Hunter Murphy’s new book The Curse of the Bridal Chamber was inspired by two of Florida’s oldest attractions.
Hunter Murphy first heard about Florida’s legend of the Bridal Chamber when he took a ride on a glass-bottom boat at Silver Springs State Park. He could clearly see flecks of limestone pouring from the mouth of the spring 80 feet below the surface, as the boat captain told of a doomed love affair between the rich son of a wealthy landowner and a poor sharecropper’s daughter. “I was fascinated by this tale and so I did some research and found out the park used the legend in promotional ads to market Silver Springs,” he says.
He also discovered that, as Florida’s oldest attraction, Silver Springs was the setting for several Hollywood films over the years, including “Tarzan,” “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “Smokey and the Bandit, Part 3” and James Bond’s “Moonraker.” Add to that the park’s exotic resident rhesus monkeys, and he had a story to tell.
“In the park’s heyday, a tour boat operator named Col. Tooey wanted to increase the park’s exotic appeal, so he brought rhesus monkeys and put them on an island, not knowing that the rhesus monkeys are excellent swimmers,” Murphy explains. “Of course they swam away the first chance they got. And just like the six-toed cats at Hemingway’s Key West house, there are still rhesus monkeys in the woods around Silver Springs who are related to the original ones.”
Murphy wanted to capture the feel of the Marion County park in its prime, when attractions also included a zoo and safari ride. He recently returned and found all the attractions gone, with only the glass-bottom boats remaining. (The park was taken over by the state in 2013.) Taking some liberties as an author, he decided to merge the location of Florida’s Weeki Wachi Springs with Silver Springs so that his main character and senior citizen sleuth Imogene and her sister, Agnes, could also encounter mermaids.
“I like the idea of a behind-the-scenes look at performing mermaids, “he says. “Of course the cussing mermaid Sierra was a fun one to write. She’s so rough.”
Murphy’s lovable gay couple Billy and Jackson also return from his first book Imogene in New Orleans, as does bulldog Goose. And his talented cover designer Philip Pascuzzo—who’s worked with Tom Wolfe and is responsible for Twitter’s blue bird icon—has again worked his magic, depicting a mermaid swimming in an underwater paradise shaped like a skull.
In The Curse of the Bridal Chamber, Imogene and her brood encounter a dead body floating beneath the glass-bottom boat. The local police immediately arrest Billy for the crime, but Jackson soon realizes that the park is teeming with suspects, including the mermaids themselves. As Imogene works to exonerate her son, the decades-old curse of the Bridal Chamber spring seems focused on her and her kin.
“I am interested in people’s histories and secrets,” says Murphy (pictured with Silver Springs’ leaning palm tree). “I think all literature has elements of mystery. Who is Jay Gatsby? What’s his story and what makes him who he is?” One of the elements he found most interesting about the area around Silver Springs was its racial past. Silver Springs was open to white people only, but in 1949, a segregated “Paradise Park” opened downriver.
“I imagined an interracial relationship between some of the characters in my book [Luce and Francis],” Murphy says. After he’d completed The Curse of the Bridal Chamber, he also came across Alabama storyteller Katherine Tucker Windham’s ghost story called “An Eternal Embrace.” It’s included in her book Jeffrey Introduces Thirteen More Southern Ghosts and based on the bridal chamber legend.
Despite finding success with two “Imogene and the Boys” novels under his belt, Murphy has had a tough year. He lost the real-life Imogene (his mother-in-law) and bulldog Goose one after the other, prompting a move from Alabama to Florida. “After they died, I needed a change of scene,” he says. “When you lose half your family in such a short span, it’s tough to stay in the house where you lived and loved for so long. I still think about Imogene and Goose every day. They were my muses. I’m so very glad I got to honor their lives in my fiction.”
Murphy is working on a forthcoming book about Jackson’s initiation into Imogene and Billy’s family, along with another mystery set in the Mobile, Alabama, area at a famous estate. He credits Mobile native Eugene Walter for the reason he became a writer and calls him “one of the funniest Alabamians to ever roam earth.” When he’s not working at his new job at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Murphy can be found exploring the beaches of Florida and following in the footsteps of Tennessee Williams, who said he worked best in Key West.
“Incidentally, the warm weather is good for my creativity,” he says.
Photos courtesy of Hunter Murphy.
Silver Springs is currently open from 8 a.m.-sunset year-round as a state park with an admission cost of $2. It’s located between Orlando and Gainesville and offers glass-bottom boat tours, to kayak, canoe and bike rentals. Weeki Wachi Springs has a riverboat cruise, an animal encounter and mermaid shows daily. Admission is $13 for adults and $8 for children. Kids can also attend Mermaid Camp at the park in the spring.