Kathleen Ernst pays me a visit

Kathleen Ernst is my very first guest blogger here on Repeating History.  I am so glad to have her, and she’s even chosen subject matter that fits right in with where I am on my Long Trip day by day, since 11 years ago today I went to Harpers Ferry — I’ll write up my own post this afternoon.  In the meantime, here’s Kathleen.  I hope you enjoy what she has to say:
I’m grateful to Meg for allowing me to be a guest on Repeating History. And I’m grateful to readers! I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you. Leave a comment here, and your name will go into a daily drawing for one free book. The winner can choose any of my sixteen titles. Old World Murder, one of my American Girl mysteries, a Civil War novel—the choice will be yours!

Harpers Ferry: People, Past, Place

By Kathleen Ernst

Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, West Virginia, nestles in the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. When I was about ten, I attended a summer camp near Sandy Hook, Maryland, just down the Potomac (and C & O Canal towpath) from the park. The drive from Baltimore took less time than expected, so my parents and I made a quick detour to see Harpers Ferry. Very little restoration work had been done at that time, but I clearly remember being awed by the combination of old buildings and majestic natural scenery.

I attended that summer camp for years, and later worked on staff. I can’t begin to estimate how many times I hiked or biked the towpath to visit the park, or pulled canoes or rafts up on shore to wander through the historic town. I came to know the park’s history almost as well as the rangers! My first published novel, The Night Riders of Harpers Ferry, is set there.

Harpers Ferry then (courtesy Library of Congress)

Looking down on the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry

To me, Harpers Ferry symbolizes the best of our country’s rich national park system. As a child, I came to realize that I couldn’t understand the people who lived in Harpers Ferry a century or more ago without considering the natural environment that shaped their lives. The two were inseparable.

That eventually launched me on a career path that still bemuses some. I went to West Virginia University’s Forestry School to get a degree in environmental education, and followed that with a masters in History Education and Writing. To me the combination makes perfect sense!

After a couple of seasonal gigs I ended up with a permanent position at Old World Wisconsin, a huge historic site near Eagle, WI. It does a phenomenal job presenting historical buildings within an appropriate natural landscape, and I fell in love with the site.

And so did collections curator Chloe Ellefson, the protagonist of my newest book, Old World Murder. When an energetic intern asks Chloe about her background, she explains, “I have a Bachelor of Science from the School of Forestry at West Virginia University. My particular interest is the historical interaction between people and their environment.”

So although Old World Murder is set many miles away, in my heart the publication of this novel circles me right back to Harpers Ferry. I still visit every chance I get. Today the restoration and interpretive programming is impressive, but I sometimes think about the quiet town I visited decades ago. The (mostly) locked and shuttered old buildings set my imagination on fire, and the rivers and mountains seemed to provide a tangible link between me and the town’s long-gone inhabitants.

People, past, and place—they are important to me, and to my writing. Old World Murder is the first in the Chloe Ellefson/Historic Sites mystery series, and as the project continues, we’ll see that those things are important to Chloe, too. What fun I’m going to have! I hope you’ll join me.

Kathleen Ernst is celebrating the publication of her first adult mystery, Old World Murder (Midnight Ink). She has also written eight historical mysteries for young readers, and other works of historical fiction. For more information see her website, http://www.kathleenernst.com/, or her blog, http://sitesandstories.wordpress.com/.