Opening Day

IMG_2463To celebrate Opening Day, Hattie’s War is available free on Kindle until tomorrow. Click here to access:

And to keep up the excitement of the baseball season, check out the new blog, The Storied Past, that we are writing with Sandy Brehl and Stephanie Golightly Lowden, who are also historical novelists. A number of baseball books are featured this month.


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Primary Sources

This week Hilda and I will be part of a panel, Historical Literature: Wisconsin Authors Open Portals to the Past, at the Wisconsin State Reading Association Convention. We look forward to sharing the love of books, reading, research, and writing with others.

source photo

Use our new activity to explore primary sources with your students.

As part of our preparation for this event, we have a new resource to share with our readers and teachers. We had developed a primary source activity to use on school visits. It involves matching primary sources that shaped our writing with pages from Hattie’s War. We have just uploaded a PDF of the activity on our “Resources for Teachers” page. We hope that it can be a valuable tool for your classroom.

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A Sweet Reminder of Our Plank Road Stories

On this fourth day of Christmas I spent the morning writing thank-you notes and eating holiday treats, including shortbread from Emily. Baked in a decorative pan, this traditional Christmas gift is as beautiful as it is delicious.  At our family celebration in Wisconsin, I admired the designs produced by Emily’s new pan. According to manufacturer Brown Bag Designs, “In the early years of our country, farm wives decorated their home-made butter by stamping it with carved wooden images. This shortbread pan reinterprets nine of these antiques designs to decorate shortbread – the best butter cookie of all.”

Plank Road shortbread pan

Emily’s “Plank Road” shortbread pan, officially titled American Butter Art by Brown Bag Designs

The nineteenth-century Yorkville families may well have used wooden butter stamps featuring images such as these.

At our Christmas celebration Emily and I conducted our own reinterpretation of the nine designs. We offer our list to readers:

  1. The fruit basket featuring an apple reminds us of Will McEachron’s orchard

2.  The pineapple, symbol of hospitality, reminds us of Vin Mather’s welcoming guests to the Mather Inn

3.  The acorns and oak leaves remind us of the oak grove near Gran Mather’s cabin and the lone oak on the Doanes’ front forty

4.  The horse reminds us of the race between Big Jim Doane’s chestnut stallion and David Banvard’s sorrel mare

5.  The eagle reminds us of Old Abe, famous Civil War mascot of the Eighth Wisconsin infantry and later emblem of J. I. Case Equipment in Racine

6.  The cow reminds us of livestock exhibited at the Racine County Fair and the Plank Road families’ new dairying venture

7.  The wild rose reminds us of the flowers in Grace Caswell’s Midsummer wreath and the hedgerows alongside the Yorkville settlers’ graveyard

8.  The sheaf of wheat reminds us of harvest time in Yorkville and farm wagons traveling the plank road to the Racine harbor

9.  The heart reminds us of the Plank Road community’s love and care for family, neighbors, and strangers

Categories: county fair, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tea Cart and Teacher Resources

I enjoy going to garage sales in the summer, and when I saw two sales happening just a couple blocks from home, I convinced my daughter to walk over with me.  We left the first sale with money in our pockets and empty hands. At the second sale, I walked around a table with an abundance of china and crystal dishes, and knick-knacks, which I admired and left on the table.

IMG_0470But then I spotted, covered in dust and grime, a tea cart. A traditional tea cart with beautifully spoked wheels and and drop leaves and everything. “It’s just like Hattie’s!” I squealed. Minutes later, we were rolling a tea cart down the bumpy sidewalk, with our other purchases precariously piled on top. Not quite the spectacle of Hattie and Teddy hauling an upside-down desk to the Soldiers’ Home through the busy streets of Milwaukee, but a sight nonetheless.

After a thorough cleaning with Murphy’s Oil Soap and elbow grease, I found a spot for it in the living room. And the next day, I rolled it across the room, with faint clinking of my grandmother’s china, laden with chocolate zucchini scones and mini-muffins, strawberries, and tea.

I imagined how many other times it may have been used, for women’s meetings or neighborhood card parties, holiday gatherings and family parties. And I look forward to making our own memories with it.

What does this have to to with Teacher Resources? That’s what else happened this summer. We added Teacher Resources for Hattie’s War to our Resource page.  Spread the word–it would make a great classroom read. And if someone needs to borrow a tea cart for a visual aid–I just might be able to help.

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Don’t Miss the Salute to Freedom on June 13

Civil War MuseumOne hundred fifty years ago, the citizens of Milwaukee were busily preparing for the Soldiers’ Home Fair scheduled to open June 28. Hattie’s mother was one of the women responsible for this statewide effort to raise funds to build a permanent home for Wisconsin veterans. Along with thousands of other children, Hattie and her brother did their part to support the cause.

On Saturday, June 13, 2015, the Kenosha Civil War Museum is sponsoring a Soldiers’ Aid Fair as part of the annual Salute to Freedom. Members of the modern West Side Soldiers Aid Society will recreate booths from the 1865 fair, including the Delphic Oracle, Jacob’s Well, the Wool Department, the Holland Kitchen, and Old Abe. Emily and I will present a brief program on Hattie’s War at 1:00, and our friends on the Milwaukee Cream Citys will play an exhibition match of vintage base ball at 2:00. After the game, fans can take batting and field practice with the team!

Visitors can do their part to support our troops by bringing donations for the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative: bicycle locks and helmets, cleaning supplies, bath towels, facial tissues, paper towels, dryer sheets, Q-tips, bath mats, throw rugs, laundry baskets, coffee makers, toasters, crockpots, vacuum cleaners, irons / ironing boards, mops, brooms, Sterilite or Rubbermaid 26 gallon (105 quart) storage bins.

This FREE family celebration features events all day–don’t miss this unique opportunity to experience our history and heritage.

Outdoor Activities
• Music by the Regimental Volunteer Band playing original period instruments
• Artillery demonstrations by Cushing’s Battery
• Bugle demonstrations
• Union Infantry demonstrations
• “Fill the Wagon” donation drive to benefit Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative (See list above)
• Noon Welcome Home Celebration for the troops with marching, music, and patriotic speeches
• Civilian camp with Historical Timekeepers
• 2 p.m.: Baseball Exhibition match between the Milwaukee Cream City Baseball Club and the Chicago Salmon

Indoor Activities
• 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.: Soldier’s Aid Fair, games, crafts, pie sale, and storytelling
• 11 a.m.: Eagle & Friends program presented by the Schlitz Audubon Society
• 1 p.m.: Hattie’s War program and book signing with authors Hilda and Emily Demuth
• 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.: Community picnic and games
• 4 p.m.: Kenosha Pops performing a patriotic concert

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In Memory of Charlie

At  Charlie Moores' grave, Memorial Day 2014

At Charlie Moores’ grave, Memorial Day 2014

In Hattie’s War, Charlie Moores plays base ball with Hattie and the other neighbor children in the backyard–until he enlists as a drummer with the 39th Wisconsin Regiment, heading to Memphis for the summer.

President Lincoln really did put out a call for 100-day regiments, with the thought that the war could be won in that time with a surge in troop numbers. Several such regiments departed from Milwaukee in June of 1864–and a drummer named Charlie Moores was among them.

Those of you who have read Hattie’s War are aware of Charlie’s fate. His true story is just as tragic. Charlie never made it home from Memphis–he died of fever while serving with the Colonel Buttrick’s 39th Wisconsin Regiment that summer.

Last Memorial Day, I took part in a wreath-laying ceremony with the West Side Soldiers’ Aid Society at Forest Home Cemetery. I carried the wreath for Charlie Moores, who is buried there. As the May breeze blew through the towering oaks, I thought of Charlie–a boy who died too young, who left no direct descendants to remember him. What might he have really been like? Did he play base ball? What was his favorite subject in school? What did he like to eat? What did he plan to do when he grew up? What made his heart sing?  I felt both humbled, and heartbroken, to carry his memory.

There are thousands of young soldiers like Charlie. They lie forgotten in cemeteries across the country and over the seas. On Memorial Day, it behooves us to remember them–not as white gravestones, but as people–people who laughed and cried, went to school, learned a trade, played sports, sang and danced, and kissed their mothers or sweethearts good-bye.

Even more important, let us honor these fallen soldiers by working for peace and understanding among people, cultures, and countries different than our own, so that the cycle of fighting and violence may end.

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Play Ball!

IMG_2484Hilda and I never played baseball with uniforms, referees, coaches, or practices. Baseball, to us, was the game you played on the diamond by the well pit or out in the sheep pasture, whenever a family picnic brought in enough players. Players ranged in age from the six-year-old just learning to swing a bat, to Dad, who was permanent pitcher.

With Dad pitching, the young child’s hit managed to roll right past the pitcher’s mound, yet Dad always seemed to catch the ball hit by the teenager. Our games were more about everyone playing together than keeping score.

When writing Hattie’s War, we drew on our childhood experiences to create the neighborhood ball games in Hattie’s yard. This Saturday, we’ll be watching the Milwaukee Cream Citys play vintage baseball. Their games, played in an open field in a park ringed by oak trees, are much more like our games in the pasture than like watching the Brewers at Miller Park.

Please join us at Greenfield Park at 1:00 on Saturday, May 2 to see how base ball was played in Hattie’s day. Bring a lawn chair or blanket and enjoy an afternoon outdoors.  Details can be found on the Cream Citys webpage. Books will be available for purchase as well.



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From Jubilation to Mourning

In Hattie’s War, Hattie and her family celebrate the war’s end with the rest of Milwaukee. Little did she know how quickly the joy would pass. The city was still decked out in red, white, and blue when the news came from Washington–President Lincoln had been shot and killed. Those who can remember President Kennedy’s assassination, or the days after 9/11, can imagine the grief and horror experienced by the people of Milwaukee when the news reached them on Saturday.

The Milwaukee Daily News for Sunday, April 16, 1865 headline read “The City of Milwaukee in Mourning.”
The appearance of our streets yesterday presented a sad and striking contrast with that of last Monday. Upon the receipt of the news of the fearful crime at the National Capital, the people were stricken with a paralyzing grief and horror. Men gathered together in little groups at the corners of  streets, and many wept while listening to the recital of, or perusing the dispatches. Never has such a deep gloom settled upon the people. So sudden and unexpected was the whole affair, that it seemed like a frightful dream, and people seemed to be in a [d]aze — loth to believe the report till the signature of Secretary Stanton confirmed it beyond doubt. The mayor, Abner Kirby, promptly issued a proclamation requesting the suspension of business, and that all buildings be clothed in mourning. The request was at once complied with. Flags upon buildings and vessels were placed at half-mast, and the solemn black and white drapery was hung out from very many buildings, reminding one and all of the sorrowful calamity. The whole of East Water Street was clothed in mourning — far different from the colors which were exhibited on Monday last. All business was suspended. There was no bustle, no activity. Men and women walked in silence, many bearing some emblem of mourning. No one but expressed sorrow and regret, and denounced the murderers. Less than one week ago it was our lot to chronicle one of the most jubilant celebrations Milwaukee ever witnessed, today one of the greatest reasons of mourning. May we in future be spared the latter trial.

In my last post, I mentioned that Colonel Buttrick had been put in charge of the celebration parade for the city. Here’s the rest of the story.

The Death of the President— The Funeral Ceremonies In Milwaukee
“The celebration of the nation’s victories, fixed for the 20th, is abandoned, and in its stead the people are called upon to pay tribute of respect to the memory of our chief magistrate, whose tragic death has filled us with horror, and whose loss to the nation has bound us together with the bonds of a common sorrow. The funeral ceremonies, consisting of a procession and orations, will take place on the day of the funeral of President Lincoln to be announced hereafter. Meanwhile, all associations, societies and organizations in the city are requested to report as soon as practicable, to the undersigned that they may be assigned a place in the procession. We have called upon those who have been and still are in the service, to rejoice with us. We ask them now to unite with us in our public manifestation of respect to the memory of one whom a nation honors and whom history will make immortal. Details will be published hereafter.
By direction of the committee,
Chief Marshal”

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“Enthusiastic Rejoicing of the People”

One hundred and fifty years ago today, General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General U.S. Grant, ending the Civil War. For Hattie Bigelow, and the people in the northern states, this was a joyous day. Most Americans, too young to remember the end of World War II, can probably not imagine what this meant to the people. To imagine what Hattie would have experienced, we went to the newspapers of the time.

The Milwaukee Daily Journal dated April 11, 1865 reads “The wildest enthusiasm prevailed throughout the city yesterday, and the people turned out en masse to celebrate the last and greatest victory of the Union army. From morning till night the streets were filled with people, every one bearing in some device the national colors. East Water Street was decorated along its entire length with red, white and blue, as was also Wisconsin, Maine West Water street, and from nearly every building in the city “waved the starry flag.” 

“Early in the morning the people began to congregate in numbers at the corners of the principal streets, and as if by common consent, all places of business were closed. Every one was all animation, and in a short space of time was inaugurated one of the largest and most jubilant celebrations Milwaukee has ever witnessed. The cannon were brought out, and peal after peal shook the earth. The bells were rung [with] untiring zeal. Every available carriage or other conveyance was brought out, and every horse bore the national colors affixed to some part of the harness. The Chamber of Commerce took an active part in the celebration, and a delegation from that body hurriedly visited all the prominent business establishments, and organized in a surprisingly short time The Grand Procession.”

That evening buildings of the city were lit up in celebration, as the Milwaukee Daily News states: “In view of the glorious news of the surrender of Lee, the near termination of our bloody war and the prospect of early peace, The Daily News Building, together with the whole of Ludington’s block was illuminated last evening from the fifth story to the street. On East Water and Wisconsin streets and on the front facing Spring street the windows presented one blaze of light. It ia well to rejoice in a time like this. Our country has lived through four years of desperate war, and the government has been shaken to its very foundation. And now that the end approaches, and we hope for a speedy termination of our present great trouble, and the preservation of the old Union, and look to see the starry flag wave over the whole country with not a star erased, it is meet, we say, to rejoice. The hearts of a patriotic people are enlivened with this hope, and in accordance with and symbolic of this, the windows of THE NEWS office were illuminated, presenting a brilliant and gorgeous spectacle of light.”

How exciting it must have been for Hattie and her classmates to be let out of school to join in the celebrations. After four long years of war and suffering, peace had come at last. Colonel Buttrick was put in charge of the more formal procession and celebration to come the following week–but that’s another story.



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Abolitionists Pardoned!

In Plank Road Summer, Yorkville pioneer families debate whether citizens in the free state of Wisconsin should help runaway slaves. Today it is hard to believe that such actions could be considered criminal, but in the 1840s and ’50s, aiding fugitive slaves was against the law even in Northern states.  Nobody can ever know just how many unknown abolitionists risked their livelihoods and reputations by assisting runaways, but records exist of those who were caught and convicted of the crime.

How inspiring to read that Illinois governor Pat Quinn recently granted clemency to three 19th-century abolitionists. Back in 1842, Dr. Richard Eells of Quincy, Illinois, gave Charley, a runaway slave, a change of clothes and tried to transport him to a school for missionaries that served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. When Charley and his conductor were caught, Dr. Eells was found guilty and fined $400. Today the Eells home serves as a museum recognized by the National Park Service, but until a few days ago, Dr. Eells was still a convicted criminal.

Two years ago, the Friends of the Dr. Richard Eells House began seeking a pardon for Eells. As Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon worked to assemble the case, the stories of two more Illinois abolitionists were uncovered. In 1843, Julius and Samuel Willard, a father and son from Jacksonville, were convicted of trying to help an escaped slave.  According to Lt. Gov. Simon, “It’s important for all of us to remember heroes who spoke up and acted at great risk to themselves for what was right, even when they knew it was not what the law would support.” After reviewing the cases, Governor Quinn issued pardons for all three abolitionists, calling them “early warriors for freedom.” (For full Chicago Tribune story, click here.)

Hattie’s War and the Plank Road books celebrate the lives of ordinary people who work together to do what is right, whether by assisting fugitive slaves, aiding families devastated by disaster, or supporting veterans and their families. In this New Year, may each of us remember the unsung heroes and do our part in our communities and our world.

Categories: Hattie's War, Plank Road Summer book, Underground Railroad | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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