WHO SHE IS — by Jack Kelly
side

Button
HOME



Who she was

Origins




Who she was

Written works




Who she was

Artwork




Who she was

Photography




Who she was

Pixelations




Who she was

Music




Who she was

Witchery


MaryJoy MartinAuthor and historian. Artist and photographer. Humorist and human rights activist. Poet and songwriter. Investigator and naturalist. Stargazer and wanderer. MaryJoy Martin, SCA, is all this and more, if you include costumer, snake charmer, fungus breeder, and Bana-Bhuidseach* or bruja—long before “Harry Potter,” she was whisking her little brother and sister away on wild broomstick rides. She worships at the feet of Coyote—one of the Skygods, she tells me. She venerates marmots, pikas, herons and all things feathered. Kisses every amphibian she meets...dances with yaks...pays homage at the green altar of preying mantids and other six-legged “people” as she calls insects.

She’s a humus-worshipping spruce-hugger. A moss-adoring rodent-lover. Seeks the solace of mountaintops and remote red cliffs. Keeps house with bats. Flings incantations to the moon. Celebrates ancient tribal fire festivals. Might even be called a pyromaniac... and loves to experiment with explosives.

Surrounds herself with the ghosts of rebels—Vincent St. John, Keir Hardie, Natalie Barney, P.G. Wodehouse, Mark Twain, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Judith Sargent Murray, Covington Hall, Malcolm X, Oscar Romero, Oscar Wilde, Oscar Hammerstein, Oscar the Grouch—“Can't help loving those Oscars,” she says —and hosts of others who people her daily life like murmuring angels at her side.

Martin on 1100 foot cliffShe writes because she says, “It is more useful than yodeling.” And she just can't stop herself. She was telling stories long before she trained as an investigative journalist at Metropolitan State College, Denver. She unraveled mysteries long before she learned forensic sciences from her association with a few of Denver’s off-center FBI agents and Elsevier’s Practical Aspects of Criminal and Forensic Investigations Series. Following evidence, following paper trails, following the scraps of lives that history leaves behind, she slipped from the fetters of interviewing criminals and writing for newspapers (Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post), and hound-dogged her way into the archives of the past, rooting out bones and ghosts.

“History is like well-aged Scotch,” she says. “It tastes better than this week's fermentations.”

History became her passion (okay, ONE of them). The people of the past became her focus. Although she started her writing career as a journalist, she is taxonomically a historian, in the “atypical manner of an immigrant without papers,” she says, so that makes her a “W.O.P. historian” or one with no academic affiliation: SCA (sine concilio academico) instead of Ph.D. “History isn’t a reserved vintage wine just for academics to uncork,” she says. “It belongs to anyone who can get into the wine cellar.” She is adamant that popular history should not be denigrated—after all the word “popular” comes from the Latin popularis, which means “belonging to the people,” and has also come to mean “regarded with favor or affection.”

“I'd rather be a popular historian than an unpopular one,” she says.

Corpse on Boomerang RoadAs she wrote in the preface of The Corpse on Boomerang Road: “History shouldn't be so hard that you get saddle sores riding through it, for above all, it is made by the men and women who lived it. This is their story… their tears of triumph, their long nights of terror, and their boisterous companionship; their broken dreams, seething hatred, and shining hope.”

History belongs to the people and this historian wants to provide it to us as our own story. And she has a keen expertise in finding those forgotten gems of our story, like a porker rooting out scrumptious truffles.

Martin’s historical research is scholarly, meticulous, and impeccable. She lays a feast with endnotes, rewarding the reader who dines on them with intriguing and oftentimes amusing side dishes. Her almost wizard-like ability to uncover the last remaining shard of documentation has made her a sought-after professional researcher for legal and government work. She was principal historical investigator for Ouray County during the infamous Camp Bird access court case, Camp Bird Colorado, Inc. vs. Board of County Commissioners of the County of Ouray.

All the San Juan Mountain Jeepers and hikers can thank their lucky stars for her behind-the-scenes work that helped re-open a stunning historical trail from Ouray to Telluride, Colorado, through the old Camp Bird Mine land.

Movie PosterMartin also was the historical investigator, writer, and presenter for the nomination of the Fort Peabody site to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, part of the National Park Service. The Fort Peabody listing became a symbol for anyone who loves labor history, the people’s history, because it holds the ghosts of a time when mine owners in Telluride, Colorado had treated workers and their supporters as criminals without just cause or due process. Martin brought those ghosts out of the woodwork, and they won't ever be hammered back in, since her book on the subject, “The Corpse on Boomerang Road: Telluride’s War on Labor 1899-1908” is now in development as a film with Elbow Grease Pictures in Hollywood—working title, “Undesirable Citizens.”

The movie’s title derives from Martin's current historical work-in-progress, “Undesirable Citizen: A Biography of Vincent St. John.”

“I don't know if a writer chooses the subject or if the subject chooses the writer,” Martin told me. “I never set out to write about Vincent St. John. He just kept popping up like one of those wee Whack-A-Moles at a county fair. His life was nearly mummified inside layers and layers of lies and obscured by nearly a century of defamation. In seeking the facts about him, I seem to have taken him on as my life's work. He refuses to leave me alone.”

St. JohnMartin agrees with author and newspaper editor Seth Cagin, who says Vincent St. John was “one of the great yet nearly forgotten labor leaders of the early twentieth century.” She has worked on numerous other projects since St. John first popped up in front of her in the 1970s as the "butcher" who allegedly made William Julius Barney into a ghost. In fact, ghosts are what started her published career.

Since she was a child, Martin has collected ghost stories. She read every classical ghost tale she could find; fell in love with the great ghosts of Shakespeare's Hamlet and Charles Dicken's Christmas Carol. Wilkie Collins, Robert Lewis Stevenson, M.R. James, Henry James, Edgar Allen Poe, and Alfred Noyes fed her love for the supernatural.

“Perhaps because I liked ghosts, I also liked the dead,” she admits. Her natural fondness for cemeteries as a child was so marked that her family nicknamed her “Cemetery Merry,” the “Merry” part referring to her joy at seeing or visiting a burial ground. “All these long forgotten people were very real to me,” she says, “and I wanted to discover their stories.” Unsurprisingly, as a child she also enjoyed listening to old people: “They told me so many fabulous stories while other kids were off hammering rubber rodents.”

Something in the Wind by maryJoy MartinAs a young woman, Martin had more elderly friends than she had friends her own age. She venerates the old and calls them “living history.” Through interviews in the 1970s she collected the personal stories of men and women who had experienced great historical moments of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. She especially collected their ghost tales, which soon were published in her books, Twilight Dwellers, Ghosts, Ghouls & Goblins of Colorado, Something in the Wind, Spirits, Spooks & Sprites of the San Juan, and Suicide Legends, Homicide Rumors: The Griffin Mystery.

“I met a number of people who had heard or seen the ghost of Clifford Griffin playing his violin above Silver Plume,” Martin says. “So I set out to see that one for myself. One of my brothers and I went up to the Griffin monument on the anniversary of his death and waited…”

They didn't see anything unusual, but she got a fabulous photo of the ghost at the tombstone… playing a violin. “How?” I ask. She slyly smiles and simply tells me she had a very old camera.

Sir George WadeSeeking explanations for supernatural phenomena has led Martin on moonlit treks into castle ruins, cemeteries, ancient crypts, old mill houses, sawpits, and even forgotten outhouses. Early on she connected with Sir George Wade of Wade & Son Ltd. in England, who invited her to his 17th–century manor house near Norton-in-Hales, Shropshire. Each night by the fireside he told her of his own ghost encounters. They became lifelong friends until his death in 1986.

As an adventurer with a love for history and pre-history, Martin enjoys traveling to mysterious places in Europe where she can spend nights in Neolithic ruins, dance among Druidic standing stones, or encounter strange things in mossed-over 11th century ruins. She also loves the desert places of the American southwest, seeking the mysteries of Chaco, Hovenweep, Comb Ridge, and other sites.

MaryJoy Martin and desert companion

She keeps company with archaeologists, anthropologists, sociologists, entomologists, toxicologists, oologists, paleobotanists, paleontologists, forensic pathologists, mycologists, scatologists, dendrologists, and scientists of many disciplines who are willing to share their knowledge with her. Among these are the beloved labor activist, folklorist and author, Archie Green, and the inimitable sociologist who exposed the downside of the Braceros program, Henry P. Anderson. Once Martin connects with the sages of an era, she makes lifetime friends of them.

“Life is too short,” she says frequently, because the bottom line is, she has a passion for LIFE on every level.

CoyoteMartin's interests are so diverse that she considered various sciences as a career, including the law, forestry, criminology, entomology, herpetology, zoology, and linguistics (when she was 16 she set out to learn Spanish, French, Norwegian, Italian, and Dutch, but eventually settled for learning one of those well, a few of those barely, and how to say “thank you” in 26 languages). Her mother encouraged her toward writing and art. Her father encouraged her toward the law, declaring she'd “make a great lawyer,” when he gave her a fine leather-bound volume of Black's Law Dictionary. She studied many of these disciplines, both in college and on her own, eventually realizing that as a journalist and writer she could indulge in all sciences at any time, and consult with the experts with the pleasure of an adventurer.

“I think I might be an adventurer first,” she admits. “My entire family for generations has had the Wanderlust. If I had been born in the 16th century I would have been off exploring Africa or South America.”

At nine she read a National Geographic story about Machu Picchu and wanted to be Hiram Bingham. She pretended to be Bingham in her family's backyard, building little ruins with her brothers. Drew pictures of the sacred site at school. Wrote stories about it. Obsessed over visiting Peru and walking the ancient Inca trails. Set out to learn the Quechua language of Peru. She still has dreams in her sleeping hours that take her on untold adventures to not only Peru, but also all the other places National Geographic, Smithsonian, and Discover magazines flash into her imagination, an imagination that seems to be in constant motion.

MaryJoy Martin as Flamenco dancer“I grew up without television,” she tells me. “All my brothers and sisters and I were huge readers. When we played, we had few toys, but we had endless imaginations and we had each other. We had great times together in the backfields and along the river—and even in the city rain sewers. We could be anything we wanted, from Shackleton to Moses, from Doc Holliday to Dickens, from Catherine de Medici to a Scottish witch set afire and escaping through the aid of Raven Mother.”

Martin lives life as an adventure of discovery. If she wants to understand the power of explosives she hooks up with International Society of Explosive Engineers members and gets hands-on experience. When she wanted to learn everything about guns, from antique blunderbusses to modern semi-automatic handguns, she took courses taught by experts. And she is a crack shot (I'm a witness to her Dead-eye Dick style). With her amazing scores of over 98% each session, she was invited to become a competitive markswoman. Over the years her curiosity has given her experience in unusual fields, including forensic entomology where she conducted studies for a Colorado sheriff on the time it took blowflies to invade a corpse zipped inside a small tent at high altitude.

“That study made it impossible to ever eat liver again,” she confesses. “The control for the study was fresh calf liver. A week of counting maggots in decomposing liver will do a severe injustice to your appetite.”

Martin has worked with various law enforcement agencies as an independent researcher, so when she came upon a dead man in the desert she knew precisely how to handle the site until forensic technicians arrived. She also has done volunteer work for the National Forest Service, helped monitor desert bighorn sheep, cougar, and pika populations for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, helped restore native toad and frog habitat—which included live-capture of invasive northern bullfrogs—and has long been a wilderness activist and wildlife advocate.

Frog-kissingShe has an uncanny rapport with wild animals and birds. We've seen her “sing in” coyotes with an eerie imitation of their gathering calls. We’ve seen wild birds alight on her. She “charms” snakes. Handles skunks and raccoons. Kisses—aye!—kisses frogs. Has pikas crawling onto her, which is quite unusual, since pikas are extremely wary of humans. She can even get fish to swim into her hands. It is absolutely fascinating (if I may inject my own opinion here), and many of her closest friends teasingly call her “St. Francis.” She shrugs it off. Martin believes this rapport merely reflects her calmness with and understanding of wild things.

“Scent might play a role, too” she quips. “Perhaps I smell like an animal.”

SkunkWildlife is welcome on her farm, an overgrown and somewhat tangled natural paradise where wild raccoons clean up orchard windfall, coyotes hunt voles, cottontails and foxes raise their young, snakes occasionally slip into the house for high tea, and birds of myriad kinds fill the trees with song.

One of her sisters says, “I freeze when snakes show up in the house and she invites them to tea. She just isn't wrapped right!”

Other family and friends agree with the “not wrapped right” part. Martin laughs it off with a quote from 19th century British philosopher, John Stuart Mill: “In this age, the mere example of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric.”

MJM with skunklet“To thine own self be weird,” Martin says, “because life is too short to worry about what others want you to be. Be anything and everything. I'm a jack-of-all-trades and master of skunks. And that's why I've found one big fat frog of joy in the center of existence.”

A fellow musician, who knows Martin well, says of her, “I think she's a cross between St. Francis, Edward Abbey and Wednesday Addams—with 80 per cent of the latter.”

After much harrying, we got MaryJoy Martin to admit she loves the daughter in the Addams Family movies. She admits she might be “a wee bit” like her. Admits she has spent days in her youth making guillotines and playing in cemeteries. Admits she terrorized neighborhood children with her witchery. Admits she recited Poe's poem, “The Raven,” for her fifth-grade class at Catholic school; disturbed the teacher and classmates who had all chosen “lovely wee MaryJoy Martinpoems about God and angels and saints.” Admits she did grammar school projects on Medusa, Bog witches, Hades, and Poe's “Hop Frog,” with a Voodoo report complete with wax figurines tossed in for good measure. Admits schoolmates chanted behind her (at a safe distance), “Mary, Mary dark and scary…” She won't admit anything further. Just that enigmatic smile says there's a world of shadow that enthralls her.

The Gothic and mysterious side of life feeds Martin's poetry and fiction, yet her satire and parody, most of which has been published for more than a quarter century in the San Juan Horseshoe, comes from a different place. Most of this body of work rises from history or current political events. Influenced in her early life by the Monty Python clan, particularly Terry Jones and John Cleese, Martin's irreverence strips away the tears of our daily woes and leaves us laughing at ourselves. And at everyone else.

“Society is a mess,” she says. “The world is a mess. The only way to survive is to keep laughing. If I didn't have people like Billy Connolly and Terry Jones, John Cleese and Martin Clunes, Madeline Kahn, Connie Booth, and Prunella Scales, to name a few, I would be left playing with my guillotine all day.”

As Eliza DoolittleComedians save the day, making certain Martin retains a semblance of civility. They keep her almost normal (by Scottish standards, which might be the wrong scale to determine normality), allowing her to be an active member of the Colorado State Historical Society, the Wilderness Society, Amnesty International, North American Mycological Society, Environmental Defense, and other human rights and environmental organizations.

When she isn't writing books or playing with that wicked guillotine, she paints, sculpts, and writes music. She has written scores of songs and two musical plays, one of which was under the influence of her friend, Bill Oakley, the genius behind the original Heritage Square Opera House in Golden, Colorado many moons ago. The play was a melodrama spoof titled, “The Undertaker's Daughter.” Of course.

In the beginning, Oakley was too busy to meet with the then young writer, so Martin plotted with his wife and staff to sneak her into the playhouse lobby one morning. She came complete with a heavy cardboard coffin. Martin, dressed like Eliza Doolittle, was inside the coffin with a copy of the play script and musical score on her chest, along with a fine bottle of champagne. Staff lured Oakley out of his office where he encountered the coffin in his lobby. He opened the coffin and Martin popped out, handing him the champagne and script, much to his delight. The two worked together, with Oakley offering Martin free access to his productions, as long as she “dressed in Victorian attire.”

“I adored Bill Oakley,” Martin says. “I wish he could have lived forever.”

Bill OakleyMartin seems to wish all beloved characters could live forever. In a way, she fulfills that wish by bringing them back to life in her work as an author and historian, artist and photographer. One phrase she speaks frequently sums up the heart and soul of her:

“Celebrate life!”



icon—To contact MaryJoy Martin email either of the representatives below:
Jack Kelly
C. C. Rivera






* Scots-Gaelic for “witch,” a shaman-like person of the Highlands
 
Button
HOME



Who she was

Origins




Who she was

Written works




Who she was

Artwork




Who she was

Photography




Who she was

Pixelations




Who she was

Music




Who she was

Witchery


Mantis
HOME ¦ ABOUT ¦ WRITTEN WORKS ¦ MOVIE ¦ ARTWORK ¦ PHOTOGRAPHY ¦ PIXELATIONS ¦ MUSIC ¦ WITCHERY ¦ CONTACT

Website design by Grasshopper * Best viewed in Mozilla Firefox
Website content copyright MaryJoyMartin.net © 2005 - 2014