Shades of Death Trail / Boulder Field / Hickory Run State Park / Pocono Mountains

Here is my sister’s blog post about her camping trip to and her experiences with the Pocono Mountinas / Hickory Run State Park / the Boulder Field / the Shades of Death Trail. My sister Katie and her husband hiked the Shades of Death Trail and visited the massive Boulder Field with their five-year-old and their three-year-old.

The One with the Cat Mural

Cat mural by artist Raphael Pantalone. This building houses Frankie’s Friends Cat Rescue in downtown New Kensington. Photo taken September 25, 2021

I get my ideas from other places, just like a lot of other people.

You’re probably sick of hearing about this, but after Covid happened, I spent much time consuming Adam Selzer’s “Mysterious Chicago” Facebook page. Adam turned each Monday into “Mural Monday.” On each Monday, he posts virtual tours of himself walking around Chicago neighborhoods looking at murals. When he goes on vacation and his vacation happens to overlap with a Monday, he posts video of whatever town he happens to be in on that day.

So, New Kensington is in the process of being cleaned up and repaired. Preservationists secured funding to paint murals here. (Just like Chicago!)

I said to myself, “Jenny, you know of some people who used to live here, and then they moved away to other parts of the country. Maybe they would like to see these new murals.”

I made this assumption because my mom moved away from the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Carrick in the 1970’s and her parents left in the 1990’s, but every so often, she and my dad travelled to Pittsburgh for various reasons and some of their trips included quick drives around Carrick.

I don’t plan to do Mural Monday. I will just photograph and post murals when the mood strikes me, and then tag these posts with the “Murals” category.

So, here’s a cat mural for you. This cat mural covers the side of the building occupied by Frankie’s Friends Cat Rescue in downtown New Kensington. Facebook taught me that Raphael Pantalone painted this mural as well as additional cat murals inside the building.

Hauntings At The Hoyt Museum in Western Pennsylvania

This looks like a job for Scooby Doo and the Meddling Kids who travel in the Mystery Machine!

I’ve blogged in the past about my favorite spooky podcasts. In fact, here’s my most updated list of 13 Haunted History Podcasts.

My list included Snap Judgement Presents: Spooked. Now, WNYC studios presented the podcast Snap Judgement. WNYC and Snap Judgement originally introduced Spooked to me. That’s why I included the NPR link here.

Spooked later moved to a subscriber-only model on Luminary. However, Luminary occasionally releases former subscriber-only episodes to the public.

My iTunes and Spotify profiles both advised me that Spooked JUST released to the public a former subscriber-only episode titled “Fright At The Museum.” The episode detailed a former museum intern’s allegedly true experiences with ghosts at a museum which she referred to as The Hoyt.

I Googled “The Hoyt” and its alleged ghosts “Alexander Hoyt” and and “May Emma Hoyt” and I discovered that The Hoyt is actually the Hoyt Art Center in New Castle, Pennsylvania.

New Castle is north of Pittsburgh and south of Erie in Western Pennsylvania. If you like to shop at outlet malls, note that New Castle is 16 miles south of the outlet mall in Grove City.

Through this podcast and my Google research, I learned that The Hoyt’s physical location consists of the two adjacent, century-old mansions once occupied by the siblings May Emma and Alexander.

May Emma allegedly lived a Roaring Twenties lifestyle not approved by Alexander. Alexander allegedly burned May Emma’s prized possessions after she died. Hence the ghost stories.

I learned that only very recently did preservationists undertake a major restoration project at The Hoyt. Restoration continues.

I understand. Jonathan and I live in a house built in the 1890’s. Restoration continues at our establishment as well. In fact, I soon hope to blog about a major project at our house!

Once upon a time, I myself worked as a “sort of” intern at an old building-turned-art center in a recovering Rust Belt town. I worked as the “Events Coordinator” at the Bottleworks Ethnic Arts Center in the Cambria City neighborhood of Johnstown. (My placement came from participation in Americorps / Pennsylvania Mountain Service Corps/ PMSC.) The Bottleworks occupied (still occupies) a former bottle factory – hence the name. I never encountered any ghosts at Bottleworks, though. Maybe I just didn’t pay enough attention.

Happy Halloween. No One Will Read This Except for My Family

I picked out a bunch of ghost story books that I believe certain of my family members should read. I have these books in my possession already. Nobody has to go out and buy anything. I won’t be able to tell my family in person that these books are really great – because when I see my family in person, everyone talks at once. Hence, this blog post.

I don’t actually benefit financially if anyone else out there purchases any of these books. I’m a huge fan of some of the people that I mention below. I might possibly stalk some of these people if I lived closer to them. Nothing more.

Scritch Scratch: A Ghost Story by Lindsay Currie

I blogged before that after the 2020 Covid lockdown started, I got hooked to Adam Selzer’s work. Selzer posts daily virtual tours on his “Mysterious Chicago” Facebook page. I discovered Selzer when I searched for “virtual ghost tours.”

Selzer himself wrote Young Adult fiction. He also wrote adult non-fiction and established a Chicago “ghost” and “True Crime” tour company. Because writing Young Adult fiction doesn’t actually pay the bills. Selzer himself alluded to this. Selzer and I are almost the same age. I am impressed by all that he accomplished. I might blog about Selzer’s own books in a future post. However, I actually blog today about the YA books that he promoted for another author: Lindsay Currie.

Selzer posted last year that Currie’s new YA book, Scritch Scratch, featured a ghost tour guide based on Selzer. The book described a Chicago ghost tour of locations and stories that Adam featured during his own real ghost tours. Selzer promoted the release of Scritch Scratch by posting his own virtual ghost tour of the places and stories featured in Scritch Scratch.

Plus, R.L. Stine wrote a quote for Scritch Scratch‘s cover.

R.L. FREAKING STINE!

R.L. Stine wrote some Point Thrillers, which were the only things in the world that I read in seventh grade. He also wrote Goosebumps. R. L. Stine might be the reason that I know how to read chapter books.

R.L. Stine sold Scritch Scratch to me.

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street by Lindsay Currie

Currie wrote this before she wrote Scritch Scratch. I would have never read this book had I not first discovered Scritch Scratch. This title does not summon me to read it.

However, the plot included visits to a real Chicago cemetery and a real Chicago grave. The junior high school kids in this story solved a mystery about a real person buried at this grave. This real person is the star of a real cemetery ghost story.

Adult Jenny really enjoyed this spooky book written for kids.

Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley

Here’s what happened: During Covid lockdown, I watched a virtual talk about historical fiction. I won a history trivia challenge question. I forget the question, but the answer was “the French and Indian War.” I submitted the first correct answer. The contest hosts promised to ship me a book as my prize.

I won a paperback copy of Bellewether. I won a paranormal suspense / romance that look place in the modern day with frequent flashbacks to the French and Indian War in the 1700’s. The flashbacks explained why a ghost from the 1700’s haunted the present day. Everything took place in the Lake George / Fort William Henry / Fort Ticonderoga area of upstate New York.

Now, Jonathan and I spent a week in this exact area with Jonathan’s sister S. (so, my sister-in-law S.) and S.’s now-husband E., and also with Jonathan’s parents.

(FYI: The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper took place at Fort William Henry during the French and Indian War. Cooper based his novel on actual events at the fort.)

I read Bellwether in one day, even though it isn’t a YA novel.

However, my sister-in-law S. will also love this book. So, S., when I see you, I will hand you my “won” copy of Bellewether.

Pennsylvania History Reading on the Eve of September 11

Pious Spring in Somerset County, Pennsylvania

I grew up in Central Pennsylvania and also in a little farming community down the road from Shanksville (the Flight 93 crash site). However, not everyone who reads this blog lived in Pennsylvania for decades like I did. (Not sure whether I should actually admit this . . . ) So, if you’re still new here and want to learn more, here are some books about Western Pennsylvania history that I enjoyed:

1.) Anything by Thomas White

White teaches and archives at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and he also wrote a million books about Pennsylvania history and folklore. I just finished reading White’s “The Witch of the Monogahela: Folk Magic in Early Western Pennsylvania.”

2.) The Day Must Dawn” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull

Turnbull grew up in New Alexandria in the late 1800’s. She graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. After World War I ended, she wrote this fiction novel about colonial settlers in Hanna’s Town (Hannastown) during the Revolutionary War. When I toured the visitor’s center at the Flight 93 National Memorial, I learned that Flight 93 travelled over part of Westmoreland County just moments before it crashed in Somerset County. The plane travelled over the same mountains that provide the setting for this book about living with fear and hope in the 1700’s.

If you decide that you liked Turnbull’s historical fiction, note that she wrote “The King’s Orchard” about early Pittsburgh businessman James O’Hara. (O’Hara was philanthropist Mary Schenley’s grandfather and also the source of her significant fortune.) She also wrote a novel titled “Remember the End” about Alex MacTay, a fictional mine owner in Greensburg during the Industrial Revolution. I suspect that Turnbull based MacTay on a hybrid of Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie.

I don’t recommend any other of Turnbull’s many, many novels. For instance, I attempted to read her story “The Richlands” about a farming family in Westmoreland County. The book took place in the late 1800’s – I think? Everyone travelled by horse. The farm boys had to physically build their own prep school. (Kiski Prep?) There was a creepy farmhand. The father fired the farmhand before he did anything exceptionally creepy, such as murder the wife and kids. Kinda disappointing. Turnbull forgot to include a plot in “The Richlands.” NOTHING happened for 300 pages.

3.) Hannah’s Town, by Helen Smith and George Swetnam

This book was “The Day Must Dawn” for kids. It followed a fictional girl named Hannah who lived in Hanna’s Town and thought of it as “her town.” Hannah’s family very conveniently moved away from Hanna’s Town right before the British and their Native American allies sacked and burned the town. The book was written in the style of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. I mentioned that I just finished reading a Thomas White book. Well, in the White book that I just finished, White specifically cited “Hannah’s Town” co-author Geroge Swetnam as one of White’s folklore sources.

4.) Grant by Ron Chernow

Grant was a biography of Ulysses S. Grant. Chernow also wrote the biography of Alexander Hamilton upon which Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote his Hamilton musical. In Grant, I learned that Grant’s father, Jesse, actually lived in Greensburg (down the road from Hannastown) for years before he moved to Ohio and fathered Ulysses.

5.) The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough

I learned that in the aftermath of the Johnstown Flood of 1889, somebody fished a live baby out of the Allegheny River at Verona. (Verona is downstream from Parnassus (where I live) and upstream from Pittsburgh.)

6.) American Elegy: A Family Memoir by Jeffrey Simpson

Simpson wrote this memoir about several generations of his family who lived in the Parnassus neighborhood of New Kensington. His family lived on the same block on which I now live.

7.) The Girl Factory: A Memoir by Karen Dietrich

Dietrich grew up in Connellsville. She wrote this book about her experiences in elementary and high school in Connellsville. I read this because I saw a write-up for it in a Pittsburgh newspaper. I included it here because the author is my age. She graduated from high school with a whole bunch of people who then attended college with me. Then, even though she didn’t go to college with me, she eventually (briefly) taught creative writing at my old college. I read this book while wondering the entire time if she wrote about anybody that I recognized. I did not recognize anybody. Maybe I’m not very perceptive.

A Bear, A Snake, and Two Eagles Walk into a Bar. Ouch! Pics or it Didn’t Happen. Well, Here are Some Pics.

Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

If I ever end up on a reality show, I will list my occupation as “Wildlife Photographer.”

Here are some of the photos that I took in Northern Michigan. We stayed on Drummond Island, an island off of the northern Lake Huron section of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Drummond Island holds the remains of a fort from the 1700’s and 1800’s. Not an American fort. A British fort. British soldiers guarded this fort even after the War of 1812 ended and the Treaty of Ghent gave Drummond Island to the United States. The British kept a military presence on UNITED STATES SOIL for DECADES after this war. I bet that this urked old Andrew Jackson. I want to blog about this some time.

The island is a few miles from the Canadian border. It is physically possible to snowmobile from Canada to Drummond Island when this part of Lake Huron freezes.

Anyway. I saw a black bear run past me outside as I sat inside the kitchen of our rental house. I didn’t grab my camera fast enough to get a photo of said bear. Had I yelled, “Hey, bear! Hold still til I grab a shot of you!,” it would have ended poorly for me.

I DID see two eagles either fight or mate. I grabbed a photo of BOTH eagles after they separated but before they flew away.

Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Then, I saw a snake on “our” porch. My new snake friend ran off and hid under the porch after I took photos of him or her. Jonathan either saw this same snake hiding in our wood pile several times, or he saw a different snake of the same species hiding in our wood pile.

Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here is a sandhill crane. In my post about the Jersey Devil folklore in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, I mentioned that writers and podcasters theorize that the some of the alleged “Jersey Devil” witnesses actually saw sandhill cranes.

Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I love heron, and I will shoot heron (with a camera) every chance that I get. I said HERON. You know, the bird.

Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Now, I know that Jonathan took much better photos than I did, but here are some more:

Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Loons!

Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Drummond Island. Lake Huron. Northern Michigan. August 2021.
(Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)