Posts Tagged ‘Kathleen Ernst’

Lost, 1867

November 10, 2013

I’ve been compiling a collection of poetry about immigrant women’s experiences in the Midwest. I can’t possibly use in novels all the compelling tidbits I find when doing historical research! When something calls to me, but it won’t work in whatever book I’m writing, I often channel it into a poem instead.

Two years ago one of my poems, Facing Forward, was chosen for an exhibit called “Mark My Words” at the Pump House Regional Arts Center in La Crosse, WI. The exhibit organizers selected twenty poems and twenty artists, and asked each artist to create a piece in response to one of the poems. I was thrilled to be included! (You can see the poem and accompanying artwork HERE.)

The Pump House

Last spring the good folks at the Pump House put out another call for entries. “Mark My Words Again: Artists Respond To Short Poetry” was more of a challenge because I don’t write many short poems, but I managed to submit a suitable entry:

Lost, 1867
From the train, the prairie looked flat as a cracker.
She didn’t learn until settling on their new place
that the land sank and swelled like a restless sea;
that the tall grasses, gently beckoning, hid swales that swallowed
the silk bonnet blown from her head while they wagoned to town,
the plump ruffed grouse she’d hoped to shoot for Sunday dinner,
and—as she pegged out wet laundry, humming a hymn—
the child who toddled from her side, chasing a butterfly.

In this poem, I wanted to reflect how life has both changed and stayed the same since 1867. While the loss of a bonnet may feel irrelevant today, the loss of a child evokes timeless emotions.

My poem was given to an artist, who had three months to create a partner piece. I didn’t see the results until the exhibit opened.

Mark My Words KAE

A reception to celebrate “Mark My Words Again” was held at the Pump House last month, and it was a fascinating evening. The poems selected for the exhibit were diverse, and so was the artwork. Some artists chose to illustrate the poem they were given; others used an idea in the poem as inspiration to move in a new direction.

My poem was given to talented photographer Jerry Weigel.

Mark My Words Again photo

Jerry said, “The poem reminded me that we only find new things when we are lost.  Like the child chasing the butterfly in 1867, this little guy lost himself in the vine tunnel just to see what was on the other side.”

Heartfelt thanks to Lynne Valiquette and the “Mark My Words Again” committee not only for selecting my poem, but for mounting such an extraordinary exhibit!

Heritage of Darkness Launch Events!

September 8, 2013

Heritage of Darkness, the 4th Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites Mystery, will soon be published!  And I have some great launch events—including two special Chloe’s World Tours at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum—planned for my wonderful readers.

For curator Chloe Ellefson, a family bonding trip to Decorah, Iowa for rosemaling classes seems like a great idea—until the drive begins. Chloe’s cop friend Roelke takes her mother’s talk of romantic customs good-naturedly, but it inflates Chloe’s emotional distress higher with each passing mile. After finally reaching Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Chloe’s resolve to remain positive is squashed when she and Roelke find Petra Lekstrom’s body in one of the antique immigrant trunks. Everyone is shaken by the instructor’s murder, and when Mom volunteers to take over the beginners’ class, Chloe is put in the hot seat of motherly criticism. As she investigates, Chloe uncovers dark family secrets that could be deadly for Mom . . . and even herself.

Heritage of Darkness 1

Here’s the calendar:

1.  Book Signing, Saturday, October 12, Noon – 5 PM;  Old World Wisconsin,  Eagle, WI.

The award-winning Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries feature protagonists who work at Old World Wisconsin and in the nearby Village of Eagle. I will be greeting visitors and signing books from Noon to 5 PM in the museum store, which will have copies of my mysteries for sale. Get an autographed copy of Heritage of Darkness, and then explore the locations at Old World where key scenes in the series take place. Free “Locations Guides” can be downloaded from the Old World Murder and The Heirloom Murders pages on my website. Note: while tickets are not needed to visit the store, there is a fee to explore the museum’s extensive grounds and buildings.

Old World Wisconsin - (262) 594-6301 W372 S9727 Hwy 67, just south of Eagle, WI.

* * *

2.  Book Signing, Sunday, October 13, 10 AM – Noon;  Islandtime Books,  Washington Island, WI; 10 AM. 

I’ll be greeting guests and signing copies of Heritage of Darkness at this wonderful independent bookstore.  You can also get The Light Keeper’s Legacy, which is set on Rock and Washington Islands, and the first two books in the series.

Islandtime Books - (920) 847-2565 – 1885 Detroit Harbor Rd., Washington Island, WI.

* * *

3.  Launch Party, Tuesday, October 22, 6 – 7:30 PM;   Mystery To Me Bookstore,  Madison, WI. 

I’ll be introducing the latest Chloe adventure and signing books from 6 to 7:30 PM in Madison’s newest mystery bookstore, which will have copies of all the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries for sale. There will be mementos for all guests, great door prizes, and another fabulous cake by Alisha Rapp.

Mystery To Me Bookstore - (608) 283-9332 1863 Monroe Street, Madison, WI.

* * *

4. Book Signing,  Thursday, October 31, 5 – 7 PM; Vesterheim Museum,  Decorah, IA.

Heritage of Darkness is set in Decorah at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. I’ll be signing books from 5:00 to 7:00 PM, Thursday (Halloween Night) in the museum’s Bruening Visitor Center at the corner of West Water and Mechanic Streets.

Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum - (563) 382-9681 – 502 West Water St., Decorah, IA.

* * *

5.  Ticketed Chloe’s World Tour, Wednesday, December 4, 5:30 – 8:30 PM; Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, Iowa.

This tour, which is limited to 25 participants, includes:

    • An after-hours Chloe’s World tour.  The tour will take readers through the museum, highlighting the locations featured in Heritage of Darkness.  Stops will include the Norwegian House, the rosemaling and woodworking exhibit galleries, the vault, and the Valdres House in the Open-Air Division.  The tour also includes a stop at one of the museum’s collections storage facilities for a peek at some hidden treasures.
    • A visit to the rosemaling classroom featured in the book, where participants will enjoy dinner with the author.  The meal will include the soup featured in Heritage of Darkness, salad, and drinks.
    • A sampling of Norwegian Christmas cookies and a book discussion in Vesterheim’s new Visitor’s Center.
    • Favors for all participants, plus special door prizes.

Tickets for this event cost $25.  Reservations are required and can be made by calling 563-382-9681 and asking for Jocelyn.

The tour will begin in the lobby of Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, 502 W. Water Street, Decorah, Iowa. Please gather at 5:20 PM. Since the tour and discussion will include major plot points, guests are encouraged to read Heritage of Darkness in advance. Museum members and those registered for the ticketed tour who order the book through Vesterheim’s Museum Store will receive a 10% discount.

* * *

6. Free Chloe’s World Tour, Thursday, December 5, 10 AM – Noon; Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

The tour will take readers through the museum, highlighting the locations featured in Heritage of Darkness.  Stops will include the Norwegian House, the rosemaling and woodworking exhibit galleries, the vault, and the Valdres House in the Open-Air Division.  The tour also includes a stop at one of the museum’s collections storage facilities for a peek at some hidden treasures.

The tour will begin in the lobby of Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, 502 W. Water Street, Decorah, Iowa.  Please gather at 9:50 AM. Since the tour will include discussion of major plot points, guests are encouraged to read Heritage of Darkness in advance.

Heritage of Darkness teaser 1

7.  Blog Tour
I’ll be visiting several blogs in coming weeks—and doing a Giveaway at each stop! Visit and leave a comment, and you’ll be eligible to win your choice of the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites Mysteries.
Monday, September 16: http://sheilaboneham.blogspot.com/index.html
Wednesday, October 9:  http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/
Wednesday, October 23:  http://www.escapewithdollycas.com/
Saturday, November 23:  http://www.killercharacters.com/
More tour stops will be added, and posted on my Facebook Author Page.

Heritage of Darkness Teaser 2

There is nothing better than connecting with readers! I hope to see you, or hear from you, during one of these events.

A Silver Celebration: 25 Books in 25 Weeks Giveaway!

February 24, 2013

This week includes a joyful event that marks a very special milestone for me — and for you, the announcement of twenty-five opportunities to win!

The event… the February 26th release of my newest mystery.

Traitor In The Shipyard Cover-Original72DPI

The milestone…  it will be my twenty-fifth published book.

My only nonfiction book focuses on Maryland civilians' experience during the Civil War.

The opportunities…  twenty-five book giveaways!

Light Keeper's Legacy by Kathleen Ernst

Each week for 25 weeks I’ll be giving away multiple, personalized, signed copies of one of my titles, including Chloe EllefsonCivil War, and American Girl books. That’s 25 opportunities for you to win one of my books!

Hearts of Stone by Kathleen Ernst

This “silver celebration” is in honor of all the wonderful readers who have read and recommended my books, attended my programs, and generously supported and encouraged me over the years. Thank you very, very much!

Danger at the Zoo was the first book I wrote about one of American Girl's Historical Characters.

The Fine Print:

The “25 Books In 25 Weeks Giveaway” starts one week from today – Sunday, March 3rd.

It will end the week of September 15th, 2013, skipping a few holiday/vacation weeks (Easter, Memorial, July 4th, Labor).

I will hold a giveaway for each one of my 25 published books, and give away a minimum of  100 books.  The books will be hardcover, or softcover if hardcover copies are not available.

Announcements will be posted here on Sites & Stories, and also on my Facebook Author page.  Each week’s giveaway will be announced on Sunday.  Entry comments can be posted from then until midnight of Wednesday of that week.  Winners will be announced the next day, Thursday, here on my blog and on my Facebook Author page.

One of my favorite books (of those I've written).

Eligibility:

Anyone is eligible to enter a giveaway for one of my books for young readers.  Only persons age 16 and older are eligible to receive one of my adult books.  Giveaway announcement posts will state whether that week’s book is for adults or young readers.

Retreat From Gettysburg by Kathleen Ernst

Entry Rules:

Each weekly giveaway must be entered separately.  Only one entry per person per weekly giveaway.  To enter, simply make a comment in response to that week’s giveaway announcement post either here on Sites & Stories, or on my Facebook Author page.  Note: By entering the giveaway drawing, you agree that if you receive a book, your name may be added to my email list.

Giveaway recipients must provide their name, and shipping and email addresses.  The book will be personalized to the recipient unless you ask that the book be personalized for another person (spouse, child, friend, etc.) and provide the name.  All expenses for the book and its shipping and handling will be paid by me.

The Runaway Friend by Kathleen Ernst

So – bookmark this page, or sign up to follow the blog.  Stop back every week for a new opportunity to win in my 25 Books in 25 Weeks giveaway!

A Special Ship – And A Special Invitation

September 27, 2012

When I was asked to create an 1812 character for American Girl, I set out to learn everything I could about that period. The very first thing I did was plan a visit to the USS Constitution and the USS Constitution Museum in Boston. Why? Well, I’ll share that in a moment.

First, I want to let everyone know that Museum staff have planned a wonderful event to celebrate publication of the Caroline Abbott books, the important role the ship played during the War of 1812, and the ways children’s lives were touched by those momentous events. If you live in the area, I hope you will join us at 2 PM on October 7. (If you don’t live nearby, but you know someone who does, I hope you’ll share this information with them.)

Attendees can dress up and enjoy an 1812 tea. I’ll present an illustrated program providing a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Caroline’s world. We’ll have time for questions, door prizes, autographs, photos, and tea. Then everyone can visit the USS Constitution Museum and take a tour of USS Constitution, a ship that actually fought in the War of 1812–just like those Caroline Abbott knew at Sackets Harbor.

Illustration from Meet Caroline. (Artwork by Robert Papp)

Tickets cost $12.50, which includes the special program, tea, and tours. To reserve your tickets, call 618-426-1812, ext. 113.

So why am I so excited about this event? Well, there aren’t many opportunities for any of us to literally touch history. The USS Constitution defeated four English warships during the War of 1812. That accomplishment gave rise to the ship’s nickname, “Old Ironsides.”

One of the active-duty tour guides on the USS Constitution.

Touring the ship and imagining the men who once lived and fought aboard is a moving experience.

Can you imagine the crewmen who once walked these floors…

…and slept in hammocks like these?

Touring made me feel like the 1812 sailors had just stepped out for a moment.

And the USS Constitution Museum is a wonderful place to visit, and to imagine what your life might have been if you’d lived two hundred years ago.

In my books, Caroline likes learning to tie new knots.

Exhibits like this one helped me imagine Caroline and her world.

If you’ve read Meet Caroline, you know that her cousin Oliver planned to travel Lake Ontario as a merchant-sailor. This exhibit showed how he would transport livestock from the dock to his ship!

On my last visit to the USS Constitution Museum, I had great fun exploring the exhibits—and seeing how much fun kids were having as they tried swinging in a sailor’s hammock, raising a sail, dressing up as a sailor, and lots more.

I’m looking forward to sharing this special place with readers.  I hope to see some of you there!

Special Old World Wisconsin Tour — And Tickets Giveaway!

May 13, 2012

Old World Wisconsin is the premier outdoor history museum in Wisconsin, and one of the very best in the country. If you have ever visited Old World, then you know what I mean. If you haven’t yet, then a memorable experience awaits you.

Starting in 1982, I spent twelve years there as an interpreter and curator. When I wrote my first two Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery books, Old World Murder and The Heirloom Murders, I set many of the key scenes in the museum’s public and private areas that I knew so well.

If you’d enjoy seeing where many of those scenes take place, and discussing them, then please join me for an exclusive, before-hours/behind-the-scenes guided tour through the historic buildings that make up a big part of Chloe’s world.

You’ll also have the special opportunity to hear about the historic buildings from Old World Curator Marty Perkins, who knows more about the historic site than anyone else.

The inaugural tour will be held Sunday morning June 10th. Attendance is limited to facilitate Q&A. Prior registration is required. In addition to the tour, tickets provide access to a group reception, and to the museum for the rest of the day. This is a fundraiser – all proceeds go to support Old World. For additional details, including how to sign-up, click HERE.

Want to attend, but the gas pump ate your ticket money?

Don’t despair! I’m giving away one free pair of tickets to the June 10th tour. If you’re 18 or older, you could be the lucky winner. To enter the contest drawing, just send me an email at k.ernst at kathleenernst.com (replace “at” with @). I’ll announce the winner next Monday, May 21st, so reply before then (just one entry per person please).

I hope to see you on the tour!

Looking For Laura

August 2, 2011

Like countless other girls, one of my earliest introductions to historical fiction came in the pages of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s classic “Little House” series. Since I went into museum work and now earn my living writing historical novels (or, in the case of my Chloe Ellefson series, novels about history), those books and others like them obviously had a big impact on me.

Although I’ve lived in Wisconsin for decades now, I only recently made my first visit to the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House Wayside, outside Pepin, WI. My older sister was visiting from the east coast. She loved the books too, so we made our way there to the spot where Little House In The Big Woods was set.

The big woods are long gone. Aside from a few trees scattered about the picnic area, the cabin is surrounded by cornfields. (Not suburban sprawl, thank goodness.)

Today, a replica log cabin sits on the site of the original Ingalls cabin. There is no museum. No interpreters. No gift shop.

Aside from a single display, the cabin is largely empty.

My sister and I knew all that, and we went anyway. We wanted to see the spot where Laura and her family had once lived.

When we arrived, two little girls wearing sundresses and bonnets were racing in and out of the cabin.  “They’re so excited,” their mom told me. “We’ve been re-reading the book in the car.”

The next car that parked at the wayside carried three adults. Flanked by a younger couple (her children, perhaps?) an elderly lady walked slowly across the lawn and visited the cabin.

While we lingered, a slow but steady stream of people came and went. One van held what appeared to be three generations of Little House In The Big Woods fans.

Watching the visitors became as meaningful as visiting the site itself. All of us, young and old, had felt compelled to visit this place that we felt we knew so well. What a testament to Wilder’s storytelling! As a reader, it was moving to walk on this ground, so many years after reading the book. As a writer, it was moving to witness the power that stories still have, even in this modern age of computer games and sound bytes.

A brochure printed by the Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Society, Inc., of Pepin, Wisconsin says this:  “We trust that all who come to Pepin through the inspiration of Laura’s books will visit …Little House Wayside at the site of her birth.  …It may not be what you expect, but as Laura said, ‘Now is now. It can never be a long time ago.’”

Except in our imaginations, and in the pages of a talented author’s books.

The Old Cheese Factory

November 29, 2010

First, thanks to everyone who hosted or joined me on my recent blog tour. It was a whirlwind, but great fun. Still, I am glad to get back to my own blog!

I’ve had two wonderful opportunities this fall to see cheese being made as it was back in the day when little cheese huts could be found on many farms in Green County and surrounding areas. I’m doing research for The Heirloom Murders, Book 2 in the Chloe Ellefson/Historic Sites mystery series. (I know, tough gig.)

In September, Scott and I attended Green County Cheese Days in Monroe, WI. This community festival honors the early European settlers—many of them Swiss—who settled here. Several retired cheesemakers demonstrated the art of making cheese.

This sign says it all.

The cheesemaking demonstration was well attended.

Young cheesemakers giving the process a try.

And I got to try my hand at stirring the curds, too!

I took lots of notes, but my favorite thing about attending Cheese Days was watching the intergenerational sharing that took place in the spirit of honoring, preserving, and passing along tradition.

In October, I had another chance to learn about traditional cheesemaking when the National Historic Cheesemaking Center in Monroe celebrated the grand opening of the restored Imobersteg Framstead Cheese Factory. (See my August 29 post for more information about the factory.) For the first time in over a century, a fresh batch of cheese was made in the old building.

 

Historically, several local farms often banded together to process milk into cheese. Men brought their milk to the nearest factory in pails, and it was passed into the building through a trap door.

Several cheesemakers helped process the milk into curds and whey.

Current and retired cheesemakers cooperated to get the job done.

The demonstration at the Imobersteg Cheese Factory had a different feel than that at the Cheese Days Festival. I wished for a moment that someone had been assigned to interpret the process for visitors. Then I looked around and realized that the tiny factory was crowded with retired cheesemakers, and farmers who had taken their milk to a neighbor’s farm for processing. These people needed no explanations.

I heard elders reminisce about the time, decades ago, when they too had made cheese in a tiny “cheese hut” on their property. One man told me how a neighbor sometimes brought bad milk, spoiling an entire batch. Another talked of numbering the milk cans to be sure the right ones got returned to the proper farm.

When the curds had been taken from the kettle, one gentleman stepped up and helped himself to a drink of whey. Several more did the same, as they had doubtless done many times over the years.

Around here, quite a few artisanal cheesemakers still buy local milk and carefully process it into fine cheese. As a consumer, I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful that people like me can watch and learn about this important aspect of the region’s cultural legacy at Cheese Days. And I’m grateful that those who remember when had the chance to revisit the process at the Imobersteg Cheese Factory. All too often, old traditions and processes are rescued only when at the point of extinction. Not so here.

Gratitude – and Giveaways

September 28, 2010

by Kathleen Ernst

I wrote my first novel for adults when I was fifteen. It was not very good, of course, but I knew I’d discovered what I wanted to do.

Twenty years and ten or twelve novels later, I sold a book. It happened to be a young adult novel. One thing led to another in the juvenile/teen world. With the exception of a nonfiction book for adults, all of my published books have been written for young readers.

OWM Until now. Old World Murder: A Chloe Ellefson Mystery will officially be released on October 1. Advance-order copies are already finding their way into readers’ hands.

I love writing for children and teens, and don’t plan to give it up. Still, it’s awfully nice to sit down at the grownup table, thirty-five years after writing that first manuscript! I had a blast writing Old World Murder, am hard at work on book 2 in the series, and have ideas for more bouncing around in my head.

I am enormously grateful to all the readers who make it possible for me to do what I love.

I’ve got a blog tour set up for the month of October. Sure, I hope to spread a little buzz about the book. But I’ll also be giving a book away at each stop—winner’s choice of Old World Murder or something from my backlist. It’s a small way of saying thank you to some of the wonderful people who love mysteries, and take the time to keep in touch online. I hope you’ll drop in. You might get lucky!

I already have.

Blog Tour Schedule

10/2 – Creating Characters Readers Care About – Three Essential Traits
Poe’s Deadly Daughters
http://www.poesdeadlydaughters.blogspot.com/

10/4 – Recipe For Promotion – Are You Missing An Ingredient?
Visual Arts Junction
http://www.visualartsjunction.com/

10/5 – Writing For Grownups, Writing For Kids
Creatures & Crooks
http://www.cncbooks.com/blog

10/6 – Planting Seeds, Growing a Series
The Cozy Chicks
http://www.cozychicksblog.com/

10/7 – Reenacting For Novelists
Mary E. Trimble’s Blog
http://trimble.web.officelive.com/blog.aspx

10/8 – Handwork
Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers
http://anastasiapollack.blogspot.com/

10/11 – Start Your Mystery With A Bang!
Mystery Writing Is Murder
http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com/

10/12 – Interview
Beth Groundwater’s Blog
http://bethgroundwater.blogspot.com/

10/13 – Harpers Ferry – People, Past, Place
Repeating History
http://www.mmjustus.blogspot.com/

10/15 – Chloe’s Maple Blueberry Cake
Vintage Cookbooks
http://vintagecookbooks.blogspot.com/

10/17 – Ethnic Eating
Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen
http://www.mysteryloverskitchen.com

10/19 – Have You Got What It Takes To Write A Mystery?
Heidi Thomas’s Blog
http://heidiwriter.wordpress.com/

10/2- – Writers’ Police Academy
Inkspot

http://midnightwriters.blogspot.com/

10/20 – Revisiting My Past
Women Only Over Fifty
http://woofersclub.blogspot.com/

10/22 – Culture Clash
Thoughts In Progress
http://www.masoncanyon.blogspot.com/

10/25 – Chloe & Me – Writing From Real Life
Lori’s Reading Corner
http://www.lorisreadingcorner.com/

10/26 – Of Prairies and Plots
Walking Nature Home
http://susanjtweit.typepad.com/

10/27 – Interview
Patty Jager’s Blog
http://www.patyjager.blogspot.com/

10/28 – Creating a Cop
Mystery Book News
http://www.omnimysterynews.com/

10/29 – Theme To Be Announced
The LadyKillers
http://theladykillers.typepad.com/

Should It Stay, Or Go?

July 1, 2010

Scott and I recently spent nine wonderful days as live-in docents at Pottawatomie Lighthouse. It sits on a cliff within Rock Island State Park, off the tip of Door County, Wisconsin. It was our second stint, and we hope to go back. We love the whole experience.

Me and Scott at Pottawatomie, 2009

Pottawatomie is the oldest light station in Wisconsin. It was established in 1836, twelve years before Wisconsin became a state. The first keeper lived in a tiny stone cottage, and tended a separate light tower. In Pottawatomie’s earliest days the light was fueled with whale oil.

In 1858, the lighthouse service built a new tower and attached duplex, designed to house a keeper and assistant keeper and their families. When whale oil became too expensive, the keepers used lard to light the lamp. Pig fat was cheaply available from the Chicago stockyards. It was also a difficult fuel to use. Pots were likely kept simmering on the stove, and several times during cold nights keepers would haul hot lard up to the lantern room. Every morning a sheen of fat had to be cleaned from the glass Fresnel lens.

The 1858 lighthouse (the back addition, a summer kitchen, was added later).

The lighthouse has been beautifully restored to represent it’s 1910 appearance by the Friends of Rock Island, a support group which works with the Department of Natural Resources to preserve, maintain, and interpret the site.

By 1910, the light was fueled by kerosene. For a time huge quantities were kept in the lighthouse cellar. The keepers finally were successful in their request for a separate oil house, but all that oil still had to be hauled up steps from the beach below, or up from a landing over a mile away.

Keepers lived in the lighthouse until it was automated in 1946. Forty years later, the Coast Guard planted a metal tower beside the lighthouse, with a solar-powered light on top.

Last year, a visiting Guard member told us that maintaining the light took about four hours a year. He also told us that when these automated lights die, they won’t be replaced; ship captains will rely solely on GPS and computerized navigation. During our 9-day visit this year, in fact, the modern light was not functioning. Perhaps we’ve already seen the end of the era of warning lights on Rock Island.

View from the parlor window. The modern tower sits in close proximity to the 1858 lighthouse.

By almost any standard, the metal tower is an eyesore. It certainly detracts from the lovely restoration work done on the 1858 building with such great care and expense.  The Friends of Rock Island have worked hard to create an impression of 1910 both inside and outside of the lighthouse.  Most people who love Pottawatomie Lighthouse can’t wait for the day the tower is formally decommissioned and removed.

But while on Rock Island this year, I heard an alternative perspective proposed.

Now, visitors to the station can stand in one spot and see the foundation lines of the 1836 stone cottage, the 1858 lighthouse, and the 1986 tower. The entire history of Rock Island’s guiding lights can be taken in at a glance.

Here's the 1836 foundation line, with modern tower in background. The lighthouse is just out of view on right.

All that remains of that first station is the tiny stone privy. Today it is celebrated as the oldest building in Door County.

The first keeper's stone cottage was so poorly made that it soon needed to be replaced. This outhouse is all that remains.

So…should that metal tower and solar-powered light be part of the interpretive story? A century from now, will interpreters wish it had been saved?

When any restoration project is undertaken, philosophical choices have to be made. There is no right or wrong answer.

Me, I want to see the tower removed. I want to be able to stand in that peaceful clearing, and contemplate the families who lived in the lighthouse, without any modern intrusion.  Docents can use photographs of the tower to discuss change over time.

But I also acknowledge that the tower is part of the continuum, and part of Pottawatomie’s story.

The end of an era.

What do you think? Should the metal tower stay, or should it go?

Wrong, All Wrong

June 26, 2010

Old World Wisconsin was hit by an F2 tornado on June 21.  First, the good news:  it happened at night, when the site was closed.  No one was hurt.  None of the farm animals were hurt.  The damage to the historic structures is, miraculously,  minimal.

The Visitor Center mall and Clausing Barn. (Ellsworth Brown/Wisconsin Historical Society photo)

Now the bad news:  almost three thousand trees were destroyed.

(Mark Was/TMJ Chopper 4, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photo.)

The photos and aerial footage I’ve seen leave me heartsick.   The photo above shows the parking lot and visitor center area.

Many of the downed trees were pines, planted decades ago.  The pine plantation was not the native oak-prairie landscape.  Still, I loved those trees. They shaded the parking lot, and the visitor center mall and picnic area.

More than that, though, they helped visitors transition from the modern world to the site itself.  Before the tornado, visitors turned from Highway 67 onto an entrance drive that wound through the pines.  The trees helped create a reflective environment.

Looking from the green to the parking lot. (Wisconsin Historical Society photo.)

When visitors headed out onto the site, the pines provided a living screen between the historic site and modern intrusions. One of the first buildings visitors encounter on site is the Caldwell Farmers’ Club hall.  It is still standing, but an animal shed beside it was destroyed.

The animal barn beside Caldwell. (Old World Foundation photo.)

Not all the losses were planted pines, though.  Many magnificent old oak trees, remnants of oak savannah prairie, graced the area.  I suspect that most of those are also gone.

One of my Old World friends wrote, “The pictures just don’t show the real damage. You stand on the Caldwell hill and you honestly don’t know where you are – it is just wrong, all wrong.”  Another friend, who has worked at Old World for decades, says the area looks like a war zone.

It’s an apt analogy.  I am reminded of civilian accounts I read while researching Too Afraid To Cry.  After the Battle of Antietam, local farmers got lost in their own neighborhood, because all landmarks were gone.

Way back when, I majored in forestry at West Virginia University, with a focus on environmental education.  When I worked at Old World, researching and helping to create new interpretive programs, I always tried to think about 19th-century people within the context of their environment.  Whenever I write, I try to instill a strong sense of place into the narrative.

The Hafford House in the Crossroads Village, last July. (K. Ernst photo)

One of the things I’ve always loved about Old World is the landscape itself.  The original site planners did a superb job.  It’s possible to look out the window of an old house and see a garden, an agricultural field, a prairie remnant, and woods beyond.

Old World Wisconsin is, for the time being, closed.  The most urgent work is well underway—making the parking lot and all historic structures accessible.  In the weeks and months to come, I’m sure the Old World staff will create a long-range plan for restoring the landscape.  In the on-site prairie areas, that likely means replanting the oaks.  I don’t know what will be decided for the entrance area.

This photo was taken just a few days before the tornado. (Scott Meeker photo)

What I do know is that this place which is so dear to me will never, in my lifetime, look the same.

The Old World Wisconsin Foundation has started a Tornado Relief Fund.  For more info:  http://www.friendsoww.org/.


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