Thursday, July 29, 2010

Welcome to America!

Everyone’s heard of Ellis Island. It was the gateway to New York City, to America. Twelve millions immigrants passed through its gates from 1892 to 1954. But what about the millions who came before 1892? How did they enter America?

Castle Garden.

Never heard of it? Neither had I. But for my novel, Masquerade, which involves two English girls coming to New York in 1886, I had to learn.

In the early 1800’s, at the southernmost tip of Manhattan, Castle Clinton (which was to become Castle Garden) was created as a fortification to protect the city from the British. In peacetime, during the 1820’s, it took on a resort-like purpose with a theatre and restaurant. People would stroll around the walls of “Battery Park”, take warm sea-water baths, read newspapers from around the world, and drink mint juleps. Many inventions were first demonstrated there: the submarine, the telegraph, and the steam fired engine.

In the 1840’s because of the Irish potato famine and the hopelessness it spawned, hundreds of thousands of immigrants came to America. In 1855 Castle Clinton was appropriated to deal with the influx. Eighteen-eighty-six, the year of my story, was also the year the Statue of Liberty was given to the United States as a gift from France. I have a scene when the characters arrive in New York harbor in October, 1886, and see the statue right before Lady Liberty was dedicated.

So how did the immigrants carry out their entry into the United States at Castle Garden? It was a tedious process. They arrived on ships that anchored in the harbor. Officials came on board to check on the health of its passengers, and the cleanliness of the ship. The officials didn’t want anyone to come ashore who might end up a ward of the state or cause an epidemic. I can’t imagine getting that far only to be sent home without ever setting foot on American soil.

Next, the passengers were ferried to Manhattan on barges—First Class first, of course. There, they entered the Castle Garden rotunda which was a magnificent circular structure with natural light coming in at the center. There—as with Ellis Island years later—they began the process of hurry-up-and-wait. A reporter from “Harper’s Weekly” said, “The whole floor is as busy as an anthill and a great deal noisier, a great deal more picturesque, also with the strange shapes and hues of the costumes of many nations, and vocal with more different dialects of human speech than have been heard since the Tower of Babel.”

Every passenger had to go before a clerk who entered their name, home town, reason for coming to America, and destination in a large ledger. You were required to prove you had money. Most people had between $5 and $50, with Russians and Poles generally the poorest. If you hesitated or acted like you were lying or were not all there mentally, you could get sent home. I’m sure everyone was very nervous, so I wonder how many were sent home with false reason.

There was a men’s and ladies’ where you could clean up, a place to change money, a lunch counter where you could have a sausage sandwich, a railway station, and a labor exchange. Most people were hired as factory workers, farm hands, or domestics. Once all this was accomplished, you had to leave the area. There were no beds in Castle Garden and you weren’t allowed to sleep on the benches outside. However, nearby there were plenty of seedy boarding houses that charged too much.

Castle Garden also had an elevated train that led to all points north. And besides the people luring you toward a boarding house, there were plenty of others who were quite willing to take you—literally. Shysters were abundant, and the confused immigrants who couldn’t speak the language were often conned out of their money and sometimes their lives. The lucky ones had family there to meet them.

Also there to meet them were Christians who handed out religious tracts, offering help and fellowship for those hoping to keep their faith alive in this new world. They would need God’s help here . . .

There were also people selling their wares. One in particular was the apple lady, Jane Noonan. She sold her apples and oranges at Castle Garden every day for decades. Once Ellis Island opened she took her business there. Such an entrepreneur!

You can still visit Castle Clinton today. Castle Clinton Visitor Information. Or see more pictures of Castle Garden at: Castle Garden pictures.  //Nancy Moser

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Food Fit for a Pioneer

Food Fit for a Pioneer

My Grandma Rose made amazing meals on her wood-burning stove. I can still see her lifting one of the iron plates with a removable handle (which I believe is called a botch handle) and feeding the fire to heat things up. My favorite was hot dogs wrapped in bacon. Probably not something that would qualify as a “meal” to health-minded folks today, but the aroma of bacon in the farmhouse kitchen and the warmth the stove gave off combined to create great memories. Of course since my childhood didn’t consist of any worries of going hungry, I can wax nostalgic about wood-burning stoves and such. I’m thinking that the women I write about wouldn’t share the sentiment.

One Nebraska pioneer shared this description of biscuit-making in late nineteenth century Nebraska: “first stoke the stove; get out the flour sack; stoke the stove; wash the hands; mix the biscuit dough with the hands; stoke the fire; wash hands; cut the biscuit dough with the top of the baking powder can; stoke the stove; wash the hands; put the biscuits into the oven; keep on firing until the hot bread is ready for the table, not forgetting to wash the hands before taking up the biscuits.”

Of course the ability to make biscuits assumed the presence of flour, fuel, and baking powder. In 1872, a pioneer woman living in Fillmore County, Nebraska shared a new recipe in a letter home: “I tried a new way to make custard I use water instead of milk and it does real well. . .If you was living in Neb you would try a great many projects that you never think of in Indiana.”

Another woman homesteading near Red Cloud, Nebraska, in 1874 wrote, “One who has never tried living on coarse bread, salt, meat and milk, without vegetables or fruit, can hardly realize much about it . . .Old Bonie had a calf three days ago and great is the excitement, while visions of butter to eat, and butter to sell, much milk and bowls of milk gravy float before our dazzled eyes.” She then waxed philosophical about the deprivation her family endured:

If we had everything all the time we wouldn't know how good they were.

How true that is. I tend to take things for granted sometimes. Like the gas range in my kitchen, the half-gallon of milk, the pound of butter, the five-pound bag of freshly milled flour. . .and the knowledge that, when I run out of anything I need, there is abundance waiting at the grocery store just a short walk away. I am blessed. . . no water-based custard here in Lincoln, Nebraska, and no need to milk Old Bonie before enjoying “butter to eat and butter to sell, much milk and bowls of milk gravy.”

Hope your week gets off to a wonderful start. . . . custard, anyone?
--Stephanie G.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sail Away

We’ve all heard about the Titanic’s fateful voyage. But that was 1912. My novel, Masquerade, is set in 1886. So how did people cross the ocean twenty-six years before the unsinkable Titanic? Did they sail?

Yes, and no. The ships were called steamers, but many of them also had sails. The Etruria, which I name as the ship in my novel, was one of the last to be fitted with the auxiliary sales. It nearly became a war ship before it took its first passenger voyage because in 1885 there was a crisis when Russia threatened to attack Afghanistan, and for a brief time the British Admiralty commandeered the ship into service. Luckily, the crisis was averted, and the Etruria took its first voyage from Liverpool to New York City on April 25, 1885. There were 550 First Class and 800 Second Class passengers, and no Steerage passengers until 1892—but I fudged on this last fact because I wanted some Third Class passengers on my autumn 1886 voyage. Actually, the steerage passengers fascinate me almost as much as the fancy passengers up-top. They were the courageous ones, giving up everything in the hopes that America would fulfill their dreams. My ancestors were some of those brave ones...

One real-life passenger on my particular voyage on the Etruria was Bram Stoker, eventually the author of Dracula. Another famous man took this ship, though nine years after my story took place. Twenty-year-old Winston Churchill sailed on this ship to the USA for the first time—his mother’s homeland. There’s a letter from him which reveals his attitude while on board: “There are no nice people on board to speak of, certainly none to write of… There is to be a concert on board tonight at which all the stupid people among the passengers intend to perform and the stupider ones applaud.” A little haughty, Winston?

So, what did the First Class cabins on the Etruria look like? They were very ornate with a lot of luxurious fabrics and doo-dads—as was the Victorian way. Think about the furnishings and d├ęcor in the movie, “Titanic.” I tried to find actual photos of the Etruria, but came up empty. I did however, find a very interesting book (The Fabulous Interiors of the Great Ocean Liners by William H. Miller, Jr.) that had photographs of steamers that sailed after the turn of the century. We’ll have to assume the earlier steamers had similar accommodations. I can’t imagine the Vanderbilt and Astor set settling for plain and simple rooms.

The trip across the Atlantic took six days, with the First Class one-way fare being between $75-$175, and second class costing $40-45. In today’s money that would be $1700-4100 and $900.
The public rooms in First Class were stunning. These pictures are from an early-20th century steamer. I used them as my inspiration for the dining room and my characters’ stateroom. As far as there being space for a full-fledged ball . . . I couldn’t find anything for or against the idea, so decided why not?

A few years ago I participated in a Dickens Festival where we learned how to waltz to a calliope playing Strauss.It was a magical experience, especially wearing a long gown that swept behind me as I swirled, especially since my partner was an excellent dancer. We’re missing something by not waltzing anymore . . . And the cruise ships I’ve been on—no matter how fancy—are missing the elegance of this previous age. I’d be quite willing to give up having a disco on board if I could attend just one more ball. In costume, of course.//Nancy Moser

Monday, July 19, 2010

Blue Cupboards and Brave Women

Have you ever read something that left you speechless? I mean jaw-droppingly-stop-reading-ponder-that-with-furrowed-brow-speechless?
Books like Women’s Diaries of the Westward Movement and Anonymous Was a Woman and Legacy and Covered Wagon Women take me into real lives that encourage and amaze me like no other kind of reading. So. . . what does that have to do with this blue cupboard?

I’m not a collector in the traditional sense of the word, but for many years now I’ve been collecting inspirational anecdotes (the ones that leave me speechless) about pioneer women. Sometimes those anecdotes inspire a book idea or a character. Sometimes they end up in this talk or that lecture. One of the anecdotes I’ve shared for years goes like this:

A woman on Plum Creek in Nebraska Territory started a store across from a pony express station. She baked as many as 100 pounds of flour a day, sold bread at 50 cents a loaf and made as much as thirty dollars per day. She made cheese which she sold at 25 cents a pound and travelers paid as much as $2 for the good meals she prepared.

And then, last year, as I was researching Sixteen Brides, I visited the Dawson County History Museum and met that unknown woman because. . . voila. . . this is her blue cupboard! Here’s the rest of her story (in brief):

Canadians Louisa and Daniel Freeman came to Nebraska by way of Michigan and Kansas, deciding to keep a store on the Oregon Trail in 1860. According to their children, the Freemans “were well acquainted with Sitting Bull, Red Cloud, Two Face and Spotted Tail,” who stopped and camped near their store while on hunting trips, paying for food with hides and furs.
In 1873 the Freemans crossed a frozen river and moved their trading post to Plum Creek Station (Nebraska) where they built a two-story cedar log building and a large barn with bunks around the edges where as many as twenty travelers could spend the night for fifty cents a night. Louisa baked and made cheese and sold meals and used this blue cupboard. She also had eight children, raised a large garden, and milked cows. (And I whined today about having to go to the grocery store! Whew--shut my mouth!)

Louisa Freeman died in 1918. When I visited her grave, which overlooks the valley where she first settled in 1860, I realized that when she passed away, my own mother was five years old. Once again, I was reminded that “pioneer” life wasn’t all that long ago . . . and I have MUCH for which to be thankful. (And yes, Louisa Freeman inspired my imaginary friend Martha Haywood in Sixteen Brides.)

Here’s to blue cupboards and the women they represent and the “reality check” they can give us all when we feel overwhelmed.

Stephanie G.

Thursday, July 15, 2010


When I was a child . . .

Don't get me started or I'll end up sounding like a Dickens' novel. But honestly, when I was a child I started writing a book about a maid and her mistress. I didn't get very far because I was obsessed with being able to use my mother's typewriter, and I couldn't stand having any typos so I ended up retyping a few pages over and over. Obviously, that was in the era (era? I have an era?) before computers. The point is that when I talk about my newest novel, Masquerade, I may be able to honestly state that the roots of the story go back to that decade long, long ago.

But unlike that earlier attempt, this time the story was completed. Thank God for editors and spell-check! Masquerade has been born and I am the proud mama of this, my first historical romance. I've often included romance in my novels, but this is the first time I've let it have free rein. So watch out!

Masquerade is the story of a rich English girl who’s supposed to marry a New York heir she’s never met. But the lure of starting over in America gives her the idea of getting her maid to assume her identity and take her place. Of course things don’t go smoothly (you’d be disappointed if they did), but in the end both girls end up discovering where God wants them to be. And isn’t that what we all search for? That place, that nook, that embrace, that makes us nod with contentment and gives us purpose.

That's the gist of the story, but in the coming weeks I'll share some juicy tidbits of behind-the-scenes in 1886 New York society—and the huge challenges of the immigrants flowing into New York expecting to find streets paved with gold. Here's a book trailer to whet your interest:
"Masquerade" book trailer If you feel so inclined, leave a comment. Be kind. This was my first attempt at such a thing.

Next, let me introduce you to my characters—visually. I love portrait paintings. Put me in a museum and I'll gravitate away from the abstract and toward the paintings that are nearly photographic in their ability to capture a moment in time. My favorite portrait painter is John Singer Sargent who was the portraitist of the Gilded Age. Even though photography was available, the old guard still preferred to have their images eternalized on canvas, and Sargent was the one to do it. He was an expert at capturing more than an image; a moment, an attitude, a life.

And so I used his work as inspiration for my characters. Once I determined who Charlotte Gleason and Dora Connors were, I searched through Sargent's paintings and found two images that fit.

Here is Charlotte, the heiress.

And below is Dora, her maid:

In my story the two girls resemble each other—they have to in order for Dora to assume Charlotte's identity. And these two subjects of Sargent also share a resemblance. The only change I made in their appearance is that I made the girls blond to stand out among the other characters in the story. So visualize that if you please (hey, if I can do it, so can you.) The real subjects in the pictures are Lady Agnew and Elsie Wagg. How perfect is that? Actually, another of Sargent's paintings has spurred a new book I haven't even started yet so you'll see more of his work showcased on this blog in the future.

If you'd like to see all of Sargent's work go to
Complete Works of John Singer Sargent. I encourage you to browse through his paintings and peer into the eyes of the people there. They were real, like you and me, and probably complained that the portrait made them look fat, or asked, "Could you please get rid of my double chin, Mr. Sargent?" I like spending time with them and letting them talk to me. Try it. Let the people in the paintings tell you about their lives, their hopes and dreams, and their loves.

It's the last that counts. I revel in the basic process of one person loving another. But it doesn’t surprise me. After all, the Bible makes it clear: “We love because he first loved us.” (John 4: 19)

If that isn’t romantic, I don’t know what is. // Nancy Moser

(To purchase the book go to:
Buy Masquerade by Nancy Moser )

Monday, July 12, 2010

My Heroes are Mostly Anonymous

Julia’s tombstone says she died of thin shoes. Louisa was known to go through a one-hundred pound bag of flour in a day, baking bread for emigrants headed west on the Oregon Trail. Grace pieced quilt blocks to entertain herself while she tended her father’s cattle on a ranch in western Nebraska. Nan performed as a sharpshooter in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. Susan scandalized the neighbors by setting up housekeeping with Will without the benefit of a marriage ceremony. (Not heroic, perhaps, but definitely. . . memorable.) Luna homesteaded alone near the future Phoenix, Arizona, when she was in her 80s. And you’ve probably never heard of a single one of them. Such is the plight of many of history’s amazing women.

Back in the 1990s when I was homeschooling four children and running a home-based business and coping with my husband’s cancer diagnosis, history’s amazing women encouraged me. Oh, my life wasn’t what I wanted it to be, but I hadn’t had to strain any frogs or snakes out of the well water before making coffee that morning, and all I had to do to keep warm was turn up the thermostat. When the kids were sick, the doctor generally knew what to do, and no one in my family was going to die of thin shoes!

I’m passionately grateful to my pioneer foremothers for what they endured, and passionately interested in learning about them. The frustrating thing about writing historical fiction is all the cool stuff I learn that never makes it into my novels! Hence, Footnotes: Novel Inspirations from History.

Dear writing friend Nancy Moser and I hope you’ll enjoy learning “the rest of the story” as we share snippets from our research. It’s true: what really happened is better than anything we could ever make up! I should know. My grandfather was married seven times. Hope you’ll come back often and have fun reading our footnotes. As the saying goes:

There's not a place in earth or heaven,
There's not a task to mankind given,
There's not a blessing or a woe,
There's not a whispered yes or no,
There's not a death, there's not a birth
That has a feather's weight of worth,
Without a woman in it.

--Stephanie G.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

In the Beginning . . .

Hi there. I’m Nancy Moser and I’m very happy to introduce you to our blog, Footnotes: Novel Inspirations from History. Actually, it’s ironic I’m writing an historical fiction blog when two-thirds of the novels I’ve written are contemporary. Actually, it’s bizarre I’m writing historical novels at all.

The event that changed everything happened while I was standing in the Mozart family home in Salzburg in the summer of 2004. In truth, I was only half-listening to the guide, being very close to tourist-information overload. Yet one statement ignited my weary brain: Most people don’t know this, but Mozart’s sister was just as talented as he was, but because she was a woman, she had little chance to fully develop her talent. That one statement stayed with me all the way home to the States.

At the time I was putting together a proposal for a contemporary novel. Because of the tour guide’s comment, I got the idea to have one of my characters write a book called “Mozart’s Sister”. My agent sent the proposal to publishers.

Within days we got a call from Dave Horton, who was then the lead editor at Bethany House Publishers. “I don’t want the contemporary book, I want the book the character is writing: Mozart’s Sister, an historical book about the sister’s life.”

“But I don’t write historicals.”

“I want Mozart’s Sister. In her point-of-view.”

“But I don’t write in first-person, in one person’s point-of-view throughout an entire book. I write big-cast novels in third person.”

“I want Mozart’s Sister.”

“I hate research.”

“I want Mozart’s Sister.”

Well then. He seemed so sure, so excited. I couldn’t ignore him—actually, I could, but I didn’t.

The rest is . . . history, and over the next few years I was blessed to delve into the lives of Nannerl Mozart, Jane Austen, Martha Washington, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Also, as often happens when God offers us an opportunity and we say “yes”, it turned out to be the best experience of my writing life. And, irony of ironies, as I sat in my office with four reference books opened before me, I even found that I enjoyed the research. Imagine that.

Interesting thing about research. To find out a simple fact—like what a telegram looked like in 1896—I’d come across all sorts of neat tidbits. For instance, some people believed telegrams could be miraculous. One woman in Prussia in 1870 came to her town’s telegram office with a dish of food and wanted it telegraphed to her son who was a solider fighting against France. She was, of course, told it was impossible. But she countered that she’d heard of soldiers being dispatched to the war’s front lines via a telegram, so why couldn’t they send sauerkraut.

That’s priceless—but also not usable in my story. In comparing notes with my dear friend and fellow writer Stephanie Grace Whitson, she too had loads of fun facts of history. And so… here we are, sharing those footnotes from history with you, and also sharing the pieces of history that have inspired us to write our novels in the first place.

"For most of history, Anonymous was a woman."
Virginia Woolf

//Nancy Moser