As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I was recently contacted by a gentleman named Charles Rodenbough from North Carolina who told me he was the great-grandson of Ransloe Boone.
That would be the same Ransloe Boone whose name is on the headstone outside one of the caged graves in Catawissa, Pennsylvania. Ransloe is not the one in the grave. That would be his wife, Sarah Ann. The caged graves of Sarah Ann Boone and her sister-in-law, Asenath Thomas, are the subject of my historical novel, The Caged Graves. My story is fictional, but I kept the real names listed on the headstones, the name of the town, and some of the town’s history.
I was happy to hear that Mr. Rodenbough enjoyed my novel. He, like my fictional protagonist Verity Boone, came across the caged graves of Sarah Ann and Asenath Thomas by accident. He was on a family research expedition with his brother twenty years ago, and after visiting the graves of his Boone ancestors in a Quaker cemetery in Catawissa, they stopped at a farmer’s market outside town (Rohrbach’s) and then spotted a strange sight in a nearby, abandoned cemetery. When the Rodenbough brothers got out of the car to investigate the two caged graves, they were just as surprised as Verity to see their great-grandfather’s name on one of the headstones. (Although perhaps not as upset as Verity …)
Mr. Rodenbough knew his great-grandfather had a first wife who died shortly after giving birth to a daughter. He did not know her grave had been caged. With a little research, he eventually reached the same conclusion as the local historians regarding the purpose of the cages. I will not give the explanation here, although I will say I partly used this explanation in my book – with several fictional twists.
I had already noticed that Ransloe Boone’s own grave did not appear to be located near his wife’s, and so I asked Mr. Rodenbough what became of his great-grandfather. He very kindly shared with me the true story of Ransloe Boone…
Two years after the death of his wife, Sarah Ann, Ransloe remarried a woman from Catawissa named Annie Eliza Hughes. They had two sons before moving to St. Clair, Pennsylvania along with Ransloe’s daughter by Sarah Ann, whose name was Sarah Frances. In St. Clair, he and Annie had three daughters, followed by three more sons. (Wow.) At first, Ransloe worked as a clerk, but eventually he established his own dry goods store, which was very successful. Along with his eldest sons, he helped charter the St. Clair Power and Light and build the St. Clair Grain Elevator. He died in 1896 after being thrown from his carriage when his horse spooked and ran down an embankment.
When writing historical fiction, I like to pick out old photographs of people and places to inspire me. For my fictional Ransloe Boone, I used this picture. (It’s really the 19th century author George Lippard.) Did I come close to the real man? Ehhh, not a lot.
But I’m grateful to Charles Rodenbough for sharing these precious Boone family photographs with me and allowing me to share them with you!
As a side note … Since the publication of We Hear the Dead, I have heard from one reader who can trace her ancestry back to a sister of Maggie and Kate Fox and another who is the descendant of Elisha Kane’s brother. So, this isn’t the first time I’ve been contacted by relatives of my “characters.” It’s startling to be reminded that my novels are based on truth.
I’m not expecting anyone related to Jax Aubrey to contact me, but I do think somebody lives in my house on the eighth day.
Wow. That is so cool!
How wild the great-grandson of the real man read your book! Sounds like it was a fated moment that he even found those caged graves.
That’s part of the interesting side effects of writing historicially based fiction. That’s pretty cool.
A total of nine children? Whoa. I hope Sarah Frances never felt like an outsider. But it looks like Annie got her snuggled close in the pic, so that’s good! I think Ransloe looks like a young Abe Lincoln. =) That is so awesome that Mr. Rodenbough shared the pics and family history w/you!
This is awesome! Candy for a history nerd like me. I wish I could trace my lineage back so far.
This is so cool! I can only imagine how exciting it was for you to hear from relatives of your characters and learn more about your characters through them.
That’s so cool. It must be so fascinating to hear from the relatives to you characters!
This has been an equally auspicious experience for me. There is a family tradition that just before he was killed Ransloe Boone told his family, “I think I will live as long as my father” (William Boone) who lived to be 100. Along with his characterization by Dianne in her novel and his real life, I guess in a way he was right after all. Thanks for your work. You may be interested in reading some of my own historical novels.
That’s so cool he contacted you. And his great-grandfather’s story of what happened after his wife died is interesting.
Wow. Do you feel a bit like Paul Harvey? Now we know the Rest of The Story!
It sounds cool to talk to the “descendants” of your characters. I wonder what Verity would think of this history 🙂
Wow, that is awesome! I loved both of your historical fictions…Is there another one in the works???
Love this story and the photos are fantastic!!
Dianne, that is so cool. Thanks for sharing the story on Ransloe Boone.
Hi Dianne .. how interesting and fascinating two people contacted you re relatives of your characters, who were real in their real lives … but your look alike is not bad – if his hair was cut … you’d guessed right …
So many stories … love the thought of caged graves … and then your occupant at home on the eighth day ..
Really brings your novel to a new life – having these real relatives contact you … a great read … cheers Hilary