Karen Thurland to Sign New Book at Undercover Thursday

Educator, historian, and author Karen Thurland has done it again! Thurland brings to her readers culture, events, history, and photographs that highlight life on St. Croix. She will be signing her new book, “Masqueraders Musicians and the Old Time St.Croix Christmas Festival,” at Undercover Books in Gallows Bay Thursday, 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Author Karen Thurland Photo courtesy of Karen Thurland)

Five years in the making, Thurland has researched, interviewed, photographed and worked with multiple locals, their family members and everyone possible to pack her latest book with a wealth of information, education and delightful stories to share with her readers.

Thurland began writing in 1990, with her first publication in 1994 of the 100th anniversary of her grandfather’s birth. [Peter G.Thurland Sr].

“I started doing research and just kept going,” she said, counting her current endeavor as her sixth published book.

St. Croix is always the focus of Thurland’s books with oral history and interviews in the territory included in her research. Family photos that have been generously shared, the St. Croix Landmarks Society, the Fritz Henle collection, the Whim Library, and years of research have contributed to Thurland’s new book.

Karen Thurland new book (Photo credit by Elisa McKay

Many photographs have also been captured via a reel from Thurland’s dad back in the day. “I sent away a VHS and got it back converted into a CD.”

There are stories upon stories from masqueraders to musicians to Christmas Festival organizers, and the list goes on with dialogues and vintage photographs – a must for everyone’s library.

Moonshiners Steel Band from Christiansted (Photo courtesy of Mandy Llanos)

The book sheds light on Culture bearer and Quelbe musician Stanley Jacobs and the Ten Sleepless Knights being sought after to perform for Quadrille dances, parties, and various cultural events such as festivals, parades, the Crucian Rican Tramp and other entertainment venues. They have been performing for over fifty years and are the musical ambassadors of the Virgin Islands. Their skills and knowledge has been passed on to others through mentorship and teaching and their music will live on forever.

Ernest “Prince” Galloway’s stories about his musical career are vivid in the book. He was a calypsonian from Watergut in Christiansted and is known all over the Caribbean, the United States and Canada. He is the only Virgin Islander who performed in New York’s Carnegie Hall and was inducted into the Calypso Hall of Fame. Galloway composed the song “Archie Buck Mih Up” in 1965, which played in Europe, recorded in Trinidad and Barbados, and by Fats Green in New York.

Ernest “Prince” Galloway performing in Trinidad (Photo courtesy of Ernest Galloway)

“People are very enthusiastic and are glad that someone is telling stories, especially about Festival and how it used to be long ago and the creativity and the different themes that they had. It started in 1952,” said Thurland.

Masquerade Memories is a chapter that dates back to the early 1900s with reminisces and photos that would delight the history buff. The masqueraders came out on Easter Monday, Christmas Second Day, Old Year’s dances, and the Lantern Parades in Christiansted, to name a few.

Masqueraders with their king dancing by Government House in Christiansted, early 1900s (Photo courtesy of St. Croix Landmarks Society

People made their own costumes of the characters they would portray as a part of the fun in bygone days.

Genevieve “Jenny” Thurland in Chinese costume for Festival Parade (Photo courtesy of Michelle Thurland Martinez)

The Old Time St.Croix Christmas Festival chapter boasts the memories of decades upon decades of celebration, beginning with the first organized festival occurring during the final years of the Danish government before World War I. The book states that the festival, at that time, went from December 26 through New Year’s Day. 

After its abandonment, the St.Croix Festival was revived in 1952 through the efforts of the St.Croix Women’s League at the suggestion and urging of second vice-president Hilda England. 

With the approval from St. Croix Administrator David.C. Canegata, England and Anna Brodhurst, League president, planned a week-long festival, which became known as the “Old Time Christmas Festival” and named by the Christiansted Women’s League.

The Frederiksted Women’s League, through Mrs. Eulalie Rivera, gave that year’s festival the slogan, “Kill Ting Pappy,” which means “Have a good time.”

The book highlights Festival troupe leaders such as Floyd Henderson, Mrs.Lillian Bailey, Amy Petersen Joseph for the Eve’s Garden Troupe, the Gentlemen of Jones, and Miss Jenny Thurland. Former Senator Liliiana Belardo de ONeal describes the significance of Three Kings Day and the contribution of Puerto Ricans to the St. Croix Festival.

Floyd Henderson leading his troupe, St. Croix Festival 35th Anniversary Parade (Photo by Karen Thurland)

The book is also a fitting tribute for the observance of the 70th anniversary of the St.Croix Christmas Festival in 2022-2023.

When asked why she writes, Thurland replied, “I write because we have a lot of history and culture we can talk about. But for the younger ones, it’s best to have it documented. I also encourage other people to write. I say see, I’ve done it, you can do it too. Of course, you have to be disciplined and have the time to write. People are very encouraging. They’ll meet me on the street and want to know when my next book is coming out. It really makes me feel good that people appreciate my work. I guess it’s my cultural contribution to the literacy of the Virgin Islands.”

Thurland has always liked writing. She has always been encouraged by professors in college and at the university level. She had visions of writing books after she retired, but she’s happy she began writing before she retired in 2006, with four published books within that period.

As an educator, Thurland began her career teaching history. She became a Cultural Education Specialist, Territorial Social Studies Supervisor, Director of Curriculum Instruction & Library Services, Assistant Principal, and Deputy Superintendent of Schools. When the urge to write got her, she decided that was as far as she wanted to go. “I felt I could offer more writing about topics – serious topics. People talk, but it needs to be put in writing. This is what I do.”

Thurland’s hobbies are reading, hiking, and traveling.

The introduction highlights Thurland’s early remembrances of masquerade and festival as a young child and continues as she shares the evolution through research, data collection, and interviews. At the back, there is a glossary and a compiled list of references. This comprehensive book shares Masqueraders, Musicians, and Old Time St. Croix Christmas Festival.

“My hope is that readers would enjoy reading this book and future generations of Virgin Islanders will understand the historic and cultural traditions of our annual celebrations. This book is my contribution to the cultural literacy of the Virgin Islands.”   – Karen C. Thurland

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