The town of Muscatine, Iowa, once known as the pearl-button capital of the world, served as the inspiration for the fictional town of Fortune in my novel. During my research I learned that Muscatine held a grand festival in 1946 to celebrate the town’s fiftieth anniversary of harvesting clam and mussel shells from the Mississippi River and transforming those shells into buttons.
Thirty-five years before he became president, actor Ronald Reagan was given the honor of selecting the festival’s Pearl Button Queen from seven contestants who were employed in the local button factories. In a 1981 Muscatine Journal interview, Helen Burke recalled what it was like to be chosen: “They gave me a big bunch of roses and put a crown on my head—and I immediately fainted!” Once Helen recovered from her surprise, she happily took her throne on the parade float and rode through town perched inside a giant clam shell with her court in attendance.
Within the first moments of discovering this story, I knew that one of my main characters had to be a former pearl button queen and soon feisty Hildy Baxter and her lifelong treasure hunt began taking shape in my imagination.