by Robert Kanehl
It started as a practical joke, but Hannah turned it into the adventure of a life time. Who drew the portrait of the founder of the first law school in America is a question that has haunted historians for 200 years. With the help of a spirit Hannah discovers the truth and even more about herself!
While working on a school project, Hannah is lead to the answer by the ghost of Anna a spirit trapped in this world. As a reward, Hannah must try to bring Anna some final rest. Can she do it?
978-1-61386-113-4 Young Adult, Paranormal
Also Available in HTML and RTF formats
I thought it was the dumbest thing I ever had to do! Becoming a different person even for a week was a joke, I told myself as I stood in the meeting room of the Litchfield Historical Society in Litchfield, Connecticut. Looking at the small paper cards with large black names boldly printed on them, I froze. Most of the other students in Mr. Cappella's class had already taken one, and I scanned the names again. The voice of the museum's Education Coordinator, Mrs. Burke, echoed in my head. "Just read the names, not the information on the card. Let the name tell you which one to pick. Make it a gut reaction."
But that didn't help, I thought. There were no girl's names left. Good God, I nearly panicked. I'm going to have to be a boy for a whole week! That fact stung my eyes with tears. Don't cry! My mind commanded. For God's sake don't cry. The boys will never let you live it down. For the rest of your life you'll be called crybaby. That was a fate worse than death to an eighth grade girl. I looked around the room, once more; trying to avoid the tears I knew would be escaping from my eyes soon. "But to be a boy," my voice spoke in a near whisper. "I'd rather be dead than be a boy!" Then I saw it, a card on the far side of the table, nearly hidden underneath another, which had been pushed on top by the hustle and bustle of the rest of the students selecting their identities. It had to be a girl's name, I thought. Mrs. Burke would not have placed fewer girls' names than girl students in Mr. Cappella's class. I reached over and picked up the card.
The name nearly slapped me in the face. "James Pitkin Griswold." Griswold, I whispered to myself that was my last name, Hannah Chapman Griswold. The tears cleared from my eyes. It came to me that one of the boys in the class had taken a girl's name just to be funny. I looked across at the class and tried to figure which one it was Billy Warren, Nathan Martin or Jason Kidd were all high on my list, for they were the class' clowns always doing things that caused a laugh, distracted the teacher or hurt someone else's feelings. "Well if I have to be a boy," I told myself, "The joke is on them, I'm going to be a relative."
This activity was the first in a weeklong program being offered by the historical society as part of my social studies class' study of early American history. We had come to the little brick two-story museum located on the "Green" of our town to study the lives of men and women in 1800. I'm not sure why Mr. Cappella was so excited about that time period; we just went along with it. I walked over to the rest of the class milling around in front of Mrs. Burke. She was an expert on the Federalist Period as this time frame was called. We were lucky, she had told us earlier, because our town had been a center of education not only for Connecticut but also for the whole country during this period. The location of Tapping Reeve's law school and the Mrs. Sarah Pierce's Female Academy in Litchfield had brought about this national fame.
The thin blond Mrs. Burke now smiled at us as she stood in the front of the room, decorated with historical pictures and artifacts from throughout Litchfield history. I was not sure if she was being nice or just put on a showman's smile. It is sometimes hard for me to tell with adults if they are playing a part or really mean what they say. "Do we all have an alter-ego?" The lady asked. No one said a thing. The blank stares on our faces must have caused her to add. "I mean another personality that you can become this week." She smiled again and the group answered in various different forms of yes. As the group quieted back down, she began. "I want to welcome you to the Litchfield Historical Society. This week we are going to discover how exciting history can be, especially when you make a personal connection." The words personal connection played in my mind and I looked again at the card in my hand.
"James Pitkin Griswold," I read. He had to be someone related to me. "It's a sign," I told myself. A sign that something wonderful was going to happen, I confirmed. I always hoped that something wonderful would happen, whether it was solving a mystery or finding that friend for life person my grandmother always talked about. I pictured my grandmother. She was the historian of the family. Her soft salt and pepper hair would dance on her shoulders whenever she told a family story. And many times it was a family story that I had heard over and over. I know it is not polite but I've told her many times that I have heard this or that story before. I know the polite thing to do is just nod your head and laugh at the same old joke, but I just can't do that. I love to tell the end of the story before Grandmother does, just to remind her that I've heard it all before.
The sound of laughter brought my thoughts back to the museum. The class was snickering, and Jason Kidd had a smirk on his face. He stood surrounded by Billy and Nathan, his actions encouraged by them. Jason had brown hair and seemed to always wear old soccer T-shirts from teams he had played on in elementary school. "That's what's on my card," he said defensively, his voice a little too loud. Then in a falsetto voice he added trying to sound more like a girl, "Catherine Hunter. I was born in Georgia and came to Litchfield in 1807 to study at Mrs. Pierce's school." More snickers erupted from the class, and Mr. Cappella hushed them with a look of his eyes.
Jason was the new kid in the class. Most of us had been together from grade school; some had even been with me from kindergarten. That was what school was like in a small town. You get into a small group of students and you stay with them as you spend your years in public school. I knew my peers well, if someone cracked a joke, I knew who did it. If someone pulled a practical joke I knew who did it. If only one person earned an A on a test we all knew who it was. The same was true for F's. That was why I could immediately guess it was one of three boys who took that female card out of the 40 students at the museum. Billy had been trouble to me since I began riding the bus to the intermediate school. He was a heavyset bully willing to throw his fists as fast as his mouth. Nathan was more of an insulter. The skinny dirty blond had been in my classes for five years. It had been all downhill for me since he came. I just could not help but react to his teasing and joking. I knew that was what caused him to pick on me, but there was just something about his voice that caused my skin to cringe and my bones to hurt. Knowing this, Nathan smiled and planned more and more things to set me off. He even had others doing things that he knew would bother me. This year Jason and Billy willingly or not were his stooges. Jason had moved to Litchfield this past summer unfortunately he had made friends with the wrong group of boys.
"My name is Julian LaBell and I'm John Cushman," the dark hair boy next to me said as he read from the card in his hand. "I came to Litchfield in 1803 to study at the law school after graduating from Yale. I was born in Pomfret, Connecticut." All eyes then focused in on me. I felt the tips of my ears turn bright red. I hated to speak in class, and dreaded reading even more. It was not that I couldn't read; it was that there were always some words that my mouth tripped over whenever I read and I sounded like an idiot. My voice also stammered and I did not like how it sounded.
"My name is Hannah Griswold," I followed the example I had heard. "And I'm," I looked over at Jason Kidd. "I'm James Pitkin Griswold."
"Oh," Mrs. Burke quickly spoke to kill any laughter. "How nice to be able to select someone with the same last name," she smiled easing some of the panic in my stomach. The look on Jason's face was one of disappointment. There would be no laughter caused by his joke. I smiled at the Education Coordinator, in an effort to thank her, without actually saying the words. "Could he be a relative?" she asked. I shrugged my shoulders. "Well why are you here?" She indicated that I had to read the rest of the card.
"It says he was born in Litchfield and came to the law school in 1817." I read in one breath, hoping to finish the embarrassment as quick as possible. The color in my ears migrated south to my face, and I looked down at the floor hoping to hide my blushing.
"My name is Alicia Washington," the girl next to me, spoke up, and I thanked heaven that my turn was over. All the eyes moved away from me and I slowly relaxed. My heart slowed down and the sweat that had crawled on my hands dried. I'm not a bad student, in fact I generally get A's and B's but I just can't stand reading out loud. I looked at the card and realized that I had stuttered on the words Litchfield and 1817. I must have sounded like a first grader.
"These two schools," Mrs. Burke was telling the group when I again gave her my attention, "brought people from throughout the county here to Litchfield. The Tapping Reeve Law School was the country's first law school, established in 1774. The Mrs. Pierce Academy was created to educate young ladies in the fine social skills of music, art and dance, but more importantly, it also stressed an academic education that was not generally available to young ladies of the 1800s."
The lady turned her back for a moment and pulled out a large picture of an old man sitting at a chair. An open book was on his lap, and a pair of glasses in his hands. The picture was brownish in color, and looked more like a large engraving than a portrait of a famous person. I recognized the man right away and wondered why he looked so different than he did in all the other pictures I had seen of him. I figured it had to do with the age he was when the painter made this picture.
"Does anyone know who this is?" The Education Coordinator asked.
"Ben Franklin" I called out loud along with a few other weak voices. A loud snicker also rose from the lips of Nathan Martin, who I truly hated. For five years he had been showing he was better than the rest of us, by jabbing someone with an insult. He loved zeroing in on me because I was shy, well a little shy.
"Hey look who has a voice, Silent Molly." He looked at me. "Any dummy can see that it's not Franklin. Look there's no lightening rod or bifocals. And besides, he was dead by the time we're talking about." Another round of laughter filled the room, this time from a few more of the boys.
I tried to hide, but noticed that Mr. Cappella's glare was at me not Nathan. How was I to know that it was not Ben Franklin? The style of clothes and the look of the man were very much the same as the pictures of Franklin in my history book.
"Well," the museum guide tried to regain control. "Many visitors do say that this picture does look like Ben Franklin, but it really is Tapping Reeve." She looked at me, and I felt like digging a hole in the ground. "This is the man who founded the Litchfield Law School. If you notice this is a very different portrait than the one's you'll see in the museum." She paused and looked at the group. "Mr. Reeve does not have his finest clothing on," She pointed to the picture. "It looks like he's been caught while working on a case." She looked back at the class. "Normally when you had your portrait painted in the early 1800s, you made an effort to have it show you in the best possible way." She looked back at the picture. "Whenever I look at this picture, I think of a photograph. You know those candid shots of people taken while they are doing something else and not thinking of having their picture taken. I want to say that this painting was like that, the artist just came in on Tapping Reeve while he was reading and said - hey let me take your picture." She looked back at the class. "But that could not have happened, because the camera was not invented until about 1840." She paused again allowing us to study the picture some more.
"What we know is that this picture is based on an engraving from a sketch we believe drawn by George Catlin, a student at the law school. Catlin would eventually head out west and become famous as an artist of American Natives, but in 1817 he was here studying law." I looked at the picture again, and I could see what she meant. The person looked like he was just looking up from his reading, like the time my mother surprised me with her new camera and took my picture as I walked into the kitchen. The man's face had a bemused look, not a smile. You could even say it looked a little annoyed at being disturbed.
"We do not know why this sketch was drawn. In fact the actual sketch has disappeared. We can't look at it to see if the engraving is accurate." She smiled. "But you never can tell it might appear someday. Maybe even you could find it, hidden in a box in your attic. You can never tell what might have been saved by a relative." The words played in my head and I looked at the card in my hand. "Our museum is filled with discovered treasures found in attics throughout Litchfield."
My grandmother's attic was filled with old boxes and trunks saved from generations past. That's what the name on the card meant. That's what the sign was; I was going to find the Catlin sketch. A shiver of excitement raced though me and I visibly shook. That was the wonderful thing that was going to happen. I couldn't wait to go home and walk over to my grandmother's. I would tell her what was going on at school. She would pull some story out of her memory of a box and a picture. We would go up into the attic and find the missing sketch. It would be that simple, and I would be a hero. Tomorrow when I came here, I would bring the sketch and give it to the museum. My picture would be placed in the newspaper. The whole class would be so jealous. Nathan, Billy and Jason would get so mad that they would not be able to say anything.
I laughed at the thought of them being struck dumb. Alicia looked at me as if I was crazy. "What's so funny?" She whispered. I just shook my head. I looked at the clock on the far wall; it was another five hours before I would be home and then …I fell into a daydream that caused me to not remember what happened at the museum for the remainder of the day.