Looking Back … Looking Forward


It’s fun looking back to my first projects. This is one of them, and boy, it was a blast!

The book was created using a slew of postcards and newspaper accounts collected by Mrs. K’s “co-author,” Janice Parkinson-Tucker.

Janice is an expert researcher with a tremendous skill for digging deep. She discovered a series of personal news articles written long ago by a Mrs. Hermann Kotzschmar, who left her husband behind and took her daughter on an epic European tour in 1897. “Mrs. K” arranged to send home regular accounts of their travels, to be published by her hometown newspaper in Portland, Maine.

Janice spent hours peering into the microfilm machine at the Portland Public Library and painstakingly transcribing the letters. But she was troubled to find no illustrations to go along with Mrs. K’s missives. She tried contacting the Kotzschmar family to see if a photo album or scrapbook might exist. But not only could no descendants be found—Janice uncovered a news account of a tragic house fire that had destroyed all the Kotzschmar family’s possessions.

Leave it to intrepid Janice to do an end run: she made a list of all the wonderful places mentioned by Mrs. K in her letters, and tracked down dozens of antique postcards that illustrated each place! Using words and quirky old images, we created a book that is in part an old-fashioned travelog and a scrapbook of the kind that perhaps Mrs. K lost in the fire.

Success … almost.

Janice just couldn’t stop. Why? Because Mrs. K herself remained a mystery; nowhere could Janice find a photo of her, much less her actual NAME.

Dig, dig, dig … and finally, DONE! With the help of another enthusiastic researcher at Maine Historical Society, Mrs K. was finally found—her photo, and her name: Mary Ann Torrey. No longer is she lost to the ages; no longer is she only somebody’s Mrs.

A personal history project, driven by passion, is a beautiful thing—both the product and the process. This book caught hold of Janice and me both; Mrs. K became almost like a family member. And we strove to make our book, her book, as fun and beautiful as we knew she’d want it to be.

Bonus. My collaboration with Janice bloomed into a friendship of long standing. I’m lucky to have a buddy who is such an intelligent, funny, fun, talented, and energetic lady.

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