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.
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.
The Jersey Devil is a mythological creature. Its origin story maintains that the Jersey Devil was the result of a 13th birth to a (human) colonial family in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. The Jersey Devil terrorized the family (or killed the family, according to some versions of the tale). Then, it flew up the family’s chimney. People have reported it flying for hundreds of years now. Mostly in New Jersey, of course. However, at least one person reported seeing it in Pennsylvania, across the Delaware River.
This Cryptid also named a professional hockey team and inspired its mascot. I speak of the New Jersey Devils. I work in an office in Pittsburgh. My one manager – a Philadelphia-area native – sits directly across an aisle from me. He placed a pillow featuring the New Jersey Devils’ “devil” mascot on a shelf directly above his desk. I see that devil pillow every time that I look at his office’s glass front wall.
So, the locals adopted the Jersey Devil as a beloved part of their culture.
I listened to these podcasts about the Jersey Devil:
(Just a warning that Last Podcast on the Left (LPOTL) includes adult language and content.)
I’ve read several books on folklore that include chapters or at least mention of the Jersey Devil. Depending on your source, you will read different things about the Jersey Devil.
Some of my sources speculate that people who reported seeing the Jersey Devil actually saw a sandhill crane. That’s why I included at the top of this blog post a photo of two sandhill cranes. Here’s another photo of the same pair of sandhill cranes:
I took these particular photos in October 2020 from a kayak on Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park in Western Pennsylvania. The park sits about 90 miles south of PA’s Lake Erie shoreline. When I took my photos of these birds, the birds ate in the wetlands at the lake’s edge. I made a lot of noise. The birds ate. They did not flee from me. They just ate. I took these photos during the same week that I read that biologists anticipated significant numbers of migratory birds to fly south for the winter. I am under the impression (I am NOT a scientist) that these birds stopped at Lake Arthur to feed during a migration from somewhere on the Great Lakes to somewhere south.
Here are different sandhill cranes that I saw on an island of Lake Huron in Northern Michigan in August 2020 and August 2021:
Was the New Jersey Devil actually a “Pennsylvania” Sandhill Crane?
Also, what does it actually take to be famous through the ages?
I blogged about American Naval hero Stephen Decatur a few days ago. He defeated pirates. He won a Medal of Honor. He married a socially elite woman. He and his wife were an early 1800’s power couple! He lived in a mansion near the White House. He seconded Oliver Hazard Perry in a duel. He then died in a duel himself. A bunch of people who were born before the American Civil War were named after him.
And – he (allegedly) saw the Jersey Devil while he was testing cannons for the United States military. He (allegedly) fired a cannonball at the poor creature.
And – for me – the whole Jersey Devil story is what convinced me that Stephen Decatur will not be forgotten in America. He was famous enough to be linked in folklore to a beloved American figure – the Jersey Devil.
Just for the record, several sources that I consumed also linked Napoleon’s brother, Joseph, to a Jersey Devil sighting. Joseph Bonaparte used to be the King of Spain. After Napoleon’s defeat, Joseph had to move to New Jersey. The Canadian band Moxy Früvous has a song titled King of Spain that begins with the lyrics “Once I was the King of Spain, now I eat humble pie.” The song’s lyrics include mention of employment in a North American pizzaria. I personally think that the song is a dig at Joseph Bonaparte – the former King of Spain who had to move to Jersey, and then went down in folklore for his alleged run-in with the Jersey Devil.
My blog’s most popular post is about the time that Jonathan and I accidentally sailed into Misery Bay off of Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania.
Presque Isle State Park now features a monument to the War of 1812’s American naval hero Oliver Hazard Perry. The monument at the end of a little peninsula sits next to Misery Bay. In fact, when my husband and I sail, we try to use the Perry Monument as a landmark to prevent ourselves from sailing into Misery Bay.
Here is a photo that I took on my iPhone of the Perry Monument on Columbus Day Weekend in 2019. An organization associated with the National Guard decorated the monument minutes before I took the photo.
I took an interest in the Perry Monument that sits next to Misery Bay when I visited Erie for the very first time around the age of 10 or so. I was actually born in Perry County in Central Pennsylvania. I lived there for the first seven years of my life. So, after we moved to Western Pennsylvania, I was very excited to see a monument dedicated to the namesake of my original home. I had my parents take a photo of me standing next to the monument. On this same trip, I took a pontoon boat tour offered through Presque Isle State Park. I learned about the folklore surrounding Oliver Hazard Perry and his experiences with Misery Bay and Graveyard Pond during the War of 1812.
Here’s what I didn’t learn on this boat tour:
Some of the American Naval heros of the War of 1812 era – including men who sailed the Great Lakes – dueled. Some of them died in duels.
I learned this much later by reading Wikipedia. So, I trust that Wikipedia and many published books about U.S. Naval history will satisfy you much more on the particular details of this subject than I can in a 1,000 word (or whatever) blog post.
But for example: In 1818, Oliver Hazard Perry fought in a duel. He and his opponent survived. However, Perry chose for his “second” a man who actually did die in his own duel just a few years later. That man was Stephen Decatur.
I don’t remember learning about Stephen Decatur in school. However, I don’t remember a lot of things from my U.S. History classes, even though it was my favorite subject.
I liked to read biographies of famous people from the American Civil War. I noted that a lot of the biographies mentioned various other people who had the first and middle name of “Stephen Decatur.” For instance, the writer Mary Chesnut’s father was Stephen Decatur Miller. A bunch of other famous people from the early 1800’s had relatives or acquaintances named “Stephen Decatur This” or “Stephen Decatur That.”
I thought, “This Stephen Decatur guy must be pretty special if a whole bunch of people named their kids after him before the Civil War happened.“
So, I looked up Stephen Decatur on Wikipedia. I learned that he – and his fellow Naval officer Oliver Hazard Perry – and a bunch of their other fellow officers got themselves into duels. Often.
So many duels happened before the Civil War, that the Washington elite journeyed to a designated dueling grounds (the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds in Maryland). In fact, I learned from Wikipedia that Francis Scott Key’s son, Daniel, died after a duel that started over a dispute about the speed of a boat.
Stephen Decatur served as an officer in the United States Navy from 1798 – 1820. I’ll make this quick because anyone can just read all of this on Wikipedia. Decatur fought pirates along the Barbary Coast of North Africa. He witnessed his own brother, James’s, burial at sea. He earned a Medal of Honor.
Here’s an example of how highly folks regarded Decatur: I listened to Episode 9: A Devil on the Roof from the Lore podcast by Aaron Mahnke. This episode told the myth of the Jersey Devil in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. According to the folklore, Decatur saw the Jersey Devil as he tested cannon balls in Burlington, New Jersey. The legend maintains that Decatur fired a cannon at the Jersey Devil but that the Jersey Devil flew away. This myth implies to me that if such a decorated hero as Decatur saw and reacted to the Jersey Devil, then us common folk should believe that the Jersey Devil actually existed.
I don’t know if Decatur actually saw the Jersey Devil and fired a cannon at it.
However, in 1818 Decatur did actually build his residence in Lafayette Square in Washington, a very short walk from the White House. Before this, Decatur married Susan Wheeler. I am very much under the impression that his bride was from the most well-connected tier of American society. (Aaron Burr and also Napoleon’s brother allegedly attempted to court her.) Decatur and Susan entertained the elite in their gorgeous Lafayette Square home. (In fact, you can still visit this “Historic Decatur House.”)
So, after all of the struggle and success, Stephen Decatur agreed to duel another Naval officer, James Barron, in 1820. Decatur shot Barron. Barron shot Decatur. Decatur died at the age of 41. Barron survived for several more decades.
Dueling declined after the American Civil War. I learned on Wikipedia that the last Bladensburg duel occurred in the late 1860’s. I read in a book of Maryland folklore that a suburban housing development now sits on most of Bladensburg’s “dueling grounds.”
I reworked this blog post because later this year I want to blog about that time that Stephen Decatur allegedly saw the Jersey Devil and tried to kill it. So, here’s some context about Stephen Decatur’s fame in the 1800’s. He, and Oliver Hazard Perry, and others were America’s heros. They sailed the Great Lakes in the 1800’s. Some of them also dueled – at great personal cost.
So, this is just a warning that I will discuss a very popular, True Crime comedy podcast that discusses tragic subject matter. The podcast also involves copious amounts of swearing by females. This particular episode also involves injury to a child. If this will offend you, then DO NOT listen to the podcast that I discuss in this blog post.
So, I grew up going to an amusement park by the name of Idlewild in Ligonier, Pennsylvania.
Here is the Too Long / Didn’t read (TL / DR) version of today’s blog post: Today’s episode of the Comedy / True Crime Podcast My Favorite Murder, hosted by Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, included a story about a tragic incident that occurred at Idlewild a few years ago. Fast Forward to time 21:00 if you don’t want to listen to the other stories in this episode.
Now, today’s episode (today is October 5, 2020, BTW), featured only stories sent in by listeners. This particular story involved the park’s wooden roller coaster and a small child. Through a Google search, you can find articles from the local news regarding a similar-sounding incident that happened several years ago. However, the podcast did not give any indication that their staff fact-checked the story. Keep that in mind if you choose to listen to it.
If you’re not familiar with My Favorite Murder (MFM), here is my prior blog post – from my other blog – on the podcast. The hosts from this show performed at the Benedum Theater in Pittsburgh in March 2019. I wanted to go, but both Pittsburgh shows sold out before I could get tickets. (It all worked out in my favor, because Jonathan and I got tickets to see Mumford & Sons ON THE SAME NIGHT as one of these shows. )
Here’s my personal experience with Idlewild:
I grew up in Somerset County, so we lived much, much closer to Idlewild than we did to Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh.
For several years, Idlewild held a promotion through Snyder of Berlin, the potato chip company. As you recall, I grew up in Berlin, Pennsylvania, home of this same potato chip factory. Anyway, specially marked potato chip bags included “buy one get one free” admission coupons for weekday trips to Idlewild. Well, during this time, my parents had four kids, so they had a total of six family members for which they needed to purchase tickets. Also, throughout my entire childhood, my dad worked at his second job almost every weekend day from fishing season until after Labor Day. So, the only time that Dad could take us to Idlewild were on non-holiday weekdays. The Snyder of Berlin – Idlewild promotion was perfect for my family.
Idlewild was not the world’s fanciest amusement park. Still, we loved it when we were kids. We didn’t visit Kennywood every single summer. Some years, Idlewild WAS our summer amusement park fun. Idlewild (still) has its own waterpark, and Kennywood doesn’t have this. (Sandcastle is a separate park from Kennywood.)
(Idlewild is over a century old, and it’s located along Route 30 AKA the Lincoln Highway. Stories about it are included in Route 30 lore.)
After high school, I went off to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, which is less than 10 miles down the road from Idlewild. I became close friends with another student, “Inez”. Inez worked at Idlewild for several summers. She started there when she was a high school student, and she worked there through a significant part of her time as a student at Saint Vincent.
I heard many, many stories from Inez in which she alleged poor treatment of the (mostly high school-aged and college-aged) staff by the Idlewild management. (I heard similar alleged stories from “Varina,” a fellow student who lived in our dorm and worked as a ride operator at Kennywood. Note that Idlewild and Kennywood had common ownership both during this time and currently.)
Even after I heard all of these stories, I applied for a job at Idlewild because I was getting ready to graduate from Saint Vincent and I didn’t have any other job offers in hand.
I worked at Idlewild myself for less than two weeks. I didn’t witness any poor treatment myself. (I did have a ride operator trainer suggest to me that if I really needed a break, and I hadn’t been granted one by management, then I should wait until the next guest threw up on the ride. Then, I should take as long as possible to clean up the puke. This way, I could give myself an unofficial rest.) However, I couldn’t afford to pay for gas to drive from my home in Somerset County to Ligonier every day at the close to minimum wage that Idlewild paid me. So, I quit as soon as I obtained a job offer at the Walmart in Somerset.
Now, you might be asking, “If the management at these amusement parks was as poor as Inez and Varina alleged, why didn’t they just quit? Why did you apply to work at Idlewild if you believed any of these stories?” Why, see, none of us three are Chelsea Clinton or Ivanka Trump. We didn’t have fantastic “consulting” gigs waiting for us at firms owned by our parents “friends.”
So, this particular story about Idlewild Park featured on My Favorite Murder (MFM) began with “Disclaimer: If you think that sketchy, dangerous theme parks died with Action Park, think again.”
(Note that the reference to “Action Park” is in regards to a recently released documentary about a theme park in New Jersey that was the subject of lawsuits in regards to deaths and injuries that occurred there. Action Park and the documentary about it were the subject of a recent MFM episode.)
The “listener story” about Idlewild Park then alleged poor decision making by park management both leading up to and immediately after the tragic incident described in the story.
I feel loyalty to Idlewild because I have so many memories of spending time with loved ones at this park. My family was able to visit an amusement park every summer because Idlewild was less than a two hour drive from our house and it was affordable for our large family.
However, I heard many stories about alleged mistreatment of its employees from somebody that I highly regard. (Also, see above regarding the “advice” that I received from a park trainer in regards to cleaning ride puke. In my opinion, if the employees received adequate time to recharge during a shift, then this advice would not be necessary.) The stories that I heard from my classmates all took place a significant amount of time ago, and I don’t believe that any of us were aware of any way to be a whistle blower.
If you listened to this story yourself, what do you think?
Here’s my call to action: If you enjoy (or hate read) my blog, please share it with others would would also enjoy (or hate read) it.
I’ve posted on Facebook and on this blog about the virtual tours and livestream lectures about ghosts, true crime, and cemeteries that I enjoyed since March. However, I wanted to put my main thoughts together in one place. I picked up some ideas that I think can be useful to very local history and tourism groups.
I’m going to start off with American Hauntings. American Hauntings is the blanket name for a business owned by Troy Taylor and Lisa Taylor Horton. When I first discovered American Hauntings, the operation included ghost tours, true crime tours, ghost hunts, in-person “Evening with” catered dinner experiences, and books.
In 20017, I went on a search for new podcasts about the paranormal, specifically related to American history. I listen to several hours of podcasts each week. I am very picky about allowing new podcasts into my listening schedule. If a podcast host sounds as if he or she didn’t bother to research anything beyond a one minute Google search, or if the host shoots the breeze for several minutes at the beginning of each episode, then I almost always shut off the podcast.
So one morning in 2017, I waited for the bus and discovered Season #1 of American Hauntings, hosted by Troy Taylor and Cody Beck. I was hooked.
American Hauntings the podcast didn’t include advertisements for anything except for other American Hauntings products and services. Part way through each episode, Troy plugged the tickets for his in-person experiences.
The “Evening with” dinners that Troy promoted intrigued me. The approximately $50 per person ticket price for these included a catered meal at the Mysterious Mineral Springs Hotel in Alton Illinois, followed by a live lecture given by Troy on that night’s topic. However, I live outside of Pittsburgh, so I don’t think that I will ever make it to Alton for an in-person “Evening with” dinner.
Then, in March 2020, most of the governors of most of the states shut down everything fun. This included the in-person American Hauntings tours, ghost hunts, and in-person “Evening with” dinners. Troy began to post livestreams every Friday night on his Troy Taylor Facebook page. Sometimes he gave lectures about topics that are not included in his “Evening with” dinner talks. (For instance, one night he spoke on Facebook about the time that grave robbers attempted to steal Abraham Lincoln’s body.) Sometimes he held Q&A sessions about the many topics that American Hauntings covers. In each livestream, he promoted the sale of his books (he offered a Shelter in Place discount) and advanced bookings on his in-person experiences when they resumed. He added a virtual tip jar for viewers who chose to tip him for the livestream entertainment. When he had to cancel the June 2020 Haunted America Conference, he sold tee shirts to offset the costs that he had already incurred for it.
Then Troy made an announcement that made me very happy. He scheduled several of his most popular “Evening with” dinner talks as Zoom lectures. I could pay $13 to receive a log-on link to a live “Evening with” dinner talk over Zoom.
I listened to three of Troy’s Zoom “Evening with” talks so far. I made sure to have in my house food and drink that I enjoyed so that I could pretend that I was eating a catered dinner at the Mysterious Mineral Springs Hotel during the lectures. The Zoom participants all have the option of shutting off their own computer’s camera or leaving it on. So, when I participated in these talks, I could see who some of the other participants were. We could chat with each other during the talk using Zoom’s chat function. At the end of the talk, Troy answered questions from the Zoom audience.
So, these are my observations of how American Hauntings handled the Shelter in Place order and the Covid-19 “quarantine.”
However, even the American Hauntings company didn’t produce enough podcast and video content to keep me entertained from March 15 until now. So, I searched the internet for other virtual tourist experiences that I would enjoy.
I purchased the Virtual 360 degree tour from the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA. If I ever make it to see the house in person, I know which rooms I want to focus my attention.
I typed something like “Chicago” and “virtual tours” into the Facebook search function because I visited Chicago once for a week as a tourist and I enjoyed the trip. I discovered the Facebook page for Mysterious Chicago, owned by Adam Selzer. This guide gave in-person tours up until mid-March. He also wrote several books, including such topics as ghosts, H.H. Holmes, Roaring Twenties true crime, and Abraham Lincoln.
As of now (July 12), several other Chicago tour companies have restarted their in-person tours. However, Mysterious Chicago has not done this. Instead, Mysterious Chicago posts virtual tours multiple times each week on Facebook. It’s free to watch these on Facebook, but each tour includes information about how to donate to a virtual tip jar. There’s also a Patreon page for Mysterious Chicago, but I have not subscribed to it. I watched every Mysterious Chicago video posted to Facebook.
Here’s where I compare American Hauntings to Mysterious Chicago.
All of the American Hauntings livestreams and “Evening With” Zoom presentations that I watched consisted of Troy sitting in his spooky-looking American Hauntings office. In these presentations, I saw in the background lighted candles, the books that Troy wrote, and fake (I hope!) skulls. He shared his computer screen, onto which he pulled up photos of the people and places mentioned in his presentation. His partner, Lisa Taylor Horton, joined all of the Zoom presentations. Lisa handed all of the requests for technical assistance. Lisa also moderated the Q&A sessions at the end of each Zoom presentation. It was clear from watching the presentations that Troy and Lisa were either in separate rooms or separate buildings.
Everything that I watched from Mysterious Chicago came from Facebook. No Zoom. These tours happened several different ways:
1.) Some of the tours were real-time cemetery tours, taking all social distancing precautions including the use of a face mask. These tours happened at times when there were no or else very few other people around.
2.) Some of the tours were real-time tours on the streets of Chicago, taking all social distancing precautions including the use of a face mask. These tours happened at times when there were very few other people around.
3.) Most of the tours took place completely in Adam Selzer’s living room. He didn’t wear a face mask during these tours. He shared pre-recorded video footage during these tours. He also shared photos – something that he wasn’t able to share during his live tours.
(To be clear, Adam Selzer made a point of taping footage of himself wearing the face mask while he was outside traversing the Chicago cemeteries and streets.)
Finally, I watched three virtual tours of New Orleans narrated by long time New Orleans tour guide Alexander Addams. (He said, “I have been doing this for many, many – God knows – many years.”) I found two of these videos under the Facebook page for Crawl New Orleans, and I found the third video under the Facebook page for Crawl USA. These were three completely different video tours by the same guide. I’m not sure why they were on different Facebook pages. Oh, well. I very much enjoyed all of these tours.
Just like the companies mentioned above, Crawl New Orleans used photos and pre-recorded video footage. However, unlike the other two, Crawl New Orleans also had video footage recorded from the air. That was very cool. There was a link to a tip jar. The tour guide encouraged viewers to book in-person tours with Crawl New Orleans once the Covid-19 restrictions had ended. He even provided a code for 20% off all tours: CORONA.
Here’s why I took such an interest in this: in the past, I purchased tickets for tours of local cemeteries and historic neighborhoods. Almost all of these tours were put on by local civic groups and staffed by volunteers. These tours raised funds in order to maintain and preserve said cemeteries and neighborhoods. For instance, one of these cemeteries held tours every October in order to raise enough money to pay somebody to mow the grass. This was the very cemetery which included the graves of that community’s founder and his entire family. I wonder how many of these tours will be able to continue in this era of Covid-19.
I’m not personally involved with any of these civic groups. However, I think that maybe some of these groups will be able to continue their tour fundraising efforts by taking them online. For instance, a member of said group could go out alone and take the video footage needed for the tour. Then, they could put the footage up on a free Facebook livestream. Viewers would be asked to donate to a virtual tip jar for the benefit of this organization.
Well, that’s just my suggestion. Off to watch more ghost and true crime tours.
Yesterday, I viewed an online training session. The host joked that “everybody” is now producing “quarantine podcasts” since most of us are now living under “Shelter in Place” orders.
Now, I received podcasting equipment for Christmas a year and a half ago. I haven’t used it as much as I had hoped. So, I’m going to take another shot at creating a podcast series about folklore and history, mainly in Western Pennsylvania.
So, this new series will be my personal “quarantine podcast.”
I don’t expect to make any money from my upcoming podcast. I’m not trying to take anything away from the people who already create podcasts – or give ghost tours – as their bread and butter. I’m just working on this to have a little bit of fun. So please be kind when I finally post an episode.
(If you get all snarky about me anyway, then I guess that I deserve it.)
In the meantime, here is a virtual flower show for you to enjoy.
Here is a photo of my husband Jonathan taking a photo at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh:
Here is another photo from Phipps Conservatory:
Here are some photos that I took when I visited Longwood Gardens during a rainstorm and a flood warning:
Update: I published this blog post almost a full year ago, on March 30, 2019.
As you know, things are kinda different now.
Knead Community Café still feeds the New Kensington community on a “Pay-What-You-Can / Pay-It-Forward” model. Since Governor Wolf closed every dining room in the state, customers now pick up the food or receive it delivered from café volunteers.
I miss sitting in the cafe’s sunny dining room and I miss admiring the communal wooden table that occupies the dining room’s center. This table reminds me of the time back in the 1990’s that my Uncle S. and my Aunt M. rented a huge (to me, at least) lodge in the middle of the woods in Central Pennsylvania for my cousin R.’s wedding. We slept in the lodge that night. In the morning, we all had breakfast together at a large table in a kitchen nook.
Anyway, restaurants and grocery stores recently donated food to Knead. Knead cooked the food into “grab and go” meals that they handed out at their door and also recruited volunteers to deliver. They did not request “Pay-What-You-Can / Pay-It-Forward” donations for these “grab and go” meals. They still had to pay their employees to prepare these meals.
So, I updated this blog post in the hopes that readers consider supporting Knead financially.
Here’s what I posted almost a full year ago, on March 30, 2019:
In January, Planet Money released Episode 889: The Pay-What-You-Want Experiment. In this episode, host Sarah Gonzalez interviewed Panera Bread founder Ron Shaich. Shaich opened a small chain of “pay-what-you-want” eating establishments operating under the name of “Panera Cares” in 2010. Unfortunately, all of the “Panera Cares” locations eventually closed.
However, New Kensington, Pennsylvania has its own independent, non-profit “pay-what-you-can” restaurant: Knead Community Cafe.
I ate breakfast this morning at Knead. I breakfasted there several other Saturday mornings in the past year. Knead opened in February 2017. I took all of the photos in this blog post in April 2018.
To clarify, New Kensington’s Knead Community Cafe is NOT affiliated in any way with Panera Bread. I mentioned the Planet Money episode merely to illustrate that Planet Money did a story on an innovative type of establishment similar to one that exists in my own town.
The above linked Planet Money episode referred to the concept as “pay-what-you-want.” The website for Knead referred to the concept as “pay-what-you-can / pay-it-forward.” I based my below explanation on Knead’s website. If you want specific information on how the restaurant works, its hours of operation, or its menu, please visit its website and / or its Facebook page.
The booth inside of Knead’s front door explained “pay-what-you-can” as it applied to Knead:
Before each trip to Knead, I first checked Knead’s Facebook page to review that day’s menu. Note that the menu changes each day. On my first trip, I had a choice of three breakfast options.
We ordered our food and our choice of juice at a counter. Cafe volunteers brought our food to our assigned table. We helped ourselves to coffee, tea, and iced tea at the cafe’s beverage bar.
In addition to Knead’s indoor seating, Knead has an outdoor courtyard. I never sat in the courtyard, but I took a few photos of it. People who sit in the courtyard can enjoy this old city’s “ghost signs.” (Ghost signs are hand-painted advertisements on the sides of old buildings. Many ghost signs advertise now-defunct products or businesses.)
In fact, if you chose to eat at Knead, you might work off your meal with a short photo walk around downtown New Kensington. You will be able to photograph several ghost signs.
Finally, parking options are very important to me when I visit a place. I am satisfied with Knead’s parking options. Visitors can park along the street for free. Visitors can also park in a large, free public parking lot directly across the street from Knead’s front entrance.
My husband and I live within walking distance from Knead. When we visit, we often run into people that we know. However, we also chat at Knead with people that we never previously met. Knead provides an excellent place for the community to partake of a meal as fellow human beings.
Have you ever visited a “pay-what-you-want / pay-what-you-can / pay-it-forward” restaurant? Tell me about your experience.
Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh just ended a show themed on outer space. I laid on the floor underneath an exhibit there and took the above photo. This exhibit represented one of the ringed planets: Saturn, Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune.
I just learned by reading the website for History (formerly The History Channel) that allegedly at one time, scholars from the University of Paris claimed that on March 20, 1345, the planets of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars lined up in a specific way to create the Black Death (Bubonic Plague).
My sister O. celebrates her birthday on March 20. So, now I can tease her about this.
My other sister, K., got me attached to an NPR podcast called Radiolab. Radiolab used to focus on science and technology. I recommend the episode from November 14, 2011, titled Patient Zero. The episode began with the story of Typhoid Mary, and then explored the identity of Patient Zero from the AIDS epidemic.
(The term “Patient Zero” referred to the index case or initial patient in an infectious disease outbreak.)
If you want some humor when you listen to podcasts about infectious diseases, check out Episode #105 of the true crime comedy podcast, My Favorite Murder. The second half of this explores Typhoid Mary.
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.
I included American Hauntings because the podcast actually taught me more about history then it did about the supernatural.
I posted about American Hauntingslast 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.
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.)