Misery Bay and Graveyard Pond

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.

Monument to Commander Oliver Hazard Perry

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. The reconstructed USS Niagara now sails regularly from her dock in Erie, past Misery Bay, on her way to the open lake.

Flagship Niagara Passes Fishermen on the North Pier

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.

Freighter

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.

Meeting Aaron Burr in the Alleghenies

Scene from the Allegheny Mountains between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia

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?

1779 Sailing Mishap

FYI: NOT our boat.

Per my last post, my husband Jonathan and I recently purchased a 35 foot sailboat.

I didn’t grow up in a “boating family.” Neither did my husband. We both grew up in middle-class families with multiple kids and multiple priorities. About once a summer or so, my own parents rented for me and my sisters paddle boats, a rowboat, or perhaps a canoe from a PA State Park boat concession. My dad eventually purchased a used canoe from a boat concession auction.

When Jonathan and I were on our honeymoon, he purchased a kite. He flew his new kite on the beach. He told me that wind power fascinated him. He later confessed to me that sailboats and sailing actually fascinated him since childhood but that he was too shy to mention this to his parents.

We took a few sailing lessons on a Flying Scot at Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park in Western PA. We borrowed my parents’ canoe once. We purchased our own canoe / kayak hybrids.

Jonathan monitored Facebook for postings about boat sales. I learned that prospective boat buyers have no problem finding boats for sale at the end of summer, before prospective boat sellers need to store their boats for the winter. So, on one October Friday, Jonathan drove through several counties to meet the man selling a Flying Scot. By the end of that day, we owned our first sailboat.

That weekend gave us “hot” October weather. We took our “new” Flying Scot to Lake Arthur that Saturday. We rigged our new boat in the parking lot of Moraine’s public boat launch. We sailed and sailed. We noted that the sun started to set and that other boaters headed to shore. We headed to shore. Then . . . the wind died down.

Did I mention that our Flying Scot had no motor? Yeah, this is important. The wind powered our boat. After the wind died, we sat in the middle of the lake.

We sat there for about an hour. Then, Jonathan grabbed the boat’s sole oar and “paddled” us to shore. In the twilight. Then, we had to de-rig our sailboat in the dark, assisted by one flashlight.

That next summer, we returned to Lake Arthur with our Flying Scot and rented a slip at the marina’s dry dock. We sailed again. And again, the wind died on us. We found ourselves becalmed on Lake Arthur, with no motor, again.

Except, this time the wind died due to a very impending, severe thunderstorm. We saw the lightning as we sat, stationary, on the lake. Mother Nature mocked us.

I said a few angry things to Jonathan. He grabbed the oar and, once again, paddled us back to shore.

The storm’s downdraft actually pushed us the last few feet to the dock. We jumped off of the boat and ran through the rain to our truck. Then, we realized that our truck keys were still on our boat! So, Jonathan had to run back to the boat before we found shelter inside of our truck.

Jonathan is very lucky that I sailed with him again after this.

This summer we now have a sailboat docked in Erie, PA, on Lake Erie. I sailed with Jonathan ON THE OPEN LAKE twice. I have the experience of sitting becalmed on Lake Erie, covered in bug spray and swatting at biting flies. Thank destiny that we now own a motored boat!

After I first sailed, I collected the sailing mishaps noted in historical fiction AND nonfiction.

For instance, Aaron Burr’s only child, Theodosia Burr Alston, boarded the schooner Patriot in 1812. The ship sailed from South Carolina. It never arrived in New York City. History noted Theodosia Burr Alston as “disappeared” or “lost at sea.” Theories and folkore (see Wikipedia) abounded on the fate of “Dear Theodosia.” One famous legend involved pirates. In fact, one storyteller described Theodosia walking the plank to her death.

Now, for the promised 1779 sailing mishap, here is a passage from Chapter Five of “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation” by Cokie Roberts. This recounts John Jay and his wife Sally’s voyage to Spain after Congress named John Jay as Minister to Spain during the Revolutionary War:

“ Two months later, still aboard the ship and nowhere near Spain, Sally recounted their adventures to her mother. After being at sea a couple of weeks, she heard a terrible noise on the deck in the middle of the night: “We had been deprived of nothing less than our bow-spirit, main-mast and missen-mast . . . however our misfortunes were only begun, the injury received by our rudder the next morning served to complete them.” The ship was dismasted and rudderless, the seas were high, and winter was on the way. A council of ship’s officers concluded tht there was no way to reach Europe under those conditions, so they set course for the island of Martinique. It took a couple of weeks for the winds to get them going in the right direction, but, Sally cheerfully reported, “we are now in smooth seas having the advantage of trade winds which blow directly for the island . . . while our American friends are amusing themselves by a cheerful fireside, are we sitting under an awning comforting ourselves with the expectation of being soon refreshed by some fine southern fruits.”  . . . What she didn’t tell her mother was that she was pregnant. Stranded at sea, Sally and John threw a party, surprising and delighting fellow passengers. Finally, at the end of December, the ship limped into port in Martinique, where Sally was able to send off her letter home.”

Cokie Roberts, “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation.”

Just imagine drifting around for several weeks on the ocean in a ship that lost most of its sails. And its rudder. Just hoping that the trade winds would blow the ship to Martinique before winter. With a navigation system from the late 1700’s. And no motor!

Maybe, if this happened in 2019, Sally Jay would tweet a selfie of herself on the disabled ship. “Can’t believe where I ended up. LOL.”  Followed by an interview with Anderson Cooper. (Or Cokie Roberts.)

Stay tuned for my next sailing update.

Erie, Pennsylvania

Houseboats in Presque Isle State Park, Erie, Pennsylvania

My husband, Jonathan, and I recently purchased a sailboat, S/V Pinniped. We dock Pinniped in Erie, PA. Here are Jonathan’s most recent updates on sailing:

Life with S/V Pinniped: Two Months in, Part 1

Life with S/V Pinniped: Two Months in, Part 2

A few years ago, Jonathan blogged about an Erie lighthouse:

Erie Land Light

Then, I wrote Don’t Give Up the Lighthouse; Erie Land Light Part II.

I also previously blogged about the time that we saw the U.S. Brig Niagara sail past us under full sail at Presque Isle State Park.

Jonathan and I actually left the bay and sailed on Lake Erie (the open lake!) for the first time together yesterday. Check back for future updates!

Mary Schenley’s Irish Family

The King’s Orchard by Agnes Sligh Turnbull.

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.

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.

Ghost Town #1

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.

Maybe you’ll even see ghosts!

Hannastown Burned Again

This blog post is about paranormal historical romance fiction and also about “regular” historical fiction.

So, if that’s not your thing, here’s a post that you might enjoy more: They “Bought” A Dead Body: My Visit to Jim Thorpe, PA.

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.”

2.) “The Day Must Dawn” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull, copyright 1942.

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.

Harry K. Thaw’s Grave

A few months ago, I blogged about the time that Harry K. Thaw shot Stanford White over White’s relationship with Thaw’s wife, Evelyn Nesbit. (Thaw was from Pittsburgh, and Nesbit was born in Tarentum, PA, although the two of them met in New York City.)

I visited Thaw’s grave in Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh.

I didn’t put the rosary on this grave. I don’t know who put the rosary on the headstone.

Here is the marker for the Thaw family plot:

If you want to hear a podcast or two about Evelyn Nesbit, “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing,” and Thaw’s murder of White, check out these podcast episodes:

1.) Criminal (hosted by Phoebe Judge), covered this in episode 91The “It” Girl.

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.)

Why I Love “The Dollop”

This is a blog post about one of my favorite podcasts.

First, I have to vent about something. I saw today on Facebook a meme of Barack Obama allegedly carrying the book The Post-American World, by Fareed Zakaria. The meme alleged that this book is about “a Muslim’s view of a defeated America.” The meme further implied that Obama championed “a defeated America.”

Now, first of all, I just researched the meme on Snopes.com. The Snopes entry about the meme is dated 2008. The meme existed on the internet at least as far back as 2008! Therefore, the “helpful” person who shared the meme in 2019 didn’t actually provide any new wisdom or insight. Also, according to Snopes, the book isn’t actually about “a defeated America.”

Second, here’s the bigger thing that bothered me: this meme implied that we readers endorse the ideas presented in every single book that we ever read. This doesn’t make any sense! For instance, my decision to read Gone with the Wind when I was twelve years old does not mean that I endorse the Lost Cause mythology. I am currently listening to a novel about Varina Davis (the wife of Jefferson Davis, the only President of the Confederate States of America). This does NOT mean that I want my husband to start his own country.

Finally, I am happy that from 2009 – 2017, we had a POTUS who read actual books.

Now for my podcast recommendation.

As I mentioned earlier in this blog, my mom passed away about six months ago. Since then, I’ve listened to several hours of podcasts or audio books every day. I listen during my commute, housework, etc. Listening to these for hours and hours helps me to get through each day.

I used the “browse” section of my podcast app to find any comedy podcasts that exist. I found The Dollop, hosted by comedians Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds. In each episode, Anthony reads a story to Reynolds, “who has no idea what the topic is going to be about.” Most of the stories are from American history. Anthony and Reynolds crack jokes as the story progresses.

Now, I am usually late to the party when I “discover” things that I like. For instance, this spring I “discovered” The Dollop. I told my husband, Jonathan, all about this podcast. Jonathan responded that he saw his Facebook friends post about The Dollop for years!

Listening to The Dollop archives is one of the best parts of my day.

To make this about Pittsburgh: last year, The Dollop did a live show in Pittsburgh. They profiled Henry Clay Frick. Anthony’s story included Andrew Carnegie, the Johnstown Flood, and the Homestead Strike. You can find this episode wherever you download podcasts, or you can listen to it here. I learned from the live recording that the Pittsburgh venue hosted a sold-out show and also that the Pittsburgh venue either ran out of, or just didn’t sell, beer.

Check back for upcoming blog posts about my other favorite podcasts.

Celeste Ng in Pittsburgh

I saw Celeste Ng speak at First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh last Friday. Ng promoted the paperback release of her novel Little Fires Everywhere.

I estimate that several hundred people attended. Good thing that White Whale Bookstore held this inside a healthy-sized venue!

I read Little Fires Everywhere last year after my husband Jonathan gave a hardcover copy to me for Christmas. Amazon told Jonathan that I would like this book.

Wikipedia taught me that Ng was born in Pittsburgh in 1980 to Chinese-American parents. Ng grew up in Pittsburgh and in the affluent Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio.

(Ng belongs to my generation. So do most of Little Fires Everywhere‘s main characters.)

Little Fires Everywhere took place mostly in Shaker Heights during 1996-1997. However, Chapters 13 and 14 consisted of a flashback to Pittsburgh during the years 1979 – 1982.

I grew up in rural western Pennsylvania, about 200 miles east of Shaker Heights. However, I never heard of Shaker Heights until I read this novel.

I learned very early in the story that the people of Shaker Heights thought pretty highly of themselves and their community. I googled “Shaker Heights” and learned from this satire article that McSweeney’s liberal elite also held Shaker Heights residents above us other middle-class suckers.

I read the first part of this novel with a chip on my shoulder. I was a teenage country bumpkin in the 1990’s. I longed to reside in an upscale suburb near a major or even a minor city.

So, I resented this author’s privilege for growing up in Shaker Heights.

However, I finished Little Fires Everywhere and realized that my own resentment summed up about 75% of the plot!

Here’s what happened in the book: an “artist / food service worker / housekeeper / single mother” raised in a no-nonsense working-class Pittsburgh family moved to Shaker Heights with her teenage daughter. They rented an apartment from an established Shaker Heights family. They discovered the class division separating themselves from the Shaker Heights family.

Here’s some other stuff that happened: In the very first chapter (first sentence, really) of this book, a teenager named Izzy Richardson burned down her well-heeled parents’ upscale house in Shaker Heights. This first chapter took place in May 1997. The rest of the book recounted the chain of events (mostly in 1996 – 1997) that caused Izzy to torch her family home.

The novel also described a fictional custody battle between a Chinese-American birth mother and a rich white couple.

Most of the white adults and white teenagers in Little Fires Everywhere presented themselves as jerks who thought of themselves as “good people.” I originally begrudged Ng for this. (To be clear, I changed my mind about this.)

In addition, the author initially “offended” me when she portrayed the characters in Pittsburgh as rotten human beings.

When I first learned that Ng was coming to Pittsburgh for her paperback tour, I thought, “If you think that you are so much better than us “Pittsburghers,” then why are you even traveling here to Pittsburgh for your book tour?” (Again, to be clear, I changed my mind about this.)

I’m not technically a Pittsburgher. However, my mom was born and raised inside the city limits. (Mom grew up in Carrick.) My grandpa retired as a Pittsburgh policeman. I work downtown here. It grated me that this elite, privileged Shaker Heights / Ivy League / New England woman ripped on an uneducated, working-class (white) Pittsburgh family in her novel. Even though the fictional Pittsburgh family resembled my own family’s background here. Even though Ng’s description of Pittsburgh in the late 70’s / early 80’s wasn’t incorrect.

(Yeah, I know that my own response helps to explain why a certain populist politician won a certain election. I’m being honest with myself, not proud of myself.)

Why did I attend the book talk after the book touched several of my sore spots? Well, Ng is a nationally-acclaimed author. I wanted to learn about her experiences writing a book that I read.

Also, I wanted to hear what Ng had to say about Pittsburgh to her Pittsburgh audience – AFTER she wrote about Pittsburghers so unfavorably in Little Fires Everywhere.

To my disappointment, when the moderator asked Ng about her memories of Pittsburgh, Ng spoke about her visits to the dinosaur exhibit at the Carnegie Museum. How diplomatic.

Ng did mention her anxiety about her earlier author visit to Shaker Heights after Little Fires Everywhere‘s hardcover release. After all, the fictional residents of Shaker Heights also presented as awful people. Ng noted that the attendees at her Shaker Heights visit didn’t argue with her portrayal of Shaker Heights.

I’m glad that I read Little Fires Everywhere and I’m glad that I had the privilege of watching Ng speak last week.