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Christine DeSmet on Tulips, a Tornado, Lighthouses, & Napoleon’s Brother

Christine DeSmet is the author of the Fudge Shop series of cozy mysteries. You can find out more about her on her websitge, www.christinedesmet.com, or by clicking here, read her last post here, or buy her books here.

Lighthouses have a special meaning for me. The cover of Hot-Fudge Frame-Up depicts the Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, in Door County, Wisconsin, which I’ve toured.

With its 11 lighthouses open for tours June 7-9, 2024, “the Door” as we call it has the most of any county in the United States.

Book Cover. Hot Fudge Frame-Up - A Fudge Shop Mystery by Christine DeSmet. Picnic spread with pink fudge and lighthouse and dog in the background.

Tulips also have a special place in my heart and April/May festivals abound.

Tulips in Europe in the 1630s cost as much as an Amsterdam house. Tulips served as money for a short time.

Now through May 12 you can see 800 varieties of tulips from seven million bulbs at the Keukenhof in Lisse, Netherlands.

“Tulip” comes from “turban.” Holland imported tulips from Turkey in the 16th Century.

In Persian mythology the red tulip signifies undying love. Legend says a commoner wanted to marry the princess but the king refused. The commoner threw himself off a mountain and scarlet tulips sprang from the droplets of blood.

Tulips were important when I was in school in Barneveld, Wisconsin, west of Madison, population 420 then. In the 1970s Barneveld got a sister city—Barneveld, Holland, named for Johan van Oldenbarneveldt (1547-1619), a revolutionary politician who founded the Dutch East India Company.

Barneveld, Holland is the world’s largest manufacturer of egg-grading and packing machines. (The area developed Barnevelder chickens which lay up to 200 eggs per year.)

Napoleon’s brother Louis and Louis’s son (Napoleon Louis) ruled the Kingdom of Holland from 1806 to 1810.

It’s conceivable descendants of tulips grown around Louis Bonaparte’s home came to Barneveld, Wisconsin, where ladies planted thousands. The village had two bars, a Case tractor dealership, a hardware store, a grocery with creaky wood floors, a one-room library, a corner brick bank…and tulips. And a tulip festival for a while.

Forty years ago this June 8, 2024, at 1:00 a.m. an F5 tornado destroyed 90 percent of Barneveld, killing nine, injuring  200. A brother of mine was spared. My parents’ real estate office was destroyed but Mom saved an oil painting I’d done of our farmstead.

Barneveld is now 2,000 people strong. It’s raising funds to improve Memorial Park on this 40th tornado anniversary. I hope they plan for red-tulip beds.

I imagine generations of Napoleon’s brother’s tulips are still blooming in Barneveld, Holland, and perhaps they will be again, too, in Barneveld, Wisconsin.

Do you remember a tulip or flower festival that impressed you?

How do you feel when you find colorful blooms amid a tired landscape?

Do you bring such contrasts and history into your stories, novels, poems?

Christine DeSmet

Christine DeSmet is the author of the Fudge Shop Mystery Series set in Door County, and the Mischief in Moonstone Series set in northwest Wisconsin. You can find out more about her on her website, christinedesmet.com, or follow her on Facebook.

This Post Has 30 Comments

  1. John DeDakis
    John DeDakis

    Thanks for this. Glad to hear the tornado spared your brother and your painting, and agree that tulip beds should be in Barneveld’s future.

    That said, your reference to lighthouses reminds me of a TV commercial I saw. A urologist was advertising his services for erectile dysfunction. On the wall behind him, several pictures of lighthouses. I kid you not.

    1. Christine DeSmet
      Christine DeSmet

      Oh my, thanks, John.

  2. Laurie Buchanan
    Laurie Buchanan

    Christine, this post taught me so many interesting things, including that you paint (or at least used to). I had no idea!

    Tulips are my favorite flower! Their vibrant colors and delicate petals always bring joy. Every year, we make a point to attend the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in Washington State. It’s an enchanting experience where millions of tulips burst into bloom, turning the landscape into a modern-day paradise featuring fields of tulips, meticulously curated display gardens, and activities for everyone to participate in.

  3. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    Wow, Laurie, you are so lucky to have a tulip festival somewhere relatively nearby.

  4. Joy A Ribar Ann A Ribar
    Joy A Ribar Ann A Ribar

    Christine, this Wisconsin gaI always learns something new from your posts. I remember the Barneveld tornado well. It received a lot of coverage because tornadoes of that strength spared our Dairy State up to that point. I love the history of the tulip and the sister city in Holland ruled by a Bonaparte, no less. Flowers are fascinating to me. I had a huge garden before we sold the house, so now I visit flowers where they live. Yesterday, we were in the historic colonial district of Dover, Delaware where tulips bloomed in throngs. I took a lot of tulip photos along with cherry blossoms. My WIP will feature a variety of flowers since Cassandra is a practicing apothecary.

  5. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    Joy, what a gift you’ve given yourself by traveling around to visit flowers! I love that concept. We should all make a point of doing that on this Earth Day!

  6. Avatar
    dortega229

    I love Tulips and have planted them around my yard they are now blooming along with the Hyacinths very beautiful flower.

    1. Christine DeSmet
      Christine DeSmet

      I have a few delicate pink ones growing near my front door, but they’re in the shade and not blooming until later. But we do have tulips blooming here in Wisconsin now. I had promised myself to plant more last fall and then failed to do so. Grrrrr on me! I love Hyacinths, too.

  7. Avatar
    saralynrichard

    Having lived most of my adult life in Chicago and traveled to Door County and to Holland, MI many times, I’m familiar with the lighthouses and tulips. And even tornadoes. I didn’t know your family was so impacted by a tornado, though, and I am very sympathetic. Those disasters become part of the fabric of a family.

  8. GP Gottlieb
    GP Gottlieb

    Tulips costing as much as a house- who can imagine it? Lovely imagery in your story, from flowers to hurricanes.

    1. Christine DeSmet
      Christine DeSmet

      Thanks, Galit! I didn’t think about all the images. Thanks for mentioning those!

  9. Carl Vonderau
    Carl Vonderau

    What interesting information about tulips. They are one of my favorite flowers. I loved the Persian myth about the rejected commoner who throws himself off a cliff. Today the rejected lover just dials up more prospects on the web,.

  10. Avatar
    Margaret Mizushima

    So glad your brother was spared in that tornado. My parents’ hometown, Greensburg, KA, was destroyed by a tornado back around 2007 or 2008/ It was terrible to see the decimated trees and buildings in that small prairie town. The cemetery where my parents are buried was untouched…hallowed ground. And there are tulip festivals in WA as well! Thanks for this post, Christine!

    1. Christine DeSmet
      Christine DeSmet

      Yes, the trees. The stripped and broken trees, gone. It’s very haunting. So sorry to hear that your parents hometown went through the same thing.

  11. Avatar
    Laurie

    Thanks for making my morning sunnier by reminding me of tulips. My husband and I spent Easter Sunday this year at the tulip garden in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. Love the flower!

    1. Christine DeSmet
      Christine DeSmet

      I was at the Golden Gate Park long ago but we didn’t see the tulips. It’s a magical place any day of the year.

  12. Avatar
    Avanti Centrae

    Such a great tapestry of disparite story pieces. I’m in Indiana at the moment and there are tulips everywhere. So beautiful. Glad your family was spared the late night tornado. That’s thriller fodder!

    1. Christine DeSmet
      Christine DeSmet

      It was a thriller for sure. I was in Madison at the time and Mom rang the phone at 4:00 a.m. and she started with, “We’re all right.”

  13. Colleen Winter
    Colleen Winter

    What a fascinating set of connections. Tulips are always such a beautiful rite of spring. My friend recently sent photos of the tulips in holland which is now a trip I would love to do. Thanks for the lovely reminder of the power of tulips.

    1. Christine DeSmet
      Christine DeSmet

      I’d love to be there during tulip time, too. It has to take one’s breath away.

  14. Avatar
    Sherrill Joseph

    Christine, I didn’t know how you were going to pull together the four elements in your title, but you certainly did! So glad your brother survived that tornado. Thanks for the interesting story! Here in San Diego County, we have The Flower Fields: 55 acres of ranunculus, a 300 by 170-foot hillside American flag made out of petunias, a cymbidium orchid greenhouse, the artist gardens, bird aviaries, a sweet pea maze, and a 1500 square-foot greenhouse filled with world-famous Paul Ecke poinsettias on the property. Tractor wagon rides take visitors to the sites.

    1. Christine DeSmet
      Christine DeSmet

      Sherrill, wow! That sounds so lovely! I’d be on that tractor wagon in a second!

  15. Avatar
    Michelle Caffrey

    So glad your brother was spared from the twister. I have an absolute phobia about them. I also didn’t know you painted, but I’m not surprised. Creativity comes in many ways.

    1. Christine DeSmet
      Christine DeSmet

      I’d love to get back to my painting, but I’m diving back into sketching with colored pencils and crayons for now. I was an oil painter, and I loved the medium. I’m creating sketches as I work on drafts of my next novel. Each day’s work is finished and marked by sketching something on the sketch pad.

  16. Sharon Lynn
    Sharon Lynn

    We don’t have tornadoes in AZ, something for which I am quite grateful. I couldn’t imagine what seeing one would be like. After 40 years in the desert where we have only two seasons (summer and hell), I’m finally in a place with seasons and I love it! Spring flowers are popping up everywhere!

    1. Christine DeSmet
      Christine DeSmet

      LOL on that “summer and hell.” Lots of people “winter” in Arizona and then leave hell some March or so. We had a neighbor who did the RV park thing there every winter. Glad to hear you’re in a lovely place where flowers have a chance and you’re inspired to write your novels.

  17. Anne Louise Bannon
    Anne Louise Bannon

    My mom loves tulips, one of the reasons she made a point of taking us kids to Keukenhof when we lived in Belgium in the 1960s.

  18. Christine DeSmet
    Christine DeSmet

    My relatives came from there and I’m sure there are many in Belgium still.

  19. Avatar
    Evelyn Ann Casey

    Once upon a time, my husband and I got a surprise chance to see the tulips in bloom at Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse, Holland. We didn’t know it would be offered as a side trip on our cruise. Wonderful!!!!

    1. Avatar
      christinedesmetauthor

      Oh, wow, what a lucky happenstance, Evelyn Ann! And best wishes for your novel’s debut in the future. Keep me posted!

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