Archive for the ‘Old World Murder’ Category

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.


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:

Or if you prefer, email me directly:

kathleen <at>   (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.


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


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

TLL-Locationis Guide-CoverPage448w

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.


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 (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!

Leaving Home

February 1, 2012

I’m in Decorah, Iowa this week, doing research at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. Vesterheim features a spectacular collection of artifacts. I’ve blogged before about their alebowls, and about my experiences taking rosemaling classes.

With so many tangible objects to grab attention, it would be easy to overlook a black-and-white exhibit panel. Yet this one captures my attention each time I visit.

Poignant words.

I began learning about and thinking about the immigrant experience while working at Old World Wisconsin. Later I considered the topic more broadly while scripting Cultural Horizons for public television. Questions of cultural identity have played a role in many of my books (including Trouble at Fort La Pointe, Betrayal at Cross Creek, The Runaway FriendHighland Fling, and Old World Murder).  The theme obviously resonates with me.

Immigrant letters sent back to loved ones in Europe provide some insight into the experience of 18th- and 19th-century arrivals in their new homes. More rare—at least for me—are written records of how people felt as they prepared to say good-by. Paintings of tearful farewells convey well  just how wrenching those departures from loved ones were.

Halvor Langslet’s farewell, though, was about saying good-bye to a place. He evidently felt a need to actually write something down—and not on paper, but on a building. I imagine that felt a bit more permanent.

I watched some kids experience the museum recently—kids who are well wired, able to Skype with distant cousins and use their phones to do almost anything. And that’s OK…but I’m glad that museums like Vesterheim continue to collect and share such rare reminders of what our ancestors experienced.

Rosemaling in Vesterheim’s One-Room Schoolhouse

January 2, 2012

I took my first rosemaling class at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in the summer of 2010. I thought it would be a one-time thing, done primarily to gain insight into one of the characters in my Chloe Ellefson mysteries—Chloe’s mom, who is a Gold Medalist in this style of folk-art painting. To my surprise, I discovered that I loved it! (Check out Rosemaling Through Time to see some examples.) I left that first class determined to do at least a little painting once I got home, just to keep my hand in.

Working on my first project, 2010.

Well, my life is crazy-busy and that didn’t happen. I returned to Vesterheim last July for my second five-day class having not held a paintbrush for a year. I’d signed up for the beginners’ Telemark class again, and was happy to see several students I’d met the previous year. I was also surprised to find several experienced painters in the class, including one Gold Medalist.

The experienced students’ work was impressive. Although some things did come back once we started painting, I was frustrated that I hadn’t been able to practice as I’d wanted to.

Beginning my first 2011 project, a bowl.

Then I had a chance to see some of the work being done by students in the other class being held at Vesterheim that week, “Freehand Halling Rosemaling.” That class was taught by Tove Ness, an expert who has her own studio in the mountains of Hallingdal, Norway. Not only did Tove’s students produce wonderful, unique works—they accomplished more in a day than I could imagine doing in…OK, more than I could imagine doing at all. Ever.

Several exquisite examples of the work done in the freehand class.

So for a couple of days my pleasure in being back in a class was tempered by a certain amount of intimidation. Between studying the works of old masters in the museum proper, admiring the pieces entered in the National Exhibition of Folk-Art in the Norwegian Tradition (which happened to coincide with my class), and seeing the amazing work being produced by more experienced students, I felt a bit overwhelmed.

Some of the rosemaled pieces in Vesterheim's collection.

A few of the pieces in the exhibition.

Then I happened to overhear my wonderful teacher, Joanne MacVey, talking with another student about her experiences attending a one-room schoolhouse.  She mentioned something I’ve heard and read many times:  that the younger students tended to advance quickly because they had the opportunity to listen to and observe older students working through their lessons.  Although those in primary grades were focused on their own lessons, they subconsciously absorbed some of what the more advanced students were working on.

Joanne, who is also a Gold Medalist.

And that made me realize I’d been looking at my situation all wrong. Instead of being intimidated, I should be grateful I had the opportunity to learn while surrounded by talented artists and great examples, old and new.

I may be a perpetual rosemaling beginner, since the writing life seems to preclude me finding the blocks of time needed to gain any real proficiency. But that really doesn’t matter. I love painting and its inherent traditions and heritage. I love the challenge of doing something visual instead of creating pictures with words. Taking classes at Vesterheim exposes me to all kinds of knowledge and expertise. It’s something I do for fun, I’ve made some wonderful friends, and stressing about it is really a bad idea.

The finished bowl. (Design by Joanne MacVey.)

So for the rest of the week, I let myself enjoy the process. We painted a bowl first, and then started a box. I didn’t have the box finished by the week’s end, and since I knew I wouldn’t have time to paint once I got home, I pulled an all-nighter in the hotel room after the final class.

My work station at the Decorah Super 8. (I was very careful, and didn't get even a dab of paint on anything!)

Last week I gave the finished box to my mom for Christmas. Big hit.

Box lid. (Design by Joanne MacVey.)

The complete box.

Diane Weston, former head of educational programming at Vesterheim, said that the student/artist community there is like a family.  That’s why a Gold Medalist would enroll in a beginner’s class.  There’s always something to learn, and most of all, it’s fun to spend time with other painters.

Joanne MacVey and Diane Weston, 2011

I also think that the global community (or one-room school, if you will) that practices and perpetuates any type of folk-art, such as rosemaling, forms it’s own family. If you’re at all interested in learning more about one of these old handicrafts, see what opportunities might exist in your area, or check out Vesterheim’s class offerings. Most of all, have fun!

An Ale Bowl With Cow Heads

June 8, 2011

If you’ve read Old World Murder, the first Chloe Ellefson/Historic Sites mystery, you know that the plot revolves around a missing antique ale bowl. Ale bowls were used in rural areas of Norway during the period many immigrants came to America in the 19th century. They were used for special occasions, and were often beautifully carved and exquisitely rosemaled (painted).

Often ale bowls were carved with animal heads serving as handles. I chose to make my fictional bowl feature cow heads as handles, something I’d never seen on an actual bowl. It worked for the story. (For more visuals, see earlier posts Rosemaling Through Time and Ale Bowls:  Migration of a Tradition.)

When Old World Murder was published, my husband Scott suggested that we commission a carver and painter to create the bowl described in the novel. It was a lovely idea, but after several discussions, I nixed the idea as impractical.

Well, Scott ignored me. He surreptitiously made arrangements with woodworker Becky Lusk and rosemaler Judy Nelson Kjenstad.  These two incredibly talented women worked from the description of my fictional bowl to create the piece. Scott gave me the bowl for my birthday.  Surprise!

The bowl is spectacular. Becky and Judy have both earned Vesterheim Gold Medals in their respective arts. Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum awards Gold Medals to artists who have repeatedly won ribbons in the annual National Exhibition of Folk Art int the Norwegian Tradition. These are coveted awards, earned only by those who truly excel.  My new ale bowl is a beautiful piece of folk art for our home.

I also look forward to displaying the ale bowl when I give programs. Since the novel was published last fall, lots of readers have asked what such a piece would look like.

I think my favorite aspect of the gift, however, is Scott’s assertion that publication of Old World Murder deserved some kind of commemoration. He knows the publishing biz can be…shall we say…fickle. He’s celebrated high notes and successes with me, but he’s also seen me work hard on novels that have yet to find a home. He wants me to have a memento to remind me that this book did find a home with publisher Midnight Ink, launching a series I am enjoying immensely.

When I think back on our earlier discussions about whether or not to have this particular bowl made, I realize he was right all along.

The Sugar Bush

March 26, 2011

Like countless other children, I was introduced to maple sugaring in the pages of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. I was a suburban kid. Descriptions of “sugar snow,” and Garth Williams’ delightful illustrations, were magical.

I was reminded of Wilder’s charming tale last week while visiting Washington Island, WI.  I saw lots of maple trees being tapped, and the air smelled like woodsmoke.

As far as I know, the people who make syrup on Washington Island do so for themselves, their families and friends, or a local restaurant. Two years ago a friend on the island gave me a Snapple bottle filled not with tea, but with syrup. It was a little thinner and paler than what I was used to, and tasted divine.

The sap is as thin and clear as water.

Each year I spend a week writing near Egg Harbor, also part of WI’s Door County peninsula, in late winter or early spring.   That’s how I discovered Jorns’ Sugar Bush.

The home-based outlet is always open.

The Jorns family has been making maple syrup in this area since 1857!

Ferdinand Jorns emigrated from Hamburg, and eventually settled in Door County,

After Ferdinand died, Dora Dow Jorns raised twelve children. One of them was Roland Jorns’ father.

The current master, Roland Jorns, has been making syrup since he was ten years old. The work agrees with him:  Mr. Jorns is 82, and would much rather be working outside than anything else.

Today, with the help of his youngest son, he taps about 6,000 trees. They could double that if they had enough workers. (It’s not just the work of tapping and condensing. Every one of those pails must be washed.)

Mrs. Jorns showed me how the spiles (spouts) have changed over time.

A lot has evolved over the years. Among other updates, Mr. Jorns introduced a reverse osmosis machine in 1978, an innovation that removes 80% of water from the sap and therefore reduces resources needed to produce syrup. His light amber syrup has won many awards. He has also served as president of the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Council, and represented our state at the North American Maple Syrup Council.

I love stocking up at Jorns’ Sugar Bush, which is open year-round.  I love chatting with Mrs. Jorns, and picking out my purchases in a simple space made special by family mementos.

I love seeing maples being tapped, knowing that spring must be right around the corner.

Two of the thousands of buckets used each year.

And I love the taste of maple syrup so much that I rarely cook or bake with sugar anymore.  I’ve shared the following recipe with readers, and it’s received  rave reviews.

First in the Chloe Ellefson Series

Chloe Ellefson, the protagonist of my series, is not an autobiographical character. We do have a lot in common, though! She’s a curator at Old World Wisconsin, a large living history museum where I was once a curator. And we both spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Like me, Chloe loves to cook and bake with local ingredients.

This cake is easy and luscious. I use whole wheat flour, farmers’ market blueberries, free-range eggs from a local farm, and Jorns’ maple syrup. Substitute as your options dictate; the cake will still taste great.

Chloe’s Maple Blueberry Cake

2 c. blueberries, fresh or frozen (don’t thaw)
3 c. flour
½ c. butter, softened
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
¾ c. maple syrup
2 t. vanilla
3 eggs
1 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
6 oz. vanilla yogurt
2 T. lemon juice

Glaze (optional)
½ c. confectioners’ sugar
4 t. lemon juice

In a small bowl, combine blueberries and 2 T. flour.  In a separate bowl, combine the baking soda, salt, and remaining flour.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and cream cheese.  Add maple syrupe, lemon juice, and vanilla, and beat until mixture is light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with the yogurt.  When everything is well blended, fold in the blueberries.

Transfer to a 10-inch fluted pan well coated with butter or cooking spray.  Bake at 350 degrees for 65-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes.  Remove from a pan to a wire rack.

If desired, whisk glaze ingredients until smooth and drizzle over cake.  Enjoy!

The Nite Cap Inn – Then and Now

February 21, 2011

Before Old World Murder was published, several people asked if writing about real places made me nervous. I have a simple rule:  I only write about real places that I love. Old World Wisconsin obviously fits that description—if I didn’t love the place, I wouldn’t have set a book there.

Another real place that gets mentioned in the book? The Nite Cap Inn, in Palmyra, WI.

The inn is a great cream city brick structure.

Last summer, Scott and I stopped to photograph the Nite Cap. When a woman came outside to ask what we were doing, I explained that I had happy memories of eating at the Nite Cap back in the ’80s. Turns out the woman’s parents, Helmut and Suzie, owned the inn then—and they still do today. “We’re having a fish fry tonight,” she said. “Why don’t you come inside and have dinner?”

I wondered if a new experience would overwhelm my memories. Still, we couldn’t ignore the invitation. Happily, stepping inside only brought my memories into sharper focus.

Fish fry patrons place their order, then relax at the bar while a table is prepared.

A century or more ago, many guests traveled to Palmyra by train. Some were day visitors; others lodged in one of the rooms upstairs.

The inn has been a Palmyra institution for many years.

When I moved to Wisconsin, I quickly learned the cultural importance of fish fries. “We attach meaning to our ritual beer batters and potato pancakes,” wrote Ann Christenson in Milwaukee Magazine. She went on to name the Nite Cap’s fish fry as a favorite:  “Palmyra’s Nite Cap Inn is nothing fancy, but a place doesn’t have to be if the food is good.

“…The potato pancakes were grease-free, with crunchy edges and soft-potatoey center – the way a pancake should be. The coarse-chopped coleslaw was lightly dressed, with a peppery kick. Chunky applesauce laced with cinnamon was perfect slathered on the pancakes. And for once (we’ve had bread issues at our other fries), the light and dark rye was fresh and moist.”  (3/1/2004)

When I lived in the area, friends often invited me to join them at the Nite Cap. In addition to fish, the potato pancakes were famous. (I used those memories to describe the scene in Old World Murder when Roelke and Chloe meet Libby for a fish fry.)  Occasionally an interpreter rented one of the Nite Cap’s rooms for the season, too.

Back in the '80s, I always ordered schaum torte. It's still on the menu!


Scott opted for the German chocolate cake.

The evening that Scott and I dined there, the couple at the next table was from Milwaukee. They’d been driving to the Nite Cap on Friday nights for decades.

While we enjoyed our meal, Helmut settled at the piano.  One piece flowed effortlessly into the next.  It was delightful.

It’s not often we can revisit favorite spot from the way-back days in any place but our memories.

Do you have a favorite long-established eatery?  If you haven’t been there in a while, it might be time to go back.

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

10/4 – Recipe For Promotion – Are You Missing An Ingredient?
Visual Arts Junction

10/5 – Writing For Grownups, Writing For Kids
Creatures & Crooks

10/6 – Planting Seeds, Growing a Series
The Cozy Chicks

10/7 – Reenacting For Novelists
Mary E. Trimble’s Blog

10/8 – Handwork
Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers

10/11 – Start Your Mystery With A Bang!
Mystery Writing Is Murder

10/12 – Interview
Beth Groundwater’s Blog

10/13 – Harpers Ferry – People, Past, Place
Repeating History

10/15 – Chloe’s Maple Blueberry Cake
Vintage Cookbooks

10/17 – Ethnic Eating
Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

10/19 – Have You Got What It Takes To Write A Mystery?
Heidi Thomas’s Blog

10/2- – Writers’ Police Academy

10/20 – Revisiting My Past
Women Only Over Fifty

10/22 – Culture Clash
Thoughts In Progress

10/25 – Chloe & Me – Writing From Real Life
Lori’s Reading Corner

10/26 – Of Prairies and Plots
Walking Nature Home

10/27 – Interview
Patty Jager’s Blog

10/28 – Creating a Cop
Mystery Book News

10/29 – Theme To Be Announced
The LadyKillers

Rosemaling Through Time

July 24, 2010

The Norwegian folk art called rosemaling is a form of decorative painting that dates back to the early 18th century.  Styles varied from region to region in Norway, and was practiced largely by traveling painters in rural areas.  Many immigrants carried painted bowls or plates or boxes in their trunks when they crossed the Atlantic.

Many trunks were rosemaled too. Isn't this one spectacular? (Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum)

In the new world, the demands of starting new lives, and acculturation, led to a quick demise of the art.  Those painters who immigrated earned their living in other ways.  After some years, the painted pieces that made the trip took their place as treasured mementos of the old country… or perhaps were put to some mundane use, and eventually discarded.  By the 1870s, rosemaling had also faded from favor in Norway.

Ethnic pieces at the 1865 Kvaale House, at Old World Wisconsin, are relegated to a high shelf. By 1865, the Kvaale family had been in Wisconsin for some time.

A man named Per Lysne is credited with reviving the art in America.  Lysne learned the art from his father in Norway before immigrating to Stoughton, WI, with his wife in 1907.  Lysne went to work at a local wagon factory as a painter, and was soon adding decorative flourishes to the finished wagon boxes.

This wagon still shows the faded flourishes added during the period when Per Lysne worked for the Mandt Wagon Company in Stoughton. (Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum)

Here's a piece of agricultural equipment that was rosemaled.

When the Great Depression caused the factory to close, Lysne was able to earn a living with his paintbrushes.  He began by repainting some of the old and faded pieces brought to Wisconsin by his neighbors.  Soon his work became popular in its own right.

Per Lysne became famous for platters featuring bright designs on a cream or white background. (Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum)

I was introduced to the folk art when I went to work at Old World Wisconsin in 1982.  I was fascinated by the lovely painting.  When I wrote Old World Murder, I chose to make a missing rosemaled bowl the heart of the mystery.

My protagonist is a Norwegian-American museum curator named Chloe Ellefson.  Chloe’s mom is an expert rosemaler. Knowing that this art will be touched on again in future books in the series, I decided I needed to learn more about it.  That’s how I found myself in a beginner’s rosemaling class last week at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.

I had not held a paint brush since I was in middle school, when my art teacher made it clear (and not politely, either) that I had no business taking an art class.  I signed up for the rosemaling class because I wanted to learn more about the art, but I had low expectations of what I could actually accomplish.

The class was taught by Joanne MacVey, an expert who earned her Gold Medal in rosemaling (which is not easy to do) in 2001. She is a lovely person, and a calm and encouraging instructor.  She had us begin by practicing basic strokes.

My practice work. Note the many wobbles.

Then we mixed paint for our projects.  That part was kind of fun.

I did learn that my eye for color needs developing.

Joanne soon had us moving on to our wooden project piece, a bentwood tray.  (I was dubious.  Shouldn’t we spend more time practicing?)  Making that first stroke was the hardest.

Joanne demonstrated each step of the project...

and she made it look easy.

That's me, working on my own piece. Bit by bit, the pattern came together. Much to my surprise, it was recognizable.

My very first rosemaled project.

The beginner class was three days.  I opted to stay two extra days for an advanced beginner course.  For that, we painted a mangletree.  Mangles, as they are often called, were historically used to smooth wrinkles from cloth.  They were also created and offered as betrothal gifts.

My mangle, with just the first few scrolls painted.

Here (two photos below) is my finished mangletree.   I was astonished with (and proud of) what we were able to accomplish in such a short time.  I credit that to having a superb instructor.

Vesterheim is the perfect place to take a class in one of the traditional folkarts.  The museum’s extensive collections are made available to students for study and inspiration.   I was also lucky enough to be there during the annual National Exhibition of Folk Art in the Norwegian Tradition.  Artists who are awarded ribbons in the show earn points; enough points accumulated over the years earn the coveted Gold Medal.

Some of the stunning pieces entered in this year's exhibition.

I went to Decorah to learn about rosemaling; I discovered that I loved doing it.  I will never become an expert rosemaler, but I like to think that my tentative brushstrokes have become part of the continuum, helping to keep this vibrant art alive.