Pioneer Woman

March 29, 2014

What image does the phrase “pioneer woman,” evoke for you?

That was the question posed in 1926 by E. W. Marland, a wealthy oil guy in Oklahoma, when he hired seventeen prominent sculptors to create three-foot statues depicting a quintessential Pioneer Woman settling the American West. From those, a winning design would be chosen and a large-scale statue commissioned.

The only two women artists on Marland’s list declined the invitation, and three of the male artists did as well. Marland suggested to the twelve sculptors who did participate that each woman wear a sunbonnet, and that the statue include a child.

Once the artists completed their work, Marland  arranged for a twelve-city tour of the models. Citizens viewed the choices and voted for their favorite.

Here are the twelve. Which would you have voted for?

Adventurous

Adventurous, by F. Lynn Jenkins

Faithful

Faithful, by Arthur Lee

Heroic

Heroic, by Mario Korbel

Self Reliant

Self Reliant, by Alexander Stirling Calder

DSCF8789

Self Reliant detail

Determined

Determined, by Maurice Sterne

Pioneer woman

Confident, by Bryant Baker

Confident - detail

Confident – detail

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Trusting, by Jo Davidson

Challenging

Challenging, by Herman A. MacNeil

Challenging - detail

Challenging – detail

Affectionate

Affectionate, by James E. Fraser

Protective Pioneer Woman

Protective, by John Gregory

Protective - detail

Protective – detail

Sturdy

Sturdy, by Mahonri Young

Fearless

Fearless, by Wheeler Williams

Marland made clear that he had the right to choose the ultimate winner, and his favorite was evidently Trusting. (It’s not clear to me if the names/attributes were given to the sculptors from the beginning, or applied after the models were complete.) However, the voting public chose Confident by a wide margin. Marland graciously bowed to popular sentiment.
In 1930, Baker’s 27-foot bronze statue was unveiled in Ponca City, Oklahoma.  It was dedicated to all pioneer women of the United States: “In appreciation of the heroic character of the women who braved the dangers and endured the hardships incident to daily life of the pioneer and homesteader in this country.”
Forty thousand people came to the tribute to Oklahoma’s pioneers, which included a speech by Will Rogers.
Pioneer statue unveiling
Today the statue still stands to remind all passersby of the role Euro-Yankee women played in Western history.
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Pioneer Woman
I think the voting public chose well.
The statue can be seen at the Pioneer Woman Museum in Ponca City, Oklahoma.  Copies of the original models, shown in the photos above, are on display at the nearby Marland Mansion and Estate.

Seneca Falls

March 18, 2014

The Seneca Falls Convention—the first open women’s rights convention in the US—was held July 19-20, 1848. Organizers wanted to discuss “the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.” The meeting launched the women’s right movement.

Seneca Falls

The National Park Service is restoring and interpreting key structures in Seneca Falls, New York. The Women’s Rights National Historical Park tells the story “of struggles for civil rights, human rights, and equality, global struggles that continue today. The efforts of women’s rights leaders, abolitionists, and other 19th century reformers remind us that all people must be accepted as equals.”

Scott and I had the chance to visit last summer. At the Visitor Center, we were greeted by “The First Wave,” statuary depicting convention planners and early leaders.

Seneca Falls

The leaders who spoke publicly were courageous. Earlier semi-secret gatherings in other locales triggered outcry, including threat of a fire-bombing.

Seneca Falls

Sojourner Truth, who gave her famous speech in 1851.

We also took time to explore museum exhibits. The artifacts serve as reminders that the struggle for equal rights was contentious…and continues to this day.

Seneca Falls

Seneca Falls

Seneca Falls

Seneca Falls

I was most excited about a ranger-led tour to the Wesleyan Chapel, site of the convention. Built in 1843, it was a congregating spot for  human rights activists. Many were Quakers.

Seneca Falls, Wesleyan Chapel

Only the reddish bricks are original.

In 1871, the Methodist congregation sold the building. Over the years it was used by a variety of businesses, including a skating rink, a furniture store, a laundromat, and an auto dealership (complete with grease pits).

When the park service acquired the site in 1985, almost nothing was left of the original structure.  Architects have stabilized and protected what does remain.

Seneca Falls

The walls were originally plastered. A remnant is preserved under plexiglass. The pockets in the bricks once held supports for a balcony.

Seneca Falls

These original beams show the scars of several fires.

Seneca Falls

These pews date only to 1870, but it’s possible that some of the convention goers who attended this church sat in them. The original wood floor disappeared during the car dealership era.

Although there is little left to physically link visitors to those brave souls who dared openly advocate for women’s rights, I found it powerful just to be in the space, where the reverberations of those hot days in 1848 still echo.

Seneca Falls

Brick Bake Ovens

March 12, 2014

After I posted instructions for making sourdough bread starter from scratch—just as Caroline Abbott might have done—several readers asked about the type of oven Caroline would have used.  She and Grandmother used a brick bake oven.

Women used these bake ovens for centuries.  While visiting historic sites that interpret the period, I talked with several interpreters about foodways during Caroline’s era.

Old fort Niagara Kitchen

This interpreter was cooking in a kitchen at Old Fort Niagara.

For anyone using a brick bake oven, building a fire inside the oven was the day’s first chore. It took hours to heat the bricks.

Old Fort Niagara Kitchen

Can you see the small oven door in the back of the fireplace?

The arrangement at Old Fort Niagara (shown above) made the best use of the fire itself. When the oven was hot enough, coals were raked into the hearth and could be used for other cooking.

Old Fort Niagara bread

These round loaves were probably baked directly on the bricks.

The interpreter at Fort George National Historic Site, in Ontario, had a slightly different arrangement (below). Her oven is off to the side, which meant she didn’t have to lean over the fire to tend the oven.

Fort George

The oven door is the dark shape on the right side of the photo. This was much safer, and more comfortable, than having the door behind the main cooking fire.

Fort George

Using a bake oven was a big job, so smaller things—like these small cakes (cookies)—could be baked on a griddle hanging over the fire.

I learned to use brick bake ovens in my own interpreter days at Old World Wisconsin. In the photo below, the oven door is open. When the oven was hot enough, I’d use a hoe-type tool to rake  the coals and ashes into a chamber below.  (In the photo, that opening is covered with the board below the oven door.)  Later I’d open the little floor-level door  below the oven and shovel the cold ashes out.

Old World Wisconsin Schottler

Old World Wisconsin Schottler Kathleen Ernst

That’s me, explaining the process to visitors.

I used the long-handled paddle leaning against the wall to the left of the oven to place the bread dough into the oven, and remove the finished loaves. The length of the pole gives you an idea of how big the oven is!

Experienced bakers knew how to get the most out of a hot oven. When the bread came out, smaller items such as coffeecakes went in.  When they were done, there just might be enough heat left to bake a pan or two of cookies.

This kitchen is at a farm restored to 1875, which has a modern cookstove. So why would someone still use a bake oven? Perhaps she needed a dozen loaves to feed a hungry farm crew, as we did the day this picture was taken.

Michael Douglass Schottler summerkitchen

All from a single baking.

It took some practice to get the hang of using a brick bake oven. But one taste of hot, crusty bread spread with homemade butter made it all worthwhile.

Baking Bread With Caroline

March 9, 2014

When I was a kid, I read about a girl in colonial times whose family had kept a crock of sourdough going from generation to generation. I’ve been fascinated with the idea of making bread with sourdough starter ever since.

Our great-great-grandmothers used sourdough starter to make bread rise in the days before commercial quick-rise yeasts were available. The starter nurtures naturally-occurring yeasts and bacteria.  This is the type of bread mentioned in Meet Caroline.

Meet Caroline:  An American GirlWant to give it a try? It’s a fun inter-generational project. Working with sourdough requires patience and practice, but the basic process is quite simple.

There are probably as many recipes for bread baked from homemade sourdough starter as there are bakers.  I’m sharing the process that has, after a fair amount of experimentation, worked for me.

Baking without commercial yeast means that the process takes a while. I make starter on a Saturday, tend it for a week, and bake the following weekend.

All you need to begin is flour and water.  Use a good-quality whole-grain flour. Flour which has been heavily processed might contain traces of chemicals that could kill the rise. For your first batch I suggest using distilled water for the same reason.  Once you’ve had success, you can try using tap water or other types of flour.

bread 1

 Day 1:
Stir 2 c. flour and 2 c. water together.

sourdough 1

I use my grandma’s mixing bowl.

Cover with a towel and let rest at in a warm spot—about 70 degrees is ideal. If it’s colder, the microorganisms will grow more slowly.

sourdough 2

My starter lives on the kitchen counter.

Days 2-5:
Stir 1/4 c. of flour and 1/4 c. water into the starter. Cover with a towel.

After a day or so you should see bubbles forming.  The starter will develop a pleasantly sour smell.  It should not change color; if it turns black or takes on a pinkish tinge, discard.

sourdough 4

Day 3.

sourdough 6

Day 5.

The starter should  get a little more active and frothy each day.  The yeast in the air and flour are happily consuming the flour’s natural sugar, and releasing carbon dioxide bubbles.

sourdough 7

The starter is about the consistency of pancake batter.

Day 6:
Remove 2 cups of starter and place in a clean bowl.  Stir in 4 cups of flour, 1-1/4 c. water, 2 t. salt, and 2 T. honey. (You can use sugar if you don’t have honey on hand.)  If the result is too sticky to knead, add more flour a little at a time, just until the mass holds together.

sourdough 8

Ready for phase 2.

Knead the dough on a counter or bread board until smooth, about 5-10 minutes.

sourdough bread 9

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a towel, and set in a warm place. Let the dough rise for 8-12 hours. Give or take. I mix the dough right before going to bed and let it rest overnight.

sourdough 9

About two hours into the rise…

sourdough rise

…and after 12 hours. The glass bowl reveals all the action taking place in the dough.

Lightly grease a pie plate and gently place the risen dough in the center. You could use a cast iron skillet, too.

sourdough 10

The dough should feel puffy and active.

Cover with a damp towel and let rise 4-6 hours. Make several slashes about 1/2″ deep in the top of the loaf with a sharp knife. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick tester emerges dry.

sourdough bread loaf

A beautiful loaf!

After you’ve had success, you can experiment by using different types of flour and adding herbs, fruit, etc.

If you want to keep your starter going, spoon what was left in the original bowl into a clean container.  While a dry towel was necessary during the first week to allow wild yeast cells easy access, the starter now needs more protection to keep a crust from forming. Caroline might have used a crock with lid left a bit ajar.  You can  use a bowl covered with a plate.

If you’ve read Meet Caroline, you know that Caroline struggles to succeed at this bread-baking process:

Grandmother was teaching Caroline how to make bread, but somehow, Caroline never seemed able to mix in just the right amount of flour and water, or knead the dough to the perfect silky-smooth texture. Her loaves  turned out heavy and hard.

Like Caroline, I had a few failures on the way to a good loaf of sourdough bread. This is what happened when I didn’t give the dough enough time to rise.

sourdough mistake 1

Doorstop.

And this is what happened when I forgot to slash the top of the loaf.

sourdough mistake 2

Steam split the loaf along the sides.  It tasted OK, but didn’t look nice.

So don’t be discouraged if it takes you a couple of tries to produce a successful loaf of bread with homemade sourdough starter. The results are worth it!

sourdough bread slice

Still warm and spread with homemade apple butter – yum!

Pioneer Winter

March 1, 2014

I’ve been reading a lot about winter lately. While working on a book project for the Wisconsin Historical Society, I’ve dug out a lot of primary accounts from European and Yankee immigrants settling in the Upper Midwest in the 1800s. Not surprisingly, the most poignant accounts describe the earliest days of white settlement.

When I worked at old World Wisconsin, one of my favorite buildings to interpret was the 1845 Fossebrekke Cabin. The Fossebrekkes, like many immigrants, opened their home to late-fall arrivals who had nowhere else to go. Some visitors couldn’t imagine surviving a winter in such a small building.

That's me in warm weather, heading into Fossebrekke, 1983.

That’s me heading into Fossebrekke, 1983.

But when Knudt arrived in Wisconsin, he had nothing. He worked as a laborer and spent his first winter in some kind of a shelter dug into the side of a hill. So I imagine that he and Gertrude Fossebrekke took enormous pride in their sturdy cabin.

I haven’t found a first-person account describing life in a dugout through long, dark, bitterly cold months. However, here’s a story shared by a descendant of a Norwegian immigrant who joined forces with two other single men. The three spent their first winter in a dugout…and their second winter as well:

A large log house was built on Nils Gilderhus’ land in the summer of 1841, but as they did not get it ‘clinked’ (sic) between the logs before cold weather set in, they continued to live in the dugout that winter.

Here Andres Lee and his wife, Gunvor, a sister of Nils, came from Norway late in 1841 and lived with all the rest in the dugout, as did a man named Andres Fenne. Later in the winter, Tore Kaase was also welcomed to live in the same dugout, there being no other shelter, which made a family of six men, one woman and two children, all in the same small dugout.

(“Mrs. Styrk Reque Tells History of Early Pioneers of Gilderhus Clan,” Capital Times, September 7, 1930.)

Those who barely managed to build some kind of free-standing structure often didn’t fare much better:

The winter was severe, and the house being enclosed by foot wide boards, but neither plastered or sealed the green boards warped and left great cracks, and the water froze in our glasses on the table, and if a little spilled on the floor it would freeze before we could wipe it up.

Renee Fossebrekke

Fossebrekke interior.  (Renee is making flatbread.)

We had no crib for the baby and had to keep him tied in  a chair. Our mother was sick all winter and we hung quilts and blankets around the stove pipe and fixed her bed in the enclosure; our money was nearly gone and we had to plan closely to get provisions but by hook and crook we managed to keep alive.

(Hannah L. Parker, “Pioneer Life in Waushara County,” Wautoma Argus, February 13, 1924.)

And here’s one more:

Only those who have experienced it can imagine the loneliness of the first winter 30 miles from a post-office. One inconvenience was the lack of matches. One wild, windy night Mr. Gardner’s fireplace went out. Soon Mr. Salisbury came. He, too, had lost fire. Together they started for Moses Smith’s to borrow coals. Mr. Salisbury fell into a river when crossing on a fallen tree.

Schulz cooking nook Old World Wisconsin

Cooking nook, Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin.  Without matches, fire could not be taken for granted.

While Mr. Salisbury remained at Smith’s to dry his clothing, Mr. Gardner started homeward. After going some distance he thought the pail seemed light and found that the bottom had melted and the fire was gone. Returning he borrowed an iron kettle, filled it with coals, and succeeded in reaching home with it, and a good, comfortable fire greeted Mr. Salisbury on his arrival.

(Helen Hicks, “Pioneer Settler of Spring Prairie was New York Man,” Racine Journal-News, January 15, 1932.)

Last week, while on a writing retreat, I stayed in a cabin built in 1853. I’ve stayed there before, and it’s a good space for me.

Fern Hollow Cabin

Fern Hollow Cabin in NE Iowa, owned by Liz Rog and Daniel Rotto.

Fern Hollow Cabin

From the family album–Fern Hollow Cabin before restoration in 1989.  Liz’s great-great-great-grandparents raised six children in this home, and Liz and Daniel later raised their own two children here.

It was cold during this stay—often below zero. The cabin’s only source of heat is a small wood-burning stove.

Fern Hollow Cabin

That’s a slab of soapstone on the top right side of the stove. After heating it up, I’d wrap it in a towel and take it up to bed in the loft.

I got a lot of work done, but the status of the fire never really left my awareness. A rhythm developed:  fetch wood, tend the stove, write. Fetch wood, tend the stove, write.

Fern Hollow Cabin

All the essentials—laptop, companion feline, and stove. Not shown: steaming mug of cocoa.

I was also acutely aware of how easy I  had it. I did not cut the wood, or stack it. When I had to leave for several hours, my hosts kindly stoked the stove. And I knew that if I did “lose” my fire, all I’d need to do was crumple newspaper and light a match to get it back.

This has been a long winter for most of the country. I will savor the first warm days of spring as much as anyone. But the accounts of pioneer winters have helped me keep the season’s challenges in perspective. It’s snowing as I write this, and I can’t help thinking that I have a lot to be grateful for.

Fern Hollow Cabin

Fern Hollow Cabin.

We can never truly imagine how our ancestors experienced winter, while struggling to build a better life for generations to come.

Norwegian Shingles

February 20, 2014

One of the many wonderful things about taking a folkart class at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum is meeting fellow students. Last summer I met Lynn Sove Maxson, who told me about a wonderful project.

Lynn is an active volunteer at the Norsk Museum in Norway, Illinois. The community, founded in 1834, marks the first permanent Norwegian settlement in North America.

Pastor Elling Eielsen preached in a log cabin, which burned in 1841. The congregation built a second structure in 1846, which today houses the museum.

Norsk Museum

Norsk Museum photo.

Norsk Museum

Many of the original construction features are still visiible.  Norsk Museum photo.

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Marks made by the men who raised the building in 1846 are still visible on the old beams.  Norsk Museum photo.

When a modern roof was needed to protect the building, someone had the foresight to save those shingles hewn in the 1800s, and save them in a garage.

Lynn is a talented rosemaler. “While demonstrating Telemark rosemaling at the museum,” she wrote later, “I mentioned that it was difficult to find interesting wood to paint. Roald Berg, member of the board of directors, handed me an old dirty cedar shake roof shingle and asked if I could paint it.”  She began to paint, and to her surprise, people wanted to buy the shingles on the spot.

935918_585515224813013_1996379619_n

Lynn, demonstrating the Norwegian art of rosemaling. Norsk Museum photo.

The Norsk Museum needs a new roof, and Lynn realized she had a great fundraising project. She and other volunteers began cleaning one hundred and sixty-seven years’ worth of dirt from the now-porous, warped, knot-holed shingles.

Then Lynn got in touch with some of her rosemaling friends. Would they be willing to paint a shingle or two, which would be sold to benefit the museum?

As you can see, the collective answer was Yes. Talented painters from far and wide are participating, including some Vesterheim Gold Medalists. As Lynn says, rosemalers began to “raise the roof.”

shingle

xxx

Each painter was free to decide what to paint. Lynn’s only request was that knotholes, cracks, etc. be preserved. Such elements are part of the character of each individual shingle.

shingle

IMG_0250

painted shingle

Lynn shingle

Here’s Lynn with one of her works of art.

“The old shingles, which protected the church for so many years and through so much history, will now help the Museum and its Norwegian descendents in a new and original way,” Lynn said.

I think the original settlers would be pleased.

There is a limited number of shingles. All profits from the sale of the shingles will be used to repair the roof. Donations should be at least $25 per shingle. For more information, contact Lynn: sovmax <at> wowway.com

Shingles

Gratitude Giveaway!

February 12, 2014

Update:  Congratulations to Jane Irish Nelson, winner of the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries totebag!

**

As Roelke McKenna might say, Holy toboggans!

Tradition of Deceit

I’m delighted to share the cover and synopsis of the 5th Chloe Ellefson mystery with readers.

Curator and occasional sleuth Chloe Ellefson is off to Minneapolis to help her friend Ariel with a monumental task. Ariel must write a proposal for a controversial and expensive restoration project:  convert an abandoned flour mill, currently used as a selter by homeless people, into a museum. When a dead body is found stuffed into a grain chute, Chloe’s attention turns from milling to murder.

Back in Milwaukee, Chloe’s love interest Roelke has been slammed with the news that a fellow officer (and close friend) was shot and killed while on duty. Sifting through clues from both past and present, Chloe and Roelke discover dangerous secrets that put their lives—and their trust in each other—at risk.

Want to be one of the very first to read Tradition of Deceit?  It will be released this fall, and you can pre-order it now from your favorite independent bookseller or Amazon.

Reader response since the cover and synopsis were released has been so wonderful that I’m holding a  Gratitude Giveaway!

Leave a comment here by midnight on Saturday, Feb. 15, for a chance to win a Chloe series totebag. These beautiful bags feature original artwork by the talented Tom Redman.

Chloe Ellefson Tote Bag

A name will be drawn from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page.  I’ll post the results on Sunday.

Good luck, happy reading, and thanks for all the good wishes!

Winter in Mineral Point

February 6, 2014

Mineral Point, in southwestern Wisconsin, is one of my favorite towns. A lead mining boom attracted early prospectors. In 1829, the population of Mineral Point was greater than Milwaukee and Chicago combined! In the 1830s, experienced miners from Cornwall arrived and settled in.

I’ve traveled to Mineral Point many times to visit Pendarvis, a state historic site that preserves the homes of several Cornish immigrants. But until recently, I’d never visited in winter.

Mineral Point Pendarvis

Early stone cottages preserved at Pendarvis.

That changed in January of 2013, and again this past January. Thanks to Shake Rag Center For the Arts and the Council for Wisconsin Writers, I was granted a weeklong residency both years. The temps were cold—this year below zero, at times. But I discovered that winter is a great time to visit Mineral Point.  Here are some of the things I enjoyed:

Peace and quiet. The ambiance was perfect for contemplation and writing.

Mineral Point Gundry House

Wonderful restaurants. I spent most afternoons writing at the Gray Dog Deli, which has a great menu, very nice staff, and your choice of tables or comfy sofas.

Mineral Point Gray Dog

This gray dog has watched over the building since 1867.

It’s also my tradition to visit the Red Rooster Cafe whenever I’m in town.

Mineral Point Red Rooster

Mineral Point Red Rooster

The Red Rooster has a long history of serving comfort food and traditional Cornish favorites.

Mineral Point Figgy Hobbin

I recommend the Figgy Hobbin.

Shake Rag Center For the Arts. A sale of hand-crafted Valentines took place while I was there.

Mineral Point Shake Rag

The lively arts center has programs and classes going on year-round. Their workshop listing is diverse. Wouldn’t a class provide a great pick-me-up in the middle of a cold winter?

Yarn Painting 2

A yarn painting class is scheduled for late February. So cheerful!  Shake Rag Center photo.

Architecture. You can’t take a walk in Mineral Point without seeing lots of great old buildings.

Mineral Point Washington

I stayed in this lovely home, 219 Washington.

Mineral Point Gundry House

And I walked by this beauty, Orchard Lawn, every day.

Mineral Point Shake Rag

This cottage and cabin are preserved at Shake Rag Alley.

Art.  The town is a well-known artist’s colony. Yes, some of the shops were closed—but others weren’t. (Another of my traditions is to buy a new pair of earrings whenever I start a new Chloe Ellefson mystery.  Lots and lots to choose from at the Johnston Gallery.)

Mineral Point Johnston Gallery

The Johnston Gallery photo.

The landscape.  Mineral Point is nestled in the beautiful rolling hills of Wisconsin’s Driftless Region. If you like snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, you won’t have to go far. Check out a recent post on High Street Beat blog.

Mineral Point High Street Beat

Taken by my friends Lisa and Don Hay on a recent cross county ski excursion. High Street Beat photo.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend two weeks in this lovely town. Huge thanks to everyone who made it possible.

Interested in a getaway of your own?  You’ll find lots of information here.  Enjoy!

An 1812 Gunboat

January 20, 2014

When I began planning the Caroline Abbott books for American Girl, I quickly decided to make Caroline’s father a shipbuilder. The war in the Great Lakes was largely a naval war, and I wanted Caroline and her family to be part of it.

There was a large and well documented naval shipyard in Sackets Harbor, New York. Builders there worked on huge ships like the Oneida.

Although this photo was taken many years after Caroline's time, it clearly shows the natural harbor.  Caroline's Papa knew the harbor would make the perfect spot for a shipyard---and once the War of 1812 began, US Navy officers  knew that too.

This photo was taken many years after Caroline’s time.  The US Navy’s shipyard produced ships that towered over the village.

I squeezed the fictional Abbott’s Shipyard just down the shore from the naval yard in Sackets Harbor. It wouldn’t have made sense to have the men at Abbott’s also building enormous vessels. Instead, I decided that Caroline’s family shipyard would produce gunboats.

While writing the series, I studied pictures of gunboats. Recently, however, I got to see a real one! Part of one, anyway.

Fort Wellington Gunboat

That’s me looking at the remains. You can get a sense of the boat’s size.

A sunken British gunboat was discovered decades ago in a small inlet on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. Only the bottom, or hull, remained. Over the years, shifting ice likely tore the upper wood away.

The location is about 30 miles from the eastern end of Lake Ontario. (Sackets Harbor, where Caroline lives, is very close to that eastern end of the lake.) Naval historians believe this boat was built during the War of 1812.

Parks Canada Underwater Archaeology Service raised the remains of the shipwreck in 1967. As you can imagine, it was tricky work!

gunboat.1966 fort wellington

The shipwreck being raised in the 1960s. Parks Canada photo.

The remains are now safely exhibited at Fort Wellington National Historic Site of Canada, which is a wonderful place to learn more about the War of 1812 in the area were the Caroline books are set.

Fort Wellington gunboat

Parks Canada Conservator Flora Davidson secures loose parts of the gunboat wreck at St Lawrence Islands National Park in Mallorytown in preparation for its move to Fort Wellington in Prescott, Ontario. Parks Canada photograph.

Gunboats were of vital importance on Lake Ontario during the War of 1812. They were shallow boats designed to carry one or more guns that could fire on other ships or on targets along the shoreline. They were also used to carry supplies or troops. Gunboats had sails, but they also carried long oars called sweeps, which required six or eight men to row.

The gunboat at Fort Wellington is displayed in an exhibit that includes this marvelous painting, making it easy to imagine how it was originally used.

gunboat Fort Wellington

Exhibit artwork by David Kanietakeron and Peter Rindlisbacher.

gunboat fort wellington

And here’s a model of what this gunboat probably looked like.

You can compare the model and the painting with what’s left of the vessel.

fort wellington gunboat

fort wellington gunboat

Other exhibits tell different parts of the War of 1812 story, and helped me imagine life during Caroline Abbott’s time.

Fort Wellington

Jarvis Hanks was a young drummer boy from Vermont. Lavinia York was the wife of the sheriff of a border town in New York. Letters and other writings left by people who lived during the War of 1812 provide wonderful glimpses of the past.

Fort Wellington

Original nails, tools, and a man’s boot—just as Caroline might have seen them.

Fort Wellington

This exhibit painting suggests what a home in Prescott, Ontario (Upper Canada) might have looked like. (It reminded me of Caroline’s cousin Lydia’s farm in Upper Canada!) Prescott is right across the St. Lawrence River from Ogdensburg, New York.

After reading about and thinking about and imagining gunboats, it was exciting to see the bones of a real one on display! If you have a chance to explore Sackets Harbor, New York, I highly recommend a sidetrip to Fort Wellington National Historic Site in Prescott, Ontario.

Postcard From Angela

January 1, 2014

I received an amazingly wonderful gift a week or so ago when a postcard arrived in the mail.

postcard from angela

The postcard itself was from a copy of Midnight in Lonesome Hollow, one of my Kit mysteries from American Girl.

postcard Midnight

It was forwarded to me from the publisher. I’d really, really like to write back to Angela, and tell her how much her words mean to me. Unfortunately, no return address was included.

So this seems like a good time and place to tell Angela—and all the readers who got in touch during 2013—how appreciative I am.

Some of my favorite correspondence has come via email, such as this one:

Hi Mrs. Ernst my name is Abigail and I just wanted to wish you a
merry Christmas. My American girl dolls Kit and Caroline say
merry Christmas too.

Here are two letters that arrived in the mail after I did a program about the book-making process at an elementary school.

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(I do try to encourage kids when I visit schools. I’m not sure about this one.)

letter

(The program includes one photo of my cat Sophie sitting by my computer. Sophie sometimes gets more mail than I do.)

I’ve gotten some special mail from parents this year, such as this one:

My 8 year old daughter and I just finished the first book in your
American Girl Caroline series. We are both hooked and loving it!
She is having a difficult time keeping up with her peers in
reading and this book has sparked an interest in history, sailing,
nautical knots and everything that goes with the story. She could
not wait for the next night to read another chapter. And all this
coming from the girl last year who said reading was boring
(only because she wasn't able to do as well as her classmates).
Now she brings books with her everywhere we go.

And I’ve heard from readers about the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, too:

I love the combination of mystery and history in your books!Please
keep this series coming!!!

I just wanted to tell you how MUCH I am enjoying "Chloe's" adventures!
Thanks for your gift of writing, Kathleen!

I've almost finished re-reading all the Chloe books. I'm telling you,
after I read Heritage of Darkness -- I really really really did not want
it to end so I started the whole series over :-)

When I was ten years old, and dreaming of being an author, all I knew to hope for was having stories that I wrote turn into published books. Although that is indeed wonderful, what’s even better connecting with readers.

So for all of you who have taken the time to communicate here, on Facebook, via email or snail mail, or in person at an event—all I can say is thank you.

And for all of you who have taken the time to post an online review, recommend one of my books to a friend, or ask a librarian about my titles—huge thanks to you as well.

Hardangar Heart600w

This lovely Hardanger heart was a gift from two special readers. It hangs in my kitchen window, and reminds me every day of the reader-friends who have come into my life!

You made 2013 very special! I’m grateful, and I wish you all a most wonderful new year.


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