Teresa Nguyen is the Rock County Historical Society’s “History Teller,” interviewing local residents and telling their stories.
By Teresa Nguyen
RCHS History Teller
New Inspiration at RCHS
A gentle layer of winter snow covers the sloping landscape around the cream brick Carriage House. The building quietly sits nestled behind the stately Lincoln-Tallman House on the Rock County Historical Society campus. Its large, front wooden barn door dimly glows in winter’s daylight, which is already dwindling at four o’clock, though the children left school only moments earlier.
The ding of the open door sounds over and over as students with big eyes and even bigger smiles enter the Carriage House one by one. New to this place, some are shy, almost hesitant, yet one can sense an eagerness just waiting to burst.
The parents shuffling in are wonderfully supporting their children’s creativity. Some hold tiny hands of younger siblings while checking in their excited young writers on the attendance sheet. Those new to the building take in the impressive view of the warm, cabin-like interior of hardwood floors, a welcoming staircase, original beams, charming windows and strong brick walls.
Meet Jadon, Writer and Assistant Instructor
Assistant Instructor, Jadon Newkirk, has a warm and friendly charm as he helps the families turn in their enrollment forms and points the children in the direction of the coat rack down in the lower level.
Jadon is also a local writer. His unpublished novel, Legacy of the Behemoth, opens with intrigue, with characters whose dire circumstances makes the reader yearn to know more. Why are they there? Where will they go? Are they remaining in hiding or seeking a way out … and will they make it?
“The sound of feet shuffling over dirt bedrock disturbed black corridors to the steady rhythm of step- lift- drag- step- lift- drag. Every few moments heaving breaths joined the melody and faded as quickly as they entered. Occasionally the rhythmic shuffling devolved to a mere dragging beat and so
from time to time the breathers said each other’s names to make sure neither dragged a corpse.
“Serenah, the food is gone.” Said one wanderer, his words disrupting rhythm.
“Jahem, I don’t want to walk anymore.” Replied a softer voice from behind the first.
The wanderers’ lamps had run dry. They had finished the last of their food hours ago, or maybe it had been days as the darkness hid the passage of time. All that was left to them was to keep walking at an increasingly sluggish pace.
Her hand felt heavy and dry wrapped in his own. One held to her, and the other glided along the wall on their left. Jahem wondered if their hands would separate when they were dead, and then wondered if there was difference between death and never ending blindness. Seconds stretched into minutes then into hours and all were indistinct from the other.”
“Thank you so much for giving our daughter the opportunity to participate in the YWW! Not only did you help her peer through a window to the past, but you’ve unlocked a door to future creative adventures! As a parent, it is very gratifying to see my child discover her talents. It was a delight to hear all of the young writers’ stories and to see their confidence in public speaking grow.”
~ Angie Sievers
The eager students happily chat as they explore their new environment, forming instant friendships, as only children do. Their ages range from 9 to 15. Seeing them gathered under one roof for a writing class sweetly reminds me of a one-room schoolhouse. My mind flashes to an image of my own wonderful, confident grandmother, who once taught students from first through eighth grades in a one room country school in Illinois. She lived to the ripe old age of 100. Though I miss her greatly, I’m guessing she’d be pleased to see me now.
This is only day one of four and it’s already off to a great start!
Exploring a historic home
The parents leave, we settle in, make introductions and walk down, around the narrow driveway for our tour of the gorgeous Lincoln-Tallman House. Once inside the dimly lit main hall with its high ceilings, intricate woodwork and elegant adjacent rooms, the students are awestruck.
We roam from room to room, learning about the history of the Tallman family, the customs and routines of this affluent family of mid-19th century Janesville. The oohs and aahs from the children are like music to my ears. Questions pop from the minds of curious ones, pointing and seeking answers to the mysteries of the home.
We talk about art, music lessons, formal dinners and high society entertaining. We naturally wade into the topics of old-fashioned traditions, separating men from the women and servants from masters. We discuss expectations of proper attire, good manners and proper etiquette in the late 1800’s.
The lack of today’s modern conveniences educates the students on the day to day realities of life back then, and the larger challenges faced by the servants. One student asks, “Why didn’t Mrs. Tallman just do that herself?”
The answer seems both logical and illogical considering modern times, “Well, of course, the ladies of this particular household would never have soiled their dresses with physical labor. That was beneath their dignity and social status.”
The students marvel at the ornate fireplaces and beautiful elliptical in the main hall ceiling, which served to help to heat the upper floors and gave the family a bird’s eye view of arriving guests.
We follow an educational path from the first floor, up the winding staircase to the upstairs bedrooms, learning about Abraham Lincoln’s visit to this very place and take a walk through the servants’ quarters. We finally descend down two creaking stairways to explore the practical kitchen, wash room, the interesting milk room and furnace room in the depths of the home. It’s a basement adventure!
The students seem uninhibited and are greatly interested in each room’s character, the nooks and passageways. They enthusiastically explore like treasure hunters on a mission to find gold.
“Young Writers Workshop benefited our daughter with an opportunity for writing outside of school to challenge her current abilities and aptitudes. All the instructors involved were very knowledgeable and encouraging. Again, thank you so much for the energy and effort you put towards this workshop. It is a phenomenal opportunity…”
~ Brittany and James de la O
Students Brainstorm in the Carriage House
The students open their imaginations
On day two, the students tour the Carriage House from floor to floor, learning about the horses, the barn staff duties and the mysterious window leading to the cistern in the building’s belly.
Our wonderful RCHS Board Member, Paul Stengel, secured borrowed computers for the students, donated by the supportive School District of Janesville. Paul’s support helps get this program off the ground from his helpful planning ideas to delivering the computers each week before the Young Writers Workshop session begins.
With this new inspiration from both RCHS historical building tours, the students begin writing their short stories and poems. They are not required to write historical fiction, though some choose to use the RCHS setting in their writing.
They are, however, required to think, to imagine, to reach within the depths of their minds and create fresh ideas, characters, places, new drama and transfer those thoughts into words on their computer keyboards.
As a songwriter, I share my world of writing poetry with the students, playing a couple of original songs on guitar. My song list is long, and only some are recorded and on YouTube.
The songs I chose for tonight’s session are stories of people who experienced hardship or discrimination, only to overcome the odds with self determination and incredible courage. If the music doesn’t move them, my hope is that at least the lyrics will.
More assistance and inspiration
More inspiration is provided for these students from guest writer, Benji Nguyen and middle school English teacher, Angela Perry.
Benji is a 20-year-old junior at UW-Madison. He has written two unpublished action/adventure novels and is currently in the process of writing book number three. His creativity is impressive and one of his gifts is writing strong characters. The students at the Young Writers Workshop excitedly participate in Benji’s presentation, answering questions, finding creative, new ways to describe characters.
The following is from Benji’s book series, The Bloodrose Epoch:
As Lucius and Mira headed out of Khan, they turned west toward the White Sea. There was no camp site, tents, or settlements on this side of the castle. They descended down to the shore. The White Sea was still shining and water lapped up on the beach in soft waves. A slight breeze blew.
“So why here?” Mira asked.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Why did you decide to settle your base on the edge of the White Sea, in No Man’s Land?”
Lucius chuckled for a moment. “Always so curious … do you know what used to be in No Man’s Land?”
Mira shook her head.
“Of course, I forget how young you are. Many, many years ago, this very spot used to be the capital of a glorious empire … my empire.” He paused for a second. “I can still remember it, as if it were yesterday.”
Mira watched the sorcerer’s expression. Seeing his reminiscence was such an odd sight. “You know, power isn’t everything.”
“Oh, but it is. Look at the world today. There are always people willing to work for those with power. If you have power, you have force, an army … a threat to others. The world can be ruled with power.”
“The world cannot be ruled with power. There will always be people who will rebel, not content with being ruled. And, even if you do conquer the all the lands, it will be an unhappy, fearful land that does not grow.” Mira paused for a second. “But surely you’re smarter than this. You don’t need just power. You need strategy, planning, intelligence … otherwise you might slip up and lose something. Power isn’t everything.”
“Oh, I can remember when I thought like you, young one.” The Sorcerer of Darkness turned out to gaze at the White Sea. “I used to think the world was a good place. I was a great ruler, a nice ruler. People loved me.”
Angela brings in her natural talents as an educator, confidently leading her lesson, interacting with and motivating students who are spread throughout the room at tables in the upper level of the Carriage House.
From the center of the room, she effortlessly demonstrates how to properly read aloud as she shares a beautiful Christmas poem she wrote for her child, bringing sweet smiles and warm fuzzies throughout the Carriage House space.
“Let’s Not Forget” (condensed version)
By Angela L Griffin-Perry
One day I was cleaning
And my daughter said,
“Please, Mommy, will you read me
This book in bed?
I said, “Not now,
I have too much to do.
Christmas is coming,
But I love you.”
She turned away
And went off to sleep
Without another word
Without another peep
She had set down the book
On the countertop
As I turned, I saw it
And then I stopped
The book she had
Was about Christmas Day
So I sat on the kitchen floor
And started reading away.
A tear came to my eye
As I ended the story
And I went upstairs
To tell my daughter
I was sorry
I’m never too busy to read to you
Please remind me next time
I promise I’ll try to
And when I bent down
To kiss her goodnight
I noticed my daughter’s eyes
Were closed tight
I kissed her so softly
And whispered in her ear …
Merry Christmas my dear
And a happy, healthy, and loving New Year.
Students in the Young Writers Workshop
Mother Nature alters plans, but only slightly
January’s winter weather arrives with a fury unlike previous winters, lashing snow, ice and wickedly brutal temperatures into our peaceful, southern Wisconsin community, sending us scrambling indoors like mice from a hungry cat! With a total of four school snow days taken in our district we, too, have no choice but to cancel our workshop sessions for the safety of the children and their families. This is a minor setback.
The children are still determined, defying Mother Nature, writing on their home computers, imagining, creating, forming their characters and editing …then writing some more. Their parents are likely immensely proud of their perseverance and ambition to write something new, something different, something uniquely their own.
Their genres vary like the sizes and hairstyles of these children; mystery, science fiction, stories of witches and graves, fairytale twists, fables and fantastical stories of friendships and dreams. Their work is as impressive as their determination to grow as young writers, to learn, to be inspired and expand their creative limits. The children’s level of experience and writing styles varies greatly, and that’s how it should be.
Creativity certainly isn’t the result of a cookie cutter pattern. It’s wildly, beautifully free flowing from the mind, inhibited only by that which inhibits our world of imagination.
The grand finale: Students share their work
Finally, the students have the chance to stand in front of an audience and read their stories aloud to family and friends in the comfortable setting of the Carriage House.
As their lead instructor, I feel a sense of pride. I’m very grateful for RCHS Executive Director Timothy Maahs in trusting my creativity and planning and for his enthusiasm toward this new learning opportunity.
I’m very thankful to the parents for allowing me to guide their children in this new program, enriching their education and broadening their experience as young writers.
“I enjoyed Young Writers Workshop! It was a lot of fun. My favorite thing was getting to tour the buildings and learn things to write about. This was special for me because not a lot of people like doing these things, but I really like history.”
~ Gracelyn, young writer
Student writing samples
The following are excerpts of the students’ work. Some are full short stories and some are excerpts of longer, more in-depth stories.
My wish is that these students take away new inspiration and a kindled ambition to soar even higher, reaching new worlds in their own imaginations. I truly hope they continue to blossom as writers like bright and brilliant flowers on a summer morn!
Ellie’s Eye Hair
By Owen – Grade 4
Once upon a time there was an elephant who was born very different from the other elephants. She had a very unusually long hair growing out of her eye socket. This elephant’s name was Ellie. Because of this strange hair in her eye, Ellie thought she was the ugliest elephant who ever lived.
One day Ellie went on a sad walk and met a monkey named Bob. The first thing Bob noticed on Ellie was her unusually long eye hair. Bob was not good at being nice. In his family, everyone was mean to each other and he never learned to be nice.
So, when he saw this unusually long hair, he yelled to the sad elephant, “That’s an ugly hair growing out of your eye, you should cut it off so I don’t have to look at it.” And he began to laugh at Ellie.
This made Ellie cry and try to run away but, because her eye hair was so long, she tripped and fell over it!
Along came a spider named Beast, who saw the sad elephant and asked her name. Between sniffles she answered, “My name is Ellie and I’m the ugliest elephant in the world.”
Beast replied, “Why do you think you’re the ugliest elephant in the world?”
“Don’t you see my unusually long eye hair? Don’t you think it’s ugly?” She sniffled some more.
Beast looked at Ellie for a moment. He said, “It’s true that you have an unusually long eye hair, but just because others have said that to you, doesn’t make them right.”
Ellie sniffed back her tears. “Well, I guess you’re right. I may have something unusual about me, but I don’t have to let others’ mean words steal my joy.”
The moral of the story: Saying mean things to people is not a nice thing to do. Just because someone says something mean to you, you do not need to believe that what they say is true. Maybe they are hurting too and so they choose to hurt people, but we don’t have to receive that from them. We can choose joy instead.
Guilty Until Proven Innocent (Excerpt)
By Nora – Grade 7
Look, I know I’m odd. I’m not dumb, and I know that I am not exactly human. You don’t need to tell me, I’ve been told before, and if I had a dollar for each time someone told me that I’m not normal, I’d be rolling in money. I’m not evil, though many people think I am. What no one but Luciana understands is that I am not out to destroy humanity.
I get a lot of questions, and most of them are degrading and irritating. Lucy was the first one to not ask these silly questions, but the three questions I hate the most are:
3. So, if you’re not human, how do you speak English?
2. So, if humans are so annoying, are you out to get us?
1. What are you?
Look, I learned how to speak English. Just because I’m not human doesn’t mean I’m incapable of human activities. Secondly, I am not out to get humanity! Just stop asking already, for Jas’ sake. Thirdly, what am I? I am alive, thank you. And I have a name.
So the correct question would be, “Who are you?”
What am I? Who am I? I am P102T, nicknamed Peter. I am a mistake.
My best friend is an experiment. They don’t know where he came from, but they know that he could kill us all if he wanted to. I honestly don’t know how I know him. I shouldn’t, if you think about it.
I just was in the hospital to see my mum and I saw him through the window of his room. I asked to see “that little boy” and keep him company, he looked so lonely. They told me no, no, he is undergoing testing. I said, all the more I should go meet him. The nurse was young and I think new, so she rolled her eyes and said “Why not?”
I got to meet the boy, and I asked what his name was. The nurse, Ashlynn, said, “He can’t speak English. We call him P102T, and that’s his only name.”
I looked at him, and I said “Just a number? Well, P-T, huh? Petey, then.”
The Really Creepy Window
By Olivia – Grade 4
One day, while I was attending the first day of a writing class, a new challenge for me, we went on a tour of the Lincoln-Tallman House.
After we came back to the Carriage House, a girl named Jocey and I went down the wooden staircase to go hang up our coats on a rack in the basement.
There was a mysterious empty window, all black inside. Curious, we decided to take a look. It appeared to be like a grave or a tomb where one might put dead bodies. It was so pitch dark inside and secondly, it had candles in the window. Strangely, there were flowers next to it, so it was very, very creepy!
We noticed it was deep, like a long hallway and contained some spooky things in it. When I say creepy I mean CREEPY!!!!
I was TERRIFIED!!!
Now I’m not so creeped out, but we never learned what was in the window. I think I never will!
Fairy-tale Twist (Excerpt)
By Addison – Grade 7
Once upon a time there was a little red wolf that was going to take a bucket of meat to his grandma’s house. But, let’s start from the beginning.
There once was a little girl who had blond hair and was quite short. You would never suspect what she did. Her name was Goldie. She had just returned from a bear family’s house. You may think Goldie was scared by the bears and chased out of the home, but that is just a cover story.
Goldie runs a business, one that helps fairy tale characters. Her business is to make sure that fairy tale characters do not get out of hand. Well you may think that the bears were just a family who ate porridge.
But no! When they were on their walk, they not only walked, they ran and terrorized villages of people. Let me put it this way, they are not vegetarian.
After Goldie visited, she had three very beautiful rugs for her home.
On her way from the family of bears home, she noticed a little red wolf walking along the side of a dirt path. Then she saw a pigeon, and it dropped her a note.
Suddenly, she noticed it was a letter from her boss about an up and coming mission! Her job was to stop a little red wolf with a bucket of mutton that he stole from a town.
Evidently, a little boy named Hansel had cried wolf one too many times. Since he had lied so many times, people did not believe what he was saying, and all their sheep were stolen. They had found evidence that the wolf was headed to his grandma’s house.
So, Goldie set off on her horse to fix the situation. She had found a path, a way to get to the grandma’s house and catch that little red wolf in the act.
Once she reached the grandma’s house she knew just what to do. She would dress up as the red wolf’s grandma.
The Girl and the Baseball (Excerpt)
By Naomi – Grade 4
“Okay class, your homework for this week is to write a historical fiction story by Monday!” Claire’s teacher told the fourth grade class before the bell rang.
“Ugh, I hate writing!” Claire mumbled on the bus. That night while lying in her bed, Claire complained, “I don’t even like history!” before falling asleep.
SLURP! Claire woke up to find two big eyes, a wet nose, and whiskers staring straight at her. “Ahh!” she screamed. “Get off of me, dog! Wait, where am I?” Claire said realizing that she wasn’t in her bed.
Instead, she was sitting on the street in front of an old brick mansion. Then, she noticed a horse-drawn-carriage. “Wait a second … did I just go back … in time?” Before she had time to think, the dog ran into the house.
“Wait for me!” Claire ran after him.
Once inside, it was so dark that she could barely see her hand in front of her! “Hey dog, where are you?” she whispered.
BAM! Suddenly, Claire bumps into something with arms…it was MOVING! “A ghost!!” She and another voice both shrieked.
Before she had a chance to run out the door, the dog came running into the room with a gas lamp in his mouth. How beautiful the room was with the light bouncing around in every direction! There was a large grandfather clock in the corner, a round mirror hanging on the wall, and a coat rack near the door.
Claire could also see that the “ghost” wasn’t really a ghost. Instead, it was a boy around her age.
“Oh! Sorry,” the boy apologized, “My name’s Bill. I was just looking for my baseball when I bumped into you. What’s your name?”
“Um, hi. I’m Claire” she answered. “I can help you find your baseball if you want.” She said with a shrug.
So, they searched all over the house, but instead of finding one, they found a whole pile!
The Man Who Wanted to Get Out
By August – Grade 6
Once there were two men who lived in the same building.
One man spent all of his time sitting in front of a computer and the other man spent all of his time working out. The man who sat in front of the computer had an abnormally hunched back and only got up to eat snacks and go to the bathroom. This man had top-secret files that were important to the strong man.
The strong man was waiting for the perfect moment to snatch those secret files and now was the time! There was a storm making a lot of noise outside, so the computer man could not hear the strong man walking toward him.
When the strong man was in range, he snatched the computer man, put a bag over his head, took him to his room and locked him in the closet. After this, he ran to the computer and took all the secrets.
The man who was locked in the closet wanted to get out but he couldn’t.
The strong man was later caught by the police and thrown in jail. But the other man was never to be found.
Is there anything to be learned from this story, you may ask? Well, crime never ends well, and neither brain nor brawn matters. It’s wisdom that connects them all.
By Peter – Grade 4
I was watching my crew ripping up this old road, when we came to an old … something. It resembled a building. Hmmm, it was made of wood, oak wood, tall, definitely rotted. The roof was sagging and there was no door anywhere.
I asked my mate, “Should we go in?”
He was an expert on hazards and decided, “I think it would be okay.”
We slowly made our way in. The floor creaked and there was a giant hole in the ceiling.
There was also a giant hole in the floor, in which I had fallen! Thankfully, only my leg was stuck so, after a bit of a struggle, I managed to crawl out easily.
The House (Excerpt)
By: Gracelyn – Grade 3
There once was a girl named Raven who lived on Cricket Street. Her family had just moved in. She lived across from an old creaky gray house. It had shingles hanging off the roof and cracked windows.
Once in a while people would see an old lady looking out through the big attic window. Raven had heard that scary and unfortunate events happened in that house every blood moon. The blood moon only happened every 20 years. Raven didn’t believe it and thought the stories were all lies.
She wanted to prove them wrong so she came up with a plan knowing the blood moon was tomorrow.
Raven knocked on the door, and the door randomly opened. Suddenly, a strong wind blew her in and the door shut tight! An old lady walked down the grand staircase while on the phone with nachos in her hand.
The old lady said to the other person on the phone, “When is the next C.O.W.S. meeting?”
Raven asked,” what’s a cows meeting?”
The woman, who was a witch, replied, “it stands for Creepy Old Witch Society. “Wait, what am I saying, you are not supposed to be here!”
So the witch dragged Raven to the attic. There she saw another old lady and asked,” are you the old lady I saw peeking out this window?” The old lady said,” Yes I am, Sugar Bun, do you want to hear a story of how I got in here?”
“Yes, please.” Said Raven.
Assistant Instructor Jadon gladly hands out certificates to the excited students and after treats and mingling with new friends, the workshop comes to an end. Until the next time when the quill meets the ink!
Watch for more exciting opportunities at RCHS for adults and children. Follow our website and Facebook page for upcoming 2019 events!