On digging up the past: Mary Casanova’s "Frozen" inspired by true events in Koochiching’s early 1900s history.

Boat landing at Ranier in 1909. Photo from Koochiching County Historical Society.

Award-winning author and resident of Ranier, Minnesota

For two decades I’ve been haunted by an account in Hiram Drache’s Koochiching, about life in northern Minnesota in the early 1900s. A prostitute was found frozen one morning in the snow; as a joke, someone stood her body up in the corner at the start of a council meeting. This, allegedly, caused quite a stir.

What it churned in me was a deep desire to understand and give a voice to this woman’s life and death. Perhaps avenge it. I wanted to know more about her and the challenges women faced in one of the last settled frontiers. It took years before I started writing this story but when I did, the story’s narrator stepped onto the page—the woman’s daughter, Sadie Rose.

I’d never written about such an early time in Minnesota. As Sadie Rose’s story began to take shape on Rainy Lake, I found her life set against the backdrop of wealthy industrialist and timber baron E.W. Backus and the penniless and emerging environmentalist Ernest Oberholtzer. Then these larger-than-life “David and Goliath” characters with their conflict over preserving wilderness threatened to overtake Sadie Rose’s story. This is in part why I fictionalized their names.

I live in Ranier, directly across from the historic lift bridge that fits prominently into the story, so it’s easy for me to picture steamers, log booms, taverns, and brothels from the turn of the century. The 100-years-plus home I share with my family wound up becoming the natural setting for the summer cottage of Sadie Rose’s caretakers, the Worthingtons.

Within the string of our home’s earlier owners was a woman named Sadie Rose. The name fused with my emerging character, and I never considered changing it. In many ways, I felt the earlier “ghosts” of my home and area speaking to me over the years about this story’s direction. My job was to listen to the story that needed to be told.

My hope is that through one character’s struggle to learn of her past as she shapes her future, readers will gain a sense of the confluence of many powerful rivers at that time in Koochiching history.

Frozen is a microcosm of what was happening on a national scale—from the Suffrage movement and Prohibition to unchecked development of wilderness and emerging environmentalism.

Most importantly, it is a reminder that the past is filled with the voices of individuals . . . and the many stories yet to be told.


Mary Casanova is the author of twenty-nine books for young readers, and most recently of the young adult novel Frozen, which is set in 1920s northern Minnesota.
Her books are on many state reading lists and have earned the American Library Association Notable Award, Aesop Accolades from the American Folklore Society, Parent’s Choice Gold Award, Booklist Editor’s Choice, as well as two Minnesota Book Awards. She speaks frequently around the country at readings and library conferences.
She lives with her husband and three dogs in a turn-of-the-century house in Ranier, Minnesota, near the Canadian border.

“Mary Casanova knows the lakes and woods of northern Minnesota as few other writers do, and she brings them to life along with an intriguing mystery set in that region’s dark past.”—Marion Dane Bauer, author of On My Honor

“Suspenseful . . . Casanova creates a strong sense of place and ably establishes her story’s historical context. The narrative confronts weighty issues including prostitution, mental illness, and political corruption . . . readers should find [Sadie Rose] an admirable heroine as she finds her voice and her future.” —Publishers Weekly

One thought on “On digging up the past: Mary Casanova’s "Frozen" inspired by true events in Koochiching’s early 1900s history.

  1. Great story. If you have any interest in northern Minnesota, it is a must read. Great characters, especially Sadie Rose. Powerful ending. Thanks for a great read!

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