A Christmas Shake-Up!

Merry Christmas!

I hope to offer you a content shake-up in 2019.

Here’s how everything started:

In fall 2014, two of my sisters tried to tell me about how much they enjoyed listening to podcasts. By December 2014, my sister E.R. convinced me to download Season #1 of Serial, just as it ended. I listened to the entire season during the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

With my Serial craving still growling, I searched for more quality podcasts. I listened to podcasts as I commuted, finished housework, waited for appointments, etc.

I compiled lists of the things that any podcast MUST have in order for me to completely listen to it. I actively searched out podcasts on specific subject matter.

I complained to my husband, Jonathan, that I couldn’t find enough podcasts dedicated to the topics that really interested me. Namely: the history and lore of Western Pennsylvania. The land between the Susquehanna River to Ohio.

(I found a super podcast that I adore about the “coiled” history of the Philadelphia metro area. Yes, this particular podcast does on occasion cover legends from Sheetz / Steelers country. But not often enough to satisfy my craving.)

Why the distance between the Susquehanna and Ohio, you ask? Well, my mom’s family lived for decades in Pittsburgh and part of my dad’s family lived in Western PA and Ohio since the American Revolution. I was born almost directly across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg. So, the western half of PA (Sheetz / Steelers country) is my home.

Jonathan (and also his dad, Dennis) told me several times that if I wanted a podcast on this specific topic, then I should create it.

I finally agreed.

Jonathan gave me podcasting equipment for Christmas.

I don’t expect to produce an awesome, or even listen-able, podcast on my very first try. I will create garbage.

Then I will try again.

After all, I published my first blog post decades after I learned how to read and write.

However, I expect to drop a podcast episode before 2019 ends.

So watch out.

Now I have some questions for you:

What topics do you want me to cover?

What are your favorite podcasts?

What will you accomplish in 2019?

Little House in the Witch Trials

I just listened Season 1 of Aaron Mahnke’s newest podcast: Unobscured.

(I previously blogged about Aaron Mahnke’s Lore podcast.)

Each season of Unobscured will explore a different topic. Season 1 covered the Salem witch trials. Season 1 finished a few days ago with episode 12.

In Episode 11, titled Floundering, I learned this: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s ancestor Edmund Ingalls settled Massachusetts very early in its history. In the 1690’s during the Salem witch trials, the Puritans accused another Ingalls family member, Martha Ingalls Allen Carrier, of witchcraft. The Puritans hung this Ingalls relative. The Puritans accused several other Ingalls family members of witchcraft as well.

Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote the Little House books in the early 1900’s, including Little House on the Prairie.  Through her Little House stories, Wilder fictionalized her childhood in the midwest in the 1800’s.  

I grew up reading Wilder’s books.

Want some more random trivia?

Did you have to read The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne in your high school English class? Well, Hawthorne grew up in the town of his birth: Salem, Massachusetts. Hawthorne’s ancestors include a Salem witch judge: John Hathorne. (Somebody – perhaps Nathaniel Hawthorne – added a “w” to the family name.) 

What random trivia do you like to share about the Salem witch trials?

A Note About 2018

Each day this week, we received Christmas cards.

I learned earlier this week (on the internet, of course) that historically in some Western societies, it was a breach of etiquette for families in mourning to send or receive Christmas cards that year. The source of this information did not actually provide the time period for this “custom.” If I had to guess, I would speculate that this was in regards to the Victorian era, but who knows?

The decision to send out Christmas cards ANY year is a personal decision. However, how awful it would be to not be allowed to receive Christmas cards merely because a family member died!

I punch holes in all of the cards that we receive and hang them up as Christmas decorations.

I received cards from loved ones listing the “highlights” of their 2018.

I have this to say:

First off, my mom’s death was not the only heartbreaking death in my mom’s extended family in 2018. Several of my mom’s family members were already grieving another loss when they came to her funeral. I offer my condolences to my extended family.

That being said, for me personally, 2018 was not a complete garbage dump of a year. My own sister had a baby this year, and then a few months later my husband’s sister had a baby. So, I became somebody’s aunt two more times over in 2018.

This is just my personal experience.

If you so desire, feel free to write off 2018 as a total trash heap of a year!

Here’s to brighter skies over the mountains in 2019!

Chicago “Massacre” and the Girl Scouts; What Have You Survived?

So, shortly after the New Year, some Facebook friends will start to “vague-book” about Girl Scout Cookie season.  From what I understand, people who sell Girl Scout Cookies aren’t actually allowed to post on social media about cookie sales until a specific kick-off date.  However, I know people who post on Facebook “vague references” to selling Girl Scout cookies prior to the kick-off date. 

I spent years as a Girl Scout and attended Girl Scout camp many summers. However, I did all of this long before we all had social media. So if I’m mistaken about the social media guidelines, please reach out and let me know. I’ll even add you to my newsletter mailing list!

For the record, one of the Girl Scout troops that I joined had a bake sale fundraiser which we didn’t report to our local council so that we wouldn’t have to receive approval OR share our “profits” with them.  Since we didn’t have social media or access to the internet, and since we lived over an hour’s drive away from our council headquarters, we got away with this. 

I have a ton of happy memories about being a Girl Scout. So, thank you, thank you, thank you to all of my former Girl Scout leaders.

Also, thank you to the ghost of Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of Girl Scouts of the USA. 

I used to own a Girl Scout handbook that included a short biography of Juliette Gordon Low.

The biography mentioned that Low permanently lost part of her hearing on her wedding day. This happened after a wedding guest threw rice at her and the rice got stuck in her ear. The biography also mentioned that she was born right before the Civil War to a Yankee mother and a Confederate soldier father.

This biography left out Low’s family connection to a “massacre”/ “battle” on the site of present-day Chicago and the scandal in her own marriage. Here’s a short history about all of that:

So, when I was a kid, I didn’t realize that Girl Scout founder Low came from arguably one of the most elite families in the United States. Low’s mother grew up in a wealthy family that settled in Connecticut in the 1600’s. Low’s father inherited Georgia cotton and railroad money. Low married the son of Andrew Low II, one of the richest men in Savannah in the 1800’s. Low’s Georgia family owned slaves up until the Civil War. Yeah, my old Girl Scout handbook didn’t talk about this.

So let me start with Juliette Magill Kinzie. She became Juliette Gordon Low’s maternal grandmother. She grew up in Connecticut as Juliette Magill and married John H. Kinzie, the son of fur trader John Kinzie.

Juliette Magill Kinzie’s future in-laws ran their fur trade business on the Great Lakes.  In fact, in 1812 the Kinzies actually ran their trading operations across the Chicago River from Fort Dearborn. This local area sits on the shore of Lake Michigan. Do you know what we now call the section of the Chicago River that meets with Lake Michigan? Chicago. We now call that place Chicago.

The Kinzie family in 1812 identified as Canadians, not as United States citizens. This is important.

During this time period, the white American settlers attempted to settle further and further west. Various Native American communities attempted to stop them. Almost all of us learned about a watered-down version of this in school.

In 1812, the young United States and Great Britain entered into a war with each other that we now call the War of 1812. Great Britain and its Native American allies took Fort Mackinac in Michigan from the United States. This fort sat on the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lake Michigan with Lake Huron. So, once the United States lost Fort Mackinac, they had no way to send supplies or extra troops to any U.S. holdings on the shores of Lake Michigan.

The U.S. forces evacuated Fort Dearborn. However, during the evacuation, Native Americans ambushed the evacuating soldiers and civilians. Dozens of soldiers and civilians, including children, died.

Here’s an article from Chicago Magazine, published Jan. 4, 2010, that I really enjoyed about this: The True Story of the Deadly Encounter at Fort Dearborn, by Geoffrey Johnson. You can also read about this on Wikipedia. I’m not going to blog too much about it here because this blog post is supposed to be about the Girl Scouts.

One of the things that I learned from this above-linked article is that for decades after this event, the public referred to it as the “Massacre at Fort Dearborn.” Native American advocates pointed out that, generally,  incidents which resulted in defeat for white settlers were commonly referred to as “massacres” while engagements that resulted in defeat for indigenous peoples were referred to as “battles.” Many sources no longer refer to the Fort Dearborn incident as a massacre. Wikipedia calls this the “Battle of Fort Dearborn.”

When I visited Chicago a few summers ago, I stood on the sidewalk marking that commemorated the actual site of Fort Dearborn. I stood at the site of Fort Dearborn and I looked across the river at Chicago’s own Trump International Hotel and Tower. 

So, Girl Scouts of the USA founder Juliette Gordon Low’s Canadian Kinzie ancestors ran a trading post along the Chicago River, very close to where the Trump high-rise now sits.

The Kinzie clan didn’t die in the Battle of Fort Dearborn in 1812.  In fact, Juliette Migill Kinzie’s mother-in-law safely evacuated before the attack started. Remember, they were Canadians and they had relationships with the local Native Americans.

Since John H. Kinzie survived the Battle of Fort Dearborn in 1812, he could marry Juliette Magill from Connecticut in 1830. Juliette Magill had a relatively elite education for her day. So, she could read and write. Which she did.

Juliette Magill Kinzie moved to the Midwest with her husband and then she wrote several books.

She wrote about her Kinzie in-laws’ experiences during the Battle of Fort Dearborn. Juliette Magill Kinzie’s writings became a well-known source of information about the battle. Critics maintained that she wrote about the event from her in-law’s point of view and therefore made the Kinzie family out as the “heroes” of the event. Again, read this article from Chicago Magazine. It gives some good insights about the controversy around Juliette Magill Kinzie’s work.

Juliette Magill Kinzie and her husband John had seven children. Four of their sons served in the United States Army during the Civil War.

The Kinzies’ daughter Eleanor married William Gordon II of Savannah, Georgia. Gordon and his relatives served with the Confederate Army during the Civil War. William Gordon was the son of a politician and railroad president. He worked as a cotton and rice broker.  You can read on Wikipedia all about the Gordon family’s prominence in Georgia in the 1800’s.

William Gordon II and Eleanor Kinzie Gordon had a daughter in 1860 that they named Juliette. Little Juliette Magill Kinzie Gordon. The Civil War started a few months later.

 In 1886, Juliette Gordon married William Low. I learned in a Eugenia Price historical novel and also from this website that William Low was the son of Andrew Low, a Scottish immigrant who became one of the richest men in Savannah.

Juliette Gordon Low’s husband had affairs and then asked her for a divorce.

She moved on and started the Girl Scouts of the USA.

The United States posthumously issued a postage stamp in Juliette Gordon Low’s honor and also awarded her a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Low’s supporters worked have to her birthplace listed as a National Historic Landmark.

I don’t know what kind of legacy William Low left behind because he doesn’t actually have his own page on Wikipedia.

Here’s what I learned from reading about the Kinzie and Gordon families: Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA, came from wealth and incredible privilege. She came from a family fortune built on the exploitation of non-white people.

(Also, John Kinzie was credited with having committed the very first murder in Chicago’s history.)

We can’t forget any of this. 

But Juliette Gordon Low also came from people who survived things. The Kinzies survived the Battle of Fort Dearborn in 1812. The Kinzies and the Gordons survived the Civil War. She herself survived a Victorian Era divorce from a prominent husband.

What did you survive?

Is “30,000 Pounds of Bananas” the Most Pennsylvanian Song Ever?

If you’re not familiar with the the folk song 30,000 Pounds of Bananas by Harry Chapin, then go listen to it before you read the rest of this post. Be sure to listen to Chapin’s live recording on his 1976 album, Greatest Stories Live.

Chapin based 30,000 Pounds on a real tractor-trailer accident in 1965 outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Just as the song claims, the tractor-trailer actually did carry a load of bananas when it wrecked. The wreck actually did kill the truck driver, a real person, Eugene Sesky. Even worse, Chapin himself died in 1981 on the Long Island Expressway. A (supermarket-owned) tractor-trailer collided with the car that he drove. So there you have it: Harry Chapin wrote a song about a fatal truck accident in Pennsylvania, and then he died in a truck accident in New York. (Chapin died on his way to a concert. Did he plan to sing 30,000 Pounds of Bananas that night?)

So now that we are clear about all of that:

The live version of 30,000 Pounds helped me through this week.  I listened to it – well, more than once. You see, my Aunt Sue is a Harry Chapin fan. She drove us nieces on road trips through various parts of Pennsylvania. She played her well-loved Harry Chapin cassette when she drove. So when I hear 30,000 Pounds, I think about traveling down the snow-covered Pennsylvania Turnpike in my aunt’s car. 

In honor of my aunt’s road trips, here are 7 reasons why I argue that 30,000 Pounds of Bananas is the most Pennsylvanian song ever:

1.) mention of Scranton, Pennsylvania  (the future home of Dunder Mifflin, the fictional company in the television show The Office)

2.) reference to a “coal-scarred city”

3.) reference to children playing in slag piles

4.) reference to a curving road on a hill that leads into town

4.) reference to a road sign at the top of a hill that says “shift to low gear”

5.) reference to a “two mile drop”

7.) reference to an old man on a bus who likes to talk

Which song do you consider the “most Pennsylvanian song ever?”

“Every Day is Caturday!”

My sister K. gave me this “2019 Caturday Calendar” for Christmas. 

Each month features at least one cat dressed up to represent an author or else a character from a book or film. 

For instance, March features a cat dressed up as the Victorian era investigative reporter Nellie Bly. (Fun fact: Nellie Bly was the pen name for Elizabeth Cochrane Seaman. She was born in Armstrong County and she began her writing career for the Pittsburgh Dispatch. The calendar doesn’t actually say all of this. However, I am excited to see that one of the calendar’s cats represents a “local woman.”)

April features two cats dressed up as “William Shakespurr (Shakespear).”

The Centre County Library & Historical Museum sells these calendars both in-person and online. (FYI if you aren’t familiar with the area: the main campus of Penn State University is located in Centre County.)

In full disclosure, my sister K. once worked as a librarian for the Centre County Library & Historical Museum. However, K. now works for a different library system in a different region of Pennsylvania. Nobody paid me to write this blog post. I chose to blog about the calendar today because I found it cute. 

The Legend of Boniface Wimmer

I graduated from Saint Vincent College (SVC) in Latrobe, PA.

Boniface Wimmer, a Benedictine monk from Bavaria, founded Saint Vincent College and Saint Vincent Monastery.

A two-story statue of Boniface Wimmer sits in front of the Saint Vincent Basilica. The college and the monastery flank the basilica and thus the statue.

If you stand at the base of the Boniface Wimmer statue and look in the direction in which the statue points, it looks as if Boniface Wimmer points at the Latrobe Dairy Queen.

So, yeah, we all joked about how Boniface Wimmer stood in front of Saint Vincent and pointed at Dairy Queen.

Neither I nor my husband photographed the Wimmer statue or anything else on the Saint Vincent campus. (Yet.) I am not going to steal somebody else’s online Saint Vincent photo. Instead, I posted above a photo of a Dairy Queen Blizzard.

Wimmer passed away on December 8, 1887. Thus, the Saint Vincent community celebrated December 8 as a holiday. A holiday titled “Founder’s Day.”

Now, I don’t know which leader ultimately made this decision, but at some point after I graduated, the institution moved Founder’s Day to a date in October. Honestly, to me, Founder’s Day is not actually Founder’s Day unless it happens in December. 

(Today is December 7. December 6 was St. Nicholas Day, and today is the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. However, right this moment I am nostalgic for the old Saint Vincent Founder’s Day celebrations on December 8.)

I don’t remember every Founder’s Day event that I attended through the years at SVC. I remember the evening Founder’s Day fireworks displays. 

Here’s the thing about Wimmer: He didn’t found Saint Vincent Monastery and College in Latrobe as his “only” accomplishment. Saint Vincent was the FIRST Benedictine monastery founded in the United States. However, Wimmer’s efforts led to the founding of several more Benedictine monasteries and colleges. So, Wimmer’s name comes up in other institution’s origin stories

Now, the Saint Vincent community has its very own cemetery behind the monastery and the college. This cemetery includes Wimmer’s grave. I walked past this grave many, many times during my years as a student. I don’t have any photos because I didn’t own a decent camera then.

According to a campus legend, each year on the anniversary of his death, Wimmer’s ghost walks from his grave to the Saint Vincent Basilica. I know of people who actually camped out next to Wimmer’s grave on the night of December 8 in hopes of seeing the ghost.

To be honest, I lived in the dorm that was in the “ghost path” between Wimmer’s grave and the basilica. (This dorm is named Wimmer Hall!) So, if Wimmer’s ghost actually performed, I could have seen or heard something from the warmth of my dorm room. I never saw or heard this ghost. 

Did you ever see any ghosts at Saint Vincent College? If so, drop me a line!

#TBT Occupy Pittsburgh

One morning in December 2011, I took a break from my (financial services) office job in downtown Pittsburgh.

I walked several blocks to Mellon Green.

The Occupy Pittsburgh protests resulted in a Mellon Green encampment from October 2011 – February 2012.

I read about the movement in our local media outlets.

I wanted to see the Occupy Pittsburgh encampment for myself. So, I did just that.

I personally visited the encampment only this one time. I spoke to nobody at the encampment. To be honest, I didn’t encounter anybody to whom I could speak.

I assumed that everybody who “lived” in the encampment were at their own jobs.

I left after about fifteen minutes and returned to my own job.

I share the photos now only as an item of “remember when” interest.

Happy Holidays! 5 Truths About the Pittsburgh Aviary

Here’s Part 2 of my one and only trip to the National Aviary in Pittsburgh:

1.) The free-flight birds of prey show, titled “Soar!,” was well worth the extra $5 per person admission.

Mom told me less than 10 minutes before the show’s scheduled start that she wanted to attend this. The Aviary’s staff went out of their way to delay the show and to escort us to the show so that we could watch it. Mom passed away less than three months after we visited the aviary, but on the day of our visit she didn’t “look” like the stereotype of a cancer patient. I don’t believe that the aviary staff had any clue that they were going out of their way to accommodate an ill person.

Keep in mind that we visited the aviary on a weekday on August. The aviary website recommends that visitors purchase show tickets early. Shows may possibly sell out on more popular days.

The free-flight show took place on the aviary’s rooftop SkyDeck.  The birds all wore trackers on ankle bracelets. If you get nervous by being extremely close to large birds, then this is not a good show for you. The birds flew right over our heads and some landed next to us! We saw flying kites, falcons, and hawks.

2.) This bird scared my mom.

We visited the aviary shortly after the Tropical Rainforest reopened after a renovation. Birds and people now co-mingle in this exhibit.  The birds hang out in trees and bushes on both sides of the human walkway. They fly over people and also hang out around a 15 foot waterfall.

The bird that I posted above snuck up behind my mom while she walked through the exhibit. Mom turned around and saw it next to the back of her legs. She jumped and screamed. I laughed.

3.) We watched a “free” bat feeding and a “free” penguin feeding.

As I mentioned in Part 1, mom baby-sat a little girl who frequently talked about an aviary penguin named Tribby. Mom got to watch the aviary staff feed Tribby. Mom talked about Tribby on the trip home.

4.) Don’t sit on the benches in the Wetlands exhibit without first checking for bird crap.

Just like the Tropical Rainforest, the Wetlands exhibit allows birds to co-mingle with humans if they chose to do so. Birds fly over and onto the human walking path. However, unlike the Tropical Rainforest, the Wetlands includes benches. I saw bird crap on the benches during our visit. Be mindful of this!

Here is a photo of my mom and my sister E.R. posing in front of the flamingos at the Wetlands exhibit:

Here is a photo of the flamingos from the Pittsburgh zoo. However, they look pretty much like the flamingos that we saw at the aviary:

5.) In August, the aviary’s exhibits included a butterfly tent.

You could go into the tent, put sugar water on your hand, and encourage butterflies to sit on your hand.

Here is a photo that E.R. took of my mom interacting with butterflies at the aviary:

Here’s a Trib article about the aviary’s special holiday events for 2018. Apparently, the aviary has a bunch of fun things planned.

I visit the light show at Phipps Conservatory every winter. Perhaps I should visit the aviary’s light show and compare the two.

I, personally, would eagerly pose with Santa and a penguin. (Also, Tribby the Penguin is named after aviary corporate sponsor Trib Total Media.)

To be honest, an offer to pose for a photo with Bigfoot would excite me even more! Maybe the aviary should offer Bigfoot photos next year.

Here’s Part 1 of my report on the National Aviary in Pittsburgh. Part 1 is where I grumble about the limited parking options and the pricey ticket options.