Posts Tagged ‘Chloe Ellefson’

The Mining Museum

July 31, 2018

The latest Chloe Ellefson mystery, Mining For Justice, features Wisconsin’s lead mining era.

To learn about the miners’ work, the Mining Museum in Platteville, WI, is a great place to explore.

Touring the 1845 Bevans Lead Mine with a knowledgeable guide is a highlight. The lead region produced over 27,000 tons of lead that year!

 

About to descend into the mine. I’m holding a piece of lead ore, which is heavier than it looks.

Mining Museum staff discovered the exact location of the Bevans Mine, which had long been closed, in 1972. The city of Platteville opened the mine to the public four years later.

Mining Museum, Platteville WI

Mannequins have been arranged along the tour route to depict several aspects of mine labor.

 

Mining Museum Platteville

Just for comparison—same scene without a flash. The guides carry flashlights, and there is lighting in the mine, but spending time there reminds guests in a visceral way that these men worked in dark conditions.

 

Mining Museum, Platteville

Heavy labor.

 

Mining Museum, Platteville, WI

The “man” on the right is holding a gad (used like a chisel to loosen rock) while his partner drives it into the rock wall. This teamwork required trust and skill. Note the sticking tommy with candle in the wall nearby.

 

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I’m looking at a pile of rubble shoved aside and left behind by miners. It helped me picture a key scene in Mining For Justice. Museum Educator Mary is on the left.

In addition to the mine, there are formal exhibits to explore.

Mining Museum, Platteville

This display reminds guests that Native Americans were smelting lead long before white miners arrived.

 

Mining Museum, Platteville

I love this diorama, showing how miners would work down until they found a promising drift of ore. They would then dig horizontally, following the drift until it played out.

 

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Regulations for miners.

One particularly interesting display was developed by students at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. Historians knew that African American miners were involved in the lead boom, but the students dug out details about freed and enslaved black men.

In addition to touring the mine and museum, I visited one day when Stephanie, former long-time curator at the museum, was demonstrating how lead was heated to a molten state and poured into molds to make ingots.

Mining Museum, Platteville WI

Stephanie melts down lead over an open fire.

 

Mining Museum, Platteville WI

Once in a liquid state, the lead was poured into molds. After cooling, the bar of lead can be flipped out. Lead was made into ingots for ease in transporting.

 

Mining Museum, Platteville

Many thanks to Mary and Stephanie for their help!

The Mining Museum is open May through October. If you plan a visit, be sure to check the website for full details. And it’s a two-fer! You can also tour the city’s Rollo Jamison Museum.

A Memory Of Muskets Giveaway Winners!

July 27, 2018

Congratulations to SUSAN NELSON, CARRIE STAMMER, and MELISSA WEINSTEIN!  Each has won a signed and personalized trade paperback of my seventh Chloe Ellefson mystery, A Memory of Muskets.

Winners were chosen randomly from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page. Thanks to all who entered, and for the lovely comments too. Next month I’ll hold a giveaway of my eighth Chloe mystery, Mining For Justice.

A Memory of Muskets Giveaway

July 25, 2018

This year from January through August I’m holding monthly giveaways of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries. The featured book for July is the seventh in the series, A Memory of Muskets.

To enter the giveaway for A Memory of Muskets, just leave a comment below before 11:59 PM (Central US time), July 26, 2018. One entry per person, please.

Three winners will be chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page, and announced the next day. Each winner will receive a personalized and signed trade paperback copy of A Memory of Muskets
Good luck!

Researching A Memory of Muskets

July 23, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

33rd Wisconsin reenactors. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

The 33rd Wisconsin. Photographer unknown.

As Kathleen wrote in A Memory of Muskets:

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

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

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

“Right dress!”

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

“Front!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schultz Family Farm. Photo by Kathleen Ernst.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ready to enlist draftees. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

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

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

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

Marching at Old World. Photo courtesy of John Wedeward.

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

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

Reenactor company at Old World. Photo by Kathleen Ernst.

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

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

I was intrigued.

(Note from Kathleen:  Me too.)

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

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

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

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

MudsillsCompanyLoadingOWW500x245w

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

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

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

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

“Aim . . . Fire!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shiloh, Muddy Shiloh. Photographer unknown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photographer unknown.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reproduction tintype. Photographer unknown.

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

But Wait, There’s More

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

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

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

A Memory of Muskets – A Retrospective

July 12, 2018

Although setting books at different historic sites and museums is one of my favorite things about writing the Chloe Ellefson series, I do enjoy getting her home to Old World Wisconsin every now and again. The 7th mystery, A Memory of Muskets, does just that.  Like me, Chloe thinks it’s special:

I should come out on site every single day, Chloe thought wistfully. It was a magical place, one of the few living history museums in the country where it was possible to wander all day and still not see everything. She loved inhaling wood smoke, and the acrid tang of coal from the smith’s forge, and the faint floury scent of native grass seed heads baking in the sun. She loved looking out the window of a period kitchen to see garden and field, and prairie or woods beyond. She loved watching the seasons change—loved feeling them change, much as Wisconsin’s early European and Yankee settlers had. Her responsibilities kept her indoors and behind the scenes all too often.

The Schulz Farm at Old World Wisconsin, featured in A Memory of Muskets.

I decided to focus on the experience of Wisconsin’s German immigrants during the American Civil War. I’d already established that cop Roelke McKenna was partially of German descent, and this allowed me to create a plot thread that had personal impact for him—and for Chloe as well.

And how could I fail to include Milwaukee’s beloved German Fest?

Another day at work.

Civil War reenacting provided the perfect activity to link the historical topic to outdoor museum work. I had been active in the hobby myself, sometimes driving many hours to participate in events.  I’d also coordinated an annual reenactment at Old World Wisconsin when I was a curator there. And I met Mr. Ernst when he attended his first reenactment at Old World, so I’ll always have good memories of my reenacting days.

When I’m starting to make notes for a mystery, I look for any source of controversy that can be used in the plot. Reenacting can be a surprisingly contentious hobby. Individual units have different standards of authenticity, and different goals. (Ironically, some reenactors who look fantastic don’t always act that way.) The worst thing a reenactor can be called is “farb,” a term that implies an absolute disregard for authenticity.

Since the book is set largely at Old World Wisconsin, I had to involve Chloe’s boss Ralph Petty, a “misogynistic megalomaniac with a graduate degree in micromanagement.”  Ralph invites a unit with wretched standards to participate in an event at the site, and writing the over-the-top scene where that group does a battle reenactment was great fun.

The death of an unidentified reenactor also provided a nice opportunity for Chloe to get involved in the investigation. The detective is impressed with her analysis of the victim’s belongings:

“You’ve told us plenty,” Goresko assured her. “Anyone would think you’re an experienced profiler.”

“It’s what I do every day, actually. Artifacts are clues to the people who left them behind. Sometimes I have only the tiniest scrap of information, and have to dig deeper to get a sense of the person who made or used the item, and how they felt about it. Analyzing a reenactor’s belongings isn’t much different.”

SPOILER ALERT:  Plot points discussed below!

The books I most enjoy reading have plots that present personal challenges to the main characters, and I try to do the same in my own stories. Chloe’s inability to enter the old cabin on the Roelke farm causes stress:

Squaring her shoulders, she approached the cabin. She opened the door, stepped inside…and instantly felt what she’d felt before. Something dark vibrated in this musty space. The air felt heavy with unhappiness. Chloe felt an uneasy tremor in her chest. …This was a sweet cabin, and she was going to have to tell Roelke that one of his ancestors left a whole lot of bad juju inside.

The Gotten cabin, in the Kettle Moraine State Forest near Eagle, served as inspiration for the old Roelke cabin.

Unable to hide her feelings, Chloe takes a leap of faith and tells him. Roelke’s reaction was intended to suggest that he has some old family issues weighing on him—bad memories from his childhood. Chloe is tapping into something much older, a moral dilemma that shaped the lives of Rosina, Leopold, and Klaus in the historical plotline.

We so often read about immigrants enduring absolutely horrible voyages from Europe to the US. While researching this book I found a wonderful account from a German man who wrote of delightful evenings spent on deck. That inspired Rosina’s experience, with the voyage providing a happy respite between challenges in old world and new. One reader wondered if she and Leopold could have found a private moment on board ship. I’m pretty confident that they could.

When Rosina finds herself pregnant, she has no easy options. Did she make an unfair choice when she married Klaus, or did she do the best she could in a difficult situation? I thought I might hear from readers unhappy to discover that Roelke descended from Leopold, but no one mentioned it.

And speaking of moral dilemmas…Roelke meets Ralph Petty for the first time in A Memory of Muskets. In the end, he threatens to reveal Petty’s family secret if he doesn’t stop harassing  Chloe. Did you cheer Roelke on, or did you think he went too far?

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of the complexities of hosting a Civil War reenactment at a living history museum.

Reenactors on the green at Old World Wisconsin, probably late 1980s. (Before the 2010 tornado took down the trees.)

You can explore relevant people, places, and the past on mwebpage for A Memory of Muskets. Resources include a Google map, images of key artifacts, a Discussion Guide, audio files, and links to lots of additional background material.

Death on the Prairie Giveaway

June 26, 2018

This year from January through August I’m holding monthly giveaways of my Chloe Ellefson mysteries. The featured book for June is the sixth in the series, Death on the Prairie.

8ChloeMysteriesGiveawayDOPFB476x476w

To enter the giveaway for Death on the Prairie, just leave a comment below before 11:59 PM (Central US time), June 27, 2018. One entry per person, please.

Three winners will be chosen at random from all entries here and on my Facebook Author Page, and announced the next day. Each winner will receive a personalized and signed trade paperback copy of Death on the Prairie
Good luck!

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.)

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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.