A day in my life? Well, it starts in the old Wisconsin farmhouse where I live. The peaceful setting is good, because my days are usually anything but.
I’m curator of collections at a huge living history museum called Old World Wisconsin. It’s one of the coolest historic sites anywhere, with over fifty buildings. Costumed guides (we call them interpreters) bring the farms and homes and village service buildings to life for visitors who tour the site. And me? I make sure that each building is furnished with antiques that help tell stories about the past.
That’s what I love about working with artifacts. Sure, it’s interesting to understand what an object is, how it works. But to me, the real value of an antique is what it can reveal about the people who once made, owned, or used it. Those people might be long gone, but the strip of tatted lace they treasured or the sickle they loathed are still here. They are tangible links to the past.
Although you may be picturing me working in solitude among shelves of musty, dusty treasures, my job actually brings me in contact with lots of people. My colleagues at the historic site are…we’ll say an eclectic bunch. Most are passionate about their work. Director Ralph Petty, though—I think the only thing he’s passionate about is finding new ways to give me a hard time.
Every day is different. I never know when a donor might call with an absolute treasure they want to give the museum. Sometimes I meet with craftspeople who reproduce garden tools or cookware the interpreters need to portray daily life in the 19th century. Specific projects might have me collaborating with researchers, conservators, archivists, and archaeologists.
Often I travel to other historic sites, too. My next project? I’ll be preparing a furnishings plan for an old lighthouse on an island in Lake Michigan—and I get to stay there while doing the research. Am I lucky, or what?
But here’s something you may not know: living history can be deadly. You see, the past isn’t really gone. The past has a tendency to reach out, flick its ephemeral finger, and send all sorts of lives spinning out of control.
I’ve learned that the hard way. Which is how I met Officer Roelke McKenna, local cop. We haven’t quite figured out what our relationship is going to be. But if I keep getting mixed up in mayhem and murder, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to get to know each other.
So please, hang around. Maybe today’s the day I don’t get into any trouble…but I can’t make promises!
You can read more about Chloe in THE HEIRLOOM MURDERS, the second book in the “Chloe Ellefson” mystery series. The first book in the series is OLD WORLD MURDER.
Kathleen Ernst’s latest project taps into the decade she spent as a curator at a large historic site. THE HEIRLOOM MURDERS (Midnight Ink) is the second Chloe Ellefson mystery. Kathleen’s fiction for children and young adults include eight historical mysteries set between 1732 and 1945. Honors for her work include Agatha and Edgar nominations. Kathleen lives and writes in Wisconsin, but takes great pleasure in research trips to new locales! Visit her at www.kathleenernst.com or www.sitesandstories.wordpress.com.
** Kathleen has generously offered to give away one copy of THE HEIRLOOM MURDERS. To enter, you must leave a valid e-mail address in the comment box with your comment. One entry per person and this is open to anyone with a U.S. mailing address. Contest ends on November 22nd at 6pm EST. The winner will be chosen using a random number generator and will be notified by e-mail and has 2 days to respond. Book will be shipped directly from the author. **
Books are available at retail and online booksellers.