You are all fantastic for reading my blog! I’ve had several readers reach out to me in the past month. I appreciate you all for taking precious time out of your full lives to digest my stories. I don’t want to let you down.
I will tell you a little bit more about our brief sailing adventures on Lake Erie. First, let me tell you about Misery Bay and Graveyard Pond.
The “Greater Erie, PA” region sits on the south shore of Lake Erie, and also on the south shore of Presque Isle Bay. Presque Isle Bay’s west and north boundaries exist due to a Peninsula that extends into Lake Erie.
To the west and the north of Presque Isle Bay is a peninsula that extends into Lake Erie. (On this peninsula now sits Presque Isle State Park. )
The Native Americans known as the “Eriez Nation” inhabited this area hundreds of years ago. The Iroquois defeated the Eriez in the 1600’s.
If you leave from Erie and head toward the open lake, then Erie (the city) will be on your starboard side and the peninsula will be on your port side.
You will travel past a monument to Commander Oliver Hazard Perry at Presque Isle State Park. Then, you will travel past Misery Bay.
You will need to travel through a shipping channel to leave the bay. Before you reach the channel, you will pass (on your port side) a monument to Commander Oliver Hazard Perry and then Misery Bay.
Then, you will travel through a shipping channel. Finally, you will pass the North Pier Lighthouse. Congratulations. You are on the open lake.
Perry commanded the U.S.’s Lake Erie naval fleet in 1813. This was during the War of 1812, the United States’ second war against the British. This U.S. naval fleet was at Presque Isle Bay when Perry took command. Perry’s forces broke a British blockade at Presque Isle. Then they defeated the British off of the Ohio coast at the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813.
Perry then returned to Presque Isle Bay.
Do you remember when I wrote that the bay next to the Perry monument is called “Misery Bay?” Well, the bay earned its name from what happened after the Battle of Lake Erie. Many returning sailors contracted smallpox and died in quarantine. They died aboard ships harbored in Misery Bay. The ones who didn’t get sick buried these sailors in the pond next to Misery Bay. Then, sailors who got sick but hadn’t yet died also got “buried” in the pond.
Local storytellers renamed the pond “Graveyard Pond.”
The navy sunk the hulls of two of their ships, the USS Lawrence and the USS Niagara, in Misery Bay for preservation.
In 1875, preservationists raised the Lawrence. They shipped her to Philadelphia. Exhibitors displayed the Lawrence at the U.S. Centennial International Exhibition of 1876. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed the Lawrence at that same exhibition.
Preservationists raised and rebuilt the USS Niagara in 1913, then rebuilt her again in 1988. Thereconstructed USS Niagara now sails regularly from her dock in Erie, past Misery Bay, on her way to the open lake.
My husband, Jonathan, and I purchased our sailboat, S/V Pinniped, last autumn from the original owners, P. and M. In fact, P. built the boat himself from a set of plans. P. told us to be careful to stay away from Misery Bay when we travelled through the channel. Misery Bay is shallow, compared to the shipping channel. P. admitted that he actually grounded Pinniped on various sandbars in Misery Bay.
So of course, when we returned to the bay from our first sail together on the open lake, we accidentally steered into Misery Bay.
Misery Bay at that particular spot has a datum depth of four feet. Pinniped drafts five a half feet.
Fortunately for us, Lake Erie is high this summer. So, the actual depth on that spot on that day was seven and a half feet. We lucked out!
A week later, we again sailed onto the open lake. We sailed past a docked freighter before we left the bay.
We sailed about one third of the way across Lake Erie.
And . . . we avoided steering into Misery Bay on the way back!
However, after several hours of sailing, the wind died and the flies appeared. Lots of flies. We motored for over an hour, covered in flies, to reach our slip at our marina. (For the record, we sprayed ourselves generously with bug spray. We still received fly bites.)
Despite Misery Bay and the flies, we both had positive experiences on both sailing trips. Stay tuned for more sailing adventures and more stories from history.
On July 11, 1804 – 215 years ago today – Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton in their famous duel. Alexander Hamilton died the next day.
Burr reportedly travelled west through Pennsylvania in the duel’s aftermath.
Later, Burr was accused of conspiring to found new empire and install himself as the leader. Burr allegedly travelled from Pittsburgh, down the Ohio River to Blennerhassett Island. Burr allegedly intended to stage a militia at Blennerhassett Island. Allegations swirled that other prominent Americans, including future POTUS Andrew Jackson, played a role in the Burr conspiracy.
From what I understand, Burr’s daughter Theodosia waited at Blennerhassett Island, thinking that her father would install her as his official hostess in this new empire. The Blennerhassett family had to flee from the island after the allegations came out against them and Burr.
Now, the Burr conspiracy allegedly happened in 1804/05 – 1807, and Aaron Burr was arrested in 1807 and tried for treason. A U.S. circuit court acquitted Burr.
I found a chance connection between Aaron Burr and the mother-in-law of ANOTHER future POTUS. Julia Dent Grant (JDG), the wife of future POTUS Ulysses S. Grant, was the first First Lady to write her own memoirs. Mrs. Grant’s memoirs were published years after her death.
In “The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant (Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant),” she wrote that her own mother, Ellen Bray Wrenshall Dent, grew up in Pittsburgh and travelled to Philadelphia to attend school.
Mrs. Grant wrote in her memoirs that Mrs. Dent told a story to her children about the time that she stopped in a tavern in the Allegheny Mountains and Aaron Burr was at that same tavern! Mrs. Dent remembered that Burr and “his army” showed kindness to her.
Actually, here is the quote from JDG’s memoirs:
“Mamma has told me of riding on horseback all the way from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia, where she was sent to school, and of once meeting Aaron Burr and his army in the Allegheny Mountains encamped around the little tavern which contained one room and a kitchen. This one room was, of course, occupied by the officers. Mamma, though much fatigued, was very loath to lie on the settle, or bench, before them all to rest until they pressed around and made for her a bed and a pillow of their cloaks and begged her to rest, telling her she would be just as safe there as in her mother’s arms. Lying down at last, they covered her with another martial cloak, and she slept as soundly as the princess in the fairy tale.“
Now, I actually grew up in the Allegheny Mountains between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. I never heard this story until I read JDG’s memoirs.
I wonder what year this occurred. Mrs. Dent was born in 1793. I am under the impression that Mrs. Dent would have been a schoolgirl in the first decade of the 1800’s. Keep in mind that Burr shot Hamilton in 1804. The Burr conspiracy allegedly happened in 1804/05 – 1807. Aaron Burr was arrested for treason in 1807.
So, was Burr in the process of planning the alleged Burr conspiracy when JDG’s mother saw him at the tavern? When JDG said “Aaron Burr and his army,” did JDG mean the militia that Burr allegedly raised for the conspiracy?
This story stands out to me because, in my mind, Mrs. Dent said to her children (including future FLOTUS Julia Dent Grant), “Did I ever tell you about that time that I met a very famous person? Wait until you hear about this!”
Now, keep in mind that Ellen Bray Wrenshall Dent passed away in 1857. The American Civil War started in 1861. Mrs. Dent’s son-in-law, General Ulysses S. Grant, captured Forts Henry and Donelson in 1862 and saw victory at Vicksburg in 1863. So, Mrs. Dent passed away before her own son-in-law became nationally famous.
Did you ever meet famous person? Was this person Aaron Burr-famous?
If you spend time in Pittsburgh, then you heard of Schenley Park and Schenley Plaza. You heard of their benefactor, Mary Schenley. You probably know more than I do about Mary Schenley’s maternal grandfather, James O’Hara. This first part of my blog post is for all of the other fantastic, generous folks who read my blog.
I’m well aware that you can read all about James O’Hara on Wikipedia. I typed the first half of my post from memory specifically so that I don’t regurgitate Wikipedia.
James O’Hara was born in Ireland in the 1700’s. He sailed to colonial America in the 1770’s, after the French and Indian War and shortly before the Revolutionary War. Now, from what I understand:
1.) O’Hara did NOT land in Philadelphia as an impoverished immigrant.
2.) He grew up privileged and highly educated.
3.) He sailed to the New World shortly after he received an inheritance.
4.) So, he arrived in Philadelphia with a nest egg that he was eager to invest and grow.
Now, back in the 1770’s, nobody had the internet. Suppose that you were a Philadelphia businessman. One day a man showed up on your doorstep and introduced himself as James O’Hara. This man who claimed to be “Mr. O’Hara” announced that he came from a wealthy family and that he had a bunch of capital that he wanted to invest in colonial Pennsylvania. Furthermore, “Mr. O’Hara” advised that he wanted YOU to introduce him to your fellow Philadelphia businessmen. Well, you couldn’t just Google “James O’Hara” in order to vet him. You couldn’t check his social media to make sure that his network included the “correct” people back in England or Ireland.
Since the internet didn’t exist, James O’Hara arrived in Philadelphia with several “letters of introduction” from prominent men in England and / or Ireland. He presented these letters to Philadelphia leaders as “proof” that he, James O’Hara, was good enough to be received into their social circles. This is how O’Hara met the members of Philadelphia’s elite families. I’m under the impression that O’Hara met Robert Morris, a Philadelphia financier, this way.
O’Hara decided that he could make money in the fur trade in Western Pennsylvania. At that time in history, the British had just won the French and Indian War. They established Fort Pitt at the point where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers join to form the Ohio River. They called this location the “Forks of the Ohio.” This spot later became downtown Pittsburgh.
O’Hara travelled to Fort Pitt. He purchased beaver pelts from Native American trappers, and he resold them to East Coast merchants who shipped them to the Old World. In England and Europe at that time, fashionable dressers wore hats made of beaver fur. O’Hara profited from the fur trade.
The Revolutionary War started. O’Hara served in the Continental Army as one of George Washington’s quartermasters. The United States won its independence. The war ended.
O’Hara went into more business ventures. From what I understand, O’Hara was really good at getting richer. O’Hara obtained large amounts of land that later became Pittsburgh, including portions of downtown Pittsburgh.
O’Hara also established Pittsburgh’s first glass factory.
O’Hara and his wife Mary Carson had six children. One of their daughters married a man named Croghan, and this union produced Mary Croghan.
Mary Croghan’s mother died young. Mary was an only child. She became the wealthy heiress to part of James O’Hara’s substantial fortune when she was a young child. Mary’s father sent Mary to boarding school. The teenaged Mary fell in love with her significantly older British teacher, Mr. Schenley. Mary Croghan eloped with Mr. Schenley and she became Mary Schenley. She moved to England with her new husband.
This union caused such a scandal that, from what I read, Queen Victoria refused to receive Mary Schenley socially.
Now, while this happened, Pittsburgh developed into a manufacturing hot spot for the Industrial Revolution. Mrs. Schenley owned some of Pittsburgh’s prime real estate.
Andrew Carnegie visted Schenley in England. He asked her to donate land in Pittsburgh for a public park. Schenley donated the land that became Schenley Park.
I learned about the “James O’Hara” part of this story from the 1963 historical fiction novel The King’s Orchard by New York Times best-selling author Agnes Sligh Turnbull.
Here is a curious thing that I discovered from reading The King’s Orchard :
James O’Hara had an Irish Catholic father and a Protestant mother. O’Hara’s parents lived apart. His mother raised him. However, O’Hara attended a prestigious Catholic boarding school in France. Turnbull mentioned O’Hara’s Catholic background in passing about five times in the entire several-hundred page book.
From what I understand, O’Hara married a Protestant and he and his wife raised their children in a Protestant faith.
I learned from the last chapter of The King’s Orchard about O’Hara’s generosity to Pittsburgh’s early Presbyterian church. I learned through a Google search about O’Hara’s generosity to to Pittsburgh’s early Catholic church.
Now, Turnbull (the author of The King’s Orchard) grew up in New Alexandria, PA (in Westmoreland County) in a family with Scottish and Presbyterian roots. (New Alexandria is near Greensburg and Latrobe.) Turnbull moved to New Jersey after World War I, but she wrote several novels about Western PA. Almost all of these explore the adventures of Presbyterians of Scottish descent. I read some of these other books. So, I speculated that Turnbull “glossed over” James O’Hara’s Catholic background.
I personally think that Turnbull’s novel The Day Must Dawn, about Hannastown’s destruction (and the failed Crawford Expedition) during the Revolutionary War, is a better novel.
However, I think that you will enjoy reading about the following in The King’s Orchard:
1.) Fort Pitt originally had a moat.
2.) When workers dismantled Fort Pitt in the 1790’s, James O’Hara purchased most of the fort’s brick. He also purchased an original Fort Pitt block house. (Schenley inherited this block house from O’Hara. Schenley donated this block house to the Daughters of the American Revolution. This Fort Pitt Block House is now a public tourist attraction, located inside Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh. This is the oldest existing structure in Pittsburgh and also the only remaining part of Fort Pitt. )
3.) One of James O’Hara’s friends, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, founded the school that became the University of Pittsburgh.
4.) Brackenridge grew up poor on a New England farm. Brackenridge borrowed books and put himself through Princeton. A cow ate one of the borrowed books.
5.) The first time that Hugh Brackenridge saw his wife Sabina, he was a lawyer headed to the courthouse in Washington, PA and she was a farmer’s daughter chasing after a runaway cow. He watched her vault over a fence without touching the fence, and he told the other lawyers that if she did it again, he would ask her to marry him. She did it again. Her father said that Brackenridge couldn’t marry her because he needed her to shrub the meadow. Brackenridge paid her father $10 to hire somebody else to shrub the meadow.
6.) After Brackenridge married his wife Sabina, he sent her off to a Philadelphia finishing school for a year so that she would learn how to be a suitable wife for his political career.
7.) Angry protestors almost burned down James O’Hara’s house during the Whiskey Rebellion. Brackenridge talked them out of it.
8.) When O’Hara first arrived in Pittsburgh in the 1770’s, he lived in the inn section of Elliott’s, aka the Old Stone Tavern. I learned that many of Pittsburgh’s earliest historical figures, including Colonel William Crawford and Simon Girty, drank in Elliott’s bar. I found this notable because this building still exists in Pittsburgh’s West End. A local preservation group seeks to restore it.
9.) Finally, in the introduction to Turnbull’s 1963 book, she thanked several parties, including the Denny family, for their assistance with her research. Ebenezer Denny was Pittsburgh’s first mayor. Ebenezer Denny also appeared as a character in The King’s Orchard. Now, I mention this because I just read a memoir written by public figure with a notable connection to the American Civil War and also to the White House. This memoirist referenced “the Dennys” in her tale about her own parents’ journey down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to Missouri. I intend to blog about this mystery memoirist in the future.
I actually learned about Turnbull when I worked as a student at St. Vincent College Library in Latrobe. One of the librarians discovered that I liked historical fiction. He told me that I should check out Agnes Sligh Turnbull, “a local author,” as he put it.
Turnbull graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). My sister, herself an IUP graduate, told me that IUP used to have a Turnbull Hall. “But,” my sister said, “they tore it down a few years ago. The site is now a parking lot.”
Turnbull passed away in the early 1980’s. Turnbull is buried in New Alexandria.
I, personally, visit Schenley Park and Schenley Plaza in Pittsburgh several times each summer.
I purchased The King’s Orchard and The Day Must Dawn used on Amazon since both are out of print.
Maybe you’re looking for “free” places to explore with your family each summer. My own awesome mom did this because she had five active daughters.
Maybe I can help you. I know of several “free” ghost towns in Western Pennsylvania.
Here’s Ghost Town #1: The Ghost Town Trail in Indiana and Cambria Counties. This is a 44-mile “rails-to-trails” trail. You can ride your bicycle or walk / run this trail from Blacklick, PA to Cardiff, PA.
Such trails here in Western Pennsylvania charge no admission. You don’t need to have a special permit to enjoy our public trails! (I vacationed once in the Adirondacks in New York State, and the bike trails there charged admission.) You can access the Ghost Town Trail through several trailheads that provide free daytime parking.
As the name “rails-to-trails” implies, this trail lived an earlier life as working railroad lines. People dependent on the economic opportunity from blast furnaces and coal mining lived along these tracks. They built houses, schools, churches, and stores along these tracks. They died along these tracks.
Some of the structures remain as ghost towns. Thus the name, “Ghost Town Trail.”
For instance, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s uncle, Warren Delano, developed the railroad town of Wehrum along these tracks. Wehrum evolved into a ghost town after the mines closed in the 1930’s. Wehrum now consists of one standing house, a bank vault, and the Russian Orthodox cemetery.
Jonathan and I travelled from the Pittsburgh area on PA Route 56 to access the trailhead in Vintondale. The bike trip took us through the Blacklick Creek Valley. Adventurers can view two out of the valley’s three original iron furnaces: 1.) Eliza Furnace (AKA Ritter’s Furnace), and 2.) Buena Vista Furnace.
Folklore claims that one of the Eliza Furnace’s original owners died suddenly after a financial or personal setback. The lore includes tales that this owner still haunts the furnace.
I’m sure that other ghosts, real or imagined, also haunt this trail.
We define places through our own pasts, our own kaleidoscopes.
For instance, I grew up in Central and Western PA to Pittsburgh-area parents. PA’s steel industry collapsed. My extended family left the state for brighter futures elsewhere. My friends from school left the state. My family and friends who stayed here struggled to find (and keep) family-sustaining jobs. I know a lot of good people who suffered after the steel business imploded here.
Johnstown, near Vintondale and the Ghost Town Trail, nearly became a ghost town in its own right.
I lived in Johnstown for a few years after college. I had my own reasons for this. I struggled when I lived in Johnstown.
I organized cultural activities through an Americorps program that served (economically distressed) communities in Western PA. I shared office space in Johnstown with two fellow Americorps members who worked on remediating the section of the Ghost Town Trail that ran through Vintondale.
I lived and worked in an almost-ghost town while my office-mates preserved a tourist attraction marketed as a “ghost town.”
Then, I moved to the Pittsburgh area. Jonathan and I returned to Vintondale to pedal along the Ghost Town Trail. We now belong to the Ghost Town Trail’s “Pittsburgh tourists.”
When I pedal along the Ghost Town Trail, I reflect on my time spent with loved ones in PA’s “almost-ghost” towns.
You’ll reflect on your own truths as the you tour the Ghost Town Trail.
I attended a few author visits and book launches at local bookstores. At such visits, the author talks a little bit about his or her new book and usually takes questions from the audience. The audience has the opportunity to purchase the book and to have the author sign it.
I show up at these things to learn about other people’s writing processes.
Anyway, last week I attended Laurel Houck’s local book launch for “The Girl with Chameleon Eyes.” This Y.A. (Young Adult) novel also qualifies as teen romance, paranormal, and historical fiction. Laurel Houck lives in the Pittsburgh area.
I say “historical fiction” because the plot included this event: In July 1782, at the end of the American Revolution, the British (some websites claim “Canadians”) and their Seneca allies under Guyasuta attacked and burned down Hannastown (also called Hanna’s Town), Pennsylvania.
See, Greensburg is now the county seat of Westmoreland County, PA. However, the county seat actually “sat” in Hannastown in 1782. Hannastown was the first county seat west of the Alleghenies (the Allegheny Mountains). Westmoreland Countians attended to court business as the attack started. Many settlers from surrounding farms took refuge inside Hannastown’s fort as their farms, crops, and town burned.
Peggy Shaw got shot as she chased after a runaway toddler during the attack. Poor Peggy went onto the historical record as the attack’s only fatality.
Today, we can all visit Historic Hanna’s Town on the site of the Hannastown that the British, Guyasuta, and their allies burned. The Westmoreland County Historical Society now runs an archeological site there. They maintain several colonial homes and a museum at the site. In the summer, a festival re-enacts the attack on “Hanna’s Town.”
“The Girl with Chameleon Eyes” introduced me to a supernatural teen named Summer who manifested herself behind a Sheetz convenience store. Summer soon found herself enrolled in a high school history class that took a trip to Historic Hanna’s Town. Then, Summer had a flashback to her own experience at Hannastown in 1782.
So, “The Girl with Chameleon Eyes” is the first paranormal novel that I read about Hannastown.
Here are two non-paranormal historical fiction stories about Hannastown:
1.) Hannah’s Town, by Helen Smith and George Swetnam, copyright 1973
I bought this book used from the Caliban Book Shop in Pittsburgh.
This book introduced me to a fictional little girl named Hannah who lived in Colonial Hanna’s Town, and considered it to be “her” town.
Spoiler: Hannah and her family conveniently moved away from Hanna’s Town about a year or so before the British and Guyasuta attacked it. This book was written for young readers. It didn’t include any violence or terror. The book merely described how Hannah and her family built their house, established their farm, completed their chores, etc. In fact, this book reminded me of Laura Ingall’s Wilder’s “Little House in the Big Woods” and “Little House on the Prairie.”
Turnbull dedicated “The Day Must Dawn” “To the residents of Westmoreland County.” At the beginning of it, she wrote: “When I was a small girl, driving with my parents from the village of New Alexandria in Western Pennsylvania to Greensburg, the county seat, I always used to beg them to stop the horse at one spot in the road and tell me again about Hannastown-that-was-burned-by-the-Indians.”
Turnbull was born and raised (and is now buried) in New Alexandria, which is about five miles from the site of old Hannastown.
In “The Day Must Dawn,” one of the (fictional) main characters watched (the real life) Colonel William Crawford burn at the stake while Simon Girty laughed. This character later returned to his family in Hannastown and then watched his own home and town burn. This novel described the aftermath of several other violent deaths in the years leading up to the burning of Hannastown.
In “The Day Must Dawn,” the town lost a significant portion of its able-bodied fighting men in the Crawford Expedition during the American Revolution. (William Crawford, the leader of the expedition, previously founded Fort Crawford in Parnassus, New Kensington.) The Native Americans and British attacked and burned Hannastown less than a year later.
“The Day Must Dawn” is actually a romance about Scotch-Irish Presbyterians named Hugh and Violet.
See, before the novel opened, white settlers moved onto Native American lands along the Susquehanna River in Central Pennsylvania. The Native Americans retaliated with violent attacks on these settlements. All of Violet’s siblings and also Hugh’s parents died in these attacks. Violet’s parents informally “adopted” Hugh.
So, at the beginning of “The Day Must Dawn,” Hugh and Violet called each other “sister” and “brother” and they considered each other as siblings. Then they fell in love with each other.
Hugh decided that he must join a colonial militia and prove his manhood. He planned to ask Violet’s parents (his own foster parents) for permission to marry Violet. In the meantime, Violet’s mother planned to marry Violet (her only living biological child) off to a lawyer who will take her to an easier life in Philadelphia. (Or what passed for easier in that era. One tenth of the population of Philadelphia perished during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793.)
I sometimes romanticize colonial life. In 1782, Pennsylvania was the frontier, and life was cruel and primitive. Parents were admonished by neighbors not to grow too fond of their children, lest they tempt fate. Several children died in this novel. Violet’s father mocked Violet and her mother for bathing in the winter. He bragged about the long period of time since his last bath. (I suspect that this may be one reason why the spark apparently died in the marriage of Violet’s parents.) Violet learned that her mother ate off of plates decorated with flowers during her own childhood in Philadelphia. Violet told her mother that she would die happy if she herself could eat off of such a plate just once. The family’s prized possessions were three books (a Bible and two volumes of Shakespeare) and a mirror.
The author described a folklore treatment actually used by the Pennsylvania German – or, as the book refers to them, the Pennsylvania “Dutch.” Here’s what happened:
A rattlesnake bit Viola (on page 237) as she worked on farming chores. Viola’s mother treated the wound with contemporary medicine. (Chestnut bark poultice. Boiled chestnut leaves. Nanny tea – tea made with dried sheep dung.)
Meanwhile, Viola’s father and Hugh dissected the offending snake. They roasted the snake over a fire. They said “words of the dark charm” over the cooking snake. Then, they applied the snake meat to Viola’s wound.
Viola’s mother turned away, ashamed that her husband and foster son used “witchcraft” (her words) to treat the snakebite.
Simon Girty appeared in the story and declared his sympathy for the Native Americans. (I love that Simon Girty appeared in this story!) In one scene, Girty bought Hugh a drink in a Hannastown tavern. Girty proceeded to tell Hugh why he supported the actions of local Native American chiefs. (Girty also spied Crawford sitting on the other side of the bar, and talked about his dislike of Crawford.) Later, after Girty and Hugh both rode in the so-named Squaw Campaign, Girty told Hugh how the outcome of the campaign (several dead Native American women) disgusted him. Girty defected from the Pennsylvania militia and joined the British.
“The Day Must Dawn” has been out of print by The Macmillan Company for years. The Westmoreland County Historical Society’s website used to sell a paperback reprint of this book. I bought my own hardback copy used on Amazon.
I found some good biographical information on Turnbull at Peter Oresick’s The Pittsburgh Novel and Goodreads. However, one of the librarians at Saint Vincent College introduced me to Turnbull when I worked at the library as a student. As I mentioned above, Turnbull grew up in New Alexandria, PA. Saint Vincent College is a very short drive from New Alexandria.
Turnbull actually graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). (IUP used to have a building named “Turnbull Hall” in honor of her. My sister, a double-graduate of IUP, told me that the school tore Turnbull Hall down a few years ago.)
Turnbull married a man who then left to fight in World War I. Afterward, Turnbull and her husband moved to New Jersey. Turnbull became a best-selling author. She set several of her novels in Western Pennsylvania.
So, I’ve just outlined three very different historical novels about Hannastown (Hanna’s Town), Pennsylvania.
Check back for future updates about my favorite podcasts and travel adventures.
2.) Then, an episode of the podcast My Favorite Murder talked about this in episode 136 and heavily “cited” Criminal. (In my opinion, the bulk of the My Favorite Murder host’s “research” consisted of her listening to the Criminal episode! This is merely my personal opinion, though.)
When I read about the American Civil War and the years leading up to it, I come across a lot of men named after “Stephen Decatur.” I know this, because the men all have “Stephen” for a first name, and “Decatur” for a middle name.
The American Civil War started in 1861. So, I guessed that these men were born in the first few decades of the 1800’s.
Stephen Decatur served as an officer in the United States Navy from 1798 – 1820. I’ll make this quick because anyone with an interest in naval history can just read all of this on Wikipedia. However, Decatur fought pirates along the Barbary Coast of North Africa. He witnessed his own brother, James’s, burial at sea after one of these battles. He earned a Medal of Honor. He died young as a national hero.
Here’s an example of how highly folks regarded Decatur: I listened to Episode 9: A Devil on the Roof from the Lore podcast by Aaron Mahnke. This episode told the myth of the Jersey Devil in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. According to the folklore, Decatur saw the Jersey Devil as he tested cannon balls in Burlington, New Jersey. The legend maintains that Decatur fired a cannon at the Jersey Devil but that the Jersey Devil flew away. This myth implies to me that if such a decorated hero as Decatur saw and reacted to the Jersey Devil, then us common folk should believe that the Jersey Devil actually existed.
I don’t know if Decatur actually saw the Jersey Devil and fired a cannon at it.
However, in 1818 Decatur did actually build his residence in Lafayette Square in Washington, a very short walk from the White House. Before this, Decatur married Susan Wheeler, a woman who had already rejected the romantic intentions of Aaron Burr and Jerome Bonaparte (Napoleon’s brother). Decatur and Susan entertained the elite of Washington society in their gorgeous Lafayette Square home. (In fact, you can still visit this “Historic Decatur House.”)
So, after all of the struggle and success, Stephen Decatur agreed to duel another naval officer, James Barron, in 1820. Decatur shot Barron. Barron shot Decatur. Decatur died at the age of 41. Barron survived for several more decades.
Wikipedia gives a lot of information about the duel, so I’ll make this short. The Decatur / Barron duel resulted after Decatur served on Barron’s court-martial for surrendering a ship, Chesapeake, to the British. Some Wikipedia sources imply that Decatur and Barron meant to call off the duel or else not actually shoot each other, but their “seconds” encouraged things to proceed as they did. Also, Decatur left for his duel without telling his wife about his plans. (Alexander Hamilton did the same thing to Eliza in the Hamilton musical before Hamilton dueled with Aaron Burr and died.)
You read correctly: so many duels happened before the Civil War that the Washington elite journeyed to a designated dueling grounds. In fact, I learned from Wikipedia that Francis Scott Key’s son, Daniel, died after a duel that started over a dispute about the speed of a boat.
Now, since I spend time in Erie along the shore of Lake Erie, I know that another naval officer, Oliver Hazard Perry, is the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. I just learned that in 1818, Perry fought in a duel and he chose Decatur as his own “second.” Nobody died or suffered gunshot wounds in that duel.
(If you go to Lafayette Square today, you will see a statue of Andrew Jackson sitting on a horse. Right now in 2019, Jackson’s mug decorates our American twenty dollar bills. However, back in 1878, Decatur’s face graced the twenty dollar bill. Here’s why I find this peculiar: Decatur fought a duel in which he died and his opponent was injured. Jackson fought a duel in which Jackson’s opponent died, but Jackson suffered an injury and lived. That’s right: Andrew Jackson shot and killed a man in a duel before he became POTUS.)
Dueling declined after the American Civil War. I learned on Wikipedia that the last Bladensburg duel occurred in the late 1860’s. I read in a book of Maryland folklore that a suburban housing development now sits on most of Bladensburg’s “dueling grounds.”
I thought tonight about what our society, our country would look like if people still challenged each other to duels. I read about so many posters on social media who tell the rest of us about how badly another social media user offended them. What if these angry people on Twitter or Facebook or wherever demanded “satisfaction” from each other by dueling? How would these people chose their “seconds?” Would they pick social media friends to be “seconds,” or would these duelers chose from their real life friends? Do any of these social media users (myself included) actually have any real life friends?
How would law enforcement handle dueling today? Would law enforcement arrest the duelers of color, but ignore the white duelers?
Finally, if somebody offended me on social media, would I challenge the offender to duel with me personally? Or should I expect my husband to defend my honor?
Ugh, so many questions!
Check back for future posts here about history and traveling.
Today is May 1. May Day. The ancient festival of Beltane.
Ancient residents of Northern Europe celebrated May 1 as a spring festival. My ancient ancestors most likely celebrated on May Day.
In Anya Seton‘s historical fiction novel Katherine, the serfs living on the English protagonist’s estate snuck off and observed Beltane. A nobleman discovered them and ended the party. The powerful men in this novel forbid Beltane since it wasn’t a “Christian” holiday. They labeled Beltane as “pagan.”
In honor of May Day, I blog today about a place in England that predated Christianity in England. Modern-day Pagans (Contemporary Pagans / Neopagans) still gather at this landmark to observe their own beliefs. I blog today about Avebury.
My husband Jonathan travelled to London for business a few times. I took vacation days from my own job, purchased plane tickets, and squatted in his hotel room so that I could blog about England.
Jonathan had a weekend “off,” so we rented a British car. We drove several hours out of London and visited rural England.
My cousin R. previously lived in the United Kingdom for a year. We asked R. for sightseeing recs. Cousin R. told us about Avebury in Wiltshire, in southwest England.
Avebury Henge, a Neolithic henge monument, encircles a section of the village of Avebury. A ditch surrounds the henge.
UNESCO classifies this as part of its “Stonehenge, Avebury, and Associated Sites” World Heritage site.
We decided through our research that Avebury was more accessible to us than Stonehenge from our hotel “base” in London. We had limited “free” time during our trip. So, we skipped Stonehenge in favor of Avebury.
To our delight, Avebury and its attractions charged no admission. We found it uncrowded, too!
Visitors can even shop inside the henge.
Sheep graze among the Avebury Henge.
In fact, I watched a sheep rub itself against the henge stones.
Look at the below photo. Some of the henge stones show long-term wear at sheep level.
We explored the actual village of Avebury:
Here is the Parish Church of St. James in Avebury. To be clear, this IS a currently operating Christian (Anglican) church. I include St. James in the middle of this blog post because it sits in the village of Avebury.
St. James dates from approximately 100o A.D. The Normans possibly altered the church after the Norman Invasion in 1066 A.D.
The residents on this land now called Avebury once celebrated such pre-Christian rites as Beltane. The status quo maintained Beltane as a festival.
Then, the (Roman Catholic) Church brought Christianity to Avebury. The status quo no longer maintained the pre-Christian beliefs and festivals. The status quo maintained Roman Catholicism.
Then, in the 1500’s, Henry VIII established the (Protestant) Church of England. Henry dissolved the Roman Catholic monasteries. His supporters prosecuted practicing Catholics. Henry VIII died. Henry’s son Edward VI maintained Protestantism as the status quo in England. Edward VI died.
Henry’s daughter, Mary I, then became Queen. She reinstated Roman Catholicism and persecuted Protestants. Mary I died.
Henry’s daughter Elizabeth I became queen. The status quo changed again, this time in favor of Protestants.
(This actually provides much of the setting for Anya Seton‘s time travel / reincarnation novel Green Darkness.)
In 1561, Elizabeth I ordered that all churches destroy their rood screens. (The rood screen separated a church’s chancel from its nave.) Unknown parties disassembled the rood screen at St. James and hid it behind a false wall. Church inhabitants discovered the rood screen in 1810. St. James parishioners restored the screen and reinstalled it by the end of the 1800’s.
Here is St. James’ churchyard:
Again, I include St. James in the middle of this blog post because it sits in the village of Avebury.
The rest of this post details landmarks several miles outside of Avebury. We had to drive to these these places. They are “associated sites” included in the official Stonehenge, Avebury, and Associated Sites UNESCO World Heritage Site:
West Kennet Long Barrow:
This neolithic tomb contained the remains of over 40 individuals.
We parked and walked up a hill in order to view West Kennet Long Barrow. Partway up this hill we came upon a tree filled with ribbons. Unknown visitors tied various items to many of the ribbons.
Here is the inside of West Kennet Long Barrow. Earlier visitors lit candles inside the barrow before we entered it.
This prehistoric artificial mound is the largest one in Europe.
Thank you for letting me share my adventures with you!
Check back for my upcoming blog post about Tintern Abbey, Iron Maiden, and Jane Austin.
(Note: Henry VIII closed Tintern Abbey in 1536 when he replaced Roman Catholicism with Protestantism as the status quo.)
This is a book report on Green Darkness by Anya Seton.
Anya Seton (1904 – 1990) wrote several historical fiction novels about real-life and fictional protagonists. My high school library, my college library, and my Grandma Gaffron’s library all carried her books. Philippa Gregory wrote forwards to new editions of several Seton novels.
I read Dragonwyck first.
Perhaps our high school librarian set it out as one of her recommended books. Dragonwyck told the fictional tale of a poor young farm woman in New York State who married a rich man who knew President Martin Van Buren. She learned that the rich husband actually poisoned his first wife and intended to kill her as well. Dragonwyck has the same gothic plot as movies (such as The Babysitter’s Seduction starring Kerri Russell) and at least one Mary Higgins Clark book (A Cry in the Night).
Then I read Seton’s novel Katherine because I saw it on a list of the “best historical fiction that aspiring writers should read.”
Katherine fictionalized Katherine Swynford’s life in the 1300’s. Katherine grew up in a convent after her father (a knight) died serving the King of England and the Black Death killed her grandparents. Her sister Philippa married Geoffrey Chaucer. Katherine married John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster after his first wife died of the Black Death and his second wife also died of something horrible. Katherine’s stepson, Henry, overthrew his own cousin Richard II from the throne of England. Henry became Henry IV of England.
Next, I read My Theodosia.
My Theodosia fictionalized the life of Theodosia Burr, daughter of Aaron Burr. This is the same Theodosia who inspired the song Dear Theodosia in the Hamilton musical. In real life, Theodosia Burr married a future governor of South Carolina and she moved to his plantation. She ended up “lost at sea” at the age of 29. She was a passenger on a boat that disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean in 1813. (Just a note of caution: My Theodosia‘s story line and language turned racist after Theodosia moved to the plantation.)
Finally, I read Green Darkness.
Now, I consider Green Darkness (published in 1972) as a cross between fantasy and historical fiction. The story “begins” in the year 1970. A fictional American – Celia Marsdon – moves to England with her British husband, Richard.
Richard grew up in his family’s ancestral seat in Sussex, but he hated his childhood there. Richard still decides to move back home after his father’s death. Big mistake.
The Marsdons show up in Sussex on Halloween. They stop first at the ruins of Chowdry House, a real-life Tudor mansion that burned down in the 1700’s. Celia insists that she remembers being in that mansion before it burned. The Marsdons watch bonfire lights in the rural darkness. They meet business associates at the real-life, ancient Spread Eagle Inn. During drinks, somebody jokes about Halloween and its “wormy dead” which “rise from their graves.” The business associates tell Celia a ghost story about a “black monk” (a Benedictine monk) who haunts the area. Celia slips out of the inn to look for the ghost monk. Celia finds the ghost monk and chases it. (Just like every episode of Scooby Doo!) Richard finds Celia and gets angry.
The Marsdons “settle” into Richard’s ancestral home. Their marital problems continue. Richard plays the song “Celia, Wanton and Fair” over and over on his record player.
Celia tours a famous “real” landmark, Ightham Mote, with her mother. They learn that renovation crews recently found a skeleton walled up in the estate’s main house. Celia suffers vague flashbacks to prior events there and she falls ill.
The Marsdon newlyweds hold a dinner party for a bunch of people that they barely know. However, all of the guests at the party actually seem “familiar” to Celia. Celia suffers a medical emergency that night.
As Celia recovers in a hospital, her mother brings to her bedside a physician / Hindu teacher. Under this doctor’s “guidance” Celia recalls memories from her prior life as Celia de Bohun in the 1500’s in Sussex.
The story goes back to the 1500’s for about 500 pages.
Celia’s husband from 1970, Richard Marsdon, is a Catholic Benedictine monk named Stephen Marsdon in the 1500’s.
Brother Stephen Marsdon lives in an English monastery until Henry VIII closes it through the Dissolution of the Monasteries. I imagine that Stephen’s monastery resembled Tintern Abbey. (I will blog about Tintern Abbey next.) Stephen flees to France, but later returns to Sussex.
I need to mention that Celia de Bohun’s aunt, Ursula, is obsessed with predictions and divinations. Aunt Ursula hires a famous mystic to tell Celia’s fortune. The mystic predicts Celia’s early and violent death.
For the next several hundred pages, Celia de Bohun and Stephen Marsdon fall in love as they dodge the wrath of the Tudor monarchs.
As you probably guessed, Stephen Marsdon and Celia de Bohun leave behind “unfinished business” in the 1500’s that Richard and Celia Marsden resolve in 1970.
Celia Marsdon wakes from her trance in 1970 and she realizes that the guests from her dinner party were all reincarnated from people that she knew as Celia de Bohun in the 1500’s.
The two Celia’s, Richard, and Stephen are all fictional, as are all of the guests from the 1970’s dinner party. However, several of the characters that Celia de Bohun met in the 1500’s are real historical figures. The “ghost monk” that Celia Marsdon chased on Halloween is based on the “real” ghost story about the Black Monk of Pontefract.
Green Darkness spans about 600 pages. In my opinion, Seton should have cut this down to 300 pages. The story goes off on many side plots (tangents) that have nothing to do with Celia and Richard’s “unfinished business.” I suspect that Seton plugged unused material from her other books into this, her final finished novel.
I laughed when Celia de Bohun mentions Katherine Swynford’s famous marriage to John of Gaunt two centuries earlier. (John of Gaunt’s son, Henry IV, married Mary de Bohun in 1380. I suspect that the author intended that the fictional Celia de Bohun of the 1500’s belonged to the same de Bohun family.)
If I ever return to the United Kingdom, I might visit these real places listed in Green Darkness: the Chowdry Castle ruins, the Spread Eagle Inn, and Ightham Mote.
In Green Darkness, some of the characters who mistreat and abuse others in the 1500’s pay dearly for it in 1970. Similarly, kindly Aunt Ursula suffers in the 1500’s but during the 1970’s dinner party she is rich and beautiful.
It’s important to be nice to people. Karma exists.
Anya Seton passed away in 1990. Hypothetically, if she was born into another life in 1991, she would now be 28 years old in her new life. Perhaps Anya Seton lives on in the body of another writer.
Here’s a Monongahela (Mon) River secret: I believe that one of the most “Pittsburgh” things about Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania isn’t actually within Pittsburgh’s city limits.
By this, I mean the stretch of the river about ten or so miles upstream from where the Mon meets the Allegheny to form the Ohio River in downtown Pittsburgh. By this, I mean the communities of Braddock and North Braddock, PA. The Mon flows south to north here.
Here are my reasons:
1.) Every Pittsburgh “origin story” includes the Battle of the Monongahela during the French and Indian War. In 1755, the French and their indigenous allies ambushed British General Edward Braddock’s army and his indigenous allies at Braddock’s Field (this land is now present-day Braddock and North Braddock, PA). A young George Washington served as an aide-de-camp to General Braddock. Braddock died from his wounds during the retreat. Washington lead the retreat and he oversaw Braddock’s burial.
Any internet search on “Braddock’s Defeat” and “folklore” will overwhelm you. For fun, throw in these search terms: “Simon Girty,” or else, “missing gold.” One legend even claims that divine intervention saved Washington from death. Another alleges that one of Braddock’s own soldiers (intentionally) shot him.
2.) In 1794, rebels of the Whiskey Rebellion gathered in this very same Braddock’s Field before they marched into Pittsburgh to protest the U.S. government excise tax on whiskey. President Washington sent federal troops to put down the insurrection. In the fiction novel The King’s Orchard by Agnes Sligh Turnbull, angry frontiersmen threatened to burn down the houses of Pittsburgh’s leaders during this rebellion.
(My own hometown in Somerset County, PA later celebrated the Whiskey Rebellion with a festival out of memory for rebellion leader Robert Philson. Another rebellion leader, “Whiskey Dave” Bradford, fled to Louisiana and established the famously “haunted” Myrtles Plantation.)
3.) Braddock’s Field sits very close to the present-day Edgar Thomson Steel Works.
In 1872, Andrew Carnegie and his business associates built this steel mill. They named the plant after J. Edgar Thomson, the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. They equipped the plant for the Bessemer process.
U.S. Steel owns this working steel mill today.
I found one travel blog in which the writer (a military history enthusiast) visited the Braddock community and attempted to retrace the Battle of the Monongahela. The blogger recounted the battle (in great detail) and provided maps. The blogger complained that later “progress” corrupted this land to the extent that he couldn’t actually view the battlefield in its pristine state from 1755.
The blogger’s complaint stuck with me. Just think about the tragedies and injustices (including labor disputes and the Johnstown Flood) that some blame on Pittsburgh’s Industrial Revolution leaders. If the blogger wants to complain about Andrew Carnegie and his business associates, he needs to take a number!
What do you consider to be the most “Pittsburgh” places in Pittsburgh?