Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Betsy Ross and The Amish Quilter

Before we get to what Betsy Ross has to do with The Amish Quilter, I have a fun announcement: The winner of the giveaway on my website for a "Read Now, Sleep Later" pillow is


Congrats, Faith! 

To celebrate summer and travel, for my next prize I'll be giving away a free copy of The Amish Nanny, which is a tale of one young woman's journey to Switzerland, to faith, and ultimately to love. To enter the drawing, simply head to the home page of my website, scroll down to the Giveaway box, click on the Enter to Win button, and fill out the simple form. Good luck!

Happy Independence Day!

Considering that today is the 4th of July, I decided to share a post relating to a significant figure in American history: Betsy Ross, the woman thought to have sewn America's first flag. Ross lived in Philadelphia at the time of the American Revolution, working as an upholsterer and flagmaker, and legend has it that she created our first flag at the request of George Washington, who brought her a sketch of the proposed design in 1776.   

So what does that have to do with The Amish Quilter? Simply put, the characters in the book spend a day in Philadelphia and visit several historical sites including the home of Betsy Ross.

A Fun First Date

The Amish Quilter, which I co-wrote with Leslie Gould, features a young Amish couple, Linda Mueller and Isaac Mast. Though Linda's sheltered life has never led her beyond Lancaster County, Isaac lived for a time as an Englischer before becoming Amish and even earned a degree at an Art school in Philadelphia. Now, when he needs to go into the city on a business-related errand, he invites Linda to come with him and offers to show her some of the sights.

Sweet guy that he is, he wants Linda to have a good time on what will be their first real date, and so he decides to make their ultimate destination the Betsy Ross House. Linda is a quilter, and Isaac assumes Ross was a quilter as well, so his choice makes sense–until they get there. But more on that in a bit.

Verifying the Details

As a writer, I always like to walk through the events in a story myself when I can, just to make sure I've gotten it all correct, and this book was no exception. Once Leslie and I finished writing the chapter that features the couple's day in Philly–which includes not just sightseeing but a few other errands and a bit of sleuthing as well–we decided that a visit to the city in person was needed, just to verify all of the details we'd put into those scenes.  Leslie lives on the other side of the country, but I'm only half an hour from Philly, so the task easily fell to me. When I told my husband, John, what I needed to do, he eagerly asked to join me. He's so great that way–not to mention he loves any excuse to go sightseeing!

Thus, one a beautiful fall day last September, John and I embarked on our research trip into Philadelphia...

Into the City

We started, as Linda and Isaac do, at the Department of Vital Records, which is inside this building on 8th Street.

As soon as we walked in the door, I knew our trip had been worth it for that moment alone. As written, the scene showed the couple simply walking into the building and heading straight for the office they needed. What Leslie and I hadn't realized, however, was that right at the entrance you have to go through an elaborate security checkpoint before you can continue inside. 

A security checkpoint was probably something Linda had never encountered before, so when I later re-wrote the scene, I was able to have a little fun with it. Here’s an excerpt from that part of the story:

Isaac held the door for me, but I stopped short as soon as we were both inside. Just ahead was a large contraption, one that nearly blocked the way. A woman in a navy blue police-type uniform sat in a tall chair next to it, staring at a mounted screen.

“It’s okay,” Isaac said softly, giving me a nudge forward. “Just put your tote on the conveyor belt and walk through.”

I started to do as he said but then hesitated, clutching the bag to my chest. “Will I get it back?”

That made the woman laugh, but not in a mean-spirited way. “Sure will, honey,” she responded, even though my question hadn’t been directed at her. “Put down the bag and then keep on going. You’ll see.”

As promised, once I’d walked through a free-standing doorframe, my bag reappeared on the other side of the contraption, still moving forward on the conveyor belt. Two policemen were standing nearby, chatting with each other, and one of them gave me a nod. I assumed that meant it was okay to take my bag back, so I did.

“What is all this?” I asked Isaac once he’d come through the doorframe as well.

“Security,” he replied, taking my elbow and steering me toward a hallway on the left. “It’s to make sure nobody comes in with a—” he paused and lowered his voice to a whisper, “gun or a bomb or whatever.” Raising his tone back to normal, he added, “This is a government building. They have to be careful.”

We came to a stop in the short hallway and turned our attention to a big sign on the wall, which explained how to proceed once we were inside the department of Vital Records, which was just ahead. 

My husband, John, reading the sign that Linda and Isaac encounter

A Sightseeing Adventure

Later in the chapter, once Isaac and Linda have finished the sleuthing portion of their day, they have lunch and then do the tourist thing for a while…

“So where exactly are you taking me for this little sightseeing adventure?” I asked as we exited the restaurant and began making our way down the busy street. I knew that Philadelphia held a number of important historical sights, and judging by the signs we passed at the corner, we were headed into the heart of that. “Are we going to see the Liberty Bell?”

Isaac flashed me a smile. “That’s not our final destination, but we will pass it on the way.” He didn’t elaborate, so I didn’t press him for more. Instead, I just kept walking at his side, taking in the sights and sounds and smells of this beautiful sunny day in the city. 

The Perfect Historical Attraction for a Quilter…Sort Of

 A short while later in the story, after several detours…

The National Constitution Center
Benjamin Franklin's Grave
We began walking again, and as we went, he pointed out the Liberty Bell, visible through a large plate-glass window, and then a couple of other significant historical structures, including the National Constitution Center and the US Mint. At the next block, we turned right and began moving along a less busy street this time, passing a historic Quaker Meeting House on the corner and then the grave of Benjamin Franklin, easily visible through a brick-and-wrought-iron fence.

“Where are we headed?” I asked, eager to reach our destination.

“A historical attraction I think you’ll really enjoy. There are so many in this city, it was hard to decide which one to take you to. But then it finally dawned on me…the perfect site for a quilter.” 

With that, he paused and gestured toward a modest building just ahead, one with a shady courtyard and a giant flag hanging outside. In front was a sign:  The Betsy Ross House.

“Welcome to the home of the seamstress who’s thought to have sewn America’s first flag,” he said. 

Betsy Ross's upholstery shop
For the next hour, Isaac and I explored the place, learning all about Betsy Ross. The whole house was fascinating but especially the center point of the tour, which featured a recreation of her 1700’s upholstery shop. There we listened to a historic interpreter pretending to be the woman herself, telling us all about the night George Washington showed up at her door with a request to make a flag for what would become the United States of America.

As it turned out, she hadn’t been a quilter after all but rather an upholsterer, a fact that we learned early on in the tour. Throughout the house, in fact, we spotted exactly one quilt, a simple patchwork draped over a chair in the corner of a bedroom. 

The only visible quilt in the Betsy Ross House
“I’m so happy you brought me to the perfect attraction for a quilter,” I teased Isaac as we finally emerged from the house into the afternoon sunshine. 

“Who knew?” He was grinning, but I could tell he was a little embarrassed.  

“Hey, seriously,” I said, pointing toward a pair of chairs across the courtyard under a broad sycamore tree. “I hope you know I loved that. She may not have quilted, but she did work with needle and thread and fabric. So it really was the perfect choice for me.” 

We walked over to the chairs and sat, not even noticing until we did that we were facing a circular fountain that held a trio of sculptured metal cats.

“Look. It’s Whisper!” I cried, gesturing to the black one on top. Made of iron, he was adorable, perched on a stone cylinder with his tail hanging down behind.

“Yes it is,” Isaac replied, acting as if he’d known all about it. “And that’s the real reason I brought you here, Linda, not for any quilts but to surprise you with the sculpture of Whisper in Betsy Ross’s courtyard.” 

 My Goof = His Goof

Yes, what Isaac hadn't known was that Betsy Ross hadn't been a quilter at all but was instead an upholsterer. Though he's embarrassed by his mistaken assumption, Linda assures him that she enjoyed their tour just the same.

The funny part of the story is that I'm the one who goofed! When I first wrote that scene, I just assumed Ross was a quilter, and what better place for Linda the Amish quilter to visit?  But then, once John and I took the tour and learned the truth, I was faced with a big problem.  It was too late scrap the scene entirely, so the final solution was simply to make my goof Isaac's goof as well.

What can say, sometimes our characters have to bear the brunt of our own errors!

Despite the rewrite, I think the story worked fine–and John and I did have a great time seeing the Betsy Ross House. Here are some more of our photos...

As our day drew to a close and we slowly made our way back to our car, we captured this final image of the Liberty Bell, a perfect shot to end this patriotic post. 

Happy 4th! How are you celebrating the day?

1 comment:

  1. That would be a "cool" place to visit! I'd love to go! By the way, I'm reading The Amish Quilter right now. Almost done with it!