One of the fun opportunities for fans of Fitzgeralds books is finding the links to the past. Fitzgerald used the past as a generous canvas. Skillfully drawing on facts, legends, and tales to create a memoir of a time that existed in Utah’s history. However much he may have wanted to, it was impossible for Fitzgerald, to completely tell an biographic history of the time. With that limitation Fitzgerald and his sister Isabelle worked to present a feeling style story as opposed to a linear story. Their choice of creative license covered everything from scenes to characters. In this section I will try to highlight some of the key characters and the choices Fitzgerald may have made. In the weeks to come I wll try to present a fuller explanation on my blog, but for now, enjoy the insights.
Thomas Fitzgerald-(Papa) was larger than life. A pioneer citizen of the City of Price. Born in Towanda, Pennsylvania. Educated through college. Driven by wanderlust (his daughters words) in early manhood, he established residence in Alaska, Idaho and eventually Utah. He owned a full real estate block in Price. Some of it he rented, a portion of it he kept for his Saloons. His business success opened the way for him to become a city council member. He served for four years. He married Minnie Neilsen, a beautiful scandivian girl 25 years his junior. They were wed in Salt Lake City in the office of the justice of the peace. They eventually had 6 children.
Lorimine Christine Neilsen-(Mamma) Born in Hryoing, Denmark, immigrated to America with her Mormon converted family. Working as bookkeeper for Olsens Mercantile in Price she met Thomas Fitzgerald a recent eastern newcomer. Vivacious, kind, and generous, Minnie, as her friends called her, opened her home for social gatherings such as cards and dinner. Fitzgerald aptly describes her as woman whose hands were always busy. By all accounts his description is accurate. Newspaper clippings record many prize ribbons won at fairs both for canning and stitchery. Her daughter also records she had beautiful penmanship.
Uncle Will – Thomas Fitzgerald’s brother William became a book character by default. To tell the story of the west that Papa and Mamma knew a characture needed to be created. Along came saloon owner William Fitzgerald. Uncle Will was based on a composite of two real life Fitzgerald uncles and Thomas Fitzgerald’s business partner, Lee Warf. The real life Uncle William Fitzgerald never left Pennsylvania for the west. He remained in his families community, eventually marrying and raising a wonderful family
Grandpa and Grandma FitzgeraldThe book characters shared very little in common with their real life counterparts. The only accurate connections were the use of surname and Grandpa Fitzgeralds death. Everything else about them is “poetic licensed” to the fullest. Their given names were changed for reading purposes. The Pennsylvania Fitzgeralds and their descendants used family names repeatedly. Their were multiple Thomas’s and Isabelle’s, which were Grandpa and Grandma Fitzgerald’s own first names in real life.
Grandma and Grandpa Nielsen – suffered the same name change fate as Grandpa and Grandma Fitzgerald. Grandpa and Grandma Nielsen were named Niels Christian Nielsen and Elizabeth Fairgate Nielsen. Fortunately for them their book characters came closer to real life than did the Fitzgerald grandparents. Both did convert to the Mormon faith and eventually migrated with their family to the town of Emory, Utah. They also had a daughter named Sena, though she was not the only other child of Grandma and Grandpa Nielsen.
Aunt Cathie – loosely on Fitzgerald’s real life Aunt Isabelle Fitzgerald Murphy. Aunt Isabelle did live in Price at the time Fitzgerald’s family resided there and was married to Papa Fitzgerald’s friend and business partner Thomas Murphy.
Bertha Tuttle – factual sort of. Fitzgerald lists her as factual in his affidavit then types, “dead-real name Olive Miller.” No reason is given for the name change. Listed directly below is “Mr. Tuttle – factual – dead.”
Many characters such as Henri Dussiere, Sam Wade,,Sarah Fransen were all factual. Photographs or small anecdotes about them can be found in history books or newspaper clippings from early Price. Also included are characters who were factual by livelihood but their names were changed at authors perogative. A few of these are Rev. Holcomb, Mrs. Watts, Jane Purdy, Seth Smith, and Froggy Barlow. Whatever reason he chose to change names Fitzgerald truly believed, right up to the end of his life, he’d told the story of the west, “as Papa, Mamma, and I knew it.”