Author Archives: Stan Deaton

S5E1: Happy Halloween

Once again this year, in celebration of the spooky season Stan reads a favorite ghost story, “Rats” by the master of the genre, M.R. James, first published in 1929. Also, this week in history and a dark day in Mayberry. Draw near the fire, dim the lights, and enjoy…..

Q&A: Reading and Writing with Michael Van Wagenen

Dr. Michael Scott Van Wagenen is associate professor and public history coordinator at Georgia Southern University. He is the author of the award-winning, Library Journal best seller Remembering the Forgotten War: The Enduring Legacies of the U.S.-Mexican War (University of Massachusetts, 2012), The Texas Republic and the Mormon Kingdom of God (Texas A&M, 2002), as well as several articles and book chapters. He is also co-editor with W. Paul Reeve of Between Pulpit and Pew: The Supernatural World in Mormon History and Folklore (Utah State University, 2011). In the past 30 years, he has written, produced, directed, and/or edited over 20 documentary films. His work has twice won highest honors at the National Education Film and Video Festival and been screened at the American Museum of Natural History, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Margaret Mead Ethnographic Film Festival, Chicago Latino Film Festival, and several other venues. Dr. Van Wagenen received his BA from Brigham Young University, an MAIS from the University of Texas at Brownsville, and his PhD from the University of Utah.

What first got you interested in history?

When I was very young my grandfather would tell me stories about his experiences as a Navy officer in the Pacific during World War II. That definitely sparked an awareness in me that there was this adventurous place called “the past” that you could visit through stories, books, museums, and films.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

The first book I read was an “abridged for young readers” edition of Robinson Crusoe. I was in first grade and binged it all in a day. I was hooked on historical fiction and non-fiction after that.

What book did you read in grad school that you never want to see again—and what book was most influential?

I studied folklore to enhance my understanding of history and really struggled with Roland Barthes’ Mythologies (1957). I’m sure it was me, not him. On the other side of things was Michael Kammen’s Mystic Chords of Memory: The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (1991). I couldn’t put that book down, and it really inspired my interest in the theories of collective memory.

What’s the last great book you read, fiction or non-fiction?

It’s a bit of a local cliché, but I finally got around to reading John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil this summer. I loved it—much better than the film.

You’re a documentary filmmaker: what movies and documentaries most inspired you when you were young? What filmmakers?

I don’t really remember watching documentaries as a kid. I watched a lot of old war movies and historical dramas on television: The Thin Red Line, Beau Geste, and Nicholas and Alexandra come immediately to mind. I also loved the satirical war television series F-Troop and Hogan’s Heroes. As far as filmmakers go, the first director I can remember being aware of was Akira Kurosawa. In high school in Los Angeles, I would go to the art house theaters to watch his films. Toshiro Mifune was my original action hero.

When you’re not reading for your particular field of history, what else do you like to read? What genres do you avoid? And what’s your guilty reading pleasure?

I am a complete sucker for a beautifully illustrated coffee table book. I have my own large collection of folk art books that I read and reread—my guilty pleasure, I suppose. As far as what I avoid: definitely self-help/motivational. Anyone who thinks they have the answer likely doesn’t.

What do you read—in print or online—to stay informed?

I consume it all, from left to right. I like to make my own decisions about things after I have read or listened to as many perspectives as I can. As you can guess, my politics are confusing to most people.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

As a kid I visited my grandparents who were staying on a secluded part of the California coast. We were hit by a big storm with lots of wind, rain, and pounding waves for a couple of days. There was no television or radio—just a blanket, a lamp, and a stack of pulp westerns to read. I know I’ve romanticized that moment, and I have tried to recreate that environment over and over with no success. Hurricane season is not through yet this year, so who knows?

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

The Giant Joshua by Maurine Whipple (1941) is a historical fiction novel about Mormon polygamy in the mid 1800s. While it made a modest literary splash when it came out in 1941, it is largely forgotten today.

What book or collection of books might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

I have a small collection of books about UFOs. I was raised during the new-age UFO revival of the 1970s, so that shaped my childhood. I have actually published on historical UFOs and will likely develop a class on them. My approach to UFOs is similar to that of Carl Jung, who viewed them as another way to interpret the values and beliefs of a people.

How have your reading tastes changed over time?

Sadly, less MAD Magazine.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

Grasshopper Jungle (by Andrew Smith, 2014). I like a good young adult fiction book, and this one was widely praised and loved. I guess my own childhood was too urban, too undersexed, too lacking in actual alien encounters for me to connect with it.

What book would you recommend for America’s current moment?

Don’t Bite Your Friends by Lisa Rao (2009).

What do you plan to read next?

My daughter is a professional writer, and she just sent me her latest manuscript. I’m thrilled to be diving into that one!

What is the next book or article you’re going to write?

I am putting the finishing touches on an article titled “Mormons, Memory, and the Mexican War: The Role of Mormon Battalion Commemoration in the Formation of Latter-day Saint Identity, 1921 – 2021.” I use as a case study the United States’ only religiously segregated military unit to explore how collective memory and identity are constantly evolving to serve a number of social, political, and religious agendas. What’s next after that? I am writing an article about a Mexican folk art particular to the Otomí people of central Mexico. Between the early nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries they created a particular style of crucifix, called a cruz de ánimas, that they venerated to end their ancestors’ suffering in purgatory. These artifacts serve as a preliterate genealogical pedigree, and very little has been written about them.

When and how do you write?

Mornings and nights are best for me. There are too many distractions during the day. I am one of those people who need large blocks of time to find my focus.

With which three historic figures, dead or alive, would you like to have dinner?

I have three immigrant ancestors: one Dutch from the 1600s, one Irish from the 1700s, and one Scottish from the 1800s, who I would love to meet. I would cook Tex-Mex food and ask them so many questions that they would be begging to crawl back into their graves!  

Joy in Mudville

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.



“Casey at the Bat,” Ernest Lawrence Thayer, 1888

Six months ago, on April 1, I welcomed the start of the baseball season, and now the Braves have made it to the National League Championship Series, the semi-finals of the World Series.

They made this trip 8 years in a row between 1991 and 1999, winning 5 National League pennants, returned in 2001 (losing 4 games to 1 to the Arizona Diamondbacks), then had a 19-year drought before returning to the NLCS in 2020 in a pandemic-shortened 60-game season. They led the eventual champion Dodgers 3 games to 1 before losing three straight to hand them the pennant. Will this year be different? As of this writing, they still await their opponent—either the San Francisco Giants or the Dodgers again.  Either team will present a huge challenge.

The 2021 MLB playoffs have already had some very strange moments. I’ve been watching baseball for 50 years but I’ve never seen a play like we saw in Game 3 between the Red Sox and the Rays last Sunday. With the score tied 4-4 in the 12th inning and the go-ahead runner on first base, Tampa’s Kevin Kiermaier hit a deep fly ball to right field. Everybody knows about Fenway Park’s 37-foot Green Monster in left field, but the fence in right is only 3 to 5 feet tall.

The ball hit the top of the fence, caromed back onto the field, hit Boston right fielder Hunter Renfroe, and then bounced over the short fence and out of play, which otherwise would have easily scored Yandy Diaz, the Tampa runner at first. After the umpire’s conferenced with each other and then talked to the replay booth in New York, the play was ruled a ground-rule double, sending the go-ahead run back to third base and stopping Kiermaier at second. Outrage and dismay rang out loudly across the Twitter-verse. The next batter struck out and Boston’s Christian Vasquez hit a walk-off 2-run homer in the bottom of the 13th, ending a game that lasted 5 hours and 14 minutes and featured 16 pitchers.

Would that Tampa run have made any difference if Diaz had been allowed to score? Who knows, but that extraordinary and bizarre play encapsulates what is so great about baseball:  even after 150+ years of baseball history, the game can show you something new every night. And it demonstrates the uniqueness of the game. Think about this: every professional ice hockey rink has the same dimensions, as does every NBA basketball court, and every football field, whether at the high school, college, or pro level. But every baseball field in every stadium in major league baseball has different dimensions in terms of the distances between home plate and the outfield fence, and as regards the height of the outfield fence. A ball hit in Fenway Park will not play the same as a ball hit to right field in Dodger Stadium. That’s the charm and the lunacy of this game.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the old historic ballparks as much as the next person, but it’s a shame to see the park itself determine the outcome of a game. That wouldn’t have happened in a more modern ballpark with taller fences.

Then, in Game 3 of the Giants-Dodgers series on Monday night, with the Giants leading 1-0, a strange wind blowing over Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles knocked down a potential game-tying 9th-inning home run off the bat of Dodger Gavin Lux. The same hit would have been out in nearly every other park, but it dropped dead that night in LA and ended the game. Giants win, 1 – nil.

In the 4th inning of the Braves clinching Game 4 win Tuesday night in Atlanta, Adam Duvall hit a pop-up behind home plate that deflected off Brewers catcher Omar Narvaez’s glove before being caught by third baseman Luis Urias in what looked like a great heads-up play. But replays showed the ball hit the ground before Urias caught the ball, which should have extended Duvall’s at-bat.

Everyone—especially Braves fans—waited impatiently for the play to be overturned on review. But—Sonja Henie’s tutu!!—the play turned out to be un-reviewable by the umpires. Why? According to MLB: “An umpire’s decision whether a fielder caught a fly ball or a line drive in flight in the outfield before it hit the ground is reviewable, but fly balls or line drives fielded by a defensive player in the infield is not eligible for review.”

A play like that is not reviewable, in Game 4 of the playoffs with both teams’ season on the line? Why? What is the point of having replay if not for moments like that? To quote Dr. Clipton in Bridge Over the River Kwai: Madness.

Finally, there was the bizarre base-running interference play in Game 3 of the Astros-White Sox series on Sunday night that I won’t even begin to describe. But if anyone can adequately explain MLB’s rules to me on what does and what does not constitute baserunner interference, dinner at the Burp n’ Slurp is on me.

These kinds of strange plays happen frequently throughout baseball’s long 162-game season without attracting much notice. If you lose tonight, you play again tomorrow night. Repeat that sequence for the next six months. But suddenly in a short playoff series these missed calls and freak plays can end your season and championship dreams quickly.

That’s always been the most maddening and yet intriguing part of the MLB playoffs to me. Baseball plays the longest season of any professional American sport, at 162 games. Across that long span we know who the best teams are in both leagues. There’s no guesswork involved. This year the San Francisco Giants won 107 games, and they are clearly the best team in the National League, just as the Tampa Bay Rays with their 100 wins are the American League’s champs. In a normal universe, these two teams would go straight to the World Series and play each other for the championship.

But that’s not the way it works in Mudville. Here, the post-season tournament starts, and all of that is thrown out. Madness begins. Eight teams make the tournament and anything can and does happen. In a short series, good hitters bats go cold; Cy Young-winning pitchers can’t find the strike zone. Relief pitchers who haven’t lost a game since Hector was a pup give up game-winning home runs. Controversial plays aren’t reviewable, the wind knocks down a game-tying home run, a ball hits a player and bounces over the fence, and your season comes to a crashing halt. Teeth gnash and grown men and women wail.

Former baseball commissioner and Yale president Bart Giamatti was right: baseball breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart.

But just when all hope seems lost, Mighty Casey, in the fine form of Freddie Freeman, steps to the plate against one of the best relievers in baseball—who hasn’t given up a run in almost two months—and he does not strike out. Instead, he crushes a game- and series-winning tater over the wall, sending the faithful into a furious frenzy. Joy in Mudville.

Who knows what heartache may await in the next round, or in the World Series? For some team, it will surely come.

Let it. That’s what this great game is designed to do. God, how I love it.

Q&A: Reading and Writing with Lisa Tendrich Frank

Lisa Tendrich Frank is a historian who specializes in gender and the American South and Civil War. She is the author of The Civilian War: Confederate Women and Union Soldiers during Sherman’s March (Louisiana State University Press, 2015), which examines how warfare was redefined when the homefront and warfront collided as well as how gender guided both soldiers and civilians in one of the war’s most famous campaigns. She has also published six edited collections and dozens of articles and book chapters. Her most recent collection is Household War: How Americans Lived and Fought the Civil War (University of Georgia Press, 2020), co-edited with LeeAnn Whites. Dr. Frank is currently working on a book that explores the “domestic warfare” campaigns of U.S. generals Ulysses S. Grant, Philip Sheridan, and William T. Sherman. The book reexamines the forced evacuation of civilians from Atlanta in 1864 as part of a larger campaign to win the war by bringing it directly to the homefront. Dr. Frank’s research has been supported by fellowships and grants from various institutions, including the Huntington Library and the American Historical Association. She received her BA from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and her MA and PhD from the University of Florida. During her career, she has taught at several universities, including Occidental College; University of California, Los Angeles; University of North Florida; Florida Atlantic University; and California State University, Fullerton. She has also worked as a writer and consultant for various non-profits. Most recently, she served as the lead historian for the University System of Georgia’s Naming Advisory Group. For more information, visit www.lisatendrichfrank.com.

What first got you interested in history?

I remember being bored by some history classes, but never by history. Historical fiction initially sparked my interest. I was fascinated with books written in the 20th century about historical events as well as those written in the 19th century (like Louisa May Alcott’s books). I also visited a lot of museums and historic sites around the country with my family as a child. Among other things, we went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History, visited Civil War battlefields, ate gingerbread in Colonial Williamsburg, and walked Boston’s Freedom Trail.

I became interested in becoming a historian when I took a Civil War lecture class with Stephen Oates as a college sophomore at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He was an amazing lecturer who had us all on the edge of our seats in each class and sometimes elicited applause during lectures. The books he wrote are like that, too—as I read his biography of Abraham Lincoln (With Malice Toward None: A Life of Abraham Lincoln, 1977), I practically yelled at Lincoln not to go to Ford’s Theater. I also loved Oates’ classes because he taught history by focusing on the individuals who lived through the events instead of solely on troop movements. His lectures and the books he assigned to the class brought the Civil War and other topics to life for me. After that semester I took some small seminar classes with him—Civil War through Biography and Mari Sandoz’s American West. I knew I wanted to learn about and write about history the way Oates did. When I decided to pursue a graduate degree in history, he helped me narrow down the programs and potential advisors who would best suit my interests.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I was an obsessive and voracious reader. I read every fiction book I could get my hands on as a child, and I read as often and as much as I could. I devoured books (but not literally!). My parents were constantly trying to get me out of the house to do something (anything) else. I used to get in trouble regularly for staying up too late reading with a flashlight (I had several extra books and flashlights stashed under my bed in case I was discovered), and one of my best friends and I would sit together during lunch at school and on weekends each reading a book. My favorite books as a child (I had a lot of them) included Alice in Wonderland, Jane Eyre, Little Women, The Count of Monte Cristo, The BFG, The Prince and the Pauper, Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy books, Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books, L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables books, Agatha Christie’s books, everything by Tolkien…. For the record, I still stay up too late reading novels and my best friend and I still talk about books together.

What book did you read in grad school that you never want to see again—and what book was most influential?

I would be happy to never see Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman’s Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (1974) ever again. It’s offensive to me in its use of qualitative methods to evaluate the very human and very horrible experience of enslavement. I am still amazed at how widely read it was.

On the other hand, LeeAnn Whites’ The Civil War as a Crisis in Gender: Augusta, Georgia, 1860-1890 (University of Georgia Press, 1995) rocked my world. It gave me a model for the kind of history I wanted to do and write. It opened my eyes to how ideas about masculinity and femininity shaped the behavior of nineteenth-century Americans. That book, with Nina Silber’s The Romance of Reunion: Northerners and the South, 1865-1900 (University of North Carolina Press, 1993), shaped the kind of history that I do. I had read other books on gender, but never anything that demonstrated to me how I could apply it to the Civil War. I read both as I was preparing for my qualifying exams and they both shaped how I approached my dissertation and everything I’ve written since then.

What’s the last great book you read, fiction or non-fiction?

The most recent great fiction book I read was Hamnet: A Novel of the Plague by Maggie O’Farrell (Knopf, 2020). I loved it. It’s beautifully written and evocative. I cried a lot. I got completely swept up in the story and didn’t want it to end even though I loved it so much that I read it too quickly.

When you’re not reading for your particular field of history, what else do you like to read? What genres do you avoid? And what’s your guilty reading pleasure?

When I’m not reading for “work,” I read fiction. I have a large and always growing pile of books “to be read” and choose the one I’m in the mood for when I finish whatever I’ve been reading. I like books with characters I can imagine being friends with, and I hate books with characters I dislike. I avoid non-fiction and horror. My guilty reading pleasure is reading too many books at once.

What do you read—in print or online—to stay informed?

I read The New York Times online as well as articles from other newspapers and news magazines to stay informed.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

I will seriously read anywhere at any time, but my favorite place to read is sitting in the shade on a breezy beach with my feet in the sand as I listen to the waves. My preferred reading is always fiction in book form, not electronic. I love the feel and smell of a new book.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

When I want to relax, I often read or bake. I have a nice collection of cookbooks, and I absolutely love Sweet Serendipity. I think a lot of people know about the restaurant in New York City, Serendipity 3, but they probably don’t know of this amazing cookbook. In case you’re wondering, the Goddess Diane’s Chocolate Chip Cookies are my personal favorites but everything I’ve made from the cookbook has been delicious.

What book or collection of books might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

I think people would be surprised at the breadth of topics and type of books I have on my shelves. In addition to my collection of Civil War and other history books, I have a large and wide-ranging fiction collection. It defies easy categorization. It includes Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl, Ha Jin’s Waiting, Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, all of Gregory Maguire’s books, Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, James McBride’s Good Lord Bird, Madeline Miller’s Circe, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, all of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo, The Riverside Shakespeare, Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar….

How have your reading tastes changed over time?

I don’t know that my reading tastes have necessarily changed that much but my willingness to put down a book I don’t like has definitely increased. I used to feel like I had to finish every book I started, and I forced myself to do so. I will still finish non-fiction that I’m reading for work or anything that I’m reading for my book club. However, sometime after college I decided that I’d read enough to know what I liked and what I didn’t like and that I no longer needed to read books just because other people thought I should. If I start a book and don’t like it, I put it down and walk away and start another book.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

I practically got booed out of my book club for panning Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom: A Novel (FSG, 2010). I hated everything about it, but especially that none of the characters seemed to have any redeeming qualities. Although I’ve really liked most of Fredrik Backman’s books, I stopped reading Beartown (Atria, 2017) once I realized what it was going to be about.

What book would you recommend for America’s current moment?

You’re probably looking for a non-fiction book here, but I think fiction is always the best answer. My comfort reading and escape from reality for the past decade has been Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Series (A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life) and Time’s Convert. They are my favorite books of all time. I love them and wish I could jump into the books and meet many of the characters (especially Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont). Harkness’s novels stress the importance of diversity, multiculturalism, and cooperation—lessons that I think everyone needs or can appreciate these days.

What do you plan to read next?

I’m currently reading The Love Songs of W.E.B. DuBois by Honorée Fanonne Jeffers (Harper, 2021) and Libertie: A Novel by Kaitlyn Greenidge (Algonquin, 2021). They’re both amazing books with complicated and relatable characters. I keep switching between them because I’m wrapped up in both stories.

What is the next book you’re going to write?

I’m working on a book on what I call “domestic warfare” during the American Civil War. I’ve always been interested in exploring the ways that the homefront and warfront connected and how 19th-century Americans understood these connections in ways that modern historians often ignore. This book is exploring how U.S. generals Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, and Philip Sheridan pursued victory with strategies that intentionally brought war to the homefront. It explores how they engaged in military occupations of towns, evictions of civilians, and invasions of homes that upended white southern households and helped end the Civil War.

When and how do you write?

I write best under the pressure of an approaching deadline. I often create artificial deadlines to keep the process moving and use small rewards to push me toward these goals. For the past year and a half, things have been unusually chaotic and unpredictable, which has made it difficult for me to find sustained and regular periods to write. I look forward to life returning to something closer to normal so that I can reestablish a regular schedule for writing.

With which three historic figures, dead or alive, would you like to have dinner?

The Civil War historian in me definitely wants to meet William T. Sherman and Clara Barton. I’ve spent so many years studying them and trying to figure out their motivations and lives, so I’d love to hear from them personally. Modern-day me would also like to have dinner with Hillary Clinton. I’m not a senator or a former secretary of state, but I feel like we’d have a lot in common and have a lot to talk about.

Dispatches from Off the Deaton Path: Tomochichi

282 years ago, Yamacraw chieftan Tomochichi died and was buried in the center of what is now Wright Square in downtown Savannah. In this Dispatch, Dr. Deaton looks at the life and legacy of Tomochichi, his relationships with General James Oglethorpe and Mary Musgrove, and the role he played in Georgia’s early colonial period.