Archive for the ‘The Heirloom Murders’ Category

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!

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.


Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver

April 9, 2013

If you’re a gardener—or even if you’re not—I highly recommend Gathering:  A Memoir of a Seed Saver, by Diane Ott Whealy (Seed Savers Exchange, 2011).

When considering topics and themes to explore in my second Chloe Ellefson mystery, The Heirloom Murders, I decided to highlight heirloom gardening.

I began working at Old World Wisconsin in 1982 with little knowledge of gardening, period.  I had no idea that we humans have lost a shocking percentage of genetic diversity among flowers, fruits, and vegetables in the past century or so.

Now that I have my own vegetable garden, I plant heirloom varieties every year. It’s fun. It’s interesting.  And it’s important.  Diane’s book explains why all those things are true.

Diane Ott Whealy was one of the founders of Seed Saves Exchange (SSE), the nation’s first nonprofit seed-saving organization.

Diane, her former husband Ken, and an ever-growing group of volunteers began saving heirloom seeds and the stories that came with them in the 1970s.  In 1986, SSE found a permanent home at Heritage Farm near Decorah, Iowa.

The book is a fascinating memoir, documenting the growth of the seed saving movement. It also reflects the challenges faced when a tiny organization must confront inevitable changes brought by success. Along the way, it highlights the urgent need to grow and save heirloom varieties of fruits, vegetables, and flowers.

Essays introduce readers to a fascinating cast of characters—both people and plants. While reading, I made a long list of vegetable varieties I want to try. The book is also beautifully produced, with gorgeous color photographs and equally gorgeous illustrations.

If you’re new to heirloom gardening, this book will provide all the inspiration you need to get started.

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!

Frieda’s Kitchen

March 14, 2012

If you’ve read the second Chloe Ellefson novel, The Heirloom Murders, you’ve met Frieda Frietag.  Frieda is an elderly woman of Swiss descent, living in an old family farmhouse in Green County, WI.  Based on reader response, Frieda and her husband have become favorite characters.

In the book, Chloe meets Frieda in her kitchen:

Martine led them through the house to the kitchen.  The room was hot enough to take Chloe’s breath away, but also welcoming in a cluttered and comfortable way.

“Gran?” Martine said.  “Here are the visitors I was telling you about.”

A tiny wren of a woman with stooped shoulders turned from an iron-and-enamel cookstove.  Markus made introductions.  Frieda beamed at him, then turned to Chloe.  “Gruetzi!”

“Hello,” Chloe said.  “I’m afraid I’m not fluent in your first language.”  She’d tried hard to scour all things Swiss from her mind, and her command of the language was rusty at best.

“No matter,” Frieda assured her.  “I’m glad you’re here.”

I like to pin my books on real places to the extent possible.  The inspiration for that kitchen came from a display at the Swiss Historical Village and Museum in New Glarus, Wisconsin.  THM takes place in 1982, so I thought this kitchen might not be too far from what a traditional woman, well advanced in years, might have.

Most people pass on without leaving diaries or reminiscences handy for curious novelists.  But sometimes, the essence of a time and place can be sensed in the objects that  people owned, used, made, cared for, and left behind.  My favorite artifacts in the kitchen?  These embroidered storage bags, which provide a hint—just a hint—of the woman who made them.  I hope she’d be pleased to know that they have a place of honor in the museum.

Giving Thanks

November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I enjoy good food; even more, I enjoy pausing to celebrate bounty. So this week I thought I’d re-post some thoughts about the simple pleasure of homemade  bread.

Bread dough raising in a coiled rye straw basket at Old World Wisconsin.

Two of German farms that have been restored at Old World Wisconsin, setting for my Chloe Ellefson mysteries, were home to immigrants from Pomerania. The 1860 Schulz Farm represents a newly-arrived family. Heavy rye bread is baked in a brick bakeoven.

That's me at the Schulz Farm...

The Koepsell Farm has been restored to its 1880 appearance—when the family was prosperous and well settled in Wisconsin. Interpreters there prepare lighter wheat bread in a cookstove. By visiting both farms, guests can see for themselves how life changed over the years.

...and at the Koepsell Farm.

I worked in the German area for most of 1982—my first year at Old World Wisconsin.  On the last day of the season I suddenly realized I should have copied all of the recipes we used.  One of my friends, Jean Hornburg, scribbled down the basic recipe for the Koepsell wheat bread on an Exhibit Building Report (kept in the houses so interpreters could notify curators of any problem.)

Thirty years later, I still treasure the recipe. The bread is good. Even better are memories of sharing meals with good people who thought that working at Old World was a special thing to do.

By the way, Jean still sometimes works at the site. I had the chance to see her when I went back to launch The Heirloom Murders in September.

One of the best things about writing the Chloe Ellefson mysteries has been reconnecting with friends!

This Thanksgiving I’m grateful to have good food to eat, and family and friends to share it with. I’m also grateful to readers!  I wish you and yours a peaceful holiday.

Vessels of Tradition

October 19, 2011

A reader recently asked if the elderly couple in The Heirloom Murders was based on real people.  I was delighted with the question.

She was speaking of Johann and Frieda Frietag, a Swiss-American couple.  Many Swiss immigrants settled in Green County, WI.  Communities like New Glarus and Monroe still celebrate Swiss heritage and culture.  My protagonist Chloe meets the Frietags when she visits their farm:

Johann grinned, and Chloe glimpsed the young man he’d once been.  “People used to call me an old coot,” he told her.  “Then some lady from the historical society came out a year or so ago.  Talked about how important it is to preserve the old ways.  All of a sudden I’m a somebody important.”  He looked pleased.  “She called Frieda and me ‘vessels of tradition.’”

“That’s a fancy way of saying that we’re old,” Frieda said dryly.

Johann and Frieda are fictional characters, but they’re based on a handful of people I met back in the ’80s when I worked at Old World Wisconsin. I have special memories are of meeting some of the elderly people who donated buildings or artifacts to the historic site, or who helped researchers and curators understand life as they had known it.

Elsie Peterson and me, 1990.

Some of these people, although born and raised in Wisconsin, spoke English with an accent because they’d grown up hearing German or Norwegian or Polish.  I was young, new to Wisconsin, eager to soak up everything they had to share.  Without exception they were delightful people, patient with my questions about school activities or domestic crafts or agricultural practices, generous with their memories and information. They were living links to the ideas and themes and activities interpreted at the historic site.

Me and Otto Hilgendorf, 1982.

So Johann and Frieda Frietag became my quiet tribute to the children and grandchildren of 19th-century European immigrants—people who grew up somewhere between old world and new. I got to meet a few of them, and I’m grateful.


August 29, 2011

The Heirloom Murders is officially in print. It was published a little earlier than expected, actually. That means I’ve already had the pleasure of hearing from readers.

Book 2 in the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries.

For the most part I don’t blog about my own books, but I do want to say how much I appreciate all the personal connections that the two Chloe Ellefson mysteries have brought into my life.

I’ve had the chance to re-connect with many friends from the 1980s and 1990s. Most recently, I did a program at Muskego Public Library. I was greeted by the president of the Friends group, which had sponsored my visit to Muskego. She was someone I’d worked with years ago, but hadn’t seen in many years. I’ve had similar, equally wonderful surprises at several programs.

Sandi Snyder and me, Muskego Library (photo by Patricia Nakamura)

I’ve also learned new things about friends and acquaintances.  I never knew how many people had cherished pieces of Norwegian folk art in their own homes, often created by an ancestor, until Old World Murder was published. (OWM features a missing carved and painted ale bowl.) A couple of people sent photos, which I loved receiving.

I’ve heard from people I’ve never met, but who once lived in Eagle or New Glarus and wrote to tell me how much fun they had picturing places as they read.

And I’ve made new friends—readers who come to programs and take the time to let me know about their own interest in history. One person sent me an article she’d written. Another sent poetry.  How cool is that?

So for everyone who has been in touch—in person, here at Sites and Stories, on my Facebook page, via email or letter—thank you.

Finally, congratulations to the three winners in the Heirloom Murders pre-order contest.  Lori O. of Bismarck, ND, chose a personalized copy of Putting Down Roots:  Gardening Insights From Wisconsin’s Early Settlers; Jennifer R. of Andover, MA, choose a bookstore gift certificate; and Barb J. of Eagle, WI, chose a gift certificate from Seed Savers Exchange.

Willkommen to Volksfest!

August 11, 2011

Since Swiss heritage is a theme in my latest Chloe Ellefson/Historic Sites Mystery, The Heirloom Murders, my husband Scott and I have spent the past couple of years poking around the lovely communities in Green County, WI. Towns in this area have a strong Swiss presence. New Glarus, which proudly claims the title of “America’s Little Switzerland,” was settled by immigrants from the Canton of Glarus in 1845.

An iconic image.

Last year Scott and I attended the Green County Cheese Days festival in Monroe. It was great fun, and I had the chance to confirm a few details needed for my book. It was also big and boisterous.

This summer, we made plans to attend Volksfest in New Glarus, the community’s celebration of Swiss National Day. The observance commemorates the birth of the Swiss nation on August 1, 1291, when three Alpine cantons swore an oath of confederation.  In New Glarus, Volksfest has since 1929 taken place in a small park just north of town.

It’s a peaceful, lovely spot. Guests sit in the shade of magnificent old oaks. Rolling farmland is visible beyond the stage.

Music from the Green County Alphorns drifted over fields that Swiss-Americans have farmed since 1845.

The program featured a variety of Swiss entertainment:

The New Glarus Kinderchor was a big hit.

So was the Jodlerklub New Glarus.

Special guest Emanuel Krucker, visiting from Switzerland, played the Hackbrett (a folk instrument, similar to a hammered dulcimer).

A few of the New Glarus performers celebrating Volksfest were born in Switzerland. When the MC asked “How many of you are Swiss?” about half of the people in attendance raised their hands. I did; my father’s parents were born and raised in Switzerland, and I’m proud of that part of my cultural identity. But it really didn’t matter where the performers and visitors came from. Everyone enjoyed the afternoon.

After the performance, all were welcome at a dance held in the nearby barn.

Many communities in the Upper Midwest have a strong ethnic flavor, instilled by whatever cultural group was predominant among early European settlers. National celebrations like this were once observed by immigrants who remembered the old country.  Later they were observed by the American-born descendants of those immigrants.

In many towns that ethnic heritage has by now evolved into a celebration of community, rather than personal, history. Some people fear the traditions might fade away altogether. In New Glarus, at least, Swiss traditions are still going strong.

This little guy is starting on ethnic attire–his jaunty cap–at a young age.

One of the guest speakers summed up the mood well:  “I’ve often felt Swiss-American. Today is the first time I’ve felt Swiss in America.”