Bill Klaber, Author of The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell, Stops By and a Book Giveaway

I am pleased to have Bill Klaber, author of The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell, joining me today for a brief interview about his path to the finished book on Lucy’s decisions and how they affected her life and the lives of others. My earlier review of this incredible book can be read here.

Be sure to visit GIVEAWAY to enter to win a copy of The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell.

Please join me in welcoming Bill to Found Between the Covers.

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Klaber Collage


Your home is quite near the area where Lucy Ann Lobdell was born. You had lived there for about 20 years before meeting Jack Niflot.  Could you share what you knew about Lucy before meeting Niflot, and what he revealed to you during that lunchtime meeting?

It must have surprised to you to see the papers and notebooks Lucy had kept still in existence. What was your first reaction to Niflot’s suggestion that you write Lucy’s story? And why did you undertake this project?

Bill: Sherrey, permit me to answer the first two questions together.  First, I had lived in my house for 20 years before having breakfast with Jack Niflot and I had never heard of Lucy Lobdell,  even though, as I was to find out, my house had a history with Lucy’s legend.  So I didn’t know anything about Lucy when I sat down with Jack.  Once I told him that I was completely in the dark he began patiently to tell me this amazing, fantastic tale of this woman who in the mid-nineteenth century cut her hair, changed her clothes and went off to live her life as a man.  The very first thing he pulled out of his satchel was a copy of a huge obituary from the New York Times, Lucy Lobdell’s obituary, which confirmed many of the things that Jack just told me.  My first reaction was, “How come this woman isn’t already famous?”   The second thing Jack showed me was an equally long and impressive Lucy Lobdell obituary from the New York Sun.  Similar story but with a few interesting details not included in the Times obit.  Then I noticed that the NY Times obit was dated 1879, while the NY Sun obit was dated 1885. When I pointed this out to Jack, he just smiled and said, “Well, truth is, she wasn’t dead either time.”  How many people have monster obituaries in major newpapers  six years apart and they aren’t  dead either time?  So I was hooked from the get-go, and when Jack suggested that maybe I’d like to write a book about Lucy, I didn’t an ounce of reservation.  I wanted to do it.  I was privy to something pretty amazing, and I knew it.  Now, to be accurate, what both Jack and I had in mind was a nonfiction book about Lucy.  That’s what I knew how to do.  I had never written fiction.  A Lucy “memoir” written by me was not even on the radar then.

FBTC:  On your web site, you write that you also were unable to find Lucy’s memoir. What do you mean by “the finding would have to be by way of echoes and dreams?”

Bill: What did I mean by “the finding would have to be by way of echoes and dreams?”   Jack had spent years collecting anything he could find on Lucy.  His biggest discovery was a copy of a 50 page memoir that Lucy had published about her early life and her reasons for going out into the world as a man.  But at the end of that short memoir Lucy promised to write “another book in which I shall give a full account of my adventures whilst I adopted male attire.”  Jack, of course, was always hoping to come across that manuscript but never did.  When I took over I was also intrigued by that promise to write a book, and there were a few teaser clues as to where it might be.  In 1959 Professor Pike in the NY Folklore Quarterly reported that there were “a mass of manuscript notes” pertaining to Lucy stored in the Wayne County Historical Society.   Jack and I went back over and searched some more but couldn’t find anything that hadn’t been found on previous searches.   I was almost two years into a nonfiction book on Lucy when it suddenly occurred to me that I would have to “find” her memoir.  I realized that any nonfiction book I could conceive would in the end seem hollow—that the things we really wanted to know were what was said, what was she thinking.  So that’s what I meant when I said that I realized that I would have to find her memoir through echoes and dreams.  Somehow I had to find Lucy, persuade her to talk to me and find a way for me to convincingly write down her story.  Did I really channel Lucy?  Well, I don’t believe in that, though that is exactly what it felt like.  I ‘d go out in the woods and sit on a rock overlooking a hidden pond, a rock I know she used to sit on, and I’d think about her and how things must have been for her.   It was years  till I felt comfortable with the Lucy voice I was hearing.  I think if you read the book you’ll see/hear that that voice doesn’t waver for a moment.  Lucy’s voice is sharp and clean and unchanging.  It was much harder than I ever imagined it would be.

FBTC: Research when writing biographical or historical fiction is all important to the success of the story. It must be accurate both before and after coming to life on the printed page. Where and how did you carry out much of your research into Lucy’s life?

Bill: Of course I was given a huge head start when Jack handed his research to me, and he in turn benefited from a long thin line of people interested in Lucy’s story that went back a hundred years.  In my Acknowledgements I outlined the huge debt I owed to those who had gone before.  But I did press on with my own research.  I flew out to Minnesota where a third of this book takes place in 1855-1858.  I made a pest of myself at local libraries and historical societies and little by little I expanded what was generally known about Lucy’s activities out west.  Just as important I traveled over the same land, some of it much the same as it was then.  I walked along the Crow River, slept out at night beside Lake Kasota on the site where over the winter Lucy guarded the site that was supposed to become the capital of Minnesota, according to the land sharpies that hired her and her rifle.  I walked around what is left of the towns of Manannah and Forest City where Lucy spent time.  I got a feel for the land, even how it smelled and the calls of the birds and the types of trees that were growing, that kind of thing that hopefully made the Minnesota frontier part of the book more immediate and real.  Back East, I spent many, many hours in the Wayne County Historical society going through old microfilms of newspapers from that era in Honesdale where the first third of the book takes place and then returns to at the end.  I found lots of fun things which ended up in the book and then I struck gold.  I found the letter from Marie Perry, Lucy’s wife, to Thomas J Ham, editor of the Honesdale Herald, in which Marie spoke about her life with Lucy and how society needed to change and allow women to work for pay.  It  is an extraordinary little piece of history and my book ends with that letter from Marie that I found by just looking and looking.

FBTC: Lucy was indeed ahead of her time when she assumed the male persona and took the name “Joseph.” Desperate to make a life for herself and her young daughter, she did what she could by any means possible. Do you believe she had any idea the repercussions she might meet if her true identity were discovered?

Bill: I think Lucy was always aware that her masquerade would not be well thought of if discovered.  I don’t know if she ever imagined she’d be put on trial for the crime of wearing men’s clothes—a trial which someday may be right up there with Scopes (monkey trial) in the annals of American jurisprudence.  More important, though, what I think she absolutely did not anticipate was the sexual side of her changing clothes.  She became an attractive young man—a young man who understood what a woman liked.  Girls liked this new guy and one fell in love with the handsome dance instructor and Lucy found herself in love with this very smart and engaging young woman.    Remember, homosexuality was not a commonly talked about or understood.  Most people were unaware that it existed at all.  And while Lucy may have had certain masculine traits, the hunter in her one example, there is nothing in her account of her young life to suggest that she was attracted to girls.  Just the opposite.  Her story is filled with infactuations with young men and a marriage to one of them.  And if there is one thread that runs deep through the whole book, it is Lucy trying to understand her affection toward and attraction to women, and wondering if God would approve, or what even it meant.  There was no Oprah, or magazines, or Lady Gaga, or internet, or support groups—she was out there on her own with no guide posts at all.  That was her big surprise and eventually she found peace with it.

FBTC: Your book includes a detailed description of the trial of Lucy Ann Lobdell. The charge against her was “wearing men’s clothes to falsely impersonate a man.” Today this wouldn’t stand up in a courtroom, but then, even without a law on the books against, this charge took Lucy to trial. In your research, did you find any information about why this was such a grievous act on Lucy’s part? What harm did they believe had been done?

Bill: Why was Lucy brought to trial?  Because there are a—holes in every generation and every culture.  There are always those who would advance their own careers (prosecutors are famous for this) by feasting on the faults or woes of others.  She was put on trial for the same reason some today would put a woman on trial for using birth control, or force them to have sonograms, or put them in jail for having an abortion or put a doctor in jail for mercifully helping a terminally ill person in tremendous pain end their life with some dignity.   Back then men had all the privileges, women had none.  By putting on men’s clothes Lucy was trespassing and many men were sure not to like it.  I think many women today don’t realize how things were for women 150 years ago.  Even in my lifetime things have greatly changed.  When I was little, if a white woman wanted to work she could be an elementary school teacher, a telephone operator, or if she wanted to go for the glitz, she could be an airline stewardess with travel perks and the sure knowledge that she would be fired the day she turned 31.  If you were a woman and black the work would be “domestic.”   So Lucy was a rebel.  Her rebeliion was first and foremost a plan to work and be paid like a man.  Then she found that beyond that she was crossing sexual lines as well, making history by having the first documented same-sex marriage in America, though the JP who married her and Marie Perry didn’t know Lucy wasn’t a man.

FBTC: Today on social media I note your support of the gay and lesbian community. Did Lucy’s story bring about this commitment to this particular cause, or is it something you have long been involved in? And can you share more about your involvement and interest?

Sara: I am not really involved with any GLBT community.  I have many good friends and relatives who are gay or lesbian, but I am not involved in any social or political activities.  I, of course, support gay rights and think this fight along with gay marriage is well on the way to being won.  I am less sanguine with the American political scene in general.  The weight of money now in politics is overwhelming.  I fear we are already living in a pretend democracy—that for the next 50 years or so we will continue to go through the motions of elections, but they will have less and less meaning till they mean nothing at all.


Bill, thank you so much for joining us today and for answering some questions. I have enjoyed working with you to bring this to my blog. 

This was a terrific and fun interview.  Thanks to all for your interest in Lucy.

William Klaber

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And also, thanks to Bill Klaber for a free copy of Lucy’s story which will go
to one lucky reader who takes the time to enter!
The contest runs through midnight, Tuesday, December 3rd.
To enter click on GIVEAWAY TOOLS link below.
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William Klaber is a part-time journalist. He lives in upstate New York on a hill overlooking Basket Creek, a short way upstream from where Lucy Lobdell lived 160 years ago.

The farmhouse he bought with his wife, Jean, in 1980 had a history with Lucy’s legend, but he didn’t know that till years later when he sat down for breakfast with a longtime local historian who told him Lucy’s story and showed him a leather satchel filled with recollections, newspaper articles, and letters about her, gathered over the years. In this collection was a copy of a self-written account of Lucy’s early life that the historian had found in an unmarked box in a library basement.

Despite his continued searching, the historian never found the memoir that Lucy had promised to write. Explaining that he had always thought to write a book of his own about Lucy but no longer felt up to it, the historian then handed the satchel to the author.

Website: The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell

The Rebellion of Lucy Ann Lobdell  is available as a print and e-book at Amazon.


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4 thoughts on “Bill Klaber, Author of The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell, Stops By and a Book Giveaway

  1. […] First Book! Rebecca receives a copy of The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell by William Klaber, interviewed here and the book reviewed […]


  2. RebeccaScaglione - Love at First Book December 2, 2013 at 2:12 pm Reply

    Oh my gosh, this is a fabulous giveaway! I have no idea what I would ask the author. . . but I would love to win this book because both you and Allison @ The Book Wheel have raved about it!


    • Sherrey Meyer December 2, 2013 at 8:01 pm Reply

      Well, perhaps our timing was off by doing this so near Thanksgiving, but I’m guessing you’ve noticed you’re the only commenter to date and the contest ends so soon! Rebecca, I do believe your chances are very good! And I loved this book! But you already knew that.

      Congrats on your nomination — voted!


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