Kathryn Albright – San Diego’s Cobweb Emporium

9780373298150What would you do if you entered a restaurant and found the ceiling crawling with spiders?

One thing I like about reading historical romance is learning real history along with a great story. While doing research for my newest book I came across this “fun” fact that I just had to include in The Gunslinger and the Heiress.

Tillman Augustus Burnes, an Irishman known for his larger-than-life personality, grew up in San Francisco. There he came to appreciate the infamous Cobweb Palace at the end of Meiggs’ Wharf where spiders had transformed the saloon with swags of cobwebs decorating the ceiling and upper walls.

When ‘Till’ came south to San Diego for health reasons he got his first job at the Last Chance Saloon on 5th Street. He saved up his money until he could buy his own saloon, naming it The Phoenix, located just one block from the docks. He opened his doors for business in 1875 and started collecting spiders to decorate his new place. He also hunted and trapped small animals and birds in southern California to display in cages, and bought exotic animals off sailors coming from South America. At one time, his menagerie housed a coyote, a bear, an anteater, and a monkey, along with exotic birds.

Early San Diego Train Station – featured in book

The bear, Bruin, caused a few incidences quite honorable to a bear, but not appreciated by humans. Till chained him outside the saloon to a tree. One particularly hot day, a group of children taunted Bruin by poking him with sticks. Aroused from his nap and angered, the bear broke loose of his chain, scaring the children and creating havoc until a few men lassoed him. After that, Till had an iron cage built and brought the bear inside the saloon. That worked for a while, until a customer who liked Bruin and regularly let the bear lick the beer off his face fell out of favor with the bear and had the tip of his nose bit off. After that (and the ensuing lawsuit,) Bruin retired to Till’s home, far away from people who would bother him (and visa versa.)

Despite all the animals and spiders, Till prided himself on keeping a clean establishment. By 1885 the spiders had built a respectable foot-thick wall of webbing over the ceiling. Visitors came from far and wide to see the amazing zoo, stuffed animals, and the spiders at work. The Phoenix was a city landmark and sailors and captains alike made sure to stop there frequently. While running the saloon, Till started other ventures—a stage line down to Mexico and personally escorted tours into the back country.

Before one of these tours, his bartender became sick. Till learned of a bartender vacationing in the city and hired him on the spot and then left quickly on the scheduled tour. Ten days later he returned only to find the industrious man had cleaned out every last cobweb in the place, destroying his endeavor of ten years.

Of course nowadays the health commissioner would frown on such a place. But how about you? What is the most unusual sight you have come across in your travels?

Albright_Kathryn_Color_Closeup_For-InternetComment for a chance to win Kathryn’s newest book The Gunslinger and the Heiress. She’ll be giving away three copies today. (With apologies, but Continental United States only.)
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From her first breath, Kathryn Albright has had a passion for stories that celebrate the goodness in people. She combines her love of history and her love of a good story to write novels of inspiration, endurance, and hope. Visit her at www.kathrynalbright.com, on Facebook , Twitter, or Goodreads.

A Christmas in July Giveaway AND a haunted hotel…~Tanya Hanson

MarryingMinda Crop to Use

Despite my histrionic attempts to get late registration at the Romance Writers of America national convention in San Antonio this week, I had to settle for staying at home. Sob. (I usually prepare well in advance for such events as this, but family summer plans changed… and I realized I DID have the time to get there after all. Ah, well, the travel gods paid me no nevermind.)

Anyway, best I could do was take Mary Connealy’s place at Wildflower Junction today–she’s rockin’ it in San Antonio–and spread some love from my visit there several years ago.

Yup. I loved The Alamo.

Alamo close up

And The River Walk.


And The Menger Hotel. The HAUNTED Menger

Menger facade

In 1859, twenty three years after the battle of The Alamo, a San Antonio brewer named William Menger added a boardinghouse for his customers. Since then, the hotel has expanded, and many dignitaries have stayed at the historic place including Robert E. Lee, Sam Houston, Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, Presidents Grant, McKinley, Taft, Eisenhower and Clinton, as well as such “stars” as Mae West, John Wayne, and Bob Dylan.

historic Menger

(“Menger Hotel San Antonio Texas photo of historical photo”. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://tinyurl.com/nys5q7g) 

But several guests have never checked out! Texas mega-rancher Captain Richard King (1824-1885) sometimes left his spread of 600,000-plus acres to stay at his favorite hotel. He passed away from cancer in his favorite room at The Menger, and his funeral was held in the hotel parlor. Although the room has been remodeled several times, his ghost doesn’t mind and seems to find it no matter what. Just ask those sleeping there in the King suite on the second floor.


Another famous, or perhaps infamous ghost, is hotel maid Sallie White. Her ghost is seen often on the third floor, carrying towels. She worked at, and died at, the hotel. The Menger cared for her after she suffered a severe beating by her husband in 1876. Lingering for two awful days, she died, and the hotel covered her funeral costs.

It is claimed that more than 40 ghosts wander The Menger. An old lady knits in the lobby. A little boy plays in guest rooms. Are sounds of marching and bugles soldiers from The Alamo?

Anyway, I had lunch there and didn’t see anything but beautiful gardens and splendid architecture.

Menger interior


Menger fountain

No wonder this lovely hotel has earned recognition on the national registry of historic hotels.

Menger plaque

Now a haunted hotel has NOTHING to do with my latest release. Covenant. It’s Christmas in July at Prairie Rose Publicationsand my short story is being re-released tomorrow for 99 cents. (It was part of the Wishing for a Cowboy anthology last Christmas.)

What a steal. To celebrate, I’m giving away FIVE non-gift wrapped Kindle editions, so please don’t leave me hanging and post some comments today!

Ever been anywhere supposedly haunted? Ever seen/heard/felt anything-anyone other-wordly?


Alone, abandoned, struck with guilt and grief, mail order bride Ella Green refuses to celebrate their first wedding anniversary by herself on the Nebraska homestead. Her fault Charlotte died.

Her fault her husband couldn’t stick around. So it’s back to Pennsylvania. Until the snow hits.

But do the spingerle cookie molds depicting her life–Carsten’s hand-carved courtship gifts to her across the miles–still have more story to tell?

Or is it truly The End?

Widower Carsten Green took on a bride merely to tend his little daughter. Unbeknownst to Ella, he gave her his heart instantly. Yet he believed she’s got no reason to stay after the child’s death. So he’s left her first.

How can the Christmas blizzard separating them warm their hearts, brighten their future, and ignite love gone cold?

The Harvey Girls



Cynthia is giving away a copy of An unconventional Lady

to one lucky responder.

(Sorry, due to postage and customs, giveaway is for US only.)

*Due to technical difficulties on Saturday, we invited Cynthia to extend her stay at the Junction through Monday. So you still have time to get in the drawing for her fabulous new book. YeeHaw!

Scottish immigrant, Fred Harvey, was disgusted by the service and food preparation by restaurants along the Santa Fe railroad and decided to make a difference. He opened his first location in Kansas and restaurant service along the railroad would never be the same. Harvey was known for hiring local contractors to make the hotels fit their surroundings.


Harvey advertised in Eastern and Mid-western newspapers and magazines for single moral women between the ages of seventeen and thirty to be waitresses in his Harvey Houses. Over one hundred thousand women worked in his employ until the mid-1950s. While the women were told what to wear, what to do, how to wear their hair, and not to marry during their six-month contract, these brave women loved their independence. Over half of them chose to stay out west and help settle the country after their contracts were up, earning them the name “Women Who Tamed the West”.untitled


The women had to be of good moral character, have at least an eighth grade education, display good manner and be neat and articulate to work in his restaurants. In return for employment, the Harvey Girls would agree to a six-month contract, agree not to marry, and abide by all company rules during the term of employment. If hired, they were given a rail pass to get to their chosen destination. Harvey Girls were the women who brought further respectability to the work of waitressing. They left the protection and poverty of home for the opportunity to travel and earn their own way in life, while experiencing a bit of adventure.


untitled 2I chose to write a series of four books, spread out over the time span of the Fred Harvey Company to enlighten readers as to these brave, hard-working women. In An Unconventional Lady, the story takes place at the El Tovar Hotel on the rim of the Grand Canyon. This hotel is still running today with its waitresses still dressed in the familiar uniform of Harvey girls.



Multi-published and Best-Selling author Cynthia Hickey had three cozy mysteries and two novellas published through Barbour Publishing. Her first mystery, Fudge-Laced Felonies, won first place in the inspirational category of the Great Expectations contest in 2007. Her third cozy, Chocolate-Covered Crime, received a four-star review from Romantic Times. All three cozies have been re-released as ebooks through the MacGregor Literary Agency, along with a new cozy series, all of which stay in the top 50 of Amazon’s ebooks for their genre. She has several historical romances releasing in 2013 and 2014 through Harlequin’s Heartsong Presents. She is active on FB, twitter, and Goodreads. She lives in Arizona with her husband, one of their seven children, two dogs and two cats. She has five grandchildren who keep her busy and tell everyone they know that “Nana is a writer”.

An Unconventional Lady cover

Beds Fifty Cents a Night–Bugs Free

It’s hard to know what presented the greatest challenge to Sochi Olympic athletes: the games or the hotel accommodations.  Leaky roofs, broken toilets, brown water and unwanted furry creatures might have caused grief to modern day travelers, but such inconveniences would have been business as usual in the Old West.


Sharing a bed was optional in Sochi but not in those early western hotels.  Guests almost always had to share a bed—if not with another guest, then with a chicken, dog or cat. Sometimes even the sexes were mixed in the same bed—and not always by choice.


Poor victuals, vermin and distant outhouses were the least of it.   Some hotels were also used as hospitals.  A minister learned this the hard way when everyone avoided him like the plague during breakfast. It turned out someone had died of smallpox in his bed shortly before he took possession.  Fortunately, the poor minister  had been vaccinated.


Texas hotels hid poor conditions behind high-falutin’ names such as Grand Windsor and Mansion Hotel.   Some states like Missouri preferred calling a spade a spade and went with more descriptive identities like Buzzard’s Roost.  At least in Missouri single beds were available, but at extra cost.


Built from rough wood and canvas some early hotels burned down and were rebuilt with such regularity that there was hardly any need for maid service.


 During Nevada’s great silver boom, Dublin newspaper reporter J. Ross Browne described the hotels as 300 men “sleeping in a tinderbox not bigger than a first-class chicken coop.”

One Englishman telegraphed a Durango Colorado hotel asking for a private room and was delighted to receive confirmation of having reserved the bridal chamber. His delight was short-lived, however, when he discovered that the bridal chamber contained eighteen beds.


 A sign in the Dodge House Hotel in Dodge City advised guests that “Sheets would be changed once in six monthshotel—oftener if necessary.”  Guests were also required to remove their spurs so as not to mess up the sheets.   The hotel also offered a choice of “Beds with or without bugs.”


Early San Francisco hotels fared no better.  Sleeping spaces were chalked out on the floor CSI style. Whiskey provided warmth and travelers could expect nocturnal visitations “by the third plague of Egypt and a Lilliputian host of the flea tribe.”


Down south in the pueblo of Los Angeles, the famous Bella Union Hotel was described as a “flat-roofed” adobe with “dog kennel” rooms.  A respectable looking guest would be granted a bed on the billiard table—reportedly the best bed in the place unless a drunk decided to shoot a game.


Don’t know about you, but personally I find it heartening to know that the Old West still lives—even if it is only in Sochi.


What was the most memorable, funniest, or horrifying hotel experiences you ever had?


 “Exquisitely Intriguing” Publishers Weekly Starred Review

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Margaret cover gunTea

She’s a Pinkerton detective working undercover; he has more aliases than can be found in Boot Hill. 

Neither has a clue about love. –Gunpowder Tea