Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sybil Exposed The Extraordinary Story Behind The Famous Multiple Personality Case by Debbie Nathan

I vaguely recall seeing the made-for-tv movie based on the supposedly true story of Sybil, the woman who had sixteen distinct personalities inside her. The non-fiction blockbuster was published in 1973, two years before I was born, and has sold millions of copies and never been out of print. Now time reveals, through Ms. Nathan’s exhaustive and excellent research, and this well written expose, that much of the story has either been greatly exaggerated or fabricated.

Sybil the book and movie is actually the story of three women. The patient: Shirley Mason, who was given the name of Sybil to respect her privacy, a sensitive artistic soul, struggling with guilt over her artistic desires which were at variance with her strong religious upbringing. The doctor: Cornelia Wilbur, her determination to succeed was forged in childhood when she was told little girls grew up and got married and had babies instead of going to college to become doctors. The journalist: Flora Rheta Schreiber writing SYBIL allowed her to exchange cloth coats for mink.

The true story of Sybil is one of medical malpractice. Over eleven years, in hypnotherapy sessions, Dr. Wilbur drew out the most outlandish tales of sexual abuse at the hands of her sadistic and depraved mother out of her patient, aided by Pentotal injections, to which Shirley (a.k.a. Sybil) became addicted. She also prescribed many other drugs that were dangerous and addictive both on their own and in combination. She set out to become a mother figure to her patient and even socialized with her and let her live in her home. She did not bother to investigate red flags and ignored physical problems, genuine medical causes that were most likely at the root of her patient’s distress. When Shirley tried to confess that she had invented her various personalities to please the doctor, that her episodes of lost time really weren’t, Dr. Wilbur had by that time so much invested in this career-making case that would change perceptions of Multiple Personality Disorder that she refused to accept and in the end her drug-addled and dependent patient, fearing losing her therapist, would recant and go on saying anything to please Dr. Wilbur. And the book, which Dr. Wilbur had made a deal with journalist Flora Rheta Schreiber, would make them all famous and provide income for years to come.

This was fascinating to read, but also very sad. I felt the patient was used and abused by the doctor she turned to for help, with a little less ambition and greed she might have had a better life, though she herself was not without blame for the way this story was exploited and blown all out of proportion.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I Made A Birdhouse Wind Chime And Tabby Helped

I never thought I could do anything like this. I impulsively bought a kit to make this birdhouse wind chime. I painted it and did some gluing and put decals on. It's not perfect, of course, but it was a fun little project. 

Below are three pictures of Tabby helping during the five hours or so I spent on this.

She has to get up early in the morning. There's a squirrel who spends a lot of time in our yard eating bird seeds and the popcorn we throw out for him, and Tabby loves to sit in the front window and wag her tail, whine longingly, and make lip smacking noises while she watches him.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Watery Part of the World by Michael Parker

This short novel tells the story of 150 years on a North Carolina barrier island.

It begins in 1813 when the beautiful daughter of Aaron Burr, Theodosia Burr Alston, vanishes en route to New York. Her ship is captured by pirates and she is taken to their island lair, Nag’s Head, where, acting the madwoman, she is determined to secure the tin boxes containing her father’s papers, to prove to the world he is not the villain most think him, and the portrait of her she had painted for him as a gift.

It ends 150 years later with the last three inhabitants of the island—the elderly Whaley sisters, Maggie and Theodosia, and Woodrow, the old black man who faithfully tends them until time and events forces them to leave.

It is also a book of complex and unusual love stories—Theodosia Burr Alston and the man with the mysterious past who saves her; Woodrow and his beloved bride Sarah; and the unconventional Maggie who swims naked and loves a younger man, almost enough to leave the island for him.

Theodosia Burr Alston is one of my favorite historical figures, and I’ve been fascinated by her disappearance and the mystery of the Nag’s Head Portrait for years, so it was a delight to find a novel woven around this fascinating woman and the mysteries surrounding the end of her life. Overall, I preferred the parts of the book dealing with Theodosia over the more modern bits and her descendants, but it was still an interesting book to keep company with on a rainy weekend.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Oblivion The Mystery of West Point Cadet Richard Cox by Harry J. Maihafer

On Saturday, January 14, 1950, shortly after 6:00 p.m., popular, accomplished, and handsome 21 year-old cadet Richard Colvin Cox left West Point Military Academy to dine with an unidentified friend after telling his roommates that he would return early, most likely between 9:00 and 9:30, and was never seen again.

Cadet Cox seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth. The newspapers and magazines gave the story of his disappearance extensive coverage, rivers were dredged, all 15,000 acres of West Point were exhaustively searched, leaving no stone unturned, all ponds, lakes, and the reservoir were either dragged or drained, a helicopter was even brought in for an aerial search. J. Edgar Hoover even took a personal interest in the case and assigned some of the FBI's best agents to investigate, but not a trace of Richard Colvin Cox was ever found though sightings of him continued to be reported for several years, some with an intriguing ring of truth about them. Every tip--and there were hundreds--was followed up, no matter how unlikely or ludicrous, by either civilian or military investigators. Details of every aspect of the young man's life were gone over with a fine-toothed comb, searching for a clue, either in his past or present, and thousands of people were interviewed, all to no avail. No one who knew Cox could shed any light on his disappearance, and he never contacted his family, fiancee, or best friend.

Richard Cox gave every appearance of being a devoted son to his widowed mother, strong-willed Christian Scientist Minnie Cox, and his letters showed that he was very much in love with his fiancee, Betty Timmons, whom he planned to marry after graduating from West Point. His grades were excellent, he was one of the top men in his class, and there was every indication that he had a bright future ahead of him; there was nothing to suggest he had any reason to just walk away from his life and disappear. His occasional expressions of discontent with West Point life in letters to his mother and girlfriend were typical cadet complaints and, though taken into account by investigators, were not deemed serious enough for him to pull a vanishing act and cause his family and others who cared about him so much distress.

Many felt the key to unlocking the mystery lay in the identity of his mysterious visitor, who had also visited Cadet Cox the weekend before his disappearance, a man who came to be known only as "George" based on a possible phone call he may have made to Cox prior to his visit. Cox himself, in the week before his disappearance, was reluctant to discuss this man and never divulged his name, referring to him only as "he," or "him," or "my friend," though his roommates felt the last was rather odd as he gave the distinct impression of disliking the man and even being uncomfortable with or even afraid of him. Everything Cox said seemed to indicate that his visit was an unwelcome one, and he reportedly described the mystery man as a braggart and a bad apple who boasted about killing a girl in Germany, where the two had served together in an army intelligence unit. Cox claimed this man was "capable of anything."

Despite intensive searching, "George" was never identified, and rumors swirled about murder, suicide, amnesia, revenge, abduction, homosexuality, cover-ups, the CIA, and Russian spies. One persistent rumor claimed that while serving in Germany Cox had testified at a court-martial against a fellow soldier, possibly the man known only as "George," who, upon release from prison, had come to West Point in pursuit of Cox to exact vengeance, but no records to substantiate this were ever discovered. The mystery was never solved and in 1957 Richard Colvin Cox was declared legally dead and the case was officially closed, though it continued to intrigue armchair detectives and readers of books about unsolved mysteries and mysterious disappearances in which it often shared space alongside chapters about Amelia Earhart, Jimmy Hoffa, and Judge Crater.

Thirty-five years later Marshall Jacobs, a retired history teacher, decided to take on the mystery as a research project to help while-away his retirement. What followed was an eight year odyssey to find the truth and rescue Richard Cox from the oblivion of those lost without a trace. Jacobs obtained all available documents via the Freedom of Information Act and even tracked down and interviewed all the living witnesses he could find. And, despite a rather--to my mind at least--unsatisfying conclusion, where Mr. Jacobs seems content to take the word of one informant without any proof or facts to back up his assertions, "Oblivion" is a riveting tale from start to finish.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Trumpet by Jackie Kay

When the legendary jazz trumpeter Joss Moody dies in 1997 his most closely guarded secret is exposed. He was really she.

In a rage, his adopted son, Colman, who never knew until he saw the naked body on the undertaker’s table, turns to the tabloid press and plans a tell-all book. While his beloved wife, Millie, who has known the truth all along, secludes herself in their seaside home and recalls the treasured moments of a lifetime of loving marriage, trying to shut out an intrusive world that beats at the door demanding to know “Why?”

Years ago I read a non-fiction account of the true story that probably inspired this novel, SUITS ME THE DOUBLE LIFE OF BILLY TIPTON by Diane Wood Middlebrook, and I was pleased to discover someone had used this fascinating story as the basis for a novel. Although race and place have been changed, and the characters and their personalities are the novelist’s invention, it remains nonetheless intriguing.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Magic Room A Story About The Love We Wish For Our Daughters by Jeffery Zaslow

It’s hard to believe it but a family owned bridal shop in a rural town so small it has only one stoplight has been visited by over 100,000 women in their quest for the perfect wedding dress since it opened in 1934.

This book tells the story of Becker’s Bridal and some of the special brides who have walked through its doors as well as the four generations of women who have owned it.

Upstairs, in what used to be a bank vault (the building was originally a bank that failed during the Great Depression) there is a special room with mirrored walls, soft lighting, and a circular pedestal at the center known as “The Magic Room.” It is here that brides are brought to try on the dress that just may be “the one.”

Among the stories shared here are brides without mothers, widowed brides taking a second chance on love, brides who have survived tragedies and illnesses, pregnant brides, and purity pledges, and the inside scoop on what it is like to run a bridal shop. While it may lack the cosmopolitan glamour of wedding dress reality shows like “Say Yes To The Dress” this book definitely touches the heartstrings and, if you’re sentimental, just may bring a few tears to your eyes.