Absolute Best History Podcasts

Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here are my absolute favorite history podcasts. These are the podcasts to which I re-listen to episodes.

I, personally, download podcasts from iTunes. However, I linked to each podcast’s website.

1.) Uncivil, from Gimlet Media, hosted by Jack Hitt and Chenjerai Kumanyika

I blogged about this Civil War podcast a few months ago. Each episode discussed stories and events that aren’t part of the common Civil War narrative. For instance, one episode taught me about female soldiers who enlisted in the army as men. Many of the episodes featured stories and events involving African Americans.

I complained about this podcast last year because Season #1 ended with no announcement and Gimlet said nothing about the status of Season #2.

2.) American Hauntings Podcast by Troy Taylor and Cody Beck

I included American Hauntings because the podcast actually taught me more about history then it did about the supernatural.

I posted about American Hauntings last month. Co-host Cody Beck commented on my post! Thanks, Cody!

Season #4 is Haunted New Orleans! I learned that Jean Lafitte the pirate might actually have NO actual connection to the building known as “Lafitte’s” Blacksmith Shop Bar. That the most graphic stories about Madame LaLaurie’s mansion may be fiction. (Though the LaLaurie family’s brutal cruelty towards their enslaved servants DID happen.) I learned about “quadroon balls.”

I even learned that Nicholas Cage (who also owned the LaLaurie Mansion) purchased for himself a pyramid-shaped tomb in New Orleans’ St. Louis Cemetery No. 1!

The entire first season highlighted Alton, Illinois. I didn’t even know that Alton existed until I found American Hauntings. I learned that Alton competed economically with St. Louis. It hosted a Civil War Prison AND a tuberculosis sanitarium. A LOT of people died horrible deaths in Alton.

I learned that an abolitionist named Elijah Lovejoy ran a printing press in St. Louis. Three angry mobs destroyed Lovejoy’s printing press three separate times. Lovejoy moved to Alton, Illinois and bought yet another printing press.  A FOURTH angry mob, this time in Alton, destroyed Lovejoy’s fourth printing press. Also, the fourth angry mob shot and killed Lovejoy.

The Season #2 taught me about St. Louis, Missouri. Season #2 included a multi-episode feature on the Lemp brewing family. I learned that the most atrocious stories about the Lemps did NOT happen! (There is NO record that the young boy known as “Zeke” Lemp actually existed. Charles Lemp DIDN’T kill his dog. Lillian Lemp AKA “the Lavender Lady” DID face a child custody challenge from her ex-husband after she wore trousers in a photo.)

The audio quality of the episodes in the middle of the first season was not great. However, the audio quality improved greatly in Season #2.

Season #3, titled Murdered in Their Beds, covered the string of midwestern ax murders (including Villisca) that occurred at the turn of the last century. This was my least favorite season.

3.)  The Dollop, hosted by comedians Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds

In each episode, Anthony read a story from history to Reynolds, “who has no idea what the topic is going to be about.”

The podcast hosts used adult language. The hosts performed improv during each story. Their jokes probably offended some listeners. See, I warned you.

Here are some episodes for you:

101 – The Death of George Washington

106 – The Fenian Raids (The raids happened right after the Civil War.)

107 – General Order No. 11 (This happened during the Civil War.)

179 – The Whiskey Rebellion (I had to include this because I’m from PA.)

218 – The Donora Smog Disaster (I had to include this because I’m from PA.)

234 – Daniel Sickles (I had to include this because I’m from PA. I learned in high school history class that Sickles lost his leg at the Battle of Gettysburg. I didn’t learn any of the following in high school: Sickles introduced his mistress to Queen Victoria, except that he introduced her as the wife of his political rival. He shot his wife’s lover (Francis Scott Key’s son). A jury found Sickles innocent after he plead temporary insanity. He advised President Lincoln after Mrs. Lincoln allegedly leaked wartime information to the press. The men convinced the (illiterate) White House gardener to admit to the leak. Sickles threw General Meade under the bus in his Congressional testimony about Gettysburg. None of this stuff is humorous, but I couldn’t stop laughing during this episode.)

253 – James Oglethorpe and the Colony of Georgia (James Oglethorpe thought that he could establish a slavery-free colony in Georgia. Ha, ha, ha!)

274 – The Naughty Civil War Boat

276 – Harriet Tubman

284 – Lincoln’s Body

287 – The Caning of Sumner (This is Civil War-adjacent.)

289 – The Confederados (This is Civil War-adjacent.)

294 – Blackbeard

343 – Lord Gordon Gordon (I couldn’t stop laughing.)

346 – Henry Clay Frick (I had to include this episode because the hosts performed it live in Pittsburgh. Also, because Henry Clay Frick is such a Pittsburgh icon.)

354 – The Hayes Tilden Election Nightmare (This is another Civil War-adjacent episode.)

359 – Sam Houston and the Archive War

367 – Alice Roosevelt

372 – America’s First Ghost

381 – Harmen van den Bogaert

382 – Colonel Harland Sanders (KFC, anyone?)

4.) Southern Gothic by Brandon Schexnayder

Each episode explored a dark historical event, place, or folklore tale from American Southern history.

I included Southern Gothic on this list because the host did advise when folklore did not match historical records. For example, in the episode about the Myrtles Plantation, the host noted that dates on the local death records do not match the storyline involved with the plantation’s most famous ghost story. (Troy Taylor mentioned this same thing during an episode of American Hauntings.)

5.) Unobscured with Aaron Mahnke

Season One examined the Salem witch trials of 1692. The episodes included interviews with academics knowledgeable about the witch trials.

Season Two explored the Victorian-era Spiritualist movement.

It Started Here: Lochry’s Defeat

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. January, 2010. (Photo: Jonathan Woytek)

Lochry’s Defeat started in 1781 when Archibald Lochry raised a militia unit in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. About one hundred men set off down the Ohio River from Fort Pitt (which later became Pittsburgh). A few weeks later, the entire group ended up captured or killed.

Archibald Lochry was a Westmoreland County leader during the American Revolutionary War. The British occupied Detroit. The American colonists in Western PA were at war with the British and their Native American allies. Many of these Native American allies attacked from the Ohio territory west of PA.

(The colonists referred to the British general in Detroit as “Hair Buyer Hamilton” because the British paid for the scalps of American colonists.)

Thomas Jefferson, then the governor of Virginia, promoted George Rogers Clark to the Virginia rank of Brigadier General. In 1781, Clark left Fort Pitt to navigate down the Ohio River into the Ohio territory.

Lochry and his militiamen followed in their own flotilla some time later. Lochry was supposed to meet up with Clark’s expedition downriver. Unfortunately, after a number of issues including supplies, communication, and the threat of desertions among Clark’s men, Lochry missed Clark several times. Lochry never caught up to Clark.

In August 1781, Joseph Brant and George Girty led Native Americans allied with the British. (George Girty was Simon Girty‘s brother.) This group set out looking for Clark.

Brant and Girty instead surprised Lochry, who had stopped on the banks of the Ohio River in present-day Indiana. Brant and Girty ambushed Lochry and killed him. They killed dozens of his men and took the rest prisoner.

The families back in Westmoreland County didn’t learn about this until a significant time later.

The Wikipedia entry for this event also refers to it as the Lochry Massacre. I chose to not use the word “massacre” because indignenous people were involved in the victory. I explained my choice of semantics in this other blog post.

If you want a much more detailed account of Lochry’s Defeat and Clark’s expedition, by all means go read the Wikipedia entry on this. The Wikipedia page includes a photo of the Lochry’s Defeat site in Indiana. I also saw in this photo some military equipment that I believe came from a 20th century war. To be honest, at first glance I mistook this equipment to be an empty boat trailer. (This is IS along the Ohio River banks.)

I wrote today’s blog post for all of the people who, like me, don’t remember learning about this in high school history class. In fact, I never even heard this story from my Westmoreland County family members who first told me about Simon Girty. I learned about Lochry’s Defeat from the historical fiction novel “The Day Must Dawn” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull.

Just to keep this in context with other local history, Lochry’s men from Westmoreland County set off from Fort Pitt in the summer of 1781. Lochry’s Defeat happened in Indiana in August 1781. The Crawford Expedition set off down the Ohio River in May 1782. (William Crawford led this expedition. Most of his militiamen came from Westmoreland and Washington counties.) The British and their Native American allies captured and executed Crawford in Ohio in June 1782. Simon Girty was present at Crawford’s execution. Then, the British and their Native American allies attacked and burned Hannastown in Westmoreland County in July 1782. The Revolutionary War ended in 1783.

According to Wikipedia, Joseph Brant allegedly got into a violent, drunken brawl with Simon Girty over the issue of whether Brant or George Girty deserved the credit for Lochry’s Defeat. Brant was a Mohawk military leader and Girty (who was himself raised by Native Americans) has an infamous reputation in frontier America. At least one Canadian monument refers to Simon Girty as a British Loyalist. Keep this in mind when you read such tales.

The Christmas Tree Ship; Podcast Episode from Haunted Places

Chicago Skyline
Chicago Skyline. Chicago, Illinois. June 2017. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I found a new podcast episode that I really enjoyed this week.

As I mentioned on this blog, my in-laws once lived on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. They deeply loved the Great Lakes. They shared this love with their kids and also with me.

I really wish that I could bring back my mother-in-law, Fran, and then transport my sisters’ appreciation for a good ghost story podcast into her soul. Then, I would have someone who would be as excited to listen to this podcast as I was:

The Christmas Tree Ship episode from Haunted Places from Cutler Media and part of the Parcast Network.

To quote the Episode Info from the podcast website:

The Rouse Simmons, or “The Christmas Tree Ship,” was a 205-ton, three-masted schooner. In 1912, the beloved ship met an untimely demise when it sank to the bottom of Lake Michigan. Today, locals have reported seeing the ghost of the ship and its crew sailing the waters it used to call home. 

I posted above a photo of the Chicago lakefront because the Rouse Simmons delivered trees to the Navy Pier in Chicago each year.

On another note, I’m still learning to podcast myself. I don’t want to post anything that I didn’t enjoy creating. Stay tuned for future podcasts from me.

Finally, I cannot thank you fantastic readers enough for reaching out to me in support of the Parnassus Pen.

Extremely Rich People in Alcohol Caves

A cave / railroad tunnel. NOT a wine cave or a beer cave!
An abandoned railroad tunnel. NOT a wine cave or a beer cave!

This week, I learned about modern-day billionaires in wine caves.

Last year, I learned about the 19th century Lemp family in St. Louis, Missouri. This family owned a brewery empire. They integrated caves into their beer making process. They also entertained and socialized in a cave.

I learned about the Lemp family and their caves on Season 2, Episodes 6 – 11 of the American Hauntings podcast. Be sure to check out the second episode in this Lemp series (Season 2, Episode 7 on the website) to learn about the Lemp caves. Here is the podcast, hosted by Troy Taylor and Cody Beck. Just type “Lemp” into the search bar.

Lock Him Up: An Election Story

I own a signed copy of Pittsburgh: The Story of An American City, written by Stefan Lorant with several contributors. I purchased it for $5 from a used bookstore. The book came apart in several places at the binding. The book contains almost seven hundred pages of Pittsburgh history and photos.

This book’s Chapter 3 The City Grows by Oscar Handlin includes a sidebar titled Pittsburgh in the News. This sidebar includes the following item:

Joe Barker, a colorful street preacher, was arrested in 1849 when he was involved in a riot while delivering one of his many tirades against Catholicism. He was thrown into jail and while in prison he was elected as mayor of the city. After serving for one year he was defeated for re-election and sank into obscurity. He died in 1862 when run over by a train.

(Wikipedia taught me that the train decapitated Mayor Joseph Barker. He is buried in Allegheny Cemetery.)

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.

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.

“The Headless Horseman Industrial Complex”

Autumn tree. Digital Humanities.  Taken at Seton HIll University, Greensburg, PA.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I’m grateful to all of you who read my blog.

I love to consume content and also to share the content that I enjoy. Here is some content that my sister E. sent to me:

From the New York TimesThe Headless Horseman Industrial ComplexHow Sleepy Hollow and the river towns of New York City went all in on Halloween, by Molly Fitzpatrick. (The linked website actually currently says “New York City,” but I wonder if this is a typo and the article meant to say “New York State.”

Washington Irving introduced the spooky myth of the headless horseman in his short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The New York (State) community where this story took place recently changed its name from “North Tarrytown” to “Sleepy Hollow.”

Here’s one of my favorite excerpts from the article:

The enterprising venture of rebranding North Tarrytown as Sleepy Hollow followed the 1996 closing of the local General Motors plant — which had once employed 4,000 workers — that very year, a devastating blow to the village economy. The mayor of the town then, Sean Treacy, celebrated the result of the vote against the backdrop of a Headless Horseman banner: “This is now the place,” he proclaimed, “where legends are made.”

For Henry Steiner, the village historian and an outspoken advocate for the name change, the opportunity was more profound. “I wanted to see this community called North Tarrytown not labor under a lack of identity,” he said. “I wanted to seize this world-famous identity that had been buried.”

Here’s another excerpt:

For Mr. Steiner, who published an annotated edition of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” in 2014, the region’s Halloween-forward branding is a source of both pride and anxiety. “I would like the things that are genuine and authentic to remain genuine and authentic, but ultimately, there’s more money in tourism than there is in historic preservation,” he said.

This article discussed the economic boost that “dark tourism” brought to this community. Here’s the Wikipedia entry that describes “dark tourism.”

I’ve never been to visit Sleepy Hollow. However, I’ve participated in dark tourism. I toured the Tower of London and Tintern Abbey. Etc.

I hope that you enjoy this! Let me know.

Lizzo? No, Library Quizzo! Check Out My Sister’s New Website

I’m proud of all four of my sisters. However, tonight I will brag about my sister K.

K. is a librarian in Eastern Pennsylvania and a mother to multiple young children. K. is also a Quizzo champion. (Quizzo is a form of competitive pub trivia.)

K. played Quizzo regularly through several stressful times in her life. She found fellowship and community during these evenings.

So, K. established a Library Quizzo program at her library. She designed a website to instruct others on how to establish Quizzo programs at their own libraries. Finally, K. spoke at the 2019 Pennsylvania Library Association’s annual conference about Library Quizzo.

Check out my sister’s blog post about Library Quizzo. Then, check out her brand new Library Quizzo website.

Review: “Ghost” History Walk at Prospect Cemetery

Prospect Cemetery. Brackenridge. Graves. Headstones. Full moon.
Prospect Cemetery, Brackenridge, PA. October 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I attended a “ghost” history walk in Prospect Cemetery last week.

The people of Brackenridge, PA, established Prospect Cemetery in 1864.

This cemetery includes markers from as far back as 1817. (The Victorians moved graves to Prospect from other local burying grounds.)

The remains of Brackenridge’s founder and namesake (Judge Henry Marie Brackenridge) and his family rest here.

The 13 acre cemetery sits on a hill overlooking the Allegheny River, upstream from Pittsburgh.

A few years ago, the cemetery met financial troubles. A local newspaper covered the issue in several articles.

Later, volunteers organized annual “history ghost walks” to raise money for cemetery upkeep.

Jonathan and I attended the walk each year. (We paid $10 per ticket this year.)

Each year’s ghost walk featured Judge Brackenridge and his wife. The other featured cemetery residents varied each year. Volunteers dressed in period costumes as “ghosts” – the people featured on that year’s tour- and reenacted that person. The “ghosts” featured included deceased community members from both the 1800’s and the 1900’s.

This year’s featured “ghosts” included TWO Civil War veterans. One of these veterans was captured at the Battle of Chickamauga and taken to Andersonville Prison. He later wrote a book about his wartime experiences. This year’s tour also included a World War I veteran who later served as a police officer for decades.

In my opinion, the “history ghost walk” is a creative solution to the cemetery’s situation.

This year’s walk occurred under a nearly-full moon.

(I’m not aware of any historical fiction that included Henry Marie Brackenridge. However, his father, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, appeared as a character in the novel The King’s Orchard by Agnes Sligh Turnbull. Hugh Henry founded the University of Pittsburgh. Here’s another blog post that I wrote about the Brackenridge family.)