Posts Tagged ‘Old World Murder’

Old World Murder – A Retrospective

January 16, 2018

Thanks for joining me as we take a behind-the-scenes look back at the Chloe Ellefson mysteries! First up: Book 1, Old World Murder.

A little backstory: I worked at Old World Wisconsin, a large outdoor museum near Eagle, from 1982 through 1994. The first two years I worked as an interpreter; the rest of the time I served as curator of interpretation and collections.

Me at Old World Wisconsin’s Koepsell Farm, 1983.

The next decade was spent developing and scripting children’s educational programs for Wisconsin Public Television. I also started publishing historical fiction for young readers during this period, including mysteries for American Girl. These were great opportunities! But I missed the historic sites world.

What better way to reconnect than to write about a curator who visits different sites and museums? The Chloe Ellefson series was born.

Since I was writing “on speculation,” meaning I had no contract, it took seven years to complete the manuscript for Old World Murder because I had to work around projects with actual deadlines. Not ideal, perhaps, but it did give me lots of time to conceptualize the book and the series. In each story, Chloe’s passion for history would be needed to solve modern crimes.

Chloe is a lot like me, but she is definitely fictional! I did not grow up in Wisconsin, or move to Europe. And I have no Norwegian ancestry. Chloe also has slightly heightened powers of perception, which occasionally enable her to experience strong emotions resonating in old buildings.

I needed a character to provide the necessary law enforcement perspective. Fortunately the Village of Eagle Police Department’s chief was open to working with me, and got me started on ride-alongs. Officer Roelke McKenna would not exist without the department’s help.

Eagle Police Department.

I decided to start the series in 1982 because that’s the period I remember. Also, it seemed wise to put some space between visitors’ modern experiences at the sites and even fictional murder and mayhem. Finally, that period makes it necessary for characters to solve mysteries without cell phones and Google, which is a plus for plotting.

My first job, of course, was to tell a good story. But I also developed some goals for the series:

  1. Introduce readers to wonderful historic sites and museums.
  2. Celebrate Wisconsin’s heritage and cultural diversity by featuring different ethnic groups.
  3. Spotlight folk arts and food traditions.
  4. Explore different chapters of Wisconsin/Midwest history.
  5. Provide a peek at museum work.
  6. Fill in gaps in the historical record with fiction.
  7. Honor everyday individuals who faced and surmounted incredible challenges.

Old World Murder is set at Old World Wisconsin. I featured a Norwegian story in part so it had personal relevance for Chloe, and in part because I had loved working at the two Norwegian farms restored at Old World.

That’s me heading into the 1845 Fossebrekke cabin, 1983.

And I chose to feature a missing ale bowl because this one in the Kvaale Farm had always intrigued me.

I created Gro Skavlem and her story to fill in one of those gaps I mentioned. So often as a curator I was frustrated by some gorgeous piece of folk art with no documentation. Who had created the piece? How did they feel about it? How was it used? Finding women’s stories is always challenging. Gro gave me the chance to suggest a smart, talented, capable woman.

SPOILER ALERT – some plot points are discussed below!

When I started writing mysteries, I learned to quickly identify anything that could be used to get a character in trouble. Sheep shears could do damage. So could Ossabaw hogs.

Ossabaw Hog, Old World Wisconsin.

The storage trailers described in the book were those I inherited when I was given collections care responsibilities. (Please note: for many years now OWW has had a dedicated full-time collections curator, and a modern storage facility.)

Collections storage in the early 1980s. Old World Wisconsin photo.

Some readers have wondered whether there was actually a murder in Old World Murder. In the draft I submitted, a murder definitely took place in the book’s first chapter. However, the manuscript was 20,000 words too long for the publisher’s norms.  That first death could be snipped without impacting the overall story, so it was sacrificed. Did Joel kill Mr. Solberg, or was it an accident? That’s left open to interpretation.

A few readers were uncomfortable with a protagonist who’s recovering from clinical depression. I believe that everyone deserves to find themselves in a book, including those with mental health issues. Chloe’s depression also gave her a reason to risk her job by standing up to Ralph Petty.

And of course, Chloe’s depression gave Roelke a chance to step up in a big way! Old World Murder introduces the possibility of a relationship between Roelke and Chloe…if her ex, Markus, doesn’t get in the way.

So…what did you think when you met the characters for the first time? Did you know Chloe and Roelke would be good for each other, or did their differences appear insurmountable? Did Chloe’s ability to perceive strong emotions seem unlikely, or have you perhaps experienced something similar? Did you have a favorite—or least favorite—character?

You can explore relevant people, places, and the past on my web page for Old World Murder. Resources include a Google map, a Locations Guide, full Discussion Guide, and links to lots of additional background material. Happy reading!

Studying ale bowls at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum in Decorah, Iowa.

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!

Immigrant Trunks

July 6, 2015

A Settler’s Year:  Pioneer Life Through the Seasons focuses primarily on newcomers’ experience after reaching their destination. But many of the European immigrants’  diaries, letters, and reminiscences included poignant descriptions of their journey from old world to new.

Museums and historic sites like Old World Wisconsin preserve not only the stories, but bits of the travelers’ surviving material culture. And there is, perhaps, no other object more closely tied to the immigrant experience than the immigrant trunk.

Some were plain, and purely functional.

Chest, trunk. CL*314563.01.

This trunk was constructed of pine, with simple iron fittings, c. 1880.  (Smithsonian National Museum of American History)

2009-5367

This one was used by a Dominican sister from France in 1880. (Smithsonian National Museum of American History.)

Schulz House, Old World Wisconsin

This plain wooden trunk has beautiful ironwork details.  Some immigrants chose trunks with rounded lids, hoping it would keep them from being buried on the bottom of towering stacks of trunks packed in the hold. (Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin, Eagle, WI)

Many trunks were painted with the owner’s name.

DSCF2847

(Swiss Historical Village & Museum, New Glarus, WI.)

Add a description…Elk Horn Iowa

(Museum of Danish America, Elk Horn, IA)

Some had a bit of painted decoration…

DSCF2870 - Version 2

(Swiss Historical Village & Museum, New Glarus, WI)

2008-7168

Swedish Immigrant trunk, 1867. (Smithsonian National Museum of American History)

Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison,

Trunk used by Halvor Anderson Lovaas on his trip from Norway, 1860. (Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison, WI)

And some, such as these Norwegian immigrant trunks, were exquisitely painted.

DSCF2699

(Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, IA)

DSCF2697

This might be my favorite.  (Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, IA)

Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum

Rosemaled trunks in open storage. ((Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Decorah, IA)

IMG_0541

Detail on trunk visible in preceding photo. Painted by Ola Eriksen Tveitejorde, Voss, Norway. (Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Deborah, IA)

Artistry aside, any immigrant trunk is valuable because it represents the people who struggled to fit their old lives within its confines. How many times did a family pack and repack it in the weeks leading up to departure? What was the most efficient way to pack?

Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum

This exhibit at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum suggests the difficult choices immigrants had to make. What would fit? What had to be left behind?

First must come the essentials: food for the journey, warm clothes, seeds, necessary tools. People didn’t always have accurate information about what was available in America, or how much it would cost.

And surely treasured mementos of home were squeezed in, too.

Kathleen Ernst, Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum

Many ale bowls (which inspired my first Chloe Ellefson mystery, Old World Murder) made their way from Old World to New. Since bowls like this one wouldn’t have been easy to pack, they must have been treasured keepsakes. (Artifacts in storage at Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum)

Wisconsin Historical Museum

This trunk, originally brought from Ireland, is shown with items both practical and, perhaps, “for best.” (Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison, WI)

For the earliest immigrants, trunks served as furniture and storage in the New World.

Schulz Farm, Old World Wisconsin

The Schulz Farm at Old World Wisconsin depicts a family which had only been in the US for a few years, so furniture was relatively spartan and basic.  A huge trunk provides storage and, perhaps, a place to leave a shawl or book if needed.

But in time, trunks often ended in attics or outbuildings, filled with old clothes or pressed into service as grain bins. Gorgeously painted trunks were once so common, I’m told, that even museums with a focus on immigration had to decline many offered donations.

Wisconsin Historical Museum

This lovely trunk got a second life when Per Lysne, who many credit with the revival of rosemaling in the US, painted it in the 1930s or 1940s. (Wisconsin Historical Museum, Madison, WI)

Every trunk saved is a tangible reminder of the often anguished choices people made about what they might carry, what must be left behind.

Fortunately, hopes and dreams took up no space at all.

(Kay Klubertanz photo)

(Kay Klubertanz photo)

* * *

Want to see more trunks?  Vesterheim has a fabulous collection of rosemaled trunks online.

Old World Wisconsin Locations Guide

May 13, 2015

As the Chloe Ellefson Mystery series grows, I thought it would be helpful to provide a single list of Old World Wisconsin locations that appear in the books.

(Special note:  This Sunday, May 17, I’ll be sharing a preview of the next Chloe mystery, Death on the Prairie, at Old World.  The 4 PM program is free of charge, but why not come early, buy a ticket, and tour the site? You can visit the highlighted buildings, and enjoy springtime activities throughout the outdoor museum.)

SPOILER ALERT: the notes below reveal information about the plots.

OWM – Old World Murder (#1)
THM – The Heirloom Murders (#2)
TOD – Tradition of Deceit (#5)

(Books # 3 & 4, The Light Keeper’s Legacy and Heritage of Darkness, do not include scenes set at Old World.)

Crossroads Village

St. Peter’s Church – The series begins with Chloe walking into the Village and visiting this structure. (Note: The Swiss house mentioned in OWM, is imaginary. All other buildings mentioned in the series are real.)

St. Peters Church, Old World Wisconsin, 1981

I took this photo on my first visit to the site, in 1981. It’s hard to remember the church without its fence.

Four Mile Inn – Chloe sometimes attends the morning briefing held for the interpreter in the basement, which is closed to the public.

Yankee Area

Sanford Farm – The large barn across the road from the farmhouse was the scene of a murder in THM.

As you travel from the Village to the German area, you will see a marshy kettle pond to the right. In Chloe’s time, her office building—Education House—was located out of sight on the far side of the pond. (That’s where I worked for many years.) The area is now closed and not accessible.

German Area

Schottler Farm – During the early 1980s, ski trails were maintained on the site. In TOD, Chloe takes a break from stress by skiing out to this farm, ostensibly to check the stove. (In reality she enjoys baking kuchen and making notes about trouble in Minnesota.)

Schottler Farm, Old World Wisconsin, 1981

The Schottler house, 1981. The farm looks much better now, with gardens and fences and more outbuildings!

Norwegian Area

Kvaale Farm – This farm plays a key role in OWM. Chloe visits the farm while searching for the missing ale bowl, and Roelke is called to the farm after an alarm is triggered one night. The climax scene takes place in the farmyard. Be sure to visit the stabbur, where Chloe found the bowl (the 2nd story is not open to visitors) and the barn where Chloe tries to hide from Joel. Inside the house you’ll find an ale bowl on display on a high shelf.

The climax scene in Old World Wisconsin takes place in the Kvaale farmyard.

The climax scene in Old World Wisconsin takes place in the Kvaale farmyard.

Finnish Area

Ketola Farm – Chloe especially loves the sauna, which is the first small building you’ll encounter. In THM she visits to enjoy some quiet time after-hours, and gets locked inside.

* * *

Much more detailed Locations Guides for Old World Murder and The Heirloom Murders are available on my website.

Old World Wisconsin is a great place to visit any time, any season. Happy wandering!

About Those Trailers…

June 12, 2014

Readers sometimes wonder if I exaggerated the artifact storage conditions when I wrote Old World Murder. Well, here is one of the trailers Chloe discovers when she begins her job. (When collections care was tacked onto my job as curator of interpretation at Old World Wisconsin in the 1980s, this is what I inherited.)

Trailers II

In a former, happier life, the trailer had served as Wisconsin’s Historymobile, as celebrated in this recent image from a Wisconsin Historical Society newsletter.

scan0002 - Version 2

The Historymobile was retired as Old World Wisconsin was being developed, and it was repurposed at the site for collections storage. It wasn’t adequate, but with no proper facility, it had to do.

Trailers III

However, soon after I left the site, the situation improved. For the first time, a full-time collections curator was hired for Old World. And the modern storage facility that Chloe (and Ralph Petty) dream of in the book became a reality. (Photos courtesy Old World Wisconsin.)

Coll Bldg II

Coll Storage

While I confess to missing the good old days at times, it’s nice to remember the things that have improved! For a long time now, Old World Wisconsin has had a dedicated Curator of Collections and proper storage for the site’s huge collection of artifacts. Even Ralph Petty would approve.

Old World Wisconsin in Chloe’s Day

May 19, 2014

I’m sometimes asked why the Chloe Ellefson mysteries are set in the 1980s. The main reason is that my own museum career started in 1982. I write from my memories of Old World Wisconsin, and the historic sites biz. (I also think it’s nice to give modern visitors some space between the site they visit now and murder and mayhem, even if fictional.)

I sometimes forget how much Old World Wisconsin has changed in the past few decades, so I thought it would be fun to share some photos of the site in the early years.

The  site opened in 1976, with far fewer buildings than guests see today. A reader shared this photo from 1980.

Old World Wisconsin, 1980

I believe the crew was reconstructing the Hilgendorf Barn at the Koepsell Farm, in the German Area. Below, that’s me and Otto Hilgendorf, who donated the building, in 1982.

KAE and Otto Hilgendorf

This 1983 photo shows the stable in the background, part of a functional farmyard.

KAE Koepsell garden 1983

I took this photo of the Schottler House 1981, when I visited the site for the first time. No gardens, no summer kitchen.

Schottler, 1981

The crossroads village looked pretty spartan then too. Here’s the Four Mile Inn, restored but not yet open.

Four Mile Inn, 1982

The Hafford House looked quite isolated.

Hafford House, 1982

As the years went by at the site, gardens were planted, outbuildings moved and restored, fences added, old-breed livestock introduced. Visitors today enjoy the tangible results of decades of research and work.  If you haven’t had a chance to visit for a while, you’ll be amazed.

By the way, if you have any photos of Old World Wisconsin from the early years, I’d love to see them!

Old World Wisconsin Passes!

October 2, 2013

Gratitude Giveaway! While supplies last, I’m giving away two-for-one passes to Old World Wisconsin, the wonderful historic site near Eagle, WI where the protagonist in my Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites mysteries is employed.

OldWorldWisconsinLogo403w

Here’s the scoop:

Each pass allows you to enjoy one complimentary adult admission with the purchase of a second admission of greater or equal value at the regular price. (You’ll save up to $16.) Passes are valid during normal operating hours through 12/31/13. Passes are not valid for any special events requiring advanced registration, or school or group tour programming.

I would love it, of course, if you used the  passes to visit on Saturday, October 12, when I’ll be signing books and celebrating the release of the newest Chloe mystery, Heritage of Darkness, from noon to 5 PM. Come say hello, get personalized copies of the Chloe mysteries, do some holiday shopping, and visit the site during one of the prettiest times of the year.

Heritage of Darkness 1

You can also explore the setting for the first two books in the series, Old World Murder and The Heirloom Murders. Locations Guides, which are available on my website, identify the specific buildings featured in the mysteries.  (You’ll find the Guides, and lots of other resources, by clicking on the title links above.)

To request your pair of passes, simply send me your name and postal address. You can use the contact form on my website:  http://www.kathleenernst.com/contact.php

Or if you prefer, email me directly:

kathleen <at> kathleenernst.com   (use normal email formatting)

Old World Wisconsin is a magical place—I encourage those who can to get out and enjoy the site. Special thanks to our friends at Old World Wisconsin for making this giveaway possible.

Location, Location!

August 5, 2013

Creating a vivid sense of place is one of my top goals when I begin a new Chloe Ellefson mystery. Each features real places that I think are very special.

So I’m excited to announce that—thanks to my husband Scott—you have two new ways to explore The Light Keeper’s Legacy‘s setting.

Light Keeper's Legacy by Kathleen Ernst

First is a Google Map.

TLL-GoogleMapFull448w

You can zoom around, and click on map pins see pop-up photos and descriptions.

TLL-GoogleMapPopUp448w

Second is a 12-page Locations Guide with maps and even more photos and descriptions—plus some recommendations for visiting Washington and Rock Islands.

TLL-Locationis Guide-CoverPage448w

Both of these new ‘Book Goodies’ are free, and available on my website.  If you can’t visit Washington and Rock Islands, these resources will help you imagine the places described in the book.  If you are able to visit, they’ll help you plan your trip.

TLL-Locations Guide-RockIslandPage448wLocations Guides are also available for Old World Murder and The Heirloom Murders.

Enjoy!

An Ale Bowl With Cow Heads

June 8, 2011

If you’ve read Old World Murder, the first Chloe Ellefson/Historic Sites mystery, you know that the plot revolves around a missing antique ale bowl. Ale bowls were used in rural areas of Norway during the period many immigrants came to America in the 19th century. They were used for special occasions, and were often beautifully carved and exquisitely rosemaled (painted).

Often ale bowls were carved with animal heads serving as handles. I chose to make my fictional bowl feature cow heads as handles, something I’d never seen on an actual bowl. It worked for the story. (For more visuals, see earlier posts Rosemaling Through Time and Ale Bowls:  Migration of a Tradition.)

When Old World Murder was published, my husband Scott suggested that we commission a carver and painter to create the bowl described in the novel. It was a lovely idea, but after several discussions, I nixed the idea as impractical.

Well, Scott ignored me. He surreptitiously made arrangements with woodworker Becky Lusk and rosemaler Judy Nelson Kjenstad.  These two incredibly talented women worked from the description of my fictional bowl to create the piece. Scott gave me the bowl for my birthday.  Surprise!

The bowl is spectacular. Becky and Judy have both earned Vesterheim Gold Medals in their respective arts. Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum awards Gold Medals to artists who have repeatedly won ribbons in the annual National Exhibition of Folk Art int the Norwegian Tradition. These are coveted awards, earned only by those who truly excel.  My new ale bowl is a beautiful piece of folk art for our home.

I also look forward to displaying the ale bowl when I give programs. Since the novel was published last fall, lots of readers have asked what such a piece would look like.

I think my favorite aspect of the gift, however, is Scott’s assertion that publication of Old World Murder deserved some kind of commemoration. He knows the publishing biz can be…shall we say…fickle. He’s celebrated high notes and successes with me, but he’s also seen me work hard on novels that have yet to find a home. He wants me to have a memento to remind me that this book did find a home with publisher Midnight Ink, launching a series I am enjoying immensely.

When I think back on our earlier discussions about whether or not to have this particular bowl made, I realize he was right all along.

The Sugar Bush

March 26, 2011

Like countless other children, I was introduced to maple sugaring in the pages of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. I was a suburban kid. Descriptions of “sugar snow,” and Garth Williams’ delightful illustrations, were magical.

I was reminded of Wilder’s charming tale last week while visiting Washington Island, WI.  I saw lots of maple trees being tapped, and the air smelled like woodsmoke.

As far as I know, the people who make syrup on Washington Island do so for themselves, their families and friends, or a local restaurant. Two years ago a friend on the island gave me a Snapple bottle filled not with tea, but with syrup. It was a little thinner and paler than what I was used to, and tasted divine.

The sap is as thin and clear as water.

Each year I spend a week writing near Egg Harbor, also part of WI’s Door County peninsula, in late winter or early spring.   That’s how I discovered Jorns’ Sugar Bush.

The home-based outlet is always open.

The Jorns family has been making maple syrup in this area since 1857!

Ferdinand Jorns emigrated from Hamburg, and eventually settled in Door County,

After Ferdinand died, Dora Dow Jorns raised twelve children. One of them was Roland Jorns’ father.

The current master, Roland Jorns, has been making syrup since he was ten years old. The work agrees with him:  Mr. Jorns is 82, and would much rather be working outside than anything else.

Today, with the help of his youngest son, he taps about 6,000 trees. They could double that if they had enough workers. (It’s not just the work of tapping and condensing. Every one of those pails must be washed.)

Mrs. Jorns showed me how the spiles (spouts) have changed over time.

A lot has evolved over the years. Among other updates, Mr. Jorns introduced a reverse osmosis machine in 1978, an innovation that removes 80% of water from the sap and therefore reduces resources needed to produce syrup. His light amber syrup has won many awards. He has also served as president of the Wisconsin Maple Syrup Producers Council, and represented our state at the North American Maple Syrup Council.

I love stocking up at Jorns’ Sugar Bush, which is open year-round.  I love chatting with Mrs. Jorns, and picking out my purchases in a simple space made special by family mementos.

I love seeing maples being tapped, knowing that spring must be right around the corner.

Two of the thousands of buckets used each year.

And I love the taste of maple syrup so much that I rarely cook or bake with sugar anymore.  I’ve shared the following recipe with readers, and it’s received  rave reviews.

First in the Chloe Ellefson Series

Chloe Ellefson, the protagonist of my series, is not an autobiographical character. We do have a lot in common, though! She’s a curator at Old World Wisconsin, a large living history museum where I was once a curator. And we both spend a lot of time in the kitchen. Like me, Chloe loves to cook and bake with local ingredients.

This cake is easy and luscious. I use whole wheat flour, farmers’ market blueberries, free-range eggs from a local farm, and Jorns’ maple syrup. Substitute as your options dictate; the cake will still taste great.


Chloe’s Maple Blueberry Cake

2 c. blueberries, fresh or frozen (don’t thaw)
3 c. flour
½ c. butter, softened
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
¾ c. maple syrup
2 t. vanilla
3 eggs
1 t. baking soda
½ t. salt
6 oz. vanilla yogurt
2 T. lemon juice

Glaze (optional)
½ c. confectioners’ sugar
4 t. lemon juice

In a small bowl, combine blueberries and 2 T. flour.  In a separate bowl, combine the baking soda, salt, and remaining flour.

In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and cream cheese.  Add maple syrupe, lemon juice, and vanilla, and beat until mixture is light and fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the dry ingredients to creamed mixture alternately with the yogurt.  When everything is well blended, fold in the blueberries.

Transfer to a 10-inch fluted pan well coated with butter or cooking spray.  Bake at 350 degrees for 65-70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes.  Remove from a pan to a wire rack.

If desired, whisk glaze ingredients until smooth and drizzle over cake.  Enjoy!