Paradise Found

What’s in Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Million 1857?

To extract grease from clothes scrape off all the grease that you can with a knife; then lay over the spot a thick brown paper and press it with a warm iron.

The only grease I’ve had to contend with the last twenty four hours was from my plate lunch. Fortunately, it dripped on my Honolulu Weekly, not my writing.  Part of the reason I’m here is to relax with family, research and write. I walked all over Waikiki today, getting my bearings for the Hawaii Writer’s Conference that’s coming and wandered through the historic Royal Hawaiian Hotel. You can sometimes get jaded about Waikiki and what it is, but it is also a place worth honoring for its past and what it means historically to the people of Hawaii.  I get it.

It’s also incredibly beautiful with its white sands, brilliant turquoise water and Diamond Head.  Just ignore the masses out on the streets and the big hotels.  You’re a writer. You can edit them out.

Eventually, I found the cafe I discovered four years ago on my last visit and plunked my writing folder down at the window.  An iced coffee and biscotti and writing roomI was ready to sharpen my pencil and revise.  What a life!  I hope to come back to this place often in the next week.

Tomorrow I get the grand tour of Washington Place, the governor’s residence today, but once that of Queen Liliuokulani.  After that, a tour of Iolani Palace, the home of Hawaiian kings and queens and the Mission Houses. All this is history not often encountered by the average tourist and its a shame.  It’s Hawaii’s story and its 200 plus years of contact with the European world. I’m writing about it in my novel Mist-shi-mus that I’m currently revising and fact checking. Hawaii meets the Pacific NW.

So I’m researching, meeting new friends in the museum world and revising. I hope to get back to the window view soon.  Aloha nui loa.


Walking History and the Relief of Feet

What’s in Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Million 1857?

957. The Feet– Should be washed in cold water very morning, and wiped very dry.  Stockings, if too small, cripple the feet as surely as small shoes.  Always be careful to get the foot room enough, and you will be rarely trouble with corns.

Honolulu ship  Oct 1852I’ve been thinking about feet and shoes and what I’m going to do about them.  I’m leaving for Hawaii in a few days and want to be prepared for a long visit, which includes walking.  A lot.  Manoa Falls, the north shore, the Koolaus.  I’m looking forward to the chance to see again truly historic places such as Kawaihoa Church, Mission Houses Museum, Iolani Palace as well new ones I’ve not seen before.

I worked at the museum many years ago and got my start exploring history with young children. “Where’s the TV?” was the usual question from a second grader.  I showed them lives of children from the past and how they might relate to them today.  Yes, they really hauled in water from three miles away and strained it through coral rock so they could drink.  Honolulu was very dry and dusty then.

There are grand ties there to the Northwest, something that I have always followed.  Going again will help me set the scenes in the NW novel that I’m rewriting.  I will also use the time to introduce my sons to the beautiful places I haunted as a young woman with the love of my life so they will remember too. Mission House HonoluluWhen I can, I’ll find a spot to write on my own. There’s a great cafe I found last time just right for the muse.

I’m also off to the Hawaii Writer’s Conference where I’ll be volunteering.  And walking as I help attendees.

Walking shoes or sandals? No stockings please.  I promise to wash my feet in cold water every morning.

Lighting the Way

What’s in Mrs. Hales Receipts for the Million 1857?

Things to Know

2024: Why do candles and lamps “spirit” when rain is at hand?

2025: Because the air is filled with vapor and the humidity penetrates the wick, where (being formed into steam) it expands suddenly and produces a little explosion.

Anyone writing historical fiction or even a non-fiction piece ought to know about the technology of the times.  Nothing can bump a reader out of a scene faster than having a character light a candle with matches in 1630. Sometimes it’s best to create a timeline just for technology just to keep ahead of the curve.

I’ve been wondering about candles. I have a price list for 1858 for a store in what was Whatcom, Washington Territory.  I know that spermaceti Food Prices 1858candles came from the head wax of a sperm whale and was considered a step above a tallow candle when it came to longevity– it didn’t smell like stinky tallow candles either. But what of Belmont sperm and adamantine candles listed so often in ads in the Northwest and San Francisco?

Turns out they were varieties of candle made from stearic acid processed from either coconut oil or tallow.  First adamantine candles. These candles were made with stearic acid which was separated out of fat in tallow. This process of creating this acid was discovered in 1811 and improved the quality of the candles used in the home.  It was blended into the wax to harden it.  It got its name as it looked like stone.  It burned longer and well.

A Belmont sperm candle has nothing to do with  sperm whale oil.  Before 1830, there was a type of stearin candle made from  coconut oil.  Its main drawback was that it stank when the light was extinguished. Then in 1830, William Wilson of Edward Price & Company in the Belmont section of London began to make stearin candles using a combination of palm oil and coconut stearin.  These candles were considered better than tallow candles, but inferior to adamantine candles. They were, however cheaper than beeswax and spermaceti candles which would continue to bring top dollar.

I’ve been working on a scene in my novel in which the officers from both Camp San Juan (American) and the royal marine encampment (British) get together for a ball after a horse race.  Lanterns have been set up everywhere, the band and dancers up on boards. What a fairy scene it will be, as long as I keep my lighting straight and the night without a cloud in the sky.

When I go back to English Camp in week or so for the grand 150th, I’ll be taking my lantern with me and my flashlight.  Just in case I have to camp back in the woods. English Camp at dusk2

Firing up the stove

What’s in Mrs. Hale’s Receipts for the Million 1857?

130. To light a Coal Fire– A considerable saving of time and trouble might often be effected, if housemaids would attend to the following rules in lighting a fire: Clear the grate well from ashes and cinders; then lay at the bottom of it a few lumps of fresh coal, about the size of ducks’ eggs, so as not wholly to obstruct the air passing between the bars on which they are placed.

Mrs. Hale obviously never came to the Pacific Northwest where there was an abundance of trees.  Though coal was highly sought out by companies out of San Francisco, in part for the burgeoning maritime trade and steamboats and ships in that busy port, it was not  for cooking.  Until sources were found on the West Coast, coal had to come all the way around the Horn from the Eastern States.

The discovery of coal on Bellingham Bay in 1852 caused a great deal of excitement, but extracting it was expensive.  The Sehome Mine eventually became the leading  employer on the bay, but again, its coal was not  for heating and cooking in homes. Fort Nisqually kitchen

The cast iron cook stove was invented during the 1830s and became the desire of many a housewife. The Hudson Bay Company’s trading forts began using them early on. Narcissa Whitman out in Oregon country (near present day Walla Walla, WA) got  a little Hudson’s Bay stove in1841.  It had the oven directly over the fire box. Two oblong kettles were on either side.

This later model in the picture is at Fort Nisqually, which was a HBC farming outfit.  Both stoves ran on wood.

On Friday, I’ll be taking off for Friday Harbor and English Camp where I’ll be presenting a talk on 19th cookery and housewifery. I’ll be cooking in Dutch ovens, starting my fire with lucifer matches and some shavings from pitch wood, which comes from old Douglas fir trees.  Laid in with cedar tinder, these shavings can raise a fire quickly like Boy Scout water.  This year, I may get a chance to make coffee on the new 1850s stove the park acquired. It will be a mix of charcoal and wood to keep it going.

But, armed with sour dough, butter churn and my pot lifter I will make the best batch of biscuits ever on that old wood fire. File0015

History Map on-line

All places have secrets or stories to tell. How they got settled. Why they went away. Who was there first.

I have been researching the “Lost Cities of Skagit County.”  The county is located in Western Washington, about 50 miles north of Seattle. It’s uncommonly beautiful with hills and flats, rivers and creeks flowing to the Sound and majestic mountains to the east, many in snow year round. Its history goes back nearly 12,000 years with the ancestors of the present day Coast Salish peoples. Recent arrivals started appearing in earnest around 200 years ago.

Last year, the Skagit County Historical Museum mounted a popular exhibit called The Lost Cities of Skagit County.  Some 17 long- forgotten communities were highlighted with photographs and artifacts. The show was very popular with the public asking for more.

To help teachers and folks curious about the history of early white settlement in the county , I researched an additional 100 settlements and with a lot of help from friends in the county IT, saw the launching of  a history GIS map last Monday.  It can be seen at http://skagitcounty.net/museum.   Click on the map icon on the front page to enter, then click on a place on the map and a photograph and text will come up. Follow the instructions to play with it.  Explorer is needed. Have fun. Anyone find Hoogdahl?

Historic Plumbing Part II

porta-potty2I’m now a week into the portable outhouse in my backyard as I work getting the sewer pipes replaced. Using it brings back memories of YWCA camp in the Pennsylvania woods with wolf spiders in the corner and a black snake that liked to sun himself at 1:00 PM in path to the john.

It also reminds me of the wonderful language resource I have used for years in researching my historic novels: I HEAR AMERICAN TALKING, An Illustrated Treasury of America Words and Phrases by Stuart Berg Flexner. Now out of print, it is a wonderful study of American words and sayings, showing when they first came into use in America and their origins. This information is especially important in historic novels. Word usage from the wrong period can really bump a reader.

Under the title chapter of “WHERE’s THE BATHROOM? Flexner explains the beginnings of usage around bathrooms and outhouses. For example, when the first outhouses appeared in the colonial days, lower class and rural colonists called their outhouses a privy, privy house or outhouse. The more aristocratic or cosmopolitan person used different words such as house of office, “a necessary house or simply the necessary. If behind a house, it might be called a backhouse; if earth were used to cover the excrement it might be called the earth house.” (Flexner p. 18)

Flexner also points out the origin of the half moon on outhouses. The half moon originally meant it was an outhouse for women. The sun indicated that the outhouse was for men. These are old medieval symbols.

Chamber pots for inside usage are another matter. Here in the Northwest, they were often referred to as “thunder mugs.” I won’t go any further than that. Cousin John or Jake were used by men for both the privy or chamber pot as early as 1530 according to Flexner. The word john has survived to this day.

My blue outhouse/privy does NOT have a sun or moon, but it does its duty. I’ll be happy when it’s gone.

A Good Resource for Washington State History

Historylink logo

I write both fiction and non-fiction. Three of my novels take place in the Pacific Northwest in three different time periods: mid-19th century, 1906 and 1935. Each story has its own culture, technology, politics and media. My characters deal with the time they live in.

One novel, Mist-shi-mus, deals with the issue of smallpox in 1860. There are a number of fine written resources on this deadly disease and its devastating effects on communities during the 19th century. Many are available in public libraries or through inter-library programs.

For quick reference on anything about the history of Washington State, however, you can’t beat HistoryLink, the “on-line encyclopedia of Washington.” The first of its kind in the country, this resource is written by historians from around the state and is free. It currently posts 5188 “time essays” and thumbnails. Each piece is carefully researched with its sources cited at the bottom of the page. The organization takes great pride in stating exactly where what archive box that letter came from or who said what.

For an excellent essay on small pox go to http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5100

I write for HistoryLink and have enjoyed the search for interesting stories from many different communities in Western Washington. Some of my favorites are:

1) US Lumber vs the Snohomish County Commissioners (some clever folks wanted Darrington to be wet when the state was going dry) http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8660

2) Shingle bolt cutters suing a local lumber mill over back wages. http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=8471

Both came from court cases buried at the NW Regional State Archives.

I also enjoy writing about the CCC. Check out this essay about Camp Skagit. http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&file_id=5657

HistoryLink can be reached at http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm .

Getting Started– All Over Again

lizzie-woodards-niece2

It’s been quite a while since my last post, but I have been learning the frameworks of a blog while I balance work at a museum and conduct research in my off hours on a 19th century bark. For a writer and for the subject of all things historical such a blog needs to focus on writing, research, recent discoveries in different disciplines that compliment history, author interviews and thoughts on both fiction and non-fiction. I love to read and write both. For the purpose of this blog, it’s important to look at both and understand the genres.

For example, what is historical fiction?  That’s a good question.

According to the Historical Novel Society, a novel “must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research)” in order to be considered historical fiction. Sharpe’s Rifles is historical fiction, Cold Mountain, Prince of Foxes (an old favorite), Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Ice Reich, Atonement, The Wet Nurse’s Tale. All historical fiction. Then there is historical mystery, historical thrillers, and historical fantasies. All of them required some homework to create a believable world.

Non-fiction book on the history, on the other hand, is much more exacting. I was trained as an historian and did my undergraduate work at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. One of the requirements for my degree was to write a thesis. I had earlier been an intern for the Anthropology Department at the Smithsonian, flipping carefully through early 19th century American magazines on the lookout for graphics of Native Americans. Later, I wrote a thesis on the Comanche Indians as prisoners of war. I read saddle reports on microfilm, old magazines and letters which hadn’t seen light in over a century. When I wrote the piece, I could comment on the weather and quote what someone had recalled about the event, all backed by further research from different points of view and materials.

The Rule of Three

I was always trained that in writing the history about some event or person, I would need a minimum of three resources to support whatever I was writing about. For example, I am currently researching a 19th century bark. For years, historians reported that the bark was in a certain place at a certain time. I thought it was too early. It’s taken more than half a year, but I found the owner and a newspaper article about where the bark was located. So far, I have a pretty idea that the information about said bark was wrong. All I need now is some ad, some shipping intelligence report or a customs citation to firmly state my case. Then I can say with certainty what the new finding is. All this from 1850 materials.

Historical non-fiction has to be as true as one can discover. David McCullough is a good example of someone who knows the type of research that is required. It can take years, but with a good nose for records finding and a way with the pen (and computer) and prose, you can have a wonderful, informative read such as John Adams. http://www.neh.gov/whoweare/mccullough/biography.html