Fact or Fiction?


Readers keep asking: What is fact and what is fiction? At the end of the book you'll find an Epilogue and Historical Notes that sheds some light on this question. However, for those inquiring minds who want more detail, I give you the following.

Was Louisa Thorn historical or fictional? Historical. And she was the granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Did Ralston have a miniature portrait of Louisa Thorne, given him by her mother? Yes (see below).

Here is a quote from the biography on Ralston, Nothing Seemed Impossible, by David Lavender, page 118:

" Lonely Raston rushed her [Elizabeth Fry] so breathlessly that her uncle grew concerned and, family lore attests, demanded to know what the banker's intentions were. Ralston said that they were honorable. With a burst of candor he added, so the story goes, that his love for her was not the soaring love of youth. That passion had gone to Vanderbilt's granddaughter, Louisa Thorne, whose miniature he always carried and whose memory would never fade. But if Lizzie...would accept him in spite of his devotion to a dead predecessor, he would, with complete awareness of the honor accorded him, make her his wife."

Did Ralston name his daughters after Louisa and her mother? Yes.

Another quote from Lavender, page 146: "Ralston...was surely home on August 2 [1860] for the birth of his second child, a girl. The father, legend says, chose her name: Edna Louisa. The source of Edna is unknown. Louisa, gossips whispered, was for Billy's first and enduring love, Louisa Thorne, Cornelius Vanderbilt's dead granddaughter. However understanding the mother may have been...it is impossible not to wonder how she really felt at the christening."

And, Lavender, page 164: "...another child, a girl this time, arrived on July 26, 1865. The father promptly named her Emma Thorne Ralston, for Cornelius Vanderbilt's daughter, Emma, mother of the first Louisa."

Did Ralston go the San Francisco to rebuild the city in Louisa's honor? This may or may not be true, but given his obsession with Louisa and San Francisco, I felt it made perfect sense and could be justified in the context of historical fiction.

Did Ralston have an affair with the prostitute, Jessalyn Ohhlson? No. Jessalyn is a fictional character, therefore, he did not have an affair with her "in real life." Jessie acts as a muse, a confidante, to Ralston, allowing him to express certain ideas and feelings that he would not otherwise. Jessie is also the romantic interest for Finnian Gillespie; the three-way romance, Ralston, Jessie, and Finn, is an important sub-plot that plays out as the story comes to a climax.

Was Ralston obsessed with San Francisco? Yes.

Did Ralston swim for recreation in the Bay? Yes.

Did Ralston break into the U.S. Treasury and exchange gold coin for bullion? Yes. 

Did Ralston race trains down the Peninsula to Belmont? Yes.

Did Sutro actually leave his wife and children in San Francisco, and move to Virginia City? Yes.

Did Ralston initially agree to support the tunnel? Yes.

Did the Yellow Jacket Fire actually happen? Yes. Finn, of course is fictional, as is his involvement in the fire, however, his character does provide an accurate picture of how the miners and firemen battled, and perished in, the fire. 

Was the Diamond Hoax fact or fiction? Fact. Although the identity of the mastermind was unknown, Harpending was implicated by several observers.

Did Sutro sell his tobacco shops, leave his family and move to Virginia City? Yes.

Did Sutro act as his own attorney in the Congressional hearings on the Comstock Lode? Yes.

Did Sutro dig a four-mile tunnel from the desert up to the Comstock Lode? Yes.