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.
We are pleased to announce that Hattie’s War will be released by Crispin Books on November 1:
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.
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.
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.
Early 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.”
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.
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.
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.
As 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. In 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.
Photo credits to Gretchen Hansen of Gigi’s Joy Photography.
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.
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.”
Photo credits to Gretchen Hansen of Gigi’s Joy Photography
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.
Recently my daughter Kat Lutze literally shaped the Plank Road Summer characters Katie McEachron and Florence Mather by needle-felting little dolls of wool roving, Katie with brown braids and a crimson dress, Florence with fair hair and a green dress.
When the dolls were posed with copies of our books for a craft fair in Union Grove, Wisconsin, I was reminded of another artist’s interpretation of the Plank Road characters. In 2009 Kathleen Spale sent several cover sketches to our editor Phil Martin of Crickhollow Books. As you can see here, one of those concepts looks startlingly like the photograph of those felted dolls.
Some of us tell stories in words, others in pictures. Our photographer sister Gretchen captures moments in light and shadow, and her visions have included the Plank Road world of the twenty-first century.
This award-winning photograph shows a young reader in the very bedroom in which Emily and I imagined the McEachron sisters looking out over the lilacs behind the farmhouse. Careful observers may be able to recognize the book in this picture, a choice that gladdened our hearts.
The autumn photograph below shows four children at home watching their Yorkville neighbors harvesting the fields once farmed by the McEachrons.
Like our favorite stories, Gretchen’s visions have a timeless quality. It’s easy to understand why she specializes in photographing babies and children in southeastern Wisconsin. You will find more of her work at Gigi’s Joy Photography.