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.