3 Graves Disturbed on Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island includes three cemeteries: Ste. Anne’s Catholic Cemetery, Mackinac Island Cemetery, and the Post Cemetery. I didn’t blog about any of these today.

Here are three graves that humans later disturbed on Mackinac Island:

1.) Skull Cave

Europeans – first the French – came to Northern Michigan, and Mackinac Island, in the 17th century.

In 1763, a trader named Alexander Henry took overnight refuge in Skull Cave on Mackinac Island after fleeing from Native Americans during Pontiac’s War. Henry later wrote about the night that he spent in Skull Cave. Henry recalled that when he awoke in the morning, he was laying on a pile of human skulls and bones.

Thus, the name “Skull Cave.”

I list Skull Cave first because the signage on the island makes a big deal about “Skull Cave.” I also purchased a book or three that talks up Skull Cave.

However, Skull Cave no longer has any human skulls or bones.

I googled “what happened to the skulls in skull cave?” and the first page results don’t really tell me anything. The official tourism websites skirt around the whole issue.

So, where are the skulls and bones?

I heard tales of what happened to so many mummies that Victorian Europeans and Americans removed from the pyramids in Egypt. So, I feel uncomfortable about the lack of skulls in Skull Cave.

I thought about visiting Skull Cave this summer just to get a photo for this blog. However, Skull Cave sits on top of a hill. The road’s too steep for me to ride my bike, so I would have needed to walk up and down. It was humid that day. I just didn’t have it in me to visit Skull Cave this year.

2.) Madame LaFramboise’s Resting Place Beneath the Altar at Ste. Anne Catholic Church

Madeline (Marcotte) LaFramboise was born on Mackinac Island in 1780. She married Joseph LaFramboise, a fur trader, at the age of 14.

Little more than a decade later, Madame LaFramboise became the widow of a murder victim. She raised two kids and ran the family business on her own. Successfully.

Madame LaFramboise donated heavily to the Catholic parish on Mackinac Island. She donated land across the street from her own home for the building of the new Ste. Anne Catholic Church.

Per her wishes, Madame LaFramboise was laid to rest under the church’s altar.

But she didn’t get to rest for very long under the church altar.

In the 1960’s, parishioners moved Madame LaFramboise and her family to the churchyard. They replaced her original resting place with a basement gift shop / parish center / museum. Several decades later, they moved her to a new crypt.

Folklorists claim that Madame LaFramboise’s ghost is still upset about the removal of her grave from under the altar.

Ste. Anne is one of my favorite buildings on the island. The summer before my sister Anne got married, I lit a candle at Ste. Anne for my sister’s future. Daisies (my sister Anne’s favorite) grew in front of the church.

This year, I visited the church just so that I could tour this famous basement that caused the ghost story. There is a little garden outside the basement door with picnic tables, statues, benches, and stations of the cross.

A family ate their picnic lunch at one of the tables.

The sign on the basement door said, “Bottled Water for Sale in the Gift Shop.”

I went into the basement. I toured the little basement museum about history of Catholicism in Michigan. (Spoiler: Father Marquette plays a key role in the exhibit.) I walked past the gift shop that sells religious articles and bottled water.

No ghosts to be seen.

3.) A Mayonnaise Jar Buried Behind A Cottage

I and my husband Jonathan toured Mackinac Island Cemetery during one our July day trips to the island. It was my birthday. It was very hot.

We were alone in the cemetery until two men arrived. One of the men wore a t-shirt that said “Mackinac Island Fire Department” and unlocked a shed at one edge of the cemetery. Based on the man’s t-shirt and his possession of a key to this shed, I decided that this man must be an island authority figure. I decided to eavesdrop on the men’s conversation.

The man with the fire department t-shirt and the key explained to the other man that a person’s ashes had been placed in a mayonnaise jar and buried behind one of the islands “cottages.”

Now, these large Victorian “cottages” dot most of island. Some sit on privately owned land. Other cottages lease state park land. Most of these summer homes are larger than my own Victorian house in Pennsylvania.

Anyway, the man in the fire department t-shirt with the shed key said that the owner of the house and the yard where the mayonnaise jar was buried wanted this jar removed from his yard. So, the man in the t-shirt planned to move the mayonnaise jar to this cemetery.

(Sidenote: Mackinac Island and the nearby communities on both peninsulas have volunteer fire departments. (Emergency vehicles ARE permitted to drive on the island. At least they don’t use horse-drawn fire trucks!) A few years ago, we read about a structure fire in the island’s downtown business district. Ordinarily the mutual aid firefighters respond by boat. However, this time the firefighters from St. Ignace arrived by helicopter because the lake still had ice and therefore was not open to boat traffic.)

Do you have a special place where you wish to rest in peace?

Full Moon Friday!

So I love to sit in the dark and listen to scary podcasts.

I frequently recommend the podcast “Lore,” by Aaron Mahnke.  “Lore” presents a new episode every other Monday.

Well, I spent this past Monday on Mackinac Island. On Tuesday, I downloaded the new “Lore” episode that came out Monday.  The episode was about Mackinac Island!

This was Episode 91: Beneath the Surface.

Also, did you ever hear of the “Nain Rouge” (French for Red Dwarf) or “Demon of the Strait?” The folklore of Detroit says that it appears prior to disaster. The Nain Rouge possibly appeared to Detroit founder Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac before his own downfall. The “Lore” podcast told the story of the Nain Rouge in Episode 65: Doing Tricks.


Be sure to visit my blog next week when I post about unique graves on Mackinac Island and the Upper Peninsula.

9 Secrets . . . of a Mackinac Island Day Tripper

I have never slept on Mackinac Island.

We rent a house near the ferry boat docks in St. Ignace. We use the lake house in St. Ignace as our “home base” for all of our Michigan adventures. We visit the island each year as day trippers. So, take this advice with a grain of salt – er, a grain of sand:

1.) Wear a hat. 

I joke with my husband that I will get sunburned just by looking at a photo of the sun. I realize that not every blog reader will sunburn as easily as I do. I still highly recommend that Mackinac Island visitors wear hats.

Many of the popular island activities are outdoors. You will probably spend hours (or days) outside surrounded by Lake Huron.

Make sure that you secure your hat when you travel by boat to and from the island! Speaking of boats:

2.) Pay attention to the ferry schedule.

My father-in-law, a radio personality, joked on the air that the Mackinac Bridge periodically swings over to Mackinac Island. You know, so that tourists can drive their cars to the island. Some listeners allegedly believed him . . .

Despite my father-in-law’s claims, the Mackinac Bridge does NOT swing over to the island, and you CANNOT drive to the island.

Some people do travel to Mackinac Island by private boat or cruise ship (yes, I have seen cruise ships docked at the island). Most tourists need to park their cars on the mainland and take a ferry to the island.

The ferry companies have docks at both St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula and also at Mackinaw City on the Lower Peninsula.

A few years ago, the ferry company that we used changed its schedule for the first time in years. We did not realize this until we showed up at the ferry dock. The schedule change caused some inconveniences in our planned itinerary for our trip to the island.

Here’s some more things to keep in mind in regards to the ferry schedule:

  • The weather can affect the ferry boat arrivals and departures. Mackinac Island sits in Lake Huron, and the boats may be unable to travel due to wind and waves.
  • The ferries do NOT run 24 hours a day. If you miss the last ferry of the evening, then you will need to spend the night on the island.
  • As I mentioned above, some of the ferries travel between the island and St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula. Some of the ferries travel between the island and Mackinaw City on the Lower Peninsula. On the return trip, make sure that you take the correct ferry to the correct peninsula. Otherwise, the Straits of Mackinac will separate you from your car!

3.) Prioritize what you want to see and do ahead of time. 

On several occasions, I watched families argue on the ferry dock and in a restaurant about their family’s plans for their time on the island.

Television travel shows peddle these Mackinac Island attractions: the Grand Hotel, carriage tours, saddle horses, bike and kayak rentals, Fort Mackinac, a butterfly house, the Haunted Theatre, the Governor’s House, etc. If this will be your only trip ever to Mackinac Island, you don’t want to miss things. I still maintain that the visits to island may be more enjoyable if you selectively chose your island adventures.

I still haven’t seen everything on the island.

For a visit or two, Jonathan and I brought our bikes and rode around the island. (You will need to purchase a special ticket at an additional charge if you bring your bike on the ferry.) For a few years, we left our bikes at home. One year, we toured Fort Mackinac. One year, we sat and watched the sailboats cross the finish line of the Race to Mackinac. (This race starts in Chicago and ends at Round Island Lighthouse off the shore of Mackinac Island.) One year Jonathan flew kites on the beach while I toured the Grand Hotel.

4.) Check out rental and ticket prices ahead of time. Research the attractions that you want to visit. 

This goes with item #3.

One year, I toured the island’s butterfly house. In July. The day was unusually warm and humid for northern Michigan. Now, keep in mind that most (or all?) butterfly houses are also greenhouses. I made a poor decision to tour the butterfly house that day.

5.) Don’t go on Fridays, Saturdays, or Sundays if you don’t like large crowds of people.

I know that it’s a luxury to avoid the weekend and visit during the week instead. I stand by what I say. If you hate crowds and you come here on a summer weekend with gorgeous weather, you might hate the island forever.

6.) Watch out for bicycles and horses.

If you don’t already know, Mackinac Island is famous for its ban on automobiles. You can travel across the island by foot, bicycle, or horse. Many visitors bring their own bikes, and many rent bikes on the island.

Some of the bike rentals are to people who don’t spend much time riding bikes. Kids ride into other people. I have watched entire families stop with no warning in the middle of the road. People park their bikes ON the bike trails.

In fact, I did actually spend a day on Mackinac Island earlier this week.  I heard a woman riding a bicycle yell to a (her?) child, “I haven’t been on a bike in ten years!”

You will also need to dodge the dozens or hundreds of horses that travel and poop on the island roads.  Most of this traffic is on Main Street in the island’s downtown. When Jonathan and I ride on the island, we try to avoid this area.

If you travel to the island with kids, keep in mind that the kids might not be comfortable around horses. For instance, one year my husband’s family rented horses to ride on Mackinac Island. One of the children in the group was nervous and uncomfortable about riding the horse that was selected for her. This relative still has unpleasant memories about her experiences with the horse that day.

7.) Save money by eating a late lunch on the island and getting a late dinner on the mainland.

Most of the restaurants on the island have separate lunch and dinner menus. Dinner on the island can be pricey. I bring a few drinks, some apples, and some trail mix for a snack. We eat lunch at 2, and then get a late dinner in St. Ignace after we leave the island. You may want to review restaurant menus prior to your trip so that you know which places are within your budget.

8.) If you buy extra Mackinac Island fudge to take home, plan your purchase.

My mother-in-law always bought island fudge right before she got on the ferry to leave the island. This way she didn’t have to cart around several boxes of fudge in the summer heat. Note that the fudge shops on Mackinac Island also have locations in St. Ignace on the Upper Peninsula and Mackinaw City on the Lower Peninsula. You can buy fudge after you leave the island! (This year I bought fudge in Mackinaw City the day after I visited the island.)

9.) Don’t spend a lot of time at the souvenir shops on the island.

The Mackinac Island sweatshirts, hats etc. all travel by boat to Mackinac Island. Tourists purchase these and bring them by boat back to the Upper Peninsula or the Lower Peninsula. This amuses me. Keep in mind that you can also buy many Mackinac Island souvenirs at St. Ignace, Mackinaw City, Sault Ste. Marie, Frankenmuth, etc.

Now, when I visited the island this week, I found a merchandise tent for the 110th Chicago to Mackinac Race. (The race finish line was at the island at the same time that we were on the island.) I bought two hats branded with the race logo because my husband follows the race online each year. (Also, we specifically planned our visit to the island to coincide with the end of the race so that my husband could see some of the sailboats that finished this race.)

What special places do you visit for a day trip each year?

Coming Soon: Secrets of Michigan

The Mackinac Bridge in Michigan crosses the Straits of Mackinac and joins Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to its Lower Peninsula. The water west of the bridge belongs to Lake Michigan and the water east of the bridge belongs to Lake Huron.

St. Ignace sits at the southern tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (the UP), next to the northern end of the Mackinac Bridge.

My father-in-law Dennis Woytek worked at a radio station in St. Ignace, Michigan for the first three years after he married my mother-in-law Fran in the early 70’s.

One time, Dennis and Fran explored rural Northern Michigan in their car. They ended up lost on a dirt road in the woods. They discovered a marker dedicated to “two lovers” who got lost out in that same wilderness and perished. Dennis and Fran drove some more and sighted a lighthouse in the distance. They followed the dirt road to the lighthouse. They found a paved road at the lighthouse, and were able to find their way back to a highway.

Dennis eventually took a radio job back home in Western Pennsylvania. Dennis and Fran brought their kids to vacation on the UP about a decade later.

After Fran and Dennis’ son, Jonathan, and I got engaged, Fran invited me to vacation in the UP with them. I too fell in love with the UP. I vacationed with the Woytek family on the UP almost every year for over a decade.

So, please enjoy this upcoming series on my blog about the people, places, and folklore of Michigan.

I will post stories and photos of Mackinac Island, of course. However, I will also bring to you my experiences with rural cemeteries, Native American grounds, tall ships, remote beaches, freighters, and more.

Sophia’s Grave

They call this your grave. Your haunted grave.

Little girls grow up fast in the American colonies. You turn nine years old in 1775. Your native Virginia erupts in seven years of rebellion, of war, of sacrifice.

Did you ever know a time free of hunger and sacrifice? At what point did your widowed mother open her Richmond door as a boardinghouse?

At what point did your boarder, Albert Gallatin, fall in love with you? Was this before or after he told you of his dream to live on a remote estate in the Pennsylvania wilderness?

And did your mama know – just KNOW – of your early death, far from everything you knew,  on the edge of the Appalachian Mountains?

Is that why your mama opposed the match?

You eloped in May 1789.

You begged your mama’s forgiveness. Then you set off with Mr. Gallatin for his Pennsylvania estate, Friendship Hill.

And five months later you died.

How did you die? Illness? Pregnancy complications? Or, as one legend goes, something darker, more gruesome?

Mr. Gallatin buried you in an unmarked grave overlooking the Monongahela River.

Mr. Gallatin later remarried and sold Friendship Hill because his new wife didn’t like to spend time there.

Another homeowner found your grave and reburied you. We now believe that you are buried in that stone square behind your former house.

The countryside of Friendship Hill became Fayette County. Friendship Hill became a public park.

One day I read an article in my local media about Friendship Hill. About the ghosts of Friendship Hill. About the ghost of you.

I drove out to Friendship Hill to see your grave.

I visited your grave on a bright sunny day. No ghosts at your grave that day, Sophia!

As I trekked through the woods and fields back to my car, well-dressed men and women walked towards the house that was yours for five months, Sophia. They proceeded to a reception tent next to your house.

I watched the bride and her azure-clad bridesmaids model for their photos on the edge of these woods where you lay, Sophia.

I went looking for a dead bride that day. I found a living bride instead.

Friendship Hill, Pennsylvania

13 Haunted History Podcasts; Updated for Friday the 13th

I updated my curated list of 13 haunted history podcasts especially for Fall 2019.

I am very picky about audio quality and storytelling. I have shut off podcasts after only five minutes if said podcasts didn’t meet my standards. I recommend these thirteen podcasts because I enjoyed them.

These aren’t specific to Pennsylvania.

1.) Listen With the Lights On From WAMC Northeast Public Radio – This podcast highlights legends and lore of New York State. 

2.) Unobscured by Aaron Mahnke – Season #1 highlights the Salem Witch Trials. Season #2 features the Spiritualist movement.

3.) American Hauntings Podcast by Troy Taylor and Cody Beck (The entire first season is about Alton, Illinois and the entire second season is about St. Louis, Missouri. The second season includes a multi-episode feature on the Lemp family. The third season explores New Orleans! The audio quality of the episodes in the middle of the first season is not great. However, the audio quality improved greatly in the second season. I thoroughly enjoyed the history and storytelling.)

4.) Snap Judgement Presents: Spooked From WNYC Radio

5.) Lore by Aaron Mahnke

6.) Haunted Places from Cutler Media and part of the Parcast Network

7.) New England Legends by Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger

8.) Southern Mysteries Podcast by Shannon Ballard

9.) Southern Gothic by Brandon Schexnayder

10.) Southern California Ghosts and Folklore hosted by Susan Burns

11.) Why Is This Place So Haunted from Destination America  – I think that this podcast consists of only 2 episodes. Both are posted on iTunes. The first episode is about the Rhode Island Shore and the second episode is about Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

12.) Haunted Talks – The Official Podcast of The Haunted Walk, hosted by Jim Dean

13.) History Goes Bump hosted by Diane Student 

Check out these podcasts that, while not dedicated to haunted history, do have spooky podcast episodes:

Curious City by WBEZ in Chicago has one ghost story episode. Be sure to check out the October 2014 episode “We Ain’t Afraid of No (Chicago) Ghosts!“)

The Bowery Boys Podcast about New York City history has an annual ghost story episode.

Biscayne Tales: The Miami History Podcast has an episode titled “Ghosts of the Biltmore.”

I personally consider Twisted Philly by Deana Marie to be primarily a Pennsylvania “true crime” podcast. However, several episodes of Pennsylvania ghost stories and urban legends exist here. 

See the episode on John Tyler: Ghosts and the Vice Presidency from Presidential by the Washington Post

See these haunted history podcast episodes about Michigan:

Haunted Places from Cutler Media and part of the Parcast Network – Episode dated October 19, 2019: The Michigan Dogman.

I frequently recommend the podcast “Lore,” by Aaron Mahnke.  

Here is a “Lore” episode about Mackinac Island.  Episode 91: Beneath the Surface.

Also, did you ever hear of the “Nain Rouge” (French for Red Dwarf) or “Demon of the Strait?” The folklore of Detroit says that it appears prior to disaster. The Nain Rouge possibly appeared to Detroit founder Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac before his own downfall. The “Lore” podcast told the story of the Nain Rouge in Episode 65: Doing Tricks.

Here are haunted history podcast episodes for American Civil War buffs:

Why Is This Place So Haunted? from Destination America –  Episode 2: The Ghosts of Gettysburg

Haunted Places from Cutler Media and part of the Parcast Network – Episode dated March 14, 2018: Gettysburg Battlefield

Haunted Places from Cutler Media and part of the Parcast Network – Episode dated June 20,2018: The Myrtles Plantation

Haunted Places from Cutler Media and part of the Parcast Network – Episode dated July 3, 2018: The White House

Southern Gothic hosted by Brandon Schexnayder – Episode dated February 26, 2018: Ghosts of the Myrtles Plantation

Southern Gothic hosted by Brandon Schexnayder – Episode dated April 9, 2018: Buried Alive on Edisto Island

Southern Gothic hosted by Brandon Schexnayder – Episode dated July 2, 2018: William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak

Southern Gothic hosted by Brandon Schexnayder – Episode dated September 4, 2018: Fort Jefferson’s Most Infamous

Southern Gothic hosted by Brandon Schexnayder – Episode dated September 17, 2018: The Madison County Grey

Southern Gothic hosted by Brandon Schexnayder – Episode dated November 12, 2018: Phantom Flames of Tuscaloosa

Southern Gothic hosted by Brandon Schexnayder – Episode dated February 18, 2018: The Burning of Atlanta

Southern Gothic hosted by Brandon Schexnayder – Episode dated March 6, 2019: The Ghost Town of Cahaba

Southern Gothic hosted by Brandon Schexnayder – Episode dated June 26, 2019: The Ruins of Rosewell

Southern Gothic hosted by Brandon Schexnayder – Episode dated September 4, 2019: Skeleton of Longwood Mansion

Southern Gothic hosted by Brandon Schexnayder – Episode dated September 18, 2019: Lost Confederate Gold

Haunted Talks Podcast hosted by Jim Dean is a Canadian podcast, but it has episodes that feature Civil War ghost stories at Vicksburg and Antietam / Sharpsburg.

My Evening with the Fire Hall Medium: Part 2

To recap Part 1: A rural fire department (that I call  “Hosting Fire Department” ) held this fundraiser: a fire hall dinner with a medium who contacts the dead. I am skeptical of mediums and psychics. I attended the dinner anyway.

Here’s Part 2:

In order to reach Hosting Fire Department’s hall from my town, I turned off of the main highway at a cemetery.

Then I drove past “Witch Way.”

I drove into a heavily wooded area as the sun disappeared behind dark clouds. The rain pounded my windshield as I pulled into Hosting Fire Department’s parking lot.

The volunteers at Hosting Fire Department were very friendly and helpful. I left a voice mail message the night before the event to ask if I could still buy a ticket. The organizer called me back Friday morning to let me know that she could reserve a ticket for me. She asked me if I was meeting up with anyone else there, and I told her that I would be alone because I didn’t have friends. (Snark doesn’t translate well over the phone.)

Since I didn’t need to sit with anyone else, the organizer seated me at a table that was reserved but still had extra seats. That’s how I ended up sitting at the middle table directly in front of the “stage.”

The volunteers prepared a fantastic chicken and pasta dinner.  (At the end of the event, the volunteers thanked us all for supporting their fire department.)

But you didn’t actually want to hear about a fire hall chicken dinner, right? You wanted to hear about the medium. I shall call her “Fire Hall Medium” since she traveled from the heart of Pittsburgh to the little fire hall in these woods in Western PA. So here goes:

During dessert (cake), Fire Hall Medium introduced herself to each person in attendance as she handed us her business card.

Per the card, we can schedule Fire Hall Medium for individual sessions as well as for group events. We can hire Fire Hall Medium to remove ghosts. We can book her for weddings and funerals.

The organizers introduced Fire Hall Medium to the room. She showed off her heavily tattooed arms. She explained her journey from corporate employee to self-employed medium. We learned about her Native American heritage. About her experiences as a young child talking to her dead grandmother. About her spiritual training in Lily Dale, New York.

Fire Hall Medium asked us to concentrate on thoughts of our departed loved ones.

At the same time, she warned us that when she is working a large room such as ours (the event advertised 150 tickets available), she is bombarded with many departed souls trying to get her attention at the same time.  She can only speak to a few of these beloved dead within the 90 minutes allotted for this show.

She told us not to be mad at her if she doesn’t make contact with our individual loved ones tonight.

To be clear, I entered the dinner a skeptic. However, I still thought of all the people that I lost. Just in case.

She then initiated her first “contact.”

Fire Hall Medium said that the soul trying to contact her was a woman. She named a characteristic of this woman that was very general and frankly could be applied to almost every woman I knew. Then she named a characteristic that was a little bit more specific, but still pretty general. Then she named a third characteristic that was slightly more specific than the first two characteristics.

Fire Hall Medium said to the room, “Does anybody know this woman?”

Fire Hall Medium continued to name characteristics until a very nice lady in the back of the room took the bait. The nice lady announced that the soul was either her mom or her grandma or her Aunt Jane or something. The nice lady shared with all of us additional details about her loved one. Fire Hall Medium built on these details about the “soul” who contacted her.  Fire Hall Medium gave the nice lady a vague message from the other side as the nice lady cried.

Fire Hall Medium then told a long story about something medium-related that happened in Fire Hall Medium’s own life.

Fire Hall Medium then started the next “contact.” The pattern pretty much matched the first. Fire Hall Medium announced clues that started out general and became more and more specific until an audience participant claimed the “soul” as “their loved one.” The audience participant discussed their newly-found loved soul with the Fire Hall Medium. More tears.

Then Fire Hall Lady told another long story about her own life.

This pattern basically described the entire 90 minute-long presentation.

A few times, Fire Hall Medium did get pretty far into describing the “soul” without having any “takers” from the audience. Whenever this happened, Fire Hall Medium backtracked and told the audience that she misread some of the details.  She noted that she sometimes had trouble hearing the soul correctly because so many other voices of dearly departed shouted out to her at the same time. Then she would switch up the details until an audience member finally claimed the “soul” as their loved one.

Fire Hall Medium ended the evening by announcing that the ghost of the former fire chief of Hosting Fire Department stood in the back of the fire hall. She told us all that the dead former fire chief had a message for one of the firefighters in the kitchen. She gave that firefighter a hug and thanked him on behalf of the dead chief’s ghost. Everybody clapped. The end.

Several people cried during the 90 minute event. I feel that they truly believe that their loved ones contacted them through Fire Hall Medium. I hope that they found peace through this. I also hope that nobody exploits them financially or emotionally due to this belief.

I personally arrived a skeptic and I left a skeptic. But I already explained this.

Do you believe that you have a chance to make contact with your loved ones in the afterlife?

My Evening with the Fire Hall Medium: Part 1

Last week, a (Western Pennsylvania) volunteer fire department held this fundraiser: a dinner with a Pittsburgh Area medium. A medium who claims to contact the dead.

I – a skeptic – attended this dinner with a medium because:

  • A volunteer fire department held this dinner as a fundraiser.

Volunteers planned the event.

Volunteers prepared the chicken and pasta dinner in their fire hall.

(Coffee, iced tea, and soda pop were provided, alcohol was BYOB. Tickets were $35 each.)

I shall call this particular fire department “Hosting Fire Department.” In disclosure, my husband is a volunteer firefighter at a department less than 10 miles from Hosting Fire Department. My husband is not affiliated with Hosting Fire Department.  We like to support local fire department fundraisers.

  • I attended for the experience.

I write fiction about the life of a Pittsburgh medium in 1890. I wanted to watch an actual practicing medium “at work.” Even if I never publish these stories, at least I can get a few blog posts out of the evening.

Here’s why I became a skeptic years ago:

  • Do a Google search or a Wikipedia search on the Fox sisters. Then do a search on the spiritualist movement in the 1800’s. If you’re still bored, then look up the debate between Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. As a finale, search “Confirmation Bias.”
  • When I attended and lived at (a Catholic) college, our school required each floor in each dorm to plan two activities for outreach. For our project, my floor invited a Greensburg Area psychic to our lounge to give private palm readings for $25 or $35 each. We advertised this on campus so that people not affiliated with our dorm could also pay for readings.  (Somehow the residential life office at our Catholic college approved this. I don’t think that they fully understood our “project.”)

So many people showed up that the psychic stayed several hours past her scheduled time. Why not? Everyone paid their fee directly to her. I didn’t purchase a reading because I was nervous about spending money. However, several of my friends did throw down the $25 or $35 to learn their futures. The psychic told my friends that if they shared what they “learned” in the readings, then their readings wouldn’t come true. However, my friends shared their readings with each other a few days later. They learned that the psychic gave them all basically the same prediction!

To be clear, the Greensburg Area psychic at my college was NOT the Pittsburgh Area medium who performed at last week’s fire hall dinner. I share this story to point out that I knew going into this dinner to not be disappointed with the outcome.

Did you ever hire a psychic and / or a medium? What was the outcome?  Did the experience leave you satisfied?

Al Roker’s New Book Underwhelmed Me

Al Roker just put out a new book: Ruthless Tide: The Heroes and Villains of the Johnstown Flood, America’s Astonishing Guilded Age Disaster.

Al Roker’s new book underwhelmed me.

In my opinion, it rehashed much of  “The Johnstown Flood” by David McCullough. It didn’t provide enough new insights.

Here’s the thing: From ages 7 – 18, I lived in a small town in the Allegheny Mountains (the Laurel Highlands) about 30 miles from Johnstown.  Johnstown was the “city.” We drove to Johnstown frequently in order to access services that we didn’t have in our own town.  (Johnstown was much closer to us than Pittsburgh.)

At my school, we studied the Johnstown Flood of 1889 for weeks. We had to write essays about it. We toured the flood museums in downtown Johnstown and at the site of the South Fork dam that caused the flood. (Yes, multiple museums about the the Johnstown Flood exist.) We also visited the stone railroad bridge where many flood victims burned to death, as well as the cemetery where Johnstowners buried many of their flood victims. We saw the graves of the unidentified flood dead.

After college, I moved to Johnstown for three years for a job. I worked downtown. Every day, I walked past monuments to the victims of Johnstown’s three major deadly floods. I walked down the streets that the flood destroyed. I drove past and under the infamous stone railroad bridge. (Route 56 goes under the very edge of this bridge.)

After I left Johnstown, I purchased and read “The Johnstown Flood” by David McCullough.

Roker listed McCullough’s book as a source document. In fact, under his section “A Note on Sources and Further Reading,” Roker says, “The best-known modern book on the subject is David McCullough’s groundbreaking The Johnstown Flood, first published in 1968; its nearest predecessor similar in scope was Richard O’Connor’s Johnstown: The Day the Dam Broke, published in 1957.”

If you aren’t familiar with the Johnstown Flood of 1889, then first note this: downtown Johnstown is in a valley at a river confluence. The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club was an exclusive, secretive, private club upstream from Johnstown.  Many of the very wealthy industrialists of Pittsburgh, including Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick. Andrew Mellon, etc, belonged to this club.

On the days leading up to May 31, 1889, a significant amount of rain fell. On May 31, the dam on the private club’s private lake failed. The lake emptied into the valley below. This caused the Johnstown Flood of 1889.

To Roker’s credit, he did focus a great deal more than McCullough did on the actual members of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club.

However, if you needed to read one book – and only one book – on the Johnstown Flood, I recommend McCullough’s book over Roker’s book.

As a side note, Johnstown is upstream from New Kensington and Pittsburgh. McCullough’s book noted that flood debris and flood victims were carried to at least Pittsburgh. Here is my blog post about that.