Author tells a story 'waiting to be told'
May Dugas was a very colorful native of Menominee
Wednesday, June 26, 2013 7:00 PM
MENOMINEE - Maryka Biaggio is not a household name yet, but she soon could be depending on how her novel "Parlor Games" is received. The Portland, Ore., author, fell in love with a slice of Menominee's notorious past in June 2009.
"It all started when I was traveling through, vacationing with my parents and just happened to pass through M0enominee and stop at their information center," she said. She and her family ended up visiting the Menominee County Historical Museum on 11th Avenue where she purchased a book about May Dugas. As a bonus, she was shown a dress once reportedly owned by Dugas.
Local residents with a taste for history are somewhat familiar with the story of May Dugas. She was a good looking young woman who left Menominee to find fame and fortune in the big city. She found it ... and a whole lot more including debauchery, blackmail and hob-nobbing with the elite of society.
When Biaggio read the first line of the book where a Pinkerton detective called Dugas, "the most dangerous woman in the world," she was convinced she would have to tackle a new project.
"I have to write about this woman," said Biaggio. "This sounds like a story that's waiting to be told, waiting for a novelist to find it. It was just too irresistible."
What made all the research a bit more fun is that Biaggio herself is from here in the Midwest. Her parents live in Manitowoc, Wis., and she has a sister who lives in Marquette, Mich. Menominee is perfect middle ground to tackle a worthy project.
After weeks, months and even years of research, interviews and in-person visits, all the pieces were falling together. Biaggio gives a lot of credit to Janet Callow of Menominee who was her local go-to person.
"I learned that she is really the foremost expert on May," said Biaggio. "We e-mailed for a while then I started asking her questions and asking her to help me." The two met last summer where Callow provided a wealth of perspective on Dugas.
"What really intrigued me most of all was her motives," said Biaggio. "I wanted to understand why she did what she did. Here was a woman living during the Gilded Age, a time when women's roles were really quite constrained. They could be nurses or teachers or governess' but those were really just place holders until they got married."
The book apparently had enough sex appeal that the publishers at Doubleday in New York City saw fit to put it in print. Your chance to meet Biaggio, hear her stories and own a copy of the book will be on Saturday. She'll make two appearances at Spies Public Library in Menominee, the first from noon until 1 p.m. where she'll sign books and talk about how she put the story together. She'll then be back from 4:30 until 6 p.m. for a reception where she'll also read a passage from the book and answer questions.
"That's really the fun part," she said, "hearing people's questions, what they're interested in about May, or about her story or about writing novels, whatever."
For as famous, or infamous, as Dugas was, there are very few know photos of her. Biaggio has managed to dig up two of them. One from her passport application when she was in her 50s. The other was in a publication called the "Commercial Advertiser" out of New York, dated 1901.
The house Dugas owned in Menominee is still standing at the corner of 14th Avenue and 7th Street. The years have taken a toll on it but a young couple, who wish to remain anonymous for the time being, are working to restore some of the old mansion's original beauty. Biaggio has been invited to tour the home and said she is excited to see it.