Saturday, August 31, 2019

My Date with Kathleen

When I visited Wisconsin with Amy for her college orientation in July, I picked up a mystery novel in the Villa Louis gift shop in Prairie du Chien - “Death on the Prairie”, by Kathleen Ernst.  It is a murder mystery in which the plucky female detective visits six Laura Ingalls Wilder homesites and museums in order to solve crime.

Did you know that there were six Laura Ingalls Wilder homesites and museums?   Neither did I.  I thought I was more up on Laura Ingalls Wilder than most, because thanks to Ellen’s fifth grade state report, I have actually been to the Little Town on the Prairie (that would be De Smet, South Dakota).

The six sites were described in depth and there were photographs in the back of the book.  The fictional story took place in six very real places that you can go and visit.  I was hooked.

Kathleen Ernst has now written ten historical mystery novels for adults (she also writes American Girl mystery novels for children).  The first two mysteries are set at Old World Wisconsin (an amazing place described in my previous blog post).

Her other mysteries are set at various historical sites in Wisconsin and Minnesota.  For weeks before this trip, I was feverishly reading all the books so I could travel to the sites described. 

I also checked out Kathleen’s website, which is how I know that she lives in Middleton, Wisconsin, where I am currently staying as I help Amy get settled into her dorm at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

There is a “Contact” button on Kathleen’s website, so a few days ago I sent her a brief note about how much I liked her work and how I would be staying in Middleton – AND SHE REPLIED.

It was so exciting!!  I read her reply as I was touring the Milwaukee Public Museum and I gave a little shriek of joy, much to the bemusement of the other museum-goers in the Wisconsin Ice Age exhibit.

Kathleen and I met for coffee in Middleton, we chatted, and she signed a book for me.  It was awesome.  I wish I'd asked for a photograph but I was trying so hard to be cool about it. (!!!) 

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Me and Me, Day 2

 I make it a policy of having very low expectations about things such as theatrical performances, birthday parties, family beach weeks, and tourist attractions.  That way, if the thing is bad, I’m not too disappointed, and if it’s good, I’m pleasantly surprised.

Old World Wisconsin pleasantly surprised me.  The whole endeavor is so fundamentally crazy, it’s difficult to see how it ever came to be, but it did, and it’s marvelous.

I can’t think how the Wisconsin Historical Society pulled it off, but over the past 43 years they have created a transcendently odd, simply enormous 480-acre open-air museum by transporting over 60 historical structures from every corner of the state and reconstructing them in the Kettle Moraine forest.

“Piece by piece, workers painstakingly dismantled the old structures by numbering bricks, boards and logs, and moving them to the site of Old World Wisconsin. In a setting largely unchanged from the rolling prairies the first pioneers found, the buildings took shape once more, reconstructed precisely as they had once been built.

Some of the historical buildings are grouped together into a “village” area. Some just pop up out of the second-growth forest as you meander around.  Which seems like maybe how it would have been when they were homesteads.

There is a tram thingy that winds through the dirt roads of the park every twenty minutes, or you can just take your chances on the footpaths, as I did.  I just checked the Health App on my phone and I walked 9 miles today, most of it purposeful, some of it backtracking because I have no sense of direction at all.

Many of the 60 structures were staffed by costumed “interpreters”.  These ranged from super-enthusiastic history nerds to supremely indifferent high-school summer hires.

I had a really strange moment today when I walked into the 1880 Koepsell farmhouse, built by immigrants from the Pomeranian region of Germany – it smelled exactly like my German grandmother’s house in Texas.  (Twilight Zone music)

Over the past few months, I have become fixated on Wisconsin history, and I have finally found a place where no one finds my interest odd.  In fact, the gift shop lady recommended several Wisconsin histories which I happily purchased. Old World Wisconsin, you know I will return.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

A Road Trip With Myself, Day 1

This morning I dropped Amy off for a five-day canoeing trip at the University of Wisconsin in Madison.  It’s one of those pre-orientation freshman bonding trips that either yield good friends or people you duck behind hedges to avoid.  (This isn't a great picture because she doesn't know I was lurking on the Lake Mendota terrace watching her play icebreaker games.)

The four days previous to our flight here were pretty fraught.  Amy came home from working at a resident summer camp and had to be de-loused.  Every single thing she took to camp was absolutely filthy and had to be washed, sometimes more than once.  Small brown Insects were dropping out of the attic fan vent.  Rats had nested in the pool cover vault.  One of garage doors has seemingly developed autonomy and opens and closes at will.

It was necessary for me to come with her to Wisconsin in order to help her transport her six duffel bags of sports equipment and winter clothing.  And I have to stay here to help her move into her dorm next week.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Faced with the tantalizing prospect of five days of doing whatever I wanted, I perused a guidebook and planned out a series of adventures.

Here are the things I planned for today:
-       Go to a train museum in East Troy and ride an old trolley
-       Browse hand-crafted items at a maker fair in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward
-       Attend a German festival with live music

Here are the things I actually did today:
-       Ate Norwegian meatballs in Stoughton
-       Browsed a lot of junk at the Seven Mile Flea Market and bought a truly excellent lacquered print of the Last Supper
-       Drove up the shore of Lake Michigan and ate candy on a beach while ten-year old boys shrieked in the water
-       Checked into my Milwaukee AirBNB, immediately left and drove to a Hampton Inn  (it transpires that a deal that seems too good to be true usually is)

It was actually a very fun day, even if wasn’t the day I had originally planned.  I had Google Maps on “No Highways” and ended up driving through some lovely farm country and up the lakeshore while listening to an Agatha Christie mystery and drinking Diet Dr. Pepper. 

Tomorrow I plan to go to Old World Wisconsin, an outdoor living history museum featuring homes that were transported there from some of the immigrant towns that were established in Wisconsin in the 1850s.  Stay tuned to this space to find out what actually happens.