Inner View: Ashley Herzog, Author of Lake Erie Monsters

Inner View: Ashley Herzog,
Author, Lake Erie Monsters

by John O’Brien, Jr. @Jobjr

OhioIANews: Author of Lake Erie Monsters Ashley Herzog joins us to share where she come from, her roots and about the book of course and where you can get it. Welcome to the show Ashley!

Thank you and as for where the book came from? I’ve always known that I was half Irish, but the big, the person who most carried on this heritage in our family was my grandmother. She was the one who always wanted to go to the Statler for Saint Patrick’s Day in Cleveland. She was very active in the Irish American Club; I actually found her membership card to it in her purse after she died, which we still had years after her death.

After she died when I was nine, we kind of lost touch with some of it; we lost touch with that heritage a little bit. When I was in college, I became interested in writing a novel.  I wasn’t sure where to begin or how I wanted to start. I wasn’t sure if I should I write a novel about my real ancestors and tell their story in sort of a fictionalized form or if I should invent new characters and base it on my ancestors but not actually have it be them, have different names maybe, possibly even a different city.

My studies got in the way at the time. As soon as I had more free time as a stay at home mom, I started to do more research. My great uncle, Grover Masterson, was a genealogist and he had actually written books about his family history, based on trips to Ireland, his searches through their baptism records, marriage records, death records, cemeteries, and he continued the research in Cleveland. He looked through the Cleveland Census records from the 1800s into the 1900s.

So I sat down and read his books thoroughly. I started to develop an idea for a story and that eventually became Lake Erie Monsters.

My grandparents both grew up in Cleveland. They both lived in the West Park Area. My grandma lived close to Brookpark Road in West Park; that was her childhood home. My grandfather grew up around W 150th Street in West Park.

They eventually moved to Bay Village, but they stayed in touch with a lot of their Irish community. They are active in the Westside Irish American Club. That was something that was very important in their lives.

OhioIANews: Where does your family come from in Ireland?
My grandmother’s family, the Masterson’s and the Chambers, who are the ones at the center of Lake Erie Monsters, were from Co. Mayo, many of the Cleveland Irish are from Co. Mayo, particularly Achill Island, or on the mainland across from Achill Island. My grandfather’s family was actually from Wexford which is why his name his last name is Gory, it’s very uncommon here.

OhioIANews: So at about age 9, you had a good idea you’re Irish, you were involved in a lot of things?
I was involved until around the time my grandmother died. Saint Patrick’s Day was always a big deal. She was very much culturally Irish, even though it was her grandparents who had immigrated here.

Gerry Quinn pointed out on his radio show that with a name like Herzog, nobody really identified me as Irish.  In a way, I didn’t either, but as I grew older, I became more interested in it, especially as I learn more about the history of the people in that movie, Gangs of New York came out, about Irish immigrants. I thought, well I have an immigration story. I wonder what mine is?

OhioIANews:  Lake Erie Monsters first come into your mind then; take us through the long line of writing and where the story was going to go?
Well, I didn’t have to do a ton of work, because I based Monsters on their real story. Mary Chambers also known as Maimie Chambers, in Mary Masterson, after she was married, she (9:42 left) was one of the first female saloon owners in the city of Cleveland, starting from 1888 on into the 1930s. She owned a saloon; it’s still standing, there in The Flats.  It is still in operation today, in the original building.

I just had to tell her story, first coming from Ireland and immigrating here, and then the struggles with her, as a young woman, along with her friend and future sister in law, Kate Masterson, in running this bar. 

I know the current owners; I’ve talked to them several times. The bar was in my family, it was in the Masterson family until Maimee’s death in 1937. After that, it went to a family named the Ginleys, and I think the Carney name and the owners are fairly recent, maybe since the 90s. 

OhioIANews: Tell us more about the plot of the book, what the storyline is?

It begins with Mamie Chambers, who is 20 years old. Her leaving her hometown, which is the town, Brosky in Co. Mayo. She came with two of her brothers as well as her fiancé, Peter Sweeney. They boarded a White Star Line ship to New York, made their way to Cleveland.

In the very beginning of the book, one of their first days in Cleveland, Peter Sweeney disappears. No one is really sure what happened to him. There have been signs that he was getting cold feet about this relationship, that he wasn’t going to follow through on marriage, but no one was expecting him to actually leave. He vanishes without a trace, except someone’s body washes up in the Cuyahoga River. They are not sure whose it is. It’s basically beyond recognition at that point.

So Mamie is now on her own in America.  She starts running this saloon with Kate Masterson, who was working there by herself before Mamie moved in.  They actually lived upstairs and worked downstairs. It became a boarding house as well as the saloon on the first floor.

They’re living and working at this bar, and they’re getting a lot of hassle from their neighbors and people in their church for the fact that there are two women running a bar. 

OhioIANews: How did you go about your research on the day-to-day stories about those two?
A lot of it was covered in my great uncle’s genealogy books. A lot of information about maybe Chambers daily life, what it was like for her living there. He mentioned that she served oatmeal to poor children in the neighborhood, which is called The Angle. It actually still is, and in Irishtown Bend, the Angle, the area around St Malachi’s.

For Kate Masterson, I didn’t have as much information, but I still knew quite a bit about her. I knew that she had had a daughter from previous a husband, who also abandoned her.

He resurfaces in the book as well. She was a fairly young when this happened, so she was a single woman with a child running this bar.

OhioIANews: What surprise you in your research?
I was surprised that this had not played a more prominent role in my family story. I’ve heard something about an ancestor owning a bar, in Cleveland, but I didn’t know where it was. I didn’t know which one it was, and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever been there.

I did not know that it was still standing in basically this original form.  I also wasn’t sure who it was. I thought it was my great grandmother at first. It’s actually my great, great grandmother.

I was surprised , as big of a role that she played in this Angle neighborhood, that I did not hear more about it from my family. 

OhioIANews: So, any really emotional connection?
The further I went into it, yes. When I I walked into the bar I think, for the first time, and saw that (in early 2015), I said this is exactly what you would picture it looking like! They did finally let me go upstairs, to the second floor, in what’s now called Carneys.

You can see the original windows where they would have looked out, that’s pictured several times in the novel, where they slept, and it’s pretty well preserved. They haven’t done much work on it.

OhioIANews: Was there anything in the story that kind of made you cringe or a little bit afraid to explore?
I was a little worried about using real characters who did not come off very well, including Martin in it. I don’t know if he has modern descendants in the area, but he could. I of course especially since I was taking some creative liberties, I didn’t want to defame anyone, but I also wanted to tell a true story. So, I did my best to show every multiple sides of everyone’s personality.

A lot of people are not just good or bad, they are both. They do some things that are good, or at the same time, they could be a womanizer or someone who has a lot of skeletons in his closet.

I tried my best to show that.  

OhioIANews: You just never know what they’re facing as they go along, especially in those times. It could be a brutal life. Was there anything in the story that you thought you were planning on going one direction and in your research that Oh no we’re going in a different direction?
Originally I was not going to use the character Mark Hanna in at all. I was going to use a totally fictional character who would have been based on several different men who are prominent on Millionaire’s Row.

This is the time in Cleveland history when Cleveland was one of the richest cities in the world. Euclid Avenue had some of the biggest collection of wealth ever seen. People were coming all the way from Paris just to visit.

I decided to use a real character because I thought it would kind of dishonor the story if it was not a real character. If all of these other people were nonfiction people, who had existed in real life, and then to throw in fiction on top of that, I thought it would not be the story I wanted to tell.

OhioIANews: Did you find anything in the story that maybe changed your life a little bit or changed your perception, whether it be of your family or the Irish community in Cleveland?
You know, it did, it made me realize, that I felt a little bit alienated from the Irish community, being named Herzog, and a lot of people tell me I look German. I’m actually not very German at all, it’s a German name. I just didn’t feel like I really fit into that whole culture. I know that people took a lot of pride in it and I would say well I am Irish in half, but you know, not really, and now I feel like I actually am.

I feel like it really is my culture, my holiday, so that was a turnaround for me.

OhioIANews: There is more to being Irish than just the parade and music in the culture and the parade. The Irish have been here for hundreds of years in Cleveland. You needed to identify with that; you’re feeling emotional tug now?

OhioIANews: Great, any last words?  Where can we get the book?
You can buy on Amazon. I’m fairly certain you can go into bookstores like Barnes & Noble. Books-a-Million have it or and you can get the paperback and eBook version on Amazon.

On Facebook, my page is Facebook/LakeErieMonsters

OhioIANews: Go ahead, see Ashley on Facebook, get the book of course. What’s next?
I’m working on a sequel. This one is also about Irish immigrants, but it is based during the Civil War, so this is actually before the time period of Lake Erie Monsters, which is the late 1880s. This one set in the 1860s. It is also based on my real ancestors. It is said that every generation back is a little harder to write, because every generation previous there’s less information, but I do know quite a bit about them.

OhioIANews: Do you have a title yet?
No, I’m working on it.

OhioIANews: I am sure that when the title is decided, Ashley will let us know first on her Facebook page.

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