My father, Robert Gaffron, passed away shortly after we put most of the Christmas cards into the mail.
I have reason to believe that my father returned from shopping at the Barnes and Noble in Greensburg, laid down in his own bed in his house where he lived with my mother from 1985 until her passing, went to sleep and just never woke up.
My sister requested a welfare check on Dad after she was unable to reach him. The police officer who located Dad and reached out to my sister with the news was very kind to her.
I am comforted that Dad very likely visited a bookstore as one of his last acts on this mortal coil, even if it was a corporately owned bookstore. He was a retired teacher. He made me recopy my homework when he deemed my handwriting too sloppy for my own teachers to read.
When my mom, Shirley, was ill, Dad promised her that he would ensure that their Daughter #5 graduated from college. (They were four down with one more to go on the college education thing when my mom passed away.) He kept this promise.
My sister E. and I attended a Taylor Swift-themed dance party this past July. Imagine a black box theater packed with Swifties. In Virginia. (Okay, it was in Winchester. Old Town – Olde Towne? – Winchester. Directly across the street from a former courthouse-turned-Civil War museum.) The bar sold Taylor Swift-themed cocktails. There was a backdrop where we could take selfies in our ERAS ensembles.
Two men tried to crash the event in search of a woman from Tinder who told them that she couldn’t meet up with them because she had a ticket for this. Security wouldn’t let them inside. The event was sold out. They stood outside the door with the smokers and waited for the poor woman. Failing that, they tried to pick up anyone who made eye contact with them. The Swifties weren’t having any of this. My sister and I left the venue dehydrated and exhausted. It was fun.
On the drive back to Pennsylvania at the end of our weekend, we discussed an internet rumor. Apparently Taylor is a high priestess in a Satanic cult? She drops clues about her allegiance to the devil in her music videos? Something about snakes? And that’s the “obvious” explanation to her success?
I didn’t follow the exact details. I burned too many brain cells in the past few years. I’m sure that you can find it through a Google search.
Here’s what I told my sister about Taylor Swift’s pact with the devil: “They ripped that off of the myth of Robert Johnston!”
Robert Johnston was a blues musician. He went down in history for being one of the best blues musicians in American history. He was a black man who grew up in the Jim Crow South – in Mississippi. He died at the age of 27. (So, his story shows up in the Curse of 27 – also called the 27 Club – the legend that gifted musicians are fated to die at the age of 27.)
The other legend about Robert Johnson was that he started his musical career by being a really, really bad musician. So bad that at least one venue that booked him set him home early because he was so awful.
Then, he showed up for a gig one night and he was really, really good. And this was because he stood at a crossroads at midnight and made a pact with the devil. He pledged his soul to the devil in exchange for phenomenal musical talent.
Here are some podcasts that explore the story of Robert Johnson in more detail:
So, how do you explain the musical success of an impoverished African American in Mississippi in the 1930’s?
How do you explain the musical success of a woman named Taylor Swift? A woman whose fans are so devoted that they will reject men from Tinder so that they can celebrate her music with fellow Swifties?
I’m not a Swiftie. My husband Jonathan and I listen to Taylor Swift on vinyl, but Jonathan is the one who purchased the album. We planned to attend one of her concerts with some of my sisters. None of us were able to get tickets, so that was that. Jonathan and I could have stood outside of the stadium to listen when Taylor performed in Pittsburgh (lots of Swifties did this), but instead we spent that weekend on our boat on Lake Erie. Couldn’t pass up that beautiful sailing weather.
I actually travelled for a Taylor Swift dance party so that I could spend time with my sister. The dance party event was almost all women. There were a few men. Some of them wore rainbow clothing. At least one man wore a tee shirt that said, “I’m the husband, it’s me.” (It’s a play on the lyrics “I’m the problem, it’s me.“) The man who wore this shirt seemed to be responsible for making sure that a group of women had fun. That is, he brought them drinks and stuff.
So, this was an event in which scores of women came together in order to celebrate with a bunch of other women, as well as a few men, but the women didn’t seem to pay much attention to the men. Maybe the folklore about the devil worshipping and the snakes started because of this attitude. I didn’t meet Satan that night. The only snakes that I saw were the ones on the screen from Taylor’s one music video. I’m glad. Snakes scare me.
Jonathan and I travelled to the Gettysburg area for a family event last month. Jonathan had never been to Gettysburg prior to this (except for driving past it on Route 30). So, after we checked out of our hotel, we drove around the battlefield before we drove home.
I learned the night before from a 12-year-old history buff that Little Round Top and Devil’s Den were both under remediation from the National Park Service and thus closed to the public.
“What else should we visit, then?” Jonathan asked me.
I remembered the Pennsylvania Monument and we directed Google maps to give us driving directions to it.
The Pennsylvania Monument is the largest state monument on the battlefield. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania dedicated the uncompleted monument in 1910. The 50th anniversary commemoration for the battle happened in July 1913. The monument was completed in 1914 and rededicated on July 4, 1914. That’s what Wikipedia says, anyway.
(Wikipedia doesn’t mention this on the monument’s page, but Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914. This set off a chain of events that resulted in the start of World War I on July 28, 1914. The United States entered World War I in April 1917.)
I didn’t bring my camera with me but Jonathan brought his. You can see the above photo and all of Jonathan’s other Gettysburg photos here on our other blog.
What Jonathan’s other photos didn’t show is this: shortly after we parked at the Pennsylvania monument, a bus bearing the name of a college in northern Michigan pulled up to the monument. Lots of college-looking kids poured out of the bus. A man who looked like a teacher reminded the kids to “remember your assignment.” The kids ascended to the top of the monument.
Now, on the PA monument, one can access a balcony underneath the dome at the top. In order to reach this balcony, you must climb the steps seen in the photo, and then climb a metal spiral staircase that is not seen in the photo.
I overhead a young man talking to a young woman. The young man must have been a member of a fire department, because he referenced “my district” and “fire call.” He told the young woman that the call was for a structure fire. The building in question had a spiral staircase “just like the one here.” He told her that the spiral staircase at said structure fire got very hot and that he had to carry a hose up it. “That was the worst fire call that I’ve ever had,” he said.
In order to get back on their bus, the Michigan college students had to tell their teacher which “spot” they had been assigned to identify, as they pointed in the direction of it. “Peach Orchard,” “Wheat Field,” “Devils Den,” “Little Round Top,” various students said.
A reenactment group positioned across the road from the PA monument demonstrated how to be Civil War infantry soldiers. They marched. They loaded rifles with powder. They fired. There were no bullets. We learned that the National Park Service doesn’t permit the use of bayonets on NPS grounds; nevertheless, we saw a bayonet demonstration sans bayonet. The NPS staffer identified the group as volunteers re-enacting a regiment from Maine. However, three of the men were actually from Germany.
A short trip down the road from the PA monument (the PA monument was still in sight) we stopped to look at some other monuments because a vulture sat on one of these other monuments. The vulture’s mate stood on the ground nearby, eating a squirrel. Jonathan photographed the turkey vulture on the monument. You can see two photos of it on our other blog.
Eventually, another car with a PA license plate pulled up next to our car.
“The vultures return at this same time of year, every year,” the driver told us.
It was about a week before the anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
Jonathan said, “One of them was eating a squirrel before I scared it.”
The driver speculated about the vultures’ presence in July 1863.
“You know what they were feeding on back then, right?” he said.
I took a little break from blogging to focus on other interests. My sister K. still blogs actively. You can read up on her adventures raising two active boys, training for races, and learning to play the guitar here on her blog. My sister and her family also travel for fun adventures. In fact, K. and her husband (Mr. K.) both finished the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia last month! Our family is very proud of them.
In the meantime, let me tell you about a novel that I read about a month or so ago. Jonathan gave it to me last Christmas (I think). This novel is “The Lincoln Highway” by Amor Towles.
The actual Lincoln Highway is the first transcontinental highway in the United States. Here in Pennsylvania, the Lincoln Highway is Route 30. I graduated from college at Saint Vincent along Route 30. Tourists can drive to both the Flight 93 Memorial and Gettysburg by choosing Route 30. Jonathan and I travelled home from my sister’s wedding in Eastern PA back to Western PA by driving Route 30 to Greensburg. My parents used to travel Route 30 from our our home in Central PA to visit our family in the Pittsburgh area. I’ve blogged here before about interesting and reputedly haunted places along Route 30 in Pennsylvania.
Absolutely nothing in the fiction novel “The Lincoln Highway” by Amor Towles takes place in Pennsylvania.
The novel begins in the 1950’s in the Midwest. (Rural Nebraska.) The story jumps from several different points of view. I’m not completely sure who the protagonist is. At the beginning, I thought that the protagonist was 18-year-old Emmett Watson. Then, I decided that the protagonist was his eight-year-old brother, Billy. Now, I think that the novel has several protagonists.
Anyway, the first chapter begins when Emmett is released from a prison farm after an encounter with the town bully that turned deadly. Emmett and Billy’s father has recently died of cancer. The bank has foreclosed on their bankrupt farm. Emmett initially planned for the brothers to start over in Texas. Billy convinces Emmett that they should instead travel west along the Lincoln Highway – to start over in California, and also to look for their mother in San Francisco. (She walked out on the family when Billy was an infant.) Okay, California it is!
Some adventures happen before the brothers can leave Nebraska and all of its terrible memories. Some additional protagonists appear. The brothers are finally on their way to travel the Lincoln Highway west – or so they think. Something happens to cause them to travel east instead. Some of the protagonists have an adventure in Illinois involving an Abraham Lincoln statue. After several chapters or so, everyone arrives in New York City.
Several more adventures happen. Finally, a bunch of the protagonists set off to travel from Times Square (the eastern beginning of the Lincoln Highway), through the Lincoln Tunnel, west on the Lincoln Highway to San Francisco (the western end of the Lincoln Highway). They are actually ready to go this time, guys! Or so they think.
This novel is all about the Hero’s Journey. The author gave us several pretty big clues to help us figure this out. Billy carries around a book of stories about heros and their journeys. One of the characters is even named Ulysses. It’s fun to pick out all of the Easter eggs about Greek Mythology.
Also, even though the book takes place over the span of a few weeks in June 1954, several of the protagonists have flashbacks to stuff that took place in the 1930’s and 1940’s. So, even though it’s postwar America, the protagonists are still dealing with trauma from the Great Depression and World War II.
This was a fun book to read. Pennsylvania readers, don’t be disappointed that none of “The Lincoln Highway: A Novel” took place in the Keystone State.
Here’s a photo that I took in London in 2009 at the Changing of the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace. (Yeah, I know that this photo isn’t the world’s best. At least nobody will rip it off, I guess.)
This was my first non point-and-shoot camera. I took about 300 photos of the ducks at St. James’s Park on this same trip. Looking back, I’m surprised that I took any photos at all of this particular morning ceremony. I didn’t plan my attendance at this event well. Jonathan was busy with a work conference (that’s why we were in London). I was on my own for this excursion to Buckingham Palace. Our hotel was directly across the river from the Tower of London. I overslept that morning. I had to rush to make it on the ride for the London Underground. (Yes, I minded the gap.) I showed up at Buckingham Place just a few minutes before or a few minutes after this ceremony started. The place was PACKED. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to get a spot in the crowd where I could see anything.
The ceremony included not one, but TWO marching bands.
A lot of the other spectators were dressed up. Some of the women wore dresses, Easter churchy hats, etc. I didn’t even think to dress up to go to Buckingham Palace. I grew up going camping (tent camping and pop-up camper camping and cabin camping) for vacations. It didn’t even cross my mind to take “nice” clothes with me for a tourist trip. When I was a kid, we wore our nice clothes for school, church, and dentist appointments. Not for travel. I’m an American and I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. I’m also just weird.
Anyway, either the day before or the day that I took this photo, I learned that Buckingham Palace was open to the public only one month out of the year. I happened to be in London during the very month that Buckingham Palace was open. So, I purchased a ticket and toured Buckingham Palace. Again, I wore clothes that I had packed specifically because I wouldn’t miss them if the airline lost my luggage. Other people in my tour group dressed as if they were visiting Buckingham Place.
The tour ended in the palace’s garden. There was a tea vendor and tables set up for tourists IN the garden. Therefore, tour participants could choose to purchase tea and have “teatime” in the garden at Buckingham Palace. It personally seemed to me to be a money grab, but whatever. A bunch of the women wearing dresses and Easter hats seemed to be into this.
I’m glad that I had the opportunity to tour Buckingham Palace. If I ever make it back, it would be interesting to see how things have changed and will change under the new monarch.
The Trib article did not mention Arthur St. Clair’s 1791 military defeat in The Battle of the Wabash. I had to learn about this defeat by reading, first, The Red Heart (a fiction novel by James Alexander Thom) and later from Wikipedia.
The Trib article also did not mention that St. Clair faced a court martial after he retreated from Fort Ticonderoga – and left it in the hands of the British – in 1777.
From what I read about General St. Clair, his supporters argued that St. Clair didn’t have adequate resources to succeed at Fort Ticonderoga (which is in present-day New York) or at the Wabash (which is in present-day Ohio).
The road sign on Route 30 commemorates the Westmoreland County home where St. Clair lived at the very end of his life. The location of St. Clair’s grave a few miles away in Greensburg became a prominent public park named after him.
I myself travel on Route 30 between my current home and my hometown in Somerset County. I’ve never actually noticed the PHMC marker, or the monument installed by the county. That section of Route 30 is sort of tricky to safely drive, so I’m glad that the Trib notified me to the presence of this sign.
If you want to learn more about Arthur St. Clair without leaving Route 30, you can head on over to the museum at Fort Ligonier. The museum has pieces of Arthur St. Clair’s parlor installed in it. From what I read, the United States failed to repay a substantial debt owed to St. Clair. St. Clair lost most of what he owned, including the residence that contained this particular parlor. His possessions were sold to repay his own creditors. According to local folklore, General St. Clair’s ghost and his wife’s ghost haunt the fort’s museum. My fourth grade class visited Fort Ligioner several decades ago. I didn’t see any ghosts. I re-visited the museum in 2018. I still did not see any ghosts.
Just as an aside, I’ve previously blogged – several times – about Simon Girty. I learned from Wikipedia that Girty fought with the Native Americans at St. Clair’s defeat.
If you want to learn more about General St. Clair (or about Simon Girty), I recommend the website for the Heinz History Center.
Firstly, I added a few more photos of downtown New Kensington. Some were of the December parade. I also added a photo of the new Anne Frank mural. You can click on the “Murals” tab in the last post to see all of my posts that include mural photos.
I have a new podcast rec for people who like spooky things. I personally listen to this on Spotify. If you don’t do Spotify, it’s available on other popular platforms. The podcast is “Ghost Tour” from Southern Gothic Media.
I’m already a HUGE fun of Brandon Schexnayder’s “Southern Gothic” podcast. I’m such a fan that I joined its Patreon membership. So, I barked and drooled (not really) when Schexnayder announced that he partnered with Alicia King Marshall of Franklin Walking Tours to produce “Ghost Tour.”
“Ghost Tour” currently has only one season. The hosts interviewed the owners and operators of ghost tour companies. I’m not talking about the “scare houses” with theatrical blood and gore and manufactured horror stories. Those are fun for some people. That’s not the theme of this podcast. I’m talking about those research-based ghost tours at historically significant sites. For instance, in Episode #5, Alicia King Marshall discussed the ghost stories that Franklin Walking Tours told about the 1864 Battle of Franklin in Franklin, Tennessee. In Episode #7, the hosts interviewed Janan Boehme, the Tour Manager / house historian at the Winchester Mystery House in California.
“Ghost Tour” attracted me since I’m curious about how to create a historical ghost tour.
In other news, Troy Taylor from American Hauntings (a podcast, book, and ghost tour company based in Illinois) did a shout-out to southwestern Pennsylvania in one of his recent Zoom livestreams. He specifically referenced Nemacolin Castle in Brownsville. He also referenced the borough of California, Pennsylvania. Nemacolin Castle is a 1700’s and 1800’s -era home that I blogged about here. It sits on a cliff overlooking the Monongahela River (the Mon). It was built in sections over multiple decades. The same family lived in it from the 1700’s up through the 1900’s. Multiple ghosts from multiple generations reputedly haunt it.
My dad learned how to be a high school Special Education teacher at California University of Pennsylvania while he courted my mom in Pittsburgh. Dad refers to the school as “Harvard on the Mon.” I was really excited to discover that I have a family connection to a place that Troy Taylor visited.
Taylor also gave a shout-out to a tattoo parlor that he patronized in that region. I’m trying to track down the name of this place so that I can get a tattoo from the same person who gave Troy Taylor one. I’m that much of a Troy Taylor fan.
Humor doesn’t translate very well on the internet. I’m not really going to drive out to Brownsville just to do this. It’s a 120 mile round trip from my house. Gas is expensive and I don’t like to drive. I’m still glad that southwestern Pennsylvania made a good impression on Taylor. The American Hauntings podcast, hosted by Troy Taylor and Cody Beck, is available on Spotify, iTunes, and other platforms.
Here’s another photo of Valley High School’s marching band at the December 2021 Christmas Parade in downtown New Kensington.
I didn’t grow up in New Kensington. I grew up in Somerset County. However, I was in my own high school’s marching band for four years. Well, first I was in my elementary and junior high concert bands. I wanted to quit before high school. The high school band seemed like too much work. My parents didn’t want me to quit band because they had already invested money in my music interests (or lack thereof). My parents had a handful of other kids. (There are five of us!) They realized that I had a better chance of getting college financial aid if I had “high school marching band” listed as an extracurricular on my applications. Also, I have never been accused of being “too physically fit.” Most likely my parents figured that participation in the marching band would force me to get some exercise. So, four years of marching band it was!
It worked out well for me. Almost all of my high school friends were also in the band. I’m old. I remember stuff differently than how it actually went down. However, I remember all of the fun stuff about band and very little about the unpleasant stuff. (For instance, band camp.) I’m trying to work on a lifestyle change. I get discouraged about all of the extra walking. I remember that I actually walked much further during four years of football games and parades and practices. (All while blowing through a woodwind.) I can totally up my walking game now!
I recently Googled my old band director. He retired from teaching. He now performs professionally with other professional musicians. He didn’t just put in his time and then let his art atrophy. He’s still going strong. I find this inspiring.