Author’s book takes unique look at history

PARKERSBURG – With her new book, a local author is hoping she will be able to inspire people to learn more about the Blennerhassetts and their place in local history.

Debra Conner, author of “Margaret’s Ghost and Other True and Tragic Stories of Blennerhassett Island,” held a book signing Sunday at the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History in downtown Parkersburg.

Although Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park was closed over the weekend due to high water, the museum was still open and people came to see what Conner’s book was about.

“I have been portraying Margaret Blennerhassett in character since 1998,” said Conner, who is also active as a living history re-enactor. “That role has given me a lot of public interaction as well as interaction with students in schools.”

She began to realize there was a need for a book that was designed for a more general readership, not necessarily a children’s book, but something that told the Blennerhassetts’ story in a more simplified way.

“I wanted to do something that was visually interesting and visually rich,” Conner said. “I also knew, from my time in schools, at the end of my portrayals as Margaret I would tell the students I had a couple of ghost stories to tell them.

“They were absolutely wrapped up in that and fascinated with the idea of some ghost stories from Blennerhassett Island.”

As Conner considered what she wanted to do, two things stood out to her. She wanted a simplified visually rich book and a book that would be entertaining at the same time.

Although there have been a number of ghostly sightings on the island, faces in windows after the mansion closed and so on, Conner wasn’t sure what she could do with them, some of which were not that detailed.

“Where could I take that as a writer,” she asked. “I decided I would use some of these reports of ghostly sightings and one ghost story to tell stories from history and to teach history.

“It is a learning tool and I think an entertaining book at the same time.”

In deciding what should go into the book, Conner said there were many interesting stories and seldom-told stories of the Blennerhassetts and the island, the family’s involvement with Aaron Burr and his plans to form another country in the American west.

One story Connor uses involves Burr’s daughter who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Another is about an Indian massacre, the Armstrong Indian Massacre, that occurred near the head of Blennerhassett Island. Still another is the story about how Margaret Blennerhassett’s remains, as well as those of her son Harman Jr., were located in New York and came to be reburied on the island in 1996.

“That was a fascinating glimpse of how someone’s legacy in this area can bring them back to some place that was significant for,” Conner said.

It took a few years for the entire project to come to completion.

“It was a bit more of a challenging project than I expected,” she said. “Even after I thought I finished the manuscript a couple of years ago, I still needed someone to do the visual aspect of the book.

“I contacted several people and no one was available. I have very limited computer skills. I knew the whole design aspect of the whole book had to be done well. I wanted a lot of color. I wanted people to be able to pick it up, flip through it and say it was really appealing.”

For about a year-and-a-half, the project was at almost a standstill until her husband, Glenn, retired from a job that utilizes Photoshop and he took it on.

“For a six-month period, we worked day and night to get it ready,” Conner said. “He did the Photoshop work and the design work. I began to hone the manuscript.”

The book was published through Amazon’s “CreateSpace.” It is available on Amazon as well as at the Blennerhassett Museum, the Campus Martius Museum in Marietta and The Castle in Marietta. The book is $12.99 per copy.

Conner commended the help of her husband as well as Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park historian Ray Swick and photographers Mark and Kathy Abbott with the work they did.

The completion of the book has led Conner to start considering other projects such as a children’s book about the Blennerhassetts. Another is a more straightforward telling of the Blennerhassetts’ story for younger readers. She is also interested in doing something on Henderson Hall.

“In my introduction, I mentioned I have always loved stories,” Conner said. “I love stories of intrigue, stories of tragedy and mystery.

“I want people to be entertained and to be eager to learn more about the Blennerhassett story.”

Conner said her book is not a a comprehensive book about the Blennerhassetts, but a sampling which hopefully will make people curious to seek out more.

“I think in my portrayals and my book, I am a kind of a gateway for people who want to know a little bit and be fascinated enough to want to learn more,” she said. “I am a jumping off point.”