Quarantine Podcast

Historic Downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia. November 2011. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Yesterday, I viewed an online training session. The host joked that “everybody” is now producing “quarantine podcasts” since most of us are now living under “Shelter in Place” orders.

Now, I received podcasting equipment for Christmas a year and a half ago. I haven’t used it as much as I had hoped. So, I’m going to take another shot at creating a podcast series about folklore and history, mainly in Western Pennsylvania.

So, this new series will be my personal “quarantine podcast.”

I don’t expect to make any money from my upcoming podcast. I’m not trying to take anything away from the people who already create podcasts – or give ghost tours – as their bread and butter. I’m just working on this to have a little bit of fun. So please be kind when I finally post an episode.

(If you get all snarky about me anyway, then I guess that I deserve it.)

In the meantime, here is a virtual flower show for you to enjoy.

Magnolia Tree. University of Pittsburgh Student Union. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. March 31, 2016. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here is a photo of my husband Jonathan taking a photo at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh:

Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here is another photo from Phipps Conservatory:

Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. April 2015. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here are some photos that I took when I visited Longwood Gardens during a rainstorm and a flood warning:

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. June 2015. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. June 2015. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. June 2015. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. June 2015. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Pay-What-You-Can: Updated for March 2020

Update: I published this blog post almost a full year ago, on March 30, 2019.

As you know, things are kinda different now.

Knead Community Café still feeds the New Kensington community on a “Pay-What-You-Can / Pay-It-Forward” model. Since Governor Wolf closed every dining room in the state, customers now pick up the food or receive it delivered from café volunteers.

I miss sitting in the cafe’s sunny dining room and I miss admiring the communal wooden table that occupies the dining room’s center. This table reminds me of the time back in the 1990’s that my Uncle S. and my Aunt M. rented a huge (to me, at least) lodge in the middle of the woods in Central Pennsylvania for my cousin R.’s wedding. We slept in the lodge that night. In the morning, we all had breakfast together at a large table in a kitchen nook.

Anyway, restaurants and grocery stores recently donated food to Knead. Knead cooked the food into “grab and go” meals that they handed out at their door and also recruited volunteers to deliver. They did not request “Pay-What-You-Can / Pay-It-Forward” donations for these “grab and go” meals. They still had to pay their employees to prepare these meals.

So, I updated this blog post in the hopes that readers consider supporting Knead financially.

Knead Community Cafe’s Wooden Table

Here’s what I posted almost a full year ago, on March 30, 2019:

In January, Planet Money released Episode 889: The Pay-What-You-Want Experiment. In this episode, host Sarah Gonzalez interviewed Panera Bread founder Ron Shaich. Shaich opened a small chain of “pay-what-you-want” eating establishments operating under the name of “Panera Cares” in 2010. Unfortunately, all of the “Panera Cares” locations eventually closed.

However, New Kensington, Pennsylvania has its own independent, non-profit “pay-what-you-can” restaurant: Knead Community Cafe.

I ate breakfast this morning at Knead. I breakfasted there several other Saturday mornings in the past year. Knead opened in February 2017. I took all of the photos in this blog post in April 2018.

To clarify, New Kensington’s Knead Community Cafe is NOT affiliated in any way with Panera Bread. I mentioned the Planet Money episode merely to illustrate that Planet Money did a story on an innovative type of establishment similar to one that exists in my own town.

The above linked Planet Money episode referred to the concept as “pay-what-you-want.” The website for Knead referred to the concept as “pay-what-you-can / pay-it-forward.” I based my below explanation on Knead’s website. If you want specific information on how the restaurant works, its hours of operation, or its menu, please visit its website and / or its Facebook page.

The booth inside of Knead’s front door explained “pay-what-you-can” as it applied to Knead:

Before each trip to Knead, I first checked Knead’s Facebook page to review that day’s menu. Note that the menu changes each day. On my first trip, I had a choice of three breakfast options.

We ordered our food and our choice of juice at a counter. Cafe volunteers brought our food to our assigned table. We helped ourselves to coffee, tea, and iced tea at the cafe’s beverage bar.

In addition to Knead’s indoor seating, Knead has an outdoor courtyard. I never sat in the courtyard, but I took a few photos of it. People who sit in the courtyard can enjoy this old city’s “ghost signs.” (Ghost signs are hand-painted advertisements on the sides of old buildings. Many ghost signs advertise now-defunct products or businesses.)

In fact, if you chose to eat at Knead, you might work off your meal with a short photo walk around downtown New Kensington. You will be able to photograph several ghost signs.


Finally, parking options are very important to me when I visit a place. I am satisfied with Knead’s parking options. Visitors can park along the street for free. Visitors can also park in a large, free public parking lot directly across the street from Knead’s front entrance.

My husband and I live within walking distance from Knead. When we visit, we often run into people that we know. However, we also chat at Knead with people that we never previously met. Knead provides an excellent place for the community to partake of a meal as fellow human beings.

Have you ever visited a “pay-what-you-want / pay-what-you-can / pay-it-forward” restaurant? Tell me about your experience.

Patient Zero

Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA. February, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh just ended a show themed on outer space. I laid on the floor underneath an exhibit there and took the above photo. This exhibit represented one of the ringed planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune.

I just learned by reading the website for History (formerly The History Channel) that allegedly at one time, scholars from the University of Paris claimed that on March 20, 1345, the planets of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars lined up in a specific way to create the Black Death (Bubonic Plague).

My sister O. celebrates her birthday on March 20. So, now I can tease her about this.

My other sister, K., got me attached to an NPR podcast called Radiolab. Radiolab used to focus on science and technology. I recommend the episode from November 14, 2011, titled Patient Zero. The episode began with the story of Typhoid Mary, and then explored the identity of Patient Zero from the AIDS epidemic.

(The term “Patient Zero” referred to the index case or initial patient in an infectious disease outbreak.)

If you want some humor when you listen to podcasts about infectious diseases, check out Episode #105 of the true crime comedy podcast, My Favorite Murder. The second half of this explores Typhoid Mary.

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.) 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.)

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.

Gimlet Media: Dark Podcasts that End Abruptly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then . . . crickets. Again.

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

I learned that Spotify acquired Gimlet Media in February 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“My Favorite Murder”

The book Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered (SSDGM) by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark just hit #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list for “Advice.” The two authors host My Favorite Murder, a True Crime podcast.

I read SSDGM last week. I wrote TWO blog posts about SSDGM on my other blog. SSDGM (and my blog posts about SSDGM) don’t fit with The Parnassus Pen‘s “brand.” However, here are my two blog posts:

Why Not Me, Too?

My Favorite Murder

Harry K. Thaw’s Grave

Grave of Harry K. Thaw. Henry Kendall Thaw. February 12, 1871 - February 22, 1947. Allegheny Cemetery, Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Harry K. Thaw’s Grave, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA. May, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

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:

Thaw Family Plot, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA.
Thaw Family Plot, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA. May, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

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.)

Thaw Family Plot, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh PA
Thaw Family Plot, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
William Thaw Grave, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh
William Thaw Grave, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh PA. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Dueling and Stephen Decatur

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.)

Decatur’s fatal duel occurred in Maryland at the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds.

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.

Why I Love “The Dollop”

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

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.