Richard Prosch: The Facebook Friends of 1906

rich_moose          I’ve written that the life of my grandpa’s aunt Rose influenced the creation of Jo Harper and her circumstances in the 1910 town of Willowby, Wyoming. This was especially true with Jo’s initial outing in Waiting for a Comet. But it wouldn’t be fair to say Jo is Rose. Like all the fictional characters we create, she and her friends Frog and Constable Abby Drake are amalgamations built from imagination. But Rose is in there, and so’s my great-grandma, Louise.

          Rose Prosch was the daughter of a German emigrant who came to America, first to Iowa, then Nebraska, looking for a better life. Johann (John) Prosch left an embittered and war-weary Schleswig-Holstein in Bismarck’s fledgling German empire after his family saved up enough money for him to make the journey to Schleswig, Iowa.

          Nearby, in the small town of Early, Iowa, another German immigrant named Clausen was raising a family under similar circumstances. His daughter, Louise, went to school in Early, and Odebolt, Iowa, before moving west. In Nebraska, she would meet and marry Rose’s brother, Arthur Prosch.

          Art and Louise were my great-grandparents. I never knew Art, but both great-grandma and Aunt Rose lived into their nineties, so I heard all their stories first hand. Some of their experiences have found their way into Jo’s life. There was the time Rose and her sister lost control of a Model-T in a corn field (Racing a Dog Star) or when Louise saw an important man in town coming home drunk from a saloon late at night (Shooting the Moon –available soon). But those real life incidents were just starting points, the first stitch in a fictitious tapestry.louise_clausen_friends

          Great-Grandma’s autograph book is a different story. I dropped it whole-cloth into Roping a Planet (Jo Harper No. 3). Another cherished hand-me-down, I’m looking at it as I type: a paste-board covered sheaf of yellow paper, made in Germany, a 1906 Christmas gift to Louise. While it’s not integral to the plot, I couldn’t help but use it as one way of showing that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Just like today, twelve-year olds in 1906 were interested in what their friends wrote about them in social media (even if back then it was on paper). The kids represented in Grandma’s book seem most concerned with happiness, death, and being remembered. Not so different from the sentiments expressed in my high school yearbook, or now left on BFF Facebook comments.

          A lot of the pages are filled with whimsical poems, apparently a tradition at the time. A few have fairly dark subtexts:

          In April, 1907, Anna Wetzstein wrote:

I wish you health and happiness

I wish you gold in store

I wish you heaven after death

What can I wish you more?

           Or how about Hazel Little’s words from December, 1907:

A place for my name in your album 

A place for my name in your heart

A place for us both in heaven

Where kind friends never part.

           I’m thinking if some kid wrote that last one on a FB wall today, he or she would probably be suspected of planning a murder or suicide. Or both.

           Some of the poems were more light-hearted, like this one from Helen Burhardt of Wall Lake, Iowa who wrote on August 4, 1907:

When you see a cat climb a tree

Pull its tail and think of me.

          And while none of the comments could be considered bawdy, I did get a chuckle from this one from cousin Dora Clausen (September, 1907):

Louisa is your name

Single is your station

Happy is the little man

That makes the alteration.

           Writing the Jo Harper series for Painted Pony Books has been a journey of discovery, about myself, my family, and about the way are country and culture have changed since 1910.


           And about how some things don’t ever change. Jo and her friends, like Rose and Louise, we all look for friendship, we all wonder about death, and we look forward to what our future holds.

           Reaching out to make our marks in the social media fashion of the day, we all hope to be remembered.






 Thank you, Richard Prosch, for joining us here today.  To learn more about Richard, click here.

Richard has graciously agreed to give away a copy of one of his Jo Harper novels, winner choice. So leave a comment to be included in the drawing.

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40 thoughts on “Richard Prosch: The Facebook Friends of 1906”

  1. Richard, Thank you for a great post! I loved hearing about the little autograph book and the cute things that were written. It was certainly a different time back then but the written word was wonderful then as it is now.

  2. Hi Richard! Welcome to Petticoats & Pistols! I love that you’re using pieces of your own family history for your books!

    And I love that you mention Odebolt and Early, Iowa.

    Familiar names! 🙂

  3. Hi Melanie! Thanks for your comment. One thing I forgot to mention about the autograph book is how precise the penmanship is. Yet varied too according to each personality. One girl in particular wrote everything with a huge sweeping hand.

    • Hi Richard. Love this post and the way you put your family in your books It’s not only a way to entertain and teach, but a way to keep your family alive. I love the penmanship of the past also. People prided themselves in their writing style. I hate that it’s become a thing of the past.

      • You’re right, Rita! It boggles the mind when I think these were pre-teen or early teenagers with remarkably precise handwriting. Most of them using quill/nib pens or early fountain pens too!

  4. Hi Mary! Thanks for stopping by. Yes, as a teenager who thought his ancestors came directly to Nebraska, I was surprised to learn that almost everybody stopped off in Iowa first!

  5. Rich, what a fun post! Your Jo Harper stories are wonderful for kids of any age. “The more things change, the more they stay the same” seems to be a theme running just below the surface in the two available now. What I like best about them is the way they seamlessly transport readers back to a long-ago time and place that really isn’t so different from our own. Scenery and technology change, but human nature stays the same. 🙂

  6. Hi Rich! Thank you so much for coming to visit us at P&P! We’re glad you do it. I LOVE the inscriptions in that old autograph book! You have a goldmine there. So many things of our ancestors get lost so it’s great when we find something that survives. Hold onto it.

    Congratulations on your Jo Harper books! They look like wonderful stories. Wishing you tons of success.

    Come back to visit us again sometime.

  7. You’re right on, Kathleen! Jo and her friends have become real people in my mind, so the way they react to family and technnology is much the same as kids today might react –with emotion and curiosity and a mix of maturity. Thank you for your kind, insightful words!

  8. Rich, thanks for stopping by today at P&P! We’re glad to have you here and I love learning about the “story behind the story” of Jo Harper and the entire community of Willowby.

    I want to say how much Livia and I love your Jo Harper series! These stories are enjoyable for ALL ages–and every time I get the next one to edit, I just can’t wait to see what adventures Jo and Frog are going to have.

    Isn’t it neat to be able to work in our family history with our fictional characters? I loved the way you brought in the address books. My mom had one of those–it’s packed somewhere.

    Great to have you here today, and I loved learning more about your family history and how it plays into your Jo Harper series!


  9. History is always the most memorable and important part of our lives. To incorporate this into books is very creative and unforgettable.

  10. Congratulations and best wishes on your Jo Harper series which sound meaningful and enthralling. The post was enlightening and gave me insight into your writing.

  11. A great post. I have lost so much of my history. I will just appropriate some of yours. lol I haven’t read any of your books and I will now try to find them. Thanks for a great introduction to them.

  12. Linda, thank you much! I also have a tattered spiral notebook Louise used as a scrapbook for two years or so around 1910. Mostly news clippings, but a few “notes” she wrote. A gold mine for sure!

  13. Thank you Cheryl! There’s so many neat things we forget about the past, things that were important to our families, and it’s fun to drop them in around the edges of the stories. And thank you too for all you and Livia do. You’re the best!

  14. Thank you Connie! Each of the books (three now available at Amazon, Smashwords, etc) and Number 4 coming soon (in November). Each of the stories stands alone, but can be read in order as well.

  15. I love books that have included real life events from the past. I thought I was running out of author’s but these websites keep linking me to more and more authors so I have new books to read. Thank you

  16. Fiction and real history is an allure for me. Reading about people who shaped our lives and are remembered especially in your Jo Harper books is thrilling. Wishing you much happiness and success.

  17. Enjoyed reading the blog today. Made me think about my ancestors.Your book sounds interesting and I know I would like reading it.

  18. I so enjoyed reading these family memories of yours. How wonderful to have such a colorful history. That you would want to put them in your stories is just natural.
    I wish you every success and happiness. I’d write a little poem if I were any good at it.

  19. Hello Richard,

    Nice post. I love the idea of using your own family history to give life to your fictional characters. Makes for interesting stuff. Love those short poems you’ve posted as well (and that’s something from someone who doesn’t particularly love poems). One of them reminded me of a short poem my young cousin Danielle wrote about me. I found it years ago, in our old place and, sadly enough, I think I’ve lost it since then.

    Wishing you lots of success with your stories.

  20. How lucky you are to have so much of your family’s history. We have lost so much with our current forms of instant communication. We pop something off quickly, it circulates to too many people, and is gone into the air. We don’t take the time to compose and write down something special for one special person to treasure. Not to mention the joy it will bring to future generations when they find it and get a peak into the past.
    Thank you for using your family tidbits as jump-of points for good stories to share with us.

    • Thanks Patricia! You’re so right about lost communications! I saved a ton of digital correspondence from the 1990s –on 3.5 disks–(!!) Now I don’t have any way to read them!

  21. It’s super that you have incorporated a little family history into your books.

    I own an autograph book from the 30’s and I love reading it and I marvel over the handwriting!

  22. Great post! I know Iowa is famous for its German emigrants. They hold a festival each year to introduce newbies and entertain oldies to the German culture and food. From Iowa which part of Nebraska did your grandpa’s Aunt Rose move to?
    Would love to win your book!

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