Snakes on a Plantation

by Jenny on 14 January 2018

I listened to a few episodes of The Nod last month. The Nod, by Gimlet Media, is a podcast about Black life hosted by Brittany Luse and Eric Eddings.

I highly recommend The Nod‘s 2 part series The Hairstons. This focuses on the life journey of Ever Lee Hairston, who grew up picking cotton as a sharecropper on the Coolemee plantation in North Carolina. During the Civil War, Ms. Hairston’s ancestor was a trusted slave to the white Hairston family who owned Coolemee. After the War, Ms. Hairston’s family took the same last name as the family who once owned them, and lived in a primitive cabin on Coolemee.  Ms. Hairston left the plantation to work as a maid in New York, became a teacher, went blind, became a counselor, and then served on the Board of Directors at the National Federal of the Blind.

I download my podcasts from iTunes. However, here are the links from The Nod’s website:

Snakes on a Plantation: The Hairstons Part 1

Diary of a Mad Black Cousin: The Hairstons Part 2

(I don’t have any photos of Coolemee plantation. So, here is a photo that I took at Kenmore, the Fredericksburg, Virginia estate of George Washington’s sister and brother-in-law. Their extended families were among the largest slaveholders in Virginia. One block away from this estate is the cemetery for Confederate war dead in Fredericksburg.)

Tomorrow, January 15, is both the observed federal Martin Luther King Jr. Day AND also Dr. King’s actual birthday. Happy Birthday, Dr. King! May we all try to be better Americans.


“A Season with the Witch”

by Jenny on 13 January 2018

So, I read this book: “A Season with the Witch: The Magic and Mayhem of Halloween in Salem, Massachusetts,” by J.W. Ocker.

J.W. Ocker lived in Salem, Massachusetts with his wife and two young daughters for the full month of October 2015.

The author claims an interest in the occult, which is amusing because the first time that I tried to type his name, autocorrect changed the spelling to “occult.”

I like reading about travel, history, and also nonfiction about real-life “spooky” places. This book fit all of these categories. DON’T read this book if you get bored easily. Because I slogged through several VERY boring sections, just to get to the good stuff.

I’ve never been to Massachusetts. I googled the distance between Salem and Fall River, MA, which is where Lizzie Borden allegedly killed her parents. I could visit both cities on the same day. (Though I would have to travel through metro Boston to do so.) However, without reading this book first, I wouldn’t know the best places to spend my time in Salem.

My sister-in-law Sarah visited Salem a few years ago and took the above photo. Shortly after Sarah’s trip, she blogged the following: Later that afternoon, we went to Salem so that I could get my witch hunt/The Crucible fix.  Maybe I had my hopes set too high, but I found myself fairly disappointed in what I’ll call the over-commercialization of the witch hunts.  The National Park Service had great free exhibits to Salem’s maritime history (which is totally overshadowed by the witch hunts, in my opinion), but everything related to witches cost money.  And I wasn’t sure what would be worth the money and what wouldn’t.  I didn’t want us to end up paying $20+ for something that was ridiculously cheesy.  And the girl at the visitor center was less than helpful in giving advice.  But I got some good pictures of the memorial to the accused — which included the names of some of my favorite characters from The Crucible.

A Season with the Witch” gave me a pretty good idea of which “witch” attractions are worth the money. For instance, I would visit the Salem Witch Museum. I would skip all of the “haunted houses,” the “haunted neighborhood,” and the establishments which involve paying for predictions of the future.

The author did patronize a bunch of Salem witch shops and he paid a bunch of “practitioners” for readings. He didn’t learn anything about himself that he didn’t already know.

(Tangent: When I was a student at St. Vincent College, our dorm brought a local psychic to campus so that students could have the privilege of paying the psychic $35 each for “personal” readings. When my friends debriefed each other later that evening, we discovered that my friends had each received the exact same “prediction.” )

The author also spent a lot of time in, and writing about, cemeteries. (He looked for the graves of the key players in the witch trials.) In these cemeteries, he watched tourists eat their nachos and drunks make asses of themselves.

He interviewed Richard St. Armour, a security guard for the Old Burying Point cemetery in Salem.  St. Armour shared the following about weird things that people did in that cemetery:

  • Picnic on the tombs.
  • Attempt to dig up a grave.
  • Hide behind graves when the guard chased out the visitors and locked up the cemetery at dusk.

This last thing triggered a childhood memory. When I was a very young child with several younger sisters and cousins, we were with my mother and my Aunt Sue at playground near my grandma’s house. This playground was at one of those large parks where the park staff have to drive around in order to patrol it. It was dusk. An “official – looking” car drove towards the playground. My aunt told us that the car belonged to the law enforcement coming to chase everybody out of the park for the evening. She told us that if we all hid in a large cement tube that was part of the playground equipment, the “law” wouldn’t see us and we could stay longer. So we all crowded in the tube. And the “law” drove past us. We fought the law, and we won!

Then, we all agreed to go back to grandma’s house and eat ice cream.

I’m sure now that Aunt Sue was messing with us. I bet that the “official” car was for park maintenance or something. I say this not because the “law” would have seen my mom’s car in the playground parking lot, or because my mom wouldn’t have actually agreed to hide from law enforcement in a cement playground tunnel. I say this because my family is LOUD, and the “law” would have heard us.

Yeah, so I went off on a tangent after I ripped on Sarah Vowell on Goodreads for doing this too often. Anyway, you might like “A Season with the Witch” if you have any interest in visiting Salem one day.


The War On Christmas. Also, Happy Solstice!

by Jenny 20 December 2017 History

People get outraged over how other people celebrate December.  Centuries ago, people got outraged over how other people celebrated December. Here’s an episode from New England Legends Podcast which explains all this: When Boston Banned Christmas See, back in the 1600’s, the Puritans persecuted non-Puritans (and also other Puritans) over religious beliefs. Sound familiar? I’m […]

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This Year’s Tree Adventure

by Jonathan 10 December 2017 House and Home
Thumbnail image for This Year’s Tree Adventure

This year’s tree adventure was a little… different. We have traditionally cut down our own tree, from the same farm my parents went to when we moved back to this area and started to get a live tree again. This particular farm up by Butler had always been a great place to get a tree. […]

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3 Après-Halloween Folklore Podcasts

by Jenny 10 December 2017 History

Today I read on Facebook that “marriage is just sharing the same germs” or something to that effect. Anyway, I’ve been laid up with a cold since Thursday night. I spent these days sleeping, screwing around on the internet, and listening to podcasts. Now that Halloween is over, it’s harder for me to find “new” […]

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All My Life’s a Circle

by Jenny 9 December 2017 Photography

  This is a photo of my maternal grandfather’s own grandparents. With their children. So, the married couple are my great-great grandparents, and one of the boys is my great-grandfather. This branch of my family was from the South Side of Pittsburgh. In fact, the studio stamp under this photo says: Fallert 1207 Carson ST. […]

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Departure Eve

by Jonathan 5 December 2017 Travel

I just found a short story snippet I wrote in 2013. I was looking for something else (that I didn’t find). I feel like there was supposed to be more, but I didn’t write it. I wish I left myself some notes about the “boring reason” that I didn’t take the boat to St. Ignace […]

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Four Angry Mobs

by Jenny 30 November 2017 History

Today is November 29, and I still listen to ghost/history/lore podcasts during each work commute. This week, I found the American Hauntings Podcast. I think highly enough of it to write this essay right now, and right now it is 10:40 PM on a “school night.” (Ghost hunter Cody Beck and ghost hunter / author […]

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The Thanksgiving Stuffing Story

by Jonathan 16 November 2017 Food

Hi all. So it’s a rare entry (these days) from Jonathan tonight! Our family has been “team cooking” for holidays for the past several years. There used to be time and people enough to get everything done in one place, but as the years went on, that became more and more difficult. My Mom had […]

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Dance With Me On the Dark Side

by Jenny 10 November 2017 History

          Hi, I’m back!   I have to recommend two more podcasts that I liked so much that I listened to them multiple times. I downloaded both of these from iTunes, but I’m linking here to each podcast’s actual website. Here’s the first: Tales of Terror Vol. 8 from “The Dirtbag […]

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