Author Archives: Michael Kleen

Two On-Ramps?

Normally, when a road intersects with an interstate highway, there’s one on-ramp and one off-ramp in either direction. Just north of Watertown, New York, there’s something I’ve never seen before: two on-ramps going in the same direction. At the intersection of Route 342 and I-81, traveling east, you have two options if you want to take I-81 south.

The sign directs you to a wide, looping on-ramp, but you can also just turn left and get on I-81 south much quicker. That ramp is clearly for people approaching from the west, but check it out–there’s nothing preventing drivers coming from either direction from using that ramp. Was this by design, or just a weird accident?

Civil War Ballads: Muleshoe

David Matthews (no, not that one) wrote and recorded this song for Classic Images’ Civil War 125th Anniversary Series VHS (1987) on the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House. It also appeared on his 1994 album Shades of Blue & Gray: Songs From The Civil War, released by Delta, and re-released on various alternatively-titled albums over the years. “Muleshoe” refers to a salient in the Confederate breastworks at the Battle of Spotsylvania.

As Yankees fixed their bayonets to charge the Muleshoe
they laid their knapsacks and their bedding down
With death so close beside them they weren’t goin’ very far
In a moment there’d be life’s blood on the ground

Carved in blood-red soil rebels built their fortress well
Like a lion with its pride they vowed to fight
And their earthen scar would prove to be a grave for Yankee blue
Raw courage was their armor inside the Muleshoe

Place the ring upon your finger and the laurel on your head
And the golden star upon your crisp lapel
If only for a moment just inside the Muleshoe
The price was paid for glory by the gray and by the blue

Like a dagger poised in darkness Federals waited for the call
To slash into the rebels in their way
Like a ninety-nine pound hammer Yankees charged down at the pines
And the searing flames of rifles sent the rebels to their graves

Battle of Spottsylvania by Thure de Thulstrup

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The Phantom Lady of Kennedy Hill Road

It was a few weeks before Christmas, 1980. Outside the sleepy town of Byron, Illinois, the massive cooling towers of the nearby nuclear power plant were still under construction. Kim Anderson turned down Kennedy Hill Road and headed for home after attending church early Sunday morning. Snow drifted across the country road and ice glistened on the barren fields. As her driveway neared, her mind wandered to thoughts of getting inside and cooking a hot breakfast.

Without warning, she noticed a young woman around the same age walking down the road toward her driveway. The woman had long, blonde hair, and strangely, wore a pair of light colored shorts. Kim pulled her car into her driveway and ran into the house. She threw open the curtains on the front room window to see if the woman was going to come up the driveway. She didn’t. Instead, she continued walking toward Byron. Kim didn’t think much of the encounter after that, until she began to hear the rumors.

Between mid-December and early January, dozens reported seeing a young woman in various stages of dress walking down Kennedy Hill Road. By January 20, 1981, the sightings had reached a fevered pitch. Wild reports circulated around Ogle County, and motorists parked their cars in the frigid temperatures along the narrow rural road to catch a glimpse of what became known as “The Phantom Lady of Kennedy Hill Road.” Newspaper reports reached as far away as Chicago, and the Rockford Register Star ran five consecutive articles on the sightings.

Kim Anderson was one of the first to spot the scantily-clad woman, but other reports soon followed. Register Star correspondent Diane Moats diligently collected dozens of eyewitness accounts from what she described as “credible” regular folks, “not the kind you’d think would make up something like this.” Years after the sightings, she told Bill Rowe of Rockford Magazine, “Each of them claimed to have seen the woman walking alongside the road. By the time they stopped to see if she was OK, she had disappeared.” The woman was always described as being inappropriately dressed for the weather, and occasionally barefoot.

While many encounters with “the phantom” seemed down to earth, many more crossed the line from reality to fiction. At least 20 individuals with whom Diane spoke fell back on a familiar folklore motif; that of the Vanishing Hitchhiker. They told the reporter that they each knew someone who picked up the young woman and drove her home, only to find out upon arrival and after speaking with her mother that she had died years earlier. In all instances, the mysterious hitchhiker vanished from his or her car when they arrived at their destination.

While those particular encounters were obviously driven by hearsay and wild speculation, the majority of sightings were simple and straightforward. Many of the passing motorists were genuinely concerned for the young woman and turned their car around to ask her if she needed help, but she was then nowhere to be seen. For all, it was too incredible to believe. What would a living, breathing person be doing walking along the roadside in the dead of winter, and how could she just disappear? “Usually if you meet someone just walking along the road, there’s a car out of commission somewhere, but there was no car on the road whatsoever,” a waitress and eyewitness named Betty Lingel told the Register Star. “I thought it was kind of goofy, just walking down the road like that. It was cold, below zero.”

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RPG Maker MV: Mists of Tongass II

In Part I of our exploration of RPG Maker MV, we created a game called Mists of Tongass, designed its main character, Lucius York, and a starting location, his grandpa’s house. Today we’ll be building our “plot instigator,” an event designed to kick off the adventure. Our main character will set off on a quest to complete this event, which will touch off a chain of events and gradually more difficult quests, etc.

Events are required to do virtually anything in RPG Maker MV, even something as simple as open a door or chest. You can think of them as tiny programs inside a program. They range from something as simple as picking up an item, to a multi-page event having far reaching consequences in the game. Every event has a script that tells the program what to do.

We’ll start with something simple. First, switch to “event editing mode” by clicking on the button that looks like a little red chess piece. Then, double-clicking somewhere on the table, create a new event and chose an envelope as its image.

I want a dialogue box to appear with Lucius’ thoughts as he reads the letter, then another for the letter’s contents. You do this by double-clicking on the black diamond in the Contents window and select “show text.”

You don’t need to show a face with your dialogue, but it helps the player know who’s speaking. Now, I’ll type in “Hm, grandpa left a letter…” and click Ok. Try not to type past the thin vertical line on the right hand side.

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Shades of Gray: The Deserter

The following is an excerpt of a short story from my book Shades of Gray: Strange Tales from the Old Dominion, now available exclusively on Amazon Kindle. Order it today for only $2.99.

A tranquil pond rested near to a cluster of four thick willow trees behind the white, three-story Victorian house. The house was accentuated by dark green trim that lined the edges of every window, door, and trellis. Its black shingles were deceptively well arranged in neat rows on the roof, and the paint peeled on the wood siding. Most of the green, clapboard shutters were drawn, allowing the afternoon light to penetrate the narrow windows. A few yards away, beyond the small grove of willows and the pond, lay a thick wood that had been on the property for several centuries.

The pond’s only confidant, a young woman dressed in a plain blue dress, sat beside its stone edge. The tender breeze blew softly against her long black hair while she reclined in the bushy lawn. Her fate was to be the only child in a family that seemed to have everything. Her family had moved to the outskirts of the prosperous city of Lynchburg after her father had inherited her grandfather’s mining company. Her only friends growing up had been her tutor and the playmates she imagined into existence.

But that was many years ago.

The young woman sighed and stared at her reflection in the cool water. Her face looked tired, and the black rings under her eyes contrasted with her porcelain skin. Her eyes stared back at her from just below the surface of the pond―green, jade green that seemed to cut into the otherwise clear water. She watched a school of goldfish dart playfully and wished she was among them, but then one appeared to stare back at her. She smiled at it before tapping the water with her finger. Ripples distorted her reflection, and the fish vanished behind the rocks and shadows.

“Abigail!” a distant call sounded.

The young woman’s eyes fell downward and her shoulders sunk lower.

“Abby!” the cheery voice sang again.

“Coming, Mother!” Abigail shouted with notable agitation. She rose slowly and headed toward the house. The shadows from the willow trees covered her as she glided past. A rusted swing set creaked in the wind, and the willow’s long, rope-like branches swayed towards her as she went by, gently brushing up against the fabric of her dress.

The white, wooden porch loomed. Its pillars rose high in the air, touching the slate overhang far above. Directly above that was the rounded window, shutters drawn, which looked out upon the yard from her bedroom.

Abigail placed her hand on the wooden railing, which was festooned with ivy, and her shoes clicked with each step on the stone as she pulled herself towards the door. The curtains danced from the inside of the open windows, waving at her as she reached for the iron door handles. She swung one of the two doors wide open, revealing the lavish parlor.

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Civil War Ballads: Kelly’s Irish Brigade

Songs singing tribute to Irish soldiers are popular, and since nearly 200,000 Irish immigrants fought in the American Civil War, it’s no surprise so many versions of songs like “Paddy’s Lamentation” and “Kelly’s Irish Brigade” have been recorded. Research suggests “Kelly’s Irish Brigade” was written early in the war, and that there is a Northern and Southern version. The following lyrics are decidedly pro-Southern, and this version was recorded by David Kincaid for his album The Irish-American’s Song (2006).

Colonel Joseph M. Kelly’s Washington Blues regiment was considered the Confederacy’s “Irish brigade”

Listen all ye that hold communion
With southern Confederates bold
While I tell you of some men who for the Union
In the northern ranks were enrolled;
They came to Missouri in their “glory,”
And thought, at their might, we’d be dismayed;
But they soon made them tell a different story

When they met Kelly’s Irish Brigade, me boys
When they met Kelly’s Irish Brigade
Didn’t those cowardly Lincoln-ites tremble
When they met with the Irish brigade?

They have called us rebels and traitors
But themselves have thrown off the name of late
They were called it by the English invaders
At home in the eve of ninety-eight
The name to us is not a new one though
Tis’ one that shall never degrade
And each blue-hearted Irishman
In the ranks of Kelly’s Irish Brigade

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