Polish Heritage

In previous Chloe books I’ve featured Norwegian, Swiss, and Danish culture. When I began conceptualizing Tradition of Deceit, the 5th Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery, I knew I wanted to celebrate a different ethnic group.

The first time I toured the Mill City Museum, where some of the book is set, the guide told us that the earliest women employees were hired during World War I. The company began packing flour into small five-pound sacks, and managers believed that women were best suited for that job.

Female worker as depicted in an early ad.  Author's collection.

Female worker as depicted in an early ad.

When the guide mentioned that some of the women hired were of Polish descent, I knew which ethnic culture to include in the new book!

I created a plot strand that follows several generations of Polish-American women, and wove their story through Chloe and Roelke’s stories. Magdalena, the first woman, immigrated under very difficult circumstances in the 1870s. The story of Magdalena and her descendants resonates into the modern stories.

At the time Magdalena left Europe, there was no Poland. Poles lived under foreign rule from 1795 to 1918.

Many of them summarized their reason for immigrating succinctly: Za chlebem—For bread. Thousands of desperate people saw no hope of preserving their culture, tilling their own land, or otherwise providing the most basic necessities for themselves and their children in the Old World.

However, some of the Polish immigrants’ vibrant traditions provide a wonderful contrast to the grim struggles many faced in Old World and New. The old postcard below shows folk costumes from the region where my character Magdalena was born.

Polish Lowitcz region

Folk dress from the Lowicz region, by Irena Czarnecka; card printed in Poland. (Author’s collection)

This photo shows the cheerful paper cuttings and ornaments some people made to decorate their homes.

The Open Air Museum of the Łowicz Region Village in Maurzyce

Photo from the Open Air Museum of the Łowicz Region Village in Maurzyce.

And with a plot centered on a flour mill, I simply had to include a few Polish baked goods, such as these filled doughnuts called pączki.

Wikipedia - pączki

(Wikipedia photo).

Some of the customs I discovered became important elements in the murder investigations at the heart of Tradition of Deceit. In weeks to come I’ll share more information about some of the folkart and baking traditions featured in the book. I suspect that Chloe readers will enjoy exploring them as much as I did.

Tradition Of Deceit Cover


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12 Responses to “Polish Heritage”

  1. kim Says:


  2. Ruth Nelson-Lau Says:

    The filled donuts are a great treat.

  3. Kathleen Says:

    You always seem to make the most interesting historical facts flow seemingly effortlessly into your stories; just one of the reasons I love them!

  4. Elizabeth Says:

    My mom & I are so excited for new Chloe book! I am looking forward to learning about some new traditions. I grew up in the Milwaukee area, so my dad often brought home the jelly-filled donuts on Fat Tuesday.

  5. Ruth Nelson-Lau Says:

    Fat Tuesday is when I had the goodies also. Ruth

  6. Laurie Says:

    Just finished the book, and loved it! Met Kathleen recently at the Belgian Farmhouse at Heritage Hills. Loved the work done on Polish workers in the Mill. We believe my grandfather worker there after arriving from Poland. Thank you for a very good read!

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Laurie, I’m so glad you enjoyed the book! That one was particularly fascinating for me, as I knew little about immigrants who settled in urban areas and went to work in factories. Have you visited the museum? I can only imagine how special it must be to be there and imagine your grandfather! So glad we had a chance to meet at Heritage Hill, and I look forward to the next opportunity!

      • Laurie Says:

        Thanks for responding! Yes, have visited the Mill City Museum, but now want to go back to see it after reading your book! We often walk the Stone Arch Bridge, and eat at Kramarcyks for authentic Eastern European food and Polish favorites. On to your next book I bought that day, The Lacemaker’s Secret. I am sending my copy of Tradition to the friend in WI.

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