She can’t see where she’s going.
He thinks he’s already there.
The Charlesgate is waiting for them both
to figure it out.
A tale of an old hotel, two ghosts, the occasional spoonful of pistachio ice cream, and modern love.
Papa liked to tell the story of our family curse in the dark seasons when the wind screeched and bare tree branches scratched at the glass panes of our Dorchester home.
I remember one such evening, so many years ago, when I was a small child.
After stoking the fire, Papa settled into his wing-backed chair to wait for Mama to light the lamp near her own smaller chair. She began to darn socks, and Papa leaned forward in his chair to rest his forearms upon his thighs, his gray eyes sparkling. In turn, Lily and I crawled closer to him and sat huddled under an afghan on the floor at his feet. Our eyes wide, I reached for Lily’s hand and waited for Papa to begin his long tale about our ancestor, the infamous pirate, Charlotte de Berry.
Lily and I never tired of hearing how Charlotte disguised herself as a lad to join the crew of The Asp and how she soon lost respect for the lily-livered captain.
“Why, our Charlotte,” Papa said, eyes bright, “although a mere girl, knew that she could run an entire fleet, not just a tiny ship!
“So, one night, she led a mutiny and slashed the captain’s throat.”
Here, Papa drew a finger across his neck and made a gurgling noise. Lily and I cringed.
“The remaining crew elected her as its new captain, and she finally revealed that she was female. And do you think the men liked being ruled by a woman?”
Without waiting for us to answer, he continued. “Of course not. No man does. But she had not the balance of wrath and kindness your mother possesses, oh no. She was a cruel mistress, our Charlotte de Berry was,” he growled. “She liked to keelhaul her enemies. Do you know what keelhauling is?”
“I do!” Lily said with her head held high and a smirk on her lips. “It’s when a man was tied under the keel of the ship and dragged over the barnacles until he bled.”
“Very painful,” Papa agreed. “You know how salt water feels on a cut, yes? Well, this is a thousand times more painful. Her favorite punishment, though, was stitching the lips of disobedient crew members who didn’t like having a woman at their helm.”
I clapped a hand over my mouth. Papa winked at Mama. “Now that’s how you use your womanly wiles, eh? That’s the benefit of learning that embroidery that you dislike so much.”
“Captain de Berry re-named the schooner Charnwood, then looted and murdered to rival ole Blackbeard himself! But while our Charlotte was cruel, perhaps her greatest crime was that she ignored her bastard so-”
“Jeremy!” I chirped, and Papa nodded once. I was in love with Jeremy.
“And the lad loved his mother, even though she pretended he wasn’t there.
“But one cold winter, everything changed. Our Charlotte docked the Charnwood in Boston–she lived on Salem Street, you recall. She stashed her stolen gold in the basement of the house, and donned the guise of the highborn widow, Lady Charlotte Berry. And in Boston, she met the honorable and handsome Admiral Jabez Thayer of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy. Can you guess what happened?”
“They fell in love,” Mama spoke, her cheeks rosy from the fire.
Papa paused to look at Mama and smile, and his gray eyes crinkled at the corners.
“For the first time,” he whispered, “her restless soul felt peace and she accepted Jabez’s marriage proposal, privately resolving to end her life of piracy after just one more excursion. And so she told the admiral that she needed to sail to England for her trousseau.
“The admiral, of course, offered to take her on his ship, but Charlotte charmingly refused and said that her son could serve as chaperone. The admiral’s suspicions were confirmed. He watched his Charlotte carefully, and when the Charnwood set sail, his crew followed. Charlotte engaged in battle, realizing too late that the leader of the H.M.S. Ferret was her beloved Jabez.”
At this point, Papa shook his head slowly. With a sigh, he leaned back in his chair and lit his pipe. He puffed once, twice, before continuing.
“Our Charlotte was captured, and although he was grief-stricken, Admiral Thayer chose duty over love. He ordered her to be arrested and at her trial, she was found guilty of treason. And do you know how treason was punished?”
Lily would always answer, while I would imitate the punishment by clutching my neck.
Papa nodded his head, eyes agleam.
“Yes, sirree. Boston citizens gathered at the docks on the day of her hanging to jeer at ‘Lady Berry’ as she passed. Her lover and son rowed the criminal to the isle called Nix’s Mate, which no longer exists, as you know, to be hanged.
“She refused a minister and did not show remorse for her crimes. Instead, she glared at Admiral Thayer with cold, dead eyes, and spoke her curse in a terrible voice.”
Papa stood to loom over us and spoke in a crackling tone: “May ye and your descendants be damned to misery for all yer long lives, even as ye are made fat by my gold!”
“Papa, how did they find the gold?” Lily interrupted.
“Ahhh. My practical Lily.” Papa puffed on his pipe before he answered. “The Navy searched her house and found the gold hidden under what is now called Cheever’s Arch, and King William gave the hoard to Admiral Thayer as a reward for his service.”
“But the curse!” I whined impatiently.
Papa fixed his eyes so that I wanted to shrink beneath the floorboards. His Charlotte imitation always scared me so.
“And thee, my wretched son. Ye will lose your heart’s love, and your daughters and their daughters will nae suffer at the hands of men. I will return from the depths of the sea to slaughter any that dare sell themselves in marriage.”
“Papa,” I whispered. “Is that why all Berry females die young?”
“Oh, Lyddie.” Lily dismissed me with a wave. “It’s just a tale. Mama’s not dead, after all.”
Mama snorted and said, “I should hope not.”
But Lily had forgotten.
“Mama is not a Berry,” I said. “Papa is.”
And Lily laughed.
But we are adults now, and Lily and I are still as different as the dark and light sides of the moon. She is practical whilst I am dreamy. She is a fighter, and I am content to remain in my world of books.
Even now, she is downstairs with Sarah Putnam, in the Charlesgate auditorium, arguing for women’s rights and for benefits for Boston’s poor, while I sit here and wait for my child to be born, while I wait for death.
For unlike Lily, I know the curse of Charlotte to be true.
All my life, I’ve dreamed of pirate ships rolling in bloody seas, and when the headaches strike, she comes with her wretched stink of the decaying sea and her stitched lips, her eternal punishment, to moan her threats.
Since marrying my beloved Caval, my blue-eyed gypsy, she has been uneasy, following me with her red eyes. My headaches worsen, and even the lavender I carry with me cannot ease the pain. She grows stronger, and soon I will be dead.
I only desire to remain in the peaceful splendor of the Charlesgate and raise my family, but Charlotte wants my destruction, and she shall have it. I cannot fight fate.
But when Charlotte visits to wail her story of murder and revenge, she leaves unsaid one small part of the tale.
The curse can end.
Zylla blinked at the computer screen as she felt blood pool into her toes. She pushed back her office chair, stood and turned toward the window. Below her, the sun glinted off bumper-to-bumper cars, transforming Storrow Drive into a river of colored jewels, but all Zylla saw were variations of gray.
“Hey, Zyll, the dean wants you to respond to these letters as soon as you can. I’ll leave them on your desk, okay?”
“Okay,” she said woodenly, without turning to face her work-study student.
“Hey, you all right?”
“Sure.” Zylla glanced over her shoulder, forcing a smile at Nicole.
Nicole shrugged. “Okay. Well, call if you need anything,” she offered before shutting the door behind her.
Zylla sank into her chair and reread the email: “I got married this weekend, Zyllie. Kind of sudden, I know, but…”
No, she was not all right. Michael Sullivan was married. Mike, best friend and love of her life for the past eight years, was married.
4 Angels – Dina Keratsis gives us history, folklore, mystery, fantasy and romance all in one story! The opening starts us out with the curse and legend of Charlotte. Then moves on and follows Zylla through her search for information, not only on Charlesgate, but also on the woman in her nightmares. The speed at which all the mysteries are unfolded is not too fast or slow. Just enough to keep page after page turning. I found myself mesmerized by the history, and intrigued by the love story between Zylla and Jabe. Both unsure of love, yet still knowing somewhere inside that they should be together.- (Kathy, Fallen Angels Reviews)
4 Plugs and a Star – Ms. Keratsis integrates the past and present successfully, making the reader believe in ghost stories. Page after page, she draws the reader in as the tale unfolds and the connections are made. I am hooked.- (Kelly Ross, Romance Readers Connection)
4 Coffee Cups – Zylla and Jabe are wonderful characters with interesting quirks and believable personality traits…Ms. Keratsis has done a wonderful job of entertaining readers with a creative story based on a real building…Charlesgate is most definitely a
keeper. – (Susan White, Coffee Time Romance)
4 Quills – Charlesgate is a fun read. Intricately woven with historical fact and colorful fiction, Dina Keratsis’s story is written with an intelligent eye, respect for her readers, and offers up a tale one needs to read curled up in front of the fire with a throw over your toes. The erotic elements are not too hot to burn, but just sensuous enough to make you smile.- (Melanie, NovelSpot Romance Reviews)
A lot of different things go into a good book. My personal preferences run toward a tight storyline with closure on all points, engaging characters, and entertaining scenarios. Charlesgate has all three, but the facet that sparkles most brightly is the characterization. Zylla, Jabe and Anne are all people I would love to meet. – (Beth McKenzie, MyShelf.com Reviews)
4 Stars – Whether or not you believe in ghosts, this book will enthrall you as you become enmeshed in the lives of two young people who just may be doomed. Will they be able to break this curse and find happiness? It is well worth the read to find out. Kudos to Dina Keratsis. I’ve got a new favorite author. Give me more! – (Alice Klein, Sime~gen Inc.)
3 Stars – The Charlesgate is a real historic landmark, and Keratsis has made it as much a character as Zylla, Jabe, and their friends. Her blending of fact and fiction makes a pleasant read. – (Karen Sweeney-Justice, Romantic Times Bookclub Magazine)
While I sometimes need silence to write, at other times, I need the chatter and bustle of a busy café, but I tend to write best to music. Music can help me channel a mood, a scene, a character, or even inspire a whole work. Listing playlists for books wasn’t that prevalent when this book was released.
Still, there is one song that set the mood for Charlesgate and that is The Cure’s “Charlotte Sometimes.”
The song is central to this book. As if fate intervened, it kept popping up on my iTunes whenever I wrote about Charlotte de Berry. I had intended Charlotte to be a complete bad ass but the mournful, dreamy song helped bring out Charlotte’s softer, yearning side. The song also acts as a plot device in the book.
At the same time, I was seeing a lot of local Boston bands, especially The Benders, Elbow, and Jabe. Mudhoney, Nine Inch Nails, Billy Bragg, Throwing Muses, Bikini Kill, and The Pogues all helped this book along:
- Donna Lee (The Benders)
- Epitaph (Blue Mountain)
- Feels Blind (Bikini Kill)
- She Said (The Cramps)
- Rid of Me (PJ Harvey)
- Need (Mudhoney)
- Bloody Mary (8-Ball Shifter)
- Don’t Mix the Colors (Courtney Love)
- St. James Infirmary (Tarbox Ramblers)
- Mood for Trouble (Soundgarden)
- Kelly McGuire (Jabe)
- Nausea (X)
- Holiday Song (The Pixies)
- I Don’t Wanna Hear It (Minor Threat)
- Town That Used to Be (The Benders)
- Patricia (Mighty Mighty Bosstones)
- Before I Sleep (Mazzy Star)
- Sally MacLennane (The Pogues)
- Snake Dance (Monster Magnet)
- Vicky’s Box (Throwing Muses)
- A New England (Billy Bragg)
- Sleeping and Breathing (Cathode)
- One Bourbon, One Scotch and One Beer (John Lee Hooker)
- Sweet Tea (Cash Monies and the Jetsetters)
- Cemetery Gates (The Smiths)
- Fastway (Elbow)
The Charlesgate Hotel is an actual building located in Boston’s Back Bay. Built in 1891 by John Pickering Putnam, its three street addresses–Four Charlesgate East, 535 Beacon Street, and Ten Charlesgate East became known as a premiere location during the city’s Gilded Age.
A theory exists that Putnam’s design of the Charlesgate was heavily influenced by his interest in Nationalism, a movement that, in part, strove to solve the country’s social ills, yet the Charlesgate remained a hotspot for the wealthy until 1920 and remained a respected residential address until the late 1940s. At that point, Boston University purchased the hotel and used it as a female seminary. Boston University used the hotel as a dormitory until the 1970s and later, Emerson College used it for student housing.
By the 1970s, the Charlesgate had acquired a disreputable reputation. Rumors that the residence had become a drug den, a bordello, a mafia headquarters, and an illegal rooming house were rampant in the city. The boarding house rumor was probably true, according to an article in the Boston Phoenix. Tales of ghosts, originally told by college students, persist to this day. The Charlesgate was also a creative haven for artists and musicians, immigrants, and those down on their luck–communities that otherwise could not afford to live in the Back Bay.
In the mid-1990s, the building had fallen into disrepair until it finally closed and renovations began later in the decade. Currently, modern condominiums are available in the Charlesgate. I sneak inside and wander the halls whenever I can.
John Pickering Putnam’s goals for the Charlesgate Hotel and his future buildings as models of national reform were unrealized: he died before he could make his dream come true. Charlesgate seeks to remedy that.
I’ve wanted to write romance since the impressionable age of thirteen and I’ve wanted to capture the mysterious Charlesgate Hotel on paper since it kidnapped me when I first moved to Boston at the jaded old age of twenty-three.
I was lucky enough to live on Charlesgate East in 1994-1995 before rent skyrocketed, where the ruined, gothic, abandoned Charlesgate still reigned over the sedate and proper Back Bay residences. Lonely and scarred, the old hotel brimmed with character and I immediately became obsessed.
Unfortunately, except for a few tales from BU and Emerson friends who once lived in the building, I found no information about her. Back in 1998, when I was writing the book, Sam Baltrusis’s excellent Ghosts of Boston did not exist (check this book out if you want a taste of the ghosts that haunt the building). And I recently found this delightful site that details the genealogies of Back Bay buildings. Here’s one on Charlesgate. (Author’s Note to the novel’s Author’s Note: despite multiple fact checks and editing, my Author’s Note claims that the building had closed in 1990. I think I am trying to pretend that I am younger than I am.)
Then two events occurred, one after the other.
First, my friend Ryan recommended that I visit the Emerson College Archives. I did. And struck gold. After reading the Charlesgate files, which included photographs, references, excerpts from Sarah Putnam’s diaries, and a student thesis about the architect, I knew I had to memorialize the hotel before it fell under a wrecking ball.
Then, exactly like Zylla, I walked by the Charlesgate on my daily commute and noticed the “No Trespassing” sign had been removed. Turning the corner, I spotted a large banner emblazoned with the name of a management company. Thrilled that the hotel wasn’t doomed to an early grave, I managed to contact the construction manager, Alex Steele, who kindly gave me a tour of the damaged lady, and on that tour I realized the Charlesgate was dead after all.
The original design had been destroyed when the building was converted into dorms, its former splendor covered over in sheetrock and staleness. Now it would be filled with people who might not know or care about its history.
And so the character of Lydia Berry was born, who’d loved the Charlesgate when it was a grand lady. Except, the book just wanted to be a contemporary and Zylla demanded to be its heroine. So Lydia became Zylla’s dead ancestor. At the same time, I was researching the life of the historical Charlotte de Berry, a seventeenth century female pirate, for another novel, but she just wouldn’t stay in her own story. I think she secretly had a crush on Jabe.
Speaking of, Jabe’s name is shamelessly stolen from my friends, Jabe Beyer and Bow Thayer, whose music kept me writing when I really wanted to devour ice cream and watch “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Because of their brilliance, and my husband’s cruel motivation of withholding ice cream until I completed each chapter, Charlesgate was finished. I hope you enjoy Zylla and Jabe’s tale.