Solomon's Oak: A Novel - By Jo-Ann Mapson


IN 1898, IN Jolon, California, not far from the Mission San Antonio de Padua, Pennsylvanian Michael Halloran set out to cross the Nacimiento River during spring thaw. Like everyone heading west, he thought California was the land of plenty: the Pacific Ocean full of abalone, citrus groves and artichokes growing year-round, everything necessary to raise a family and prosper.

According to Salinan Indian storytellers, his horses refused to enter the water until Halloran whipped them. On the other side of the river lay his newly purchased land. Everyone begged him to wait until spring runoff was complete. Stay in the hotel for free, the owner said. Halloran refused, believing it was a trick to steal his land. As soon as he entered the river in his horse-drawn wagon, his wife, Alice, and baby daughter, Clara, aboard, he lost control. Michael Halloran was thrown free, but Alice became caught in the reins as the panicked horses tried to free themselves. The wagon flipped over and over in the swift current. Horrified, Michael could only watch from the riverbank while the reins he had used to punish the horses twisted and turned, decapitating his wife. Her body washed ashore days later. Baby Clara was never found.

After Mrs. Halloran’s burial, the Salinan shaman predicted her ghost would never rest, because a body without all its parts has trouble finding its way to the spirit world. In the 1950s, Alice appeared to two soldiers on watch at an ammunition bunker on the Fort Hunter Liggett military base. One died of a heart attack; the other never recovered from the trauma. The army denied the reports, but closed the bunker. In addition to the Salinan story “The Headless Lady of Jolon,” several Central Valley, California, ghost stories feature a headless horsewoman: “The Lady in Lace,” “Guardian Spirit,” and “Ghost of a Murdered Wife.”

Stories, passed down from generation to generation, can take two forks: factual history, or legend/lore. The word history came into English from Latin via Greek and originally meant “finding out,” and in some dictionaries “wise man.” In modern dictionaries, history is defined as “a continuous, typically chronological record of important events.” You can make history, and that can be a good or bad thing. Sometimes people say and the rest is history, which leaves out the most interesting parts. Or you can be history, which means you’re gone. Disappeared. “Dust in the wind,” which is the title of the rock band Kansas’s only hit song.

The word legend has its roots in Middle English, French, and Latin. Legenda translates to “things to be learned.” Lore, from the German and Dutch lehre, translates to “learn.”

You would think that between the two we’d get the whole story.

To this day, it is said that on a moonless night in Jolon headless Alice can be seen floating above the Nacimiento River, searching for her lost daughter. She also frequents the old cemetery on the military base. Locals say if you catch sight of Alice, quickly put your ear to the earth and you will hear the baby girl crying for her mother.

Part I


A Pirate Handfasting Menu

Roast tom turkey

Apple, date, and onion stuffing

Mashed Yukon Gold potatoes

Peasant bread


McIntosh apples

California navel oranges



Lemon bumble

Pirate-ship devil’s food wedding cake

Chapter 1


NOVEMBER 27, 2003

ONE YEAR AGO to the day, Glory Solomon had spent hours cooking the traditional Thanksgiving dinner for her husband, Dan: turkey with bread-crumb stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, and Dan’s favorite, the yam casserole with the miniature-marshmallow topping she always managed to scorch. Why he liked it she never understood. Her pumpkin pie was a work of art, with a homemade crust so flaky it rivaled her grandmother’s, but for Dan it didn’t get any better than blackened yams. Glory had set the table with the china Dan’s mother had left them, Franciscan Desert Rose. She ironed and folded linen napkins. She whipped heavy cream to tall peaks. While Dan said grace, she took a slug of wine because religion made her nervous. They feasted and laughed, and when they could move again, they took the horses out for a long ride on their oak-filled property that was ten minutes as the crow flies from the Mission San Antonio de Padua. After that, Glory called her mother in Salinas to wish her a happy holiday, and they both said how much they missed Daddy, gone twenty-two years now. Glory and her sister, Halle,