Archive for the ‘Old World Murder’ Category

Old World Murder – A Retrospective

January 16, 2018

Thanks for joining me as we take a behind-the-scenes look back at the Chloe Ellefson mysteries! First up: Book 1, Old World Murder.

A little backstory: I worked at Old World Wisconsin, a large outdoor museum near Eagle, from 1982 through 1994. The first two years I worked as an interpreter; the rest of the time I served as curator of interpretation and collections.

Me at Old World Wisconsin’s Koepsell Farm, 1983.

The next decade was spent developing and scripting children’s educational programs for Wisconsin Public Television. I also started publishing historical fiction for young readers during this period, including mysteries for American Girl. These were great opportunities! But I missed the historic sites world.

What better way to reconnect than to write about a curator who visits different sites and museums? The Chloe Ellefson series was born.

Since I was writing “on speculation,” meaning I had no contract, it took seven years to complete the manuscript for Old World Murder because I had to work around projects with actual deadlines. Not ideal, perhaps, but it did give me lots of time to conceptualize the book and the series. In each story, Chloe’s passion for history would be needed to solve modern crimes.

Chloe is a lot like me, but she is definitely fictional! I did not grow up in Wisconsin, or move to Europe. And I have no Norwegian ancestry. Chloe also has slightly heightened powers of perception, which occasionally enable her to experience strong emotions resonating in old buildings.

I needed a character to provide the necessary law enforcement perspective. Fortunately the Village of Eagle Police Department’s chief was open to working with me, and got me started on ride-alongs. Officer Roelke McKenna would not exist without the department’s help.

Eagle Police Department.

I decided to start the series in 1982 because that’s the period I remember. Also, it seemed wise to put some space between visitors’ modern experiences at the sites and even fictional murder and mayhem. Finally, that period makes it necessary for characters to solve mysteries without cell phones and Google, which is a plus for plotting.

My first job, of course, was to tell a good story. But I also developed some goals for the series:

  1. Introduce readers to wonderful historic sites and museums.
  2. Celebrate Wisconsin’s heritage and cultural diversity by featuring different ethnic groups.
  3. Spotlight folk arts and food traditions.
  4. Explore different chapters of Wisconsin/Midwest history.
  5. Provide a peek at museum work.
  6. Fill in gaps in the historical record with fiction.
  7. Honor everyday individuals who faced and surmounted incredible challenges.

Old World Murder is set at Old World Wisconsin. I featured a Norwegian story in part so it had personal relevance for Chloe, and in part because I had loved working at the two Norwegian farms restored at Old World.

That’s me heading into the 1845 Fossebrekke cabin, 1983.

And I chose to feature a missing ale bowl because this one in the Kvaale Farm had always intrigued me.

I created Gro Skavlem and her story to fill in one of those gaps I mentioned. So often as a curator I was frustrated by some gorgeous piece of folk art with no documentation. Who had created the piece? How did they feel about it? How was it used? Finding women’s stories is always challenging. Gro gave me the chance to suggest a smart, talented, capable woman.

SPOILER ALERT – some plot points are discussed below!

When I started writing mysteries, I learned to quickly identify anything that could be used to get a character in trouble. Sheep shears could do damage. So could Ossabaw hogs.

Ossabaw Hog, Old World Wisconsin.

The storage trailers described in the book were those I inherited when I was given collections care responsibilities. (Please note: for many years now OWW has had a dedicated full-time collections curator, and a modern storage facility.)

Collections storage in the early 1980s. Old World Wisconsin photo.

Some readers have wondered whether there was actually a murder in Old World Murder. In the draft I submitted, a murder definitely took place in the book’s first chapter. However, the manuscript was 20,000 words too long for the publisher’s norms.  That first death could be snipped without impacting the overall story, so it was sacrificed. Did Joel kill Mr. Solberg, or was it an accident? That’s left open to interpretation.

A few readers were uncomfortable with a protagonist who’s recovering from clinical depression. I believe that everyone deserves to find themselves in a book, including those with mental health issues. Chloe’s depression also gave her a reason to risk her job by standing up to Ralph Petty.

And of course, Chloe’s depression gave Roelke a chance to step up in a big way! Old World Murder introduces the possibility of a relationship between Roelke and Chloe…if her ex, Markus, doesn’t get in the way.

So…what did you think when you met the characters for the first time? Did you know Chloe and Roelke would be good for each other, or did their differences appear insurmountable? Did Chloe’s ability to perceive strong emotions seem unlikely, or have you perhaps experienced something similar? Did you have a favorite—or least favorite—character?

You can explore relevant people, places, and the past on my web page for Old World Murder. Resources include a Google map, a Locations Guide, full Discussion Guide, and links to lots of additional background material. Happy reading!

Studying ale bowls at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.

Eight Books in Eight Months

January 9, 2018

My 9th Chloe Ellefson mystery will soon zip off to my publisher, and I’m already planning the 10th! That’s a milestone, and it seems like a good time to take a look back. My husband (AKA Mr. Ernst) and I have decided to do just that this year, with some treats along the way for readers.

Here’s how “Eight Books in Eight Months” will work.

Every month, from January through August, I’ll feature one Chloe Ellefson mystery here on Sites & Stories. I’ll start by posting  a reminder about the next book to be featured. I hope you’ll read along!

The second week, I’ll look back at my process for approaching the book, share insights about the topics and places covered, and prompt some discussion. We’ll see how Chloe and Roelke have evolved over time, both individually and as a couple.

Mr. Ernst always helps me with research, and every third week he’ll post about some of the interesting tidbits he’s discovered—many of which didn’t make it into the stories.

And every fourth week, we’ll give away copies of the featured book.

Many of you have told me you started the series in the middle, or read the books out of order. This is a great time to go back to the beginning and follow, or revisit, the adventures.

So dust off your copy of the first Chloe Ellefson mystery, Old World Murder. Happy reading!

Audiobooks!

June 14, 2017

I’m happy to announce that the first three Chloe Ellefson mysteries are now available as audiobooks!To hear clips, or for more information, visit my website.

The unabridged audiobooks were produced by Tantor Media, and narrated by Elise Arsenault, a classically trained actor, singer, and voice-over artist.

I love audiobooks, and so am particularly thrilled with this development. I hope you enjoy these too!

Immigrant Trunks

July 6, 2015

A Settler’s Year:  Pioneer Life Through the Seasons focuses primarily on newcomers’ experience after reaching their destination. But many of the European immigrants’  diaries, letters, and reminiscences included poignant descriptions of their journey from old world to new.

Museums and historic sites like Old World Wisconsin preserve not only the stories, but bits of the travelers’ surviving material culture. And there is, perhaps, no other object more closely tied to the immigrant experience than the immigrant trunk.

Some were plain, and purely functional.

Chest, trunk. CL*314563.01.

This trunk was constructed of pine, with simple iron fittings, c. 1880.  (Smithsonian National Museum of American History)

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This one was used by a Dominican sister from France in 1880. (Smithsonian National Museum of American History.)

Schulz House, Old World Wisconsin

This plain wooden trunk has beautiful ironwork details.  Some immigrants chose trunks with rounded lids, hoping it would keep them from being buried on the bottom of towering stacks of trunks packed in the hold. (Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin, Eagle, WI)

Many trunks were painted with the owner’s name.

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(Swiss Historical Village & Museum, New Glarus, WI.)

Add a description…Elk Horn Iowa

(Museum of Danish America, Elk Horn, IA)

Some had a bit of painted decoration…

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(Swiss Historical Village & Museum, New Glarus, WI)

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Swedish Immigrant trunk, 1867. (Smithsonian National Museum of American History)

Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison,

Trunk used by Halvor Anderson Lovaas on his trip from Norway, 1860. (Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison, WI)

And some, such as these Norwegian immigrant trunks, were exquisitely painted.

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(Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, IA)

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This might be my favorite.  (Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, IA)

Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum

Rosemaled trunks in open storage. ((Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, IA)

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Detail on trunk visible in preceding photo. Painted by Ola Eriksen Tveitejorde, Voss, Norway. (Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Deborah, IA)

Artistry aside, any immigrant trunk is valuable because it represents the people who struggled to fit their old lives within its confines. How many times did a family pack and repack it in the weeks leading up to departure? What was the most efficient way to pack?

Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum

This exhibit at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum suggests the difficult choices immigrants had to make. What would fit? What had to be left behind?

First must come the essentials: food for the journey, warm clothes, seeds, necessary tools. People didn’t always have accurate information about what was available in America, or how much it would cost.

And surely treasured mementos of home were squeezed in, too.

Kathleen Ernst, Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum

Many ale bowls (which inspired my first Chloe Ellefson mystery, Old World Murder) made their way from Old World to New. Since bowls like this one wouldn’t have been easy to pack, they must have been treasured keepsakes. (Artifacts in storage at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum)

Wisconsin Historical Museum

This trunk, originally brought from Ireland, is shown with items both practical and, perhaps, “for best.” (Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison, WI)

For the earliest immigrants, trunks served as furniture and storage in the New World.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The Schulz Farm at Old World Wisconsin depicts a family which had only been in the US for a few years, so furniture was relatively spartan and basic.  A huge trunk provides storage and, perhaps, a place to leave a shawl or book if needed.

But in time, trunks often ended in attics or outbuildings, filled with old clothes or pressed into service as grain bins. Gorgeously painted trunks were once so common, I’m told, that even museums with a focus on immigration had to decline many offered donations.

Wisconsin Historical Museum

This lovely trunk got a second life when Per Lysne, who many credit with the revival of rosemaling in the US, painted it in the 1930s or 1940s. (Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison, WI)

Every trunk saved is a tangible reminder of the often anguished choices people made about what they might carry, what must be left behind.

Fortunately, hopes and dreams took up no space at all.

(Kay Klubertanz photo)

(Kay Klubertanz photo)

* * *

Want to see more trunks?  Vesterheim has a fabulous collection of rosemaled trunks online.

Old World Wisconsin Locations Guide

May 13, 2015

As the Chloe Ellefson Mystery series grows, I thought it would be helpful to provide a single list of Old World Wisconsin locations that appear in the books.

(Special note:  This Sunday, May 17, I’ll be sharing a preview of the next Chloe mystery, Death on the Prairie, at Old World.  The 4 PM program is free of charge, but why not come early, buy a ticket, and tour the site? You can visit the highlighted buildings, and enjoy springtime activities throughout the outdoor museum.)

SPOILER ALERT: the notes below reveal information about the plots.

OWM – Old World Murder (#1)
THM – The Heirloom Murders (#2)
TOD – Tradition of Deceit (#5)

(Books # 3 & 4, The Light Keeper’s Legacy and Heritage of Darkness, do not include scenes set at Old World.)

Crossroads Village

St. Peter’s Church – The series begins with Chloe walking into the Village and visiting this structure. (Note: The Swiss house mentioned in OWM, is imaginary. All other buildings mentioned in the series are real.)

St. Peters Church, Old World Wisconsin, 1981

I took this photo on my first visit to the site, in 1981. It’s hard to remember the church without its fence.

Four Mile Inn – Chloe sometimes attends the morning briefing held for the interpreter in the basement, which is closed to the public.

Yankee Area

Sanford Farm – The large barn across the road from the farmhouse was the scene of a murder in THM.

As you travel from the Village to the German area, you will see a marshy kettle pond to the right. In Chloe’s time, her office building—Education House—was located out of sight on the far side of the pond. (That’s where I worked for many years.) The area is now closed and not accessible.

German Area

Schottler Farm – During the early 1980s, ski trails were maintained on the site. In TOD, Chloe takes a break from stress by skiing out to this farm, ostensibly to check the stove. (In reality she enjoys baking kuchen and making notes about trouble in Minnesota.)

Schottler Farm, Old World Wisconsin, 1981

The Schottler house, 1981. The farm looks much better now, with gardens and fences and more outbuildings!

Norwegian Area

Kvaale Farm – This farm plays a key role in OWM. Chloe visits the farm while searching for the missing ale bowl, and Roelke is called to the farm after an alarm is triggered one night. The climax scene takes place in the farmyard. Be sure to visit the stabbur, where Chloe found the bowl (the 2nd story is not open to visitors) and the barn where Chloe tries to hide from Joel. Inside the house you’ll find an ale bowl on display on a high shelf.

The climax scene in Old World Wisconsin takes place in the Kvaale farmyard.

The climax scene in Old World Wisconsin takes place in the Kvaale farmyard.

Finnish Area

Ketola Farm – Chloe especially loves the sauna, which is the first small building you’ll encounter. In THM she visits to enjoy some quiet time after-hours, and gets locked inside.

* * *

Much more detailed Locations Guides for Old World Murder and The Heirloom Murders are available on my website.

Old World Wisconsin is a great place to visit any time, any season. Happy wandering!

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.

Old World Wisconsin in Chloe’s Day

May 19, 2014

I’m sometimes asked why the Chloe Ellefson mysteries are set in the 1980s. The main reason is that my own museum career started in 1982. I write from my memories of Old World Wisconsin, and the historic sites biz. (I also think it’s nice to give modern visitors some space between the site they visit now and murder and mayhem, even if fictional.)

I sometimes forget how much Old World Wisconsin has changed in the past few decades, so I thought it would be fun to share some photos of the site in the early years.

The  site opened in 1976, with far fewer buildings than guests see today. A reader shared this photo from 1980.

Old World Wisconsin, 1980

I believe the crew was reconstructing the Hilgendorf Barn at the Koepsell Farm, in the German Area. Below, that’s me and Otto Hilgendorf, who donated the building, in 1982.

KAE and Otto Hilgendorf

This 1983 photo shows the stable in the background, part of a functional farmyard.

KAE Koepsell garden 1983

I took this photo of the Schottler House 1981, when I visited the site for the first time. No gardens, no summer kitchen.

Schottler, 1981

The crossroads village looked pretty spartan then too. Here’s the Four Mile Inn, restored but not yet open.

Four Mile Inn, 1982

The Hafford House looked quite isolated.

Hafford House, 1982

As the years went by at the site, gardens were planted, outbuildings moved and restored, fences added, old-breed livestock introduced. Visitors today enjoy the tangible results of decades of research and work.  If you haven’t had a chance to visit for a while, you’ll be amazed.

By the way, if you have any photos of Old World Wisconsin from the early years, I’d love to see them!

Old World Wisconsin Passes!

October 2, 2013

Gratitude Giveaway! While supplies last, I’m giving away two-for-one passes to Old World Wisconsin, the wonderful historic site near Eagle, WI where the protagonist in my Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries is employed.

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Here’s the scoop:

Each pass allows you to enjoy one complimentary adult admission with the purchase of a second admission of greater or equal value at the regular price. (You’ll save up to $16.) Passes are valid during normal operating hours through 12/31/13. Passes are not valid for any special events requiring advanced registration, or school or group tour programming.

I would love it, of course, if you used the  passes to visit on Saturday, October 12, when I’ll be signing books and celebrating the release of the newest Chloe mystery, Heritage of Darkness, from noon to 5 PM. Come say hello, get personalized copies of the Chloe mysteries, do some holiday shopping, and visit the site during one of the prettiest times of the year.

Heritage of Darkness 1

You can also explore the setting for the first two books in the series, Old World Murder and The Heirloom Murders. Locations Guides, which are available on my website, identify the specific buildings featured in the mysteries.  (You’ll find the Guides, and lots of other resources, by clicking on the title links above.)

To request your pair of passes, simply send me your name and postal address. You can use the contact form on my website:  http://www.kathleenernst.com/contact.php

Or if you prefer, email me directly:

kathleen <at> kathleenernst.com   (use normal email formatting)

Old World Wisconsin is a magical place—I encourage those who can to get out and enjoy the site. Special thanks to our friends at Old World Wisconsin for making this giveaway possible.

Location, Location!

August 5, 2013

Creating a vivid sense of place is one of my top goals when I begin a new Chloe Ellefson mystery. Each features real places that I think are very special.

So I’m excited to announce that—thanks to my husband Scott—you have two new ways to explore The Light Keeper’s Legacy‘s setting.

Light Keeper's Legacy by Kathleen Ernst

First is a Google Map.

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You can zoom around, and click on map pins see pop-up photos and descriptions.

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Second is a 12-page Locations Guide with maps and even more photos and descriptions—plus some recommendations for visiting Washington and Rock Islands.

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Both of these new ‘Book Goodies’ are free, and available on my website.  If you can’t visit Washington and Rock Islands, these resources will help you imagine the places described in the book.  If you are able to visit, they’ll help you plan your trip.

TLL-Locations Guide-RockIslandPage448wLocations Guides are also available for Old World Murder and The Heirloom Murders.

Enjoy!

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!