Harpers Ferry: People, Past, Place
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.