Sometimes it doesn’t pay to dig too far beneath the surface. In Privy to the Dead, Nell Pratt finds out the hard way.
Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities in the country, so there’s a lot of history there, on the surface and beneath it. Nell Pratt and the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society are more or less the official custodians of that history. However, that did not mean that when workmen renovating the building discovered a long-hidden hole in the basement, Nell had to insist they check to see if there was anything “historic” down there before they covered it up. But she did.
There was something nobody expected there, but its discovery resulted in an unfortunate death. Curiosity, historic or otherwise, has a price.
I lived in the Philadelphia area for almost half my life, although not all at once. I attended a Quaker school, and grew up learning bits and pieces of local history. Later I spent several years working at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, which became the model for the Society in the Museum Mysteries. I loved working there: the collections are amazing, and I had personal access to them, which is a rare privilege. Once I held the 17th-century “receipt book” that belonged to William Penn’s first wife, Guglielma. It contains a or cure for earache, which boils down to “chop an onion, heat it through, and stick it in your ear.” I’m not kidding. History does not have to be boring.
The privy or hole in the basement of the building is real. What fictional Nell finds down there is fictional, but is connected to quite a few people and events in the series. Real or invented, people find that it’s kind of hard to escape the past in Philadelphia.
Privy to the Dead
A Museum Mystery
By Sheila Connolly
June 2, 2015; $7.99