Friday, March 20, 2015

464 (2015 #21). The Promise

by Ann Weisgarber

Catherine is a single concert pianist and instructor in Dayton, Ohio, in 1899, in disgrace because she's in love with her ill cousin's husband. Oscar is a widower dairy farmer with a young son in Galveston who used to go to school with Catherine and admired her playing. When he proposes marriage via letters, she sees it as her escape from scandal, and accepts.

Oscar's housekeeper Nan is leery of Catherine. She promised Bernadette, Oscar's first wife, that she would take care of his son Andre. She had thought Oscar might marry her.

Catherine and Oscar marry in late August 1900, just a day after she arrives in Galveston by train. Readers like me who know their history know of the devastating hurricane that hit just weeks later. That storm is a major part of the story. Before that, though, author Ann Weisgarber paints a vivid picture of life in Galveston at the turn of that century.

Her inspiration for this story was an old, storm-damaged house at the sparsely populated rural west end of Galveston Island. She owns a beach house on the island and lives in a Houston suburb.  She knows what it is like to prepare for, experience, and deal with the aftermath of a hurricane.

The hardbound U.S. version of this book that I borrowed via interlibrary loan did not have a dust jacket.  According to an event posting and a Facebook message with Ann Weisgarber, the dust jacket says the cover image (minus the woman) is "courtesy of DeGolyer Library, SMU [Southern Methodist University], Collection of Texas Postcards, Ag2000.1341."

The image is the left half of a 1910s-era postcard of the Texas Heroes Monument in Galveston, with the monument cropped out and the electrical lines airbrushed out (and the woman and her shadow added).  I determined that this view is looking south on Rosenberg (today's 25th) Street from around Sealy Avenue, looking towards Broadway (also known as Avenue J).

The building pictured on the far left was the George Sealy mansion, originally built for the Galveston merchant, banker and philanthropist and his wife Magnolia. The home was designed by New York architect Stanford White. The construction from 1887 to 1889 was supervised by Galveston architect Nicholas Clayton, who also designed Catholic churches throughout the state and a number of other buildings in Galveston and Houston (including Annunciation Catholic Church and Incarnate Word Academy).  It was given to the University of Texas Medical Branch by the Sealy family in 1979 and is today’s Open Gates Conference Center.

I thought the Sealy house was particularly relevant to the novel, as it served as a refuge for about 400 Galvestonians during the 1900 hurricane.  In addition, George Sealy died in December 1901 "while traveling by train to a meeting in New York to discuss interest rates on Galveston bonds to help finance the city's recovery from the Galveston hurricane of 1900," according to The Handbook of Texas.

The other building in the center of the picture is apparently gone, but the trolley/train tracks still exist.

I read this book because the author is on the program for the upcoming Texas Library Association conference in April 2015, discussing how she worked with librarians and archivists at the Rosenberg Library in Galveston (interestingly, just a couple blocks from the site of the cover photograph) to research her story.

© Amanda Pape - 2015

[This book was borrowed from and returned through interlibrary loan.]


  1. Amanda, thank you for this wonderful post and for the great detective work about the cover. It'll be fun to tell the book clubs about your discoveries.

    1. Ann, thank you for reading my blog! It was fun doing the research about the cover image. Hope I get to meet you in person next month, and I look forward to reading more of your books!