Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Christmas Quilts

A footnote from history by Stephanie Grace Whitson

My "Christmas quilts" on a
farm ladder.
I often pull out the reds and greens from my antique quilt collection when it's time to decorate for Christmas. And I've wondered ... how is it that red and green came to be associated with Christmas in America? 

As it turns out, the Victorians used many different color palettes for Christmas greetings and decorations. But in 1931, Coca-Cola hired an artist to create a memorable image of Santa Claus for an ad campaign, and the rest is history. Haddon Sundblom's fat, jolly, white-bearded Santa dressed in bright red took hold in American culture. 

Holly with it's red berries had already been part of Roman winter solstice celebrations. The color combination seen in nature is pleasing to the eye, and those who own beautiful antique red and green quilts often display them at Christmas. 

A four-block 19th century
applique quilt.
Stephanie Whitson's
personal collection
The story of red in the textile industry is one filled with intrigue. Fabric dyers in India and Turkey were the first to discover a laborious process that produced an intense, colorfast red, and fabric dyers in Europe wanted the recipe, because demand for red was raging. (The term "Turkey Red" doesn't refer to the color itself but rather to the process developed in the Levant--a process that produces an intense colorfast red.) Of course those who knew the secret wanted to keep it. Espionage is part of the story, but finally European manufacturers perfected the time-consuming process that involved multiple steps, could take weeks to complete, and required almost constant attention. In 1786, an English dyer described that process this way:

  • Boil cotton in lye of Barilla or wood ash
  • Wash and dry
  • Steep in a liquor of Barilla ash or soda plus sheep's dung and olive oil
  • Rinse, let stand 12 hours, dry
  • Repeat steps 3 and 4 three times
  • Steep in a fresh liquor of Barilla ash or soda, sheep's dung, olive oil, and white argol.
  • Rinse and dry.
  • Repeat steps 6 and 7 three times.
  • Treat with gall nut solution
  • Wash and dry
  • Repeat steps 9 and 10 once
  • Treat with a solution of alum, or alum mixed with ashes of Saccharum Saturni
  • Dry, wash, dry
  • Madder once or twice with Turkey madder to which a little sheep's blood is added
  • Wash
  • Boil in lye made of soda ash or the dung liquor
  • Wash and dry
Colorfast green presented challenges, too. Mixing blue and yellow might yield a nice green ... but over time, if the yellow faded, the green would give way to blue. Hence, many antique quilts have vines sporting blue leaves. Synthetic green dyes developed in the 1870s faded to khaki or dun. You can see that in the central block of a once red-and-green quilt I purchased many years ago because I fell in love with the overall design and form. Of course I planned at the time to copy the quilt and show what it would have looked like originally. That's never happened, but I still adore this quilt for what I see in my minds' eye every time I look at it. 
Christmas table topper made by
Stephanie Grace Whitson

Of course quilters today don't have to worry about fading ... right? Wrong. I've worked with red fabric from which the dye bled until it had been washed numerous times. I know more than one quilter who made a gorgeous red and white or red and green quilt, only to have the reds bleed and turn the quilt pink in the wash. Quilters beware!

Do you decorate with red and green for Christmas or do you prefer another color scheme? 

Whatever your color choice, I hope you and yours have a wonderful Christmas!


Stephanie Grace Whitson has been writing Christian historical fiction full time 
since the 1990s. She loves incorporating quilts and quilting into her stories. Her novella in the Basket Brigade Christmas collection features the women of a Ladies Aid Society who sew for wounded warriors during the Civil War. 

Find it here:

Learn more about Stephanie's books here:

Join her on Facebook at:


Monday, December 11, 2017


Nutcracker History by
Martha Rogers

I’ve been fascinated with nutcrackers and the story behind the ballet since I first heard the music many years ago. I decided to find out more about these beautiful Christmas decorations, and learned some interesting facts.

Before the beautiful nutcrackers were created by wood carvers in France and England, they were simple tools consisting of two pieces of wood fastened by a leather strap or metal hinge. Nuts were a common item in Europe, and by the 15th century, the nutcracker became an elaborate tool carved by great woodcrafters.

These early crafters used wood from around their locality, but boxwood was the wood of choice because of its grain and color. Many of these early
carved nutcrackers can be seen on display at the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum in Washington. Here is a picture of the more unusual ones. 

By the 18th and 19th centuries, craftsmen in Austria, Switzerland, and northern Italy were carving nutcrackers in the likenesses of animals and humans.

In German folklore, stories can be found telling how nutcrackers were given as keepsakes to bring good luck to the family and protect the home. Legend says that nutcrackers guard the home from evil spirits and serve as a messenger of good luck and goodwill.

This is the saying surrounding the legend of the nutcracker:
“Don’t be afraid, my beard is long, my head is large, my look is grim but that matters not. I won’t bite you. In spite of my big mouth and grim appearance, I look with my heart for your happiness.”

Nutcrackers were thought to embody the “Cycle of Life” because as the seed of a nut fell to the ground, it rooted and grew into a strong tree producing more nuts and provided wood for the craftsmen. They held a feast celebrated just before harvesting the logs of the Elder trees. At the feast they ate the nuts as if to pass on the magic of the eternal cycle.

Nutcrackers also reflect ancestral dining customs and were carved into whimsical shapes to become part of the social setting and provide conversation pieces for guests as they lingered over dessert.

E.T. Amadeus Hoffman wrote a novel, The Nutcracker and the King of Mice, sometime between 1776 and 1822. Tchaikovsky took the story, set it to music in the magnificent Nutcracker Suite. The ballet with the music debuted in St. Petersburg in 1892 and has become a Christmas tradition around the world.

A family of artisans, the Steinbach family, has
produced fine wood products for over two centuries. Five generations have kept the business nutcracker carving and manufacutre going with the sixth generation being trained even now. The factory is now located at Hohenhameln in northern Germany. On the right is an example of a Steinbach creation. This one costs over $200.

They were the first to come up with the development of the limited edition nutcracker fashioned after King Ludwig II. The response was overwhelming and contributed to the collectability of the nutcrackers and increased their value.

Nutcrackers finally made their way to America in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s after service men stationed in Germany found them and brought them home. A passion ignited for these wonderful creations as the ballet captured the imagination of people and sparked a desire to collect the nutcrackers we know in the costume of soldiers and kings of earlier centuries.

Nutcrackers in the form of soldiers and kings first appeared in German in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. In 1872, Wilhelm Fuchtner made the first commercial production of nutcrackers using the same design for many different figures. The Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum displays an 1880 miner of Fuchtner along with miners made in today’s Fuchtner family workshops.

Today, soldier and king nutcrackers are manufactured in Germany to meet the high demands
of collectors. These are expensive, authentic nutcrackers and can be purchased only from the company or from stores which feature nutcrackers by these German crafters. 

My own collection of nutcrackers began with one I purchased in Oberammergau in 1994. Here's a picture from the store there. I fell in love with this place.

Nutcracker reproductions can be found anywhere at Christmas time in many sizes and designs. When compared side by side, the craftsmanship of the authentic nutcrackers is evident. That doesn’t keep us from collecting nutcrackers from stores all over our country.

Nutcrackers based on the characters from the ballet are popular and sold at the productions. Here are Clara, her uncle, the Mouse King, the Nutcracker and one of the soldiers.

I have two nutcrackers from Germany, but the others have been purchased at the Nutcracker Ballet Christmas Market and other stores at Christmas time.

The museum at Leavenworth, Washington is a place worth visiting if you are in the area. Below are links to the museum and to information about the Steinbach family.

http://nutcrackermuseum.com/history.htm Leavenworth Museum

I'm giving away a copy of my Christmas book, Christmas at Stoney Creek.
News reporter Tom Whiteman befriends a homeless man, Joe, and brings him home to Stoney Creek. Tom’s journalistic instincts suggest there’s more to the old man than appearances tell. A carpenter by trade, Joe works at odd jobs around town and makes many new friends including Faith Delmont, a girl who grew up with Tom. Contradictions in the man’s manners and way of speaking whet Tom’s nose for news and raises even more questions. As he and Faith seek the truth, they learn that God’s love can turn tragedy and loss to triumph and true love comes to those who seek it.     

Answer one of these questions and be entered. (Sorry, US readers only) Please be sure to include your email address with your comment.

Have you ever seen The Nutcracker ballet?
Nutcrackers are a collector item. Do you have any special Christmas collections?

Martha Rogers is a free-lance writer and multi-published author from Realms Fiction of Charisma Media and Winged Publications. She is a member of ACFW and writes the weekly Verse of the Week for the ACFW Loop. She is a retired teacher and lives in Houston with her husband, Rex. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Minnesota Historical Sites ~ The Forest History Center

Erica Vetsch here:

First, let me say, this year has flown by! This month marks my first anniversary of blogging here at Heroes, Heroines, and History! It's been such a pleasure getting to know both the readers here and my fellow bloggers better!

Second, winter is upon us here in Minnesota, though as I write this, the temperatures are rather moderate. However, snow is always on the horizon here in the North Star State anytime after Halloween.

Which thought brings us to our next stop on the tour of Minnesota historical sites: The Forest History Center.

Why does winter remind me of the Logging Camp? Because Logging in the Northwoods is a winter-time activity.

The Minnesota Historical Society operates The Forest History Center in Grand Rapids, Minnesota (The birthplace of Judy Garland!) to preserve the history of logging and forestry in the state.

When you visit, you will step back into the early 1900s and be greeted by historical re-enactors in the roles of bull cook, tool sharpener, lumberjacks, and clerks. You'll be introduced to the foreman, known as "The Push" and the stablemen and their draft horses.
The Clerk's bunk. He got a room of his own!

Touring the bunkhouse will make you glad you don't have to sleep three to a bunk and deal with the miasma that housing twenty or thirty sweaty, woolen-clad men in a small space would bring about.

My daughter checking out a pair of boots with Ice-cleats.
You'll meet the camp "Dentist" who won't give you a root canal, but who will sharpen all the saws and axes in camp. A cross-cut saw takes about an hour to sharpen, and there were usually twelve saws to sharpen each night.

The cook reigned supreme at a logging camp, and his rules and word were law. You'll be introduced to a creative vocabulary of food terms used nowhere else on earth. For example:

Axle grease = butter

Fly bread = raisin bread

Monkey blankets = flapjacks (There are a lot of terms for flapjacks!)

Mud = coffee

Overland trout = bacon

If you're up for a bit of a stroll, you can follow the path from the camp down to the Mississippi River and explore the "Wanigan," a sort of floating cookhouse that traveled with the loggers when they floated the winter's haul down river in the spring. The wanigan was where loggers could catch a meal, a nap, or get a bit of first-aid.

Vast stands of red and white pine used to cover the northern half of Minnesota, a seemingly endless supply of timber. The logging of white pine in Minnesota began in 1839 with the first sawmill built along the St. Croix River. Peaking around 1900, soon the slash and burn method of logging dwindled the supply and quality of white pine, driving up the price. The last river drive of logs happened in the spring of 1939.

Today, less than 2% of Minnesota acreage is virgin red and white pine forest. However, there is one forty-acre plot of land that survived the logging boom. Located in the Chippewa National Forest, east of Blackduck, MN, forty acres of virgin pine forest still stand due to a platting error. Several different logging companies assumed the land was owned by someone else, and therefore didn't harvest the trees there. (It was a serious offense to poach trees off someone else's land!) As a result, forty beautiful acres of trees, some more than three hundred years old, still stand!

You can learn more about The Forest History Center and Logging in Minnesota by visiting the Minnesota Historical Society Website.

 A Child's Christmas Wish - Available Now!

ERICA VETSCH can’t get enough of history, whether it’s reading, writing, or visiting historical sites. She’s currently writing another historical romance and plotting which history museum to conquer next! You can find her online at www.ericavetsch.com and on her Facebook Page where she spends WAY TOO MUCH TIME! www.facebook.com/EricaVetschAuthor/

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Sketches in Calico - part 2

By Tiffany Amber Stockton

Last month, I shared the first two scenes of a new book I'm writing. If you missed that post, you can read it here: http://www.hhhistory.com/2017/11/sketches-in-calico-wyoming-paintbrush.html.

This month, due to popular demand, and because I just came off finishing 56,752 words for NaNoWriMo, I'm going to share another excerpt from that novel I'm researching. It's part of a 3-book series entitled "Wyoming Paintbrush."


* * * * *

Sketches in Calico

Chapter One, Part Two

“Tickets! Tickets, please.”

The conductor’s voice grew louder as he approached. His firm knock on each door of the private compartments preceded brief mumbled conversation before he resumed his call in the general corridor.

Katherine awoke from her slumber, then reached into her cloak pocket and pinched the folded letter inside the envelope for the thousandth time. As if touching it would make this journey any more real. Still, it helped to have something tangible to remind her she had a purpose in traveling all the way across the country. Her family might not feel the same way. In fact, she was sure they wouldn’t. And they were no doubt shocked to discover her letter the morning after she slipped away during the night. But she didn’t have a choice. Life in Philadelphia had been crushing her dreams. If she had any chance of making it as an artist and pursuing her passion, she had to get away.

So she did.

Now, more than halfway to her destination, the first pangs of conscience and uneasiness struck. Katherine had been so caught up in what she’d discover once she arrived in Twin Creeks, Wyoming, she hadn’t allowed any thoughts to deter her from her plan. Not even her younger sister could persuade her otherwise.

A firm knock sounded on the door to her compartment. “Tickets, please.”

Katherine rose and opened the door, greeting the conductor with as much of a smile as she could muster. Weariness made every muscle ache and her eyelids feel heavy. She handed her ticket to the man, her artist’s eye taking note of his well-pressed navy uniform.

The two buttons on each sleeve as well as the four buttons down the front of his coat were polished to a brilliant shine. Had it not been for the detailed insignia on each one, Katherine had no doubt she’d be able to see her reflection in them if she leaned close enough. Even the four external pockets had been ironed so they almost blended in with the coat. Not a wrinkle to be found, other than the minor creases at his elbows. Such a humble occupation, yet this man took obvious pride in his appearance. And it showed in the way he held himself, as well as the direct eye contact he made. He was content in the work he did and gave it his all, right down to the shine on his black leather shoes.

“Going all the way to Rock Springs, Miss?”

Katherine snapped up her head and returned his gaze as she nodded. “Yes, sir. And then on to Twin Creeks.”

He pursed his lips and glanced down again at her ticket, then gave her a slow, but not indiscreet, perusal. “Nice little town, Rock Springs. Don’t know much about Twin Creeks, other than it’s a might bit to the south. Folks there are real sociable.” He tilted his head and narrowed his eyes, as if sizing her up and comparing her to some preconceived notion in his mind. “You got family there?”

The conductor certainly was the curious sort. Personable too. But Katherine wasn’t sure just how much information she should be giving him. They were well past Chicago and crossing the Plains, so it wasn’t as if anyone within a thousand miles would be looking for her. Still, better to err on the side of caution than risk putting an end to her adventure before it truly began.

“No, sir. I’m traveling west to take a teaching position there. I responded to an advertisement in one of the papers back East, and they accepted.” She forced a cheerful quality to her tone. “So, here I am.”

“Hmm. Yes.” He reached up and stroked his clean-shaven chin with his free hand. “I’ve met my fair share of young ladies traveling west for one reason or another. Lots of opportunities, there for the taking…if you’ve got the gumption.” Katherine straightened to her full five-foot, five inches and squared her shoulders. Something between a cough and a chuckle escaped from the conductor’s mouth. “And something tells me, little lady, that you do.” He tipped his head over his shoulder to the right. “Be sure and visit our dining car. Some of the best meals on the line, in my opinion. And I’ve traveled a lot of these rails. The roast pheasant and the braised beef are not to be missed.”

Katherine’s stomach rumbled. Her cheeks warmed at the conductor’s chuckle, and she placed a hand over her abdomen. “I appreciate the recommendation,” she replied above her chagrin.
“My pleasure. We’ve still got quite a ways to Rock Springs. If there’s anything else I can do to make your travels more comfortable, don’t hesitate to come find me. The name’s Stanley.” He returned her ticket and took one step backward. “Now, I best be getting back to my duties.” Tipping his hat, he offered a kind smile. “You have a nice remainder to your journey.”

“Thank you, sir. You’ve been extremely kind and helpful. I’ll be sure to leave word of your exemplary performance with the railroad company at my first opportunity.”

Without another word, the conductor bowed and turned on his heel to continue his task. Katherine slid the door closed and returned to the padded bench, sinking into the plush cushion. It was so easy to remain secluded for the entire journey when she had purchased a private compartment. But Stanley was right. She should venture out and explore the train, take advantage of all it had to offer. The sights out of her window provided a wealth of material for sketching, but she’d seen nothing of the interior since she’d boarded.

It was time to do some exploring.

* * * * *

“Arriving, Rock Springs. Next stop, Green River!”

The conductor’s voice boomed through the closed door. Katherine placed the last of her personal items in her satchel.

The train squealed and slowed, its wheels struggling against the brakes in a tug-of-war challenge of motion. And the brakes won as the train came to a halt.

Rock Springs, Wyoming Territory.

After what felt like a month of travel and crossing seven states, Katherine had finally arrived at her stop. The Great Plains were the worst. Those miles seemed to take three times as long. If only this town could be the final destination. She still had a bumpy stagecoach ride to endure. At least on the train, she had a cushion as a seat and privacy. The stage wouldn’t be so kind.

“Can I help you with your luggage, Miss?”

Katherine looked up as she reached the top step. “Thank you. Yes. I would appreciate that very much. Dawson is the name on the trunks.” She accepted the attendant’s hand as he helped her to the platform and presented her claim tags. Solid ground again. For the moment, anyway.

“Will you be staying here in Rock Springs? I can recommend a nice boardinghouse with the best veal and pot roast this side of the Green River.”

Her mouth watered at the possibility of another good meal. “Actually, I need to secure passage to Twin Creeks by stage.”

With any luck, the next stage wouldn’t be there until tomorrow. Perhaps she’d have a chance to check out that boardinghouse and take a warm bath to rid herself of the travel grime.

“Oh! Then you best be getting to the ticket window, Miss. That stage is here and it leaves in less than fifteen minutes!” He signaled to another attendant, then pointed toward a window at the opposite end of the platform. “I’ll make sure your belongings get transferred to the stage. You mosey on over to that counter and take care of your ticket.”

So much for a hot meal and the chance to freshen up a bit. Katherine made her way down the wooden planks, worn in notable spots yet providing a walkway free of any dirt or debris. She might be exhausted, but her eyes still caught every meticulous detail and logged it in her mind.

With her final ticket in hand, she followed the ticketmaster’s instructions and headed for the waiting stagecoach. True to his word, the attendant oversaw the transfer of her trunks to the top of the stage. A matronly woman barked orders and gestured with both arms in an agitated manner. Her shrill voice carried on the wind to Katherine’s ears, each piercing command making her cringe. The oversized feather plume—tucked into a hat with far too many ribbons and a brim that would fit a horse’s head—flapped as she spoke.

Was that woman going to be one of her companions on the ride to Twin Creeks? Perhaps Katherine could plead a headache and endure the ride with her eyes closed.

“Ah, Miss Dawson!” the attendant called as soon as she neared the stage. “Your trunks have been loaded, and there is space for one more, so you’re in luck.” His engaging smile reminded her of Thomas, her older brother. That man could charm a spider from its web, and this gentleman seemed capable of the same.

“Thank you, Mr…” She dragged out the formal address, waiting for him to supply the rest.

“Just Willie, Miss. No need for anything fancy out here.” He tipped his cap. “And it were my pleasure. Helping a pretty lady like yourself makes the more trying tasks worthwhile.”

Willie made a barely perceptible visible motion of his eyes toward the matron Katherine had heard only moments before. Katherine fought hard to control the giggle which threatened to escape. She settled for a slight grin and a wink, which Willie returned. If only he could join them on the ride. It might not be as bad.

“Will you also be riding with us?” asked the woman with the shrill voice. Only this time, she sounded much more pleasant.

It took Katherine a moment to realize the woman was addressing her. “Yes, ma’am. I am.”

“Well, thank goodness! At least we’ll have some civilized company along. I was worried there’d be nothing but uncouth men chewing tobacco and letting loose with their offensive language.” The woman took the hand of the stagecoach driver and placed her foot on the step. The stage tilted toward them under her ample girth, then it settled once the woman took her seat.

“Miss Dawson, I hope your journey will be quick and comfortable.”

Katherine again smiled and dipped her head. “Thank you, Willie. For everything.” She withdrew a few coins from her reticule and pressed them into his hand. “Have a nice day.”

Once seated herself, Katherine made a silent determination to only speak if someone spoke to her. Otherwise, she’d be content to sit in silence and observe her other companions. More material for her sketchbooks as soon as she again had the chance to add to them. And with the man who reeked of body odor, the scruffy lad in need of a shave and a haircut, and the presumptuous matron who now sat opposite her, Katherine was sure she’d have more than enough unique characters to add depth to her many sketched scenes.

Were all three of these other passengers also residents of Twin Creeks? Then it might behoove her to be more cognizant of making a good first impression. Only the ride would tell.

* * * * *


* Have you ever been on a journey by bus, train, or even car where you encountered or traveled with fellow passengers who would provide amazing material for a sketch or book? Share about one of them.

* When have travel plans gone a bit awry and a much-needed or much-desired chance to freshen up became impossible? What was the result?

* What did you like most about today's post?


Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having a very active imagination and cited with talking entirely too much. Today, she has honed those childhood skills to become an author and speaker who works in the health & wellness and personal development industry, helping others become their best from the inside out. She is also an educational consultant with Usborne Books.

She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have one girl and one boy, and a Retriever mix named Roxie. She has sold twenty (21) books so far and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. You can find her on FacebookTwitterGoodReadsPinterest, and LinkedIn.

Friday, December 8, 2017

New York and Creating Santa Claus

New Amsterdam’s Dutch settlers brought the tradition of Saint Nicholas, whose feast day is Dec 6thSaint Nicholas is said to be the patron saint of New York, and his veneration held influence over Dutch, German and Scandinavian immigrants who settled in New York, Pennsylvania and the Great Lakes region. Clogs and shoes might be filled with goodies such as oranges and nuts, if one was truly faithful. The Protestant Reformation had a chilling effect on saint veneration, and this tradition largely went underground in Europe. America proved a friendly environment for a more secularized Christmas tradition to flourish.

Legend has it that the first ship that docked in New York was the Goede Vrowe, which according to Washington Irving’s 1809 satirical Knickerbocker’s History of New York, had as its prow carving “a goodly image of St. Nicholas, equipped with a low brimmed hat, huge pair of Flemish hose and a pipe that reached to the end of the bowsprit." This image was more working-class Dutch than the proud image of the revered Bishop of history. This Saint Nick appealed to the common man, and after the patriotic fervor of the Revolution, inspired people to return to their ancestral roots.

Saint Nick had planted a foothold in the creative minds of New York writers. Washington Irving in particular is credited with the most imaginative early descriptions of what was to become our modern Santa Claus. He describes Saint Nicholas not only as having a broad hat and long pipe, but of driving a sleigh over the rooftops, filled with presents which he drops down the chimney. At first, it is to all good and unworldly Dutch he comes, on random nights throughout the year, but as tradition and devotion fade, only the children with the purest hearts receive, and only on The Eve of the Feast of Saint Nicholas.

The Children's Friend
In 1821 the first lithographed book in America was published, naturally by a New York publisher, celebrating Sante Claus as “The Children’s Friend.” The images and anonymous poems depict a plump man in red, driving a sleigh pulled by reindeer to deliver his gifts for the first time on December 24th.

Two years later, 1823, and another New York writer, Clement C. Moore, took this iconic image of an impish old man and expounded on it to bring us the famous elf of his poem, A Visit from Saint Nicholas, later better known as T’was the Night Before Christmas.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

This Saint Nick came down the chimney and filled stockings for good girls and boys. For it wasn’t until the 1840’s after Prince Albert presented Queen Victoria with decorated trees at her palaces that the Christmas tree came into vogue in the United States.

Both Irving and Moore use a curious phrase in describing Saint Nick’s mannerisms—"laying a finger aside of his nose.” It is the equivalent of our modern-day wink and nod, assuring us that this is real, and not just the stuff of childhood fantasy. Ask Virginia, she knows there really is a Santa Claus.

Kathleen Maher is a 21st Century girl with an old soul. She has a novella coming out in 2018 with Barbour's collection Victorian Christmas Brides. Her debut novella Bachelor Buttons, released in 2013 through Helping Hands Press, incorporates both her Irish heritage and love of Civil War history. She won the ACFW Genesis Contest for unpublished writers, historical category, in 2012. Kathleen and her husband share an old farmhouse in upstate NY with their children and a small zoo of rescued animals.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

From Enemy to Evangelist: Mitsuo Fuchida, Lead Pilot at Pearl Harbor (PLUS a Giveaway!)

I’m sure anyone with an interest in twentieth-century history is aware that today marks the anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor—arguably the most pivotal event of the past century here.

But you might not know that the captain who directed the entire 350-plane aerial attack, who issued the famously triumphant “Tora-tora-tora” (“Tiger, tiger, tiger”) radio signal that announced that the Japanese had achieved complete surprise, would go on to provide a riveting testimony for Christ. 

Mitsuo Fuchida
Born in 1902 in a village in Nara Prefecture, Japan, Mitsuo Fuchida decided on a naval career early. In 1923, his second year at the naval academy, he took his first airplane flight and knew he’d found his calling. By 1939, Fuchida had risen to command the air group on the carrier Akagi

Leading the Pearl Harbor attack was “the culmination of my every waking thought,” Fuchida said, from the day in September 1941 when he was tapped for the honor. He personally masterminded methods that enabled the Japanese to use torpedoes despite the shallow waters. 

The “success” of that “day of infamy” made Fuchida a national hero, even garnering him a personal audience with Hirohito. But his nation’s resounding defeat left the proud navy captain to eke out a living as a subsistence-level farmer. 

“It was indeed a path of thorns to me.… It was a far cry from the regimentation and glamour of my military life. I was like a star that had fallen. At one moment I was Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, and the next, I was nobody!... I must admit that I was bitter and disillusioned.” 

Farming gave Fuchida time to dwell on the existential questions. He became what we would call “a seeker.” 

“Why was I still alive, when men all around me had died like flies in the four years of conflict? Gradually, I came to believe that I had been supported by some great, unseen power. 


"As I labored… I thought of God, creation, the miracles of the seasons, the growing plants.... I was gradually led to think in terms of a Creator of all these things. With the increasing sense of the fact of a Creator-God, I came to feel ashamed of my former godless idea that man's own power and ability were his only trustworthy guides....


“The problem finally resolved around a person. Who, I asked myself, could accomplish the task of banishing suspicion and war? My mind turned toward God, the creator of all things.”

Fuchida met with a friend, a former navy lieutenant who’d just repatriated from a P.O.W. camp in the U.S. The man told Fuchida about Peggy Covell, a young woman fluent in Japanese who volunteered at one of the camps where he’d been confined. 

When asked why she was so kind to the prisoners, Peggy stunned the men. “Because my parents were killed by the Japanese Army.” 

Peggy's parents, Prof. James and Charma Covell, served for twenty years as Baptist missionaries in Japan. They were among the "Hopevale Martyrs" the Japanese Army executed in December 1943 in the Philippines as spies. (Look for that story in my next post.)

"Missionary Kid" Peggy Covell had a profound impact
on P.O.W.s she served--and ultimately, on
thousands more back in Japan. Look for my post on the
"Hopevale Martyrs" next month (1/28).

Her stance mystified Fuchida, who “could not understand such enemy-forgiving love. I had never heard of people returning good for evil. I desired all the more to discover the source of this power that could remove hatred from the hearts of people…” 

A few months later, Fuchida was called to Tokyo on an errand, where a missionary “happened” to hand him a tract authored by Doolittle Raider Jacob DeShazer. The tract recounted how, motivated by “bitter hatred” for the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, Jacob volunteered to serve as a bombardier on the daring vengeance raid--which Cindy K. Stewart has been highlighting in her posts. DeShazer was captured in China along with seven other Raiders. 

If you saw the movie or read the book Unbroken you'll have a picture of what these men endured. But where Louis Zamperini was a prisoner for a little more than two years, Doolittle’s “lost crews” remained in Japanese prison camps 

...for forty long months, 34 of them in solitary confinement. We were imprisoned and beaten, half-starved, terribly tortured, and denied by solitary confinement even the comfort of association with one another. Three of my buddies were executed by a firing squad about six months after our capture and 14 months later, another one of them died of slow starvation.... The bitterness of my heart against my captors seemed more than I could bear.

- Corporal Jacob DeShazer in his tract I Was a Prisoner of Japan

Tokyo, April 1942. Jacob DeShazer's crewmate and fellow
prisoner Lieutenant Robert Hite.

The four surviving prisoners eventually received the gift of a Bible. What DeShazer read during those miserable hours transformed him. Alone in his cell, he recognized his need for a Savior and accepted Jesus. 

The Lord revealed to Jake that He wanted to give the Japanese people an illustration of the meaning of forgiveness. Jake was to be that walking object lesson. In 1948, he returned to Japan as a Free Methodist missionary. 

This time I was not going as a bombardier, but I was going as a missionary. How much better it is to go out to conquer evil with the gospel of peace!

- Jacob DeShazer on his return to Japan

Reading DeShazer’s tract, Fuchida was confronted again with the transforming power of Jesus Christ. “I became more ashamed than ever of my own revengeful spirit.” 

He bought a Bible and read it. The final chapters of Luke’s gospel furnished the answers he’d been seeking. 

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:24)

Fuchida knew he’d reached the end of a “long, long wandering…”

“Jesus prayed for the very soldiers who were about to thrust his side with the spear. I am not ashamed to say that my eyes filled with tears. I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior.”

A few months later, the two were preaching to crowds together—Mitsuo Fuchida, the lead pilot at Pearl Harbor and Jacob DeShazer, the Doolittle Raid bombardier. They brought to thousands the message of God’s sacrificial love for all people and the power of Jesus Christ to bring forgiveness from sin. 


Would you like to read more of Mitsuo Fuchida's story in his own words? I'm giving away three copies of his book-length personal testimony, From Pearl Harbor to Calvary! (Kindle edition.) Register for the drawing here by Sunday December 10. You'll also receive updates on The Plum Blooms in Winter, my debut novel inspired by the story of Jake DeShazer and Doolittle's "lost crews." 
The Plum Blooms in Winter is an American Christian Fiction Writers' Genesis winner. Inspired by a remarkable true story from World War II's pivotal Doolittle Raid, the novel follows a captured American pilot and a bereaved Japanese woman who targets him for ritual revenge. It launches next October from Mountain Brook Ink.

I live just outside Phoenix with my husband, a third-generation airline pilot who doubles as my Chief Military Research Officer. We share our home with two all-grown-up kids and a small platoon of housecats.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Historical Tidbits behind the Nativity Story

In writing the script for a Christmas musical giving an intimate retelling of the Nativity story, I learned some fascinating tidbits that gave some new depth and context to the familiar account of Jesus’s birth for me. As we enter the special season of Christmas, I thought you might enjoy learning about them too!

Mary and Joseph’s Betrothal
Nazareth Village, By מוחמד מוסא שהואן, CC BY 2.5

We know that Mary and Joseph were betrothed before she became miraculously pregnant with Jesus, but what did that mean? Betrothal wasn’t the equivalent of our modern-day engagement; it was much more formal. A betrothed couple were actually considered married, though during the one-year betrothal period they did not live together nor engage in marital intimacy.

So how did betrothal work? It was a little different than today’s prospective groom down on one knee with a diamond ring. A young man went to the family of the girl whose hand he desired, usually accompanied by older male members of his own family. He would present the girl’s father with a mojar, a “bride price,” and the man would consider both the offer and the young man and extend his approval—or not.

But while the marriage was largely arranged by parents, Jewish girls were not typically forced into a match. The young woman’s consent would be asked, as we see hinted even back in Genesis 24 when Rebekah’s family ask her if she is willing to go with Abraham’s servant to marry Isaac.

Breaking the betrothal required a divorce, and for a betrothed girl to be unfaithful was the equivalent of adultery and could conceivably be punished by stoning (Deuteronomy 22). We can see hints of this in the first chapter of Matthew, where Joseph is pondering what to do about Mary’s unexpected pregnancy.

We see Joseph’s integrity and compassion, however, in that he did not want to expose Mary to public disgrace, but planned to divorce her secretly, though many in their village might have thought him right to shame her. And then, of course, the Lord mercifully sent an angel to Joseph as well, so that he too could take his place in the unfolding saga of the coming Messiah.

The Wise Men
The Magi, by Nina-no - Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5

We all know of the wise men, or magi, who came from the East in search of the newborn King. But who were they, really, and where did they come from?

Most likely the magi came from Persia, modern day Iran. They would probably have been part of the ancient Zoroastrian religion. Zoroastrians were monotheists who believed in one good God and one evil power, but that the Good was an impersonal being who could not be truly known. The magi may have learned of Jewish prophecies of a coming Messiah through the Babylonian connection with Daniel. At any rate, they realized the significance of the sign they saw in the heavens and set off in search of this Messiah King—a journey that may have taken up to two years and covered more than one thousand miles.

So Mary and Joseph’s journey wasn’t the only long one part of the Christmas story. We might sometimes miss the significance of Gentiles—who would have been considered pagans by most people in Israel—being included among the first to greet Jesus and acknowledge Him as King.

The Shepherds

We sing and read about the shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night, and being the first to hear the announcement of Jesus’s birth. But we don’t always realize the significance there without understanding a little of the culture of the time.

While Jewish heroes such as Abraham and David had been shepherds, in first century Israel shepherding was not an exalted profession. With living out in the fields among their sheep, shepherds weren’t able to keep all the elaborate rules of cleanliness stipulated by the Pharisees and other religious leaders.
Adoration of the Shepherds. By Della Rocca, Casa d'aste, CC BY-SA 4.0 

Because of this, even though the shepherds—particularly in Bethlehem, so close to Jerusalem—performed the important duties of raising lambs for sacrifice, they were looked down upon or even treated as outcasts by more religious and upstanding Jews.

Small wonder the shepherds were “sore afraid” and startled when the angels of heaven’s armies appeared to announce to them the birth of the Messiah—and not just to announce, but to invite them to go and meet Him face to face, a Baby lying in a manger, poor and humble as one of them.

Were any of these historical tidbits new to you? Which of them add the most significance to the Nativity story for you? Please comment and share!

Kiersti Giron holds a life-long passion for history and historical fiction. She loves to write stories that show the intersection of past and present, explore relationships that bridge cultural divides, and probe the healing Jesus can bring out of brokenness. Kiersti has been published in several magazines and won the 2013 ACFW Genesis Award - Historical for her manuscript Beneath a Turquoise Sky. A high school teacher and member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Kiersti loves learning and growing with other writers penning God's story into theirs, as well as blogging at www.kierstigiron.com. She lives in California with her wonderful husband, Anthony.