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:
If you weren’t spending time in the Laurel Highlands last weekend, you missed out. The fall foliage was absolutely beautiful. It was the perfect weekend for the 2013 Fort Ligonier Days, despite the rain! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)
The lovely ladies at the Ligonier Sweet Shop, located on the southwest corner of the Diamond. The shop’s awning protected us and all of the goodies from the rain during Fort Ligonier Days weekend. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)
Thank you to Nicole and Debbie from the Ligonier Echo for the lovely candle! The weekly newspaper celebrates its 125th anniversary in 2013 and the two got to ride in Saturday’s parade. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)
Here is my little table at the Ligonier Sweet Shop, where I greeted passers-by during Fort Ligonier Days. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)
I was really excited to see Pittsburgh Dad in the Fort Ligonier Days parade! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)
Huzzah! British troops get a pep talk after defending the Post at Loyalhanna from French & Indian invaders on October 12, 1758. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)
Special guest Dave Zajdel nailing AC/DC with The Desperados at the Ligonier Tavern during Fort Ligonier Days! (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)
My little sister Michele and her husband Derrick stopped by my table during their visit to Fort Ligonier Days on Sunday! (Photo by Derrick Smith)