Archive for the ‘HISTORIC SITES’ Category

Welcome to America

July 3, 2014

Scott and I spent Independence Day at Genesee Country Village and Museum in New York last year. Having celebrated the 4th of July in 1876 style at Old World Wisconsin for 12 seasons, I was eager to see how another large historic site interpreted the holiday.

The first special event of the day, however was not an historic reenactment or period activity. It was a citizenship ceremony that took place in front of the town hall in the Village square.

Town Hall Genesee Country Village

The presiding judge told of his father and grandfather, who had immigrated from Italy. He spoke eloquently of visiting Ellis Island. He assured the newcomers that this was a country where they could keep cherished cultural traditions from their homeland while embracing their new status as American citizens. He reminded them that as citizens, they have a responsibility to help govern; to be involved.

Genesee Country Village

Thirty-two people recited their oath of allegiance. They represented twenty-three countries:  China and Somalia, Australia and Russia, Sri Lanka and Honduras, and many more.

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Then each came forward to receive their certificate of citizenship. Some wore something traditional from their homeland. Many clutched American flags.

Genesee Country Village

I had a lump in my throat. I could think of no better way to begin celebrating the Fourth of July. And I could think of no better place to hold a naturalization ceremony than at an historic site like Genesee Country Village.

Many of the participants stayed at the site for the day. They were in the crowds as interpreters reenacted celebrations from 1836 and 1876.

Genesee Country Village

Reading the Declaration of Independence.

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And patriotic music.

And the site had lots of opportunities for guests of all ages to simply have fun. Period activities included sack races and a pie-eating contest.

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A rather chaotic egg toss.  A good time was had by all.

But the ceremony lingered in my mind. Modern immigration is part of the continuing story. The juxtaposition of period reenactments and modern ceremony reminded everyone, I think, of some of the principles that formed our nation, and continue to do so.

Genesee Country Village

Interpreters at the 1830s festivities…

Genesee Country Village

And Civil War Veterans at the 1876 celebration.

DSCF8499

A 94-year-old visitor/veteran of World War II—such a wonderful storyteller that he became an impromptu interpreter himself.

Historic sites are, of course, by definition largely about the past. And my personal philosophy of interpreting historic places is generally narrow. I’m usually not a fan of interjecting anything contemporary into an historic setting.

But historic sites also exist to help us all understand how we got to be here, now. Watching these modern immigrants, I thought of my own paternal grandparents, taking similar vows almost a century ago after they left Switzerland. I thought about how hard people have struggled for over more than two centuries to create and maintain a democracy. I was reminded that for all its heartbreaking flaws, the United States of American is still a beacon for, to paraphrase poet Emma Lazarus, the tired, poor, and huddled masses on distant shores, yearning to breathe free.

That’s interpretation at its best.

Genesee Country Village

About Those Trailers…

June 12, 2014

Readers sometimes wonder if I exaggerated the artifact storage conditions when I wrote Old World Murder. Well, here is one of the trailers Chloe discovers when she begins her job. (When collections care was tacked onto my job as curator of interpretation at Old World Wisconsin in the 1980s, this is what I inherited.)

Trailers II

In a former, happier life, the trailer had served as Wisconsin’s Historymobile, as celebrated in this recent image from a Wisconsin Historical Society newsletter.

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The Historymobile was retired as Old World Wisconsin was being developed, and it was repurposed at the site for collections storage. It wasn’t adequate, but with no proper facility, it had to do.

Trailers III

However, soon after I left the site, the situation improved. For the first time, a full-time collections curator was hired for Old World. And the modern storage facility that Chloe (and Ralph Petty) dream of in the book became a reality. (Photos courtesy Old World Wisconsin.)

Coll Bldg II

Coll Storage

While I confess to missing the good old days at times, it’s nice to remember the things that have improved! For a long time now, Old World Wisconsin has had a dedicated Curator of Collections and proper storage for the site’s huge collection of artifacts. Even Ralph Petty would approve.

Special Events for American Girl Fans

April 28, 2014

I’ve got some great events scheduled for American Girl fans in June, and I’d love to see you!

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June 6, American Girl Place, New York City

I’ll be meeting readers and signing books from 11 AM – 1 PM.

 

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June 7-8,  Sackets Harbor Battlefield Historic Site, Sackets Harbor, New York
I’ll be participating in a Lawn Party on June 7th, and leading a workshop for young writers on June 8. Come see Caroline’s home town!

Pre-registration is required. To register for either of these events: 315-646-3634; Constance.Barone@parks.ny.gov

Kathleen Ernst Sackets Harbor

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June 14, Fort McHenry National Monument, Baltimore, Maryland 
I’ll be participating in a special program, and signing books, from 10 AM – 12 PM. There will be other festivities as well. Come celebrate Flag Day at the site that inspired our national anthem!

Tickets are required. Visit the Friends of Fort McHenry site for more information.

Fort McHenry NPS

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June 15, Riversdale House Museum, Riverdale Park, Maryland
I’ll be joining readers for a party at 1:30. Riversdale, a National Historic Landmark, was built between 1801-1807, and guided tours are available. I’m excited about visiting a beautiful home that was standing during Caroline’s time!

Registration by June 2 is required for the tea party. Call 301-864-0420.

 

RiversdaleHouseMuseum

I’ll be visiting a handful of other American Girl stores this summer, so watch my calendar page for more information.  I hope to see you soon!

 

 

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.

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.

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.

Lefse

October 28, 2013

Since a lefse pin spattered with blood is on the cover of my latest Chloe Ellefson mystery, Heritage of Darkness, it’s not much of a spoiler to say that the murder weapon is. . . you guessed it, a lefse pin.

Heritage of Darkness 1

Which has led some readers to ask, What the heck is lefse, anyway?

Lefse is a round flatbread usually made with mashed potatoes (which used up old potatoes, and kept the bread soft) and baked on stovetop or griddle. It was a staple in the diet rural Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans in the 19th century.

LEFSE

This old stereocard image shows a Norwegian woman making lefse on an outdoor griddle. A lefse stick is used to turn the paper-thin round of dough.

I was introduced to lefse when I worked at Old World Wisconsin. Lefse was frequently made at the Fossebrekke cabin, home to young Norwegian immigrants.

KAE at Fossebrekke Web

That’s me at the 1845 Fossebrekke cabin in 1982.

potato masher

Hand-cranked potato masher, Fossebrekke cabin, Old World Wisconsin.

The heavy wooden pins used to roll the dough were deeply scored or grooved, which helped reduce air bubbles, pulverize any bits of unmashed potato, and keep the rounds of lefse quite thin and pliable.

lefse pins - Version 2

Two pins on exhibit at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

lefse pin

This pin’s groove’s are nearly worn away. (Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum Exhibit)

In Norwegian-American communities it can still be found in local stores. . .

Schuberts Mount Horeb lefse

Schubert’s Diner and Bakery in Mount Horeb, WI.

. . .often folded into quarters and offered fresh or frozen.

lefse sale

Oneota Co-Op, Decorah, Iowa.

Although fewer and fewer people make lefse at home, it still holds a special place in good Norwegian-American hearts. Many people have memories of mom or grandma boiling Russet potatoes and making lefse on special occasions.

Last year my friend Martha invited me to the local Sons of Norway – Valdres Lodge Norwegian Constitution Day Dinner on May 15, held at the Washington Prairie Lutheran Church outside of town.  (Learn more here.)

On the way, she told me that when the church needed a new roof, several elderly members of the congregation made hundreds of lefse. They announced sales, to be held at a bank in town. Sales were brisk, and the money raised helped buy the new roof.

DSCF5941

A few weeks later at Nordic Fest, a celebration of Scandinavian heritage and pride held in Decorah each summer, another small army of  lefse bakers reported for duty.

lefse Nordic Fest - Version 2

Warm rounds of lefse are delivered from the griddle to eager buyers, who add whatever toppings they prefer.

lefse Nordic Fest

I’ve read that 10,000 lefse are served at Nordic Fest each year.

lefse Nordic Fest

Me, I love lefse spread with butter and brown sugar, then rolled up tight. Maybe a touch of cinnamon. Or lingonberry jam.

Decades ago, I bought a lefse pin at an antique store.  I don’t know how old it is, or who used it, but I liked to wonder. Who once used it to roll out a bit of home or heritage on a flour-dusted table?

lefse pin

My lefse pin is much larger than my regular rolling pin.  Heavier, too.

And one year, while working at Old World Wisconsin, the Norwegian-area interpreters gave me this lovely rosemaled lefse pin at the end of the season. While I treasure the stick, I must admit that I’ve never made lefse at home. After learning how on an antique stove in an 1845 cabin, it just wouldn’t feel the same.

lefse pin

This stick has had a place of honor in my kitchen for 25 years.

At the launch party for Heritage of Darkness held at Mystery To Me (in Madison, WI) I witnessed lefse’s popularity all over again.  My talented baker friend Alisha brought a gorgeous cake.  She also brought a plate of lefse made by Lutheran church ladies, and rolled up with butter and cinnamon and sugar—the combination she’d learned from her Norwegian grandmother.

People who’d never tried lefse were eager for a sample. People who had their own fond memories of lefse munched happily, reminiscing.

Alisha with lefse

This plate of lefse disappeared fast. Really fast.

I think the generations of long-gone lefse makers would be pleased.

Ballads of Antietam

September 17, 2013

Wherever I am on September 17, I pause to remember the horrific battle that raged in and around Sharpsburg, Maryland, on this day in 1862.

Antietam cannon

Last year I was fortunate enough to spend the 150th anniversary weekend at Antietam National Battlefield and nearby Harpers Ferry. Several of the guest speakers mentioned that their initial interest in the Civil War was sparked during the war’s Centennial commemorations, 1961-1964. Many of my reenactor friends also began their life-long hobby during that time.

Betty Bauer,  a writer and friend who lives in Kansas, surprised me a year or so ago by sending a book of poems that her mother, Ora Ann Ernst, published in 1960. We’re not related, and until then I had no idea that Betty had Maryland roots.

Ballads of Antietam

The poems are lovely, and I was delighted when Betty said I might share some here.

Antietam poem 3

Ora was a teacher, reporter and editor, and historic preservationist who lived on a beautiful farm in Clear Spring, Maryland—not too far from the Antietam Battlefield.

Ora Ann Ernst

Photo published in Hagerstown’s The Daily Mail, December 24, 1990.

When she died in 1983, her eulogist noted that Ora “used her gifted pen to record little-known facts of history of the county she called home.   . . .The closing achievement of her journalistic career . . .  was in behalf of historic preservation in the Clear Spring area—her legacy to a cause so dear to her heart.”

Antietam Poem

In honor of her many gifts to her community, a Clear Spring Park and Recreation Area was dedicated to her memory. But as her poems show, her reach extended beyond Clear Spring to the rolling fields around Sharpsburg.

Antietam Poem 2

In the many years I spent prowling Washington County archives while researching Too Afraid To Cry:  Maryland Civilians In The Antietam Campaign, I somehow never came across Ora’s booklet of poems.  I love this glimpse into her thoughts and emotions as the 100th anniversary of the battle approached.

Like Ora, I’ve often found myself “with ghost men all around” when walking over the field.


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