgwick

Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick

Sometimes it is hard to know if I’ve judged a book harshly or not… Midwinterblood falls into that category. Read More »

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride

by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden

As You Wish by Cary Elwes

Unlike most of my peers, I didn’t grow up watching The Princess Bride as a kid. I vaguely remember my 4th grade best friend, Katy, raving about it and arranging for me to watch it at her house. I have no idea why that never happened but it didn’t. Instead, I watched it for the first time as a freshman in college, and I LOVED it! I am glad I came to it later than a lot of my friends because some of the subtle humor is really best observed by older teens or adults.  Read More »

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Warning, I listened to this one via audiobook, and it may have tainted my perception of the book in its entirety. I typically enjoy Neil Gaiman, so I went into this book prepared to really enjoy it, which also might color my view. Do not misunderstand, I didn’t hate this book, I just found it disappointing. Read More »

The Rosie Project

by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Fiction books are tricky things, sometimes. For example… sometimes I hover on the grade should it be A- or should it be B+? I enjoyed it. The characters were engaging and well rounded… but does it answer those big questions, or does it have big ideas like I feel an A book should have. The Rosie Project encouraged me to think of larger concepts without trying to hit me over the head with them, which I loved. Read More »

David Spade is Almost Interesting

by David Spade

David Spade is Almost Interesting by David Spade

Let us take a moment to talk audiobooks. This is not the first audiobook I listened to… no that honor goes to a horrible Star Wars audiobook which I will be reviewing shortly (and when I say shortly, I actually have no idea when I will get to it… I used to do these things in order, but I’ve given that up). Read More »

The Devil’s Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich

by Robert K Wittman and David Kinney

The Devil's Diary by Robert K Wittman and David Kinney

Back to reading WWII books, I see. Yes, I am. I genuinely can’t help myself no matter how hard I try. I feel as though I am not entirely to blame because of each book published every year, I’d wager a high percentage are about WWII. Like how I kept it vague without any real statistics? Read More »

Mudbound

by Hillary Jordan

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

I honestly don’t remember how this one came into my consciousness. I don’t believe anyone recommended it and I think vaguely I read the synopsis of the movie version and thought that it sounded like an interesting book? Either way, I got it from my old friend Amazon and the rest is history. I really enjoyed this book and it isn’t the sort of fiction that I tend to like. So often I read books about race relations in the deep south pre civil rights movement and I have to roll my eyes so often (I’m looking at you, The Help). Read More »

Running with the Buffaloes: A Season Inside with Mark Wetmore, Adam Goucher, and The University of Colorado Men’s Cross Country Team

by Chris Lear

Running with the Buffaloes by Chris Lear

If you read this website regularly (and there is no guarantee that you do… I’ve seen my web page analytics), you know that I like to read running books as I consider myself a runner on sabbatical just waiting for that magical day when I am no longer birthing or breastfeeding humans and can devote time back to running. Read More »

It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too)

by Nora McInerny Purmort

It's Ok to Laugh by Nora McInerny Purmont

Sigh… where to begin? Reviewing a book like this is a bit of a challenge. Purmort’s biggest claim to fame, and her reason for writing a memoir in the first place, is that her husband died of cancer. So, if you criticize a book like this, you come across as a jerk… So with that understanding, I am going into this immediately letting you know that I DISLIKED this book. Read More »

The Trespasser

by Tana French

The Trespasser by Tana French

French and I have had a pretty serious thing going on since I read one of her books while I was in the hospital delivering my first child in 2010. Then I read another in 2012 while I was in the hospital with my second child. And again in 2014 with my third child. Well, her new book came out and I was nowhere near having a kid, so I had to break our streak and read The Trespasser. I was initially pretty thrilled because I knew this book would follow Antionette Conway who I enjoyed in the last book and wanted to delve more into what a partnership between her and Stephen Moran would look like. Read More »

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

by Amy Chua

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua

I’d heard a lot about this book and had always wanted to read it. I’d read excerpts of a few of her other books and it looked like Battle Hymn was a bit of a departure, but exciting none the less. Then I had the opportunity to hear Chua speak at my brother’s law school graduation and enjoyed what she had to say. She spoke a lot about the backlash she received after writing the book and the controversy surrounding it. Which goes to show you, people who don’t read books shouldn’t get to make talking points on morning shows. Read More »

Unfamiliar Fishes

by Sarah Vowell

Unfamiliar Fishes by Sarah Vowell

This is another book I picked up for research for our family trip to Hawaii in 2016. I’m already a fan of Vowell, and at this point I’d already done a fair amount of research so I was excited to add Vowell’s perspective. I knew there were certain things I could count on in a Vowell history. 1- She was going to be cutting. 2- She was going to find the ridiculous. 3-She might eviscerate the colonists. I was right on all counts. Read More »

The Song of the Quarkbeast: the Chronicles of Kazam Book Two

by Jasper Fforde

The Song of the Quarkbeast by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde loses no steam with his followup to The Last Dragonslayer. In the last book we discovered a few things. The Mighty Shandar is kind of not a nice person. Jennifer is a berserker. Big Magic is back. Read More »

The Last Dragonslayer: The Chronicles of Kazam Book One

by Jasper Fforde

The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde

I have a love/love less relationship with Jasper Fforde. One of my favorite books ever Shades of Grey (not to be confused with 50 Shades of Grey) was written by Jasper Fforde. I started out strong with the Thursday Next series, and loved the Nursery Crime series and was fully expecting to read all the books in the Shades of Grey series, only there have been no more books. Read More »