Archive for the ‘HISTORIC SITES’ Category

A Memory of Muskets – A Retrospective

July 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Another day at work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPOILER ALERT:  Plot points discussed below!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tradition of Deceit – A Retrospective

May 8, 2018

Front cover of Tradition of Deceit, the fifth book in the Chloe Ellefson Mystery series by bestselling author Kathleen Ernst.As I began conceptualizing Tradition of Deceit, the 5th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, I had several goals in mind. Since main characters Chloe and Roelke were getting along pretty well by the end of the previous book, I figured it was time to throw a new challenge their way:  distance.

I’d heard good things about the Mill City Museum after it opened in 2003. For much of the book, Chloe is in Minneapolis while Roelke is in Milwaukee. Both get tangled in murder investigations that involve good friends. How will they cope?

Back of the mill complex.

In Chloe’s day the mill was an enormous abandoned industrial site. The opportunity to have Chloe visit an urban historic site was intriguing. The mill itself told important stories from the days when Minneapolis was the flour milling capital of the world. After one visit I knew it had great potential as setting for a murder mystery. 

Taking notes on a behind-the-scenes tour.

Featuring this site also had good potential to satisfy another series goal—to provide a glimpse of the challenges inherent in museum work. In the 1980s, the abandoned mill provided shelter for many homeless people. This presented a dilemma for the historians working to turn the site into a museum. Chloe’s decision to help a friend develop an interpretive plan for the mill put her right in the middle of the debate.

Homeless Protest Master combined

(Star Tribune, May 2, 1990)

Choosing the mill as the setting also let me feature Polish immigrants and their experience in the new world. New food traditions and folk art! A thread of historical fiction gave me a chance to imagine the challenges faced by an immigrant woman named Magdalena and her descendants.

IMG_0802 - Version 2 – Version 3

Magdalena was skilled at Polish paper cutting, such as this piece displayed at the Old South Side Settlement Museum, Urban Anthropology Inc., Donated by Konkel Family.

Cop Roelke McKenna’s experience of trying to solve a friend’s murder in Milwaukee let me echo some of these same themes. Milwaukee was home to a large population of Polish immigrants as well. That commonality let me link Chloe’s mystery with Roelke’s.

Basilica of St. Josaphat

The Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee.

And, Roelke fans were letting me know they’d like to see even more of him. In Tradition of Deceit Roelke faces his most painful and challenging investigation. New aspects of his character are revealed as he follows both his heart and the sketchy clues.

I don’t outline stories in advance, so when I begin I’m not sure where any given story is going, or exactly how it will be resolved. This book had a more complicated structure than most, but in the end I think the pieces fell into place quite nicely. It’s one of my favorites.

SPOILER ALERT:  Plot points discussed below!

During my first scouting trip to the Mill City Museum, I learned about the tragedy of 1878, when the first Washburn A Mill exploded because no one at the time understood that the flour dust clouding the air was combustible. Eighteen workers died.

Harpers Weekly, May, 1878.

I wanted to include that in the book, but anyone working in the mill at that time was male. How to get a woman in the building? Playing with that question led to the creation of Magdalena and the historical plotline. I needed a plausible reason to get her into the mill on that tragic night.

One of readers’ favorite characters in this book is Pawel, a mill worker who gives Magdalena a chance to dream of happier days:

Magdalena regarded him. Pawel was a big man with massive shoulders and corded muscles rippling in his arms. He spent his 12-hour shifts rolling 196-lb. barrels of flour from the packing machines into train cars. He was part of the Polish Eagles, a six-man crew that usually bested other packing teams when challenged to a race.   No one would pick a fight with Pawel.

But unlike some of the other laborers, Pawel had a gentle manner. His face was broad and plain, his hair the color of dried mud, his hands huge. No one would call him handsome, but Magdalena liked him. She thought he liked her. Maybe, she thought, just maybe…

General Mills included this engraving from the 1880s in a 20th-century ad.

It would have felt too pat to have Magdalena visit the mill simply to see Pawel. Instead she goes to obtain some flour in hopes of baking a treat for him.

In the end, Magdalena’s legacy collides with Roelke’s search for answers to Rick’s death. When Roelke’s struggling to find Erin, the young woman who’d fled her abusive husband years before, his first clue is a business card decorated with wycinanki:

“All I have is this.” Danielle scrabbled in her pocket. “I found this sort of business card thing this morning under the coat hooks we use.”

Roelke felt his nerves quiver as Danielle extracted a creased business card. An address, a phone number—he’d be grateful for even the tiniest scrap of information.

He didn’t get an address. He got chickens. Two very pretty chickens, flanking a bouquet of flowers, printed in vibrant colors. It was all very artsy, and not the least bit helpful.

I made this wycinanki piece to represent the one described in the book.

Tradition of Deceit is all about power—who wants it, and what they’ll do to get it; who has it, and what they’ll do to keep it. One of the people abusing power is Professor Everett Whyte, the man found stuffed into a turn head distributor in the old mill. Whyte’s male students and colleagues admired him; his female students, not so much. I based Whyte on one of my college professors who made inappropriate suggestions to me and other female students. When I reported my professor’s behavior, my advisor replied, “Is he up to those old tricks again?” Evidently it was well known that my professor harassed women.

The turn head distributor at the Mill City Museum.

The book is also about secrets. Secrets, abuses of power, and geography might have meant the end of Chloe and Roelke’s relationship. Was Roelke’s emotional reserve understandable? Had Rick been right to keep a secret from his best friend? What did you think?

You can explore relevant people, places, and the past on mwebpage for Tradition of Deceit. Resources include a Google map, color images of key artifacts, a Discussion Guide, recipes, and links to lots of additional background material.

Researching The Light Keeper’s Legacy

March 13, 2018

 

Color photo by Kay Klubertanz of author Kathleen Ernst and "Mr. Ernst" serving as docents at the 1858 Pottawatomie Lighthouse on Rock Island, Wisconsin.

 

Photo of the front cover of The Light Keeper's Legacy, the 3rd Chloe Ellefson mystery by Kathleen Ernst, Published by Midnight Ink Books.

This article explores examples of how technical research and photographic documentation were used to help Kathleen write the award-winning third book in her Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery series.

The Light Keeper’s Legacy (TLL) takes place in two time periods:  A modern one in September 1982 featuring Chloe and police officer Roelke McKenna; and an historical thread stretching from 1869 to 1906.

Kathleen first included an historical timeline in the previous book, The Heirloom Murders. Based on reader feedback, she crafted a more extensive one for TLL. It tightly braids together the two storylines, their characters, histories, and mysteries.

This set the standard for most of Kathleen’s follow-on Chloe books.

 

Black & white historic photo of a log cabin on Rock Island, Wisconsin.

 

Kathleen does the vast majority of research for each mystery, and TLL is no exception. She spends a lot of time doing this, and is very good at it. But only a small part of what’s uncovered ends up influencing or appearing in her books. Those choices are one of the reasons Kathleen’s stories have a descriptive richness, enabling readers to immerse themselves in her books.

Chapter 42

Most of The Light Keeper’s Legacy is set on Washington and Rock Islands, just off the tip of Door County, Wisconsin, in Lake Michigan. There are no bridges to either island; access is by public ferry boats and private watercraft — and in the case of Washington, by small aircraft. This remoteness plays a key role in the book.

Chapter 42 includes a number of exciting scenes. Below are brief excerpts from two, followed by examples of the research Kathleen used to craft them.

As the chapter begins, Roelke is trying to land a small plane on a grass runway at the airfield on Washington Island.

 

Google satellite map of Washington Island, WI.

Imagery Copyright 2018 Google, NOAA, Terrametrics.

 

Since I hold a private pilot’s license, Kathleen asked me to pull together the technical details she’d need. The following is from the book.

 

[Roelke] made two left turns, which brought him in line with the runway.  Airspeed and descent looked good. “Washington Island traffic, Seven-Seven-Echo on final for Two Two.”  There were trees near the approach end of the grass strip, so he set the flaps full down.

He was clearing the woods when the deer bounded from cover. Three of them, all does, running straight toward Two Two.

Dammit. Roelke pulled back on the yoke and shoved the throttle forward, trying to get the Cessna to climb. Instead of ramping up the engine hesitated.

What the hell was wrong? A few eternal seconds later, the engine recovered with a roar, but airspeed was still dropping. The stall warning began to wail.

I’m screwed, Roelke thought. He was seconds away from a crash.

 

Below is the cover page of the six-page research paper I prepared.

 

Scan of the first page of the research report about Roelke's Flight to Washington Island, created for The Light Keeper's Legacy Chloe Ellefson mystery by bestselling author Kathleen Ernst.

Copyright 2011 Kathleen Ernst, LLC

 

Feel free to review the research; you can download a PDF copy by clicking HERE.

The second scene from Chapter 42 involves two unknown assailants who trap Chloe alone in the lighthouse, pursuing her to the very top of the four story building.

 

Google Satellite map of Rock Island, WI.

Copyright 2018 Google, NOAA, Terrametrics.

 

As Kathleen scoped out the setting and considered what Chloe would do in this situation, I took photos to serve as reference material for use when she wrote the scene later.

Note from Kathleen:  This was one of those afternoons where I had to be careful to keep my voice down. No need for visitors to hear Mr. Ernst and I discussing the logistics of mayhem.

 

Chloe didn’t waste time on a glance through the hatch. She’d slowed Balaclava Man down. Maybe even disabled him. Guy Two could be after her any moment though. The instinct to run-run-run buzzed through her brain.

She couldn’t go down. She couldn’t go up. Only option: going out.

Chloe dropped to her knees beside a low wooden door, wrenched it open, and scrambled onto the narrow walkway outside the lantern room. “Oh God,” she whimpered, clutching the paint-sticky railing, fighting a wave of vertigo. The trees and picnic table and outhouse below looked dollhouse-sized.

The roof’s peak stretched south from the lantern room. The roof itself fell steeply on either side. Chloe’s stomach twisted again as she imagined trying to creep down to the gutters without falling.

Wait. A heavy cord of braided copper ran from the lightning rod on top of the tower down the west side of the roof before disappearing over the edge of the gutters.

Chloe bit her lip hard. Would the cable support her weight? And even if she did make the gutters without somersaulting into thin air, what then?

 

Below are some of the photos, with descriptions linking them to the passage above.

 

Pair of color photos of the stairs leading up to the floor hatch in the lightroom at the top of the Pottawatomie Lighthouse on Rock Island, Wisconsin.

Left: Chloe’s view as she races up the stairs into the lantern room. Right: Her view from the lantern room looking down through the hatch to where her pursuers will emerge.

 

Photo taken in lantern room of the Pottawatomie Lighthouse on Rock Island, WI.

Chloe’s view of the low wooden door to the narrow walkway outside the lantern room. Visible to the right is part of the Frenel lens that surrounds, magnifies, and directs the lamp light at night.

 

Photo taken from the Pottawatomie Lighthouse lantern room looking south.

This reveals the steep fall of the lighthouse roof, and why Chloe’s view of the picnic table and outhouse made them look dollhouse-sized. On the right side of the photo is the heavy cord of braided copper that runs down from the lightning rod to the roof and over the gutters.

 

Photo of the west side of the Pottawatomie Lighthouse showing the braided copper wire.

Here’s a ground-level view from the west of the braided copper cord running from the lightning rod (just visible atop the lantern room) down across the roof and over the gutters to the ground.

 

Now that you’ve had a chance to compare excerpts with some of the research used to write them, we’d love to hear what you think. Please leave us a comment below.

But Wait, There’s More

Hopefully this article has piqued your interest in discovering more about the ‘people, places and the past’ in the The Light Keeper’s Legacy.

There’s a whole page full of information about it on Kathleen’s website, including a discussion guide for the book, a custom Google map and a locations guide about where key scenes are set, a recipe mentioned in the book, a slide show of objects featured in the story, public radio interviews with Kathleen about the book, additional blog posts, links to booksellers that carry TLL — and more. To explore them, click HERE.

Next month I’ll post an article on this blog about interesting things that turned up whle researching Heritage Of Darkness, the fourth book in the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery series.

The Heirloom Murders – A Retrospective

February 13, 2018

Welcome back to the behind-the-scenes look at the Chloe Ellefson mysteries! Up today: The Heirloom Murders, second in the series.

I knew where I wanted to go after wrapping up the first book, Old World Murder—Green County, Wisconsin, famous for its Swiss heritage. My father’s parents were born and raised in Switzerland, so that was a natural draw.

 

Fondue dinners in New Glarus became “research trips.”

Me and Mr. Ernst, New Glarus Hotel.

Spotlighting Swiss heritage, and places like the Swiss Historical Village & Museum and the National Historic Cheesemaking Center, satisfied my wish to celebrate Wisconsin’s cultural heritage and museums.

It was great fun to learn more about sap sago and other aspects of Swiss cheesemaking. And the timing was good—staff and volunteers at the Cheesemaking Center in Monroe were restoring the Imobersteg Farmstead Cheese Factory on their grounds while I was writing the book.

I knew nothing about heirloom plants, and how much diversity we’ve lost, until I went to work at Old World Wisconsin in 1982. I was fascinated by the topic, and the role historic sites around the world play in preserving genetic diversity. As I considered what aspect of museum work to showcase, heirloom plants and rare-breed livestock seemed like a good fit.

Antique apples like these may not look perfect, but they have more taste than some types bred to look good over long transports.

I’d known about the legendary Eagle Diamond, and thought it would be fun to fictionalize the story of its discovery and eventual theft. This book was the first in the Chloe series to include a thread of historical fiction, braided with the more contemporary plot strands. Reader feedback was positive, and I’ve used this approach in most of the later books.

Eagle Diamond

Five views of the Eagle Diamond. (Wikipedia)

Many authors say that the second book in the series is the hardest to write. (The first was written on speculation, without a contract; suddenly, there’s a deadline imposed on #2.)  The Heirloom Murders wasn’t harder to write, but it was challenging to market. The overall plot involved a woman’s death, a stolen diamond, Swiss green cheese, and heirloom gardening. Try summing that up in a concise but appealing way! And that’s without mentioning the main characters’ personal lives.

My original title for this book was “Deadly as Diamonds.” My editor changed it because another author with the same press had a book coming out with “diamond” in the title. When I saw him a few months later at a conference I gave him a hard time for “stealing” my key title word. Turns out his original title hadn’t included the word “diamond” at all, but it was changed for a similar reason!

SPOILER ALERT – plot points are discussed below!

The first thing I do when planning a book is think about the main characters’ emotional growth. Just when Chloe was finally moving on after what happened in Switzerland, Markus shows up. Chloe and Markus have a great deal in common.  Chloe and Roelke, not so much. That provided some good conflict.

A number of readers let me know that they particularly enjoyed meeting Johann and Frieda Frietag, even though they had a small role. That was a good reminder that minor characters need just as much care and complexity as the main ones!

I imagined Frieda bustling about this kitchen when Chloe and Markus visit. Swiss Historical Village & Museum, New Glarus.

The main mystery plot about Bonnie Sabatola’s death came from a late-night talk I had with an Eagle police officer. I was doing a second-shift ridealong and when we got back to the station, the conversation somehow turned to cases that had packed an emotional wallop. While working for another police department, he’d encountered a situation similar to what I described—a murder made to look like suicide.

The questions surrounding the case gave Roelke a lot to work with, and showed his tenacity. I’d already heard from readers who wanted to see more of him.  I hope his fans enjoyed his role in bringing the killer to justice. However, this book also revealed his trouble with anger management. Roelke threatens Markus with physical harm, and kicks Simon Sabatola. As an author, that may have been a risky choice, but I wanted Roelke to be a complex character, struggling with real issues.

So, what did you think? If read books one and two in order, did you want Chloe to end up with Markus, or Roelke? Did you understand Roelke’s anger, or was that indefensible? Was justice served? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

You can explore relevant people, places, and the past on my webpage for The Heirloom Murders. Resources include a Google map, a Locations Guide, full Discussion Guide, a recipe for Swiss Pear Bread, and links to lots of additional background material. Happy reading!

National Historic Cheesemaking Center. Photo by Mr. Ernst.

Chloe 9 Reveal!

February 6, 2018

Last week I zipped the manuscript for the 9th Chloe Ellefson mystery off to my publisher. This week, it’s available for pre-order! I’m excited to provide a peek at the next adventure for Chloe and Roelke.

Curator Chloe Ellefson needs distraction from the unsettling family secret she’s just learned. It doesn’t help that her boyfriend, Roelke McKenna, has been troubled for weeks and won’t say why. Chloe hopes a consulting job at Green Bay’s Heritage Hill Historical Park, where an old Belgian-American farmhouse is being restored, will be a relaxing escape. Instead she discovers a body in a century-old bake oven.

Chloe’s research suggests that a rare and valuable piece of lace made its way to nearby Door County, Wisconsin, with the earliest Belgian settlers. More importantly, someone is desperate to find it. Inspired by a courageous Belgian woman who survived cholera, famine, and the Great Fire, Chloe must untangle clues to reveal secrets old and new . . . before the killer strikes again.

The Lacemaker’s Secret will be published in October, 2018.  You can pre-order now:

IndieBound – Trade Paperback
https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780738753546

Amazon – Trade Paperback
https://www.amazon.com/Lacemakers-Secret-Chloe-Ellefson-Mystery/dp/0738753548/

Amazon – Kindle
https://www.amazon.com/Lacemakers-Secret-Chloe-Ellefson-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0795R5H4C/

Books-A-Million (BAM) – Trade Paperback
http://www.booksamillion.com/p/Lacemakers-Secret/Kathleen-Ernst/9780738753546?id=7179386161819

The story of Wisconsin’s Belgian immigrants is compelling, and I hope The Lacemaker’s Secret honors those early settlers—and the many people who have worked hard to preserve and interpret their history at Heritage Hill, and the Belgian Heritage Center in Namur.

Researching Old World Murder

January 27, 2018


St. Peters Church at Old World Wisconsin in 1982.

 

Mr. Ernst here. Extensive research is an important element in crafting the ‘people, places, and the past’ that appear in every Chloe Ellefson mystery, starting with the first, Old World Murder (OWM).

As the author, Kathleen does the vast majority of research. But as her spouse (and “partner in crime”) I enjoy the great good fortune of being allowed to help. It’s something we both really enjoy doing.

 

OWM takes place during May 1982. Key scenes are set in southeastern Wisconsin at real places, including Old World Wisconsin (an outdoor history museum) and the nearby towns of Eagle, La Grange, and Palmyra.

View of the Crossroads Village at Old World Wisconsin in 1982.

Kathleen tasked me with three types of research and documentation.

General Background

This one’s a bit of a ‘guess as you go.’ All I usually begin with is the story’s time period, locations, and featured ethnic group. (Kathleen doesn’t talk about her works-in-progress, which I fully respect; I rarely get to read a manuscript until just before she sends it to her publisher.)

For OWM I read local newspapers published during the first half of 1982. This involved days spent squinting at microfilm scrolling by on a viewing screen at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison.

While hard on the eyes, some interesting and/or potentially relevant details were uncovered about the story’s time period and locations. Kathleen used a few of them in the book. Others weren’t included, but ended up influencing the story. Most served  neither purpose.

Old World Wisconsin Museum Seasonal Employment ad in Waukesha Freeman Newspaper, March 6, 1982 issue.

Waukesha Freeman Newspaper, March 6, 1982.

As Old World’s newly hired Curator of Collections, Chloe would have had benefits and a salary of about a dollar more than the $3.43/hour and no benefits that Guide/Interpreters received in 1982.

Kathleen started as a Lead Guide/Interpreter at Old World in 1982, earning $3.80/hour (equal to $9.70 in 2018) without benefits.

Eagle Police pay raise OK'd article, Waukesha Freeman Newspaper, February 5, 1982 issue.

Waukesha Freeman Newspaper, February 5, 1982.

In 1982 Roelke McKenna held a temporary Patrolman 1 job with the Eagle Police Department (EPD) earning $6.00/hour (equal to $15.35 in 2018) without benefits. He worked extra shifts whenever they were available, and dreamed of securing a permanent EPD position, if/when one opened up. His boss, Chief Naborski, was paid $8.50/hour.

(If you are surprised by the 8% raise the village board gave out, consider that in the previous year the US inflation rate hit 11%.)

Specific Objects

Kathleen also asked me to research and recommend suitable objects for characters, together with details and images. Here are three that met her approval and ended up being written into the story.

Photo of a 1975 Buick Electra Limited. Source: SunAutoWorld.com.

1975 Buick Electra Limited. (SunAutoWorld.com)

Mrs. Berget Lundquist drove this to Old World to ask Chloe to return a valuable antique Norwegian ale bowl she had donated. Berget could barely see over the steering wheel of her 2 ton, 19 foot long behemoth.

Smith & Wesson Model 10 Revolver. (Photo by Scott Meeker.)

While on duty as a Village of Eagle police officer, Roelke carries a 6-shot, .38 caliber, Smith & Wesson Model 10 service revolver like this. First introduced in 1899, it was still being carried by police in the 1980s.

A Piper J-3 Cub. (Barnstormers.com.)

A Piper J-3 Cub. (BarnStormers.com.)

Having previously earned his single engine private pilot’s license, Roelke dreams of buying a “sweet little” Piper J-3 Cub he sees at the Palmyra, WI, airport.  Note from Kathleen: Mr. Meeker loves to fly, and has a pilot’s license, so I gave that attribute to Roelke.

Visual Documentation

Kathleen does a fair amount of research ‘in the field’ and I am usually along to take photos and video of potential story locations and objects. These can often be valuable references when she writes scenes, sometimes months later.

We also used them in the illustrated programs she gives, as well as on her website, Facebook Author page, Pinterest boards, and this blog.

And we used them to create a short video about researching ale bowls at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum. Kathleen wrote the script and appears on-screen; I taped and edited. It was our first such effort.

Still image of the Migration of a Tradition video. Kathleen Ernst, LLC. Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

Migration of a Tradition. Copyright 2010 Kathleen Ernst, LLC.

Based on what she learned studying Vesterheim’s extensive collection, Kathleen imagined the bowl at the center of the mystery. Here it is.

Photo of the antique Norwegian ale bowl in Old World Murder. Author's collection.

Reproduced antique Norwegian ale bowl. Author’s collection.

This is what Mrs. Lundquist donated to Old World. This copy was created by two Vesterheim Gold Medalists, wood carver Becky Lusk and rosemaler (rose painter) Janet Kjenstad.

Note from Kathleen: After the book was published, Mr. Ernst secretly had the one I described reproduced, and gave it to me for my birthday. We display it when giving my Chloe Ellefson program

Odds & Ends

And as always, I discovered items that grabbed my attention, but ended up having no connection to the story. Here are three.

Ad for Kringles from Larsen's Bakery in Racine, WI being sold by Girl Scout Troop 369. Waukesha Freeman, April 17, 1982.

Waukesha Freeman Newspaper, April 17. 1982.

If you are not familiar with this delightful Danish delicacy, then you have my sincere condolences. Those of us in Badgerland who do, know that Larsen’s Bakery in Racine, WI, is the source for some of the very best Kringle available outside of Denmark. Ah, if only Girl Scouts still sold them door-to-door!

Eagle Bank Robber Gets 16-Year Term article, Page 2., Waukesha Freeman, March 16, 1982.

Waukesha Freeman Newspaper, March 16, 1982.

I’m with the judge, this fellow’s life was “most incongruous.” BTW, his total take of $28,881 is equal to $66,208 in 2018.

Three Candidates Say There Are No Issues article headline from the Waukesha Freeman, March 23, 1982 issue.

Waukesha Freeman Newspaper, March 23, 1982.

This headline is from an article about two incumbents and a challenger competing to fill two seats on the Town of Eagle Board. Most of the article consists of candidate bios, but two sentences stood out. The reporter wrote that “All three said there were no issues in the race.” And the challenger said he only ran to create competition, adding “It’s such a small town and life seems to go on.”

But Wait, There’s More

Hopefully this research has piqued your interest in discovering more about the ‘people, places and the past’ in Old World Wisconsin.

There’s a whole page full of information about it on Kathleen’s website, including a discussion guide for the book, a custom Google map showing story locations, a recipe mentioned in the book, a slide show of objects featured in the story, a public radio interview with Kathleen, additional blog posts, her video introduction to Old World Wisconsin, and links to booksellers that carry OWM. To explore them, click HERE.

Next month I’ll post an article about researching The Heirloom Murders, the second book in the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery series.

Pendarvis – Part 2

November 21, 2017

The last post highlighted the three most famous historic structures at Pendarvis Historic Site, Polperro, Pendarvis, and Trelawny. All played a role in the 8th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, Mining For Justice.  But there’s more to see.

Pendarvis Historic Site

After leaving those buildings, steps lead up the hill to the upper property.

Pendarvis Historic Site

Looking back, over the rooftops, you can see the pool across the street from Pendarvis. It was a CCC project, and some of the stones came from dismantled cottages. Pendarvis house is on the right in the foreground.

Another building featured in the mystery is the row house on the upper property.

Pendarvis Historic Site

The upper rooms on the right are used for staff offices (including Claudia’s in Mining For Justice.) The cabin on the left end was home to the Martin family. When renovating the row house Robert Neal and Edgar Hellum created a replica Cornish pub called a Kiddleywink in the cellar.

Pendarvis Historic Site

The pub comes to life during special events.

The historic site also owns property across the street that was once covered with mining operations. Pick up a walking tour guide at the visitor center before setting out.

Pendarvis Historic Site

You’ll have to use your imagination to picture the hill with no trees—just the diggings of miners searching for lead.

The hill is pockmarked with depressions left by miners digging out shelters for themselves.

Pendarvis Historic Site

The easiest badger hole to see in this photo is in the upper right corner—the depression where trees are now growing.

You’ll also find evidence of later mining ventures. A large zinc mine was operated here from 1906 to 1913.

Pendarvis Historic Site

The old equipment and the beautiful building date to the zinc mine era.

I hope this mini-tour will help you picture the action in Mining For Justice. Even better—go see Pendarvis for yourself!  The site buildings are open seasonally, but Mine Hill is accessible all year.

Pendarvis – Part 1

November 15, 2017

It’s lovely when readers tell me that after reading one of the Chloe mysteries, they toured the historic site or museum spotlighted in the book. Pendarvis, the site featured in Mining For Justice, the 8th Chloe Ellefson mystery, is a great place to visit!

Pendarvis

For those who aren’t able to make the trip, here’s a mini cyber-tour of the site.  (Warning:  includes mild spoilers.)

Polperro House features unusual architecture.

Pendarvis Historic Site

The lower floor features exhibits of mining equipment.

Pendarvis

A steep flight of steps leads to the upper level, which is furnished to reflect a Cornish immigrant family in the 1830s.

Polperro - Pendarvis

Polperro

Here’s the top of the staircase.

Polperro - Pendarvis Historic Site

Polperro

This house also includes a root cellar dug into the hill behind.

Pendarvis

From there, a walkway leads from Polperro…

Pendarvis Historic Site

to the next houses on the tour, Pendarvis and Trelawny.  Both are traditional stone cottages.

Pendarvis Historic Site

The back door to Pendarvis leads into the kitchen…

Pendarvis house

then on into the parlor/bedroom.

Pendarvis

Looking to the right as you enter the main room.

 

Pendarvis

Looking to the left. The hatch above the bed leads to a crawl space.

The final house on Shake Rag Street, Trelawny, tells the story of Bob Neal and Edgar Hellum, whose efforts to preserve old buildings lead to Pendarvis Historic Site—and launched a preservation ethic in Mineral Point that continues to this day.

Pendarvis Historic Site

The path to Trelawny.

Formal exhibits describe how the men used the buildings.

Trelawney

The photos were taken during the period when the men ran a nationally-renowned restaurant featuring traditional Cornish food.

While other rooms show how the house looked when the men were in residence.

Trelawney

 

I hope this photo tour helps you visualize the action in Mining For Justice. Visit the site website to learn more about visiting Pendarvis yourself.  Visit my website to learn more about the Chloe Ellefson mysteries.

Next time:  the rest of Pendarvis!

Why Mining For Justice?

August 10, 2017

I have more story ideas banging around in my head than I’ll ever find time to explore. My files about possible historic sites and museums to explore in a Chloe Ellefson mystery are ever-growing. So why did Pendarvis Historic Site in Mineral Point, WI, rise to the top of the list?

Pendarvis is a collection of historic structures that date back to pre-statehood days. It was the first historic site I visited after moving to Wisconsin to work at sister-site Old World Wisconsin, and I remember enjoying the tour immensely.

The area has a fascinating history I wanted to learn more about—always a plus when plunging into a year-plus-long project.  Miners arrived in the 1820s to dig lead, most of them looking for quick hauls before moving on or heading back home. In the next decade miners from Cornwall arrived. Many brought their families, and the Cornish played a major role in turning a hardscrabble mining frontier into a community.

As I began conceptualizing the 8th book in the series, I thought first about where Chloe and Roelke, the main characters, were emotionally at the end of the 7th book, A Memory of Muskets. Where did I want them to go next on their emotional journey? What site and plot would reflect their personal challenges? As I played around with story ideas to weave together in the new book, I started seeing powerful connections. (I love it when that happens.)

Then there’s Mineral Point itself—it’s charming. Many readers have suggested that Chloe visit. I know Chloe and Roelke fans will enjoy exploring not just Pendarvis, but the area’s museums, architecture, art galleries, and restaurants.

I’m excited about Mining for Justice! We’ve got some special launch activities planned for the fall. I’ll share more details soon, and you can always find more information on my website. Stay tuned!

Wisconsin’s Civil War Draft

June 29, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearly, this was an important issue during the war.

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

Old World Wisconsin.

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

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

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