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Mystic Seafarer's Trail is available in the following Connecticut and Rhode Island shops and: Online as e-book or paperback: ( Amazon ...

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Mystic Pizza: Excerpt from Mystic Seafarer's Trail

The most common question I'm asked is if Mystic Pizza, the inspiration for the movie, "Mystic Pizza," was still serving.

I'm so used to that question that when a woman pulled over in her van and yelled to me, "Excuse me," I assumed she wanted directions to Mystic Pizza. Instead, she asked, "Do you realize the back of your skirt is tucked into your underwear?"

Anyway, yes, you can still dine at Mystic Pizza. Excerpt from my travel memoir, Mystic Seafarer's Trail:

Although it’s been more than 20 years since the release of the 1988 romantic comedy, Mystic Pizza, starring Julia Roberts and debuting Matt Damon (whose only line, "Mom, do you want my green stuff?" was said while eating lobster), visitors still flock to the restaurant that inspired it.

The Zelepos family, owners of Mystic Pizza, state, “Incredibly, our little pizza shop caught the eye of screenwriter Amy Jones, who was summering in the area. Ms. Jones chose Mystic Pizza as the focus and setting for her story of the lives and loves of three young waitresses.” The movie depicts life in a small fishing village and was filmed in Mystic and the surrounding communities.

The locals will never forget the day that Hollywood came to town—just ask Mystic shopkeepers and waiters what it was like to accommodate the 80-member film crew. Most have a story to tell—how the bridge operator needed to raise the drawbridge on cue; how local fishermen advised actors on stringing bait; or how they have a friend whose family moved into a hotel while a scene was shot in their home. Local racing sailor Katie Bradford said, “I’m friends with Skip, the guy who was actually steering the boat in the Mystic River scene. He had to do it lying on his back so an actor would appear as though he was steering.” Katie also tells how another friend became a local celebrity—simply because the back of his head made it into the movie!

For those who have never seen the film, they can have their chance by peering into the restaurant where it plays continuously on three screens. “It’s on mute—otherwise, we’d go nuts!” confided one waitress.

The restaurant sells souvenirs (as well as pizza) and proudly displays movie photos, posters and newspaper clippings featuring the restaurant. The waitresses even have a little fun by dressing up a mannequin as Daisy, the Julia Roberts character in the film. They change her hair accessories to match the colors of the season.

More than 20 years after the movie’s release, film production companies still can’t get enough of Mystic Pizza. Restaurant co-owner John Zelepos recently received a call from California asking if his restaurant and family would star in a reality TV show.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Share your older photos of Mystic?

I am working on an image-driven book about Mystic for a publisher with co-authors Kent and Meredith Fuller. Do you have any photos of a Mystic building/scenery/event you would like to be considered (and get photo credit of course)?

We're looking for photos showing the progress and changes in Mystic from the 1960s to the present (seven decades). Anything locally/historically relevant will be considered and images from the 1960-1980s are particularly desirable as they are harder to find.

Please see more information on the This is Mystic blog post if you have something you'd like to submit. (If the publisher doesn't to choose your image, we would be honored to feature your properly captioned image on the This is Mystic website should you be willing.)

More about co-authors Kent and Meredith Fuller: They are Mystic locals, web developers, and a husband and wife blogging team. They run an informational website, www.thisismystic.com, which promotes Mystic's attractions and community events to locals and tourists.
More about me, Lisa Saunders: I'm a freelance news release writer,  local TV talk show host, and publisher of the Mystic Seafarer's Trail newsletter, which features tourist-friendly people and events.  I'm the author of seven books, including the Mystic Seafarer's Trail: Secrets behind the 7 Wonders, Titanic's Shoes, Captain Sisson's Gold, and Amelia Earhart's Wedding , and live with my husband and hound in Mystic.

Thank you so much for your consideration!
Lisa Saunders
PO Box 389, Mystic, CT 06355

Friday, April 17, 2015

Deep Sea TV with Mystic's Melissa Ryan

Mystic's Melissa Ryan works with the Deep Submergence team at NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, and the team is conducting deep dives off of Puerto Rico during the month of April.
Tune in every day for the live video feeds from the dives - coming from the seafloor to your desktop in about three seconds!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ernie the Ledge Light Ghost: excerpt from book, Mystic Seafarer's Trail

Excerpt from my travel memoir: Mystic Seafarer's Trail: Secrets behind the 7 Wonders, Titanic's Shoes, Captain Sisson's Gold, and Amelia Earhart's Wedding:

All alone out in Fishers Island Sound, on a tiny man-made island at the mouth of the Thames River, is Ledge Light.  It has helped mariners navigate for over a century. Completed in 1909, the square, red brick lighthouse features a mix of Colonial Revival and French Second Empire styles—and the legend of Ernie the Ledge Light ghost.

Lighthouse keepers were very lonely at Ledge Light—and trapped, with no easy way back to shore in an emergency.  When the 1938 hurricane sent waves crashing into the second floor, the keepers had to run up to the lantern room to find safety. When the lighthouse was automated in the 1980s, the lighthouse keepers left—all except Ernie.

According to the website, Lighthousefriends.com, “Before the station was automated, the Coast Guard crew on duty reported frequently hearing strange noises: mysterious knocks on their bedroom doors in the middle of the night, doors opening and closing, the television being turned on and off repeatedly, and even having the covers pulled off the ends of their beds…The final day of manned operation shows a log entry reading, ‘Rock of slow torture. Ernie's domain. Hell on earth – may New London Ledge’s light shine on forever because I’m through. I will watch it from afar while drinking a brew.’”

Jim and I finally had a chance to meet Ernie when we booked passage to Ledge Light through Project Oceanology. Leaving from Avery Point with several others, expectations were high. Once docked, we climbed up to the platform and began a tour of the largely restored lighthouse.

Winding up the staircase, we reached the top for a breathtaking view and the spot where Ernie’s story begins.  The New London Ledge Lighthouse Foundation website states: “According to the legend, Ernie was a keeper, probably in the 1920s or 30s. His younger wife, who lived ashore, ran off with the Captain of the Block Island Ferry. Consumed with grief and loneliness, Ernie allegedly climbed to the roof of the lighthouse and jumped. His body was never found…Legend has it that Ernie haunts the lighthouse to this day…There are cold spots inside. Strange noises, whispers. Boats are mysteriously untied…”

To learn more, see my book: Mystic Seafarer's Trail: Secrets behind the 7 Wonders, Titanic's Shoes, Captain Sisson's Gold, and Amelia Earhart's Wedding.

It's available online as an e-book and softcover and in these shops: click here for locations.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking for Unclaimed Bodies

I'm trying to find unclaimed bodies from the Metis shipwreck off Watch Hill, R.I. I have recently received a very interesting lead that I'm following up on. Anyone else know where there are unidentified bodies buried? Or ones that were identified as a shipwreck victim?

Here is my excerpt from  my travel memoir, Mystic Seafarer's Trail, on the Metis
Although Perry was able to save his entire crew when the Revenge struck Watch Hill Reef, some captains traversing this heavily trafficked area have suffered enormous passenger losses. In August 1872, when the steamer Metis left New York toward Providence with 104 passengers, including children, plus 45 crew members, it experienced decreased visibility in a strengthening gale. At approximately 3:45 a.m. on August 30, when it was five miles south of Watch Hill Light, it collided with a schooner. The damage to the hull of the Metis appeared to be minor so it was decided to continue toward Providence.  Within a mile, however, heavy seas further opened the hull and she began to sink fast. When the upper deck broke loose, 30 people managed to ride it toward shore and the rescue boats heading their way. Those below the steamer’s deck went down with the ship. Bodies washed ashore for several weeks on Block Island and the Rhode Island coast.  A framed, spoon-like object made of wood from the Metis, which now lies 130 feet below the surface, can be seen hanging on the wall of the Watch Hill Lighthouse museum.  

Captain Bill Palmer of Wallingford, Conn., owner operator of the charter vessel, Thunderfish, not only takes passengers sport fishing and shark cage diving, but also to explore shipwrecks such as the Metis.  He said, “There’s not much left of the Metis except for the machinery because worms in the water eat the wood. But beneath the sand, lies her cargo. I’ve found china, and friends of mine have found luggage tags made with brass numbers on leather. One friend found a safe with steamship tickets inside.”

I am also looking for information on Mystic-built ships (or under the command of a Mystic captain) that wrecked anywhere in the world. For example, I was thrilled when the Mystic River Historical Society found this article for me on the City of Waco. I revised my Mystic Seafarer's Trail book to include an interview with the diver who explored the wreck.

Excerpt from Mystic Seafarer's Trail regarding the City of Waco:

More than 13,000 souls, many on Mystic’s “Who’s Who” list of 19th century ship builders and sea captains, have been laid to rest at Elm Grove Cemetery. I became particularly interested in the tall obelisk depicting the steamship, City of Waco, which tells how Captain Thomas E. Wolfe died piloting her when it caught fire off the port of Galveston in 1875. He was 44 when his ship erupted into flames and sank. His body was found two miles away. He literally died with his boots on—a dramatic end to a man who led a dramatic life.

Born January 20, 1831, Wolfe’s life of adventure began at age 14 when he went out to sea as a ship’s boy. A year later, he embarked on a whaling voyage to the Indian Ocean for nearly two years. During the California Gold Rush, Wolfe caught gold fever with two Mystic buddies and sailed around Cape Horn to California in 1850. Probably realizing more died of scurvy than found gold, they headed back to Mystic.  

During the Civil War, Captain Wolfe transported supplies from New York to New Orleans. When his ship Texana was captured by Confederates near the mouth of the Mississippi River, it was burned and Wolfe and his crew were taken prisoners. Initially, Wolfe’s letters to his wife Frances from Castle Thunder Prison in Richmond were upbeat because he assumed he would be included in a prisoner exchange. He encouraged her not to worry and to keep their three children comfortable. But as time slipped by, Wolfe revealed his growing despair in this letter dated Dec. 23, 1863:

 Dear Wife,

...The children must have grown very much since I left home it is most nine months. It makes me homesick to look out of my prison window and see little children the age of ourn a playing in the street.

… the hours hang heavy. My former occupation of a sailor may have fitted me somewhat to bare the disappointments and hardships of prison life. it is worse than working to the westward off Cape Horn for one will occasionally gain a little on their course their but here it is the same thing every day…

In the following month he wrote: “If I was home I think I should enjoy the skating…but I see no prospect of getting there very soon…I expect little Emma has forgot her da da.”

 Later transferred to North Carolina’s Salisbury Prison, Wolfe and his fellow prisoners were cold and starving. On the rainy night of December 18, 1864, he made a daring escape with four companions and headed north. During their grueling, 340-mile trek through enemy territory that included the Blue Ridge Mountains, Wolfe faced sleepless nights on the frozen ground, hours hidden under damp fodder, barking dogs, and a companion’s snoring that put them at constant risk of discovery. Although Wolfe could barely limp along as a result of his sprained ankle, he provided some comic relief with stories of his past adventures.

One of the escapees, New York Tribune reporter Albert Richardson, wrote about a 12-mile section of road that crossed a frigid stream 29 times with only foot logs for pedestrians. “Cold and stiff, we discovered that crossing the smooth, icy logs in the darkness was a hazardous feat. Wolfe was particularly lame, and slipped several times into the icy torrent, but managed to flounder out without much delay.”

It was the food, warmth and guidance offered by slaves and Union sympathizers with secret handshakes, plus Wolfe’s knowledge of celestial navigation, that brought them to safety.  Richardson recalled, “We walked about a mile through the dense woods, when Captain Wolfe, who had been all the time declaring that the North Star was on the wrong side of us, convinced our pilot [their temporary guide] that he had mistaken the road, and we retraced our steps to the right thoroughfare.”[i]

Captain Wolfe finally made it back to Mystic on his 34th birthday--January 20, 1865. He recuperated and went back to sea. He lost another vessel, the steamer Loyalist, while on the way to New Orleans, but all hands were saved. However, when the City of Waco caught fire on a stormy night in November 1875, all 56 passengers and crew perished. The New York Times reported the events that began to unfold just after midnight on Nov. 9, 12:30 a.m. A mate from a nearby steamer said the City of Waco “appeared to be one mass of flames...he heard cries of distress from five or six persons in the water. One was the voice of a woman or child clinging to what appeared to be a spar or piece of one of the vessel's masts… but every soul had been washed off of it... "

Only three bodies were recovered—one of them Wolfe’s. It appeared to have burn marks and looked as though he had been trying to cut off his boots. His body was shipped back to Mystic for burial.

[i]  (Richardson, 1865)

If you have any info on unclaimed bodies or Mystic related wrecks, that you are willing to share, please contact me at: 
If you would like to read my travel memoir, which includes more Mystic-related wrecks and sea captains, it's available in Mystic area shops or online: Mystic Seafarer's TrailSecrets behind the 7 Wonders, Titanic's Shoes, Captain Sisson's Gold, and Amelia Earhart's Wedding

Monday, June 23, 2014

Wanted: Epic Adventure

First chapter of my travel memoir, Mystic Seafarer's Trail:

1        Wanted: Epic Adventure
Shortly after stepping out of my new home with my hound for our first stroll through the historic seacoast village of Mystic, Connecticut, a woman pulled over in her van and yelled, "Excuse me."
Assuming she was a tourist wanting directions to Mystic Pizza or some other attraction, I wasn't prepared for what she really wanted to know: "Do you realize the back of your skirt is tucked into your underwear?"
What a debut in my new hometown—I don’t think this is what National Geographic meant when they named Mystic one of the top 100 adventure towns in the United States.
Once recovered from my wardrobe “malfunction,” I continued toward downtown Mystic with Bailey, a beagle/basset hound mix, to embark on a new life and shake off my old, sedentary landlubbing ways.
No longer did I want to be known as the lady who always talks about losing weight but never does it. No longer would I sit around daydreaming about becoming thin and famous so I could hire someone else to clean my house. I had a real shot at it now that I lived in a place where I couldn’t help but fall into a swash-buckling adventure—the kind that might inspire me to write a bestseller.
Straddling both sides of the Mystic River in the towns of Groton and Stonington, the village of Mystic takes its name from an Indian word, “river running to the sea.” Others call the Mystic River an arm of the sea for it’s not technically a river, but a long, narrow bay. With its scenic views of tall ships, islands, lighthouses and secluded coves, it has attracted such legendary honeymooners as Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. It is a place where those who cross the oceans gather to swap stories and repair their boats. It is where famous explorers are born, visit, get married, or embark from on their way to becoming lost at sea.
To launch my new career as an adventuress, I decided to walk Bailey to the haunts and homes of such celebrated voyagers as Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, and Dr. Robert Ballard, the discoverer of Titanic’s watery grave.

Now was the time for me to join their ranks, to start living life on the edge. Maybe I could even become thin and famous like Amelia Earhart. Like her, I am fairly tall, my middle initial is M, I have a gap between my two front teeth, and until I looked it up, I couldn’t spell medieval either (more on that and her nearby secret wedding later). Unlike Amelia, I wasn’t thin, but that was about to change. I would stop lying around reading about adventurers and do what it took to become one. 
My husband, Jim, and I were transferred to the Mystic area from New York by his company, which meant I had to quit my job as a full-time writer for a college in campus communications. Searching for a new job in a community revolving around life at sea was not easy for a confirmed desk sitter like me. Finding the area already teeming with underemployed writers and publicists, I was glad when my former employer hired me back as a consulting writer. Although freelancing allowed me to work from home in my pajamas, it offered no retirement benefits. Being famous would help pay the bills.
Perhaps I could follow the path of prominent authors such as Herman Melville who went to sea on a whaler (a ship designed to catch whales and process their oil) when he couldn't find a job. Although he deserted and had to live among cannibals for a time, he found the inspiration to write his first novel. Further sea adventures, which included mutiny and learning about a whale that rammed and sank the Essex, led to the creation of his magnum opus: Moby Dick. I, myself, could barely get through this “Great American Novel,” but someone must like it. Now that I lived within walking distance of the last wooden whaleship in the world, the Charles W. Morgan, I wondered if that was a sign. Perhaps I could enlist as a deck swabber on its next epic voyage. The house we purchased was adorned with a brass, whale-shaped door knocker. Now that had to be a sign.
If following in the footsteps of a whaling writer didn’t work, there was always the chance I could get famous by finding a dead body—just like Bailey and our older daughter had. Although it didn’t make her into an international celebrity, I use it as a party stopper whenever I want to be the center of attention. Of course, I should really find my own body, preferably of a well-known person. Celebrities were always coming to Mystic to vacation or film movies.
Since I couldn’t count on finding a dead body, famous or otherwise, and wasn’t sure yet how to embark on an epic voyage, I decided to start small by becoming known in my new community. To begin, I would write a story and title it, “The 7 Wonders of Mystic.” I finally became known as a freelance writer in my former community when I wrote the feature article, “The 7 Wonders of Rockland County,” for Rockland Magazine. It didn’t make me popular with the residents, however. Many were outraged when I didn’t write about their favorite site, so the magazine held a vote for the 8th Wonder—which, of course, created more excited readers. As they say (whoever “they” are), “There is no such thing as bad publicity.”
Another benefit to writing “The 7 Wonders of Mystic” would be the handy list of suggested sites to shout to visitors who held up traffic asking what they should see (besides my underwear).
I also decided to design a “Mystic Seafarer’s Trail.” When Jim and I visited Boston, we loved walking its “Freedom Trail” because it gave us a clear self-guided path to follow with tidbits of information along the way. Mystic, full of maritime wonders with fun facts, certainly deserved to have its own trail.
National Geographic suggests that Mystic visitors bike what it calls the 25-mile Vineyard Loop, which includes “some hairy climbs that stops at two of the best wineries.” Hairy climbs? Although I hoped to get thin, I didn’t want to have to hike or bike uphill to do it. No, I would design the Mystic Seafarer’s Trail to avoid hills where possible. It would include “The 7 Wonders” (once I figured out what they were), plus the stomping grounds of legendary explorers, heroes, traitors and shipwreck survivors—as well as those who went down with the ship.
With so many potential wonders to consider and adventures to try, I had a lot of ground—and water—to cover. So, every afternoon, I checked my skirt and off Bailey and I went to follow a scent of our own...
Click on the "LOOK INSIDE" feature of the Mystic Seafarer's Trail to read chapter two.
Enjoy the adventure!
Lisa Saunders

Monday, June 9, 2014

Traitor Benedict Arnold, Battle of Groton Heights, and Fort Griswold, Groton, Conn.

Excerpt from Mystic Seafarer's Trail 
by Lisa Saunders

The massacre at Fort Griswold, led by traitor Benedict Arnold in 1781, is no secret. But what continues to puzzle historians is the whereabouts of British Major William Montgomery’s headless body.

Thrust through with long pikes when leading a charge over the fort wall, Montgomery was quickly avenged by his regiment who swarmed over the wall after him. When Col. William Ledyard surrendered the fort to the British, the fight went from a battle to a massacre.

After the massacre, the living and dead were plundered of their possessions, including their clothes.  In the meantime, Benedict Arnold ordered New London burned.

Benedict Arnold, a native of nearby Norwich and former general in the Continental Army, used his knowledge of the American gun firing code to trick the colonists at Fort Griswold and New London into thinking the approaching vessels were American. More than half of the 160 vastly outnumbered colonists against the 800 British soldiers at Fort Griswold were killed, or some would say murdered, in the massacre. Of those taken prisoner, many were never heard from again. Those unable to walk were loaded into an artillery cart for transport to the Thames River. The cart was let loose and careened out of control toward the Thames River until it ran into an apple tree. One of the wounded, Stephen Hempstead, recounted his ride 45 years later in a letter to a newspaper: “The pain and anguish we all endured in this rapid descent, as the wagon jumped and jostled over rocks and holes, is inconceivable; and the jar in its arrest was like bursting the cords of life asunder, and caused us to shriek with almost supernatural force. Our cries were distinctly heard and noticed on the opposite side of the river, (which is a mile wide) amidst all the confusion which raged in burning and sacking the town.”

British soldiers took the badly wounded defenders to the Ebenezer Avery House and left them unattended and bleeding on the wooden floor boards. Hempstead recalled that first terrible night: “None of our own people came to us till near daylight the next morning, not knowing previous to that time, that the enemy had departed…Thirty-five of us were lying on the bare floor—stiff, mangled, and wounded in every manner, exhausted with pain, fatigue and loss of blood, without clothes or any thing to cover us, trembling with cold and spasms of extreme anguish, without fire or light, parched with excruciating thirst, not a wound dressed nor a soul to administer to one of our wants, nor an assisting hand to turn us during these long tedious hours of the night; nothing but groans and unavailing sighs were heard, and two of our number did not live to see the light of the morning, which brought with it some ministering angels to our relief.”

When Anna Warner, who wanted to enlist to fight the hated British herself, learned her uncle Edward Mills lay at the Avery House mortally wounded, she ran home for his infant son and placed him in his dying arms. Now she hated the British even more.

One Mystic girl recorded an account she read of the massacre in her diary: “There were more than forty women of the Congregational Church in Groton who that day were made widows, and no man was left at the next communion to pass the bread and wine.”[i]

Legend has it that Major Montgomery was buried sitting up inside the ravelin (a V-shaped mound of dirt), which protected the gate of Fort Griswold. Other British soldiers were buried in the ditch outside the ravelin. According to Jonathan Lincoln, Park Supervisor of Fort Trumbull State Park Management Unit, the British later exhumed their dead for proper burial. Yet when Major Montgomery’s niece came from England to claim her uncle’s body, all she retrieved from his grave was his skull.

In 1985, when ground penetrating radar was used to do an archeological survey, no bodies were found. Since digging is not allowed, I thought I’d try my handy dandy EMF detector despite my promise to myself not to use it again. Maybe his bones would emit some sort of electromagnet frequency. No luck—not even when I slipped through the tunnel-like passageway located under the mound where he was slain.

Although one can visit Fort Griswold to see the ravelin, the sword used to murder Col. Ledyard and the plaques marking where Montgomery and Ledyard met their ends, this once blood-soaked ground refuses to give up the rest of Major Montgomery’s body. Could the spirit of Anna continue to hate the British so much she is preventing the discovery of Montgomery’s headless bones?

Later marrying a veteran of that battle, Elijah Bailey, Anna Warner Bailey became famous in the War of 1812 for removing her red flannel petticoat in the middle of the street when soldiers needed wadding to load their muskets in anticipation of a British attack. Anna and her husband had no children and became inn keepers. She died in her 90s when a spark from the fireplace landed on her clothes while she slept.

Although the blood stains have long since faded on the floor boards of the Avery House, the home still speaks to visitors at Fort Griswold State Park. Inside is featured the very table where Lt. Ebenezer Avery had his last breakfast before getting killed that day on September 6, 1781. Although traitor Benedict Arnold is still burned in effigy in New London, the British and Americans have long since mended their wounds and moved forward as friends and allies. Perhaps the spirit of Major Montgomery has been invited to dine by the spirit of Lt. Avery at his table until Montgomery’s body is recovered and reunited with his head back in England. If the spirit of Anna Warner Bailey has been invited to dine there as well, who knows when that will be. (Acidic soil could have dissolved the bones, but that’s not as interesting to contemplate.)

Another possibility is that colonist Captain Shapley is hiding Major Montgomery’s bones until his name is featured on the plaque marking the site where Montgomery met his end. History states that Jordan Freeman killed Montgomery, yet in Stephen Hempstead’s account of the battle, he wrote that Major Montgomery was killed “having been thrust through the body whilst in the act of scaling the walls at the S.W. bastion, by Capt. Shapley." Did I just discover something that could change a few words in a history book? I asked Jonathan Lincoln, Park Supervisor, about the discrepancy.

Lincoln replied, “We did a little investigating. One of the other contemporary accounts of the Battle of Groton Heights by George Middleton states that Capt. Adam Shapley and Jordan Freeman killed Major Montgomery with long pikes. Rufus Avery’s account does not mention the manner of Major Montgomery’s death at all. Stephen Hempstead’s narrative is the only one that only mentions Capt. Shapley in the killing of Major Montgomery. I think it is safe to say that both participated in the death of Major Montgomery.”

I don’t blame Captain Shapely if he is annoyed his name didn’t make it on a plaque after doing something historically significant. If I ever do something for the history books, I’d want a plaque too!

The Daughters of the American Revolution named their Groton-based chapter after Anna Warner Bailey. As a member, I attend their meetings held at the Fort Griswold Museum. When I enter and leave the main meeting room, I often take a moment to gaze at Anna’s portrait in search of clues in her expression. Does she hold the secrets to this sacred ground?

[i]  (Clarke, 1997, p. 168)