Memories of a Special Homecoming: Maud Hart Lovelace honored in 1961

A headline in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 9, 1961 reads:

While Maud Hart Lovelace is again ‘Betsy’

For Three Days, Mankato Becomes ‘Deep Valley’ of Fiction World

As children in 1961, these women attended Betsy-Tacy Days and shared their memories of the event with me.

Reviewing their favorite Betsy-Tacy books in preparation for their meeting with the author, Maud Hart Lovelace, October 6 and 7, are left to right: Lydia Sorensen, aged seven, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ed Sorensen of 803 Warren street, a “Betsy”; Kathy Frahm, also seven, daughter of the Rev. and Mrs. Paul Frahm, 317 Willard, as a “Tacy”; Margaret Hanson, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Vernon Hanson of Petticoat Lane, another “Betsy”; Cindy Cooper, daughter of Charles Cooper, Southview Heights, another “Tacy”; Janet Burns, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bert Burns, 527 Byron street, (where this picture was taken), another “Tacy,” and Marla Sugden, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Sugden Jr., of Skyline Drive, the third “Betsy.” (Photo and caption Courtesy Mankato Free Press, Oct. 5, 1961)

Kathy Frahm was a seven year-old red-headed little girl when she was “discovered” by Nadine Sugden (AAUW board member) looking for another Tacy. “I remember someone came to Jefferson School and asked me if I would participate,” Kathy wrote.  “I recall being excited about participating and posing for the picture that appeared in the Free Press. I remember sitting in the front row in front of a stage at Lincoln School for part of the program. I recall my foot got caught on the hem of the antique dress I was wearing and ripped it.”

Lydia Sorensen was seven years old when she dressed as a young Betsy for Betsy-Tacy Days. “I remember the gracious lady, so well dressed, that told me I looked like her memories of herself. I told her that I thought she was writing about me. She asked me who read them to me and I boasted that I could read them myself. She gave me the sweetest smile. I remember thinking I wanted to be like her when I grew up.”

Joanne Maas was ten years old when Maud visited Mankato in 1961. Her parents, Elmer and Margaret Nerge owned the Cherry Bookstore, located on Cherry Street, and they carried Maud Hart Lovelace’s books. “I remember going to the lecture at Lincoln School and the book signing at the old Carnegie Library. There was such a crowd pressing in to get the author’s autograph that someone (I perceived her as a bossy lady!) began trying to push people into a more orderly line. I was shunted aside and never did get my book autographed by Mrs. Lovelace. I remember being so very disappointed by that, although I did get Tacy, Tib, and Alice.”

“Because I grew up in Mankato and literally in a bookstore, I was always aware of the Lovelace books. I have all the Betsy-Tacy books and have read a number of her other books as well,” said Maas.

A little girl at the time, Jan A. remembers standing neatly and quietly in a line. “We each got to present something we wanted signed by Mrs. Lovelace. I remember noticing how different she was from my grandmother and great aunts. She was impeccably dressed and wore a beautiful pearl necklace. She was wearing the most beautiful perfume. I felt as if we were in the company of a great lady, a sophisticated woman. All these years later, the memory really stuck with me.”

For more see:

Betsy-Tacy Days in 1961

Betsy-Tacy Days – Part 2

Betsy-Tacy Days – Part 3

Deep Valley Virtual Book Festival



The Deep Valley Book Festival gets its name from the setting of the beloved Betsy-Tacy children’s books written by Mankato-born author Maud Hart Lovelace. The festival connects readers and writers in a celebration of literature and literacy. In the past, the festival has been held live in Mankato, Minnesota. This year marks the 5th Edition of the DVBF and due to covid-19, we’ve gone virtual and expanded to 2 days!

Our planning committee has been hard at work for months organizing the event. We have more than 45 authors and exhibitors and hundreds of books for you to enjoy! Check out the program schedule with panel discussions, LIVE author Q&A, giveaways & drawings, headline award-winning author Matt Goldman, and children’s programming.

Of special interest to Lovelace and Betsy-Tacy fans is a unique panel called “Minnesota Writes“. This panel is comprised of living history actors portraying 5 famous Minnesota authors from the past. The actors bring the authors to life, answering questions using their own words taken from past interviews and articles. The program is FREE on Sunday, October 4 @ 11 am CST.

In the Author Directory, you’ll find pages for Maud Hart Lovelace, Eileen Rudisill Miller (illustrator of the new Betsy, Tacy and Friends Paper Doll book), the Betsy-Tacy Society, and myself.

In addition to the Minnesota Writes program, Eileen Rudisill Miller participates on the Illustrator panel and Included in the Children’s Program schedule is a reading of “Everything Pudding” presented by members of the Betsy-Tacy Society.

The 2020 DVBF headline author is Matt Goldman, New York Times bestselling author and Emmy award-winning TV writer for Seinfeld and others.

Be sure to register for all LIVE portions of the event to be included in the giveaways or drawings during the event. We have lots of books and DVBF tote bags to giveaway! Registration details found on the Festival Schedule page. Register before Sept. 30 to be sure to be included!

There’s something for everyone at the Deep Valley Virtual Book Festival. You can attend from the comfort of your own home and it’s FREE! I hope you will join us! For up to date news as the event gets closer, “like” us on Facebook.

Betsy, Tacy and Friends Paper Doll Book: The Hill Street Collection


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Betsy and Tacy liked playing paper dolls better than real dolls.” from Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace

I’m excited to share the news about a new project I’ve been working on this year. I’ve teamed up with Eileen “Rudy” Rudisill Miller (well-known paper doll artist) to create the the first full color Betsy-Tacy paper doll book. After months of work, the paper doll book is going to print!

Trained as a fashion illustrator, Rudy first drew fashion for department stores and later designed dolls, figurines and collectibles for the Franklin Mint. She is well-known internationally for her paper doll work, having nearly 100 paper dolls books or sets published over the past 10 years.

Using quotes and descriptions provided from the first 4 Betsy-Tacy books, Rudy created over 45 costumes for 8 paper dolls. Inside you’ll find Betsy and her family, Mr. and Mrs. Ray (Papa and Mamma), and her sisters Julia and Margaret. You’ll also find Betsy’s friends Tacy, Tib and Winona. From birthday parties, making Everything Pudding, and going Christmas shopping, Betsy, Tacy and friends are dressed for it all! And inside the front and back cover of the paper doll book is a backdrop scene from the front parlor of Betsy’s house.

Rudy at work on the Betsy paper dolls in her studio.

The paper doll book is at the printer and pre-publication orders are being taken NOW. Pre-publication orders will be shipped as soon as they are off the press! Expected delivery is November, 2020. Order online now.

Preview of some pages from the paper doll book

The Gift of Books

giftbooks copyDear Friends,

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Deep Valley!

Books make meaningful and lasting gifts. The Maud Hart Lovelace fan in your life would love a book about or by the author and A Year with Betsy-Tacy 2020 Wall Calendar will be enjoyed all year long! Or keep Lovelace’s legacy alive when you introduce someone new to her books.

Visit my website for special holiday coupon savings on all books and the new 2020 calendar. You’ll also find book sets available at special prices. All my books are limited editions. Thank you for your support and patronage in 2019!

The Mystery of the Yaeger School House Ghost

This ghost story was BIG news in the Mankato area at the turn of the 20th century. Although Maud Hart was only five years old when this happened, certainly her parents Tom and Stella Hart had heard the news. The Yaeger school was located just south of Mankato near Rapidan not far from the Orono Dam (Rapidan Dam) that Maud wrote about in Carney’s House Party. I’m sure the story continued to be told for years and I wouldn’t be surprised if Maud and the Crowd checked it out on a drive to the Dam.

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Yaeger School House, ca. 1900 (photo courtesy Cindy Slater)

Perched on a grassy green hill surrounded by a cluster of oak trees in Rapidan Township just east of Rapidan, is a brown brick school house. This school was established in 1867 as School District #91. The school became known as the Yaeger school, named after the Yaeger family who owned the land surrounding the building. This little schoolhouse has a very interesting history because at one time it was thought to be “haunted”! Stories of the Yaeger schoolhouse ghost have become a part of local folklore passed down through the years.

Eva Hower

Eva Hower, sketch by A. Anderson. (Mankato Daily Review, Nov. 11, 1897)

Newspaper accounts tell the story of what actually happened in 1897 when Eva Hower was the school teacher and the events began to unfold. The following is an account of the events as Eva may have told them if she were here today…

“I was the teacher at the Yaeger school house in 1897 when a series of strange events began to take place at the school and in the neighborhood. Several times when I arrived at the school house in the morning I found a window to the building was open. At first I didn’t pay too much attention to this. Then one Monday morning upon entering the school, I discovered men’s footprints on the floor and bits of paper scattered from one of the windows to the chimney. My students began to tell me stories about clothing that was missing from their mother’s clothesline, chickens were missing from their father’s chicken coop or that they woke in the morning to find their cow had been milked. People all around the neighborhood were talking about these strange events and they were getting nervous.

Leona Holberg came to school one day and told me this story: “Mother and I were out near the corncrib when we heard a noise from the other side of the crib. We knew there must be a tramp or thief in the neighborhood, because everybody was losing stuff, ourselves included. Mother said, We’ve caught the thief now! You run around one side of the crib and I’ll go around the other. We ran around the crib from different sides – to find a black calf nibbling corn out of the crib.”

Now that is how nervous people were. Every noise we heard, we thought a thief was on the place. Clothes for smaller persons, sheets, pillow cases and blankets were missing from clothes lines. Hams were missing from smokehouses and chickens and turkeys were taken from their roosts. Preserves and canned goods were missing from cellars with outside doorways.

The former state senator, William A. Just, owned a beautiful riding horse. One morning he found his horse coming down the road toward his home, tired and sweaty. The animal had been ridden hard. But there was no rider! Herman Miescke awoke to find his team, harness and wagon gone one morning. Later in the day the team came home, driverless, tired, and showing the signs of a hard, long trip.

These strange happenings kept on for months and months. At first people thought it was a very clever thief. But then stranger things began to happen. John Ballard, one of my students who built the fire for the schoolhouse during the winter, told me that many times when he reached the building he saw smoke coming from the chimney, but he always found the stove cold. Sometimes he found the kindling he had prepared the night before was gone in the morning.

Some people thought all of this was some kind of a prank or a twisted joke, but when it continued for so long, they thought the joke has passed. Carl Flo was the teacher here during the summer term. He told me that on the last day of the summer term he took a shortcut through the pasture leading by the schoolhouse. He saw smoke coming from the chimney. He knew there had not had a fire in the stove at school that day. So he went in to investigate and could find nothing wrong and the stove was COLD!

Of course the talk turned from a thief in the neighborhood to a ghost in the neighborhood! One day Lois Ballard, the youngest student in school, called down into the school basement, “Come out of there! We know you are in there!”

More and more things kept disappearing…tools, furniture, books from the school and pretty much anything you can think of. The newspapers reported clothing worth $1250 was stolen or missing from the Omaha freight house in Garden City and horse thieves broke into George Conklin’s barn at South Bend and stole a horse.

Who was this ghostly thief? Who was this who could burn fires yet never heat the stove? Who could vanish so quickly into thin air? Who could never be seen or heard? It must be a ghost!

Well, one day just as I was about to dismiss the students, Sheriff Dan Bowen arrived at the schoolhouse. I went to the door and saw Sheriff Bowen talking to Louis Yaeger, who had been plowing corn in front of the school. Then the sheriff came to the door, “Miss Hower,” he said, “I have some very important news to share with you.” “Let’s go inside and sit down.” He began to tell me how he had solved the mystery of the Yaeger schoolhouse ghost.


Cyrus B. Miller, sketch by A. Anderson (Mankato Daily Review, Nov. 11, 1897)

His story began when he received a description of Cyrus B. Miller (alias Silas Gary), an escaped convict from the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln. But weeks and months passed and the convict was not seen in Blue Earth County. “Then one day I saw a little man, smooth shaven, alert, answering the description of the escaped prisoner and I set out in pursuit.” said Bowen. The trail led southeast of Mankato into dense woods and ended. Deputies were put on watch, yet the convict did not appear. Many more weeks later, the man appeared near the Omaha railroad tracks and again the sheriff gave chase. This time Miller crawled into a moving boxcar and rode away on the train. “Now,” said the sheriff, “we all thought he was gone for good and forgot about him.” That is until Mankato merchants Perrin and Jensen reported the theft of a bright red bicycle.

Sheriff Bowen

Sheriff Dan Bowen. (1895 Standard Atlas & Gazetteer)

A few days later, officers in Fairmont reported that a man had been seen riding a bright red bicycle. Guards were posted near the bridge where Miller had stashed his red bicycle and when he returned for it they arrested him. Once in the custody of Sheriff Bowen, he was questioned. Where did he live? “Under the Yaeger schoolhouse,” he said. What? How long? “Eighteen months,” he said calmly. “I was very comfortable there.”

Then the sheriff walked over to my desk and moved it aside. To my surprise he found a trap door and he led me down to see me the ghost’s den. I couldn’t believe my eyes! All these months there was an escaped convict living beneath the schoolhouse! Overhead unknowing children did their sums, nor ever a thought a ghost lurked quietly beneath their feet!

But there I was, standing right in the middle of the ghosts’ den. It must have been about six feet by nine. On the west side there was a table and a cot with a buffalo robe, blankets and a pillow. On the east side was an oil heating stove and a writing desk. Dishes and cooking utensils were neat and orderly on shelves on the walls. The oil stove was attached to the schoolroom chimney to carry off the gas. The desk contained newspapers and many books from our school library and from the Mankato public library. A reflecting lamp hung on the wall that gave excellent light. There were rugs on the floor, pictures on the walls and the room was spic and span. My, my Cyrus Miller was certainly a neat and orderly ghost!


Diagram from the Mankato Daily Review, Nov. 11, 1897

Sheriff Bowen continued to tell me the story of how Miller became the schoolhouse ghost. Cyrus Miller, a small, dark complexioned 29 year-old man, came to the schoolhouse in the summer of 1896 when school was not in session. He used a skeleton key to open the door and went to work. He sawed a hole under the teacher’s desk at the south end of the room. Here a big oak sill, running the entire length of the room, was sawed through at three places to make his entrance. This weakened the floor but the ghost did not care, and the children did not know. The teacher’s desk stood on a platform raised about a foot from the floor and was not nailed down. Miller made a trap door along the seams of the boards and left no marks. Children often raised up the desk, but no one ever suspected a trapdoor. A three foot opening from the floor to the dirt beneath gave Miller plenty of room to work. Most of his work was done at night. The nearest house was the old Yaeger homestead about 60 rods away, so he was safe from interruption. He labored for days digging a slanting tunnel and a room, which was under the north end of the school room. The room he carved out was about six and a half feet deep, with doors on the north and south sides. It was boarded up tightly and covered with fancy wallpaper. The second entrance was made by removing the wainscoting around the chimneys at the north end of the room, and taking out the bricks. A weight attached to a pulley kept his improvised door tightly closed. The weight was two heavy chunks of wood in a gunny sack. These chunks of wood were imprinted with the name Eric Holberg, from whose farm they had been stolen.

Well, it didn’t take long and the word that the mystery of the schoolhouse ghost was solved and the ghost himself was laid by the heels. Crowds flocked to the school to see where he lived. Someone even asked for 10 cents admission. If anything, this swelled the crowds and in one day more than $10 was taken in. But, it developed that the revenue fell far short of covering the loss through the weakened floor, the broken chimney and the rest of the damage done by Cyrus Miller.

I was very curious about the man who had inhabited the school house unbeknown to me and felt compelled to speak to him. So I went on down to the Mankato jail to see this Cyrus Miller. He told me that on several occasions during school hours he watched the proceedings through a crack in the chimney entrance to his parlor below. He said only once did he get a good glimpse of my face. He told me that in the evenings when no one was around he would come up, make himself at home in the school and play the organ! He also told me he always had plenty to eat, and that he never stole anything he couldn’t use himself.

When the trial came, Miller solved a great many mysteries in concise confessions to this theft, that ride or that burglary. According to his testimony, he stole from people far and near. His father wrote to the judge in his son’s defense and stated that Cyrus had, at one time, been a school teacher and a dutiful son until a few years ago when he began to act peculiarly. His father thought he might be mentally deranged. However, the court did not take his father’s concerns into consideration and Judge Severance sentenced him to serve five years and six months in the state penitentiary at Stillwater and then finish his term in Nebraska. Sheriff Bowen told me that Cyrus made no attempt to escape when he and his deputies escorted him to prison. “He told me he’ll make no attempt to escape from prison and when he’s discharged he’ll try to make a man of himself,” the sheriff said. “You know what else? He’s planning to write a book while he’s in prison, a history of his life. And he promised to send me one of the first copies.”

Well, I don’t know if he ever wrote a book or just what became of Cyrus Miller. But I’ll never forget the year I taught at the Yaeger school.”

Note: Eva Hower later became the head bookkeeper for the Mankato Telephone Company. Carl Flo, who taught the summer term at the school in 1897, later he worked in the elevator and lumber business in Rapidan. This article was also published in and was revised from an article originally written for the Blue Earth County Historian, Fall 2004 issue.

The Tune is in the Tree


Cover of the 2019 reprint edition

Those who have read and loved Mrs. Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy stories will also love this one, for it is, as Mrs. Lovelace says, “just the sort of a story Betsy used to tell Tacy”. (quote from 1950 dust jacket of The Tune is in the Tree)

The Tune is in the Tree by Maud Hart Lovelace was published March 25, 1950 by Thomas Y. Crowell Company, NY and has been out of print for many years. I’m excited to share the news that Minnesota Heritage Publishing will release a limited edition (softcover) reprint of this charming story!

Two of Maud’s books were published by the Thomas Y. Crowell Company in 1950, the other was Emily of Deep Valley. Five years later she would refer to The Tune is in the Tree in Betsy’s Wedding.

Running her carpet sweeper blithely up and down, Betsy watched s robin’s nest, the eggs, the fledglings. “I think I’ll write a story about a little girl going to live with the birds!”   (from Betsy’s Wedding)

As with all her books, Maud did extensive research. She incorporated 23 species of birds into this entertaining and imaginative story about a little girl named Annie Jo and her adventure living with the birds.

In a March 27, 1950 review of The Tune is in the Tree, Thomas Edwards (aka Willie Putt) wrote in the Mankato Free Press: It is the most imaginative fiction one can expect to encounter. We who have followed Maud for a long entertaining period, and have received the colorful description of places and people, will meet a very new type of reading in “The Tune is in the Tree.

Over the years Maud and Mr. Edwards became close friends and corresponded regularly. In a letter dated April 12, 1950, Maud wrote: I’m so glad to get the two nice letters, the fine review of “The Tune” and the clipping from Mr. Russell’s column. How good you are to me! The Tune was written for Merian many years ago when she was a very little girl. I got it out and prepared it for publication last winter because there is such a demand for more stories for younger children…Betsy, Tacy and their friends having gone to college. The Marguerite Marsh story was finished in March, six weeks late, after a terrific siege of work. Now Miss Neville is working on the pictures. 

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“The Tune is in the Tree” Illustration by Eloise Wilkin

Eloise Wilkin, award-winning American illustrator, best known as an illustrator of the Little Golden Books, is the illustrator of The Tune is in the Tree. Many of the picture books she illustrated have become classics of American children’s literature.

The reprint edition is in production and will be available in early July. Books can be ordered now and will be shipped as soon as received from the printer. Order online now.

A Year with Betsy-Tacy

For the past few months, I’ve been working on a new project that I’m excited to share. It’s a full color wall calendar featuring 13 months (January 2020-January 2021) of Betsy-Tacy books.

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Some day in her maple or on Uncle Keith’s trunk, she would write something good. (from Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown)

Maud did indeed write something good! Ten books in the Betsy-Tacy series and another three Deep Valley books were published between 1940 and 1955.

SamplePagesJanJulyThe calendar features one original cover each month along with a Lenski or Neville illustration and a book description.  Real life character birthday dates (and some anniversaries) are highlighted each month.  A side bar contains a quote or history related to the book.

Pre-orders are being taken through June 15, 2019. For more information and to order, click here.


Mankato Opera House

2. Harmonia Hall-Opera House

Harmonia Hall, later the Mankato Opera House

Outside, the Opera House was a large brick structure. It was a fine theatre for a town the size of Deep Valley. But Deep Valley was what is known as a good show town. It was a thriving county seat, and theatrical productions, passing from the Twin Cities to Omaha, found it a convenient and profitable one-night-stand.

Winona and Betsy and Tacy and Tib were the first ones inside the house. They did not go at once to their box. First they raced all over the auditorium. It was elegant beyond even Winona’s descriptions and Betsy’s wildest dreams. A giant chandelier hung with glittering crystal drops was suspended from the ceiling. The seats were upholstered in red velvet. The boxes were hung with red velvet tied back with golden cords.

The orchestra started to play. It played sad tunes. Old Kentucky Home, Swanee River, Massa’s in de Cold Cold Ground. All over the house the lights went low. There were rainbow colors in the crystals of the great chandelier as the lights faded away. Then…oh, magic moment!…the curtain started to rise. Slowly, slowly, while the music kept on playing and the rainbow in the chandelier flickered out, forgotten, the curtain lifted. Quote from Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace

Maud’s wonderfully descriptive writing easily transports the reader of the Betsy-Tacy books to the 19th century cultural center of Deep Valley—the Opera House. It’s so easy to imagine what it looked like and how it felt for Betsy and Tacy when they first visited the Opera House.

This is a bit of history about the Opera House that Maud, her family and friends attended in Mankato. I imagine it must have looked just like Maud described it in the books.

Mankato (Deep Valley) owed its Opera House and its status as a regular stop on the theatrical circuits to the enthusiasm for culture of some of its German citizens. William and Jacob Bierbauer purchased land in the 200 block of South Second Street in 1870 and transferred it to the Mankato Harmonia Association, a German singing society. The association completed the building they named Harmonia Hall, in July 1872.

The structure cost $11,000, which was paid by donations and loans. It featured a grand stage, a balcony and a 30-foot ceiling adorned with a dome. The dining area was in the basement and was the same size as the main hall (62 by 70 feet). A grand opening was held on December 25, 1872 with speeches, music and tableaux. The following evening was celebrated with an inaugural ball and dinner.

During its first decade, it was used for performances by local musical and theatrical groups and occasional professional productions. The name was changed to the Mankato Opera House in 1878 when the building was remodeled as a playhouse. The Mankato Review reported “The Boston Ideal Company played Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the night of the 26th to a very large house. The hall was filled, even beyond the over-attendance at the Kellogg concert. Never before have we witnessed such a crowding assemblage” (Jan. 3, 1882)

Just a few weeks later, on January 23, 1882, disaster struck when a fire broke out, which destroyed all but the exterior walls of the building. That evening the temperature was -6 degrees with blowing snow when a policeman discovered the building on fire. Reports alluded to possible arson. Kerosene barrels were stored in the ticket office and had caught fire. Rebuilding began and the structure reopened as a theater, the Mankato Opera House in 1883 and was managed by A.G. Bierbauer (son of William).

Clarence Saulpaugh

Clarence Saulpaugh

Clarence Saulpaugh leased the Opera House in 1893, made extensive improvements and changed the name to Mankato Theatre. Townsfolk seemed to prefer “Opera House”, since this is the name many continued to use. The theater had a seating capacity of 1,000 and was of a horseshoe-type construction, designed so that the stage could be clearly seen from each seat in the house.

The Opera House was the center of both high culture and popular entertainment in Mankato. The early 20th century was the golden age of the theater in America. Opera companies and symphonic bands joined New York-based musical reviews and straight dramatic theatrical companies traveling by railroad from city to city. Everything that came out of New York also came to Mankato because the company would break here when traveling between Minneapolis and Omaha.

1. Andrews Opera Co program

Many stage stars, as well as boxers and wrestlers, appeared on the stage at the Opera House. The theatrical programs of the day reveal that almost all of the stage greats appeared at the Mankato Opera House, including Mary Pickford, John L. Sullivan (world-famous boxer), John Drew, Maude Adams, Anna Held, Charles Winnenger, Jos. Jefferson, Gertrude Coughlan, Sousa’s Band, and Mankato’s own Andrews Opera Company. Mankato vocalists also appeared on the theater stage, including Florence MacBeth, who went on to a career in opera and concert, as well as Lora Lulsdorff.

Chauncey Olcott came to Deep Valley in his play, Aileen Asthore. Mr. Ray took the family to hear him. Usually Betsy saw her rare plays at matinees with Winona who had passes because her father was editor of the Deep Valley Sun. But once a year when Chauncey Olcott came, she went to the Opera House in the evening with her parents. The Irish tenor was growing old and stout, but his swagger was as gallant as ever, his voice as honey sweet. Always in the course of the evening the audience made him sing a hit song of earlier years called, “My Wild Irish Rose.”   Quote from Heaven to Betsy by Maud Hart Lovelace

3. Chauncey Olcott Mankato Theatre ad 9.4.1906

Mankato Weekly Review (Sept. 4, 1906)

The Irish tenor Chauncey W. Olcott (1858-1932), was a Mankato favorite. On each of Olcott’s appearances in Mankato special trains were run to the city from towns as far away as Blue Earth and Tracy, Minnesota. Olcott combined the roles of tenor, actor, songwriter and composer in many productions. He is best-known and beloved for his songs; My Wild Irish Rose, When Irish Eyes Are Smiling, and Mother Machree.

The motion pictures spelled the doom of live theatrical entertainment for Mankato and the country as a whole. Several movie theaters opened in Mankato, and by 1921 the Mankato Theater was renamed the Orpheum. It became a second-rate movie house where live performances — usually benefits or school theatricals —were given from time to time, the last of which was given in 1928. That year the building was marked for demolition, but it wasn’t actually taken down until 1931.



Lost Landmark

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Christian Strom’s General Store in Butternut, ca. 1896

Another historic Betsy-Tacy landmark will soon be gone. The Butternut general store in Butternut (Butternut Center) collapsed sometime in December 2018. Although the building had been abandoned for years, it stood up to the weather until high winds likely brought it down.

Located about 20 miles west of Mankato, the village of Butternut was established in 1894, the same year the Lake Shore Creamery and a general store was built. By 1897 Butternut had a railroad depot, feed mill, harness and shoemaker shop, blacksmith shop, meat shop, livery, hotel, and town hall. The bustling village would have been in its heyday when Maud (Betsy) visited in the early 1900s.

Maud’s fictional name for the Butternut General Store was Willard’s Emporium. It was here that Betsy met Joe Willard.

“The store reminded her that in the excitement of her unexpected return, she had forgotten to buy presents. No Ray ever came home from a trip without bringing presents for the rest. Willard’s Emporium, said the sign above the door. It was one of those stores, perfect for her purpose, where everything under the sun was for sale. A single glance revealed kitchen stoves, buggy whips, corset cover and crackers. Betsy browsed happily along the overflowing counters until a boy sitting in a corner, eating an apple and reading a book, threw away the apple and came forward.”       ~ Heaven to Betsy ~

These photos showing the remnants of the Butternut general store were taken January 8, 2019.

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West side of the building

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East side of the building

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East side of the building

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Home Over There: Marguerite Marsh and the YMCA in the Great War

Marguerite Marsh-Emily Webster

Marguerite Marsh (Emily Webster in Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace), ca. 1913 (photo from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Deep Valley).

Firing on the First World War’s Western Front ended on Nov. 11, 1918 at the eleventh hour on the 11th day of the 11th month. As the world commemorates the centennial, there are hundreds of stories of men and women who served.

This is the story of Marguerite Marsh, a Mankato woman who answered the call when the United States branch of the YMCA took a bold step and opened its service to females for the first time in July 1917.  She was born in Mankato on Independence Day in 1890. Her mother died when she was only eleven years old and her father left her in the care of her elderly grandparents, John Q. and Sarah (Hanna) Marsh (early pioneer settlers). Sarah Marsh died two years later leaving Marguerite alone to care for her aging grandfather. Marsh graduated from Mankato High School in 1909, was an active member of the First Presbyterian Church working with the youth. After the death of her grandfather in 1915, she enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and studied home economics.

When war was declared in 1917, the YMCA immediately volunteered its support at home and abroad. They organized canteens at the front lines in France, giving soldiers a place where they could get away from the harsh realities of the war. These canteens were huts or tents set up to provide coffee, writing materials, books, gramophone and records or moving picture shows several times a week for the soldiers. Nearly 1500 entertainers met with the troops in their off hours.

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Marguerite Marsh YMCA WWI service card

Some Americans thought that women would not hold up to the physical and mental strain of war work. However, many women stepped up to the challenge, including Marguerite Marsh. She enlisted with the 82nd Division in November 1917 and served with 13,00 YMCA workers in France. Marguerite was assigned to a YMCA café at Tours, France, and was later given the rank of Secretary in charge of a canteen at Gondrecourt, with the First Army school.

Back in Mankato, the First Presbyterian Church published a newsletter, Our Church Life. In addition to church news, it contained letters and news about servicemen and women from the church. This newsletter was gratefully anticipated by the soldiers and kept those at home informed of their fellow church members. Below are excerpts from news and letters written by Marguerite and published in Our Church Life.

A telegram Marsh sent to the Rev. Paden on Dec. 11, 1917, describes her hopes to depart for France on Dec. 19. Soon after arriving she first worked canteen service in the largest café at Tours, outside of Paris, serving three meals a day in addition to other duties. “Before leaving Paris, some of the group visited the American Hospital there. We could hardly get away. Though there was no one there from our part of the United States, we were welcomed like long lost friends. The boys were all eager to see anyone from America.”

April 16, 1918, she sent a letter from “Somewhere in France.” The weather cold and damp and she was rooming with a friend at the YWCA Hostess House. Marsh wrote that she was eager for “real canteen work” at one of the barracks.

May 17, 1918, she wrote about being “muchly excited” over the granting of their repeated request to be transferred nearer the front and their preparations for the approaching transfer—to what point she did not know.

Our Church Life published a report from her aunt, Mrs. John R. Beatty, about her receiving a letter from Marsh’s superior officer regarding her work: “She is doing really good work here and is a credit to her country and to her family.”


Marguerite most likely dresses similar to the woman in this poster designed by Neysa Moran McMein in 1918, “One of the Thousand Y.M.C.A. Girls in France.”

Marsh wrote in July 1918 about the few weeks she had spent starting a canteen 28 miles from the front: “Starting a canteen means bushels of work…We furnish the boys stationery, envelopes, pens and ink—free. The writing tables are in use most of the day. A bunch of boys who came in recently from the South and can not read and write so we are arranging classes for them. Last Sunday afternoon I watched an air battle at some distance. We never know whether it is a practice fight or a real one.” Several weeks later she writes about the abandonment of the canteen and her transfer to a large canteen at the divisional headquarters.

Writing on August 23, 1918: “Back again and working harder than ever in a hut which serves thousands of men. I never saw so many hot, dusty boys in my life. They come in on trucks so white with dust that they bear no resemblance to human beings…There is a beautiful full moon and we are congratulating ourselves on our escape from the air raids. We have had bombs to the right of us and bombs to the left of us but so far have remained untouched.

I am writing to the accompaniment of a beautiful band which is playing on the shady side of the village street. There is something incongruous about that band. It has played each afternoon for a week. It gives me a queer feeling. Even as I write, the sound is drowned by the rumble of army trucks. Music gives war a stagy effect which it is far from having. It is quite too real.”

In her Oct. 21, 1918, letter she made an admission: “I am ashamed to tell you how comfortable I am. I have a room all to myself, with two other American women in the same house—‘Y’ workers also. The canteen work is very hard but with such comfortable living conditions, I don’t mind. I work every night until ten or half past. The cook from one of the Company messes made doughnuts for us yesterday afternoon and last night we were just swamped.”

“We had Billy Sunday’s trombonist at our hut Sunday evening. He gave such a straightforward talk which did us all good. We lead such double lives over here. Underneath, our hearts ache for the boys suffering in the hospitals or standing in the cold mud of the trenches; at the same time we must joke, play around with, and try to help keep up the spirits of the boys in the back areas who are waiting their turn.”

“The other day, on one of the few sunshiny afternoons which we have had, Miss Tyler and I went up on the hill back of the village. In the distance and outlined against the sky, was an apparently never-ending line of French artillery, appearing over the edge of the hill, passing across a long straight stretch of road where according to French custom, trees were set a regular intervals. I was fascinated with the picture which they presented, but Miss Tyler said that she had seen so much of the horrible side of war that she could see nothing picturesque about it. It seems as though it must be over by spring.”

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U.S. World War I transport ship, USS Sierra

Three weeks later, November 11, 1918, armistice was signed. Demobilization took time and Marguerite returned to the states with the 82nd Division. They departed Bordeaux, France aboard the troop transport ship USS Sierra on May 9th and arrived in New York on May 21, 1919.

During WWI, the YMCA had assumed military responsibilities on a scale that had never been attempted by a non-profit, community-based organization in the history of our nation and would never be matched again.

Marguerite enrolled in a hospital training course at the Presbyterian Hospital in connection with Columbia University in New York. She married Myron Wilcox in New York in May 1923. They moved to Cedar Falls, Iowa, where Marguerite gave birth to a son, John Marsh Wilcox, on January 31, 1925. Just two weeks later, Marguerite died in Iowa City, at the age of 35. She is buried near her grandparents in Glenwood Cemetery in Mankato.

From her obituary in the Mankato Free Press: “There are lives made stronger by adversity. For Marguerite Marsh, one after another the home ties of her girlhood were broken by death. Through it all, she preserved her brave faith, the sweet poise of character that carried her through to a fine womanhood in a happy home of her own.”