Tag Archives: Historical

MUSEUMS AND WRITING PART 2

Museum searches bring out the lingerer in me. I can’t get enough of the hidden and visible treasures alike.  Whether a tiny pioneer child’s dolly, the interior of an old Model T or a beautiful ball gown, I devour it all. At times I simply savor the experience and, at other times, I take notes and photos to help me remember the experience, especially if I think I’ve found something to use in my writing.

I’ve visited huge museums like the Field in Chicago, the former Ford historical artifact museum in Michigan, the Cody  in Wyoming, and the Heard Museum in Phoenix. Then, there have been a multitude of small museums, especially those scattered about small towns in the West. I believe it was a visit to the museum in Benson, Arizona where I found  Josephine’s  (HUACHUCA WOMAN) costume for the 1914 El Paso gala at the mayor’s house:

“I thought my new gown of ivory striped satin dipped in the front a bit too much, but the schoolboy grin on my husband’s face told I’d do, for a cow gal. That comforted me some. The gown was made by a Frenchie, name of Jacques Doucet, in the old style of the Empress Josephine. A red velvet jacket embroidered with delicate flowers kept the chill off. My new rope of pearls and carved ivory fan were birthday gifts from Peter, who looked as handsome as could be in his fancy duds. I was ready to lasso in any wild critters to come my way.”

Jacques Doucet 1853-1929

When I decided that Grace Pelham (BY GRACE) would make her way to Jane Addams’ Hull House, nothing would do but that I visit the place, source of inspiration for my first career in social work. Follow me to 1899 Chicago when Grace has had to change her name to Ginny Price as she eludes a would-be killer:

“Armed with instructions from Hilda (hotel maid), Ginny made her way to Hull House.  With several newer buildings complementing the facility, the still elegant fifty-five-year old mansion faced Halstead Street. Hull House was a sturdy brick and mortar reminder of what the neighborhood had once looked like. Other mansions had long since been broken into rooming houses where dirt and grime tore at worn paint. Shanties made of tarpaper and odd bits of lumber and tin didn’t look fit for the basest of animals. Factory chimney stacks puffed unrelenting stinky smoke. Ginny stood outside for a few minutes, finding refuge from the drabness of the neighborhood in the beauty of Hull House. Brilliant white pillars marched along the Italianate veranda where floor to ceiling windows looked out on the street. Great oaken doors invited the stranger in. Ginny smiled heartily and pushed at the heavy doors.”

Hull House, Chicago

As you wander museums, what do you imagine about the past?

Do historical figures jump out at you, demanding their stories be told?

Do you see your own family stories in the lives of those who have gone before?   

MUSEUMS AND WRITING PART 1

Writers are often asked: “Where do you get your ideas from?”  The answers are myriad: from my imagination; news clips; bits of over-heard conversation; family stories/characters; biographical/historical/political/philosophical tidbits shared; or “I dunno.”   When asked, I have a ready answer for the setting of the Huachuca Trilogy:  “…from visiting and falling in love with the area and from one-liners told by my brother-in-law over a New Year’s Eve fire about his Grandmother Josephine.”

Other questions will center on research: when, where, and how much? I use many tools in researching material: books, the internet, old photos or news stories, interviews and travel. To be in the place has meant travel to Chicago and west across the plains and mountains; time spent in the San Pedro River Valley with Bisbee and Tombstone to the east and the Huachucas to the west; walking the streets of El Paso, Albany, San Francisco and Los Angeles; calling on memories of feelings, experiences and relationships.

One of my favorite methods is to visit museums where I have learned about local characters; clothing, tools and utensils in use at the time; learned about the geology of the area or absorbed quotes from the diaries, letters or notes of those before me.  In my second or third visit to the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, I came upon an amazing exhibit on 19th century farming life. In bold display was a story of the original Josephine as she stopped a Model T from running off with her friend’s children. The 1925 tale is found in HUACHUCA WOMAN, the chapter on Annaliese, The Matron of Bisbee:

“” I was holding Howie, asleep on my shoulder, a sure cure for anyone’s blues.

“Jo, the brakes are gone. I can’t slow her down.”

Quick as that, I shoved Howie to the floorboards and he didn’t even stir. Don’t know what I thought I could do but, with that precious carload of life yet to be lived, I had to do something. I threw open the door and skidded my heels along the roadway, digging my back into the Ford. All the while, I was yelling at Anna, “throw her into reverse, cut the engine.”  The kids held on hard, squealing as we slid down that rocky road.

“Aunt Jo, make it stop!” from Bruce

“I’m scared, Mama!” from Utah.

And, “Help, help!” from Vicky and Franny, a frantic duo.

“Anna, head for that ironwood tree!” I gasped. It surely seemed a long, long while before that machine gave up the fight. We were slowing and the ground was taking a slight upsurge, enough to bring us to a grinding stop against the old tree. In the end, my shoes wore out, my feet and back were all scraped up, but I wasn’t feeling no pain, yet.

“Rah, rah, for Aunty Jo,” a chorus of my favorite little ones let out.

“Oh, Jo, you are my hero, our hero,” from Annaliese. “Let me see your poor feet.”  I’d barely managed to hobble away from the car when the pain took over.  ”

Do museums bring out stories for you?

Does your imagination go to work envisioning a time and life?

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