Posts Tagged ‘Chloe Ellefson’

Researching Death on the Prairie

June 20, 2018

Death on the Prairie / Looking for Laura Ingalls Wilder graphic by Scott Meeker.

Front cover image for Death on the Prairie by Kathleen Ernst, published by Midnight Ink Books.

Mr. Ernst here. As youngsters, Kathleen and her sister Barbara loved the “Little House” books by bestselling children’s author Laura Ingalls Wilder. So much so that as adults they toured the Wilder historic sites together.

So it’s not surprising that in Kathleen’s mystery, Death on the Prairie, Chloe Ellefson and her sister Kari also cherished Wilder’s books as kids, and as adults decided to visit places where the famous author lived. Write what you know.

This post focuses on researching and recommending the car that the Ellefson sisters take on their six-state road trip in this, the sixth book in Kathleen’s award-winning Chloe Ellefson mystery series.

Recognize their wheels from the image below?

Escape To Wisconsin bumpersticker graphic by Scott Meeker.

Kathleen did almost all of the research for this book – and had a blast. One of the few things she outsourced to me was researching and recommending an appropriate make and model.

Now that’s my idea of having a blast.

Chloe fans know she drives a rusty, rundown Ford Pinto. It’s based on one Kathleen owned when she, like Chloe, worked at Old World Wisconsin in the early 1980s. Their model was infamous for its gas tank, which could explode during rear end collisions — and its tires, which were prone to sudden blowouts at highway speeds. Kid you not.

Photo of a green Ford Pinto by Julia LaPalme.

Photo by Julia LaPalme.

While Kathleen survived crisscrossing the country in her Pinto, she decided that the sisters would go looking for Laura in Kari’s car.

Note from Kathleen:  there’s nothing like commuting through mountains on two-lane roads in a Pinto back in the day!

DOP is set in 1983. In those days many car owners considered themselves lucky if their vehicles went 50,000 miles without serious problems. Thus the first criteria for the car search was finding one that could reasonably have less than 50K on the odometer.

Kari and her husband Trygve are Wisconsin dairy farmers, and thus are short on cash and chronically in debt. Their life is one of careful economy, maximum self-reliance, and hard work. So the second criteria was that her car had to be inexpensive to buy, simple enough to service themselves, and reliable.

And the final criteria was that Kari’s car had to be made in America, which many Wisconsin drivers strongly favored.

It was a challenge finding an older, low-mileage, inexpensive, reliable, American car.  There weren’t many — which made it easier to pick one.

The winner turned out to have been manufactured in Kenosha, Wisconsin by the now defunct American Motors Corporation.

Photo of 1969 AMC Rambler sedan chrome plate. Image by GR Auto Gallery.

Image by GR Auto Gallery.

A 1969 Rambler (the final year it was produced) fit the search criteria, though by 1983 this then 14-year old classic would have had more miles on it than desired. Fortunately, Ramblers had a rep for reliability.

Note from Kathleen:  Trygve is the kind of guy who takes good care of his vehicles.

Besides, what sounds better than taking a “Rambler” on a road trip?

Kari’s two-door blue sedan is the entry-level “Basic” model — lacking air conditioning, power steering, and power brakes. Even the dashboard cigarette lighter was optional.

1969 Rambler sedan print ad by the American Motors Corporation.

Print ad by the American Motors Corporation.

In terms of safety, the Rambler was typical for its time. The standard features list included seatbelts, an energy-absorbing steering column, self-adjusting brakes, hazard warning signals, padded instrument panel and visors, safety door locks, rear view mirrors, windshield washer and wipers, backup lights, and side reflectors.

Kari’s was the lowest priced American car available in 1969, with an MSRP of $1,900 (about $13,500 in 2018 dollars).

Only a German-made VW Beetle cost less.

Photo of a yellow 1969 VW Beetle.

Photographer unknown.

1969 AMC Rambler sedan front driver's side exterior photo by GR Auto Gallery.

Image by GR Auto Gallery.

Kari’s Rambler was a rear wheel drive vehicle mated to a low-powered 6-cylinder engine that ran on leaded gas. It often had to be downshifted when climbing hills — or to force it to speed up quickly — as Chloe has to do at one point in the story.

Photo of six cylinder engine compartment of 1969 AMC Rambler. Image by GR Auto Gallery.

Image by GR Auto Gallery.

The car’s 3-speed manual transmission was shifted using a long lever on the right side of the steering wheel column – an arrangement known as “a three on the tree.”

Driver's seat view photo of steering wheel and instruments of a 3-speed AMC Rambler. Image by GR Auto Gallery, edited by Scott Meeker.

Image by GR Auto Gallery, edited by Scott Meeker.

This transmission had a vertical H-shaped shifting pattern. Drivers depressed the clutch (the third pedal on the left above) when shifting gears. They pulled the shift lever toward them and then either up to get into Reverse or down to get into 1st gear. Shifting from 1st to 2nd required pulling the lever up, pushing it forward, and then up again. Going from 2nd to 3rd (top gear) involved pulling the lever down.

Despite being a compact, the Rambler was roomy, with bench seats front and back.

1969 AMC Rambler sedan front bench seat photo by GR Auto Gallery.

Image by GR Auto Gallery.

1969 AMC Ramble sedan rear bench seat photo by GR Auto Gallery.

Image by GR Auto Gallery.

It also had a big trunk, which Chloe uses to securely store a large archival box containing a precious antique quilt that once belonged to Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Photo of open trunk of 1969 AMC Rambler. Image GR Auto Gallery, edited by Scott Meeker.

Image by GR Auto Gallery, edited by Scott Meeker.

Here’s a video that provides a quick tour of Kari’s car.

Video still of 1969 AMC Rambler 2-door sedan by GR Auto Gallery.

Image and video by GR Auto Gallery.

Now when you read about Chloe and Kari ramblin’ through Wilder territory, you’ll be able to envision their ride. Enjoy the trip!

But Wait, There’s More!

Hopefully your interest has been piqued into discovering more about the ‘people, places and the past’ that went into making Death on the Prairie.

You can find a page full of details about it on Kathleen’s website, including an author’s note and discussion guide, a Google map featuring scene locations, photos and descriptions, a slide show of objects featured in the book, a public radio interview with Kathleen, plus additional blog posts, links to booksellers that offer DOP — and more.

Just click on the link below.

http://www.kathleenernst.com/book_death_on_prairie.php

Next month I’ll post an article on this blog about researching the seventh book in the Chloe Ellefson mystery series, A Memory of Muskets, which takes place at Old World Wisconsin — the actual outdoor museum where Kathleen worked, and Chloe works — and German Fest in Milwaukee.

Tradition of Deceit Giveaway

May 23, 2018

This year from January through August I’m holding monthly giveaways of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries. The featured book for May is the fifth in the series, Tradition of Deceit.

To enter the giveaway for Tradition of Deceit, just leave a comment below before 11:59 PM (Central US time), May 24th, 2018. One entry per person, please.

Winners will be chosen at random from all entires here and on my Facebook Author Page, and announced the next day. Each winner will receive a personalized and signed trade paperback copy of Tradition of Deceit. 
Good luck!

Researching Tradition of Deceit

May 15, 2018

Interstate 94 Highway sign for West to Minneapolis and East to Milwaukee.

Front cover of Tradition of Deceit, the fifth book in the Chloe Ellefson Mystery series by bestselling author Kathleen Ernst.Mr. Ernst here.  In Tradition Of Deceit (TOD) Chloe and Roelke get caught up in separate mysteries, in separate cities, each facing deadly perils on their own.

Chloe’s in Minneapolis helping her friend Ariel at the Minnesota Historical Society work on transforming an enormous abandoned flour mill into a museum.

Roelke’s in Milwaukee running a very personal, and unofficial, investigation into his best friend’s murder.

Though separated by hundreds of miles, the mysteries and threats that Chloe and Roelke each face are culturally and historically linked.  Their experiences take place during February 1983, with historical threads set in 1878 and the 1920s.

This post focuses on researching a key transition scene in TOD, the fifth book in Kathleen’s award-winning Chloe Ellefson mystery series.

ToD-WashburnCrosbySepiaPrayerCycleSlide500x261w

At the end of Chapter Thirty-Five, Chloe comes into possession of what later proves to be an important clue:  a piece of Polish paper-cutting art called wycinanki (pronounced vee-chee-non-kee) discovered in “No Man’s Land” — the female worker’s break room in the long-abandoned Washburn-Crosby Gold Medal flour mill in Minneapolis.

The first thing that presented itself was a rectangle of heavy cream-colored paper, corners marked with pin holes. Despite a film of dust, and the passing years’ inevitable fading, a collage of cut and layered paper still suggested a vivid rainbow of color. A central bouquet of stylized flowers was flanked on each side by a rooster. She gently lifted the piece. Pride in creation, determination, feminine strength . . . all those seemed palpable.

She was pretty sure that this glorious example of wycinanki had been made long before the mill closed in 1965. It so closely resembled what Roelke had tried to describe on the phone that an ice chip slid down Chloe’s spin. Ariel had said that a motif of flowers and roosters was common. Still, it was uncanny that this piece, left behind in No Man’s Land, echoed whatever it was that Roelke had found in Wisconsin decades later.

Was it even remotely possible that the same woman had created each wycinanki? “If so,” she whispered to whomever might be listening, “why did you leave this beautiful piece in No Man’s Land? And how did you get from Minneapolis to Milwaukee?”

Kathleen asked me to research how the woman who created the wycinanki piece could have traveled the 350 miles from Minneapolis to Milwaukee in 1921. Turned out, her options were limited.

  • Minneapolis is located on the Mississippi River and Milwaukee on Lake Michigan, but there are no connections between the two cities by water.
  • There were roads between them back then, but stretches were still unpaved (the Interstate Highway System was decades in the future) which may be why long-distance motorized bus service did not yet exist.
  • And the first rudimentary airline passenger service was still years away.

So how did people travel long distances in those days?  I discovered that back then America enjoyed an extensive system of railroads offering scheduled, reliable, relatively affordable passenger service.

September 1921

LIDIA TOOK THE TRAIN from Minneapolis to Milwaukee. She knew there was a large Polish community there, and although she’d managed to hide away a few coins after grocery shopping these last few months, she couldn’t afford to travel any farther. 

MilwaukeeRailroad1920TimeTableCover100x211w
As a little boy I spent many happy hours playing with model trains.  I loved watching and riding real trains too — and still do all these (many) years later.

Which is to say I was absolutely delighted when Kathleen asked me to dig up the details of Lidia’s train trip.

In 1921 the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railway (widely known as the “Milwaukee Road”) offered regularly scheduled daily passenger service between Minneapolis and Milwaukee.

 

Color photo of a map showing the upper Midwest portion of the Milwaukee Road's railroad lines in 1920.

The Milwaukee Road’s extensive rail lines and stations serving the upper Midwest in 1920. The highlighting shows Lidia’s route from Minneapolis on the top left, down the Mississippi River to La Crosse, then across Wisconsin to Milwaukee. (Map in author’s collection.)

Black and white photo of the Minneapolis Milwaukee Road railroad station circa 1922.

Lidia departed from the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad Depot in downtown Minneapolis. (1922 photo in author’s collection.)

2014MinneapolisMilwaukeeRoadStation500x398w

This is the renovated Depot today in its new role as the Marriott Renaissance Minneapolis Hotel. (Image by the author.)

But with every clack of the turning wheels she felt herself moving farther and farther from Matka and Grandfather Pawel. From Bohemian Flats and Minneapolis and the mill. From her whole world. She’d had no time to say good-bye — and she wouldn’t have dared, anyway. 

Vintage black and white photo of a C.M. & St. Paul railroad passenger train pulling into Hastings, MN circa 1920.

A coal-fired steam engine train like Lydia took, stopping in Hastings MN on its way south along the Mississippi River. (Source unknown.)

Lydia had to change trains in La Crosse, Wisconsin. She approached a woman in worn clothes who looked to be about her size and offered to exchange clothes. “Why?” the woman asked suspiciously, eyeing her stylish dress.

“I need to disappear,” Lidia whispered.

Ten minutes later she emerged from the ladies’ room wearing a heavy skirt and faded blouse. “Be careful,” the other woman said, before disappearing into the swirling crowd in her new finery. 

Image clipped from 1910 postcard showing the type of railroad passenger cars that Lidia rode.

Milwaukee Road passenger cars at La Crosse, from a 1910 postcard. These are similar to what Lidia rode in. (Author’s collection.)

Postcard of the the C. M. & St. Paul Railroad Deport in Milwaukee, circa 1900.

Lidia arrived at Milwaukee’s 1886 Everett Street Railroad Depot, formerly located immediately south of what is now called Zeidler Union Park. (Postcard in the author’s collection.)

Color photo of the modern office block that replaced Milwaukee's Everett Street railroad station.

Office block that replaced Milwaukee’s Everett Street Railroad Depot when it was razed in 1966. (Google StreetView Copyright 2018.)

She’d arrived in Milwaukee weary, nauseated, anxious, and broke. Now she sank down on an empty bench, watching other travelers. She seemed to be the only person in the station with no one to meet and nowhere to go. With a surge of panic, she wondered if she’d just made a colossal mistake.

We’d love to hear what you think, now that you’ve had the chance to compare the scene with some of the historical research used to help write it. Please feel free to leave us a comment below.

TOD is available in trade paperback and multiple ebook formats from independent booksellers as well as Amazon and other online resellers. Both formats include an Author’s Note, a Cast of Characters, and photos of the places and Polish wycinanki folk art featured in the book.

But Wait, There’s More!

Hopefully this article has piqued your interest in discovering more about the ‘people, places and the past’ that went into making TOD.

You can find a page full of details about it on Kathleen’s website, including a discussion guide, Google maps of Milwaukee and Minneapolis featuring scene locations and photos, an original 1930’s Washburn Crosby Gold Medal Flour cookie recipe for the Old-Time Cinnamon Jumbles that Chloe bakes in the story, a slide show of objects featured in the book, public radio interviews with Kathleen, plus additional blog posts, links to booksellers that offer TOD — and more — by clicking on the link below.

https://www.kathleenernst.com/book_tradition_deceit.php

Next month I’ll post an article on this blog about researching the next book in the Chloe Ellefson mystery series, Death on the Prairie, which takes place at six Laura Ingalls Wilder homestead historic sites.

Researching Heritage Of Darkness

April 11, 2018

 

Image of a wooden Norwegian goat head (Julebukk) with the caption "Sometimes the darkness is inside."

 

Front cover of Heritage of Darkness, the fourth Chloe Ellefson mystery book by bestselling author Kathleen Ernst, published by Midnight Ink Books.Mr. Ernst here. This month the focus is on a surprise that turned up when researching a specific scene in this book, the fourth in Kathleen’s award-winning Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mystery series.

Heritage Of Darkness (HOD) takes place within and around the wonderful, world-class Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa. The story is set during December 1982, with historical flashbacks to the 1940s and 1960s.

This is the first Chloe mystery set at an historic site outside of Wisconsin. Other ‘out-of-state’ stories follow, but Kathleen intends to keep Chloe and Roelke firmly rooted at Old World Wisconsin and the Village of Eagle.

 

Image of a Norwegian wooden message tube (Budstikke) surrounded by text stating Dark Secrets Hidden In Norwegian Traditions.

 

Chapter Thirty

As Kathleen crafted HOD, she decided to add an attempt on Roelke’s life.

An isolated location was required — somewhere between Vesterheim in downtown Decorah and a nearby farm that Roelke would be staying at. After consulting a local map and exploring the area by car, Kathleen picked a farm to the northeast, across the Upper Iowa River. (The farm’s exact location remains a secret to protect the resident’s privacy.)

Part of the farm’s appeal was its proximity to a bridge over the river. Roelke would have to cross it when making the one-mile walk between the farm and Vesterheim where he was taking a Norwegian chip carving class. The solitary red pin on the upper right side of the satellite image below shows where the bridge is located.

 

Screen grab of a custom, interactive Google map of Decorah IA with pins marking where key scenes in HOD are located.

Above is a screen grab of a custom, interactive Google map of Decorah. It is one of many reader resources available on Kathleen’s HOD website page. (Map by Bonner Karger and Mr. Ernst.)

 

[NOTE: Each pin marks where a key scene in the book takes place. You can visit the HOD webpage to explore the map’s location photos and descriptions by clicking HERE.]

Kathleen and I initially scouted the book’s locations in warm weather, but given that HOD is set in December, we re-documented them in winter.

 

HOD-TwinSpansModernBridgeWinter500x375w

This photo reveals the partly frozen, snow-covered Upper Iowa River where someone tries to kill Roelke. (Photo by Mr. Ernst.)

 

The modern bridge looked new enough that we decided to confirm it was there in December 1982. Local Archivist Midge Kjome directed me to bridge-related newspaper clippings and photos in the files of the Winneshiek County Historical Society . . . where I found the following.

 

Excerpts from The Decorah Journal Newspaper June 21, 1984 article entitled "City, County cut ribbon to open new bridge."

Excerpts from “City, County Cut Ribbon to Open New Bridge” article, The Decorah Journal Newspaper, June 21, 1984. (Underlining added.)

 

Well, hunh. There was no bridge there when the ‘bridge’ scene was set!

Note from Kathleen:  I hate it when that happens.

Making matters even worse, I discovered that the original “Twin Bridges” was an historic iron truss structure built circa 1880. It had just one-lane, no lighting, and lacked a sidewalk. It also had low, skimpy side-barriers, and offered a steep drop to the river.

In other words, it was perfect for the scene Kathleen envisioned.

 

Black and white photo of the Fifth Street Twin Spans bridge over the Upper Iowa River on the northeast side of Decorah Iowa. Photo courtesy of the Winneshiek County Historical Society.

This undated photograph of the Twin Bridges, also known as the Fifth Street Bridge, looks south across the Upper Iowa River to the City of Decorah, Iowa. (Photo courtesy Winneshiek County Historical Society.)

 

As her readers know, Kathleen is a real stickler for historical accuracy. It’s the museum curator in her. In this case she made an exception, wielding her literary license to shift the tractor-bridge crash forward in time until after the book concludes. Problem solved.

Powerful things, literary licenses.

Below is an excerpt from the resulting scene, which starts on page 284.

 

    Roelke walked north and east to the sounds of boots crunching snow and shovels scrapping sidewalks. The wind drove snowflakes almost sideways through the cones of light cast by street lamps. This may not have been my best-ever idea, Roelke thought as he approached the Upper Iowa River bridge. He was dressed well for wintry weather, but the snow was slowing him down. Best try to pick up the pace.

    Good plan, but he’d no more than tromped onto the bridge when both feet flew out from under him. He landed, once again, on his ass. “Danger,” he muttered as he clambered to his feet. “Bridge surface may freeze before road.”

    There were no lampposts on the bridge. He dug his flashlight from his pocket and scanned the single traffic lane, hoping to identify any additional icy spots. There was nothing to see but snow and the twin ruts of tire tracks. He set out again, this time keeping a hand on the railing.

    He was half way across the narrow bridge when headlights appeared ahead. A car was approaching the bridge, too fast. “Slow down,” Roelke muttered. “Slow down. Slow down, Goddammit!”

    The car didn’t slow down. As it hit the bridge the yellow beams went crazy, slicing the snow-hazy night. The vehicle was a dark blur, whirling, sliding, coming his way–Christ Almighty–coming his way and there was nowhere to go, nowhere to go. The bridge railing bore into Roelke’s hip until something had to give, bone or iron, and the car kept coming.

    Roelke leaned out over the river, away from the speeding mass of steel. He heard the relentless shussh of skidding tires. The car was seconds away from crushing him.

    Instinct pushed him over the railing in a wild twisting scramble. He managed to catch one vertical bar with his right arm. His other arm shot around too, and he clenched his right elbow with his left hand. The car hit the railing inches beyond the spot where he now dangled. The bridge shuddered. Roelke clenched every muscle. The car fish-tailed once or twice before the driver was able to straighten it out.

    Then the car accelerated on toward town. Roelke watched the taillights disappear with stunned disbelief and rising fury.

 

We’d love to hear what you think, now that you’ve had the chance to compare the scene with some of the historical research used to write it. Please feel free to leave us a comment below.

HOD is available in trade paperback and multiple ebook formats from independent booksellers as well as Amazon and other online resellers. Both formats includes a map of Vesterheim, photos of the Norwegian folk art featured in the book, plus a cast of characters.

But Wait, There’s More!

Hopefully this article has piqued your interest in discovering more about the ‘people, places and the past’ that went into making HOD.

You can find a page full of details about it on Kathleen’s website, including a discussion guide, the Google map, the recipe for a dish served in the story, a slide show of objects featured in the book, public radio interviews with Kathleen, plus additional blog posts, links to booksellers that offer HOD — and more — using the link below.

https://www.kathleenernst.com/book_heritage_darkness.php.

Next month I’ll post an article on this blog about researching the next book in the Chloe Ellefson mystery series, Tradition of Deceit, which takes place in Milwaukee and Minneapolis.

 

Eight Books in Eight Months

January 9, 2018

My 9th Chloe Ellefson mystery will soon zip off to my publisher, and I’m already planning the 10th! That’s a milestone, and it seems like a good time to take a look back. My husband (AKA Mr. Ernst) and I have decided to do just that this year, with some treats along the way for readers.

Here’s how “Eight Books in Eight Months” will work.

Every month, from January through August, I’ll feature one Chloe Ellefson mystery here on Sites & Stories. I’ll start by posting  a reminder about the next book to be featured. I hope you’ll read along!

The second week, I’ll look back at my process for approaching the book, share insights about the topics and places covered, and prompt some discussion. We’ll see how Chloe and Roelke have evolved over time, both individually and as a couple.

Mr. Ernst always helps me with research, and every third week he’ll post about some of the interesting tidbits he’s discovered—many of which didn’t make it into the stories.

And every fourth week, we’ll give away copies of the featured book.

Many of you have told me you started the series in the middle, or read the books out of order. This is a great time to go back to the beginning and follow, or revisit, the adventures.

So dust off your copy of the first Chloe Ellefson mystery, Old World Murder. Happy reading!

Pendarvis – Part 2

November 21, 2017

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

Pendarvis Historic Site

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

Pendarvis Historic Site

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

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

Pendarvis Historic Site

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

Pendarvis Historic Site

The pub comes to life during special events.

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

Pendarvis Historic Site

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

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

Pendarvis Historic Site

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

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

Pendarvis Historic Site

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

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

Mining For Justice Event Details!

September 10, 2017

 

Mining For Justice, the 8th Chloe Ellefson Mystery, is officially slated to be released on October 8th. But we’ve got three special early launch activities planned.

 

 

 

RADIO

I’ll join popular host Larry Meiller during his Wisconsin Public Radio program on September 28 from 11:45 AM to 12:30 PM, discussing Mining For Justice and taking calls from listeners.

Larry’s show is streamed live over the Internet and broadcast over WPR’s Ideas Network (AM 930, 970, and FM 88.1, 88.3, 88.7, 88.9, 89.1, 90.3, 90.7, 90.9, 91.3, 91.7, 91.9, 107.9).

Listeners are encouraged to contact the show to ask questions and make comments. This can be done via Facebook or Twitter, by email to talk@wpr.org, or by calling (800) 642-1234.

 

LAUNCH PARTY

The official Mining for Justice launch party will be held on September 28 evening at the Mystery To Me, Madison, WI, 6:00 PM.

Mystery to Me is a fabulous independent bookstore. I’ll introduce the important themes in the book and answer questions. Enjoy Cornish Saffron Buns and door prizes. 

Yes, there is a Green Bay Packer game that evening at 7:30. We’re starting a little earlier than usual—and Mystery to Me has teamed up with Brocah, just down the street.  They offer great TV viewing, and have specials planned too.

 

CORNISH FEST

 

What better place to launch Mining For Justice than the 25th Annual Cornish Fest in Mineral Point, Wisconsin!  The book is largely set at Pendarvis Historic Site in that charming town.

Saturday, September 30, 11 AM  Mining For Justice Book Talk at the Opera House, 139 High Street.  Free.

Join me as I open a window into my creative and research processes, sharing some of the many challenges I encountered as I worked to construct a riveting mystery while remaining true to the real people of history whose lives I sought to honor.  Books will be available for purchase and I will be happy to sign them!

I will also be signing books at Pendarvis Historic Site during their Crowdy Crawn, 1-5 PM.  Free.

Crowdy Crawn is a Cornish expression that refers to entertainment that is “a mixture of things.”  This year’s event will include traditional craft demonstrations such as spinning, quilting, basket making, knitting, and rug hooking, and Cornish storytelling.

And, I will be signing books during the Pasty Supper, starting at 5:30 PM, at the Walker House, 1 Water Street, Mineral Point.

Pasty Supper and More:   Dine on the Walker House Salad, Beef Pasty, Pasty Sauce, Saffron Bun, Figgyhobbin, Wollersheim Red/White Wine or New Glarus Spotted Cow beer, or other Beverage (Soda, Coffee, Tea).  Pizza for kids.  Entertainment with ghosts and Tommyknockers. $14.25 + tax., 9 and under $6.65 + tax

Sunday, October 1, Mining For Justice illustrated program, Pendarvis Education Room, 11 AM.

Join me for a presentation featuring the buildings and artifacts that inspired plot elements.  Books will be available for sale and signing.  And you’ll have plenty of time to tour Pendarvis afterwards!

I am excited about these launch events, and I hope you can join the fun!  I’ve got lots of other events planned for the fall, too.  You can always find more schedule information on my website’s Calendar page.

Mining For Justice Giveaway!

August 2, 2017

8ARC-Chloe8-Giveaway-FBA1200x717w

Eight lucky readers really will get copies now! I’m giving away 8 Advanced Review Copies of the 8th Chloe Ellefson mystery, Mining For Justice–two months before the official publication date of October 8.

To enter, leave a comment below by midnight on Thursday, August 3. Winners will be chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page, and announced on Friday. Good luck!

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.

Chloe’s Book Club: These Happy Golden Years

April 10, 2017

The cover of Happy Golden Years reveals the ending, but the book doesn’t begin happily.  Instead, Pa is driving Laura across the prairie on a bitterly cold day.

Only yesterday she was a school girl; now she was a school teacher. This had happened so suddenly. I remember reading this book as a child and being astonished that a fifteen-year-old could become a school teacher.

The challenges of teaching are dwarfed by the challenge of boarding with a bitterly unhappy couple, the Brewsters. This episode reaches a frightening climax with one of the most memorable scenes in the series—Mrs. Brewster threatening her husband with a butcher knife. Can you imagine being trapped in an isolated shanty while this was going on?

Garth Williams illustration.

The wife was so disturbed that when writing the book, Laura used “Brewster” as a pseudonym for “Bouchie.” This scene is a prime example of why re-reading the Little House books as an adult provides new insights. Chloe’s reaction to this scene in Death on the Prairie mirrors my own:

That particular scene had horrified Chloe as a child. Now, she felt sorry for Mrs. Brewster. Maybe she had post-partum depression. Maybe she had too many children and not enough food. Maybe the lonely frozen prairie was simply too much.

I wonder how many settlers virtually alone on the endless prairie, with nothing to do and nowhere to go and relentless snow and cold, succumbed to despair. This was edgy material in the early 1940s, when the book was published.

However, the depth of misery Laura experiences at the Brewster home makes it all the more rewarding when Laura is rescued…by Almanzo! The author skillfully tantalizes readers with a liesurely description of his arrival:

The (school) shanty trembled in the wind that every moment howled louder around it. Then, …It seemed to (Laura) that the wind had a strangely silvery sound. …She did not know what to make of it. The sky was not changed; gray, low clouds were moving fast about the prairie covered with blowing snow. The strange sound grew clearer, almost like mice. Suddenly the whole air filled with a chiming of little bells. Sleigh bells!

Almanzo and his beautiful horses take Laura away for visits with her family on weekends, each time saving her from spending two wretched and endless days at the Brewster shanty. The weather is often brutal—minus forty degrees, on one trip. Almanzo’s willingness to come reveal his feelings for Laura, and his fortitude and skills suggest that he’d be a fine life partner.

Of course, all does not proceed smoothly between the two. Laura initially sees Almanzo only as a friend of Pa’s. Unsure of his intentions, she gets the courtship off to an awkward start by making it clear that she does not consider him a beau.

Garth Williams illustration.

When she’s back in town with her family after the school term ends, she watches as many of her friends go for sleigh rides up and down the main street. Almanzo waits a while before showing up—cleverly, I think, choosing to give her time alone to think about whether or not she wants a beau.

She tried not to mind being forgotten and left out. She tried not to hear the sleigh bells and the laughter, but more and more she felt that she could not bear it. Her wistfulness as she watches her friends flash by once again makes his arrival that much sweeter.

Sleigh rides give way to buggy rides, and slowly, the two get to know one another. “You’re independent, aren’t you?” Almanzo asks at one point.  “Yes,” said Laura.

Garth Williams illustration.

I love the image of two shy people getting to know each other on long drives through the country. Laura didn’t provide much detail about their conversations, which is just fine.

On one of my visits to De Smet, a guide gave me directions to an area where Laura and Almanzo went for some of their long drives.

This book, originally intended to be the final book in the Little House series, begins to show us Laura the woman instead of Laura the girl.

Garth Williams illustration.

I have mixed feelings about the wedding scene. Part of me is delighted that Laura and Almanzo have reached the point of commitment. Part of me is sad because the child I had known through the first books is gone.

How about you? What did you like best (or least) about the book?

***

Note: I am a former curator and love research, but I am not a Laura Ingalls Wilder scholar. For more academic information, see titles by William Anderson, Pamela Smith Hill, John E. Miller, and others. To learn more about the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries, please visit my website.

Next up for discussion:  The First Four Years.