A letter from a young soldier in the Union Army to his wife, and a locket, pocket watch and some coins become the keys to a mystery locked inside the foreboding stone walls of the old Bethlehem Tannery for over 150 years.
When we decided to write our book, Charlene Donchez Mowers and I had no idea that the fictional story that we created in The Body in the Vat: Tales from the Tannery, would come to life so vividly in the people and in the settings in which we ourselves lived and worked for close to 30 years. Our characters, of course, were composites of the people we knew. Mitzi and Adele are two modern day leaders in the community who find themselves drawn into a tangled web of secrets stretching across generations. As they investigate the family history of the great-great grandson of the murdered young soldier, they find themselves face to face with danger.
What led us to write our book? Charlene says it best: “We live with so much history here in Bethlehem. But sometimes people are put off by the word ‘history.’ By writing a fictional story, and by including some helpful appendices describing our historical institutions, we hoped both to engage our readers and to give a sense of place to our writing. The 1761 Tannery is real, as is the 1869 Mill and the buildings along Church Street.”
As we discovered when we began the process, there were some challenges to writing a book together. Presenting a story with “one voice” throughout was our goal. We wanted the plot to flow naturally and the writing style to be cohesive. Another challenge was just the sheer amount of time needed to prepare a final copy for printing.
Will there be a sequel? Because we dubbed the book, “An Old Bethlehem Mystery,” we left ourselves open to the continuing adventures of Mitzi and Adele. We are considering another book that will contain some “Old Bethlehem Christmas Mysteries.”
The Body in the Vat: Tales from the Tannery is available at the Visitor Center on Main Street in Bethlehem, at all of the Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites, the Moravian Book Shop, the Moravian Archives and at the Moravian Historical Society at the Whitefield House in Nazareth. The book is also available digitally on Amazon Kindle, iBooks, Goodreads and Barnes and Noble. Proceeds from the sale of the book will go to two causes: the 275th Anniversary Committee of Moravians in Bethlehem and Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites. n
The Rev. Carol A. Reifinger is the retired Senior Pastor of Central Moravian Church, Bethlehem, Pa. Charlene Donchez Mowers is president of Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites, www.historicbethlehem.org.
From the January/February 2016 Moravian Magazine