Jessie: in windy and increasingly leafless New Hampshire
Over the past several months I’ve been hard at work on the first book in a new series. It’s a historical mystery set in the late 1800s and the research has been such fun. I’ve attended seances, interviewed historians and visited museums. I’ve discovered a great many things in the course of my searchings, not the least is that the past is always present.
Last week I visited the delightful Saco Museum in Saco, Maine. The museum was featuring an exhibit on the Victorian era and I wanted to be sure to visit it before it closed later this month. There were many interesting things to see like a delicate and decorative chatelaine notebook made of intricately wrought silver covers enclosing pages made of ivory, quite similar to the ones seen here. There were fancy hats and their accompanying pins, hair jewelry made from the tresses of deceased loved ones and stereoscopes with their accompanying slides.
They even had a tandem bicycle built in 1897 with a placard explaining that at the time it was made, the bicycle was called a courting cycle. The idea was that the lady sat in the front and the gentleman sat in the back. His seat was not only raised higher but also had a set of handlebars that steered the entire apparatus. The lady’s set of handlebars was merely to help her to balance.
While it was delightful to have the opportunity to look at so many interesting and novel items, what struck me most was how many of the things I was seeing were not new to me at all. New England is filled with history and also with frugality. People here tend to take care of their things and are none to eager to discard them. Most of the homes I have spent time in over the course of my life have been filled with the same sorts of furnishings, tableware and accessories that were on display at the museum.
Everywhere I turned there were fainting couches, gate-legged tables and drop-fronted desks like the ones I grew up with. Which got me thinking.
I thought about how people have changed and how they haven’t. About what entertains us. About how we seek to provide our families and ourselves with comfort. I thought about how we still love meals shared at long dining tables and evenings spent reading in cozy sitting rooms. I thought about the nights I’ve spent turning over in a creaking antique bed, huddled beneath an elderly quilt.
Today, I write notes in a trusty Moleskine and steer my own bicycle.But I adore hats and I would like to construct a mystery around a murder involving a hatpin.
Sometimes the notion of writing about other times feels daunting. And sometimes it feels like home.
Readers, do you find the past all around you? Which things from times gone by most tickle your fancy?