Posts Tagged ‘Basilica of St. Josaphat’

Tradition of Deceit – A Retrospective

May 8, 2018

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

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

Back of the mill complex.

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

Taking notes on a behind-the-scenes tour.

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

Homeless Protest Master combined

(Star Tribune, May 2, 1990)

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

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

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

Basilica of St. Josaphat

The Basilica of St. Josaphat, Milwaukee.

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

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

SPOILER ALERT:  Plot points discussed below!

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

Harpers Weekly, May, 1878.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The turn head distributor at the Mill City Museum.

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

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

Urban Anthropology in Milwaukee’s Old South Side

June 26, 2015

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

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

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

Basilica of St. Josaphat

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

Basilica of St. Josaphat

Visitors are welcome.  See the website for more information.

Kosciuszko Park,

Kozy Park

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

Kozy Park

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

and Forest Home Cemetery.

Forest home Cemetery

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

Forest Home Cemetery

Side view of the Landmark Chapel entryway.

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

Old South Side Settlement Museum

The museum is in a lovely old home.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

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

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

Old South Side Settlement Museum

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

Artifacts on the display help tell the story.

Artifacts on the display help tell the story.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

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

Old South Side Settlement Museum

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

Old South Side Settlement Museum

Carefully chosen objects help convey this part of the story.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

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

Old South Side Settlement Museum

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

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

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

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

Why Milwaukee’s Old South Side?

September 24, 2014

If you’ve read any of the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, you’ve already met Officer Roelke McKenna. Based on reader mail, he’s a popular guy. Well, in Tradition of Deceit, Roelke gets his fair share of page time.

Tradition Of Deceit Cover

Chloe spends much of the book in Minneapolis, helping a friend. Back home, Roelke gets slammed with the news that his best friend, a fellow police officer, was shot and killed while on duty.

Roelke began his career in Milwaukee, but I’ve never specified a district or neighborhood…until now. His beat was in Milwaukee’s Old South Side. When he hears accusations that his friend was drinking on duty shortly before his death, he fears the investigation is tainted and returns to familiar territory to seek the truth for himself.

District 2 Police Station

So…why the Old South Side?

First, its history perfectly suits my interests and background—and a recurring theme in the Chloe series. I’ll quote the excellent book Milwaukee’s Old South Side (Jill Florence Lackey and Rick Petrie):  “If one adjective could be used to describe Milwaukee’s Old South Side, it would be ethnic.”

I’d already decided to celebrate Polish culture in this book. And at one time, the Old South Side was home to the largest Polish community outside Poland.

Kosciuszko_Park_ice_skating

Ice skating in Kosciuszko Park, 1910. (Photo by Roman Kwasnieweski; From the Archives Department, University of Wisconisin-Milwaukee Libraries.)

Second, it’s still easy to see evidence of the neighborhood’s early Polish immigrants. They built homes on narrow lots, with gable ends facing the streets, as shown in the photos above and below.

South Side neighborhood

This style of architecture became known as Polish Flats.  If families eventually needed more space, they jacked up the foundation and add a lower level.

Kosciuszko Park is the heart of the neighborhood.

Kosiuszko Park

View from Lincoln Avenue. The park, named for prominent General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, provides a 34-acre greenspace in the middle of the most densely populated neighborhood in Milwaukee.

Kosiuszko Park

Note the blue police call box in the foreground. In Roelke’s time, police officers still used these boxes to communicate.

Third, the community can claim several prominent historic sites. These working-class Polish-Americans built beautiful churches, including the magnificent Basilica of St. Josaphat.

Basilica of St. Josaphat

The basilica is also visible across the frozen pond in the historic photo above.

And right down the street is Forest Home Cemetery, established in 1850, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

cemetery

In the 1970s, highway construction and urban renewal sent some of the Polish-Americans to the suburbs, making room for more Mexican immigrants and other Latino newcomers. Tradition of Deceit takes place in February, 1983. The area was—and remains—vibrant and diverse.  It provided a wonderful setting for Roelke’s story.

Old South Side restaurant

Roelke finds himself slipping easily back into the old  neighborhood where he once walked a beat—talking with residents, visiting local landmarks, stopping for coffee at the local George Webb’s.

Old South Side George Webb

You can learn more about the neighborhood by visiting the basilica, park, and cemetery. I also recommend visiting the Old South Side Settlement Museum.  More about that later.

Old South Side Settlement Museum

And as always, you’ll find lots more information, photos, and maps on my website.

Milwaukee readers – any favorite memories to share?