Page 3. " On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide "

Reported youth (15 - 24) suicide rates increased over the course of the 1970s. Completion rates have been gradually decreasing since the early 1990s. In the United States males are four times more likely to commit suicide than females and are more likely to use firearms, whereas females more frequently employ suffocation and poisoning methods.

Page 3. " They got out of the EMS truck "

The first records of ambulances date back to the fifteenth century, but it was not until the 1970s that Emergency Medical Services (EMS) vehicles were specially designed to treat

Lineup of ambulances outside Comerica Park, Detroit, April 2007
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeLineup of ambulances outside Comerica Park, Detroit, April 2007 - Credit: C.J. Peters

patients as well as transport them to hospital. Ambulance services in the United States had been seldom regulated. In many places the local undertaker, the only person with a large enough vehicle, would act as the ambulance service and also deliver furniture.





Page 3. " 'This ain't TV, folks, this is how fast we go.' "

The TV series Emergency!, along with a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, is credited with raising awareness of the importance of the Emergency Medical Services. Ambulance provision greatly improved in the United States in the 1970s.

Page 3. " Cecilia, the youngest, only thirteen "

The American Journal of Public Health's study "US Suicide Rates by Age Group, 1970–2002" does not include children aged 14 and under because suicide rates are negligible within this age group.

Page 4. " they found the laminated picture of the Virgin Mary "

In the Catholic Church tradition, the Blessed Virgin Mary is not only the mother of Christ but also the mother of the Church itself. Mary's veneration has occurred over time, particularly since the Middle Ages. The doctrine of Immaculate Conception claims Mary was conceived without original sin, while the doctrine of Perpetual Virginity states Mary remained a virgin throughout life. She is known as the protector of Christians. In the 18th century, Saint Alphonsus described Mary as the 'Gate of Heaven', a notion reinforced in more recent times by Pope John Paul II's Redemptoris Mater. Mary is celebrated in the liturgical calendar with feast days that are considered more significant than those of the saints.


Page 4. " That was in June, fish-fly season "

Fishflies are flying insects with lifespans of several years, but only live up to a week as adults (and only a day on land). Eggs are laid en masse on the borders of still water and larvae leave the water to pupate under bark for ten days. Fishflies hatch in Michigan around the beginning of June in a season that lasted for around three weeks in the 1970s but has lengthened in recent years. The postmating 'dancing' of fishflies in huge swarms and the subsequent mass of insect bodies requiring cleaning-up causes nuisance and they are also notable for their pungent odour.


Page 4. " looking at a Thunderbird encased in fish flies "

1960 Ford Thunderbird
Public Domain1960 Ford Thunderbird - Credit: Bull-Doser
The Thunderbird, or “T-Bird”, was an iconic car launched in 1955.  

Thunderbirds were produced by the Ford Motor Company, founded by Henry Ford in 1903 and based in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, Michigan. The car was named after the legendary bird in Native American mythology known for its storm-commanding powers.

The final Thunderbird was produced in 2005, bringing an end to a model that sold 4.4 million vehicles over half a century.


Page 4. " Cecilia fixed her with her spiritualist's gaze "

Spiritualism is a monotheistic religion claiming a belief in a contactable spirit world. There are various Spiritualist traditions, but shared concepts include the essentially Christian moral system and the belief that the soul outlives the body and that spiritual growth is possible after death. Unlike Christianity, Spiritualists do not believe Jesus Christ died to save mankind. Instead, there is emphasis on personal responsibility for life circumstances, but 19th and early 20th century followers were also prominent supporters of the abolition of slavery and the suffrage movements. Spiritualists also do not believe the dead are sent to Heaven or Hell for eternity based on life works, but instead the afterlife contains hierarchical spheres through which the dead can progress. Spiritualism was particularly popular amongst women and the middle and upper classes from the 1840s to the 1920s, with more than eight million followers in the United States and Europe by 1897. Women spiritualists were among the first to lecture mixed audiences in the United States. Today Spiritualism is still practiced primarily in the United States and the United Kingdom, but has declined in popularity since the late 19th century because of accusations of fraud and the condemnation of both the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches.

Page 5. " She looked like a tiny Cleopatra on an imperial litter "


A 'litter' was a type of human-powered vehicle that transported imperial rulers in ancient nations including Egypt, often as part of a public procession. Queen Cleopatra VII  (69 BC - 30 BC) was the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt. At 18 Cleopatra became co-ruler with her younger brother (Ptolemy VIII) after her father's death. Cleopatra was exiled after her refusal to subordinate herself to her brother. Ptolemy VIII ordered the death of Caesar’s rival Pompey, in order to become his ally, but this backfired because Pompey had still been the father of Caesar’s grandson. After Caesar seized the capital, Cleopatra is supposed to have smuggled herself into his palace. They conducted an affair, but Caesar refused to name the illegitimate son Cleopatra had by him, Caesarion, as his heir. Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC and after Cleopatra’s brother died, supposedly poisoned by her, Cleopatra made her son co-ruler. She formed a union with Mark Antony against Caesar’s legal heir, his grandnephew Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus. Antony killed himself after defeat to Octavianus at the Battle of Actium and according to legend Cleopatra committed suicide through an asp bite on 12th August, 30 BC. Caesarion was declared pharoah but was soon killed and Egypt fell to Roman rule. In popular culture Cleopatra is known as a beautiful seductress with significant sexual appeal, but she was also a shrewd political leader.


Page 5. " We saw the gangly parademic with the Wyatt Earp mustache come out first "

Wyatt Earp (1848 - 1929) was an American frontier lawman most notable for his role in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. In this infamous Western shootout, Wyatt fought with his two brothers Morgan and Virgil and their friend Doc Holliday against four local cowboys. The gunfire lasted less than a minute and killed three of the cowboys. Wyatt and Virgil also became known for their vendetta against those they believed killed Morgan. Despite the fact Virgil was the more experienced sheriff, constable and marshall, Earp rose to national fame following the publication of an embellished biography written by Stuart Lake in 1931. Earp became engrained in popular culture, inspiring numerous television programmes, films and books about lawmen and outlaws.

Page 6. " The fat one tripped on a lone croquet wicket "

Croquet is a game commonly played on a lawn involving hitting balls through metal hoops ('wickets') dug into the ground with mallets. It became a popular middle and upper-class pastime in the 1860s in England and retains some popularity in Anglophone countries including the United States.


Page 6. " those four figures paused in tableau: the two slaves offering the victim to the altar (lifting the stretcher into the truck), the priestess brandishing the torch (waving the flannel nightgown), and the drugged virgin rising up on her elbow, with an otherworldly smile on her pale lips "

The tableau vivant ('living picture') was a popular 19th century social entertainment. Costumed guests would pose motionlessly and silently as historical or fictional characters from art works. The pastime, which had its origins in dramatic depictions in the Church, fell out of fashion following the birth of cinematography. However, it was thought to have been a large influence on the style of the early silent films. Tableaux vivants were also used as literary devices in many 19th century novels. (link?)


Page 6. " Therese in Pittsburgh at a science convention "

Pittsburgh is the second largest city in Pennsylvania and 297 miles (477 km) driving distance from Grosse Point, Michigan.


Page 7. " succumbed to the fungus spread by Dutch elm beetles "

Dutch elm beetles spread a fungal disease known as Dutch elm disease. Native to Asia, the disease spread to the United States in the late 1920s. Elm trees react to the fungus through plugging their xylem tissue with gum and tyloses (extensions of the xylem cell wall), but this prevents nutrients and water being delivered to the rest of the plant and eventually kills it. Affected trees are identified by their shedding leaves in summer, and once symptoms are evident treatment is difficult. Grosse Pointe has around 700 elms, more than most areas affected by the disease probably because of local money available to support treatment and prevention. However, in 1951 there were about 4000 elms.

History of Dutch elm disease in Michigan




Page 7. " The paramedics took Cecilia to Bon Secours Hospital on Kercheval and Maumee "

The Bon Secours Hospital in Grosse Pointe was founded in 1945, the second to be opened by the Sisters of Bon Secours, a Roman Catholic congregation for nursing. In 2007, the hospital was acquired and renamed by Beaumont Hospitals. The hospital address is actually on Cadieux Road, although Maumee Avenue borders it and Kercheval Street is a major road that intersects with Cadieux Road in the downtown area of Grosse Pointe.


Page 8. " St. Paul's Catholic Church on the Lake "

St. Paul on the Lake is a Grosse Pointe Catholic Church based on Lake Shore Road, which borders Lake St. Clair.

Page 10. " laughing her hyena's laugh "

A species of hyena called the laughing hyena makes noises that sound like laughter to express a variety of emotions.

Page 11. " Paul Baldino had the gangster gut and hit-man face of his father "

The American Mafia is the largest organised criminal group in the United States and originated from the Sicilian Mafia in the 19th century. The American Mafia is still currently active in several areas of the United States including Detroit.

Grosse Pointe Blank is a 1997 black comedy starring John Cusack as a professional hit man who returns to his home town of Grosse Pointe, Michigan.


More Information: Detroit Partnership


Page 11. " when the girls went into the auditorium to see a special film "

Sex education is a politically controversial subject in the United States and decentralised curricula mean there is a wide range of what is taught in classrooms. The social changes of the 1960s meant that by the 1970s Biology textbooks were more detailed and contraception methods were more widely taught.


Page 14. " As in Lourdes and Fatima, Our Lady has granted her presence to people like you "

The Virgin Mary is reported to have supernaturally appeared to people at various times. At Lourdes in 1858, an apparition of the Virgin Mary was said to have appeared to a 14-year-old shepherd girl in Lourdes, France. In 1917 three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal also reported having seen the Virgin Mary. Mr. Lisbon says " We baptized her, we confirmed her, and now she believes this crap ", which may sound contradictory since the Catholic Church supported both these sightings. However, he is probably criticising the unapproved claim to a sighting in their city, and the marketing scam that this appears to be.

Page 17. " she still wore pearled cat's-eye sunglasses during the daytime "
Cat's-eye sunglasses are a type of thick-rimmed eyewear with arms joining lenses at the corners, most popular amongst women in the 1950s and 1960s
Page 17. " two women brought over a Bundt cake in sympathy "

A Bundt cake is a cake baked in a circular Bundt pan with ridges and a centre hole. The German-Bundt became the most sold pan in the United States in the late 1960s.

More Information: Bundt Cake Recipes

Page 18. " Shot down over Burma "

Burma (official but contested name the Republic of the Union of Myanmar) is a country in Southeast Asia. The government has been under military control since 1962 when General Ne Win led a coup against the civilian government of U Nu. During the Second World War, Burma was a major front-line. At first the Japanese invaded and forced the British from Burma, but the British counterattack led to the British retaking Burma by July 1945. In 1948 the country gained independence from the UK.


Page 18. " her husband, the Christian scientist "

Christian Science is a denomination of Christianity dating back to 1866. The central texts for Christian Scientists are The Bible alongside a textbook, Science & Health With Key to the Scriptures, written by its founder Mary Baker Eddy. Christian Scientists believe that material reality is an illusion and that healing through prayer is not only possible but preferable to conventional methods. The 'Mother Church' is The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts.

Page 20. " his Dingo boots, his pompadour "
Dingo boots are a brand of 'cowboy' style boots that were popular in the early 1970s. The pompadour is a hairstyle with the hair combed and moulded up from the forehead. The pompadour is named after Louis XV's chief mistress, Madame de Pompadour, and was particularly popular in the 1950s and 1960s and remained popular within Italian-American communities.

More Information: How to Take Care of Dingo Boots

How to Style a Pompadour

Page 20. " Cecilia always chose the spaghetti and meatballs "

'Spaghetti and meatballs' is not an Italian dish. Spaghetti and meatballs are eaten separately in Italy and the dish was introduced into the United States by Italian immigrants.

More Information: History of spaghetti with meatballs (and recipes)


Page 21. " because the ancient Romans had done that when life became unbearable "

In Ancient Rome and Greece, unlike in later Christian doctrine, committing suicide was not always morally wrong. Instead suicide could be an act of honour in some circumstances. In the face of defeat in battle, a soldier could kill himself to cheat the enemy of victory against him and avoid torture or enslavement. Cleopatra, Brutus and Antony are notable ancient figures who committed suicide. Forced suicide was a means of execution reserved for noblemen. Socrates, who had condemned suicide, was forced to drink hemlock for corrupting the youth of Athens. Bloodletting, the deliberate withdrawal of significant volumes of blood from an individual, was (and continued  to be into the 19th century) a common means of treating the ill and based on the belief that the body was composed of four ‘humours’ that needed to be properly balanced.

Page 21. " her suicide was an act of aggression inspired by the repression of adolescent libidinal urges "

Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939) was an influential neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis who believed people are driven by two opposing instinctive desires: the life/libido drive (pleasures including survival and sex) and the death drive/Thanatos (the desire for self-destruction as a means for all living things to return to non-existence). Freud believed that the libido develops in stages during childhood. The first is the oral stage (illustrated by the pleasure of breastfeeding), then the anal (illustrated through the pleasure of toddlers in defecating), then the phallic. In this stage, Freud claimed boys and girls become attracted to the opposite sex parent. They are said to overcome this stage through repression of these socially inappropriate feelings. The subsequent latency stage lasts from around 7 to puberty and is a period where there is no further mental development until the final genital stage, when libido acquires its sexual function and feelings towards the opposite sex cause anxiety because they can be traced back to those for the opposite parent. Freud believed mental health problems originated from the inability to overcome a stage of development through people ‘using up’ too much of their finite libido at one stage and becoming ‘fixated’. Incidentally, Freud committed suicide via a morphine overdose in September 1939. His daughter, Anna Freud (1895 - 1982), built on Freud's work to become a renowned child psychoanalysist who believed that the burgeoning libidinal energy could overwhelm the adolescent, resulting in various kinds of repression and also violence or dishonesty as a reaction to this internal struggle.

More Information: Freud

Women's Intellectual Contributions to the Study of Mind and Society - Anna Freud 

Page 21. " To each of three wildly different ink blots, she had responded, 'A banana.' "

The Rorschach test (devised by Hermann Rorschach in 1921) is mainly administered by psychologists to detect psychological disorders from a subject’s free association interpretation of inkblots on ten pages. Their interpretations are analysed using scientific algorithms along with what the subject does or says throughout the test. In the 1960s the Rorschach test was widely used and remains popular today,  especially in revised test scoring systems, but the test’s reliability has been questioned.More Information: (non-scientific) Online Rorschach Test

Page 22. " aping of shared customs is an indispensable step in the process of individuation "

Carl Jung (1875 - 1961) was the founder of analytical psychology who coined the phrase ‘individuation process’ to describe the process of becoming self-aware and stabilising into a fully-rounded stable personality. Jung believed the unconscious divided into two parts: the personal and the collective. The personal is an individual’s collection of repressed thoughts, while the collective unconscious is shared by the whole of humanity and contain instinctive emotions such as fear and happiness. Individuation involves the integration of the personal and collective unconscious within the psyche.

Page 22. " wearing bell-bottomed blue jeans "

Bell-bottoms are trousers that become wider from the knees (in a bell shape). They became fashionable amongst women in the mid-1960s in Europe and from the late 1960s to the 1970s they were popular for both genders and associatd with the hippie counter-culture.

Page 23. " who were all synchronized in their lunar rhythms "

Menstrual synchrony (also known as the McClinktock effect) is the theory that women who live in close proximity experience the same menstral cycles. Psychologist Martha McClintock first reported the phenemonon, based on her experiences in a undergraduate dorm, in the journal Nature in 1971. There is currently no scientific consensus on the theory.

Page 25. " A piece of needlepoint saying 'Bless This Home' "

Needlepoint is a type of generally simple embroidery in which thread is stitched and covers a canvas. Needlepoint originated in ancient Egypt and became a popular domestic pastime from the 16th century. ‘Bless This Home’ is a popular needlepoint design that takes its origin from the Christian (particularly Catholic) ritual of house blessings. The ritual is usually performed by a parish priest sprinkling holy water through the rooms of a house and praying for its occupants.

Page 25. " five pairs of bronzed baby shoes "

In the United States, the bronzing of baby shoes as sentimental tokens was popular from around the 1940s to the 1970s. Baby shoes are 'bronzed' through encasing the shoes in a layer of a conductive material such as copper, bronze, silver, gold or pewter and then electroplating, which involves metal ions in a solution being moved by an electric field to coat an electrode.

Page 25. " Pilgrims plucking a turkey "

In the United States, Thanksgiving (which falls on the fourth Thursday in November) was proclaimed a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Thanksgiving commemorates the 'First Thanksgiving', when the 17th century English pilgrims gave thanks to God for surviving their first New England winter. Turkey is traditionally eaten as part of a Thanksgiving meal because it was eaten by the Pilgrims who settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Turkeys gained their name from the first Europeans in the United States incorrectly identifying the birds as a variety of guinea fowl called 'turkey fowl' on account of their importation to Central Europe through Turkey. They are in fact classified as Galliformes and are relatives of the grouse.