This blog contains regular updates on the pre-release media surrounding The Spirit of Villarosa, insights from authors Marc Ashton and Libby J Atwater, excerpts from the book, and more.

Royal Dragonfly Awards

Villarosa award


Linda F. Radke, Dragonfly Book Awards
Phone: 480-940-8182


‘The Spirit of Villarosa’ Wins Coveted Royal Dragonfly Book Award

CHANDLER, AZ (November, 2016) — The judges of the 2016 Royal Dragonfly Book Awards contest, which recognizes excellence in all genres of literature, have spoken. The Spirit of Villarosa: A Father’s Extraordinary Adventures; A Son’s Challenge by Horace Dade Ashton, Marc Ashton, and Libby J. Atwater won first place in two categories: biography and memoir and historical nonfiction.

“Winning any place in the Royal Dragonfly Contest is a huge honor because in order to maintain the integrity of the Dragonfly Book Awards, a minimum score is required before a First or Second Place or Honorable Mention will be awarded to the entrant—even if it is the sole entry in a category,” explains Linda F. Radke, president of the Dragonfly Book Awards program. “Competition is steep, too, because there is no publication date limit as long as the book is still in print.”

The Spirit of Villarosa: A Father’s Extraordinary Adventures; A Son’s Challenge is a glorious account of Horace Ashton’s remarkable adventures juxtaposed with his son Marc’s 2001 kidnapping in Haiti by four armed thugs who clearly plan to kill him. While captive, Marc determines to survive and asks himself, “What would Dad do?” To find out how this true-life adventure culminates, read the book, which retails for $19.95. It can be purchased at,,,,, and through these wholesalers: Ingram, Baker&Taylor, Brodart (library distributor), and Follett Library Services.

For a complete list of winners including all first and second place and honorable mention recipients, visit the Dragonfly Book Awards 2016.

The next Royal Dragonfly Book Awards contest is already underway. Final deadline for submissions is October 1, 2017. The final deadline for the Purple Dragonfly Book Awards Contest, which recognizes outstanding literature in children’s books, is May 1, 2017. For complete rules and submission forms for either contest, visit and click on the contest of choice.

To learn more about the Dragonfly Book Awards, visit, email or call 480-940-8182.

The Boca Raton Observer

The Boca Raton Observer Marc Ashton Interview

The September issue of the Boca Raton Observer magazine contains a lovely article by journalist Lisa Kaplan Gordon. The article ‘Like Father, Like Son’ tells the story of Marc Ashton’s journey from being held at gunpoint in Haiti to writing and publishing “The Spirit of Villarosa.” This father-son adventure that takes readers on a spellbinding journey throughout Haiti and the world, made its appearance on the fifteenth anniversary of Marc’s harrowing abduction. It launched on June 28, 2016, and has received wonderful comments from readers.

To read the article, click this link:

“When Marc Ashton awaited death, his mouth and eyes taped, he prayed for strength and guidance to survive his 2001 kidnapping in Haiti. But Marc didn’t pray to God for salvation, he prayed to his father and guardian angel, Horace Dade Ashton, a world adventurer and former cultural attache to the U.S. embassy in Haiti, who died in 1976.
“I knew the only way to get out alive was to escape, and I said to Dad, ‘I’ll make you a deal,’” Marc says. “If you give me an opportunity to escape, I’ll put all your stories in print. I’ll honor you the way you deserve.’”



Meeting Horace Ashton

hda-on-girder copy cut

by Libby J. Atwater

Horace Ashton had been dead for 27 years when we first met. The man known as “The Spirit of Villarosa” did not appear to me in an ethereal manner. He jumped out of a series of transcripts he recorded in his mid-eighties that were sent to me by his son Marc.

As I began transforming the transcripts into a manuscript, I felt like I was channeling Horace’s spirit through his adventures. Imagine going to sea as a cabin boy at age 14; becoming an orphan at 15, as I had; and accepting a job as a photographer when he was only 16 and had no experience taking pictures. Young Ashton soon found himself photographing Washington’s elite, beginning with Alice Roosevelt and moving on to members of Congress.

Read the rest on Libby J. Atwater’s website:


July 29,1883

HDA 133

On Sunday, July 29, 1883 a baby was born in an open sailboat in the middle of the Potomac River. That little boy was Horace Dade Ashton. Over the next 93 years he traveled to the farthest reaches of the globe as the world’s first adventure photographer.

Horace’s life unfolded like a historical romance and included a circuit of eight thousand miles in the Arctic, travel for an entire week on the Trans-Siberian railroad, nine expeditions across South America, and several explorations in Africa. His encounter with personalities in all parts of the globe go from a discussion on religion with the legendary Rasputin of Russia to the primitive hunters of the Amazon Basin, to American Chiefs of State and Sovereigns of Europe, to the Wright brothers in North Carolina on the historic day of their first flight.

Today we wish Horace Dade Ashton a happy 133rd birthday, long may he live in the hearts and minds of adventurers and explorers through The Spirit of Villarosa.


An Invitation – July 21, 2016

Villarosa event invite

You are invited to experience The Spirit of Villarosa on July 21, 2016 at a joint event with The Adventurers’ Club of Los Angeles and The Explorers Club Southern California.

Dinner and cocktails will be held at The Adventurers’ Club’s Downtown Los Angeles headquarters and the presentation will begin at 8:30pm.

Everyone is welcome but a reservation is required. Please phone (323) 223-3948 to reserve your seat.

Tickets cost $22 and include a delicious dinner.

For more information visit


The Panama Canal


On Sunday, June 26, 2016, a Chinese freighter transited the expanded Panama Canal. The man who inaugurated the canal nearly 110 years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt, would have been astounded. When he arrived in the Isthmus of Panama in 1906 with his trusted photographer, Horace Dade Ashton, no canal existed.

President Roosevelt and Horace Ashton saw a huge sign that read “We’ll do our best to help you build it!” upon their arrival in Panama. Ashton describes their time there in the following paragraphs.

“‘Ah, that’s bully!’” Roosevelt exclaimed. At that moment, the president recognized an old friend operating the steam shovel. He strode up to the man and shook his dirty hand as if he were a long-lost brother. I sprang into action with his camera. The president then hopped on and took over the steam shovel.”

“‘It was pouring rain,’ said Ashton, a member of the Explorers Club, who took photographs every seventy seconds. ‘The entire three days Roosevelt was there, it poured as it never did before. We were hip deep in wet and slimy clay every which way we turned every hour of every day!’”

Travel and trade have changed a great deal as a result of this pivotal journey.

To accompany Horace Ashton on his life’s journey, please read The Spirit of Villarosa, debuting June 28, 2016.


A Storied Life


Horace Ashton became an acclaimed photographer while still in his teens. In 1902 his picture of President Theodore Roosevelt on horseback jumping hurdles endeared him to the president, who appointed Ashton his “official White House photographer.”

The position took Ashton around the world, but it was an on-call job. To ensure economic stability, Horace Ashton signed on with the photography firm of Underwood & Underwood. While in its employ, he took several epic photographs.

Some were of the great French actress Sarah Bernhardt, who Ashton admired and respected. Her son eventually engaged the acclaimed photographer to travel with them on Bernhardt’s final tour of the United States in 1916. While much has been written about Bernhardt, Ashton recalled, “She was an angel. She was so kind and considerate of everyone in her troupe that her passing left many heartaches in those who knew her well.”

Who else did Horace Ashton photograph? To find out, you must read The Spirit of Villarosa, available on June 28, 2016.




Can you imagine discussing religion with Rasputin, spiritual advisor to Czarina Alexandra, the wife of Nicholas II of Russia?

When Horace Ashton traveled the world with President-Elect William Howard Taft in 1908, he had an audience with Russia’s last royal couple. The czarina asked, “How did such a young man become the press liaison officer with President Taft’s party?”

“I was a war correspondent in the Russo-Japanese War. After that I entered a Buddhist monastery in China because I am intensely interested in comparative religion. Then I became President Roosevelt’s official White House photographer, and he assigned me to accompany President Taft,” Horace explained.

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “You are a student of comparative religion! You must meet and talk with our ‘man of God,’ Rasputin. Are you free tomorrow morning?”

To find out how this meeting went, please read The Spirit of Villarosa and Horace Ashton’s account of this two-hour conversation.


Nature and People – the White Cattleya Orchid

White Cattleya Orchid

Have you ever wondered where the beautiful blooms of the white cattleya orchid that we enjoy today originated?

In 1906 two young Englishmen accepted a job from a wealthy countryman to travel to the Rio Negro Valley in Colombia, South America, where these rare orchids were reportedly spotted by a group of rubber gatherers. Explorer Horace Ashton encountered the young men at the boardinghouse where all three stayed. After the would-be explorers admitted they’d never been in the jungle and Ashton said he’d just returned from mapping the Magdalena River, they enlisted him as their guide.

To read about their adventure and how the orchids lived to become the parents of the white cattleya that can be seen throughout the world today, read The Spirit of Villarosa, available on June 28, 2016. This true adventure story contains a treasure trove of unknown tales.


St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, King George, Virginia


The display at St Paul’s Episcopal Church in King George, Virginia, commemorating “The Spirit of Villarosa”

If you are near King George, Virginia you might like to pay a visit to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (King George, Virginia). This beautiful church is the final resting place of many members of the Ashton family, including Gordana and Horace Dade Ashton.

Author Marc Ashton has donated 100 copies of The Spirit of Villarosa to St Paul’s with all proceeds going directly to the church.

Above is an image of the display commemorating Horace Ashton and celebrating the upcoming release of The Spirit of Villarosa.


Serving One’s Country

President Elect William Howard Taft, photograph by Horace Dade Ashton

President Elect William Howard Taft, photograph by Horace Dade Ashton

On this Memorial Day we remember those who served our country, many of whom sacrificed their lives.

Horace Dade Ashton served the United States in many different ways during the 90+ years he spent on earth. He began his service as President Theodore Roosevelt’s official White House photographer, and this position took him around the world with President-Elect William Howard Taft. He took many photographs of these presidents that have been preserved for posterity.

When The Great War (as World War I was initially named) broke out, Horace was asked to help the United States Army instruct men in aerial photography for our nation’s war efforts. He was appointed a reserve officer in the United States Army Signal Corps. At the time he did not realize what a pivotal role aerial photography would play in the war, but he willingly put his career on hold to help his country.

A few years later the U.S. asked Horace to serve as a scout for the United States Marines in Haiti, an island nation he loved and knew well. He wrote about this experience and expressed his concern for the human and economic welfare of Haiti during the time he spent there.

In 1940 Horace Dade Ashton was appointed as the first Cultural Attaché to the United States Embassy in Haiti by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Horace made many contributions to the nation’s welfare, and he was recognized by the U.S. and Haitian governments for his philanthropic deeds.

Horace’s sons Marc and Todd also served our country in the United States Army. Marc began serving in 1963, and Todd went to Vietnam. Marc credits his army training with helping him when he was kidnapped in 2001.

The Ashton family exemplifies service to one’s country, and on this Memorial Day we salute them and all who served and sacrificed for our freedom.


Victorian homes on Howard Street near 17th Avenue that were damaged in the earthquake, San Francisco, California, 1906. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

Victorian homes on Howard Street near 17th Avenue that were damaged in the earthquake, San Francisco, California, 1906. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

The 1906 San Francisco Quake

On April 18, 2016, the city of San Francisco marked the 110th anniversary of the deadliest earthquake in U.S. history. Photographer Horace Ashton rushed to the scene shortly after the disaster occurred, and he wrote about this devastating experience in The Spirit of Villarosa, a new book that documents his amazing life.

* * *

Easter weekend, April 18, 1906, found me in Atlanta, Georgia, photographing the annual Easter Egg Hunt in Grant Park. I took delight in capturing this spectacular affair because it showed people at their best. Hundreds of children, black and white, hunted eggs together.

When I returned to my hotel in Atlanta that evening, I found a telegram waiting for me. It read: “Mr. Ashton, please take the first train to San Francisco. There has been a disastrous earthquake, and a great citywide fire is raging.” Across the country, in California, a great earthquake had shattered the joy of that Easter weekend.

I boarded the next train out of Atlanta, but it took me three days to get to San Francisco. I arrived in time to take hundreds of human-interest pictures: people living in the open near where their houses had been destroyed; refugee camps established by the United States Army; the demolition of walls that were left standing but deemed dangerous; twisted cable-car tracks; great fissures in the earth, some as large as ten feet wide and forty to fifty feet deep. Some houses remained standing, but they were no longer attached to their foundations. Others had been pushed off their lots by the powerful movements of Mother Earth.

When I headed back to New York City after taking numerous rolls of film, I felt grateful. I was one of the lucky ones, able to leave a city that had to bury its dead and rebuild after such a devastating event.

* * *

To read more of Horace Ashton’s milestone moments, keep checking this blog.


LA Times 3-6-16The Next Chapter Begins

With the imminent publication of Marc Ashton’s The Spirit of Villarosa, we will create a new scrapbook for Horace as his adventures far outlived one lifetime.

This letter to the editor by co-author Libby J. Atwater appeared in the Los Angeles Times on March 6 in response to the newspaper’s Travel article about cavern exploration.



Welcome to Villarosa

Excerpt from The Spirit of Villarosa
Marc “Butch” Ashton
Port-au-Prince, Haiti
April 5, 2001

Roosters crow incessantly, and the pleasant aroma of strong coffee cooking over the charcoal fires of my shantytown neighbors teases the warm, moist breeze. I walk out among the bright splashes of crimson and tangerine bougainvillea growing in ceramic pots on my second-story terrace, looking over the city as I do every morning to assess the conditions in the streets below and, thus, my chances of getting to and from work.

Surveying the city, I spot barricades of burning tires in the streets. The thick, black, acrid smoke punctuated by slashes of orange flame is an all-too-common sign of trouble in Port-au-Prince these days.

I look down upon the mile-long road built in 1953, when my father purchased and rebuilt Villarosa, our family home since I was fourteen years old. In the early days, our tranquil view was magnificent as we meandered up this lonely road. Perched atop a foothill that has a spectacular view of Port-au-Prince and its bay and surrounded by dense forest, our paradisiacal home had been well outside the borders of Port-au-Prince. Until the mid-eighties, the rose-colored villa was a private tropical oasis where three generations of the Ashton family lived.

In the new millennium, Myriam and I live here alone, but our children and grandchildren gather here often. Today they will all be here for lunch as the family is gathered for the baptism tomorrow of our first grandson.


Desert Horace

Truth Prevails

How often have you heard a story and asked, “Is that really true?” Sometimes life’s events seem too bizarre to have actually occurred—but they did. The Spirit of Villarosa contains tales told by a known raconteur, whose stories were sometimes doubted but were filled with truth.

Horace Dade Ashton’s stories fall into an area in which truth might be suspended. His life consisted of one adventure after the next, from creating a “trick” photograph of President Theodore Roosevelt on jumping over a hurdle on horseback to meeting the president and becoming his official White House photographer; from travelling around the world with President-Elect William Howard Taft to having a two-hour religious discussion with Rasputin along the way; and from flying above the Andes with Jimmy Doolittle to journeying to northern Canada to help starving Eskimos. These exploits fall among many that Horace Ashton experienced during a life that spanned from 1883 to 1976.

When Horace told his tales, even his devoted son Marc doubted their veracity. After Horace died, Marc discovered the truth, hidden in a series of scrapbooks dutifully kept by his aunt. Their contents documented all that his father said. Over the past thirteen years, Marc has been documenting his father’s stories, along with his own harrowing tale, and soon the world will know that Horace Ashton’s stories were not only entertaining, but they were also true.




Excerpt from The Spirit of Villarosa

April 5, 2001
2:04 p.m.
My kidnappers ignore me and keep driving, talking rapidly among themselves in Creole, a language they assume a blanc like me would not understand. Having lived in Haiti most of my life, I speak Creole as well as I speak English. I even think and dream in Creole. They have no idea how well I understand their language, which gives me an advantage.

I listen carefully, trying to figure out their next move. Reluctant to believe I don’t have the one-and-a-half million, they aren’t sure what to do next. It seems they might have been secretly tipped off about the sale of Villarosa but are reluctant to say too much. They don’t seem to be aware that the sale hasn’t happened yet. Again, I wonder about their connections.

I study them as they begin to argue in Creole. The speed demon driver has the look of a hardened criminal, but as he’d found it difficult to put my car into reverse, I figure he is either extremely nervous or inexperienced behind the wheel. In the backseat, the fourth man is quiet and appears to be as frightened as I am. From what is being said, I surmise that he’s embarking on his first such criminal venture.

My earlier assessment of the leader is correct. Despite their current discussion, it is obvious that the “intelligent” one who’d demanded the outrageous sum of money is in charge. I need to concentrate on him because he will make the decisions and conduct the negotiations.

However, it’s clear to me that the sinister one sitting behind me with the Uzi is the one who will kill me. Earlier, I noticed his eyes looked wild, and now he is talking more rapidly and louder than the others. He seems high-strung and unpredictable, like he’s high on crack cocaine—a very real problem in Haiti today.

The shocking realization hits me between the eyes. Not only have I been kidnapped, but I’m dealing with a crazy man with an itchy trigger finger who is holding a loaded automatic weapon against the back of my head. There’s probably just as great a chance of his pulling the trigger on purpose as having it go off accidentally. I wonder if I’ll feel the bullet.


Introducing: The Spirit of Villarosa

by Libby J Atwater

In 2003 a colleague asked me to write the story of noted 20th figure Horace Dade Ashton, a renaissance man, and his son Marc, the victim of a brutal kidnapping. Horace was no longer alive, but he tape recorded many of his amazing exploits before he died, and his sister detailed his celebrity in scrapbooks. Interviews with Marc revealed his close relationship with his father, but these did not tell the whole story.

Fast forward to 2014, when I began working directly with Marc Ashton, who filled out his story after having spent years revising the first manuscript. Our collaboration, along with help from his grand-niece Kerry Ashton, has produced a manuscript that reads like the world’s greatest adventure story. Yet it’s all true!

Please join us as we introduce The Spirit of Villarosa, a true life adventure filled with exciting exploits and renowned individuals who form the fabric of world history.