John Stark Bellamy II has sent me two notes in the past year. Not emails, but handwritten cards with the date noted in the right-hand corner of the inside followed by the looping cursive letters we all see little of these days.
But the most striking thing about both cards isn't the fact that Bellamy took time out of his day to write them; it's that they're both Lizzie Borden-themed note cards. Yes, the Lizzie Borden who was tried and acquitted for killing her father and step-mother with an axe on Aug. 11, 1892. One card has an oval 1880 portrait of Borden and the Fall River, Mass., home where the murders occurred. The second depicts her calling card — "Miss Lizabeth A. Borden" it screams in square block letters — and a photo of the home she and her sister bought soon after the trial.
Yes, Bellamy is fascinated with the macabre, and we're better off because he is. Before relocating to Vermont several years ago, he was known as Cleveland's historian of strange, unusual and horrible deaths from the distant past. A librarian, he expertly scoured old newspapers and records to recount these tales of woe in a series of popular Gray & Co. books.
When I talked to him in 2010, just before the release of Cleveland's Greatest Disasters, Bellamy lamented that his new home just didn't have the same chilling raw material as an industrial city with a long past — a fact he noticed while penning his first and only collection of vintage Vermont murders.
"Not only was Vintage Vermont Villanies my first Vermont book, it was my last Vermont book," he said at the time. "It was damn difficult to cobble together 12 interesting-enough murders, and I had to cover almost 200 years to do that."
It's also lucky for us that he gets the bug to come back home once in awhile. Bellamy will be back in town next week for a series of library lectures running from April 4-16.
He's hitting the circuit again in support of his most recent book, The Last Days of Cleveland, so we'll be giving away copies of it on our Facebook page this week. So go over and "like" us if you don't already, and browse this list of Bellamy appearances to find the one closest to your home.
Tell him Lizzie Borden sent you.