Thomas White, editor,
Supernatural Lore of Pennsylvania: Ghosts, Monsters & Miracles
(History Press, 2014)

Thomas White -- the curator of special collections in the Gumberg Library at Duquesne University and an adjunct lecturer in Duquesne's history department -- has written several books focusing on the quirkier side of Pennsylvania history.

Supernatural Lore of Pennsylvania: Ghosts, Monsters & Miracles collects a variety of tales, only a portion of which are authored by White. And the quality of the book varies greatly, depending who's telling the tale.

White begins the book strongly with "The Pig Lady of Cannelton," a grisly story of murder and decapitation in Beaver County that inspired both a play and a haunted attraction. Robin Swope, a pastor who spent a sabbatical from the pulpit digging graves in Erie County, recounts some interesting and ghoulish encounters -- although, unfortunately, most came to him second hand and aren't from direct experience. And there's plenty more. Rachael Gerstein collects several stories with a common theme in "The Lady in White in Pennsylvania Lore" (although she left out the infamous specter at the Fulton Opera House in my hometown of Lancaster -- a region missing entirely from this collection).

Gerald O'Neil's chapter, "Mary Black's Grave: The Anatomy of a Legend Trip," was the first major stumble. Not only is poor Mary's story not particularly interesting, but O'Neil tackles it not as a ghost story, but as an opportunity to expound on the manner in which stories evolve -- and it's pretty dry stuff.

Besides ghosts, the book explores the Keystone State's werewolf lore and other creatures (such as the Franklin County squonk), UFO sightings, psychic experiences and the Pennsylvania German tradition of powwow healing magic. There are portions in the book that are dry, but most of it held my attention as I absorbed some of the more mystical aspects of my state's rich lore.

book review by
Tom Knapp

20 January 2018

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