"A straw-colored dress of satin with an extended, segmented bodice set with black lace and beads was most becoming on him. His blond hair had been parted in the middle, combed on both sides so as to cling to his forehead, and from there descended to his ears. He almost had a problem with Lucy's shoes because they were -- too large for him. Lucy had small feet, but Emil's were even smaller.
"The head covering he chose was entirely in keeping with the rest of the ensemble in its elegance. He looked like a young lady of the court, pretty as a picture, suitable to be led on the arm of a dutiful chamberlain in the chamber of his mistress."
Rowan points to the cover art for Mysteries, a daguerreotype of a New Orleans prostitute from the 1850s: "If Reizenstein had been into girls, he could have had sex with her."
The phrase "cross-dressing," says Rowan, "was a hell of a job translating." Verkleidung literally means "cross-dressing," he says, but his editors found the phrase too modern, so he changed it to "masquerade."
As part of his research into Reizenstein and his background, Rowan took a swing through a gay area of Berlin during a trip to the Fatherland. "It's certainly a different tradition. It's not your father's Germany," he chuckles.
He also became a guest of Ludwig's descendants, a sojourn as weird as anything in Mysteries. "It was bizarre," Rowan recalls. "It was right out of The Addams Family." Baron Konrad von Reitzenstein (the spelling has been modified over the years), in his late eighties, met Rowan at the train station dressed in a cloak. "I didn't have any problem picking him out of the crowd," Rowan says.
"Next to the house they have an honest-to-God castle that got blown up in the Thirty Years' War. The Reitzensteins are called Uradel, which basically means 'they've always been there.' As far as anybody knows, at least since the year 1000 they've always been there. I think they came in with Conan the Barbarian."
Rowan recounts that while looking for a photo of Ludwig, he opened an armoire and a piece of armor landed on him. "The house was as cold as a tomb," he says. "It's all stone and covered with paintings and trophies and weapons. My main impression was that I was visiting the lair of recently domesticated wolves. These are killers. Ludwig basically left them because they were killers. This was not his personality type."
As a guest at dinner, Rowan was regaled with Hitler stories.
He says the family related well to news of their scandalous ancestor. "In these big noble families," says Rowan, "everything happens."
Rowan's now on the hunt for a novel serialized in a German newspaper in St. Louis in the 1840s: The Whore House on Chouteau Pond. "The Anglos would occasionally translate a few snippets of the really offensive stuff from radical German newspapers. They called it 'the spirit of the German press.'"