Diving into the life of an utterly unique local
Story by Dan Hust
LONG EDDY July 5, 2013 It’s a story so unbelievable it has to be believed, a tale so incredible one might wonder why it took this long to be retold.
It’s the mind-boggling life history of one Lucy Ann Lobdell, 19th century resident of Long Eddy.
She wasn’t just a crack shot, skilled with both rifle and ax, in days when that compliment was reserved for men.
She was possibly the first woman in America to be termed a “lesbian.”
She was a hired gun in Minnesota on the eve of its statehood.
A Honesdale, PA, dance studio proprietor while dressed as a man.
The almost-”groom” of a Bethany, Pa. maiden, and ultimately the spouse of another.
The mother of a girl who almost unwittingly married her half-brother.
A spirit so adventurous, so dramatic so conflicted and so tragic that her supposed death garnered enormous obituaries in the New York Times and New York Sun (both of which turned out to be premature).
William Klaber was introduced to his fellow Long Eddy native’s fascinating life by local historian John B. “Jack” Niflot, who handed him a satchel of newspaper clippings over breakfast circa 2000.
“This is true? This happened?” he recalled thinking.
Niflot had envisioned a nonfiction history incorporating all the data he’d gathered over 20 years information spanning more than a century but Klaber felt drawn to a fictionalized memoir based on the facts of Lobdell’s dramatic life.
“What you really wanted to know is what she was thinking,” he explained. “I’m not telling Lucy’s real story, but providing a way to imagine.”
And so for a decade, in the very house Lobdell’s ghost was said to haunt, he sought to find her voice and channel it to a modern-day audience.
In June, the 300-page novel, “The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell,” debuted just a few days before Niflot died.
“Jack always was after me to hurry up with the book ‘cause, as he said, ‘I’d like to be alive when it comes out,’” Klaber recalled bittersweetly.
Niflot ostensibly did see the book, as it was found after his death, sitting on a living room coffee table in his Mileses home.
Klaber believes both Niflot and Lobdell would have approved of his treatment of her story only about 15 percent of which is fictionalized, he said.
A sensational trial in Minnesota, a same-sex marriage in Wayne County and a twist ending are all factual, thanks in part to a 50-page autobiography Lobdell completed before she died in 1912 at the age of 83, plus a variety of press and historical accounts during and after her colorful life.
Klaber, who has also written a book about the assassination of Robert Kennedy, travelled to Minnesota and many other locations in the book to create a story as vivid as Lucy herself.
“I went out and slept on that ground to hear what the birds sound like in the morning,” he recalled.
Like the author, readers are bound to feel they better understand a complicated character living in a world unwilling to deal with a woman living outside traditional gender roles.
“She didn’t change clothes to ‘get girls’,” Klaber surmised. “She changed clothes to get jobs.”
But eventually she did form romantic attachments to at least two women, one of whom she married.
“I think Lucy’s life was one of transformation,” Klaber said. “... I think that’s what makes her story interesting.”
He has created an informative, handsome website about Lobdell therebellionofmisslucyannlobdell.com and his book is available at Amazon.com for both print and e-reader purchase and in Hudson News stores at all major U.S. airports.
He’ll be conducting a reading of the book on Friday, August 2, at the Narrowsburg branch of Western Sullivan Public Library at 7 p.m.