- Associated Press - Sunday, May 25, 2014

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - With her new book, a local author is hoping she will be able to inspire people to learn more about the Blennerhassetts and their place in local history.

Debra Conner, author of “Margaret’s Ghost and Other True and Tragic Stories of Blennerhassett Island,” held a book signing May 17 at the Blennerhassett Museum of Regional History in downtown Parkersburg.

Although Blennerhassett Island Historical State Park was closed that weekend due to high water, the museum was still open and people came to see what Conner’s book was about.

“I have been portraying Margaret Blennerhassett in character since 1998,” said Conner, who is also active as a living history re-enactor. “That role has given me a lot of public interaction as well as interaction with students in schools.”

She began to realize there was a need for a book that was designed for a more general readership, not necessarily a children’s book, but something that told the Blennerhassetts’ story in a more simplified way.

“I wanted to do something that was visually interesting and visually rich,” Conner said. “I also knew, from my time in schools, at the end of my portrayals as Margaret I would tell the students I had a couple of ghost stories to tell them.

“They were absolutely wrapped up in that and fascinated with the idea of some ghost stories from Blennerhassett Island.”

As Conner considered what she wanted to do, two things stood out to her. She wanted a simplified visually rich book and a book that would be entertaining at the same time.

Although there have been a number of ghostly sightings on the island, faces in windows after the mansion closed and so on, Conner wasn’t sure what she could do with them, some of which were not that detailed.

“Where could I take that as a writer,” she asked. “I decided I would use some of these reports of ghostly sightings and one ghost story to tell stories from history and to teach history.

“It is a learning tool and I think an entertaining book at the same time.”

In deciding what should go into the book, Conner said there were many interesting stories and seldom-told stories of the Blennerhassetts and the island, the family’s involvement with Aaron Burr and his plans to form another country in the American west.

One story Connor uses involves Burr’s daughter who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Another is about an Indian massacre, the Armstrong Indian Massacre, that occurred near the head of Blennerhassett Island. Still another is the story about how Margaret Blennerhassett’s remains, as well as those of her son Harman Jr., were located in New York and came to be reburied on the island in 1996.

“That was a fascinating glimpse of how someone’s legacy in this area can bring them back to some place that was significant for,” Conner said.

It took a few years for the entire project to come to completion.

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