Seeking Stories & Photos for New Idlewild Park Book!

Photo by David Zajdel

Photo by David Zajdel

The next year is going to be pretty busy! I’m pleased to announce that I have started working on my second book for The History Press, which will tell the story of Idlewild Park, Pennsylvania’s oldest amusement park!

I need your help! I’m seeking never-before-heard stories and rare photographs from past and present visitors, employees and amusement park enthusiasts to feature in this forthcoming book on Idlewild Park. Anyone interested in sharing their memories is encouraged to join my Idlewild Park Memories Facebook Group, tweet me, or contact me through my website.

For more than a century, Idlewild and SoakZone in Ligonier, Pennsylvania, has captured the hearts and imaginations of those who grew up visiting what’s considered one of the most beloved children’s parks in America. What began as a scenic picnic ground for the Ligonier Valley Rail Road in the late 19th century is now recognized as the oldest amusement park in Pennsylvania, the third oldest in the country and the 12th oldest in the world. The park will celebrate its 140th season in 2017. This new book will revisit the history of Idlewild, from the historic land on which it was developed, to its connection with the railroad, the innovators that commercialized and expanded the park, the classic rides and attractions created there and the cherished memories of people who grew up or worked at Idlewild.

Idlewild Park is one of the best known and treasured landmarks in not only the Ligonier Valley but also in western Pennsylvania and beyond. I’m looking forward to delving deeper into the park’s fascinating history and sharing new and unique stories with the public!

Click here for official press release.

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Book Brainstorming

Hanging out at Jack Rabbit's Trading Post on Route 66 in Joseph City, Arizona (photo by David Zajdel)

Hanging out at Jack Rabbit’s Trading Post on Route 66 in Joseph City, Arizona (photo by David Zajdel)

Hello friends and happy fall! I can’t believe we are on the cusp of a new season. Where did all of the time go? It was a very busy summer for me between writing projects, musical gigs and traveling… and I’m still behind in everything I wanted to accomplish! I’ve also been lax in blogging, but you can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as I do post there more regularly. Check out some pictures I’ve snapped from my wanderings, including a recent trip to Arizona that included some adventures along Route 66.  I’m still freelancing for the Latrobe Bulletin (almost 11 years!) so feel free to browse the articles I’ve written about Ligonier happenings and local government as I continue to post them here on my website.  Also, I’ll once again be promoting Ligonier Valley Vignettes at the annual Fort Ligonier Days during the weekend of October 10-12 at the Ligonier Sweet Shop, so please stop by to say hello!

One major thing I am currently working on is developing a proposal for a second local history book with The History Press. I’ve brainstormed some ideas with my editor and I’ve already received some great suggestions from friends. What do you think would make an engaging and informative read about history in Pennsylvania, whether it’s focused in Ligonier, Pittsburgh, Westmoreland County, western Pennsylvania or statewide? I’m interested in hearing what local history topics readers want to learn about that may not have been covered before. What history fascinates you? Let me know in the comments or send me an email through my contact page. Thanks!

 

What I’ve been up to…

Greetings friends! I can’t believe it’s May already and we are a third of the way through 2014. Where has the time gone?!

I’ve managed to stay quite busy over the last few months, once I thawed out from this monstrous winter.  Still, I have many more projects planned and even more ideas swirling around in my head… and not enough time! When I’m not able to sit down and write a full-fledged blog post about my endeavors, I try to stay active on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram – please follow me there, too!

Ligonier Swinging BridgeI’ve tried to stay active in the Ligonier community by attending some recent events, such as the Ligonier Ice Fest and Bob Stutzman’s talk on his new book, Images of Rail: The Ligonier Valley Rail Road. I’ve also written several feature stories for the Latrobe Bulletin, in addition to covering regular local government meetings.  Reporting for the newspaper has given me amazing opportunities to meet new folks, visit new places and learn about what’s going on in the Ligonier Valley. I’ve talked to many kind and extraordinary people while on assignment.  I often wonder if our paths would cross if I weren’t a writer.  Have a read:

Ligonier Theatre #02Plaque fundraiser to keep screen lit at historic Ligonier Theatre
-April 19-20, 2014
Kid-centric season planned at Fort Ligonier
-April 7, 2014
LWA seeks teens for summer program
-April 1, 2014

New Ligonier Valley Trail signs connect town, townshipLigonier Valley Trail Sign
-March 22-23, 2014
Ligonier Coffee House celebrates 10th season
-March 15-16, 2014
Valley Youth Network in 20th year helping Ligonier teens
-March 8-9, 2014

 

Dave and I took advantage of a lovely Easter respite to follow history along the roads of western Pennsylvania. We are very blessed to live in this region as history is truly in our backyard.  You know I love following my now-beloved Lincoln Highway, so we obviously ended up there, but we also followed an earlier road also significant to American history – the National Road, the country’s first federally funded highway, which originally connected the east coast to the Ohio River and generally followed much of the Braddock Road. Today, US Route 40 follows the road’s general alignment, so we basically headed east from Uniontown towards Maryland and stopped at several attractions along the way. Check out some of my pictures:

Fort NecessityMt. Washington TavernTollhouse in Addison, PA

National Road Mile MarkerBraddock Road RemnantBraddock's Grave

Music is also a big part of my life. I’ve been rehearsing with the Penn-Trafford Community Band and had the honor of playing flute for an Easter vigil at St. John de la Salle in Delmont, PA.   More exciting news: Dave has also been hard at work with one of his two bands, Bad Boy Blues Band.Bad Boy Blues Band #01  This spring, the Greensburg-based group released Temptation’s Coming, its first album of original music. It’s a unique mix of various styles, including modern blues and rockabilly. Dave produced and mixed the album. Check out the band’s website to find out when and where they’ll be playing this year.  You can purchase their album online via iTunes or CD Baby or at a show near you.  Please come out and support local musicians!

Peter Guibert Trek DrumsticksDave and I also met up with Yankee Drummer Jim Smith, who you may remember replicated Civil War drummer Peter Guibert’s 1913 trek from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg for the Gettysburg sesquicentennial last year, along with friend Ray Zimmerman, trek coordinator Len DeCarlo, and Peter Guibert’s original drum.  Check out my posts on their remarkable 200-mile journey here and here for more background.  I purchased one pair of the 250 pairs of drumsticks that Jim used along his trek – proceeds of which will fund a future monument honoring military musicians.  All 250 pairs were crafted from the wood harvested from pin oak and white oak trees certified to have stood during the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863.  I am so honored to have played some small part in Jim and Ray’s historic journey, which is another point in a more than 150-year-old story that started with the Civil War, continued with veterans Peter Guibert and John Conroy, was commemorated by Jim and Ray and hopefully will be continued with the erection of a permanent monument. Again, what remarkable people I get to meet through my writing. If you’d like to purchase a pair of drumsticks, please contact me for more information.

I’m also gearing up to start some new Ligonier Valley Vignettes marketing and explore some other writing opportunities. I’ve also been extremely involved with the Westmoreland County Historical Society and their programming and fundraising events and it’s been wonderful (and crazy).  Stay tuned for a future blog post about that!

Merry Christmas!

Christmas 2013Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone! Thank you for following me here over the past year. I really appreciate everyone’s support and friendship. The holidays are here, the year is winding down and it’s time for some reflection on this past year before making plans and goals for the next one.

2013 was an eventful year for me with the release of Ligonier Valley Vignettes, but I continued to work with the Latrobe Bulletin throughout the year by not only covering monthly meetings but also writing some features on happenings in the Ligonier Valley.  I was really pleased to be able to cover some great local stories this year.  I learned so much more about the Lincoln Highway than I ever knew before after meeting a traveling songstress (now friend) who passed through Ligonier during the road’s centennial. I heard stories of hope and healing from local veterans who traveled down through the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.  Ligonier townspeople of all ages accomplished extraordinary things this year, from charitable work in a third-world country to jumping rope through New York City on live television.  I also covered some recent holiday-themed events in town that hopefully sparked fond memories and reminded us all of the true reason for the season. Please enjoy!

“Vintage Christmas in Ligonier” display lights up library
-December 6, 2013
Ligonier churches to host 2nd annual “Christmas Story and Nativity Display”
-November 30 – December 1, 2013
Ligonier jump rope team in Macy’s Parade
-November 23-24, 2013
Local vets share stories of healing from Grand Canyon trip

-November 9-10, 2013
LV Library to celebrate dinosaur’s 10th birthday
-October 16, 2013
Grand Canyon rafting trip helps wounded vets heal
-October 7, 2013
Ligonier missionaries spread ministry in Nicaragua
-August 5, 2013
Lincoln Highway songstress celebrates road’s centennial
-May 1, 2013
Ligonier trail bridge for Mill Creek arrives
-March 15, 2013

“Ligonier Valley Vignettes” Fall Wrap-Up

As I look back on this year and the time that has passed since my book came out, I can’t believe some of the events that I have been a part of during my marketing campaign. I’ve participated in several book sales and signings and given two presentations. For someone who is a very nervous public speaker, that’s a big deal!

This fall, I wrapped up my year of marketing with two events centered around the Diamond: a slide presentation at the Ligonier Valley Library and a holiday book signing at the Ligonier Sweet Shop during Black Friday weekend.

Photo by David Zajdel

Photo by David Zajdel

On Tuesday, October 29, I had the pleasure to give a presentation at the Ligonier Valley Library based on Ligonier Valley Vignettes: Tales from the Laurel Highlands. As I summarized each section of my book and worked my way chronologically thorough the history of the Ligonier Valley, I displayed some slides containing images from my book. Afterwards, I met with some of the wonderful people who came out to hear my talk.

I also talked about the history of the Ligonier Valley Library and how a late-nineteenth century library presence eventually evolved into a community institution that’s connected to a county-wide system of libraries. The Ligonier Valley Library is very near and dear to my heart, as they have not only supported my research efforts for the past ten years, but I’ve made some wonderful friends there, most notably Pennsylvania Room Archivist Shirley Iscrupe, who I’ve talked about before. I can’t thank the Pennsylvania Room enough for its support. It’s been my haven for many years.  My book is intricately tied to the library, as many of the images contained in it are from the Pennsylvania Room’s collection.  One of the vignettes I included was a story I originally wrote for the Ligonier Echo about the library’s history that coincided with the 65th anniversary of the Ligonier Valley Library Association.  And, of course, Shirley wrote the wonderful foreword for Ligonier Valley Vignettes.  I really look forward to working with the library for many more years to come.

Photo by David Zajdel

Photo by David Zajdel

After my talk, Shirley presented me with a beautiful framed reprint of a map of Ligonier from 1900.  I will treasure it always.

I must thank the library, Director Janet Hudson, Pennsylvania Room Archivist Shirley Iscrupe and Pennsylvania Room Clerk Theresa Schwab for hosting my presentation and book signing event. Oh, and THANKS FOR THE COOKIES AND CIDER! (Yum!)

I also want to thank everyone who came out on a chilly fall night to hear my talk – I really appreciate you coming out to support me and learn about some of the great history that happened in the Ligonier Valley. It really means a lot!

Ligonier Sweet Shop 11-30-13

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Also, this past weekend, the Ligonier Sweet Shop hosted me during a holiday book signing during Small Business Saturday. The town was really hopping that weekend, first with Light-Up Night on Friday, where Dave and I got to meet Santa Claus before he joined a short parade around the Diamond.  Saturday was a busy shopping day and lots of people were out and about patronizing the shops and restaurants that are integral to the tourism that support the town. I have been very lucky not only to partner with a great small business in town owned by very kind people, Cokie and Richard Lindsay, but also to be able to build another connection to my book, as Cokie’s family owned Ligonier Beach, which I talk about in Ligonier Valley Vignettes.  All in all, it was very nice to start the holiday season off with some fun holiday events in Ligonier.

I don’t have any other author events scheduled until the spring, so I plan to take some time this winter to brainstorm ideas for the next book… Any suggestions?

My 10th Anniversary

I would be remiss if I let October pass by without acknowledging the fact that this month officially marks ten years since I became a professional writer.

It all started because of a daily newspaper in Latrobe!

During my senior year at Saint Vincent College the Latrobe Bulletin’s editorial director, Steve Kittey, contacted me about covering the Ligonier area as a stringer. In October 2003 I started covering local government meetings in the borough and township and eventually started writing some local history features as well. Now some of those stories appear in Ligonier Valley Vignettes, which is a proud culmination of my freelance work.

Although it’s not always easy to juggle a full time job and freelance career (AND get enough sleep), writing for the Latrobe Bulletin has brought me some great opportunities, experiences, friends and love into my life, directly and indirectly.

The Latrobe Bulletin introduced me to the Ligonier Valley, along with many great friends within the community and beyond. It indirectly brought me and Dave together. It was my entry into a career as a professional published author. Thank you for giving me a chance!

So here’s to the next decade! I wonder what it will bring…

Huzzah! “Ligonier Valley Vignettes” Hits Fort Days!

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Photo by Jennifer Sopko

Compared to the madness that descended upon the valley during the annual Fort Ligonier Days festival this past weekend, Ligonier sure looked like a ghost town when I drove up to cover back-to-back meetings in the township on Tuesday night.

Despite the rain on Friday, I had a fantastic time promoting Ligonier Valley Vignettes all weekend at the 54th annual Fort Ligonier Days, which took place October 11-13, 2013.  It was a long and tiring weekend, but such a worthwhile experience.

The three-day event, which was first held in 1960, commemorates the Battle of Fort Ligonier (also known as the Battle of Loyalhanna), which occurred on October 12, 1758. The French and their Indian allies attacked the Post at Loyalhanna on this date, in retaliation for an earlier reconnaissance mission gone awry, but the fort was successfully defended. In fact, the garrison, which was later renamed Fort Ligonier, was never taken by the enemy during its eight years of active service (1758-1766). After the battle, in November, the Forbes Campaign continued the final 50 miles towards what’s now Pittsburgh to take usurp control of the Forks of the Ohio from the French during the French and Indian War.  The French fled, leaving the charred ruins of Fort Duquesne for the British to claim and build a new fort upon: Fort Pitt. The rest, as they say, is history.

I can’t thank Cokie and Richard Lindsey enough for hosting me at the Ligonier Sweet Shop, where I signed books and helped to sell candy, chocolate and various other goodies and souvenirs. Without Cokie’s support I don’t think I would have had the success that I had at Fort Ligonier Days. The sweet shop sold a good number of books and I got to meet and talk with some really nice people who stopped by to check out Ligonier Valley Vignettes. I really appreciated everyone’s hospitality and I’m looking forward to future events there!

One of the cool things about talking to the people that took the time to stop and chat with me was that I learned about everyone’s personal connection to Ligonier. I learned from one gentleman, John Pollock, that his grandfather, John Svitlik, was identified as one of the coal miners in the picture of Old Colony mine and coke works that appears on the cover of my book. Doug Leichliter told me about his grandfather, Lee Riley, who was originally affiliated with the Connellsville Coal and Coke Company, but later got involved at the Fort Palmer works, thanks to his brother, Otto Gay.  Riley was also a member of the iron and coal police. Leichliter also mentioned that his great-uncle, Craig Graham, was a stone mason who primarily worked with field stone to create structures like barn bridges, fences and retaining walls and was responsible for some of the stonework at Idlewild Park. I also talked to a woman about the Marker Dairy Farm in Ligonier, which I think she and her husband (I think their names were Libby and Harry Marker) sold to the Western PA Conservancy about seven years ago. The farm had been in the Marker family since the 1700s!

Thank you also to my friends and family who came to visit me over the weekend!  My little sister Michele and her husband Derrick stopped by my table on Sunday, as did my friends Ashley and Steve. Tina and Rick, who completely immersed themselves in the festival for three days, came to entertain and feed me. Janet and Linda from the Ligonier Valley Library visited with some information on the library’s dinosaur for a feature I was working on (I was multi-tasking as usual!). Bob Stutzman from the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association brought his copy of my book for me to sign (I’ll be returning the favor once his new book is released early next year). Thanks for your support!

As a reward for fighting the Fort Ligonier Days traffic (both vehicle and foot) to visit me, I took Dave to Fort Ligonier to watch an artillery demonstration and battle reenactment and also see George Washington’s handwritten Remarks in person. I think the history behind the festival often gets lost in the maze of food, craft booths and entertainment that absorbs the town and people forget what they are there to celebrate. (Hello? There’s a reason why Fort Days is held around October 12 every year!). I felt it was important that we honor the history of Ligonier by visiting the fort and participating in some of the events they had over the weekend. I also wanted to introduce Dave to a few of my friends at the fort.  He really enjoyed seeing the fort for the first time (and watching the guns and cannons explode!) and we plan to return when there’s not a million people around.

I sold and signed books, followed a two-hour parade, ate not-so-healthy food, watched (and heard!) cannons explode, spent time with people I love, danced, saw beautiful fireworks and celebrated history.  Plus, I took off work on Friday. All-in-all, not a bad weekend! Here’s a collage of pictures from my Fort Ligonier Days weekend: