Archive for the ‘HISTORIC SITES’ Category

Old World Wisconsin: A Photographer’s Paradise

August 11, 2015
I am delighted to welcome Loyd Heath to Sites and Stories today!
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Most of the photographs in Kathleen Ernst’s latest book A Settler’s Year: Pioneer Life Through the Seasons were taken by me at Old World Wisconsin, an outdoor living history museum located in Eagle, Wisconsin. Kathleen invited me to write this post about my interest in Old World, some of my thoughts about photography, and how I got involved in this project.

Loyd Heath

Although I have lived in the Seattle area for over 50 years, my late wife and I are originally from Wisconsin. When we retired in 1998 we took a road trip to Wisconsin to revisit some of our old haunts. Old World was not one of them because it didn’t open to the public until 1976, long after we had left Wisconsin. But after discovering Old World on the web we decided to stop. Our visit was brief but when I discovered the ten working farms, the Yankee Village, the farm animals, and the interpreters and farmers dressed in 19th century period costumes going about their daily activities, I said to my wife “this is a photographer’s paradise, I’m coming back.” I did, and I’ve been coming back to photograph several times every year since.

Kathleen used many of my Old World photos in A Settler’s Year to provide a glimpse into pioneer life but I have many that didn’t make the cut for various reasons.

Although I have photographed all of the farms at Old World, I probably have more shots of the Fossebrekke farm (located in the Norwegian area of the museum) than any other. Several of them are included in the book but the Fossebrekke farm is so photogenic that I have taken hundreds, perhaps thousands, of photos there. The one room cabin is small and spartan but it tells much about how early immigrants to Wisconsin lived and is located in such a beautiful setting with so much activity that I return to Fossebrekke again and again.

Fossebrekke farm in the Norwegian area.

Fossebrekke farm in the Norwegian area.

An interpreter cooks a pancake in the 1845 Fossebrekke (Norwegian) cabin.

An interpreter cooks flatbread in the 1845 Fossebrekke (Norwegian) cabin.

Friends often ask why I keep returning to the same place. They want to know whether I get a “been there/done that” feeling at Old World. They don’t understand that the museum is not a static place; it is a living history museum. Activities are constantly changing, the people and animals are constantly changing, and the light and colors are constantly changing. A photo taken today is different from one taken at the same place on another day – or even another hour or minute.

Photography requires great patience. I spend much of my time just observing what is unfolding before me so I can snap my shutter when the elements in my viewfinder appear “just right” to create the image that best conveys what I want it to say. This is what the famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson dubbed the “decisive moment” i.e. the moment when the elements of an image are best aligned and the action is at its best or peak.

Although the farms and 19th century architecture are great subjects for photography, my camera often leads me to children visitors and their activities. The site is filled with school groups on weekdays and families with children on weekends.

A group of schoolchildren on a field trip enjoy a tug of war with Teddy and Bear, Old World oxen while their teacher and parent chaperone watch and photograph the event. Photo taken in the German area at the at the 1860 Schulz farm.

A group of schoolchildren on a field trip enjoy a tug of war with Teddy and Bear, Old World oxen, while their teacher and parent chaperone watch and photograph the event. Photo taken in the German area at the at the 1860 Schulz farm.

A young boy befriends the farm animals.

A young boy befriends the farm animals.

Windows provide many opportunities for photos. They often provide interesting frames. Here’s a shot I used on the cover of an on-demand photo book I designed featuring the windows of Old World.

WindowsOWW

Windows also provide beautiful soft light for interior shots. When I first started photographing at Old World I used film. Since most of the buildings are quite dark, I often encountered situations where there was not enough light to shoot without a tripod and tripods are not permitted in the buildings. Flash is a poor alternative because it produces harsh contrasty light that destroys the ambiance of those old structures. It also tends to distract subjects who are engaged in some activity. It makes them look up and “smile for the camera,” another look I generally try to avoid.

But photography has changed. Modern digital cameras are far more sensitive to light than film so I am now able to capture high quality handheld images that would have been impossible just a few years ago. Here are a couple of shots I captured recently using only available window light and no tripod.

Windows provided the Kvaale family with light for doing household chores. Here a window provides light for showing a school group how things were done in the "old days."

Windows provided the Kvaale family with light for doing household chores. Here a window provides light for showing a school group how things were done in the “old days.”

An interpreter prepares food in the kitchen of the Kvaale farmhouse.

An interpreter prepares food in the kitchen of the Kvaale farmhouse.

Special events provide great opportunities for photos at Old World. A Civil War encampment is held each year with reenactors portraying events that occurred during the war. Several years ago the Civil War event included a funeral of a Yankee soldier. His casket, surrounded by flowers, was displayed in the parlor of the Sanford House in the Village and the following day was carried to the church where a funeral service was held and the casket was buried with a 21 gun salute.

Civil War Collage copy

Since I switched from film to digital, I now shoot everything in color. But I love the nostalgic or “antiquey” look of black and white or sepia and it seems appropriate for a 19th century living history museum so I often convert selected images to monochrome. Here’s an example that illustrates the different “feel” I can achieve by converting an image from color to monochrome or “grayscale” as it is now often called. I like both the color and the black & white renditions of this image, but they are very different. The color emphasizes the lusciousness of the spring foliage whereas the B&W draws the eye to the shapes of the main elements of the image, the farmer, the oxen, and the wagon.

Teddy and Bear, Old World oxen, haul a load of hay through the German area of Old World Wisconsin on a wet spring day.

Teddy and Bear, Old World oxen, haul a load of hay through the German area of Old World Wisconsin on a wet spring day.

Teddy and Bear, Old World oxen, haul a load of hay through the German area of Old World Wisconsin on a wet spring day.

Teddy and Bear, Old World oxen, haul a load of hay through the German area of Old World Wisconsin on a wet spring day.

Old World is a great place for portraiture. I like my portraits to have a candid look so I sometimes have to ask interpreters not to pose, but that is never true of the animals. Some of them “moon” me when I approach, but this pig went right on with his bath.

Cooling off on a warm summer day.

Cooling off on a warm summer day.

When organizing my photos I have labeled some of them “artsy.” These are creative images that are often somewhat abstract. They tend to be architectural scenes that I find aesthetically pleasing . Here are a couple of examples:

Mary Hafford's bedroom as seen through her bedroom window.

Mary Hafford’s bedroom as seen through her bedroom window.

Grotelueschen blacksmith shop on the left and Peterson wagon shop on the right, both in the heart of Crossroads village.

Grotelueschen blacksmith shop on the left and Peterson wagon shop on the right, both in the heart of Crossroads village.

Note the different shapes in this image, the triangles, the squares, the rectangles, and even a couple of circles. It is these shapes that attract your eye and make the image interesting.

Friends often ask me what type of camera I use at Old World. High quality images can be captured with almost any type of equipment. When I used to judge the Old World photo contest we often awarded prizes to images shot with “point and shoots,” (sometimes dubbed PHD cameras as in “Push Here Dummy”), and even a few with cell phones.

Yet nevertheless I have to admit that I use high-end equipment (professional single lens reflex cameras and high quality large aperture lenses) because it enables me to be more flexible in my shooting and increases my chances of capturing high quality images.  But that also has a downside.  I am often approached by people who comment on what a “beautiful” camera I have.  I know they are just trying to be friendly and mean well but I have difficulty knowing how to respond because in my world cameras are useful but not “beautiful.”

When one of my photographer friends receives a comment of this type, he often responds by relating the story of a magazine publisher who threw a cocktail party for contributors to a recent issue. During the festivities one of the authors approached one of the photographers and commented somewhat haughtily, “I really enjoyed your photographs; you must have a very fine camera” whereupon the photographer retorted “and I really enjoyed your article; you must have a very fine typewriter.” Moral of the story: although a good camera can help, serious photographers believe there is far more to making a good photo than a good camera.

And I use the term making rather than taking because I believe that post processing (i.e., adjusting color, tonal values, cropping, etc.) of an image after capture is frequently as important as clicking the shutter. He didn’t have the digital tools we have today, but Ansel Adams, the famous landscape photographer, was famous in part because of his post processing of images. (He did it in the darkroom, not on a computer.) He once jokingly said that dodging and burning (i.e, adjusting tonal values) is the photographer’s way of correcting the mistakes God made when He established tonal values.

Old World encourages visitors to bring their cameras (SLRs, point and shoots, cell phones or whatever) and it sponsors an annual contest with significant monetary prizes and publicity for photos taken on site. For more information about the contest click HERE.

And for more information about my photography see  www.Loydheath.com.

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)

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

Why A Settler’s Year?

July 5, 2015

As the launch date for  A Settler’s Year: Pioneer Life Through The Seasons approaches, I’ve been thinking about the journey I’ve taken with this book.  Why did I spend two years living with this project, and why was I confident that readers would care?

A Settler's Year

My interest in the topic goes back to 1981, when I first toured the fledgling historic site called Old World Wisconsin.

Schottler Farm, Old World Wisconsin, 1981

The Schottler Farm was raw in 1981—no gardens, no fences, no summer kitchen.

I was so captivated by the stories, the setting, and the museum’s mission that the following spring I packed up, moved to Wisconsin, and went to work as an interpreter in the museum’s German area.

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That’s me in the Schottler doorway, 1982.

After two years on-site I moved behind the scenes, and was hired as curator of interpretation and collections. For the next decade I worked closely with Marty Perkins. You can read more about Marty here.

Kathleen Ernst & Marty Perkins

On one of my visits after I’d left the site, Marty told me he’d been working with a photographer named Loyd Heath, and showed me some of Loyd’s incredible photographs. “You’d love Loyd,” Marty told me. “He’s a great guy.”

LoydHeathAtOWW

Loyd in action.

The last time I saw Marty, he told me about a book proposal he was developing for the Wisconsin Historical Society Press about pioneer life in Wisconsin, featuring Loyd’s photographs. Marty was happy to be working on a topic so near to his heart, and delighted that the book would bring Loyd’s work to a bigger audience.

Marty died suddenly two weeks later.

Some months after that, my friend Kathy Borkowski, publisher at the WHSP, asked me if I’d like to pick up the project. “I couldn’t possibly,” I said. “Just think about it,” she said. We went through that routine several times over the next month or so.

Finally I sat down with Kathy and Kate, the senior editor. “I can’t write the book Marty would have written,” I said. “Nobody can do that.” They said they understood. I talked with Marty’s wife about it. She said she and the kids understood, too.

One of the many articles Marty wrote for the Old World Wisconsin Foundation's newsletter.

One of the many articles Marty wrote for the Old World Wisconsin Foundation’s newsletter. (April-May, 2006 issue)

Finally I realized how much I did want to pick up the project. It was something I could do in honor of my former friend and colleague.

Marty Perkins 2012

Marty doing what he loved: giving a tour at Old World Wisconsin.

In addition, there are few topics I feel as passionate about as the lives of early immigrants. I’ve spent the last three decades thinking about them, interpreting them, writing about them, creating museum events and television programs and poems and books about them. The immigrant experience is, at its essence, about people searching for a new home, in a new place. That journey has meaning for almost all of us—whether in our own lives, or in our ancestors’ lives.

LC - [Four immigrants and their belongings, on a dock, looking out over the water; view from behind] Created / Published c1912 Oct. 30.

Immigrants, c. 1912.  (Library of Congress)

And as frosting on the cake, I was delighted with the opportunity to work on such a visual book. Loyd takes gorgeous photographs, and the WHSP produces gorgeous books.

WHSP catalog

I’ll always wish I could have read the book that Marty would have written, but I’m enormously grateful to have had the opportunity to be involved. Reading the immigrants’ accounts, and pairing their stories with Loyd’s photographs, was a healing, rewarding, and often moving experience.

I hope that you, too, are moved as you experience A Settler’s Year:  Pioneer Life Through The Seasons.

Urban Anthropology in Milwaukee’s Old South Side

June 26, 2015

I discovered the wonderful work being done by Urban Anthropology while working on Tradition of Deceit.

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The organization’s museum and programs began when a group of cultural anthropologists in Milwaukee decided to apply their skills—cultural research, museum curation, cultural land-use, neighborhood oral histories, film-making, and others—to the city.

About half of Tradition of Deceit takes place in Milwaukee’s Old South Side, where my cop character, Roelke McKenna, began his career. I wanted to feature historic places, including the Basilica of St. Josaphat,

Basilica of St. Josaphat

The Basilica was built by Polish immigrants in a working-class neighborhood. What a testament to their faith!

Basilica of St. Josaphat

Visitors are welcome.  See the website for more information.

Kosciuszko Park,

Kozy Park

Note the blue police call box. Such boxes are locked and disused now, but a few decades ago they were essential.

Kozy Park

Statue of General Thaddeus Kosciuszko in Kozy Park.   This location played a key role in Tradition of Deceit.

and Forest Home Cemetery.

Forest home Cemetery

The Landmark Chapel, 1892. Forest Home Cemetery dates back to 1850. It includes a small museum,  walking tours and other programs featuring the historic area are offered periodically. The historic area of the cemetery is fascinating to wander.

Forest Home Cemetery

Side view of the Landmark Chapel entryway.

And right in the heart of this vibrant area, Urban Anthropology maintains the Old South Side Settlement Museum.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

The museum is in a lovely old home.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

The local community has always been culturally diverse, and the museum portrays change over time.

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Rooms in the front part of the house reflect the Polish immigrants who settled here in great numbers.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

The story of Polish immigration to Milwaukee includes a chapter about a community of fishing families.

Artifacts on the display help tell the story.

Artifacts on the display help tell the story.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

Although there are still many Polish-Americans in the Old South Side, other cultural groups have found a home in the area.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

The back part of the museum depicts more recent Mexican arrivals.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

Carefully chosen objects help convey this part of the story.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

I loved having the opportunity to compare and contrast. While many things changed in the presentation between the Polish and Mexican portions of the museum, it also becomes clear that many cultural traditions—such as the importance of faith and family—remain the same.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

I couldn’t resist showing a bookshelf that includes Little Town on the Prairie, The Settlement Cook Book, and A Child’s Garden of Verses.

If you want to walk in Roelke McKenna’s footsteps, and see some of the Milwaukee locations featured in Tradition of Deceit, you can easily visit all of these places in a single trip.

Important note:  The Old South Side Museum, 707 W. Lincoln Ave,  can only be accessed by prearranged tours. Call for reservations (414) 271-9417. $10 Adult, $8 seniors, students, and children.

From June – October, Urban Anthropology also offers walking tours on Saturday afternoons.  “The Cultures and Architecture of Lincoln Avenue” features the historic area, its ethnic groups, artists and architecture.  A tour of the Basilica of St. Josaphat is included.  Please call (414) 335-3729 to reserve a tour or for more information.

My Cookbook Shelf

June 12, 2015

I’ve spent the last year having fun with old recipes from Minnesota’s flour milling history.

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The Wheat and Flour Primer

And I had fun celebrating The Washington Island Cook Book and The Settlement Cook Book.

As I was thinking about a final post for cookbook week, I decided to see what stories my own cookbook shelf can tell.

I grew up in Maryland, and inherited this volume.  I never use it, and I’d never get rid of it.

Maryland's Way Cookbook

The dedication reads, “To the generations of Maryland Cooks who, since 1634, have blended the fruit of bay, field, and forest into Maryland’s way”

Although I didn’t know Betty Crocker’s history, her cookbooks were popular in my house when I was a kid.

Betty Crocker Cookbooks

Top:  1978; and bottom, 1950 editions.  I think these actually came down in my husband’s family, but the older edition is the same as my mom’s. This one was so well use the binding had to be repaired!

When I was a young woman the go-to cookbook was Joy of Cooking, first published by Irma S. Rombauer in the 1930s. I rarely use these anymore, but can’t imagine not having them.

Joy of Cooking

Mass market paperbacks, 1964 editions.  These were the first cookbooks I owned.

My other beloved classic is the Moosewood Cookbook, written by Mollie Katzen in 1974. This one I still use. A lot.

Moosewood Cookbook

I started collecting cookbooks with historic themes when I was in college…

Vintage cookbooks

as well as cookbooks from historic sites.

historic sites cookbooks

When I moved to the Midwest and began working at Old World Wisconsin, I purchased a copy of The Ethnic Epicure. The price penciled inside is $6.95, and when I was living on an interpreter’s salary, that was a serious splurge. But the book helped introduce me to the ethnic food traditions of my new state.

Ethnic Epicure

The cookbook was published in 1973—three years before Old World Wisconsin even opened.

Ethnic Epicure 2

All proceeds from the book, compiled and edited by Mary Joanne VanCronkhite, were “used for the development of Old World Wisconsin by the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.”

Ethnic Epicure3

I scribbled some OWW recipes on blank pages.

Since I began writing the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, which are set in the 1980s, I’ve had fun collecting vintage Wisconsin cookbooks, especially those with ethnic flair.

Vintage Wisconsin Cookbooks

And of course I look for cookbooks and recipes that celebrate the ethnic groups featured in the mysteries. You can check the Foodways link at the right of this page if you’d like to explore featured recipes.

Dusting off some of these old books brought back special memories. I hope you also have a shelf full of food traditions and memories too!

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.

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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!

Farewell Caroline

May 5, 2015

American Girl has announced that Caroline Abbott, the 1812 character I created, will be archived.

While I am, of course, disappointed with the decision to retire Caroline, I am grateful to have amazing and wonderful memories.

The Caroline books led me to many historic sites in the United States and Canada. Visiting Sackets Harbor, New York, has been extra special because it is Caroline’s home town.

Kathleen Ernst at Sackets Harbor NY

I’ve also visited American Girl stores from coast to coast. The store associates are consistently awesome.

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But the very best part of the experience has been meeting, and hearing from, so many incredible girls (and boys) and their families. I’ve had the privilege of meeting hundreds of young readers who are smart, kind, and excited about reading and history.

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From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

 

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When American Girl shares more details about their plans, I’ll pass them on.

I do have several Caroline programs on my schedule, including my final visit to Sackets Harbor in July! As always, you can find details on the Calendar page of my website.

Kuchen

April 29, 2015

Rhubarb is popping up in my garden, so this edition of Cooking With Chloe comes from yours truly.

As curator of collections at Old World Wisconsin, Chloe Ellefson, protagonist of my historic sites mysteries series, is responsible for maintaining the antique stoves in each historic kitchen.  In Tradition of Deceit Chloe skis to one of the German farms one winter day—for purely professional reasons, of course—and bakes kuchen.

At Old World this German coffeecake is often made at the 1875 Schottler farm. The Schottlers’ granddaughter recalled enjoying the treat with her grandparents.

KAE Schottler Sepia enhanced

(That’s me in the Schottler kitchen back in 1982, cutting up rhubarb for kuchen. A friend took the picture and printed it in sepia tones.)

You don’t need a wood stove to bake kuchen, and you can use whatever fruit is in season.

Kuchen

2/3 c. sugar
2. eggs, beaten
1 t. salt
1 c. shortening (originally lard)
¼ t. nutmeg
2 oz. yeast, dissolved in ¼ c. warm water
1 c. milk
3-4 c. unbleached flour
fruit
cinnamon and sugar to taste

Put yeast and water and 1 c. flour in mixing bowl. Let sponge set for about 1 hour. Add sugar, salt, nutmeg, shortening, and egg. Add remaining flour and knead. Let rise until almost doubled, 60-90 ninety minutes. Grease a round cake pan or cast iron skillet. Punch down dough, and form dough into pan. Top with sliced fruit, and/or cinnamon and sugar. Bake at 350 degrees until golden brown, about 35-45 minutes.

Enjoy!

Caroline’s Pocket

March 5, 2015

Did you know that pockets weren’t always sewn into clothes? Girls in Caroline’s day most likely used tie-on pockets.

Temptation:  Fruit Stall, Victoria and Albert Museum

In this painting, the woman has pulled up her skirt so she can reach into her pocket, which is tied on over her petticoat. (Temptation: Fruit Stall, Victoria and Albert Museum.)

In The Smuggler’s Secrets, my new mystery, Caroline has a problem when she travels to Lydia’s farm:

Caroline climbed to the loft and dug through her valise. She had no trouble finding her handkerchief, but… “Oh, feathers!” she said, frustrated.

“What’s wrong?” Lydia called.

Caroline came back down. “I forgot to bring a pocket. I do wish that pockets were just sewn into our skirts!” That would be so much nicer. She had two pockets at home that she’d stitched of cotton and decorated with embroidery. She usually tied one around her waist so it hung over her petticoat, hidden under her skirt. A little slit in the seam of her skirt let her reach into the pocket.

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In this political cartoon, you can clearly see the big pockets two women are wearing on top of their aprons. (Scandal Refuted, or Billingsgate Virtue. Collection Guildhall Library, Artist C. Williams, 1818; Reference Number v9045412, Collage 18969)

Caroline usually wears her pocket beneath her skirt, but she chooses to wear one over her skirt during a quilting bee. Doing so let her keep thread, thimble, and needle case handy.

beechey - pocket

In this painting, a girl has reached beneath her apron to get coins.

In The Smuggler’s Secrets, Caroline makes a new patchwork pocket using scraps of cloth. I was inspired by this original pocket, which is on display at the Genessee Country Village & Museum in New York.

pocket Genessee Country Village

If you’ve read The Smuggler’s Secrets, you know that a pocket like this one got Caroline into trouble!  (Susan Greene Historic Clothing Collection, Genessee Country Village & Museum.)

Next time you put something in your pocket for safekeeping, think how much more complicated it was to tuck things away in Caroline’s time!

Roelke Goes To Prison

January 6, 2015

When writing Tradition of Deceit, I needed to include a set scene at a prison. Waupun Correctional Institution was the logical choice. The prison is one of the oldest in the country. It is listed on the Wisconsin register of historic places, and in 1992 was added to the National Register of Historic Places as the “Wisconsin State Prison Historic District.”

Waupun

This maximum security prison was established in 1851, just three years after Wisconsin achieved statehood. A temporary structure housed inmates until the first permanent building was completed in 1854. Prison workers helped build that stone structure. It held both men and women until 1933, when a separate women’s facility was constructed.

Waupun

Many additions have been made over the years, adding separate structures to the 22-acre facility. In 1940 the original building was remodeled, but the exterior walls remain, and the structure is still in use.

Waupun

One of the old turret-style guard towers is visible through the fence.

I had the opportunity to tour the prison and hear from the wardens and several staff members before Tradition of Deceit was published. (One poignant detail of my visit—Waupun is only about 20 miles from the Horicon Marsh Wildlife Refuge, and each time we walked outside I saw and heard geese flying overhead.)

Visiting a maximum security prison is inherently sad and grim, but I was also very impressed with the work the prison staff is doing to assist the different populations incarcerated there.

So…what would Roelke’s experience at Waupun been like? Then as now, he saw the prison surrounded by a beautiful neighborhood with many gorgeous old homes.

Waupun home & prison

 

Waupun home

No one I spoke with had worked in the prison in 1983, but some changes are obvious. One of the warden’s main goals is reducing idleness among the prisoners. New programs mean the men are much more likely to engage in work, hobbies, or educational activities. In 1983, more men would have been staring at the walls.

Roelke’s visit also happened to come in a tumultuous period at Waupun and other Wisconsin prisons. One of the critical factors was severe over-crowding; in 1983, the prison intended to hold 810 prisoners held over 1,200. Tiny cells intended to house one man held four.

Inmates and guards felt tension rising, and some in both groups felt that threats against their safety were not being addressed. In January, 1983, prisoners at Waupun rioted, and managed to take 15 hostages.

Waupun - Version 2

AP/Milwaukee Sentinel photo taken during the stand-off.

After 10 tense hours, 200 officers managed to resume control of the buildings where the inmates involved with barricaded.

Waupun

Waupun

AP/Milwaukee Sentinel photo.

Waupun

Milwaukee Sentinel Photo by Sherman Gessert.

I briefly considered incorporating that story into Tradition of Deceit, which is set in February, 1983. In the end it went into the “interesting but not relevant” pile.

Instead, I focused primarily on the area where inmates received visitors. Visitation has actually declined since 1983, due to rising gas prices and declining phone service prices. The visitation room of 1983 no longer exists, in part because pillars blocked guards’ visibility. My description is an amalgam of what I saw in 2014 and what I heard about the former setting. (Photography is not permitted inside the prison, so I can’t show it.)

Waupun

Waupun Correctional Institution holds a unique position in Wisconsin’s prison system, and is a reminder that historic places come in all varieties.


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