Archive for the ‘A Memory of Muskets’ Category

A Memory Of Muskets Giveaway Winners!

July 27, 2018

Congratulations to SUSAN NELSON, CARRIE STAMMER, and MELISSA WEINSTEIN!  Each has won a signed and personalized trade paperback of my seventh Chloe Ellefson mystery, A Memory of Muskets.

Winners were chosen randomly from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page. Thanks to all who entered, and for the lovely comments too. Next month I’ll hold a giveaway of my eighth Chloe mystery, Mining For Justice.

A Memory of Muskets Giveaway

July 25, 2018

This year from January through August I’m holding monthly giveaways of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries. The featured book for July is the seventh in the series, A Memory of Muskets.

To enter the giveaway for A Memory of Muskets, just leave a comment below before 11:59 PM (Central US time), July 26, 2018. One entry per person, please.

Three winners will be chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page, and announced the next day. Each winner will receive a personalized and signed trade paperback copy of A Memory of Muskets
Good luck!

Researching A Memory of Muskets

July 23, 2018

Image of the cover of the seventh Chloe Ellefson mystery, A Memory of Muskets, by bestselling author Kathleen Ernst, published by Midnight Ink.Mr. Ernst here. This book’s modern storyline is set in July 1983. Some readers find it hard to imagine life back then. For others, that time can evoke cherished  memories and “Oh, I remember that!” moments.

This mystery revolves around memories of our Civil War, including murders tied to a reenactment at Old World Wisconsin, the historic site where Chloe works, and a tragic love story about German immigrants who settle in Wisconsin at the war’s beginning in 1861.

Few people have detailed knowledge of the experiences of those who were caught up in the war, or those who were reenacting it in the 1980s.

OWWKathleenDoorway200x281wTo bring those time periods alive for Chloe readers, Kathleen relied on her memories of the twelve years she spent working at Old World, first as a costumed interpreter and then as its Curator of Interpretation and Collections.

Her time in the latter role included being the outdoor ethnic museum’s host responsible for organizing the Civil War events held there.

Kathleen also drew upon her years spent as a civilian Civil War reenactor, during which she observed and took part in numerous reenactments and living history events.

The influence of these experiences on what Kathleen has written about Chloe, Roelke, Rosina, and Klaus are explored in her recent blog post, A Memory of Muskets—A Retrospective. Additional insights are available on the Memory Of Muskets page on her website.

Kathleen also drew upon my memories of portraying a Union soldier. At the heart of them is a love story about Kathleen and me.

How my GGGF Introduced Me to His War and My Bride-to-Be

My entry into “The Hobby” came about as a result of doing genealogical research on the military service of my maternal great-great grandfather.

1862 tintype image of 1st Sergeant James Francis Cantwell, Company G, 80th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Union Army.In 1862 James Francis Cantwell answered President Abraham Lincoln’s call for 100,000 additional volunteers to serve three years in the Union Army.

During the war he marched some 3,750 miles through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia before arriving in North Carolina by railroad train (“the cars”) and sailing ship.

He fought in 26 engagements, including: the bloody battle of Perryville, KY; the defense of Knoxville, TN; the vicious fighting at Resaca and Kenesaw Mountain, GA; the capture of Atlanta, a narrow escape at Spring Hill, the slaughter at Franklin, and the destruction of General Hood’s army at Nashville.

At war’s end he returned to his family, unlike 620,000 other soldiers.

Researching his military records motivated me to learn even more. Taking his photo to a Civil War event, I showed it to a group of reenactors who looked and drilled like they knew what they were doing.

33rd Wisconsin reenactors. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

The 33rd Wisconsin. Photographer unknown.

As Kathleen wrote in A Memory of Muskets:

The two dozen or so reenactors who’d been lounging about jumped to their feet and scrambled to form two lines behind the stacked muskets.

Three stacks of Civil War muskets at Old World Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

Stacked muskets at Old World. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

“Right dress!”

The soldiers on the right end of the lines stood still. Everyone else jostled a bit as they came to stand shoulder to shoulder. Siggelkow, the tallest man, was on the left. Roelke also spotted Kyle Fassbender, the young interpreter.

“Front!”

The men moved smartly through each command—taking arms, removing bayonets, shouldering arms. These are the moves my ancestor learned, Roelke thought.

The reenactors were able to tell me a great deal about my ancestor from the photo. Then they made me an offer:  loan of a uniform and musket, and instruction in the soldierly arts my GGGF had been taught when he first entered the Union Army Infantry.

Accepting the offer, I joined the 33rd Wisconsin, which Kathleen used as a model for the 9th Wisconsin in the book, and spent the next decade learning about and reenacting the Civil War.

It would shortly prove to be one of my best decisions ever.

“I don’t get the whole reenacting thing.” Dobry used a bit of pancake to mop up a dribble of syrup. “A bunch of grown men running around with guns. If they ever dealt with the aftermath of real violence they wouldn’t think it was so much fun.”

While the 33rd’s members did run around with guns, they were at heart military historians. They were dedicated to being as authentic as possible for two reasons:  to increase their knowledge of the experiences of the Union soldiers they portrayed, and to respectfully honor those men who fought to preserve the United States of America.

The first public event I took part in was at Old World, a fantastic place to reenact. (Later I learned Kathleen had organized the event.)

Nestled into its 576 acres of gentle hills, forests, kettle ponds and prairies are over sixty historic buildings, carefully relocated from around the state and lovingly restored. In addition to a crossroads village, there are three working farms dating from the Civil War era, including the German Schultz Family Farm featured in the book.

1860s German Schultz Family Farm at Old World Wisconsin. Photo by the author.

Schultz Family Farm. Photo by Kathleen Ernst.

Although familiar with the view, Chloe felt the spell. The land to their left was forested. Wheat rippled on their right. Beyond the field sat a tidy half-timbered home, and a stable and huge grain barn with thatched roofs. Laundry hung on a line. Oxen browsed in the pasture. It was a bubble moment—when everything looked and sounded and smelled and felt so real that for an instant, just an instant, it felt as if time had truly slipped.

Gunter stood transfixed. “We’d be honored to participate in programming here. This site is first-rate.”

That weekend we did military “living history.” Which is to say we portrayed to the public portions of the common soldier’s day-to-day military experiences—without a battle.

On Saturday we put on a recruitment rally, followed by a reenactment of Wisconsin’s 1863 draft. (Later I learned Kathleen coordinated it.)

(Note from Kathleen: I have very fond memories of those events! We had great reenactors in the 3rd and 33rd Wisconsin Regiments who enjoyed doing top-notch programming.)

Reenactor in top hat and tails ready to enlist men in the Union Army. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

Ready to enlist draftees. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

…the Village buildings all closed temporarily so visitors and interpreters could attend the reenactment of the 1863 draft. Kyle Fassbender made an impassioned speech opposing the vile act. A member of the 9th, dressed in an impressive coat and top hat, had the honor of pretending to spin the draft drum and reading names. The draftees reacted with groans, complaints, or flight. The visitors loved it.

Later we practiced the manual of arms, conducted loading and firing demonstrations, did bayonet drill, and marched in the intricate, shoulder-to-shoulder infantry formations (invented by Napoleon).

Company formation of Union Infantry reenactors marching in column at Old World Wisconsin in the 1980s. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

Marching at Old World. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

We also spent time portraying typical camp life, including cooking meals, cleaning weapons, holding mail call, and undergoing inspection.

A long double rank of Union Army Infantry at Old World Wisconsin. Photo by Kathleen Ernst.

Reenactor company at Old World. Photo by Kathleen Ernst.

It was at Old World that I first experienced the camaraderie of living outdoors with a group of male comrades. Spending weekends in the wool uniforms and leather accoutrements of a Union infantryman. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder as we drilled.

And that weekend I happened to pass an attractive young woman. Since we were both wearing reproduction 1860’s clothing, I doffed my hat in respect and smiled. She smiled back. When I described her to my comrades, they said “Oh, that’s Kathleen! Everybody knows Kathleen.”

I was intrigued.

(Note from Kathleen:  Me too.)

As my knowledge and experience grew over time, I began interpreting to the public. Helping them understand what they were observing, and answering their questions, became one of my favorite tasks.

Some of the public had relatives who served in the Civil War and wanted to learn more about what their ancestor experienced. Some folks were military vets who would talk about the similarities and differences between their service and what they were seeing.

Diederich took over again. “We will load in nine times,” he told the crowd.

“Load in nine times” proved to mean that nine different steps were needed to load a single round. Roelke tried to imagine doing that while being shot at.

MudsillsCompanyLoadingOWW500x245w

Loading muskets at Old World. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

I still remember my first time taking part in a company firing demonstration. I was in the front rank, and even though I knew we were firing blanks…  I’ll let Roelke describe it.

“Company, fire by rank! Rear rank, ready…”

Each man in the back row positioned the barrel of his gun over the shoulder of the man in front of him. That’s gotta be sobering, Roelke thought, as muskets were cocked with an audible “click.”

“Aim . . . Fire!”

When a formation fires, the noise is deafening for those in the ranks. Everything in front of you disappears in a white fog, and the air you inhale smells like rotten eggs.

The explosions were precise. White smoke jetted from the muzzles. Babies cried. Excited kids bounced on their toes. Adults murmured in awe. The weapons boomed louder than modern guns. Roelke smelled black powder—pungent and faintly familiar.

Color photo of Civil War Union Infantry reenactors conducting a musket firing drill at Old World Wisconsin in the 1980s courtesy of John Wedeward.

Musket volley at Old World. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

A common question from the public was “Aren’t you hot in those wool uniforms?” Answer:  “Yes, but wool has the natural property of wicking your sweat away, resulting in evaporative cooling—as long as you keep well hydrated.” The most uncommon question? A little child solemnly pointing to our campfire and asking: “Is that a real fire?”

My time as a “Boy in Blue” also included long-distance drives to visit Civil War battlefields, and take part in huge public battle reenactments.

33rd Wisconsin Infantry reenactors at a reenactment of the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee. Photographer unknown.

Shiloh, Muddy Shiloh. Photographer unknown.

Over the course of a weekend we’d portray parts of an original battle. Sometimes there were 10,000 or more Confederate and Union infantry, cavalry, artillery, and medical reenactors ‘on the field’. At one event an estimated 200,000 musket blanks were fired. The smoke and dust grew thick, the constant noise deafening, and the humid heat oppressive.

Three photos of a reenactment of the Civil War Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia.

Photos by Svend Olsen (top left) and John Atkinson.

Kathleen drew from my memories for this passage in the book.

“Reenacting seems like an interesting hobby,” Roelke said, in a congenial Tell me more tone most unlike him.

“Oh, my gosh, it’s awesome! Big events, small events—I like it all. Our unit decided not to officially do any national events this year, but Steven and I went to Gettysburg for the big 120th anniversary. There were units from all over the country, even some from Europe.” Kyle’s face filled with remembered awe. “When we did the battle I saw this enormous line of Rebels coming at us . . . and then another line appeared over the hill . . . and then another . . . It was a bubble moment for sure. Just awesome.”

Kathleen’s own memories served as the basis for Chloe’s thoughts.

His description reminded Chloe of big events she’d attended. It had been staggering to think that the thousands of reenactors taking the field were only a small percentage of the actual number of men who’d once fought and bled and died there. Critics accused reenactors of playing, of romanticizing a ghastly and bloody conflict, but a thoughtful reenactment could help onlookers move past abstract dates and figures. Roelke simply couldn’t understand how it felt to be in the moment at a well-done event.

Scott Meeker at a reenactment of the 1863 Battle of Chickamauga Georgia. Photographer unknown.

Photographer unknown.

As you might imagine, my memories of those ‘fights’ are incredibly vivid and exciting.

And yet my fondest recollections come from after the public departed the battle reenactment or living history event.

We’d sit around a campfire, under the stars, smoking stoogies (cheap cigars), sipping whiskey from fire-blackened tin cups, singing old Civil War songs, and talking late into the night about the war.

Often we slept on the ground, ‘campaign’ style, rolled up in reproduction gum blankets. Other times we camped under canvas shelter halves (first introduced during the war and nicknamed “pup tents” by the soldiers because they looked like small dog houses).

I greatly valued that such weekends caused the constant buzz of contemporary civilization to fade from my mind. Reenacting reduced life to the basics:  hot/cold, wet/dry, hungry/thirsty. I always returned home physically exhausted, but mentally refreshed.

Yet eventually it grew increasingly difficult to manage the physical challenges involved. And truth be told, my graying beard made me look way too old to pass for any of the men who actually fought the war.

As for Kathleen and I, we were married in St. Peter’s Church at Old World, surrounded by family, her co-workers, and our reenactor friends.

Reproduction tintype of Kathleen and Scott's 1865 wedding. Photographer unknown.

Reproduction tintype. Photographer unknown.

Thanks Sergeant Cantwell for bringing us together. I owe you big time.

But Wait, There’s More

Hopefully this post has piqued your interest in discovering more about the ‘people, places and the past’ in A Memory of Muskets.

There’s a whole page full of information about this book on Kathleen’s website, including the first chapter, the author’s introduction to the story, a discussion guide for book clubs, a pair of custom Google map showing story locations and photos, recipes for foods mentioned in the story, a slide show of objects featured in the book, public radio interviews with Kathleen and a reading of the first chapter, blog posts that offer additional background about aspects of the story, and links to booksellers that offer it in ebook, and printed formats. Explore them by clicking HERE.

Next month I’ll post an article about researching Mining For Justice, the eighth book in the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery series.

A Memory of Muskets – A Retrospective

July 12, 2018

Although setting books at different historic sites and museums is one of my favorite things about writing the Chloe Ellefson series, I do enjoy getting her home to Old World Wisconsin every now and again. The 7th mystery, A Memory of Muskets, does just that.  Like me, Chloe thinks it’s special:

I should come out on site every single day, Chloe thought wistfully. It was a magical place, one of the few living history museums in the country where it was possible to wander all day and still not see everything. She loved inhaling wood smoke, and the acrid tang of coal from the smith’s forge, and the faint floury scent of native grass seed heads baking in the sun. She loved looking out the window of a period kitchen to see garden and field, and prairie or woods beyond. She loved watching the seasons change—loved feeling them change, much as Wisconsin’s early European and Yankee settlers had. Her responsibilities kept her indoors and behind the scenes all too often.

The Schulz Farm at Old World Wisconsin, featured in A Memory of Muskets.

I decided to focus on the experience of Wisconsin’s German immigrants during the American Civil War. I’d already established that cop Roelke McKenna was partially of German descent, and this allowed me to create a plot thread that had personal impact for him—and for Chloe as well.

And how could I fail to include Milwaukee’s beloved German Fest?

Another day at work.

Civil War reenacting provided the perfect activity to link the historical topic to outdoor museum work. I had been active in the hobby myself, sometimes driving many hours to participate in events.  I’d also coordinated an annual reenactment at Old World Wisconsin when I was a curator there. And I met Mr. Ernst when he attended his first reenactment at Old World, so I’ll always have good memories of my reenacting days.

When I’m starting to make notes for a mystery, I look for any source of controversy that can be used in the plot. Reenacting can be a surprisingly contentious hobby. Individual units have different standards of authenticity, and different goals. (Ironically, some reenactors who look fantastic don’t always act that way.) The worst thing a reenactor can be called is “farb,” a term that implies an absolute disregard for authenticity.

Since the book is set largely at Old World Wisconsin, I had to involve Chloe’s boss Ralph Petty, a “misogynistic megalomaniac with a graduate degree in micromanagement.”  Ralph invites a unit with wretched standards to participate in an event at the site, and writing the over-the-top scene where that group does a battle reenactment was great fun.

The death of an unidentified reenactor also provided a nice opportunity for Chloe to get involved in the investigation. The detective is impressed with her analysis of the victim’s belongings:

“You’ve told us plenty,” Goresko assured her. “Anyone would think you’re an experienced profiler.”

“It’s what I do every day, actually. Artifacts are clues to the people who left them behind. Sometimes I have only the tiniest scrap of information, and have to dig deeper to get a sense of the person who made or used the item, and how they felt about it. Analyzing a reenactor’s belongings isn’t much different.”

SPOILER ALERT:  Plot points discussed below!

The books I most enjoy reading have plots that present personal challenges to the main characters, and I try to do the same in my own stories. Chloe’s inability to enter the old cabin on the Roelke farm causes stress:

Squaring her shoulders, she approached the cabin. She opened the door, stepped inside…and instantly felt what she’d felt before. Something dark vibrated in this musty space. The air felt heavy with unhappiness. Chloe felt an uneasy tremor in her chest. …This was a sweet cabin, and she was going to have to tell Roelke that one of his ancestors left a whole lot of bad juju inside.

The Gotten cabin, in the Kettle Moraine State Forest near Eagle, served as inspiration for the old Roelke cabin.

Unable to hide her feelings, Chloe takes a leap of faith and tells him. Roelke’s reaction was intended to suggest that he has some old family issues weighing on him—bad memories from his childhood. Chloe is tapping into something much older, a moral dilemma that shaped the lives of Rosina, Leopold, and Klaus in the historical plotline.

We so often read about immigrants enduring absolutely horrible voyages from Europe to the US. While researching this book I found a wonderful account from a German man who wrote of delightful evenings spent on deck. That inspired Rosina’s experience, with the voyage providing a happy respite between challenges in old world and new. One reader wondered if she and Leopold could have found a private moment on board ship. I’m pretty confident that they could.

When Rosina finds herself pregnant, she has no easy options. Did she make an unfair choice when she married Klaus, or did she do the best she could in a difficult situation? I thought I might hear from readers unhappy to discover that Roelke descended from Leopold, but no one mentioned it.

And speaking of moral dilemmas…Roelke meets Ralph Petty for the first time in A Memory of Muskets. In the end, he threatens to reveal Petty’s family secret if he doesn’t stop harassing  Chloe. Did you cheer Roelke on, or did you think he went too far?

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of the complexities of hosting a Civil War reenactment at a living history museum.

Reenactors on the green at Old World Wisconsin, probably late 1980s. (Before the 2010 tornado took down the trees.)

You can explore relevant people, places, and the past on mwebpage for A Memory of Muskets. Resources include a Google map, images of key artifacts, a Discussion Guide, audio files, and links to lots of additional background material.

Chapter A Day

August 4, 2017

I am delighted to report that the 7th Chloe Ellefson mystery, A Memory of Muskets, was chosen to be shared on Wisconsin Public Radio’s beloved Chapter A Day program.

memory-of-muskets

Or as my husband put it, “Holy toboggans! Chloe’s latest adventure is on the radio!”

Jim Fleming, host of the popular program, has created a special abridged version of the book.

You can hear Jim’s half-hour readings on WPR’s IDEAS Network and streaming from https://www.wpr.org/programs/chapter-day weekdays at 12:30 PM (repeated at 11 PM) Monday, August 7th through Friday, September 1st. Each episode can also be heard on the Chapter A Day webpage for one week after its broadcast date.

JimFleming

Here’s what Jim had to say:

I fell for Kathleen’s book based on the setting and the characters. I had visited Old World Wisconsin years ago and was charmed by it, lured by the connection to Wisconsin’s past. Kathleen does a wonderful job of painting the cross between then and now. Throwing in a mystery and the inevitable conflicts which can threaten a compelling worksite just made it better.

What many people don’t know about Chapter A Day is that it presents abridgments of most books. I can only read 10-12 pages in half an hour, and it’s important that those 12 pages present a satisfying experience for the listener. MOM would have gone on for too many weeks if I had tried to read it all. I didn’t know what to do about it initially, but finally realized it would be possible to keep the language, the setting and the mystery if I simply removed the part of the story, or most of it, that takes place in the past. The modern story reveals enough about the past to be understood. I was sad not to be able to keep it all but am pleased with the result.

I admit, I would have loved to have the book read in its entirety. But I knew Jim would do a fantastic job with the project. He sent an audio clip from the first chapter and Mr. Ernst and I were hooked.

And the truth is, book “publishing” in the broadest sense is collaborative. Editors, to varying degrees, influence stories. Cover artists create their image of a main character or theme. Readers bring their own imagination and experiences to each book.

I was thrilled when Tantor Media produced audiobooks of the first three Chloe books, read by the talented Elise Arsenault. Elise brought her own interpretation to the mysteries.

Now we’ll hear Chloe and Roelke and friends come to life in a new way, as Jim reads his version.

Wisconsin Public Radio is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and CAD is its longest-running program! It’s been airing since 1931. I’m honored that A Memory of Muskets can be part of it.

Wisconsin’s Civil War Draft

June 29, 2017

The 7th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, A Memory of Muskets, features the challenges faced by newly-arrived immigrants during the Civil War. Two plotlines show how German-born immigrants struggled in the 1860s and how a living history site like Old World Wisconsin can interpret those struggles a century and more later.

Larry H. at the Four Mile Inn, Old World Wisconsin, during a reenactment of the draft, sometime in the 1980s. Note the lottery wheel on the table.

One challenge that divided Wisconsin’s German-American community was the announcement of a draft in 1862. Many men of German birth or descent had already enlisted. Other German immigrants were vehemently opposed to compulsory military service—especially those who had left Europe to avoid just that.

This print shows a draft taking place in New York City. (Library of Congress)

Wisconsin was told to supply over 47,000 additional men to the Union Army. Governor Salomon, hoping to avoid conscription, protested that Wisconsin had already furnished five more regiments than previously required. He also predicted that if the draft could be postponed until after the autumn harvest, voluntary enlistments would rise (which proved true.) But in August, 1862, Salomon was ordered to begin the draft in counties where quotas had not been met.

A draft officer with a different style of lottery box. (Library of Congress)

Resistance to the draft was strongest in several counties along the Lake Michigan shore, where many German and Irish Catholics lived. Protests erupted in Sheboygan and West Bend. In Port Washington, a riot turned violent.

These ballots on display at the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum were used in Janesville, WI. Each eligible man wrote his name on a disc. Note the tool used to cut them.

The Wisconsin draft was largely unsuccessful. More than a third of the men drafted simply failed to report. Others purchased substitutes.

This draft drum was also used in Janesville.  (Wisconsin Veterans Museum)

And not all the opposition came from eastern Wisconsin. Sheila R., a Chloe reader who is an archivist at the Walnut Creek Historical Society (Walnut Creek, CA), kindly shared several letters she’s transcribed. They were written by David Seely of Elk Grove, Lafayette County, in the southwestern part of the state, to his children in California:

“Oh Ben and Emily what a Sad war this is. …There was a draft here last week of 160 men out of this county, 5 from this grove. There is a good deal of fus (sic) and I understand there is a Company of soldiers at Darlington to force the drafted men into the service as they are not willing go. A good many have run away. Some to Canada and the balance not heard from…” (Dec. 18, 1862)

“They have not been able to force the drafted men from this State into the ranks, we will be in a war here before long if things don’t Change for the better—if the north can’t whip the south the war ought to Cease and North and South compromise on some sort of terms…” (February 7, 1863)

“The people don’t pay any attention to the Draft—I don’t think 500 soldiers could take one drafted man out of this county— the people here are determined to stand up to their Rights and Resist Tyranny.” (February 15, 1863)

“All drafted men are getting their $300.00 to buy out from the service, and those that Cant Raise it will have to go poor Devils.” (November 23, 1863)

Clearly, this was an important issue during the war.

Reenactments can be a fun way to learn about not only battles and military tactics…

Old World Wisconsin.

…but social issues and homefront activities—like the draft—as well.

Mary K. and Bev B. showing the type of relief activities undertaken by civilians, Sanford House, Old World Wisconsin.

I hope A Memory of Muskets:  A Chloe Ellefson Mystery can do the same thing.

A Sampler For Rosina

June 22, 2017

Historical objects play an important role in all of the Chloe Ellefson mysteries. Often, finding an intriguing artifact in a museum collection inspires me to weave it into a story. Less commonly I go looking for an artifact to fill a specific fictional need.

That was the case when I decided that Rosina, a fictional German immigrant featured in A Memory of Muskets, needed to be working on a sampler. (This book features a historical plotline as well as the main contemporary plot.)

Rosina has had a difficult life, but she also has a bright spirit. I wanted to reflect this in her handiwork.

One of the places I looked for “Rosina’s sampler” was The Wisconsin Decorative Arts Database, a fabulous online gathering of artifacts from many societies and museums around the state.  Each is beautifully photographed and is presented with known information about the piece and, if known, its maker.

Here I found a sampler that was perfect to keep in mind as a template for Rosina’s. It is owned by the North Wood County Historical Society in Marshfield, Wisconsin.

franzelsampler_northwoodcountyhs-1

“This sampler descended in the Weigel family of Marshfield, Wisconsin. The object label on file at the North Wood County Historical Society reads: “Mrs. Paul Weigel, Sr., the former Anna Franzel, made this sampler in 1878 while working in Milwaukee. This sampler received many first prizes when displayed year after year in the Antique Booth of the Marshfield Fair.” Anna Weigel appears in the 1910 federal census for the community of McMillan, Marathon County, Wisconsin. She married Paul Weigel, a German immigrant, in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin in 1881.” (Database description)

So of course I had to visit the property where the sampler is displayed, the Governor William H. Upham House. It tells the fascinating story of William H. Upham, Wisconsin’s 18th governor, and his family.

It was fun to see the lovely Victorian mansion and its furnishings, and imagine the house full of life.

Best of all was seeing the actual sampler on display!

Want to see for yourself? The mansion is open year-round on Wednesdays and Saturdays, 1:30 – 4 p.m. A visit in warm weather means you can enjoy the Heritage Rose Garden, too.

For more information, visit the society’s website.

Rosina’s Cabin

May 26, 2017

“The Old Roelke place” featured in the Chloe Ellefson mysteries is a fictional farm set near Palmyra, Wisconsin. The original cabin on the property plays a key role in the 7th mystery, A Memory of Muskets.

I based the cabin on the one built in the 1850s by a real German immigrant. Henry Gotten and his wife Barbara emigrated from Prussia in 1845.  A decade later, in 1855, the Gottens purchased 80 acres of land about one mile west of the town of Eagle.

Henry cut white oaks and to build a one-room cabin, probably skidding the logs from the woods with oxen.

The building style is traditional German log construction. Gotten chinked the space between the logs with a lime-based mortar.

The cabin site is on the edge of the Scuppernong Marsh, beside a fresh spring. Although the sandy soil was not ideal for farming, in 1860 the US Census indicated that Barbara and Henry and their three children had managed to clear 30 acres and were growing wheat, rye, corn, oats, and potatoes.

At some time after 1860, the Gotten family moved on. Other families lived on the property, but by the time the Department of Natural Resources acquired the property, the cabin was in bad shape.

Happily, the cabin has been restored and is still standing within the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

It was easy for me to imagine Rosina, the character from A Memory of Muskets, seeing this one-room cabin for the first time. When she moved in, the cabin had no windows. She dreaded being isolated in the dark cabin during the winter.

Gotten cabin, back view.

In good weather, she took solace from the open space behind the cabin.

View out the back door.

Over a century later, Chloe is enchanted with the cabin…until she steps inside. As it turns out, all kinds of memories linger there. Can the issues be resolved? Check out A Memory of Muskets to find out.

The Gotten Cabin is located on County Highway N, just north of State Highway 59. It’s a five-minute drive from Old World Wisconsin. On summer weekends you may be able to see the inside, and get your questions answered.

If you visit the cabin, I recommend stopping at the headquarters for the Kettle Moraine State Forest, Southern Unit, which is just a mile or so south on Highway 59. Displays help explain the historical and modern landscape. You can also get information about hiking trails in the area.  Enjoy!

Flax To Linen

March 15, 2017

I like to include folk art or craft in the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, and A Memory of Muskets is no exception.

memory-of-muskets

Rosina, the main character in the historical thread, is a newly-arrived German immigrant with little time for purely decorative handwork, so I decided to feature the process of creating linen. The contemporary mystery features Old World Wisconsin’s Schulz Farm, and processing flax into linen is a major interpretive activity there.

The Schulz Farm.

Linen is made of fibers from flax plants, specifically Linum usitatissimum. Flax plants for use in cloth production are generally harvested before they are quite mature—just when the stem begins to turn yellow.

Flax in Schulz garden. Photo by Loyd Heath.

Flax in Schulz garden. (Photo by Loyd Heath)

Once plants have been pulled, and seeds removed, a process called retting starts to break down the hard inner core within the stem. Some families put their stalks in shallow water. If an appropriate stream or pool wasn’t available, they relied on dew-retting. It was essential to watch this closely and retrieve the plants at just the right moment.

Dew retting flax in France. (Wikipedia)

Dew-retting flax in France. (Wikipedia)

Once retted, a hard outer shell still surrounds the flax fibers. The woman pictured below is pounding stalks in a flax break, which crumbles the shell into bits.

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(Library of Congress)

Handfuls of the broken flax are held against a scutching board (center in the photo below) and scraped with a wooden knife to remove as much of the hard bits as possible.

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(Photo by Loyd Heath)

The flax is then cleaned by pulling it through hackles made with sharp iron teeth.

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(Photo by Loyd Heath)

The tangled bits left in the hackle are called tow (as in, a tow-headed child) and saved to spin into twine.

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Once clean, the long fibers resemble human hair (as in, a flaxen-haired beauty).

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(Photo by Loyd Heath)

When enough flax had been cleaned, it was time to carefully spread fibers around the distaff on the spinning wheel. The photo below, labeled only “Germany,” shows women with flax wheels. The distaff is to the upper right above each wheel, with a wide band holding the flax fibers in place on each.

(Author’s collection)

Here’s the flax wheel at the Schulz Farm at Old World Wisconsin. The spinner draws fibers down from the distaff; the wheel twists them into thread and winds them on the bobbin.

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The small bowl holds water. Spinning with wet fingers helps bind the individual fibers together.

A good spinner could make fine thread for delicate work, or something coarser, based on the fibers and need.

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Once lots of thread has been spun, the wrap threads are measured (on a pegged warping board, just barely visible in the back of the photo below), then carefully put onto the loom. This process is known as dressing the loom, or warping the loom. Each individual thread must maintain an even tension.

An interpreter weaves on the loom at the Schulz (German) farm.

This is the process Chloe agreed to take on in A Memory of Muskets. (Photo by Loyd Heath)

Finally, it’s time to weave. You can see the woven linen cloth wrapping around the lower beam in front of the interpreter.

Schulz House, Old World Wisconsin

Linen cloth is labor-intensive to make, but sturdy. The artifact monogrammed shirt below was the inspiration for the monogrammed shirt Rosina makes in A Memory of Muskets.

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According to textile historians, flax has been used in garments for over 4,000 years. That boggles my mind, considering how involved the process is. I was introduced to the process when I worked at the Schulz Farm way back in the ’80s.

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Kathleen Ernst, Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

I’m glad I had a chance to spotlight it in a Chloe mystery.

Special thanks to my talented friend Loyd Heath for permission to use his photographs.  See more of his work HERE.

Gifts From The Heart

December 20, 2016

In A Memory of Musketsthe 7th Chloe Ellefson mystery, I had one of my Civil War-era characters, Rosina, make a housewife. In period parlance, housewives (or “hussies” as they were sometimes called) were little sewing kits. Women often made them as parting gifts for husbands, sons, or sweethearts who were leaving for war.

My dear friend Lynn has been studying antique housewives for years, and agreed to share photos of some of her favorites. The jpg files she sent were labeled “Gifts From The Heart.” I can’t think of any better title to convey the care and concern women stitched into these housewives.

Lynn wrote, “I love them all and often imagine the story in each one.” I’m grateful to her for sharing, and I hope they help you imagine the stories as well.

Look at the detail in this one.

Each housewife is unique. Lynn notes that the housewives were often the width they were because that is the exact size of bonnet ribbon ties, which were often used to line the housewives, along with fabric scraps.

Some women embroidered her soldier’s initials or regiment on the housewife. The stitching on this one identifies the owner as a member of the 1st regiment, company F. (State unknown).

By the end of the war, many of the housewives were well worn.

I love the fabrics used in this one—different, but clearly chosen to complement each other.

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This one was designed to be rolled up instead of folded.

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The strings on the first example below would tie the housewife closed. Pockets might hold a thimble, thread, a bar of soap, or some patent medicine. Flaps were added to store pins and needles. Some women tucked in a lock of their hair or a small image or note.

Lynn has also found newspaper clippings inside housewives. A clipping in one of the housewives in her collection was folded into a star shape.

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Each of these is a treasure. Each represents both the woman who made it, and the man who received it. In this holiday season, they are a reminder that gifts from the heart, however simple, are always the best.