The Civil War Time Capsule

The Civil War Room. Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall. Carnegie, PA.
The Civil War Room. Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Carnegie, PA. November 25, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Andrew Carnegie endowed the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, in 1901.

In 1906, the Captain Thomas Espy Post No. 153 of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) established a meeting room on the second floor. The GAR was a fraternal organization open to honorably discharged Union soldiers, sailors, or marines of the American Civil War.

The Civil War Room. Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Carnegie, PA. November 25, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

After the final member of this GAR post died in the 1930’s, somebody locked up this room with the GAR’s Civil War collection – its library, flags, etc. – inside the room. The room stayed locked for the next 50 years. The room became a time capsule.

This Bible belonged to the Captain Thomas Espy Post No. 153 of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR).
The Civil War Room. Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Carnegie, PA. November 25, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

The room suffered water damage and deterioration. Preservationists restored the room into a Civil War museum – the Civil War Room – in 2010.

Volunteers open the museum to the public during limited hours. They opened it for viewing the night of Marie Benedict’s talk on Carnegie’s Maid.

The Civil War Room. Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Carnegie, PA. November 25, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
The Civil War Room. Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Carnegie, PA. November 25, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

My Trip to Carnegie Hall

I went to a lecture at a Carnegie Hall last night.

No, I didn’t travel to THE Carnegie Hall in Manhattan.

Jonathan drove me to the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. I heard an author speak about her historical fiction novel about the industrialist Andrew Carnegie and his (fictional) Irish maid, Clara Kelley.

I learned that the staff at this library refer to the place as the “Carnegie Carnegie.”

Andrew Carnegie gifted the community of Carnegie with this library since they named their hometown after him. Most of the other libraries named after Andrew Carnegie in Greater Pittsburgh required community contributions to build. Not so with the Carnegie Carnegie. Andrew Carnegie funded this himself.

I came there for the talk by author Marie Benedict about her novel Carnegie’s Maid.

Benedict created the character of Clara Kelley based in part on her own Irish immigrant ancestors who worked as maids during the Industrial Revolution. She cast Clara Kelley as the fictional lady’s maid for Andrew Carnegie’s strong-willed Scottish mother, Margaret Carnegie. The book took place during the years 1863 – 1868. At this point in time, Andrew Carnegie was rich enough to pay for a lady’s maid for his mother. He was rich enough to pay an immigrant to take his place as a Civil War soldier. He was not yet one of the richest men in American history.

I enjoyed reading Carnegie’s Maid. I enjoyed the book talk even more. This was one of the best book talks / author visits that I ever attended. The author brought a slide show with photos of Andrew Carnegie, Margaret Carnegie, and historically significant buildings that figured into the novel. She taught us about her research process.

Here’s something that I noted when I read the book, but that Benedict came out and said: Pittsburgh’s dirty air occupied a role as “its own character” in Carnegie’s Maid. Benedict’s narrator mentioned the dirty air often. Now, the book took place in the 1860’s. However, my own husband’s late Babcia (the Polish word for grandma) worked in downtown Pittsburgh in the late 1940’s / early 1950’s. In that time, the woman wore white gloves as they travelled and worked. Babcia brought TWO pairs of gloves with her each day. She had to change her gloves partway through each day because the original pair became dark with soot. She did this every work day. And she worked in an OFFICE.

Pittsburgh’s air was DIRTY for a century or more. In fact, as I mentioned last week, I wonder often about the role that Pittsburgh’s air played in my own mother’s death from lung cancer.

I was born before Pittsburgh’s steel industry imploded and took a lot of American dreams with it. I visited my grandparents in Pittsburgh (Carrick) during my early years. I remember how the city smelled of sulfur from the mills on a late December night.

Pittsburgh was built on the backs of Americans and future Americans who ingested this filthy air.

Now I work in downtown Pittsburgh. My downtown Pittsburgh is much cleaner than Babcia’s downtown Pittsburgh. I hear the hype about Pittsburgh’s exciting renaissance. I visit some of the trendy, gentrifying “hipster” neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. And I remind myself that people suffered – still suffer – from Pittsburgh’s gritty past.

I brought much of myself and my past into this book as I read it.

I want to attend another talk by this author after she releases her next book.

Lung Cancer

I started this blog in part to give my fantastic readers a respite. So, I won’t get hurt if you stop reading now.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

My mom, Shirley Gaffron, passed away in October 2018 from lung cancer. She passed away two days after her 64th birthday.

Mom never smoked or used tobacco products. She never lived with a chronic smoker. I don’t want to stigmatize smokers. However, I also don’t want to stigmatize lung cancer as a “smoker’s disease. ” Research into the causes of lung cancer should be pursued further.

We had extended family who smoked. Some of these family members smoked indoors around other family members. To be honest, I wonder if – and to what extent – this contributed to my mom’s illness. I wonder if I’ll eventually receive a lung cancer diagnosis.

Here’s another thing – mom lived in Pittsburgh from her birth in 1954 until her marriage in 1974.

Pittsburgh doesn’t exactly have a reputation for having had clean air in the early 20th century. For instance, my husband’s late babcia worked in an office in downtown Pittsburgh in the late 1940’s / early 1950’s. She told us that back then, the woman wore white gloves as they travelled and worked. She had to bring TWO pairs of gloves with her each day. She had to change her gloves partway through each day because the original pair became dark with soot. She did this every work day. And she worked in an OFFICE.

My mom worked in an office, too. She also worked in a nursing home and a school. She lived in rural Pennsylvania for the last four decades of her life. She never worked inside a mill or a coal mine.

So, did two decades of life in Pittsburgh end up killing my mom?

I blogged today just to address some lung cancer stereotypes. I will return soon with more photos, ghost stories, and book recommendations. Please come back.

Book Report: American Ghost

Hill, railroad tracks, Lamy, new mexico.
Lamy, New Mexico. June 2009. (Photo: Jonathan Woytek)

What’s it like to be the real-life great-great granddaughter of a famous ghost? A ghost that prime time television featured?

I just learned all about this from reading American Ghost, by Hannah Nordhaus.

This is a non-fiction / travel/ family memoir. Julia Staab, a Jewish German American who died in 1896, allegedly haunts an upscale hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The author Nordhaus is Julia’s real-life great-great-granddaughter. (The book referred to her as “Julia” so I will as well.)

Julia died in the Santa Fe mansion that her husband, the merchant Abraham Staab, built for their family. She was 52 years old and the mother of eight children. Her youngest child passed away a few years before Julia’s own death. Julia allegedly spent a significant part of the end of her life shut up in her bedroom. She did not attend her own daughter’s wedding.

Decades later, this mansion became the La Posada de Santa Fe, a hotel and spa.

In the 1970’s, a La Posada hotel employee reported seeing a ghost. More ghost claims followed. Rumors and local folklore spread regarding Julia’s “real” cause of death and her existence in the spirit world.

Nordhaus researched family documents, letters, diaries, immigration records, etc. She interviewed family members who had personally known Julia and her children. Nordhaus is a direct descendent of Julia’s daughter, Bertha. She obtained Bertha’s diary, written during the final years of Julia’s life. She travelled to Santa Fe and to Julia’s childhood home in Germany. She discovered that although Julia died in Santa Fe in 1896, Julia’s younger sister, Emilie, perished (at the age of 81) in a Nazi concentration camp in 1943.

Years ago, I watched the NBC primetime show Unsolved Mysteries each week. This show’s season 7, episode 2 (which aired October 2, 1994) included the story of Julia Staab’s haunting at La Posada. The show included coverage of an actual “scientific” ghost hunt, complete with EVP recordings! (If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can watch this episode on Prime at no additional charge. The episode is SO CHEESY!)

If you listen to the Spooked podcast by Snap Judgment, note that Season 2, Episode 14 (The Intruders) told Julia’s story. The podcast included an interview with Nordhaus and promoted her book. I actually found out about American Ghost from this podcast episode.

Now, to be honest, the “tragic story of Julia Staab,” as the general internet presented it, reminded me very much of the internet rumors about the Lemp family of St. Louis. (Here’s a good podcast about the Lemp family.) The patriarchs of both families were extremely rich self-made German immigrants in the mid 1800’s. Both had matriarchs named Julia. Both families included significant amounts of children. Rumors of unexplained tragic deaths followed both the Staabs and the Lemps. Both families struggled with mental illness. Both families lived (and died) in Victorian mansions that fell into decline, underwent renovations, and then became upscale “haunted” hotels.

Dark tourism industries (including ghost hunts, etc.) sprang up around both the Staab and the Lemp family tragedies.

How refreshing to read about Julia in American Ghost, a family memoir written by her own great-great granddaughter!

Now, on a more personal level, I thought about my own personal travel experience to Santa Fe in 2009 when I read American Ghost.

Jonathan and I rode an Amtrak from Pittsburgh to Chicago, and then in Chicago we switched trains and rode to Lamy, New Mexico. The train didn’t go to Santa Fe. In Lamy, an Amtrak contractor picked us up in a cargo van and drove us 18 miles to a car rental in Santa Fe. We did a reverse of this route for the trip home.

We went to Santa Fe that weekend for a wedding. The other guests from Pittsburgh all flew into Chicago, and then flew from Chicago to Albuquerque, and then rented cars and drove to Santa Fe.

We joked that a city that had a RAILROAD NAMED AFTER IT didn’t actually have direct access to the railroad.

I learned from reading American Ghost that Abraham Staab fought to have the railroad build a spur from Lamy to Santa Fe. American Ghost even remarked on the irony that Santa Fe had a railroad named after it, and yet Staab struggled to have the railroad come to Santa Fe. A few decades later, Santa Fe lost its railroad spur.

Speaking of the reference to “Lamy, New Mexico,” American Ghost devoted over a chapter to that town’s namesake, the Catholic Archbishop Lamy. Abraham and Julia Staab apparently fostered a very close relationship with Archbishop Lamy.

American Ghost explored the claims that Abraham Staab’s money helped to build Santa Fe’s Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi (St. Francis Cathedral).

We actually toured the cathedral when we visited Santa Fe.

St. Francis Cathedral, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
St. Francis Cathedral, Santa Fe, New Mexico. June 2009. (Photo: Jonathan Woytek)

American Ghost has a copyright date of 2015. I wish that I could have read this before I toured Santa Fe in 2009.

Confederate Grave, Pittsburgh, PA

LIEUT W.M. Parker CO. D 21 ALA. INF C.S.A.
Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I took this at the Allegheny Cemetery Soldiers’ Lot, Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, PA. This headstone marks the grave of a Confederate soldier from the American Civil War. (C.S.A. stands for “Confederate States of America.”)

Glessner (Covered) Bridge

Glessner Covered Bridge
Glessner Bridge, Somerset County, PA. November 9, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I visit the Flight 93 National Memorial during some trips to my hometown of Berlin, PA. I travel from Berlin to the memorial on a series of back roads. (These roads are a much more direct way for me than the posted route on U.S. 30 / Lincoln Highway.)

On each trip, I pass signs for the Glessner Bridge. Tobias Glessner built this bridge in 1881. The bridge sits on the National Register of Historic Places.

Only five miles separates the Glessner Bridge from the Flight 93 National Memorial.

I visited the bridge last weekend.

If you visit the bridge, be mindful that you will leave the “main drag” of Route 30. You will travel past working farms. Last week, I had to slow down for chickens on the road. I also saw an Amish buggy. In other words, PAY ATTENTION as you drive. STAY OFF OF YOUR PHONE.

(Sidenote: Both my mother and my mother-in-law lived in rural Pennsylvania at points in their lives. Both women told stories of having to stop their cars for cows sitting in the middle of various farm roads. It happens.)

Also, here’s the barn that sits next to the bridge.

Red Barn
Red Barn, Somerset County, PA. November 9, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Perry Monument, Erie, PA

Perry Monument, Presque Isle State Park, Erie, Pennsylvania. American flags. Veterans Day
Perry Monument, Presque Isle State Park, Erie, PA. October, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here is the monument dedicated to Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry at Presque Isle State Park, Erie, PA.

This monument sits on a small penninnsula between Misery Bay and Presque Isle Bay, near the entrance to the Port of Erie.

Here is my prior blog post about Misery Bay.

Gimlet Media: Dark Podcasts that End Abruptly

I listen to podcasts from Gimlet Media on this iPhone. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Someone told my dad that I write a lot of dark stuff on my blog. So here’s another blog post about the dark podcasts that I enjoy.

This is about Gimlet Media’s dark podcasts that end abruptly.

Here’s my prior blog post about Gimlet Media. Here’s my recap:

I discovered podcasts in late 2014, when my sisters convinced me to listen to “Serial,” hosted by Sarah Koenig. This American Life released Serial in fall 2014.

Then, a former producer for “This American Life,” Alex Blumberg, co-founded his own podcast company, Gimlet Media, in August 2014.

Blumberg didn’t work on “Serial,” and Gimlet Media and its podcasts are actually competitors to “This American Life.” However, after I ran out of “Serial” podcast episodes, my sisters introduced me to the podcasts produced by Gimlet Media. I spent hours listening to Gimlet Media podcasts since early 2015.

I followed several Gimlet podcasts that just ended abruptly. Where did these podcasts go? I saw no notes on social media or on the platform where I get podcasts. Not even anything as simple as “Hey, guys, this will be our last episode.”

Months passed. Then, Gimlet either announced that they cancelled the podcast, or else that the season ended. For example, I waited for over a year to find out that Gimlet cancelled a certain podcast (“Mystery Show”) and also terminated its host (Starlee Kine) months earlier.

Several Gimlet competitors (including “mom-and-pop” podcasts) communicated to listeners much more clearly about the status of future episodes.

I noted a lack of consistency in regards to the existence of separate Facebook pages for Gimlet podcasts.

In October 2017, Gimlet introduced an American Civil War podcast, “Uncivil”. “Uncivil” is (was?) hosted by Jack Hitt and Chenjerai Kumanyika. (Hite was a contributing editor to “This American Life.”)

Between October and December 2017, Gimlet released ten episodes of “Uncivil.” And then . . . crickets. The episodes stopped. I saw no communication about the status of this show.

Then, on November 9, 2018, “Uncivil” actually did release TWO brand-new episodes. On the same day.

And then . . . crickets. Again.

So, here’s the most recent update that I have for this:

I learned that Spotify acquired Gimlet Media in February 2019.

Then, I recently listened to one of Gimlet’s remaining podcasts, Reply All. At the end of the Reply All podcast episode, the hosts announced that Matt Lieber, the other Gimlet founder, was no longer with Gimlet.

I learned that the Gimlet podcast Startup (a podcast series that dedicated its entire first season to Gimlet Media’s origin story) released one FINAL season, titled Startup: The Final Chapter. This final season explained Gimlet’s sale to Spotify earlier this year. The new episodes in this season included the title Our Company Has Problems

Finally, I listened to the entire season of Startup: The Final Chapter. (Spoiler alert: it consisted of three episodes.)

The episodes in Startup: The Final Chapter didn’t mention Uncivil by name. However, this is what I learned that could possibly apply to Uncivil:

1.) In spring 2018, the Gimlet management had just completed a round of financing that they hoped would last for two years. However, they learned in a meeting that at their burn rate at that time, the money raised would last for a much shorter time.

2.) Blumberg noted that several of Gimlet’s podcasts cost a great deal of time and money to produce. These same podcasts didn’t produce enough ad revenue to cover the expense of making them. (Blumberg didn’t mention Uncivil by name. I am under the impression that Uncivil might have fallen into this category.)

3.) The listenership data disappointed Gimlet’s management.

4.) Gimlet received an offer from Spotify in late November or early December 2018.

5.) Blumberg didn’t mention the podcast My Favorite Murder (MFM) by name. However, the Startup podcast episode about Gimlet’s burn rate and listenership included a clip from MFM. I am under the impression that Gimlet Media’s podcasts compete for listeners with MFM. (I listen to MFM regularly.)

So there you go. Case closed. I’m under the impression that the podcast Uncivil released its last episode.

However, I still needed to blog about this. Blumberg noted himself that several of his company’s podcasts cost significant sums of time and money. How much more time and money would it cost him to leave a note on Facebook to tell us that a certain podcast ended?

Heck, I can name several podcast producers who actually have other day jobs, and these people still communicated to listeners when their podcasts went on hiatus.

Based on what I learned about Blumberg from the first and final seasons of Startup, I am under the impression that Blumberg was very hands-on a micromanager regarding his business’ creative side.

In the meantime, I stopped waiting for Gimlet to string me along regarding Uncivil. I’m listening to hours and hours of podcasts released by Gimlet’s competitors. Here’s a short list of them.