Posts Tagged ‘Chloe Ellefson Mystery series’

Sabots

April 22, 2019

When I went to work at Old World Wisconsin many years ago, one of my first assignments was working at the 1860 German farm. The curator who’d furnished the building left a couple of pairs of reproduction wooden shoes near the back door. “Aren’t those Dutch?” visitors often asked.

I explained that many rural people wore such clogs. (In this 1982 photograph I’m wearing a pair while knitting in the doorway of the 1845 Fossebrekke cabin, home to Norwegian immigrants.)

The clogs were sturdy, and kept the wearer elevated from muddy pastures and mucky barns. Most that I’ve seen are pretty basic.

This pair worn by a Swiss immigrant is on display at the Swiss Historical Village & Museum, New Glarus, WI.

I got a lot more interested in wooden shoes when I began learning about the Belgian immigrants who settled in northeast Wisconsin for the 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret. One man recalled:

While at work or at home the Belgians all wore wooden shoes…  When plowing, they wore them without socks, for the sabots soon filled up with loose soil.  …They were also worn in winter when logging or working around the sawmills.  They then tacked on long canvas leggings which made cheap and serviceable footwear.  The sabots of the women were fastened on the foot with a strap above the instep.  A few could even dance with them but that was exceptional.  (Hjalmar Rued Holand, Wisconsin’s Belgian Community, Door County Historical Society, 1933)

Belgians called their clogs sabots. The word can be traced to early 17th century France—a blend of savate (shoe) and botte (boot). (Most of the Wisconsin Belgians spoke Walloon, a language similar to French.)

By the early 20th century, another word had developed: saboter, which roughly meant “to kick with sabots, to willfully destroy.” These acts of willful destruction gave rise to one more term:  sabotage. One definition provided by Merriam-Webster is this: “destruction of an employer’s property (such as tools or materials) or the hindering of manufacturing by discontented workers.”

Early in my research I found a reference to poor tenant farmers in Belgium wearing their sabots to crush harvest crops if they were angry with their employers. How could I not use that in my novel?

Now that I was paying more attention to wooden shoes, I was attracted to a pair on display in the Belgian Farm at Heritage Hill State Historical Park. These are the sabots that are attributed to Seraphine in The Lacemaker’s Secret.

I love the decorative carving on these. The shoes are still practical, but beautiful too. (I don’t know what the small holes were used for—perhaps to tie the shoes together when not being worn?)

I’ve since read about other sabots that were carved or painted.  Some were evidently quite colorful.

These shoes, on display at building owned by the Peninsula Belgian American Club in Namur, inspired another pair mentioned in the mystery.

And here’s a beautiful pair:

Sabots

On display at the Peninsula Belgian American Club, Namur, WI.  I’m sorry I don’t know who made them.

Sabots popped up again when I read about the plight of Belgian civilians during the German occupation of World War I. This headline is from the September 25th, 1914 edition of the Green Bay Gazette:

Version 2

(Associated Press)

Every day at 5 o’clock a bell rings in the Exhibitions Hall of Alexandra Palace, whereupon 1,500 hundred women, children, and old men, with a scattering of youths, set up a clatter of wooden shoes.  This amusement park is now the largest camp for Belgian refugees in the London district….

The Belgian settlers continued to wear their sabots in Wisconsin. The photo below is one of my favorite images in the extensive Belgian-American Research Collection in the UW-Green Bay Archives (shown here on exhibit at the Belgian Heritage Center, Namur, WI.)

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(Mrs. Frank Martin pumping water for the cows.  Photo dated March 5, 1919)

Many Belgian people wore sabots as they met challenge after challenge. I was thinking about that when I wrote one of my favorite moments in The Lacemaker’s Secret, when Sharon makes a confession:

“Seraphine must have had a hard life. All of the earliest arrivals did. I probably shouldn’t admit this to a curator, but…sometimes when I’m facing a challenge I slip off my shoes and stand in Seraphine’s sabots.” Sharon’s gaze flicked to Chloe, then away again as if afraid she’d see mockery.

But Chloe was anything but amused, or annoyed. “Standing in her shoes,” she said softly, with complete understanding.

“Exactly.” Sharon’s shoulders relaxed. “Seraphine—all of the women who came in those early years—they were so courageous. Their faith was so strong. It’s inspiring.”

Artifacts are most precious for the stories they can tell, and the people they represent.  Belgian sabots are a wonderful example.

Large Print Giveaway Winners!

March 28, 2019

Congratulations to Dianne Martingano, Miriam R. Nelson, and Kathleen Newberg! Each won a signed, hardcover copy of the large print edition of the 9th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret.

Winners were chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page.

Thanks to all who entered!

Fiddling With Fate

March 3, 2019

Is there anything more exciting for an author than turning in a manuscript for a new book? Yes! Anticipating publication day.

The 10th Chloe Ellefson mystery will be published on September 8, 2019—just six months away.

Chloe has a devil of a time unraveling the mysteries of Norway’s fiddle and dance traditions.

After her mother’s unexpected death, curator Chloe Ellefson discovers hidden antiques that hint at family secrets. Determined to find answers, Chloe accepts a consultant job in Norway, her ancestors’ homeland. She’s thrilled with the opportunity to explore Hardanger fiddle and dance traditions . . . and her own heritage.

Once their plane lands, however, Chloe and her fiance, cop Roelke McKenna, encounter only disharmony. Chloe’s research reveals strong women and the importance of fiddle music in their lives. But folklore warns against “the devil’s instrument” and old evils may yet linger among the fjords and mountains. As Chloe fine-tunes her search for the truth, a killer’s desire to stop her builds to a deadly crescendo.

I hope you’ll join Chloe and Roelke on this special trip to Norway!

Hardanger Folk Museum

Fiddling With Fate is available for preorder from your favorite vendor.

Happy reading!

Giveaway Winners!

January 31, 2019

Congratulations to Jacki Bedworth, Sue Gallagher, Kay Johnson, Karen Mayers, Hope McLeod, Cindy Patterson, Linda Roehrig, Beth Rogers, and Margaret Wurth! Each has won a signed and personalized copy of the 9th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret.

Winners were chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page. Huge thanks to all who entered! Your interest and lovely comments warmed my heart on this frigid winter day.

Chloe Ellefson Mysteries Update

January 25, 2019

The 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, scheduled for release in September, 2019, will be the last one released by publisher Midnight Ink—which is shutting down.

The setting for book 10!

While that isn’t good news, since the announcement I’ve been overwhelmed by the support from wonderful Chloe and Roelke fans. Thank you!

I do want to continue the series. My upbeat and savvy literary agent has already sent a proposal to a press which has expressed interest. The publishing industry wheels can grind slowly, but—fingers crossed!

In the meantime, I’m focusing on finishing Chloe 10. The manuscript is due to my editor on March 1. My recent Chloe books have been about 95,000 words in length, and I’m at 85,000 words now. I’m getting there!

Mr. Ernst and I also want to do everything we can to demonstrate to potential publishers that the series is still going strong. Thanks to you, we had a very successful launch of the 9th Chloe mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret, in October. Now we want to keep expanding the circle of Chloe Ellefson Mystery readers.

To that end, next week we’re going to hold, here and on my Facebook page, a special Giveaway for The Lacemaker’s Secret. We hope that loyal readers who have already read the book will encourage friends to enter.

Writing online reviews, and recommending the books to your local library, are also enormously helpful.

Over the past decade, Mr. Ernst and I have had an amazing time exploring historic places and meeting new reader-friends. We’re grateful! We’re optimistic that with your help, the adventures will continue.

Chloe 10 Sneak Peek!

December 2, 2018

I was planning to wait a bit before sharing a sneak peek at the 10th Chloe Ellefson Mystery. But word is starting to leak out, and I want faithful readers to be in the know.  

Chloe and Roelke are going to Norway!

 

Here’s the story synopsis:

Chloe has a devil of a time unraveling the mysteries of Norway’s fiddle and dance traditions

After her mother’s unexpected death, curator Chloe Ellefson discovers hidden antiques that hint at family secrets. Determined to find answers, Chloe accepts a consultant job in Norway, her ancestors’ homeland. She’s thrilled with the opportunity to explore Hardanger fiddle and dance traditions . . . and her own heritage.

Once their plane lands, however, Chloe and her fiancé, cop Roelke McKenna, encounter only disharmony. Chloe’s research reveals strong women and the importance of fiddle music in their lives. But folklore warns against “the devil’s instrument” and old evils may yet linger among the fjords and mountains. As Chloe fine-tunes her search for the truth, a killer’s desire to stop her builds to a deadly crescendo.

The book will be published by Midnight Ink in trade paperback and electronic versions on September 8, 2019. I’ll share more details in the new year!

Lacemaking in Belgium

November 13, 2018

As someone who gravitates toward folk arts, I knew almost nothing about Belgium’s lacemaking industry before starting research for The Lacemaker’s Secret. But one of the best parts about writing the Chloe Ellefson mysteries is learning new things, and this topic was no exception.

The mystery includes a strand of historical fiction featuring a Belgian farm girl, Seraphine. When Seraphine and her sister Octavie are orphaned at a young age, they find a home at a convent and lace school, The School of the Apostolic Sisters, in Bruges.

 

“A Lace School at Bruges”, The Art Journal, 1887, Rose G. Kingsley.

Women have made bobbin lace in Belgium for centuries, especially in the northern region of Flanders. Bruges is famous for it.

Historically, nuns ran schools in an effort to preserve the lace industry, and to teach girls a trade that would bring a bit of income. Most students were local girls “from the very poorest and lowest families” who came daily for lessons. For some, a bowl of soup at midday was their only meal.

A young Belgian lacemaker at work. This postcard image postdates Seraphine’s girlhood, but it helped me imagine her busy at her pillow.  (Nels, Bruxelles)

Outside convent grounds.

Seraphine experienced the city for the first time when she traveled to Bruges. Walls surrounded the convent itself.

“Bruges: Beguinage, A Corner of the Cloister.”  A beguinage housed religious women who lived in community but did not take vows.  Originally the complex was a convent, but the two terms diverged.  (An. Thill, Bruxelles)

I don’t have an interior photo of a workroom, but a visitor in 1887 described the scene:

The room was full of young women and children sitting in rows of three.  Each had a little stand before her, and on it a sloping cushion with hundreds of pins and scores of wooden bobbins; while down the centre of it where the pins were covered by a strip of calico, lay the precious filmy lace growing under the flying fingers. Our entrance, though it created evident surprise and interest among the sixty workers and the three white-coifed sisters who sat in charge of them, caused no cessation in the work…  The bobbins clattered, the pins were pricked into the holes on the patterns, the delicate fingers…worked on ceaselessly, as we moved up between the lines of dentellieres to meet a pleasant sister, who welcomed us with charming courtesy in perfect French.  (Rose G. Kingsley)

Ms. Kingsley said the lacemakers were “of all ages from seven years old and upwards,” but the little girl in this picture looks younger. (“Lace Manufactory, Chs. Berbigette, Antwerp”)

There were several other lace schools in Bruges, and over 900 in Belgium. The students could stay as long as they wished. Although some remained in the Beguinage as adults, most participated in lacemaking as a cottage industry. It was common for Belgian women to finish their own chores, then move outside to make lace in the sunshine, often visiting with friends and neighbors as they worked.

(Ern. Thill, Bruxelles)

Many different types of lace were made in Belgium, and in the 1800s, perhaps 150,000 women earned their living with their bobbins and pillows. But as other industries grew, women started taking better-paying jobs in factories.  Many people feared the knowledge of particular styles or patterns might be lost. In 1900, thousands of women in Bruges and other Flemish cities still supported themselves by making lace. By 1975—close to Chloe’s time—only a few hundred of them were left, mostly older women looking to earn some extra money.

Fortunately, some younger women have helped inspire a bit of a revival. And notably, one of the old convent lace schools (the Sisters of the Immaculate Conception) has been turned into a lace museum:

The Bruges’ Lace Centre is a private cultural institute which aims to preserve the lace handicraft for future generations. It manages a museum and a specialized library, organizes courses and lace workshops as well for youngsters as for adults, trains lace teachers and publishes, apart from the international magazine “KANT”, other publications. The Bruges’ Lace Centre’s ambition is to develop itself to the real knowledge centre of lace in Bruges and to a reference institute in the world of lace.

I hope to get there one day!

The Lacemaker’s Secret Giveaway Winners

September 14, 2018

Congratulations to KAREN AGEE, PHYLLIS NOONAN, CLARISSA PETERSON, LESLIE ROBINSON, and AMY OLSON SULLIVAN! Each has won an Advanced Review Copy of the 9th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, The Lacemaker’s Secret.

Huge thanks to all who entered—we had almost 500 entries here and on my Facebook Author Page, which was a record. It warms my heart to know there’s so much interest. Official launch date is October 8, and I’ll have lots more news to share soon.

The Lacemaker’s Secret Giveaway!

September 12, 2018

How would you like to read my new Chloe Ellefson mystery, three weeks before it is officially released?

“In this heartfelt tale of labor and love, Ernst produces one of her most winning combinations of historical evocation and clever mystery.” —Kirkus Reviews

Lacemaker's Secret ARC-Giveaway

Publishers prepare Advance Review Copies (ARCs) in order to get some buzz going prior to publication. And I have five to give away.

The five winners will be randomly selected from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page. Each will receive a signed and personalized paperback ARC—which I will send via priority mail.

Enter to win by leaving a comment below before 11:59 PM (Central US time), Thursday, September 13, 2018. One entry per person, please.

The winners’ names will be posted here the following day. Good luck!

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.