Tuesday, May 31, 2011
Thursday, May 26, 2011
Noach immigrated to Minnesota from Sweden in 1869 at age 19. His sister and her husband were already living near Jordan, Minnesota. Noach worked in the area until he was 21, until he could homestead. A few years later, a group of these immigrants were together socially… and another Swenson (no relation), Muns Swenson and Eva, were at the gathering with a baby in a cradle. People teased Noach about not being married. He said, “I’ll marry that one”, meaning the baby in the cradle.
And he did. He married the baby, Emma, when she was 16, and he was 38. The community used to have barn dances. Emma loved to dance and Noach was attracted to the vivacious girl. But what did she see in him? There’s no record of the whys behind it. Logically he married because he was attracted to her, maybe even loved her, and needed a wife to help him with his homestead. But Emma? A vivacious 16-year-old? Did she want to get away from home that badly? Did she love him? Did her parents approve and encourage her? Or were they against it? Whatever the motivation and emotions, the two were married in 1888, had six children, and were together until their deaths in the 1930’s.
|C.M. & Sarah and children|
My grandmother, Ruth, is the youngest on the left
Sara Christine died in 1922 at age 67. Her daughter, Alma died a few months later of a sudden heart attack—at age 25.
Heartbroken, C.M. took a trip back to Sweden. On the trip he met Elvira Mattson. When he came home he presented her to his family. Surprise! Welcome my new wife! A ship-board romance? C.M. was seventy.
Logic might suggest that people were more pragmatic back then, that they knew life could be cut short at any time and so didn’t waste time. Also, especially in rural communities, there were fewer prospects to choose from. Communication and transportation was limited beyond your community. The people you saw every day was who you got. Plus, there was the language and culture barrier. To find someone from the same background and roots probably took precedent over finding your true love or waiting for Mr. or Miss Right.
I’m sure many families have such odd pairings, either by age or circumstance. I’d love to hear some of your stories . . . //Nancy
Monday, May 23, 2011
1880 ... Omaha to Sacramento via train ... with Stephen Bly, author of Throw the Devil off the Train
Today I'm honored to introduce you to a godly, humble man I admire greatly. The "official word" about Steve:
- What different sort of setting made you want to write this book?
Thursday, May 19, 2011
|My great-grandparents: Emma in the surrey, |
and Noach Swenson on the white horse.
|The band, out playing in the field|
He came to America in 1869, at the age of 19, the first of his family to leave Sweden for the “Land of Opportunity”. As the ninth of eleven children, he would never inherit anything in Sweden. His ambition was to become an independent, land owning farmer, but he had to work a few years to earn enough money to realize his ambition. He worked on the railroad and as a farm hand until he went to Lac qui Parle County in Minnesota and filed for a homestead in 1879. He had to return to his farmhand job to earn more money, but he did order a house built on the homestead. When he returned he saw that it had no windows and no door! He had to whittle out an opening with his pocket knife! He fashioned a crude door but had no hinges, so cut a strip of leather off the top of each of his boots and fashioned leather hinges!
He and a neighbor pooled their resources and each furnished two oxen for a four-oxen team to break the sod. They each started working 20 acres. Staying warm in the house was a challenge in the Minnesota winters. Trees were scarce and couldn’t be spared for fuel, so prairie grass was twisted into tight knots to slow its burning, and then put away for winter use. For the rest of his life, Noach planted many trees… when a grove died in the 1930’s, he was very sad. Trees were special to him.
|Sod house in Lac qui Parle County|
He knew the family of Mons Swenson (no relation). Mons had operated a ferry across the Minnesota River near the present town of Jordan (at that time Belle Plaine was the nearest town to the ferry.) Mons and his wife, Eva had a daughter, Emma—who was born in a log house at the ferry site in 1873. They moved to Noach’s area and lived in a sod house until theirs could be built. One winter the snow covered the house and they had to shovel their way out, tying a rope between the front door and the barn in order so they wouldn’t get lost in the blizzard.
Noach, age 38, decided he wanted to marry the lively Emma—age 16! And so they married in 1889. “Though he was a serious, reserved man who did not join much in gayety, he admired the pretty girl with the rosy cheeks and curly hair who twirled so gaily to the notes of her father’s fiddle.” He built a two-story house for her on the land adjoining his original farmstead. Twenty-two years age difference? Yikes.
|Nearby Dawson, MN 1892|
They had seven children (one died young), and Emma was busy. During harvest, more so. She would have to cook three meals a day, and two lunches for the 20 farm hands. She had to take the lunches into the fields, but they came in for meals. She filled a crock with pancakes before she called them to breakfast in order to keep up with their appetites. One time (because of rain and delays) she had to feed 20 farmhands for 28 days straight. Emma was worn out!
Once Noach froze his feet going to get his cattle down by the river in a snowstorm. His toes were so badly frozen that they turned a dark blue after they thawed. He couldn’t wear shoes, but had to wrap his feet in cloth until they healed.
|Providence Valley |
Noach’s farm prospered and was continued by my grandfather, George. My mother grew up on that farm, and only recently was it sold—over 100 years after it was started. Such were the hardships of homesteaders. Such was their tenacity and strength. It makes me wonder what I have to complain about in my easy life? Looking back, they inspire me. And they humble me.//Nancy
Friday, May 13, 2011
My hero, Levi Grant, enters the story after spending two years in Huntsville State Prison for an unintentional crime. Being a large, muscled man, he was put to work in the labor camps during his incarceration, breaking rock at a granite quarry.
The abusive camp sergeants he faced there left him with scars inside and out, but the compassion of a prison chaplain helped him rebuild his faith and rededicate his life to serving the Lord. Upon his release, he takes up his father's blacksmithing trade and tries to create a fresh start by keeping his past a secret. Now, as the author, I couldn't allow this secret to stay hidden forever. So I began looking for ways to expose my hero's past. And I stumbled upon the perfect solution in my time period research.
In 1881, the Texas Capitol building (pictured as it appeared in 1875) was destroyed by fire (after the fire below right). The Texas Legislature decided that when they rebuilt, they would use only materials native to the state. They initially chose limestone, as there was a quarry near Austin, but when iron particles in the rock led to discoloration, they elected red granite instead.
This granite was obtained from Granite Mountain near Marble Falls, Texas in1885. To cut costs, the state contracted convict labor for breaking the stone. The use of free—or almost free—convict labor in the quarries, however, was seen as an attempt by the state to undermine unionized labor and was opposed by virtually every organized labor group in Austin. Hence, word spread throughout the region about the controversial labor force.
This historical event allowed me to supply Levi with quarry experience during his incarceration (breaking rock at Granite Mountain), but with a project that was so well known for using convict labor, it could easily expose his past should anyone learn of his involvement. And, of course, someone does. History provided the perfect scenario. (The photo shows convicts working at Granite Mountain.)
Not only did this fabulous research gem supply the plot point I needed, but it also helped determine my setting. The story opens in 1887, in keeping with the time frame of Levi working at the labor camp in 1885 at the beginning of his incarceration, leaving time on the back end of his two-year sentence for his spiritual rehabilitation with the prison chaplain. It also played a role in the location of Spencer, Texas. Knowing how pivotal a role having a quarry nearby would be to my story, I chose to set my fictional town near Limestone County where the natural resource from which the county derived its name was abundant enough to allow me to install a quarry a few miles from town.
Fun how things work out, isn't it?
For more information on the use of convict labor in building the Texas state capitol building, follow these links: http://www.texfiles.com/texashistory/statecapitol.htm - Highlights the labor union dispute.
http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/library/ahc/capitol/design.htm - Great pictures of the convict labor force, Granite Mountain, and the construction of the capitol.
Visit Karen at website: http://www.karenwitemeyer.com/
For more about her new release: To Win Her Heart
Thursday, May 5, 2011
|Easton's Beach and the Boardwalk|
|From Bailey's Beach|
Here’s a photo of a trolley in 1889. In Chapter 17 of An Unlikely Suitor, I have a young couple take the trolley to Easton’s, where they wade in the ocean. For a nickel you could ride the trolley anywhere. In the early 1900’s a roller coaster was added (below.)
|bathers on Bailey's Beach|
At the southeast corner of Bailey’s is “Rejects Beach”, a portion of the beach that is separated from Bailey’s by a rope that marks its boundaries on the sand—and even into the water. Well then!
In the 1890's, the attire for swimming was ponderous. Soggy blanket anyone? And yet . . . hmm. It would have covered a multitude of body flaws. But somehow, I don't think modern day bathing beauties will go for it.//Nancy
Monday, May 2, 2011
Princess Eugenie made quite a statement at the royal wedding this past week when she wore what one blogger labeled, "a doorknocker adorned with an octopus."
In 1886, a devoted (and ultimately outraged) birder hiked from his uptown Manhattan office to the heart of the women's fashion district on 14th Street, tallying the stuffed birds on the hats of passing women as he walked. He counted parts or entire bodies of three bluebirds, two red-headed woodpeckers, nine Baltimore orioles, five blue jays, twenty-one common terns, a saw-whet owl, and a prairie hen. In two afternoon trips he listed 174 birds from forty different species … all of them “victims of fashion.” Gull, tern, heron, and egret populations were especially affected by the fashion craze involving avian accents.
In 1897, Harper’s Bazaar reported, "That there should be an owl or ostrich left with a single feather apiece hardly seems possible." More than birds adorned hats in the those days. Fruit, flowers, furs, and even mice and small reptiles nestled atop fashionableladies' heads.Believe me ... I looked. I never did find a photo of a period hat with a "small reptile" ...
although I wonder what we'd see if we had a view of the other side of the creation on the left. Plenty of room for a menagerie. Still, I'm thinking small reptiles just didn't really catch on.
When researching Nora’s Ribbon of Memories, I grew increasingly impressed with the artistry and skill required to be a successful milliner. My main character, Nora (a runaway who works in an 'establishment of ill repute' for a while as a housekeeper) eventually becomes a milliner. At one point, her new employer pulls out a “lightweight buckram frame,” to use as a base for a new creation, and Nora wonders aloud, “How do you turn that thing into a hat?” The milliner goes on to show Nora how its done, “We cover the frame with … bombazine. With a black velvet bow on this side, and a black ostrich feather curving up across the top, it’ll be stunning.”
Another character in the book, Dr. Maude Allbright, is described as someone who "may not have been a slave to fashion ... " but was "definitely a slave to hats." Still, Dr. Allbright eschews the idea of dead birds as adornment.“Every red-tailed hawk in the county will be dive-bombing me if I wear that,” she scoffs, pointing to a French creation sporting three gray birds perched on the crown.
Dr. Allbright orders her hat with “posies instead of dead birds,” and especially likes “a large-brimmed hat entirely camouflaged in felt-gray plumes and curled blue and yellow striped ribbon.”
In the end, Nora opens her own business in fictional Millersburg, Nebraska.
One very helpful resource I discovered while working on Nora was a book called The Female Economy; the Millinery and Dressmaking Trade, 1860-1930. I close with hat history ... and some photos of imaginative head-coverings from my collection of vintage photographs. You'll notice feathers and plumes in abundance. Who knows ... maybe there's a small reptile in there somewhere."When a girl enters a milliner's establishment, she must give three or four month’s time to learning the business. After that, she receives five dollars a week; and in some instances, as she improves, her wages are increased to fifteen."
Hats still make a statement ... I do wonder what Mrs. Howe of Burlingame, Kansas, (whose business card appears above) would say about ...