Archive for the ‘Old World Wisconsin’ Category

Researching A Memory of Muskets

July 23, 2018

Image of the cover of the seventh Chloe Ellefson mystery, A Memory of Muskets, by bestselling author Kathleen Ernst, published by Midnight Ink.Mr. Ernst here. This book’s modern storyline is set in July 1983. Some readers find it hard to imagine life back then. For others, that time can evoke cherished  memories and “Oh, I remember that!” moments.

This mystery revolves around memories of our Civil War, including murders tied to a reenactment at Old World Wisconsin, the historic site where Chloe works, and a tragic love story about German immigrants who settle in Wisconsin at the war’s beginning in 1861.

Few people have detailed knowledge of the experiences of those who were caught up in the war, or those who were reenacting it in the 1980s.

OWWKathleenDoorway200x281wTo bring those time periods alive for Chloe readers, Kathleen relied on her memories of the twelve years she spent working at Old World, first as a costumed interpreter and then as its Curator of Interpretation and Collections.

Her time in the latter role included being the outdoor ethnic museum’s host responsible for organizing the Civil War events held there.

Kathleen also drew upon her years spent as a civilian Civil War reenactor, during which she observed and took part in numerous reenactments and living history events.

The influence of these experiences on what Kathleen has written about Chloe, Roelke, Rosina, and Klaus are explored in her recent blog post, A Memory of Muskets—A Retrospective. Additional insights are available on the Memory Of Muskets page on her website.

Kathleen also drew upon my memories of portraying a Union soldier. At the heart of them is a love story about Kathleen and me.

How my GGGF Introduced Me to His War and My Bride-to-Be

My entry into “The Hobby” came about as a result of doing genealogical research on the military service of my maternal great-great grandfather.

1862 tintype image of 1st Sergeant James Francis Cantwell, Company G, 80th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Union Army.In 1862 James Francis Cantwell answered President Abraham Lincoln’s call for 100,000 additional volunteers to serve three years in the Union Army.

During the war he marched some 3,750 miles through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia before arriving in North Carolina by railroad train (“the cars”) and sailing ship.

He fought in 26 engagements, including: the bloody battle of Perryville, KY; the defense of Knoxville, TN; the vicious fighting at Resaca and Kenesaw Mountain, GA; the capture of Atlanta, a narrow escape at Spring Hill, the slaughter at Franklin, and the destruction of General Hood’s army at Nashville.

At war’s end he returned to his family, unlike 620,000 other soldiers.

Researching his military records motivated me to learn even more. Taking his photo to a Civil War event, I showed it to a group of reenactors who looked and drilled like they knew what they were doing.

33rd Wisconsin reenactors. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

The 33rd Wisconsin. Photographer unknown.

As Kathleen wrote in A Memory of Muskets:

The two dozen or so reenactors who’d been lounging about jumped to their feet and scrambled to form two lines behind the stacked muskets.

Three stacks of Civil War muskets at Old World Wisconsin. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

Stacked muskets at Old World. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

“Right dress!”

The soldiers on the right end of the lines stood still. Everyone else jostled a bit as they came to stand shoulder to shoulder. Siggelkow, the tallest man, was on the left. Roelke also spotted Kyle Fassbender, the young interpreter.

“Front!”

The men moved smartly through each command—taking arms, removing bayonets, shouldering arms. These are the moves my ancestor learned, Roelke thought.

The reenactors were able to tell me a great deal about my ancestor from the photo. Then they made me an offer:  loan of a uniform and musket, and instruction in the soldierly arts my GGGF had been taught when he first entered the Union Army Infantry.

Accepting the offer, I joined the 33rd Wisconsin, which Kathleen used as a model for the 9th Wisconsin in the book, and spent the next decade learning about and reenacting the Civil War.

It would shortly prove to be one of my best decisions ever.

“I don’t get the whole reenacting thing.” Dobry used a bit of pancake to mop up a dribble of syrup. “A bunch of grown men running around with guns. If they ever dealt with the aftermath of real violence they wouldn’t think it was so much fun.”

While the 33rd’s members did run around with guns, they were at heart military historians. They were dedicated to being as authentic as possible for two reasons:  to increase their knowledge of the experiences of the Union soldiers they portrayed, and to respectfully honor those men who fought to preserve the United States of America.

The first public event I took part in was at Old World, a fantastic place to reenact. (Later I learned Kathleen had organized the event.)

Nestled into its 576 acres of gentle hills, forests, kettle ponds and prairies are over sixty historic buildings, carefully relocated from around the state and lovingly restored. In addition to a crossroads village, there are three working farms dating from the Civil War era, including the German Schultz Family Farm featured in the book.

1860s German Schultz Family Farm at Old World Wisconsin. Photo by the author.

Schultz Family Farm. Photo by Kathleen Ernst.

Although familiar with the view, Chloe felt the spell. The land to their left was forested. Wheat rippled on their right. Beyond the field sat a tidy half-timbered home, and a stable and huge grain barn with thatched roofs. Laundry hung on a line. Oxen browsed in the pasture. It was a bubble moment—when everything looked and sounded and smelled and felt so real that for an instant, just an instant, it felt as if time had truly slipped.

Gunter stood transfixed. “We’d be honored to participate in programming here. This site is first-rate.”

That weekend we did military “living history.” Which is to say we portrayed to the public portions of the common soldier’s day-to-day military experiences—without a battle.

On Saturday we put on a recruitment rally, followed by a reenactment of Wisconsin’s 1863 draft. (Later I learned Kathleen coordinated it.)

(Note from Kathleen: I have very fond memories of those events! We had great reenactors in the 3rd and 33rd Wisconsin Regiments who enjoyed doing top-notch programming.)

Reenactor in top hat and tails ready to enlist men in the Union Army. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

Ready to enlist draftees. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

…the Village buildings all closed temporarily so visitors and interpreters could attend the reenactment of the 1863 draft. Kyle Fassbender made an impassioned speech opposing the vile act. A member of the 9th, dressed in an impressive coat and top hat, had the honor of pretending to spin the draft drum and reading names. The draftees reacted with groans, complaints, or flight. The visitors loved it.

Later we practiced the manual of arms, conducted loading and firing demonstrations, did bayonet drill, and marched in the intricate, shoulder-to-shoulder infantry formations (invented by Napoleon).

Company formation of Union Infantry reenactors marching in column at Old World Wisconsin in the 1980s. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

Marching at Old World. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

We also spent time portraying typical camp life, including cooking meals, cleaning weapons, holding mail call, and undergoing inspection.

A long double rank of Union Army Infantry at Old World Wisconsin. Photo by Kathleen Ernst.

Reenactor company at Old World. Photo by Kathleen Ernst.

It was at Old World that I first experienced the camaraderie of living outdoors with a group of male comrades. Spending weekends in the wool uniforms and leather accoutrements of a Union infantryman. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder as we drilled.

And that weekend I happened to pass an attractive young woman. Since we were both wearing reproduction 1860’s clothing, I doffed my hat in respect and smiled. She smiled back. When I described her to my comrades, they said “Oh, that’s Kathleen! Everybody knows Kathleen.”

I was intrigued.

(Note from Kathleen:  Me too.)

As my knowledge and experience grew over time, I began interpreting to the public. Helping them understand what they were observing, and answering their questions, became one of my favorite tasks.

Some of the public had relatives who served in the Civil War and wanted to learn more about what their ancestor experienced. Some folks were military vets who would talk about the similarities and differences between their service and what they were seeing.

Diederich took over again. “We will load in nine times,” he told the crowd.

“Load in nine times” proved to mean that nine different steps were needed to load a single round. Roelke tried to imagine doing that while being shot at.

MudsillsCompanyLoadingOWW500x245w

Loading muskets at Old World. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

I still remember my first time taking part in a company firing demonstration. I was in the front rank, and even though I knew we were firing blanks…  I’ll let Roelke describe it.

“Company, fire by rank! Rear rank, ready…”

Each man in the back row positioned the barrel of his gun over the shoulder of the man in front of him. That’s gotta be sobering, Roelke thought, as muskets were cocked with an audible “click.”

“Aim . . . Fire!”

When a formation fires, the noise is deafening for those in the ranks. Everything in front of you disappears in a white fog, and the air you inhale smells like rotten eggs.

The explosions were precise. White smoke jetted from the muzzles. Babies cried. Excited kids bounced on their toes. Adults murmured in awe. The weapons boomed louder than modern guns. Roelke smelled black powder—pungent and faintly familiar.

Color photo of Civil War Union Infantry reenactors conducting a musket firing drill at Old World Wisconsin in the 1980s courtesy of John Wedeward.

Musket volley at Old World. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

A common question from the public was “Aren’t you hot in those wool uniforms?” Answer:  “Yes, but wool has the natural property of wicking your sweat away, resulting in evaporative cooling—as long as you keep well hydrated.” The most uncommon question? A little child solemnly pointing to our campfire and asking: “Is that a real fire?”

My time as a “Boy in Blue” also included long-distance drives to visit Civil War battlefields, and take part in huge public battle reenactments.

33rd Wisconsin Infantry reenactors at a reenactment of the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee. Photographer unknown.

Shiloh, Muddy Shiloh. Photographer unknown.

Over the course of a weekend we’d portray parts of an original battle. Sometimes there were 10,000 or more Confederate and Union infantry, cavalry, artillery, and medical reenactors ‘on the field’. At one event an estimated 200,000 musket blanks were fired. The smoke and dust grew thick, the constant noise deafening, and the humid heat oppressive.

Three photos of a reenactment of the Civil War Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia.

Photos by Svend Olsen (top left) and John Atkinson.

Kathleen drew from my memories for this passage in the book.

“Reenacting seems like an interesting hobby,” Roelke said, in a congenial Tell me more tone most unlike him.

“Oh, my gosh, it’s awesome! Big events, small events—I like it all. Our unit decided not to officially do any national events this year, but Steven and I went to Gettysburg for the big 120th anniversary. There were units from all over the country, even some from Europe.” Kyle’s face filled with remembered awe. “When we did the battle I saw this enormous line of Rebels coming at us . . . and then another line appeared over the hill . . . and then another . . . It was a bubble moment for sure. Just awesome.”

Kathleen’s own memories served as the basis for Chloe’s thoughts.

His description reminded Chloe of big events she’d attended. It had been staggering to think that the thousands of reenactors taking the field were only a small percentage of the actual number of men who’d once fought and bled and died there. Critics accused reenactors of playing, of romanticizing a ghastly and bloody conflict, but a thoughtful reenactment could help onlookers move past abstract dates and figures. Roelke simply couldn’t understand how it felt to be in the moment at a well-done event.

Scott Meeker at a reenactment of the 1863 Battle of Chickamauga Georgia. Photographer unknown.

Photographer unknown.

As you might imagine, my memories of those ‘fights’ are incredibly vivid and exciting.

And yet my fondest recollections come from after the public departed the battle reenactment or living history event.

We’d sit around a campfire, under the stars, smoking stoogies (cheap cigars), sipping whiskey from fire-blackened tin cups, singing old Civil War songs, and talking late into the night about the war.

Often we slept on the ground, ‘campaign’ style, rolled up in reproduction gum blankets. Other times we camped under canvas shelter halves (first introduced during the war and nicknamed “pup tents” by the soldiers because they looked like small dog houses).

I greatly valued that such weekends caused the constant buzz of contemporary civilization to fade from my mind. Reenacting reduced life to the basics:  hot/cold, wet/dry, hungry/thirsty. I always returned home physically exhausted, but mentally refreshed.

Yet eventually it grew increasingly difficult to manage the physical challenges involved. And truth be told, my graying beard made me look way too old to pass for any of the men who actually fought the war.

As for Kathleen and I, we were married in St. Peter’s Church at Old World, surrounded by family, her co-workers, and our reenactor friends.

Reproduction tintype of Kathleen and Scott's 1865 wedding. Photographer unknown.

Reproduction tintype. Photographer unknown.

Thanks Sergeant Cantwell for bringing us together. I owe you big time.

But Wait, There’s More

Hopefully this post has piqued your interest in discovering more about the ‘people, places and the past’ in A Memory of Muskets.

There’s a whole page full of information about this book on Kathleen’s website, including the first chapter, the author’s introduction to the story, a discussion guide for book clubs, a pair of custom Google map showing story locations and photos, recipes for foods mentioned in the story, a slide show of objects featured in the book, public radio interviews with Kathleen and a reading of the first chapter, blog posts that offer additional background about aspects of the story, and links to booksellers that offer it in ebook, and printed formats. Explore them by clicking HERE.

Next month I’ll post an article about researching Mining For Justice, the eighth book in the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery series.

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.

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.

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.

Flax To Linen

March 15, 2017

I like to include folk art or craft in the Chloe Ellefson mysteries, and A Memory of Muskets is no exception.

memory-of-muskets

Rosina, the main character in the historical thread, is a newly-arrived German immigrant with little time for purely decorative handwork, so I decided to feature the process of creating linen. The contemporary mystery features Old World Wisconsin’s Schulz Farm, and processing flax into linen is a major interpretive activity there.

The Schulz Farm.

Linen is made of fibers from flax plants, specifically Linum usitatissimum. Flax plants for use in cloth production are generally harvested before they are quite mature—just when the stem begins to turn yellow.

Flax in Schulz garden. Photo by Loyd Heath.

Flax in Schulz garden. (Photo by Loyd Heath)

Once plants have been pulled, and seeds removed, a process called retting starts to break down the hard inner core within the stem. Some families put their stalks in shallow water. If an appropriate stream or pool wasn’t available, they relied on dew-retting. It was essential to watch this closely and retrieve the plants at just the right moment.

Dew retting flax in France. (Wikipedia)

Dew-retting flax in France. (Wikipedia)

Once retted, a hard outer shell still surrounds the flax fibers. The woman pictured below is pounding stalks in a flax break, which crumbles the shell into bits.

LC-DIG-prokc-20587 (digital color composite from digital file from glass neg.) LC-DIG-prok-10587 (detail of digital file showing single frame from glass neg.) LC-DIG-prok-00587 (digital file from glass neg.)

(Library of Congress)

Handfuls of the broken flax are held against a scutching board (center in the photo below) and scraped with a wooden knife to remove as much of the hard bits as possible.

schulz-flax-demo

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

The flax is then cleaned by pulling it through hackles made with sharp iron teeth.

02-10-1410012-406

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

The tangled bits left in the hackle are called tow (as in, a tow-headed child) and saved to spin into twine.

dscf1737

Once clean, the long fibers resemble human hair (as in, a flaxen-haired beauty).

02-11-0605003-118

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

When enough flax had been cleaned, it was time to carefully spread fibers around the distaff on the spinning wheel. The photo below, labeled only “Germany,” shows women with flax wheels. The distaff is to the upper right above each wheel, with a wide band holding the flax fibers in place on each.

(Author’s collection)

Here’s the flax wheel at the Schulz Farm at Old World Wisconsin. The spinner draws fibers down from the distaff; the wheel twists them into thread and winds them on the bobbin.

dscf1742

The small bowl holds water. Spinning with wet fingers helps bind the individual fibers together.

A good spinner could make fine thread for delicate work, or something coarser, based on the fibers and need.

dscf1744

Once lots of thread has been spun, the wrap threads are measured (on a pegged warping board, just barely visible in the back of the photo below), then carefully put onto the loom. This process is known as dressing the loom, or warping the loom. Each individual thread must maintain an even tension.

An interpreter weaves on the loom at the Schulz (German) farm.

This is the process Chloe agreed to take on in A Memory of Muskets. (Photo by Loyd Heath)

Finally, it’s time to weave. You can see the woven linen cloth wrapping around the lower beam in front of the interpreter.

Schulz House, Old World Wisconsin

Linen cloth is labor-intensive to make, but sturdy. The artifact monogrammed shirt below was the inspiration for the monogrammed shirt Rosina makes in A Memory of Muskets.

dscf1731

dscf1732

According to textile historians, flax has been used in garments for over 4,000 years. That boggles my mind, considering how involved the process is. I was introduced to the process when I worked at the Schulz Farm way back in the ’80s.

kae-spinning-at-schulz-web

Kathleen Ernst, Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

I’m glad I had a chance to spotlight it in a Chloe mystery.

Special thanks to my talented friend Loyd Heath for permission to use his photographs.  See more of his work HERE.

The Schulz Farm – Part 2

November 11, 2016

The Schulz Farm at Old World Wisconsin is featured in my latest Chloe Ellefson Mystery, A Memory of Muskets. Last time, I shared photos of the house.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

But if you’ve read the book, you know that some of the action takes place in the yard.

The farm features many Old World elements. One change, however, is evident in the layout of the outbuildings. In Pomerania, the buildings would likely have formed a closed square. In Wisconsin, where available land was still plentiful, farmers kept the square formation but often spread the buildings out. (Another outbuilding would have formed the 4th side of the square.)

In the map of Old World Wisconsin’s German area below, the Schulz Farm is on the left. The farm at center bottom is the Koepsell Farm. It’s also Pomeranian-style, and shows a complete courtyard arrangement.

Old World Wisconsin

(Map courtesy of Old World Wisconsin.)

The building below is the Koepsel Stable (not to be confused with OWW’s Koepsell Farm. Farms exhibited at the site are named for the family that lived in the house; usually outbuildings came from different families). It was built in the Town of Lebanon, Dodge County, c. 1855.

Like the house, it is half-timbered. It features an exterior stairway and 2nd story exterior walkway. In the Old Country, when the courtyard was enclosed, animals kept there could take shelter from sun or rain beneath the overhang.

Loyd Heath - Stable b on the Schulz farm. By Loyd Heath.

(Photo by Loyd Heath.)

Notice the darker mortar on the 2nd story? That’s actually the original mud and straw mixture from the 1850s. The lighter color is mortar replaced at the time the building was moved to the site.

Koepsel Stable, Old World Wisconsin

 

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

A Memory of Muskets readers – this is the end of the stable featured in chapter 1.

The other impressive structure on the Schulz Farm is the Grube Barn, from the Town of Emmet, Dodge County, c. 1855.  Architectural historians consider this a transitional structure because it was built with a half-timbered frame, then covered with siding.

This is a grain barn, reflecting the period when wheat was Wisconsin’s cash crop. It has a central drive-through (the big center doors are closed in the photo). The two side areas were used for grain storage.

Grube Barn, Old World Wisconsin

 

Both of the outbuildings on the Schulz Farm have thatched roofs. The traditional thatch was rye straw, which has a waxy coating. German farmers grew rye for their own needs, and saved the straw for thatching or basket-making.

Old World Wisconsin

German women used coiled rye straw baskets to hold round loaves of bread while rising prior to baking in a brick bakeoven.

In this interior shot you can see the barn’s half-timbered frame, and the underside of the thatched roof.

dscf1711

After harvest, men used the central floor of such grain barns for threshing.

Old World Wisconsin

(Photo by Loyd Heath.)

Here, a farmer uses a flail to beat kernels of grain from the stalks spread on the floor. Some men also led horses or oxen over the grain to trample kernels free.

I hope this gives you a better understanding of one of the fascinating farms at Old World Wisconsin!

Special thanks to my talented friend Loyd Heath for permission to use his photographs.  See more of his work HERE.

The Schulz Farm – Part 1

November 2, 2016

The protagonist of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries is employed as a curator at Old World Wisconsin, an open-air museum near Eagle, WI. Although most of the books are set at other sites and museums, Old World’s 67 historic structures give me lots to play with when I do set a mystery there.

In the new book, A Memory of Muskets, I featured one of my favorite places at the museum, the Schulz Farm. Come with me on a virtual tour!  (I hope that readers within driving distance will also visit in person.)

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The Schulz Farm

It was one of the first places I worked when I started as an interpreter way back in 1982.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The house was built in the Town of Herman, Dodge County, in 1856, and has been restored to its 1860 appearance. The half-timbered (fachwerk) architecture reflects what the family had known back in Pomerania, where natural resources were already in short supply. The spaces between the timbers were filled with a mud/straw mixture, preserving wood.

KAE photo. Back of Schulz house.

The back of Schulz house.  The small opening on the left was a pass-through.  Vegetables could be passed into a pantry, and then down through a door in the floor leading to a root cellar.

The concept of a front lawn seemed wasteful to new arrivals.  The vegetable garden is in front of the house.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

Probably the most famous feature is the black kitchen, or Schwartz-Küche—a huge walk-in chimney constructed in the center of the house.

This photo was taken inside the black kitchen, looking back at the front door.

This photo was taken from the back of the house,  looking through the black kitchen to the entry and front door.

Inside the black kitchen is the entrance to a brick bakeoven. Below, the wooden door to the oven is sitting in the fire pit.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

On baking day a fire was built in the oven.  When the bricks were hot enough, the woman would rake the coals into the cooking pit below, rather than wasting them.

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

At the same time, meat could be hung overhead to smoke. One fire, three jobs.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

Looking straight up, inside the black kitchen.

As you can imagine, it was a difficult place for women to work—unhealthy and dangerous. Although common in Pomerania, historians know of only four homes in Wisconsin built with black kitchens.

Interior of the black kitchen in the Schulz farmhouse.

This photo conveys what it is like to work in the black kitchen.  (Photo by Loyd Heath.)

Women also had a separate cooking niche for smaller jobs.

An interpreter prepares dinner in the 1860 Schulz kitchen.

(Photo by Loyd Heath)

 

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The cooking niche.

In 1860 the Schulz family had only been in Wisconsin for four years.  Their status is reflected in the furnishings.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

An immigrant trunk sits in the parlor, covered with a cloth. In time the family would have purchased new furniture.

The family could not set a space aside to use only as a formal parlor. This room was used for entertaining and sleeping.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

Kids might have slept here.

The largest room in the house is shown as a workroom.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

Weaving linen cloth.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this glimpse of the Schulz House at Old World Wisconsin.  Next time—the rest of the farm.

Special thanks to my talented friend Loyd Heath for permission to use his photographs.  See more of his work HERE.

Why A Memory Of Muskets?

September 11, 2016

Readers often ask why I chose a particular historic site and theme to feature in a new Chloe Ellefson mystery. It has become tradition to share what I found special in each new book. Here are some of the elements found in the 7th mystery, A Memory of Muskets.

memory-of-muskets

After four adventures away from home Chloe is back at her own site, Old World Wisconsin. I chose in particular to feature the Schulz Farm, which has been restored to its 1860 appearance. This is a fabulous collection of historic buildings, one of my favorite exhibits at Old World. The architecture reflects building styles in Pomerania.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The German Schulz Farm, 2016. If you look closely you’ll see gardeners repairing the woven garden fence, right by the house.

It was also one of the first buildings I ever worked, way back when. Flax processing is one of the major activities at the Schulz Farm. I was so excited to finally learn to weave!

Kathleen Ernst, Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

That’s me weaving linen, 1982.

After delving into Chloe’s background in earlier books, it also felt like a good time to learn about her friend Roelke McKenna’s heritage. The book includes a plotline that shares the story of the first of Roelke’s German ancestors to immigrate to Wisconsin—just as the American Civil War begins.

Bishop & Son, Watertown, WI - KAE

Bishop & Son, Watertown, WI.  (Author’s collection)

Wisconsin has a strong German-American population, and I was pleased with the opportunity to share a bit about that cultural group. A key scene takes place at German Fest, Milwaukee’s huge annual celebration of all things German.

Welcome to German Fest

The book is set in 1983, the year  German-Americans celebrated the tricentennial of German immigration to America.

Version 2

The premise of A Memory of Muskets involves preparations for Old World’s first Civil War reenactment. This was fun because I once was responsible for coordinating Civil War events at the site. Activities often involved the German Schulz Farm. The 3rd Wisconsin Regiment and other top-notch groups presented thematic programs that reflected different aspects of the war on the Wisconsin homefront.

Civil War event, Old World Wisconsin

Reenactors marching through Old World Wisconsin’s Crossroads Village, sometime in the 1990s.

I was a reenactor myself for over a decade. It was a wonderful hobby. I learned a lot, had some amazing experiences, and made some special friends.

3adultsspringhill600w-enhanced

Interpreting refugee life in  Tennessee with Sue (L) and Yulanda (R), 1995.

I also met my husband, “Mr. Ernst,” through reenacting. So yes, I have lots of special memories!

wedding

We were wearing 1860s attire when we met in the Sanford House driveway at Old World. Two years later we revisited the spot before our period wedding at the site’s restored church. (I’m afraid I don’t recall the name of the tintype artist who took this image.)

In the coming weeks and months I’ll share more detailed behind-the-scenes photos and stories. In the meantime, I hope this serves to pique your interest in Chloe’s latest adventure! Happy reading.

Old World Wisconsin: A Photographer’s Paradise

August 11, 2015
I am delighted to welcome Loyd Heath to Sites and Stories today!
* * *
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.

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.

KE-BraidOWW400w-enhanced - Version 2

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.