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.

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.

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.

Betrayed by Technology?

I promise you that I actually blogged today about a woman writer and history. However, if you wanted to read straight history right now, you could just go to Wikipedia or something. So today, I took a page from Sarah Vowell’s playbook and wrote about myself for a few paragraphs before I got to my actual topic.

I grew up without internet access as a country girl in Somerset County, PA. At some point, I got the idea that everyone from Fox Chapel (a Pittsburgh suburb) was rich and sophisticated. When I was in high school, I met this guy who actually lived in Fox Chapel. I thought that the guy was All That because he came from Fox Chapel. (Looking back, he was probably just trying to get by in teenage life, like me.) Anyway, one day he and I and a bunch of other people our age had a discussion about how to keep in touch. The Fox Chapel Guy said something to the effect of, “And of course, there’s always email.” Well, I had never before heard of email. However, I didn’t want to look like a bumpkin. So, I didn’t say, “What’s email?”

In the years since high school, I changed from the girl who had never heard of email to the woman who felt betrayed whenever Technology did not behave the exact way that she expected Technology to behave.

Case in point: my mother-in-law passed away in 2016, and then my own mother passed away in 2018. Both losses devastated me. I announced both deaths on Social Media shortly after they each happened. I felt betrayed by Social Media when I decided that the Social Media reaction to my mother’s death was not as strong as the Social Media reaction to my mother-in-law’s death.

Here’s another example of how Technology let me down: I don’t use Twitter extremely often. However, I thought that I was brilliant because I curated my Twitter feed to follow the PA Turnpike, the National Weather Service, the Pittsburgh Port Authority (since I take public transit to Pittsburgh for work), the local emergency management office, etc. (Also, whenever we travelled through Ohio, I followed the Ohio Turnpike’s Twitter feed that day.) However, on the day that we had a major flash flooding event and I depended on Twitter to plan my trip home, Twitter broke.

(Technology doesn’t always betray me. I’m shy, so I hated it whenever I showed up for a social event and I didn’t see anybody that I knew extremely well. I used to sit alone and feel like a loser. Now that I own a smartphone, I can sit alone, play on my smartphone, and not feel like a loser.)

When I read about history now, especially history from the Industrial Revolution, I pay a little bit of attention to the ways that Technology changed the story. Especially communication-related Technology.

I read part of “The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant (Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant).” Julia Dent Grant (JDG) was born in 1826. In 1844, Samuel Morse sent the United State’s first telegram over a wire from Washington to Baltimore. (Congress partially funded this.) In 1845, JDG’s father, Frederick Dent, travelled from their home in St. Louis to Washington for business. He sent a telegraph to Baltimore. JDG wrote that her father received an answer within an hour and that “it savored of magic.” The event was such a big deal that Frederick Dent brought the telegraph repeater tape back home to St. Louis to show the family.

Now I’m going to skip ahead in the memoirs to 1851. At this point in the memoirs, JDG is married to Ulysses S. Grant and they have an infant son. Julia visited family in St. Louis while her husband was stationed at Sackets Harbor, near Watertown, in New York State. JDG planned to telegraph her husband from St. Louis, and then travel with her nurse to Detroit. Then, she would release her nurse and meet her husband in Detroit. Finally, she would travel with her husband from Detroit to Sackets Harbor. I am under the impression that the trip from St. Louis to Detroit to Watertown was all by train.

Well, JDG telegraphed her husband in St. Louis per the plan. She left St. Louis and travelled with her nurse to Detroit. She dismissed her nurse and waited for her husband in Detroit. Her husband never showed up. JDG eventually travelled alone with her baby to Buffalo, hoping to meet her husband there. Her husband wasn’t in Buffalo, so she continued on the train to Watertown. From Watertown, she had to hire a carriage (the Uber of the 1800’s), and travel to Madison Barracks, the military installation at Sackets Harbor. The entrance to Madison Barracks was closed, so she had to yell to get a sentry’s attention.

The telegram that JDG sent to her husband from St. Louis arrived at Sackets Harbor IN THE NEXT DAY’S MAIL.

That’s right – at some point in the journey, the telegram failed to perform its basic function as a telegram. The telegram became snail mail.

After JDG’s husband was promoted during the Civil War, he travelled with his very own personal telegraph operator. (In fact, the Grants learned about President Lincoln’s assassination through a personal telegraph received by the personal telegraph operator.)

By the end of the Civl War, the Grants had come a long way since their days of “snail-mail telegrams.”

Other people have actually written entire books about how telegraphs and semaphores affected the Civl War.

Here’s one of my favorite parts of JDG’s memoirs: At one point during the war, JDG asked her father, Frederick Grant, why the country didn’t “make a new Constitution since this is such an enigma – one to suit the times, you know. It is so different now. We have steamers, railroads, telegraphs, etc.

I just find this so fascinating because JDG witnessed her country’s tremendous changes that resulted from Technology. She wondered how all of these Technology changes affected her country.

I, personally, spend a lot of time wondering about how Communication Technology in general – the telegraph, the internet, whatever – changed our national culture and also changed each of us as people.

Do you wonder about this?

Social Media Rant

I tweeted photos of PNC Park during and after the rain.

This morning, my husband and I stood in pouring rain to catch a bus to our jobs in Pittsburgh.

The rain stopped long enough for us to disembark from the bus at our stops and walk to our offices.

Then, a second round of morning thunderstorms swamped Greater Pittsburgh.

Flash flooding and landslides closed roads here. We made the headlines on Weather Nation, even as the Gulf Coast prepared for a potential hurricane.

We learned throughout the day that our region got absolutely slammed by this morning’s flooding and that a third round of storms threatened the evening commute.

Now, my husband and I drive each day to a “Park and Ride” parking lot. We ride into Pittsburgh on the same bus. Then, my husband transfers to another bus for the third “leg” of his morning commute. We repeat this in the afternoon.

My husband and I – especially my husband – depend on tweets from our public transit agency about detours and delays to our bus routes. Our public transit agency is usually VERY active on Twitter.

More importantly, we depend on Allegheny County’s Twitter account in order to stay updated on road closures and detours between our workplaces and our house.

Finally, I check tweets from the National Weather Service’s Pittsburgh office about changing weather conditions.

Unfortunately, Twitter went down for several hours this afternoon.

The Twitter outage complicated things as we planned our evening commutes. This all worked out for us in the end. We arrived home safely after several traffic delays and detours.

However, how did this Twitter outage affect people who are trying to plan for the potential hurricane on the Gulf Coast?

I said to my husband, “It’s funny how quickly we’ve come to depend on a technology that I didn’t even have as a kid.”

To be clear, the internet did exist when I was a little kid. However, I didn’t know that the internet existed. I didn’t have access to the internet. Neither did anybody in my parents’ social network.

It concerns me now that I depend so much on social media, which is privately owned and controlled, for public safety information.

I need to figure out how to be less dependent on social media (and on the whole internet, really) in regards to my standard of living and my personal safety. I welcome any comments that you have on this.

Social Media Thoughts

Yesterday I listened to the podcast Invisibilia’s most recent episode, titled “Post, Shoot.” The episode is about the curated images of ourselves that we project on social media. So, this most recent blog post is about my thoughts on social media.

I went to high school a million years ago. Up until I graduated from high school, I had no access to the internet. (I lived in a rural town in the Laurel Highlands, so I don’t even know if anybody in my hometown had internet access back then.) The summer before my senior year of high school, I met somebody my age who casually mentioned something called “email.” I was too embarrassed to ask, “What’s email?” My college freshman composition professor taught my class how to use an internet message board. That’s how old I am.

I was out of college for several years before I first heard of a smartphone.

Also, up until I met my future husband (Jonathan), I didn’t own a computer. I accessed the internet from my desktop at work, the computers at the local public library, and from a web television in my apartment. This was how I searched for higher-paying jobs. (I didn’t even own the Web TV. I had signed up for a deal with a consumer survey company in which I took surveys in exchange for use of the Web TV and internet use over my (land) phone line.)

I mention all of this because I didn’t grow up using the internet.

So anyway, I met my first post-college roommate, Erin, on an internet message board. We became friends. It turned out that Erin and I actually knew some of the same people “in real life” from different places. Then Erin moved away. Erin met my husband, Jonathan, on a different internet message board. Erin, the matchmaker, arranged for Jonathan and I to meet each other online because she thought that the two of us had a lot in common with each other. It turned out that Jonathan and I knew a bunch of the same people “in real life” from different places!

You follow me?

During this time, I visited my public library several times a week to find a higher-paying job that was also closer to Jonathan in the Pittsburgh area. I eventually found this.

So, I grew up with no internet access. Then, in the span of a few years, I found a great roommate and friend, my future husband, and a career over the internet.

Then Jonathan and I got engaged. I signed up to use the message boards on a very well-known wedding website. I shall call this wedding website “The Bond.”

Back in those days, brides could create their own wedding pages on the “The Bond,” complete with online guest books where the brides’ loved ones could leave notes of “love and encouragement.” When these brides posted on The Bond’s message boards, everybody on the message boards could click on the poster’s username to access her wedding website.

Here’s what I read about many times on these boards: a bride would set up her wedding page, and then go over to the message boards to complain about a bridesmaid or a future mother-in-law or or an aunt or something. The bride would be under the impression that she was venting on an “anonymous” message board. Some other reader on on the “anonymous” message board would screenshot the bride’s “venting” post. This reader would then click on the bride’s username, access the bride’s wedding page, and paste the unkind screenshot into the bride’s online guest book.

I read about this happening many times. I read about instances in which the subject of the complaint read the complaint snapshot.

I should also mention here that the personalized wedding pages on The Bond provided brides with an opportunity to list all of their vendors. I read accusations on the message boards that some visitors to The Bond would punish other posters by calling up the other poster’s listed vendors and cancelling them. I have no idea how many of these accusations were true. However, at this time I had a family member who worked at a church. This family member told me that the church had received a message to cancel a church member’s wedding date. When the church staff called the prospective bride to confirm the cancellation, the prospective bride advised that she did NOT actually reach out to the church to cancel her wedding date. My family member who worked at the church was completely puzzled as to what happened until I explained what I had learned about the vengefulness that I witnessed on The Bond.

So anyway, I learned to post NO personal information on The Bond.

Around this same time, I used a different message board that I shall call “Shoot the Breeze.” Shoot the Breeze had a frequent poster that I shall call “Jane.” Jane liked to complain about her job and her manager on Shoot the Breeze.

Jane didn’t provide her real name or the actual name of her place of employment. However, Jane provided other details about herself and her employment. She posted the name of the city where she worked. One day, she mentioned on the message board that she walked one block to a very specific coffee shop in this specific city.

A few weeks later, Jane posted again to allege the following: Another poster pulled up Google maps and identified all of the places of employment that were within one block of this coffee shop that Jane mentioned. This other poster accessed the employee directories of all of these places of employment. This other poster used details that Jane provided and thus identified Jane and her manager. This poster forwarded screenshots of all of Jane’s online work complaints to her manager.

Anyway, I developed an interest in how people use the internet “spitefully” after I read about these alleged incidents.

We’ve all read many times now about people using the internet spitefully. In case you haven’t, though, here are some other links to content on the subject:

Criminal podcast, episode #109, Homewrecker

When a Stranger Decides to Destroy Your Life, by Kashmir Hill, Gizmodo

How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life by Jon Ronson, New York Times

Okay, so now I’m going to talk about Invisibilia:

Invisibilia is an NPR podcast in its 5th season. The podcast description on the iTunes app and on the website describes it thus, “Unseeable forces control human behavior and shape our ideas, beliefs, and assumptions. Invisibilia – Latin or invisible things – fuses narrative storytelling with science that will make you see your own life differently.”

I think that I listened to every episode of every season released thus far. I really liked Season #1. To be honest, though, the podcast has confused me off and on ever since Season #2. For instance, on several of the episodes, the podcast will start off with a story. Then, the podcast will switch to a different story. Then, the podcast will conclude that both stories make the same point. Or else, the podcast hosts will maintain that the stories make competing points. I don’t understand how the hosts arrived at many of the episode conclusions. Huh. Perhaps I’m just not intelligent enough to “get” Invisibilia.

That being said, I highly recommend that you listen to the most recent episode: Season 5, Episode 2, Post, Shoot, hosted by Hanna Rosin.

Here’s a link to the episode and also the transcript. You can also download this from whatever app you use to download podcasts.

Rosin starts with the story of Brandon Wingo, a teenager from Wilmington, DE. Another teenager shot Brandon in 2016 over something that Brandon posted on Facebook.

Then, Rosin points out the effort that Wilmington teenagers put into curating online identities for themselves on social media. Wingo curated an online identify that did not match the way that his “real life” loved ones identified him. The teenager who murdered Wingo only knew Wingo from his online identity and his Facebook posting.

This episode really spoke to me.

Post, Shoot explored the social media activity and the social media curation of African American teenagers in Wilmington, Delaware. I’m a white adult in suburban Pittsburgh. I, too, see significant effects on my social circle and family dynamics from social media activity of my friends and loved ones.

(In fact, before I write each blog post, I ask myself whether the post could hurt my career or my relationships with my loved ones. I actually posted a link to my blog on my company’s intranet and on my online employee profile. This way, if some wise guy identifies my employer and emails the blog link to my manager, there are no surprises!)

I would like it if you listened to this podcast episode or read the transcript.

If you are familiar with the episode, what are your thoughts?

A Christmas Shake-Up!

Merry Christmas!

I hope to offer you a content shake-up in 2019.

Here’s how everything started:

In fall 2014, two of my sisters tried to tell me about how much they enjoyed listening to podcasts. By December 2014, my sister E.R. convinced me to download Season #1 of Serial, just as it ended. I listened to the entire season during the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

With my Serial craving still growling, I searched for more quality podcasts. I listened to podcasts as I commuted, finished housework, waited for appointments, etc.

I compiled lists of the things that any podcast MUST have in order for me to completely listen to it. I actively searched out podcasts on specific subject matter.

I complained to my husband, Jonathan, that I couldn’t find enough podcasts dedicated to the topics that really interested me. Namely: the history and lore of Western Pennsylvania. The land between the Susquehanna River to Ohio.

(I found a super podcast that I adore about the “coiled” history of the Philadelphia metro area. Yes, this particular podcast does on occasion cover legends from Sheetz / Steelers country. But not often enough to satisfy my craving.)

Why the distance between the Susquehanna and Ohio, you ask? Well, my mom’s family lived for decades in Pittsburgh and part of my dad’s family lived in Western PA and Ohio since the American Revolution. I was born almost directly across the Susquehanna River from Harrisburg. So, the western half of PA (Sheetz / Steelers country) is my home.

Jonathan (and also his dad, Dennis) told me several times that if I wanted a podcast on this specific topic, then I should create it.

I finally agreed.

Jonathan gave me podcasting equipment for Christmas.

I don’t expect to produce an awesome, or even listen-able, podcast on my very first try. I will create garbage.

Then I will try again.

After all, I published my first blog post decades after I learned how to read and write.

However, I expect to drop a podcast episode before 2019 ends.

So watch out.

Now I have some questions for you:

What topics do you want me to cover?

What are your favorite podcasts?

What will you accomplish in 2019?

PA “Witchcraft” Part 2: Hex Hollow

Now I have a real-life tale about a witchcraft allegation that ended in murder. This took place in Stewartstown (York County) in 1928.  So, just like the fictional Nancy Drew mystery The Witch Tree Symbol, this took place in South Central Pennsylvania.

I first heard about this event through Aaron Mahnke’s Lore Podcast. If you want to listen to Aaron Mahnke’s tale, it is Episode 62: Desperate Measures, dated June 11, 2017.

Keep in mind the following:

  • Large numbers of German immigrants settled in PA in the centuries after William Penn established his colony in the 1680’s. (In fact, I’m German-American on both sides of my family.)
  • In the 1600’s and 1700’s, immigrants from a specific region of Germany, with its own German dialect, settled in Eastern and Central PA. This group was known in German as the “Deutsch.”  Outsiders confused the word “Deutsch” with the word “Dutch.” As a result, outsiders referred to them as the “Pennsylvania Dutch.”
  • However, this group did NOT descend from the Dutch. (See above.)
  • Not all German immigrants to PA were Deutsch.
  • The term “Pennsylvania Dutch” developed to include a variety of Christian affiliations with different beliefs and practices. The Christian German immigrants in this region included the following affiliations: Lutheran, German Reformed, and Anabaptists. (The Anabaptists included Mennonites and Amish.)
  • I absolutely DON’T imply that all “Pennsylvania Dutch” observed the beliefs mentioned in this blog post.

So here’s what happened: in the late 1800’s / early 1900’s, a man named Nelson Rehmeyer lived in a farmhouse in what came to be known as “Hex Hollow,” also known as “Rehmeyer’s Hollow.”

Rehmeyer practiced “pow-wow medicine,” or “pow-wowing.” This practice depended on traditions of some Pennsylvania Dutch, as well as on the book Pow-Wows; or, Long Lost Friend. “Pow-wow medicine” included elements of faith-healing and witchcraft.

In the early 1900’s, Rehmeyer used pow-wowing to treat a very ill young boy named John Blymire. Blymire recovered.

As Blymire grew up, he studied “pow-wowing” himself. He set up his own “pow-wow medicine” practice.

However, as Blymire entered his 30’s, his health failed him again. He suspected that somebody put a hex on him.

In 1928, Blymire consulted Nellie Noll, the famous local “River Witch of Marietta.” Noll “confirmed” to Blymire that Nelson Rehmeyer had put a hex on Blymire.

Blymire believed that he needed to destroy Rehmeyer’s copy of Long Lost Friend and also bury a lock of Rehmeyer’s hair in order to break the hex and restore his own health.

Blymire recruited two teenagers to help him break into Rehmeyer’s house in “Hex Hollow.”  They confronted Rehmeyer. They demanded that Rehmeyer surrender his copy of Long Lost Friend.

Rehmeyer refused to surrender his book. So, the trio beat Rehmeyer to death and then they set Rehmeyer’s house on fire in hopes that this would break the hex.

The house did not burn down. All three men were tried, convicted, and imprisoned. The “York Witch Trial” made national headlines.

Rehmeyer’s house still stands.

York County renamed the hollow “Spring Valley Park.” Per my review of the county website, the public can rent a picnic pavilion at this park.

Disclosure: I was born in South Central PA. I lived in rural Perry County until I turned seven. My family patronized Amish businesses there. I’ve never been to Spring Valley Park. Also, I’ve never been to Dutch Wonderland, the amusement park in Lancaster. My family visited Knoebels Grove instead.

What experiences have you had in Central Pennsylvania?