Book Report: American Ghost

Hill, railroad tracks, Lamy, new mexico.
Lamy, New Mexico. June 2009. (Photo: Jonathan Woytek)

What’s it like to be the real-life great-great granddaughter of a famous ghost? A ghost that prime time television featured?

I just learned all about this from reading American Ghost, by Hannah Nordhaus.

This is a non-fiction / travel/ family memoir. Julia Staab, a Jewish German American who died in 1896, allegedly haunts an upscale hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The author Nordhaus is Julia’s real-life great-great-granddaughter. (The book referred to her as “Julia” so I will as well.)

Julia died in the Santa Fe mansion that her husband, the merchant Abraham Staab, built for their family. She was 52 years old and the mother of eight children. Her youngest child passed away a few years before Julia’s own death. Julia allegedly spent a significant part of the end of her life shut up in her bedroom. She did not attend her own daughter’s wedding.

Decades later, this mansion became the La Posada de Santa Fe, a hotel and spa.

In the 1970’s, a La Posada hotel employee reported seeing a ghost. More ghost claims followed. Rumors and local folklore spread regarding Julia’s “real” cause of death and her existence in the spirit world.

Nordhaus researched family documents, letters, diaries, immigration records, etc. She interviewed family members who had personally known Julia and her children. Nordhaus is a direct descendent of Julia’s daughter, Bertha. She obtained Bertha’s diary, written during the final years of Julia’s life. She travelled to Santa Fe and to Julia’s childhood home in Germany. She discovered that although Julia died in Santa Fe in 1896, Julia’s younger sister, Emilie, perished (at the age of 81) in a Nazi concentration camp in 1943.

Years ago, I watched the NBC primetime show Unsolved Mysteries each week. This show’s season 7, episode 2 (which aired October 2, 1994) included the story of Julia Staab’s haunting at La Posada. The show included coverage of an actual “scientific” ghost hunt, complete with EVP recordings! (If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can watch this episode on Prime at no additional charge. The episode is SO CHEESY!)

If you listen to the Spooked podcast by Snap Judgment, note that Season 2, Episode 14 (The Intruders) told Julia’s story. The podcast included an interview with Nordhaus and promoted her book. I actually found out about American Ghost from this podcast episode.

Now, to be honest, the “tragic story of Julia Staab,” as the general internet presented it, reminded me very much of the internet rumors about the Lemp family of St. Louis. (Here’s a good podcast about the Lemp family.) The patriarchs of both families were extremely rich self-made German immigrants in the mid 1800’s. Both had matriarchs named Julia. Both families included significant amounts of children. Rumors of unexplained tragic deaths followed both the Staabs and the Lemps. Both families struggled with mental illness. Both families lived (and died) in Victorian mansions that fell into decline, underwent renovations, and then became upscale “haunted” hotels.

Dark tourism industries (including ghost hunts, etc.) sprang up around both the Staab and the Lemp family tragedies.

How refreshing to read about Julia in American Ghost, a family memoir written by her own great-great granddaughter!

Now, on a more personal level, I thought about my own personal travel experience to Santa Fe in 2009 when I read American Ghost.

Jonathan and I rode an Amtrak from Pittsburgh to Chicago, and then in Chicago we switched trains and rode to Lamy, New Mexico. The train didn’t go to Santa Fe. In Lamy, an Amtrak contractor picked us up in a cargo van and drove us 18 miles to a car rental in Santa Fe. We did a reverse of this route for the trip home.

We went to Santa Fe that weekend for a wedding. The other guests from Pittsburgh all flew into Chicago, and then flew from Chicago to Albuquerque, and then rented cars and drove to Santa Fe.

We joked that a city that had a RAILROAD NAMED AFTER IT didn’t actually have direct access to the railroad.

I learned from reading American Ghost that Abraham Staab fought to have the railroad build a spur from Lamy to Santa Fe. American Ghost even remarked on the irony that Santa Fe had a railroad named after it, and yet Staab struggled to have the railroad come to Santa Fe. A few decades later, Santa Fe lost its railroad spur.

Speaking of the reference to “Lamy, New Mexico,” American Ghost devoted over a chapter to that town’s namesake, the Catholic Archbishop Lamy. Abraham and Julia Staab apparently fostered a very close relationship with Archbishop Lamy.

American Ghost explored the claims that Abraham Staab’s money helped to build Santa Fe’s Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi (St. Francis Cathedral).

We actually toured the cathedral when we visited Santa Fe.

St. Francis Cathedral, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
St. Francis Cathedral, Santa Fe, New Mexico. June 2009. (Photo: Jonathan Woytek)

American Ghost has a copyright date of 2015. I wish that I could have read this before I toured Santa Fe in 2009.

“The Headless Horseman Industrial Complex”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s another excerpt:

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

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

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

I hope that you enjoy this! Let me know.

Cokie Roberts Inspired This Blog Post

FYI: NOT our boat.

Blogger’s Note: I originally posted this on July 6, 2019. However, today (09/17/19) I learned of Cokie Robert’s passing. So, I present to you my redux of the blog post that Cokie Roberts inspired.

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. 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.

Confessions of a Train Passenger

Amtrak in Western Pennsylvania

I watch and listen to strangers. At the park. In restaurants. In stores. On the train.

Several years ago, I rode the Amtrak by myself from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh. The Capitol Limited. I sat in the coach section.  A man and woman sat behind me. They were both white and slightly older than myself. This couple – especially the man – talked throughout the ride. To each other. To the conductor. Also, the man talked to numerous folks that I never saw – on his phone.

I never spoke to this couple, and yet I learned much.

The man grew up in Connellsville (Pennsylvania). He most recently lived in Louisiana. He and the woman had just taken the Amtrak from New Orleans to Washington. Now, they travelled from Washington to Connellsville on the Capitol Limited.  At which point they intended to show up – with no prior notice – at the home of the man’s parents in Connellsville.

The man had not seen his parents for 17 years.

You see, this is why the man spent large amounts of time on his phone during our trip. He needed someone to give him and his woman a ride from the train station to his parents’ house.

So that he could show up unannounced on his parents’ doorstop after 17 years.

In between these phone calls, the woman asked the man if he thought that his parents would like her.

The Amtrak stopped in Connellsville before it reached Pittsburgh. This couple disembarked and I never heard from them again.

Later, I thought about posting a “Lost Connection” ad to see if I could learn the ending of this story. Post it where, though? Facebook? Reddit?

Or maybe somebody who knows the ending will Google “Amtrak” and “Connellsville” and find this blog.

(This is a redux from the blog that I created with my husband Jonathan, www.jennyandjonathangetmarried.com. I will shortly pull more of my favorite stories out from the crypt. I want to share more of my favorite moments and places with you fantastic readers.)

Jenny’s Recap of Tall Ships Erie 2019 Festival Weekend: Part 1

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, my husband Jonathan and I spent this past weekend in Erie. We attended Tall Ships Erie 2019 on Saturday. We slept on our sailboat at our Erie marina on Saturday night. We cruised past Tall Ships Erie 2019 on Sunday. Then we sailed on the open Lake Erie.

Jonathan plans to blog a detailed pros-and-cons recap of the festival on our other blog, so I won’t go into much detail about the festival here.

This was our third one-day trip to an Erie tall ships festival. We attended for one day each in 2013, 2016, and now in 2019.

I want to be clear that in my experience, this festival involved significant crowds and significant walking. We even encountered large crowds in the lines for the shuttle buses and the ice cream stand. In fact, the ice cream stand ran out of waffle cones and several flavors. I was so relieved that I could still get my chocolate cherry ice cream!

For each trip, we purchased the one-day passes that permit us to walk past the boats but not to board and tour the ships. These are the lowest-cost passes.

During all three festival years, we observed significant lines to tour most of the ships. For instance, this year the festival included Santa Maria, a claimed replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship. We heard someone at the festival say that a two-hour wait existed to tour that ship.

Here is the Santa Maria as it looked on Saturday:

Santa Maria

We also observed significant wait times to tour Picton Castle. Here is Picton Castle‘s bow:

Picton Castle

Here is Picton Castle‘s Stern:

Picton Castle

On Sunday, I took several photos from the water as we cruised on our own sailboat to Lake Erie. I will post my water photos shortly.

She Finished the Oregon Trail: Abigail Scott Duniway

I have a confession.

This month, I committed to “inundating” my blog with posts about women writers before I had a complete list of blog subjects.

I have certain women that I will name by the end of the month.

In the meantime, I brainstormed a list of places and events that interest me so that I can develop more blog post topics for you readers.

I wrote on this list “Oregon Trail.”

The Oregon Trail existed in the 1800’s to connect Missouri to Oregon. The over 2,000-mile trail served wagon travelers as they journey from the American Midwest to the Pacific Northwest.

Now, once upon a time, developers created a computer game titled . . . The Oregon Trail. This game intended to teach school students about the real Oregon Trail. From what I understand, developers released several versions of this game.

Now, keep in mind that when I was a kid, I didn’t know anybody who had internet access in their own homes. My own family owned no video gaming system or computer except for a Texas Instrument TI 99/4A.

My dad taught high school. Each summer, he brought home the Apple IIc from his classroom. He permitted us kids to “work” on this computer.

Well, my sisters and I spent hours using this Apple for two particular programs . . . Print Shop and The Oregon Trail.

(I shall henceforth refer to The Oregon Trail computer game as “OC.”)

Here’s a brief explanation of OC for those not familiar with the game:

From what I remember, OC competitors played as a fictional family traveling in a Conestoga wagon from Missouri to the Willamette Valley in Oregon. At the beginning of the journey, the family received a budget of “points” and used these points to purchase supplies. The family made decisions on when to cross rivers (such as the Burnt River) based on river depth, and how fast to travel based on family health. Incorrect decisions could result in family members dying on the trail. If the competitors didn’t reach Oregon by winter, the family faced starvation in the mountains. Incorrect decisions resulted in the deaths of family members. Family members could die from cholera, snakebite, typhoid fever, dysentery, diptheria, measles, and broken bones. Competitors could purchase more food at such places as Fort Laramie and Fort Walla Walla. Competitors attempted to leave Missouri in the spring and reach Oregon before December.

If we competitors lost every single family member before the wagon reached Oregon, then we got to create a tombstone for our family along the trail. During future game attempts, we could travel past the tombstones that we created during prior games.

We played OC so often that we learned how to get our entire family to Oregon alive, and receive high final scores. We played OC so often that I got bored with bringing my entire family to Oregon alive.

So, then I purposely played OC with the sole intent of killing off my OC family as quickly and efficiently as possible. I created a series of tombstones along the trail on my dad’s classroom copy of The Oregon Trail.

Since I have such fond memories of playing OC, I decided to see if I could discover any women writers who actually travelled on the real Oregon Trail.

So this week, I Googled “Oregon Trail,” “woman,” and “writer.”

I found . . . Abigail Scott Duniway.

Duniway was born Abigail Scott in Illinois in 1834. In March 1852, when Duniway was a teenager, she travelled with her parents and eight siblings along the real Oregon Trail. Her mother died of cholera near Fort Laramie. Her younger brother, three-year-old Willie, died along the Burnt River. Duniway’s remaining family reached the Willamette Valley in October.

Duniway’s Oregon Trail diary now resides with the University of Oregon.  Duniway later wrote several fiction novels about pioneers, including pioneer women.

Duniway married Benjamin Duniway. Through a series of misfortunes, Abigail Duniway ended up as the breadwinner in a family that included her disabled husband and several children. She learned the struggles of trying to make ends meet on an uneven playing field. She published her own weekly newspaper, The New Northwest, that addressed women’s issues, including women’s suffrage.

Now, Duniway’s own brother, Harvey W. Scott, worked as the editorialist for The Oregonian newspaper.  I learned that the brother and sister butted heads through their respective newspapers on the issue of women’s suffrage.

I found a website, the Oregon Encyclopedia, A Project of the Oregon Historical Society, that includes an entry on Duniway. This website includes the following quote:

“Writing always was our forte,” Abigail Duniway announced in her first issue of The New Northwest. “If we had been a man,” she added, “we’d have had an editor’s position and handsome salary at twenty-one.” 

Touche.

I’m sure that students in Oregon know all about Abigail Scott Duniway.  However, I’m from Pennsylvania. I just learned about Duniway this week.

I’m glad that I did a five minute Google search to learn about a woman who actually lived The Oregon Trail!

This blog has kept me motivated ever since I learned last summer that my mom was sick. I’m glad that you readers have reached out to me with kind words. Please continue to reach out.

Beyond the Circular Staircase: Women Writers

We are coming up on the third anniversary of the day that my mother-in-law, Fran, passed away.

Fran loved mystery novels, books of all genres written by Pennsylvania authors, and books written by women.

For instance, she loved to tell friends and family that mystery author Mary Roberts Rinehart (1876 – 1958) was a native Pittsburgher.

Fran took Rinehart’s The Circular Staircase on vacation. Then, she downloaded a Rinehart travel memoir onto her tablet and read that during the same vacation. She paused multiple times to tell my husband and myself about the her favorite parts of the Rinehart memoir.

For instance, Fran read us a page in which Rinehart talked about the household staff that Rinehart brought along on an African safari.

Fran said, “Can you imagine? Bringing servants with you? To go camping?” She laughed. She got quiet and read more for a little bit. Then she told us about another story in the Rinehart memoir that tickled her fancy.

I do the same thing every time that I blog here about something that I just read that excites me. You are all excellent people for reading the little tales that I recount from other people’s books.

My own mom, Shirley, passed away last October. Shirley also read voraciously. Even better, she read often to me. Finally, my grandma, Hilde, taught me to love historical fiction.

In memory of these three fabulous women, I have two special treats for you blog readers:

Special Treat #1.) I added the following new category to The Parnassus Pen: Women Writers. If you want to read any or all of my blog posts about writers who also happened to exist as women, you just need to do any one of the following:

A.) Click on the link that I provided in the above paragraph.

B.) Go to any post that I wrote in the “Women Writers” category. You will see the category label on the left side of that post. You can click on the actual words “Women Writers” on such posts.

Special Treat #2.) During the month of August, I will inundate this blog with short tales about women who wrote stuff.

I have no plans to blog this month about anybody that I studied in high school English class. So, you won’t see any posts this August about Jane Austin or the Brontes. (My apologies to you Janeites out there!) Futhermore, I will not mention any of the fabulous women writers whom I grew up loving. (Sorry, Laura Ingalls Wilder and Lucy Maude Montgomery.)

I WILL mention several women who I didn’t even know were writers until very recently.

My series about women who wrote stuff launches next week. In the meantime, please check out all of my blog posts about Women Writers.

Local Woman Getting NYC Statue

I read today that a New York City-based organization is going to erect a statue of Nellie Bly on Roosevelt Island.

Have you ever heard of Nellie Bly? This was the pen name for investigative journalist Elizabeth Cochran. Bly was born in Armstrong County, PA, in 1864. Bly started her journalism career in Pittsburgh in the 1880’s. She got bored with her Pittsburgh gig, moved to New York City, and begged Joseph Pulitzer to give her a job at the New York World.

In 1887, Bly convinced law enforcement officers that she suffered from a mental illness in order to gain admittance to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island (now Roosevelt Island) in New York. Bly remained as a patient there for ten days. She reported on the institution’s abhorrent conditions in an expose for the World.

Bly also travelled around the actual world as a reporter for the World.

Here’s a link to the Washington Post story that I read today about Nellie Bly’s investigative work, and on her pending statue.

Even though Bly was a pioneering woman from Western PA, I didn’t learn about her at my own school in Western PA. I found out about her by accident when I was about ten or twelve and I read one of my mom’s old junior high textbooks from the 1960’s.

Years later, my husband and I travelled to Apollo, PA, to see the Victorian house where Jimmy Stuart’s maternal grandparents once lived. By coincidence, we parked along the street in front of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission marker for Nellie Bly. The marker commemorated Bly’s own childhood home.

You can read all about Bly and her remarkable career on Wikipedia.

Here’s the thing that first caught my attention about Nellie Bly when I was a kid: Bly was born into relative privilege. Her father was a successful merchant and community leader. Bly received an elite education for a woman of that time. However, when Bly’s father passed away, Bly and her mother struggled financially. Bly and her mother couldn’t easily go out and get their own jobs.

Now, I know of people who claim on Facebook that women didn’t work outside of the house in the “olden days.” Women certainly did work outside of the house in the 1800’s. Women earned their own incomes doing sewing, housekeeping, domestic work, laundry, childcare, nursing, teaching, acting, agricultural work, factory work, sex work, etc. (And of course, enslaved women worked for no compensation!) However, “privileged” women of a high social status had very few options for earning their own incomes without being ostracized by their networks.

(In fact, I read that after Dolley Madison’s first husband, a lawyer, died in Philadelphia’s Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793 but before she married James Madison a year later, she had to take in sewing in order to buy food for herself and her young son.)

Nellie Bly talked (or wrote) her way into a Pittsburgh reporting job. Then, she gave it up at a great risk so that she could talk (or write) her way into a New York reporting job.

I bet that we can all name sports “heros” who were born in Western PA. So why isn’t “Nellie Bly” a household name in Western PA?

Thank you for sticking with me as I flesh out some of my thoughts about a woman who demanded her own seat at the table! Stay in touch for my upcoming sailing updates and stories from history.

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

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.

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.