Author Archives: Hilda Demuth-Lutze

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

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

Categories: Civil War | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Welcome to Hattie’s War

Hattie's War book cover

Our sister Gretchen Demuth Hansen took this stunning photo of Faith, a young Civil War re-enactor, featuring a vintage bat and ball from the Milwaukee Cream Citys.

We are pleased to announce that Hattie’s War will be released by Crispin Books on November 1:
In 1864 Milwaukee, eleven-year-old Hattie Bigelow, who is more interested in base ball than in sewing circles, loses her back yard to a garden for the new Soldiers’ Home–and then rebels against her family’s expectations during the difficult final year of the Civil War.

Categories: Hattie's War | Leave a comment

Fair Days

Katrina Lutze and her Hampshire lamb at the Porter County Fair in 1999

Katrina Lutze and her Hampshire lamb at the Porter County Fair in 1999

Fifteen years ago when my ten year-old daughter Katrina began showing 4-H lambs at the Porter County Fair in Northwest Indiana, her nine year-old cousin David came to visit from suburban Chicago.   City boy David swept the aisles between the animal pens so faithfully that the sheep barn won the Cleanest Barn contest.

When we were not at the fairgrounds, David’s mother Emily and I worked on an idea for a book we called “Girls of the Plank Road,” a story of pioneer Wisconsin featuring the first Racine County Fair.   We had fond memories of our own county fair days, and my daughter’s Hampshire lamb was descended from the sheep that Emily and our brothers and sisters and I had shown in the 1970’s as members of the Yorkville 4-H Club.

Back then, the sheep and many of the other animals were exhibited in tents, but today the fairgrounds features an extensive array of permanent structures, including a long row of livestock barns.   The Plank Road families of the nineteenth century would be amazed to see what enormous enterprises the county fairs of the Midwest have become.

The Racine County Fairgrounds looks considerably different from the open fields in which the first county fairs took place in the 1850s.

Today the Racine County Fairgrounds looks considerably different from the open fields in which the first county fair took place in the 1850s.

Categories: Childhood Memories, county fair, Racine County | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making History at the Home Farm

Hilda and Emily Demuth grew up on Bo-Mar Farm in Yorkville, Wisconsin, a few miles north of Union Grove.

Hilda and Emily Demuth spent many hours working and playing in this barn in Yorkville, Wisconsin.

Tonight at 6:30 Emily and I will talk about our books in one of our favorite places–the hayloft of the big old barn at Bo-Mar Farm in Yorkville Township, Wisconsin.  The History Seekers of the Union Grove Area have invited us to speak, and our sister Gretchen Hansen and her husband are hosting the event.

Six of us Demuths grew up on Bo-Mar Farm, known to our readers as the McEachron homestead, and we have vivid memories of working and playing in that barn.  For many summers we sweated and scratched as we hauled and stacked bales of hay in that loft.  In cooler weather we built castles–complete with dungeons–of straw bales.  Our 4-H lambs were born in that barn, and Mr. Vyvyan came to shear every June.  My horse and our two ponies grazed in the pasture for many years.

After we all moved out and Mom and Dad no longer kept livestock, Dad laid a new floor in the empty hayloft, hung basketball hoops and a swing, fenced off the open end, and built a staircase up to “Grampa’s Playpen.”   Twenty Demuth grandchildren and plenty of adults have played in that hayloft in recent years, including musicians at a genuine barn dance.

barn building pic

In the year 1900, the Yorkville community worked together to build this barn.

One of the Demuth family treasures is a photograph of the barn-raising, a turn-of-the-century community event.  I hope the men who built the barn and the women who fed them all had time and energy for dancing when the work was done.

Many different kinds of activities have taken place in that barn over the past hundred and fourteen years, but one of the most unique occurred just a few years ago.  On a brisk autumn day our nephew Thomas Martin Hansen was baptized in that hayloft, which was hung with family quilts as a backdrop for a marble baptismal font and conveniently furnished with church pews.

 

Categories: Childhood Memories, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Glimpse of Hattie’s War

soldiers' aid fair signold abe at soldiers' aid fairEarly in Plank Road Winter, Hans and his father reminisce about seeing Old Abe, the eagle mascot of the Eighth Wisconsin regiment, at the Soldiers’ Home Fair in Milwaukee when Henry Hoffman returned from the war.  Later, when Sophie visits the Soldiers’ Home, she notices that her mother is “as proud of the new building as though the donations from Yorkville ladies had funded the entire project.”

 

women at soldiers' aid fair          The Soldiers’ Home Fair of 1865 was the most significant fundraising event of Civil War Wisconsin.  In this grand version of the popular soldiers’ aid fairs, Milwaukee women enlisted the help of communities statewide to raise over $100,000 to purchase land and build a permanent home for returning soldiers on property that still serves veterans today.

fish pond at soldiers' aid fair

 

In our forthcoming book Hattie’s War, Emily and I tell the story of eleven year-old Hattie Bigelow, a Milwaukee girl deeply involved in relief efforts, including the Soldiers’ Home Fair.

On June 21, 2014, the modern West Side Soldiers’ Aid Society of Milwaukee recreated the sights and sounds and smells of that fair, treating visitors to the Civil War Museum in Kenosha to a glimpse of Hattie’s world.  In the spirit of the dedicated nineteenth-century citizens who continued to support American soldiers after the war, the sponsors of this modern fair donated all proceeds to the Milwaukee Homeless Veterans Initiative.

Emily and I are eager to share the rich heritage of Wisconsin’s Civil War history with readers of Hattie’s War this fall.

Categories: Hattie's War, Plank Road Winter, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mom–Our Number One Fan

Marge Demuth at Plank Road Summer celebration at St. John's Lutheran School in Burlington, Wisconsin.

Mom attends many of our book events–and she schedules them for us, too.

Long before Emily and I began working on the story first known as “Girls of the Plank Road,”  our mother, Marjorie Demuth, encouraged us to write.  Mostly we wrote accounts of county fair projects for our 4-H record books, but we also wrote essays and speeches for local contests by groups such as the American Legion.  Back then I did not always appreciate my mother’s prodding or her forthright criticism of my writing and public speaking skills.

Now that Mom is our financial manager and number one promoter–she sells more books than Emily and I do, and she even gives presentations, using those public speaking skills she worked so hard to teach us–I am grateful for her long years of effort on our behalf.

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!  The Plank Road books wouldn’t be here without you.

Categories: Childhood Memories, county fair, On Writing | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Delicious Celebration in the Classroom

 

Sixth graders welcome grandparents to a celebration of Midwestern history

Sixth graders welcome grandparents to a celebration of Midwestern history

Plankroad-0062As mentioned in the previous post, after reading Plank Road Summer, students in Burlington, Wisconsin, shared their knowledge of Midwestern history at the “1852 6th Grade Fair” held on Grandparents’ Day.  No fair is complete without food, of course.  Plankroad-9999In addition to building plank roads, coloring quilt blocks, and learning about the Underground Railroad, the visitors baked scones and drank freshly-squeezed lemonade.  Inspired by pioneer girls Katie and Florence in Plank Road Summer, one student even provided a taste test of strawberry preserves.

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Photo credits to Gretchen Hansen of Gigi’s Joy Photography.

 

 

Categories: Cornish in Wisconsin, county fair, Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Generations Celebrate Wisconsin History Together

Grandparents' Day guides at St. John's Lutheran School

Grandparents’ Day guides at St. John’s Lutheran School

Mrs. Rehberger and her students assist visiting grandparents in building a plank road

Mrs. Rehberger and her students assist visiting grandparents in building a plank road

On March 14, sixth graders at St. John’s Lutheran School in Burlington, Wisconsin, celebrated Grandparents’ Day by hosting an interactive classroom fair inspired by Plank Road Summer.

A visiting grandmother colors a quilt block

A visiting grandmother colors a quilt block

The students in Mrs. Claire Rehberger’s class chose their own projects, which resulted in a fascinating variety of activities and exhibits for the older guests.  Visitors to the classroom were invited to build a plank road, make scones and lemonade, color quilt blocks, taste strawberry preserves, listen to a live reading of Plank Road Summer, experience an audiovisual presentation about the Underground Railroad, and play a memory game about technology “Then and Now.”

 

Two grandfathers make scones in the sixth grade classroom at St. John's

Two grandfathers make scones in the sixth grade classroom at St. John’s

Photo credits to Gretchen Hansen of Gigi’s Joy Photography

 

Categories: Plank Road Summer Teaching Ideas | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Happy Brigid’s Day!

Today is Brigid’s Day, also known as St. Bridget’s Day, but many readers may not realize the significance of that name in the Plank Road books.

In Plank Road Summer, Gran Mather’s given name appears only twice.  At the Yorkville smithy, Old Man Caswell calls Gran by her first name, and at the Ives Grove store, Gran introduces herself to Marshal Carter: “I’m Brigid Mather.”

I chose “Brigid” as Florence’s grandmother’s name because of its connection with the ancient Celtic world.  Gran Mather is a healer in the pioneer community who speaks the old Cornish language and cherishes the traditions of her native Cornwall.

The Celtic Brigid, or Brighid, triple goddess of fire–the fire of inspiration, the fire of the hearth, and the fire of the forge–was Christianized as St. Brigid, or Bridget, patron saint of poets, midwives, blacksmiths, travelers, and fugitives.

Readers of Plank Road Summer will surely recognize the significance of those occupations to our story.

And careful readers of Plank Road Winter may realize that little Birdie is named after her great-grandmother–when the schoolmaster calls the roll, she responds to the name “Brigid Caswell.”

Interestingly,  Saint Bridget is also the patron saint of milkmaids.

Categories: Cornish in Wisconsin, Plank Road Summer book, Plank Road Winter, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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