HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I wish you could see our basement. Well, no I really don’t.
But someone else lived in our house, many someones actually, before we did (Jonathan moved in 30 years ago, and I moved in 20 years ago, but our home was built in 1894.)
The changing owners came and went –and some of them didn’t take all their possessions from the basement. A while ago, under a pile of other stuff, we found a box of old newspapers.
Turned out, they were from World War I , and were filled with articles about trench warfare and photos of camels in Africa. The newspapers are incredible, and I am thinking of sending them to Charles and Caroline Todd. It made me realize that though we love our home, others loved it before us. Others with their own experiences and fears and joys.
Our dear Susan Van Kirk has a special house, too.
Ben Franklin: “Marry in haste, repent at leisure.”
by Susan Van Kirk
We all have a watershed year in our lives when everything changes forever. Mine was 1968. Within ten weeks I graduated from college, married, began a high school teaching job, and moved into the first floor of a 4,410-square-foot Victorian house that had been converted into apartments in the small town of Monmouth, Illinois. At the time I was a superficial twenty-something and totally oblivious to the history that mansion must have witnessed.
Here I stop to mention that we caught seven mice in the bedroom the first autumn (one of which jumped out of the bed covers I turned down); the upstairs tenant left her bath water on, overflowing into our kitchen; and we saw cockroaches—yes, cockroaches—in that kitchen. I didn’t even know what those ugly things were!
But, I digress. Time and distance add layers of gauze around memories like those.
Well, maybe not the cockroaches.
Years later, this late 19th century house was still visiting my imagination, but now I had a more mature appreciation for its past. I decided to research the McCullough House, using its rooms for the setting of my mystery, Marry in Haste. I wanted to write a novel set in two time periods: 1893 and 2012. The house would connect the stories of two marriages with, of course, a murder or two.
Researching, I discovered that in 1893, Sarah McBroom, a widow, sold the corner lot to a contractor who built the Victorian for W.W. McCullough. McCullough owned a lumberyard, brickyard, and a pottery. He also had shares in a railroad and a local electric trolley line.
He later sold the house to town newcomer John C. Allen, a former Nebraska secretary of state. Allen built a huge dry goods store on the public square, became quite prominent, and was voted into the U.S. House of Representatives. After Allen, other townspeople lived in McCullough House until the 1940s, when a lawyer bought it, converting it into apartments.
The house had mahogany woodwork throughout and leaded glass windows in the foyer with an impressive front staircase that rose to a third-floor ballroom. A servant’s staircase was on the opposite side of the house—not nearly so grand—and city directories listed a number of Irish servants. Although the house was converted to electricity around 1905, the original gas lighting fixtures peered out of the walls.
Our first-floor apartment had three pairs of mahogany pocket doors and a huge living room that used to be two parlors—a public parlor and a private family parlor. I remember my husband and I were up in the wee hours on a summer night in 1969, painting those never-ending walls and watching Armstrong’s walk on the moon.
A study off the living room contained an outside door, but by 1968, that door had disappeared, and the study had become our bedroom and bathroom. The main staircase was above this room. Most mornings around three, one of the upstairs tenants beat a staccato rhythm that jarred us awake as he careened down the stairs to work. His speed and volume indicated tardiness. A kitchen, large walk-in pantry, and dining room completed the downstairs. To give you some idea of the size of the house, the front to the back was the length of a bowling alley.
Now, I look back on that house fondly, and I have made it the 1893 home of Judge Charles Lockwood in Marry in Haste. The powerful Judge Lockwood is on his second marriage, and his new bride is uncovering dangerous secrets. A diary hidden in the house and found in the present day reveals clues to those secrets and parallels a murder in present-day Endurance.
This is the wonder of writing fiction. This lovely 19th century mansion, minus the mice and cockroaches, has been restored to its former splendor just in time to accommodate murder.
Do you have a favorite book that revolves around a particular location?
HANK: What a great question! Can’t go wrong with Maycombe County. Or the Mushroom Planet. What do you all think?
Marry in Haste
It is 2012 in the small town of Endurance, and wealthy banker, Conrad Folger, is murdered and his wife, Emily, arrested. Emily Folger was one of Grace Kimball’s students in the past, and Grace knows Emily could never murder anyone. So, Grace joins Detective TJ Sweeney to investigate the murder, and they uncover a dark secret.
In 1893, Olivia Havelock, age seventeen, moves to Endurance to seek a husband. She finds one in Charles Lockwood, powerful and wealthy judge, but her diary reveals a terrifying story.
Two wives—two murders a century apart—and a shocking secret connects them. Marry in Haste is a story of the resilience of women, both in the past and the present.