Archive for the ‘INTERPRETATION’ Category

Telling Everyone’s Stories

June 15, 2017

I have been visiting Williamsburg for 50 years. When I was a kid, most of the stories told were about the white men who struggled and took enormous risks in their effort to create an independent country. What our Founding Fathers did was amazing and important.

But there are other stories to tell, too. One of the pleasures of each return visit is seeing what new programs have been developed. A change I love? Having the opportunity to learn about all kinds of people who lived in or visited Williamsburg in the 1770s.

When I was researching Gunpowder and Tea Cakes:  My Journey With Felicity, I visited an exhibit that helped visitors understand the importance of religion and spirituality among black people living in Virginia, enslaved and free. Learning about the religious beliefs of enslaved people is challenging, because they left few artifacts or other records behind.

Sometimes sailors brought certain meaningful shells or other items from Africa, and sold them to black people in Virginia.

“Ritual Objects: When they adapted or crafted ritual objects from natural or found materials, slaves sought a direct connection to the natural world and its power.”

This gentleman talked with me about religion and faith among free blacks and enslaved people. Some became Christians. Others tried to keep in touch with African culture, or perhaps blended the two.

I also had the opportunity to attend a play that humanized the pain of an enslaved family torn apart. This black actress portrayed an enslaved woman who thought she had a close relationship with the woman who owned her…

…until she learned that she was going to be separated from her child.

A real highlight of my visit was attending a program where I learned about the importance of music within the black community—especially in slave quarters.  African music helped them feel connected to their homeland. For those who converted to Christianity, singing spirituals gave them hope.

African music is about rhythm. Large drums were sometimes prohibited by slave owners, who feared they might be used for communication (for example, to share information about an uprising.)

Some songs from the time period have lasted. Many songs were private, however, and have not been preserved.

It isn’t always easy to interpret difficult topics such as slavery.  The relationships among enslaved people, free blacks, and white residents in Colonial Williamsburg were complicated.  (Native Americans too! But that’s another story.) I’m grateful to all of the researchers, program planners, and interpreters who today provide a more complete glimpse of Colonial Williamsburg in all its complexity. Everyone’s story is important!

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Some of what I discovered became things that the main character discovered in Gunpowder and Tea Cakes:  My Journey With Felicity.  You can learn more on my website.

 

 

Welcome to America

July 3, 2014

Scott and I spent Independence Day at Genesee Country Village and Museum in New York last year. Having celebrated the 4th of July in 1876 style at Old World Wisconsin for 12 seasons, I was eager to see how another large historic site interpreted the holiday.

The first special event of the day, however was not an historic reenactment or period activity. It was a citizenship ceremony that took place in front of the town hall in the Village square.

Town Hall Genesee Country Village

The presiding judge told of his father and grandfather, who had immigrated from Italy. He spoke eloquently of visiting Ellis Island. He assured the newcomers that this was a country where they could keep cherished cultural traditions from their homeland while embracing their new status as American citizens. He reminded them that as citizens, they have a responsibility to help govern; to be involved.

Genesee Country Village

Thirty-two people recited their oath of allegiance. They represented twenty-three countries:  China and Somalia, Australia and Russia, Sri Lanka and Honduras, and many more.

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Then each came forward to receive their certificate of citizenship. Some wore something traditional from their homeland. Many clutched American flags.

Genesee Country Village

I had a lump in my throat. I could think of no better way to begin celebrating the Fourth of July. And I could think of no better place to hold a naturalization ceremony than at an historic site like Genesee Country Village.

Many of the participants stayed at the site for the day. They were in the crowds as interpreters reenacted celebrations from 1836 and 1876.

Genesee Country Village

Reading the Declaration of Independence.

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And patriotic music.

And the site had lots of opportunities for guests of all ages to simply have fun. Period activities included sack races and a pie-eating contest.

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A rather chaotic egg toss.  A good time was had by all.

But the ceremony lingered in my mind. Modern immigration is part of the continuing story. The juxtaposition of period reenactments and modern ceremony reminded everyone, I think, of some of the principles that formed our nation, and continue to do so.

Genesee Country Village

Interpreters at the 1830s festivities…

Genesee Country Village

And Civil War Veterans at the 1876 celebration.

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A 94-year-old visitor/veteran of World War II—such a wonderful storyteller that he became an impromptu interpreter himself.

Historic sites are, of course, by definition largely about the past. And my personal philosophy of interpreting historic places is generally narrow. I’m usually not a fan of interjecting anything contemporary into an historic setting.

But historic sites also exist to help us all understand how we got to be here, now. Watching these modern immigrants, I thought of my own paternal grandparents, taking similar vows almost a century ago after they left Switzerland. I thought about how hard people have struggled for over more than two centuries to create and maintain a democracy. I was reminded that for all its heartbreaking flaws, the United States of American is still a beacon for, to paraphrase poet Emma Lazarus, the tired, poor, and huddled masses on distant shores, yearning to breathe free.

That’s interpretation at its best.

Genesee Country Village

Bonanza Farms

August 21, 2013

Harvest has started.  Now there will be no rest for man, woman, or beast until frost comes.  – Mary Dodge Woodward, August 11, 1885

It’s harvest-time, which reminds me that I had no idea what threshing grain involved until I moved to the Midwest in 1982.

Old World Wisconsin showed the evolution of threshing technology at its three restored German farms, from hand tools to horse-powered machines to the mighty steam engines that powered an enormous threshing machine.  Last fall my friend Marty sent me photo below, which had surfaced in some old files.

That’s me talking with one of the visiting crew, with the Koepsell Farmhouse visible in the background, in 1983.

When I visited the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, MN, I was again reminded of threshing days. The museum is wonderfully tucked within the ruins of an old flour mill. Many of the exhibits focus on the technology of milling. It’s difficult to present industrial history at an historic site, but the Minnesota Historical Society has done an amazing job of engaging guests in creative ways.

Good interpretation helps visitors make connections. In the context of a flour mill, that meant educators and exhibit designers had to find a way to help people consider not just the mill workers, or even the farmers who raised the grain, but the women who baked with it. Those things had been tangible at Old World Wisconsin. I was curious to see how an indoor museum, without fields of grain and threshing machines and working farm kitchens, would present those concepts.

As it turned out, quite well! A steam engine stands in one corner of the main exhibit floor, near a life-sized photograph of a threshing crew.

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A cast-iron cookstove sits nearby, with pans of (faux) food waiting for kids to put in the oven.

These kids got into the spirit by pretending to cook for the threshing crew.

These kids got into the spirit by pretending to cook for the threshing crew.

A long table is set for a threshing dinner.

Threshing crew table, Mill City Museum

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Hanging on each chair is a card with a short quote from a man involved with harvest work. And sitting on each plate is a quote from the diary of Mary Dodge Woodward, a widow who moved from Wisconsin to a 1,500-acre “bonanza farm” about 8 miles SW of Fargo  in the Dakota Territory in 1882.

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Mary Dodge Woodward, 1880s; from Dodge Genealogy, 1904.

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An interpreter portraying Mary Dodge Woodward helped guests understand the enormity of the task facing women who cooked for enormous threshing gangs.

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When the Northern Pacific Railroad was being built, politicians wanted settlement along those tracks, and huge tracts of land were claimed in the name of progress. But when the railroad didn’t pay the dividends some investors had expected, the government stepped in and made huge parcels available—with the promise that all absent landlords needed to do was hire a manager and crew, grow wheat, and reap the financial rewards. The first of these bonanza farms were established in the Red River Valley in the Dakota Territory and Minnesota.

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Mary Woodward gives a clear picture of the enormity of feeding the men needed to work a huge wheat farm. Not only did she cook food in colossal proportions, but for three years, she didn’t leave the farm. Books, magazines, and newspapers provided her only links to the outside world. (Her keen observations about the annual agricultural cycles have been published as The Checkered Years:  A Bonanza Farm Diary, 1884-1888. I recommend it.)

When I talk with kids about historical research, I encourage them to approach their topic from as many different directions as possible. It’s a lesson I learn over and over again. While those years hearing and smelling and tasting and watching threshing time at Old World Wisconsin made an indelible impression on me, visiting the Mill City Museum gave me a whole new appreciation of women’s work when the threshing gang arrived.

 

Making Jam For Mollie

June 17, 2013

My husband Scott and I have served as docents at Pottawatomie Lighthouse, setting for The Light Keeper’s Legacy (the third Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites Mystery), for five years now. There are lots of stories to tell. I wove some of my favorites into the book—especially those concerning the Betts family, occupants in the late 1800s.

Visitors touring the lighthouse, however, see the structure as it appeared in about 1910. Charles Boshka was head keeper then.

Charlie Boshka

Charlie Boshka at an earlier posting.

I knew the basic facts of his time there, but until recently, all I knew about his wife Mollie was how lovely she was.

Charles and Mollie Boshka

This was Charlie and Mollie’s wedding photo.

That changed when I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting two of the Boshkas’ descendants. Thanks to the generosity of Connie Sena and Kari Gordon, the handsome couple in the portrait displayed at the lighthouse are a little more real to me now.

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Some sheet music was among the family treasures. Charlie played the violin, and even composed at least a few tunes.

The couple had two children.

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Charlie and Mollie with their son, Lucien Nels, and daughter, Ella Josephine.

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I adore this photograph! It gives a hint of life beyond the daily requirements for lighthouse families.

I was particularly pleased to get glimpses of Mollie. She grew roses.

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Some of Mollie’s roses still bloom at the couple’s home on Washington Island.

And she was a knitter.

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Mollie’s needles…

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…and a closer view of her handiwork.

I hoped to find a lace pattern similar to these, practice over the winter, and knit during my stay at Pottawatomie this year. Time got away from me, so—maybe next year.

However, Connie shared another treasure with me:  Mollie’s recipe for rhubarb jam.

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The week Scott and I traditionally stay as docents at Pottawatomie Lighthouse comes right at the peak of rhubarb season. Perfect.

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That’s me, harvesting from the lighthouse garden.

Other than rhubarb, I brought the fixings for Mollie’s jam. I made a batch the day we arrived at Pottawatomie, and wrote the recipe out on brown paper.

rhubarb jam

Scott said the simmering jam made the whole house smell wonderful!

An added bonus?  The jam was delicious. I kept one jar for display, and we enjoyed the rest on our morning toast all week.

Mollie Boshka’s Rhubarb Jam
1 qt. rhubarb cut up fine
1 qt. sugar
2 oranges – grind rind and all
Let sit on back of stove until juices form.  Then let it boil good for 20 minutes.

Just before you take it off stove put in 1/4 lb. of walnuts, cut up fine
Also grind half a cup of raisins and put in the mixture.

*Note:  I omitted the sugar and added a splash of maple syrup instead. Also, I didn’t have a grinder, so I minced the oranges, walnuts, and raisins with a sharp knife.  Mollie’s reference to letting the rhubarb sit on the back of the stove harkens back to the days when the back burners of a wood-fired cookstove stayed warm; I stirred the rhubarb, oranges, and sweetener over low heat until it began to simmer.  I did not actually can the jam, but I plan to make another batch and freeze it in small containers.

It made me happy to bring a little something of Mollie back to the lighthouse.  And on chilly evenings, I could almost hear Charlie playing violin in the parlor—just as he did a century ago.

Pottawatomie lighthouse parlor

Remembering Marty

May 7, 2013

Old World Wisconsin opened to the public last week, as it has every May since 1976. As always, the new season brings a variety of changes intended to improve visitor experience. But this year also marks an unwanted and profound change. For the first time ever, Marty Perkins isn’t watching spring unfurl at the historic site.

Marty in front of Caldwell Farmers Hall, OWW.  (Milwaukee-Journal Sentinal photo.)

Marty started working at Old World in 1974. He began on the restoration crew, helping to dismantle, move, and reconstruct some of the historic structures.

Marty Perkins-Koepsell Construction1975

In 1975, Marty helped reconstruct the half-timbered Koepsell home in the German area.

For most of his career he served as Curator of Research and Interpretation. Most recently he concentrated on his primary love, research.

He loved his work. Part of his job involved driving backroads all over the state, searching for historic buildings. The people who owned the old homes or barns or shops quickly learned that Marty was a friendly, down-to-earth guy who truly wanted to hear their stories. He had a rare affinity for getting along with everyone.

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Marty sharing stories at the Kvaale Farm, OWW.

I met Marty in 1982, when I moved to Wisconsin to work at the site. On a cold April day during training Marty gathered the German area interpreters in one of the old farmhouses. We built a fire in the woodstove and he shared tales about the buildings and the people who once occupied them. I knew I’d come to the right place.

The Koepsell house, 1982.

The Koepsell house, 1982.

During the thirty-eight years he served at OWW, he saw many colleagues come and go. Marty chose to dedicate his professional life to the site he’d helped plan, develop, and interpret. No one knew more about Wisconsin’s ethnic history and architecture than he did. No one knew more about Wisconsin’s crossroads villages, or 19th-century baseball teams, or the workings of farmers’ clubs, or so many of the other topics he explored.

Gathering facts, though, wasn’t the point. He was a storyteller.

Marty leading a tour.

After Marty died suddenly last November, his coworkers referred to him as the heart and soul of Old World Wisconsin. He was. One colleague said that the site’s institutional memory had burned to the ground. That’s also true.

Marty was also the site’s conscience. He knew that research had to be the foundation of everything that happened at Old World Wisconsin.

That may sound obvious. But historic sites never get the funding they need, and research takes time. It is not uncommon for a distant administrator or generous donor to suggest some new program, with little thought given to what’s truly involved. At any site, loud voices can clamor for something old-timey if people think it would be fun and/or sell more admission tickets.

Marty calmly and pleasantly insisted on a solid foundation of research for every new program or initiative. He helped others see that documentation wouldn’t detract from popular programming, but instead enhance the site’s educational offerings.

The Benson House at OWW, Christmas Through The Years, 1990.

The Benson House at OWW, Christmas Through The Years, 1990.

Of all the things I learned from Marty in the years we worked together, that philosophy is perhaps the most important.

Now that I’m writing stories instead of greeting visitors, I try to bring that ethic to each new book project. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing an historical novel for children or fictionalizing historical events in a mystery for adult readers. Research forms the foundation of the story.

In 2012, Marty and I teamed up again to offer two History and Mystery tours at OWW.

But I’m not the only person Marty mentored.  I can’t even imagine how many lives he touched over the years:  how many novice interpreters came to share his passion for the site, how many colleagues developed a lifelong habit of looking for vernacular architecture on country drives, how many interns chose to make museum work a career.

His work lives in in the historic structures and programs at Old World Wisconsin, and in the many people he inspired.

The Women of Mill City

March 29, 2013

The Mill City Museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota, celebrated Women’s History Month with a fascinating and multi-layered special event.

Mill City Museum

I find it easy to imagine the lives of historical rural women. City women, not so much. Perhaps that’s because most urban historic sites interpret the lives of wealthy people who lived in fancy homes.

Local citizens often rally to save a treasured mansion from the wrecking ball, and God bless ’em for doing so.  There is seldom widespread lamentation, though, when the tenements or nondescript homes middle-class or poor women lived in a century or more ago give way to new development.

The Mill City Museum offers a glimpse the lives of working women. Created among the ruins of what was once the world’s largest flour mill, it tells the story of the flour industry technology and its role in Minneapolis—and global—history. But interpreters and exhibits also shed light on the day-to-day lives of employees.

Mill City Museum

The mill hired its first female workers in 1919.  The “Women of Mill City” event included an experiential glimpse of the work done by female packers. Interpreters explained how fast the women had to work in order to meet their quota. They personalized that history by relating the story of a legendary young woman who worked so efficiently that she was able to take naps during her shift and still make her numbers.

Mill City Museum

Guests were also invited to try their hands at a simulated packing activity. I managed to fill my box with the requisite number of sacks before the stopwatch brought me to a halt, but only by running. I can’t imagine keeping that up for eight hours, not to mention actually filling and sealing the five-pound sacks, instead of pretending.

(These clever girls beat the clock by creating an assembly line.)

Mill City Museum

Visitors were introduced to a completely different aspect of women’s role in flour industry history when an interpreter portraying Ruth Andre Krause, who became Director of Pillsbury’s Home Services Department in 1950, made a presentation in the museum’s baking lab. Ruth, sometimes known as “Ann Pillsbury,” became the public face of Pillsbury—overseeing baking tests, showing guests through the company kitchens, and appearing at public events.

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When she discussed the development of mixes, an assistant passed out brownie samples so visitors could assess quality for themselves.

Mill City Museum

Between the experiences of women on the work floor and the powerful role women played in marketing Pillsbury and Gold Medal Flour to the world, the museum provided lots to think about. But for this special event, event planners also included first-person performances showcasing the contributions of other Minneapolis women.

Eva McDonald Valesh, known as Eva Gay, was a writer and speaker who went undercover to document the lives of women factory workers in the 1880s. She exposed harsh conditions women endured, and led to the first big female-led strike by women working in a textile factory in Minneapolis.

Mill City Museum

Other performances featured Gratia Countryman, Head Librarian of the Minneapolis Public Library; and Mary Dodge Woodward, who managed a Bonanza farm. More on them another time.

Guests who attended “The Women of Mill City” event left entertained, educated, and engaged.  In the museum world, it doesn’t get much better than that.

Syttende Mai—Old Traditions, New Directions

May 22, 2012

I happened to be in Decorah, Iowa last week on Syttende Mai, Norway’s Constitution Day. Decorah goes all out with a Nordic Fest in July, so I knew the Syttende Mai celebration would be low-key. It was, and it was delightful.

I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the local Sons of Norway – Valdres Lodge Norwegian Constitution Day Dinner on May 15th, which was a treat even without reference to the holiday. First, I met a lot of lovely people.

Gathering in the fellowship hall.

Second, I love any gathering that includes traditional foods.

Lefse, which I like best spread with a little butter and brown sugar, then rolled up.

Several options for dessert, all traditional Norwegian favorites.

And third, the meal and meeting took place at the beautiful Washington Prairie Lutheran Church outside of town. This was the congregation (then known as the Little Iowa congregation) that called Ulrik Vilhelm Koren  to serve as pastor in 1853. Ulrik’s wife Elisabeth accompanied him, and The Diary of Elisabeth Koren, 1853-1855 is a must-read for anyone interested in the immigrant experience.

The church is on a hill, surrounded by farmland. I can imagine people looking up from their labors and taking comfort from seeing the spire.

The modern church clearly cherishes its history.  And the people I met at the dinner do too. I’ve visited ethnic festivals in towns where the celebration has become part of the community’s heritage, more so than the people who actually live there now.  Not so here.

After-dinner entertainment included a beautiful mini-recital by Rachel Storlie.

On to May 17th. One of the things I like about Syttende Mai is that it is a non-military holiday, and festivities often focus on children. In Decorah, children celebrate with a traditional parade from the courthouse to Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum.

Perfect weather for a parade!

The parade was followed by a street performance by The Nordic Dancers of Decorah.

Students audition for the Nordic Dancers in the third grade, and make a ten-year commitment!

The Junior and Senior Nordic Dancers performed some of the  thirty-plus traditional folk dances in their repertoire.

The dancers also invited anyone in the crowd to come out and join them for a dance.

A good time was had by all!

Later that day came a wonderful climax to the festivities:  opening of a formal exhibit in one of Vesterheim’s galleries featuring the work of 4th grade students.  They had spent six weeks visiting the museum, studying the immigrant and pioneer experience.

How many fourth graders get to see their work formally displayed in a museum? Pretty cool.

Each student then chose a special project, and wrote an immigrant diary.

I was impressed with the projects!

Many kids mentioned that working on their project with a parent or grandparent was the best part of the experience.  They also became comfortable spending time in a museum.

Intergenerational sharing was one of the program highlights, both during the project phase and at the grand opening.

Some of the kids focused on Norwegian culture and heritage for their projects.  Others used Norwegian studies as a springboard to delve into their own cultural identity—whatever that might be—or a group that interested them.
Which is what visiting places like Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, or a Sons of Norway Lodge’s Syttende Mai celebration, so special—even for non-Norwegians like me.  It’s fun to explore the traditions and heritage preserved by descendants of the Scandinavian pioneers who settled the area in the 19th century. It’s also meaningful to consider how their stories reflect our own.

The First Lady’s Gown

May 6, 2012

I recently visited the Lincoln Museum in Springfield, IL, with my family. One of the many exhibits that caught my eye is called “What Are They Wearing in Washington?” Front and center is Mary Lincoln, with her dressmaker Elizabeth Keckly helping her into one of the sumptuous ballgowns popular during the Civil War era.

Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, IL.

As I approached, I flashed on an ever-popular exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.  Growing up in Maryland, I was lucky enough to visit the Smithsonian several times as a child, and I loved seeing the First Ladies’ Gowns. The oldest belonged to Martha Washington.

Martha Washington’s gown. (Smithsonian National Museum of American History)

The Smithsonian collection, originally called “Collection of Period Costumes,” officially began in 1912. Volunteer curators began collecting gowns worn by former first ladies, and created the first collection focused on women. By 1931 a gown had been collected to represent each presidential wife or hostess, and in 1955, a curator created a new “First Ladies Hall” exhibit. Gowns were presented within period rooms.

The Smithsonian asks each First Lady to donate a gown to their collection.  Helen Taft donated her inaugural ball gown in 1909, starting a trend that continues to this day.

This gown belonged to Louisa Catherine Adams.  (Smithsonian National Museum of American History)

As a girl visiting back in the 1960s and 1970s, two things appealed to me about the exhibit.  There was something amazing about gazing upon a dress actually worn by Martha Washington or Eleanor Roosevelt.  It was also fun to watch how fashion changed from gown to gown.  (FYI, today gowns are rotated on and off display, and some are simply too fragile to exhibit.)

This gown belonged to Mary Lincoln. (Smithsonian Museum of American History)

Back to the gowns on display at the Lincoln Museum.  They are reproductions—gorgeously done, but without the magic of an original. However, exhibit designers used those reproductions to superb effect.

Mannequins are arranged in a semi-circle around Mary Todd Lincoln to represent some of Mary Lincoln’s social rivals, the Washington elite.  A short paragraph introduces each woman, and includes a quotation that criticized or ridiculed Mary.  Young visitors might simply delight in the sumptuous fashions, as I did way back when at the Smithsonian.  Older guests will leave the Lincoln exhibit with a new appreciation of Mary’s position at the center of a storm of public contempt.

There are lots of ways to present historical stories.  Some touch the mind, and some the heart.  The best manage to do both.

The Judgment Tree

February 19, 2012

When I was a young teen devouring historical fiction, I developed a deep fascination for the 18th-century American frontier. One of my favorite authors was Janice Holt Giles. (I still cherish some of her books, acquired decades ago at used book sales.) I moved on from there to other authors who wrote about the harsh realities of life on the frontier. I visited reconstructed forts in Kentucky and West Virginia and had no trouble imagining life for those pioneers who lived or sheltered there.

One of my favorites.

Later, as I became more adept at considering all the people involved (not just those who looked like me), I became aware of how one-sided my perspective had been. Many of the books I’d found so compelling presented a very narrow view of the culture clash that defined this time and place. With youthful certainty I judged my own literary tastes and found them lacking. I moved on to new genres.

I’ve been living in the midwest for thirty years now, and don’t often revisit that geographic area. But last fall I had the chance to visit the Historic Daniel Boone Home, operated by Lindenwood University in Missouri. One of the site’s missions is “to interpret the early American frontier experience in Missouri as exemplified by the Boone family and their contemporaries.”

Daniel Boone was sixty-five years old when he and his wife, Rebecca, and several of their children moved to Missouri. The home, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, actually belonged to Nathan Boone, the couple’s youngest son.  Daniel, however, chose to spend his time there.

The house is beautiful and well preserved. It also serves as a reminder that conflict with Native Americans was still present in the area when the Boones arrived. The limestone walls are two and a half feet thick, intended to provide protection in case of Indian attack.  Inside, one of the artifacts on display was a war club thrown at one of the Boone daughters who’d been kidnapped by Indians.  (Sorry, no interior photos were permitted.)

While touring the grounds, our guide pointed out the Judgement Tree. Decades ago, Dutch elm disease felled what was once an 80′ elm.  The remains stay, however, and I’m glad.  During his years in Missouri Boone was appointed Commandant of the region and Syndic, or judge. He used to hear local grievances beneath that elm tree. The guide told of a man who’d seized a cow from a widow to satisfy a debt.  The action was legal, but not—in Daniel’s mind—charitable.  He told the man to “never show his face” in the neighborhood again, and gave the widow a cow from his own herd.

One of the things that struck me during the tour was that the interpretation was geared to tell stories based on historical facts, without judgement.  Conflict is part of all stories—between neighbors, between races.

I may return to some of those novels I so loved for another visit, accepting that they were written during their own time and may over-simplify good and evil.  Historical fiction can only strive to present the period depicted through the eyes and experiences of the characters.   A good novel can grab my attention, and send me searching more information about a certain time and place.  Finding additional novels which add different perspectives is a great next step.

Any favorite titles to recommend?  I’m always glad to add a few more to the to-be-read list!

Giving Thanks

November 23, 2011

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

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

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

That's me at the Schulz Farm...

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

...and at the Koepsell Farm.

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

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

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

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

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