American History, My Writing, Pennsylvania History

Summer Sleuthing

Looking back, the last two months have been an exceptionally busy yet fruitful time for me as a freelance writer.  Besides my usual local government and school board meetings, I worked on more features than I have in the past.  I sometimes struggle with what I perceive as living a double life; it’s stressful to juggle a freelance writing career along with a full time job.  Yet I somehow managed to succeed as a history detective.

I seem to have fallen into a military history niche, with articles about two renowned Ligonier Valley veterans: Kenneth R. Craig, the only Ligonier native to reach the high rank of brigadier general, and John C. Ewing, one of two Medal of Honor recipients from the Ligonier Valley, who was commended for capturing a Confederate flag in an assault on Petersburg, VA at the end of the Civil War.  In addition, I  wrote an article on Valley Veterans Park and the Blue Star Memorial Marker in Ligonier Borough, which won a National Garden Clubs, Inc. state award this past spring.

These articles were challenges for several reasons (some self-inflicted).  Not only did I have to learn about military hierarchy and jargon, but I encountered frustrating discrepancies in military records (particularly with dates).  At one point, I even found myself literally yelling at information that didn’t make sense.  However, I was able to resolve some of my quandaries by pressing on in my research.   Despite the pressure as I put on myself to write accurate and compelling articles, I really enjoyed my investigations.  I spoke with these soldiers’ living relatives and descendants (some of whom I already knew – small world!) and consulted various state and local agencies and research sources.   I even took a spontaneous trip to the Pennsylvania State Archives in Harrisburg to find information on John C. Ewing.  I knew it would be a long shot to find details about his heroic deed, but sometimes the point isn’t the end result, but the journey along the way.

One feature near and dear to my heart was a summary of the early history of the Ligonier Valley Library.  While the current building celebrates its 65th anniversary this year, a library presence in Ligonier stretches back to the late 19th century.  The library, as it’s incorporated today, actually began as a Woman’s Club reading circle in 1930.  The library – especially the Pennsylvania Room – has been an important refuge and resource for me.

Another really fun article was a feature on a 90-year old zinc public drinking fountain near the bandstand on the Ligonier Diamond.  The Village of Babylon, New York borrowed the Ligonier fountain – an exact match to their own drinking fountain removed and lost in 1917 – in order to make a replica of their landmark.  The replica was unveiled at a dedication ceremony on Memorial Day.

In addition, I covered a children’s bike rally sponsored by the Ligonier Valley Recreation Board, who is trying to promote Ligonier as a bike friendly community and expand amenities in both the township and borough with the Ligonier Valley Trail.  Yet another featured celebrated the 10th anniversary of St. Clair Grove – a revitalized public commons area in Ligonier Borough named after the Revolutionary War general Arthur St. Clair.

I have to give a shout out to many very kind people who helped me along the way: Shirley Iscrupe at the Ligonier Valley Library, Helen and Skeeter Craig, Lisa Hayes at the Westmoreland County Historical Society, Carla Baldwin, Brad Craig, Richard Saylor at the PA State Archives, Michael Kraus at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall and Military Museum, Tracy Chernault at the Petersburg National Battlefield, Paul Fry, Janet Hudson at the Ligonier Valley Library, Vernie West, Drew Banas, Patti Campbell, Liane Uliano-Smith, Angela McDonnell, Angela Raitano, Rose Stepnick and Elizabeth McCall.

Also, thank you to everyone who complimented my articles.  It means a lot to me when my writing really makes an impact.

Now that these files are closed, I’ve got some open cases ready to be pursued, so here’s hoping my sleuthing will continue successfully the rest of the summer.  I could use a Watson… anybody interested?!


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