Authors: Serena B. Miller
Tags: #FIC042030, #FIC042040, #FIC027050
The heart of this novel was inspired by the life of my grandmother, Elizabeth Allen Bonzo, who took upon herself the task of salvaging a still-grieving dirt farmer's family in the late 1800s. She, too, sat in a neighbor's living room all day and into the night until the neighbor gave up and she was given “her” babyâthe widower's infant son. Like Ingrid, my grandmother also forever cherished the fact that her husband once told her that she was a better mother to his children than their birth mother.
Their log home was used as a makeshift courtroom for our rural township in the 1800s. Much of the court trial I write about at the beginning of this book, including the details of the young woman's mysterious illness, were taken verbatim from an 1881 handwritten transcript we discovered among some forgotten court records left in that house.
As in my story, the mystery of the young woman's death was never resolved by the court and was ruled “death by unknown causes.”
As I searched for possible causes of death that could explain her symptoms, I discovered one that surprised me. Patented, herbal, abortive medicines were a big business in the 1800s. The business was so lucrative that in 1870, during a time when earning a dollar a day was considered a fair wage, a Madame Restell spent over sixty thousand dollars on newspaper advertisements alone. The liberal use of these abortifacients caused many deaths.
To the disgust of legitimate logging camp owners, good loggers were sometimes kidnapped and forced to work in dangerous “haywire” camps.
Many believe that the holocaust that swept across the Midwest in October of 1871 was caused by a meteor shower. The fact that so many fires started at virtually the same time, hundreds of miles apart in at least five states, supports this theory. Others believe that it was simply a perfect storm made up of severe drought conditions, hundreds of acres of discarded tree tops, and the habit many farmers had of burning off their fields in the fall.
Most of the scenes I described during the fire, with the exception of Ingrid's rescue and the cross-country journey of Joshua and Hans, were based on eyewitness accounts gleaned from 1871 newspaper clippings. Hundreds of dazed wild animals sought shelter in those towns bordering the lake. Exhausted birds rested on every available surface. Domestic dogs and cats from inland farms ominously abandoned their homes several days before the fire.
The inhabitants of the once flourishing but now phantom town of White Rock tried to save their homes by forming a bucket brigade, only to abandon the effort and run for their lives moments later. The wall of flame was said to have been over one hundred feet high and stretched along the shore for miles. The hurricane-force winds created such havoc in Lake Huron that the people had to fight against being thrown back onto the flaming shore. Some did not succeed and perished. Wet, oaken buckets placed upon people's heads for protection caught fire far out into the water from the heat alone. The scene of Ingrid's wagon being aflame as they hit the water was taken from a true account from a different location.
Most of the farmers in the direct path of the fire tragically chose to stand and fight for their property. Over 1,500 people died. At least forty towns were destroyed. A small fishing boat holding nine adults and several children floated blindly in the thick smoke for three days, during which one child died.
Steamboat captains heroically braved the lack of visibility to rescue hundreds of burn victims and refugees in the days following the fire, dropping food and clothing off to those who stayed behind. A Dr. Johnson from Port Huron worked tirelessly upon the
, bandaging and giving comfort to the steady stream of burn victims. Sadly, the long-awaited rains came only twenty-four hours after the conflagration.
The intrepid General George Custer really did have eleven horses shot out from under him. With incredibly bad timing and aim, he managed to accidentally shoot and kill one of them all by himselfâwhile riding it.
Serena B. Miller
is the author of
The Measure of Katie Calloway
Love Finds You in Sugarcreek, Ohio
, as well as numerous articles for periodicals such as
Focus on the Family
, and more. She lives on a farm in southern Ohio.
The Measure of Katie Calloway
A Promise to Love