The things you learn while researching a book can be very interesting in and of themselves. Everyone of a certain age remembers the Sears catalog as a place to order clothing, toys, and home goods, but did you know that an entire house could be ordered from Sears in the early twentieth century?
A mail order home, also known as a “kit house”, was a parcel of goods containing precut wood, windows, shingles, and all the other items needed to build a house. The parcel was usually shipped to the desired location by rail. The would-be homeowner provided the labor and, often, the concrete and bricks needed to construct a foundation. The pieces were often labeled to assist in assembly, just like a model kit.
During the mid-1920s, land lots in Florida sold like crazy. The West Coast Development Company was selling undeveloped parcels in Homosassa, the setting of our book. The St. Petersburg papers were filled with real estate ads. Harry Prettyman was advertising Gold Rushes in Oldsmar, burying gold pieces in vacant lots as a promotional gimmick.
Empty lots needed houses on them. Most of them were constructed by traditional builders, but others were built from kits. Sears and Roebuck sold kit homes all over Florida – Jacksonville, Gulfport, Melbourne, and St. Augustine, to name a few cities. Aladdin City, located in Miami-Dade County, was supposed to be a planned community built entirely of Moorish-themed kit homes from The Aladdin Company of Bay City, Michigan. In early 1926, the company staged an event where one of their houses was built on an empty lot in one day. Unfortunately, the Land Boom turned into a bust before the company’s full vision came to fruition.
We took the idea of companies providing kit homes and turned it into a strong motive for homicide in MURDER ON THE MULLET EXPRESS. There were a number of investment schemes afoot in the Twenties, and not all of them were honest. And yes, swampland is involved.
Are kit houses still available today? Yes. You can order a house for assembly through IKEA (no surprise). Conestoga will sell you a lovely log cabin grander than the one Lincoln grew up in. Shelter-Kit offers not only houses, but barns and garages for assembly. No need to mail in a request, though: these catalogs are online.
Cornelia Pettijohn knows it is best to carry a sidearm when traveling with her Uncle Percival. The quirky retired professor has a talent for finding trouble. What she doesn’t know is that purchasing a winter home in sunny Homosassa, Florida is not the only item on his agenda. A new movie camera, a highway breakdown, and a trip on The Mullet Express make the perfect formula for Uncle Percival to attract the interest of both law enforcement and a couple of rival mobs. Cornelia and her friend Teddy Lawless must use all their wits to get him out of the hole he’s dug for himself.
Mystery Historical [Mystery and Horror, On Sale: December 10, 2016, e-Book, ISBN: 2940154173909 / eISBN: 9780996420983]