Why the Hanka Homestead?

Whenever I write a new Chloe Ellefson Mystery, I have the fun of choosing a new historic site or museum to feature in the book. The Hanka Homestead Finnish Museum in Michigran’s Upper Peninsula provides the setting for the forthcoming 11th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Weaver’s Revenge.

Click the image above for my video introduction to the site.

Readers are often curious about how I choose settings. It’s a complicated process, so let me share some of the reasons that this site reached the top of the list.

First, a potential setting must appeal to me on a personal level. Between researching and writing a book, I spend a lot of time—physically and mentally—in this space. My first visit to the homestead convinced me that I’d be happy immersing myself in this place and story. (And I knew Chloe would feel the same way.)

No matter how much I love a particular site, I can’t use it as a setting unless it has enough “geography” to support a murder mystery plot. I need room and opportunities to get characters into trouble. The Hanka property is remote, with no phone service. It includes ten buildings, including a couple of specific structures that hadn’t been featured in any earlier books. Perfect!

The Hankas were Finnish immigrants, so choosing this site allowed me to celebrate a new-to-the-series ethnic group. I was excited about the opportunity to shine a little lamplight on Finnish stories, heritage, and folk traditions.

Birchbark shoes on a woven rag rug.

At best, a Chloe Ellefson mystery represents a collaboration with site staff and local experts. I always talk with site hosts before committing to a book project. (If anyone expressed concern, I’d move on. It hasn’t happened yet.) The volunteers involved with the Hanka Homestead Finnish Museum, and representatives from Finlandia University’s Finnish American Heritage Center, were enthusiastic about the idea. They’ve been extraordinarily helpful through the research and writing phase.

Some the energetic people who provided a warm welcome during my first visit to the homestead.
A private tour on a misty day. Evocative!

And, it was nice to spotlight a wonderful site that is run entirely by a small group of volunteers. Such people make the museum world go around!

As the series has progressed over the past decade, I’ve planned ahead, thinking a lot about where main characters Chloe and Roelke are in their emotional journey. I like to choose settings that permit the book’s plotlines to reflect challenges Chloe and Roelke are facing at that moment. In The Weaver’s Revenge, they’re trying to figure out exactly what their marriage will look like. I won’t share any spoilers here, but that broad issue is mirrored in a number of elements from the Hanka/Finnish story used in the novel.

The earliest museum brochure, about 1985, designed by Alan Pape.

Finally, I had an added bonus. The man who originally started the Hanka Homestead restoration/museum project, Alan Pape, was a former colleague who served as restoration chief at Old World Wisconsin from 1971-1983. He was generous with his memories, knowledge, photos, and other records from the 1980s when the restoration got underway. My mystery plot is fictional, of course, but Alan’s assistance made it possible for me to root it firmly in real events.

That’s me at the homestead with Alan, on the right, and Professor Emeritus William H. Tishler, another vernacular architecture expert. I spent a fun weekend with these two, cruising the backroads looking at old Finnish buildings and listening to their stories.

I hope you enjoy exploring the Hanka Homestead Finnish Museum as much as I have!

The Weaver’s Revenge will be published this spring by Three Towers Press. I’ll let you know when it’s available!

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10 Responses to “Why the Hanka Homestead?”

  1. Nijole Says:

    That’s fascinating! Thank you for the video, the explanation, all the info.Nijolė

  2. Kathleen Ernst Says:

    My pleasure, Nijole!

  3. Dee Grimsrud Says:

    I’ve been wanting to learn more about the Finnish immigrant experience, and this will be the perfect way to do it…can’t wait to read it!

  4. Patricia Heikkila Says:

    I look forward to reading your latest book. My sister is also interested in it. I will have to try to find your other books as I love mysteries. Maybe see you sometime if you make your way up to northern Minnesota.

    • Kathleen Ernst Says:

      Hi Patricia – thanks for your interest! I loved having the opportunity to delve into Finnish heritage. I had hoped to visit the Finland MN Heritage Site while working on the book, but the pandemic got in the way. I still hope to visit when I can, so perhaps our paths will cross!

  5. Barbara Herrod Says:

    I’m looking forward to reading The Weaver’s Revenge! Having moved to Wisconsin in 2012 after 50+ years in New York State, Chloe’s adventures have helped me learn a good bit of Wisconsin and Midwest geography/history.

  6. Ramona Petry Says:

    I was anxiously waiting for #11 and learned that it was in Keweenaw where my grand daughter is living and we were to visit… Both my husband and I have read all your books, so I got it from the Library,

    read it and took it with us in October. So on the 5th we were there!! It is closed of course, but we did the walking tour with the pamphlet provided. I was thrilled We told Moira and I think you will have another reader…

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