About the Author

Ellen Ashby Wheldon (aka Karlee Turner)

Author dressed as her alter ego “Mrs. Wheldon” while enjoying the garden at Mystic Seaport Museum

I haven’t always loved history. Actually, as a young person  I thought nothing could be more boring than having to learn stuff about a bunch of dead people.  ‘ What fun is history when I am not in it.’  Aptly stated by a high school student and quoted by Persia Wooley in her book, How to Write and Sell Historical Fiction. Not until I returned to school as an adult to earn my BA did I discover that I was actually “in history”, too.  I gained a new passion for history all because of three inspiring professors at Trinity College in Hartford.

Several years ago, I applied for a summer job and was hired as a seasonal employee by a local museum. Once there, I soon found myself immersed in nineteenth century America. History was no longer part of the past, it was the present and the future, too. History became exciting and intriguing because it was about real people like you and me. As James Alexander Thom stated in The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction, ‘Once upon a time it was now’. Employed as a professional role player at the museum, I knew I had found my niche.  Two years into role playing, my character became the inspiration for my first historical novel.  After all, I had already done intensive research of the nineteenth century and America’s Whaling Wives, or Sister Sailors. 

Mrs. Wheldon, Sister Sailor or whaling captain’s wife

In the photo to the left, I am portraying a composite (fictitious) character, “Mrs. Ellen Ashby Wheldon”, whaling captain’s wife.  Mrs. Captain Wheldon’s ensemble is an authentic reproduction from an 1876 fashion plate. “Ellen”, reflecting on one of many journals kept while living at sea from 1840-1858, is seated in the Day Cabin aboard the Charles W. Morgan. The CW Morgan is one of several 19th century ships on exhibit at Mystic Seaport Museum.

In addition to role playing, I enjoy sharing my fashion knowledge as a Guest Speaker for various groups around the state.  The title of my presentation is Victorian Fashion from the Inside Out.  The multi-media presentation which includes a PowerPoint slide show and me wearing a reproduction Victorian era dress,  is both entertaining and educational. A great time is had by all, even when I ask the female participants to wear corsets themselves.  Hey, if I have to wear a corset for that hour and half, then so do they.

Eventually, I realized all the detours I thought I had taken over the years weren’t actually detours at all. Rather, the many paths I followed took me on a journey that led me exactly where I was supposed be. The experience I gained traveling down those numerous roads prepared me for where I find myself today. I love every challenge. From suspending reality for participants when I am in my nineteenth century persona, to the inherent struggles encountered when writing historical fiction, or the effort required to create an authentic reproduction of women’s Victorian fashions.

The real me

Responses

  1. Dear Ms. Turner:
    Hello. I came upon your site while looking up information for research on the life of Susan Maria Colt-Norton a whaling wife from Edgartown. MA who lived 1832-1863. You have a wonderful site and I enjoyed it very much. I also enjoy the fact that you do a living history impression on a whaling wife. I am an on and off living historian who has portrayed many time periods, so I know the enjoyment one gets from doing the research,portraying a persona, and the teaching of all this to others.
    My research on Susan Norton has been slow as it is a part-time venture. I am not sure there is enough to write a small book on her life, but I’d like to honor her memory in some written form. I know her life appears in the book Whaling Wives of Edgartown, but I’d like to see if there is enough material for her own volume.
    Just wanted to drop a line to congratulate and encourage you to keep up the fine work on your research, writing, web site, and portrayal of Mrs. Wheldon.
    To me, it’s all so well worth it.

    Sincerest Regards,

    Kevin LaMarre
    Raymond, Maine USA

  2. Thank you, Kevin for such a glowing review. Reading your encouraging words and having affirmation from another person who agrees that it’s a history of primary importance and so worth telling, makes it all worthwhile. Good luck in your research and writing your book. When (not “if”) you wite it, I’d love to read it. If you can’t find enough to write a non-fiction account, have you considered making it fiction?

    BTW, do you have the book WHALING WIVES by Whiting and Hough? Within that book, there are about ten pages devoted to Susan Colt and her terrifying experience in the midst of a hurricane while she was on board the “Splendid”. Three of those pages are excerpts from her journal during the hurricane; and posted on my blog, dated October 22-26 (or there abouts). Of course, you may be familiar with it already if it’s in the book you have.

  3. Correction: Susan Colt’s entry about the hurricane was posted October 8th, 2010.

  4. As a fellow Nutmegger, I have enjoyed the historical societies of Connecticut immensely and mystic Seaport was always on our summer radar. Now that my family has moved to North Carolina and we are on the side of the “grey” history rather than the “blue” I am exposed to an entirely different perspective into the period of the Civil War and post Civil War. Years ago I found an antique trunk which I dragged around with me from apartment to apartment until finally three years ago I decided to try to find something out about it. The trunk it turns out is from 1877 and belonged to a young stage actress of the late 19th century named Lizzie May Ulmer. Her painting hangs in the Connecticut Historical Society Museum in Hartford. I started a blog as a way to write down her history as it unfolded and am currently writing my first historical novel although Lizzie May is a minor character in this book, I have plans for the second novel to be about her life.

    Perhaps, like you I am fascinated by the strength and ingenuity of these pioneer women.

    Thanks for the read, I am enjoying your site. You can check out Lizzie May on my site below.

    http://meandlizziemay.wordpress.com/

  5. Dear Ms Taylor: Where and when for your next presentation? Please let us know! We came to Fort Trumbull tonight to see you, but were turned away because it was overbooked. I’m sure it was wonderful. Many thanks.

    • Dear Mary Beth:

      I’m sorry you were turned away and couldn’t see my presentation – it was indeed packed; not a seat left in the place. The overwhelming interest was a surprise to me, too. As of this writing, I have no confirmed dates during the summer for another, although I am waiting on several possibilities; most likely in the Autumn, as my schedule is very busy this summer following the Charles W. Morgan around various ports and working long hours.

      Thanks for your interest and for your email. I will let you know when and if another local/regional presentation opportunity comes along.

      Sincerely,
      Karlee Turner

  6. Many many thanks for getting back to me. We are looking forward to whenever it may come to pass!


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