Hometown Tales Podcast

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Response to 9/11: Tell Tales

At a Halt

We had just finished our first segment, "On the Trail of the Hookerman".  Our plan was a magazine format television show featuring the tales of small towns.  The "Hometown Tales" logo was designed by our friend who was an art director at the agency Bryan and I both worked at, DVC.  The logo was awesome.  Everyone at the agency knew of our endeavor and couldn't wait to see it.

I looked over the footage we had shot.  Ugh?  I looked terrible.  What was with the baggy t-shirt? My jacket was so big.  What saggy-bottom jeans we had. Man I needed a haircut.  We should've had a stylist or art director on the shoot.  That made the post-production process a little discouraging.  We were stalled.  We were discouraged.  We were stagnant.  Would Hometown Tales ever see the light of day?  Would it remain just an idea that we barely started?  A few shot segment pieces and that's it?   Months later it changed.

Tuesday Morning

It was a beautiful morning.  Absolutely perfect.  Like most people, I was driving to work.
I was listening to Howard Stern in my car.  The inappropriate banter of the show was interrupted by news about a plane hitting one of the twin towers.  Like everyone, it was assumed to just be a freak accident of so small plane off course.  Then the mood changed.  The hole in the building was huge.  It was from a big plane.  And then another plane hit.

I was in shock as I pulled into the parking lot at work.  I wanted to stay in my car and keep hearing but I also needed to get into work to confirm this madness with co-workers.  Not many people were in yet (like most agencies were were a little lax in the morning).  My friend Lourdes just arrived and she seemed to be the only other person sharing the "WTF is going on" mentality.  Both of us were political junkies and always debated about the middle east the global issues so we both seemed to really understand what was really happening. We immediately questioned each other,  "Do we really work today?"  Next, everyone settled in and it was eerie throughout the office.   So many of us had friends, relatives, spouses that worked in the city that we waited to hear from.  Online video streaming wasn't really perfected then and I remember searching for a TV antenna with Minogue as if it were a military assignment.

Soon we all realized it was not a time to be working, it is time to leave the office and be with our families.  I was single and for the most part unattached so I remember going to Bryan's house right down the road to watch the rest of the day's news coverage before heading to my parents house.  In the short drive from the office to Minogue's, the second tower fell.  Bryan told me as soon as I got to his house.  I remember how pissed I was.

Seeing It

The next day Minogue told me how he drove into the city the previous night, went downtown and asked how he could help.   He helped firefighters move around some supplies and donated items. That Saturday we both drove in together and just headed downtown to see if there was anything else we could do.  They had volunteering covered so we ended up just witnessing the madness - Military trucks everywhere, National Guard everywhere, Military security, a smoldering sky, -It was a war zone.  It was unreal. I still have the footage I shot with my camcorder.  I will eventually edit a story out of it but it hasn't felt right yet.

9/11 Changed everything.  It affected so many lives.

So what business does all this have with Hometown Tales.  Truthfully, 9/11 birthed Hometown Tales. Before September 11th, we were stalled, going nowhere.  But a few weeks after September 11th there was an awakening in me and I think in Bryan too.  Our lives required us to do something more than just work, get paid, drink beer and watch TV.   We needed to leave something, to affect something.  There are people to help.  There are lives to change.  There are stories to tell.  A legacy to leave.   It was after September 11th that Hometown Tale was no longer just an idea or a hobby.  It was a mission.  I know it sounds pretentious.  After 9/11, there was a passion inside of both of use that has fueled Hometown Tales. It gave us purpose.  We then began creating several TV episodes that ran on cable (and still do) for years.  We created one of the first podcasts and they are still downloaded all over the world today.    We began telling stories.  We began leaving something behind, something that mattered. Every tale we told, mattered.  Every show we've recorded meant something.  While we haven't recorded a podcast or created a video segment in what seems like forever, "Hometown Tales" is still alive and well.

The Mission to Tell Tales

I love America.  America is not our government.  Our government is far from perfect.  People make up this country.  Neighbors make up our towns.  Our towns make up this nation.  It is the people that are amazing.  That's the America I love.  The one filled with stories of the people.  I like sharing those tales.  And after 9/11, for me sharing them is not just babbling on a mic or typing on a blog.  It is a call of duty.  Pretentious? Silly? Over-thinking it?  Perhaps.  But if you've enjoyed Hometown Tales over the years, I think it's important for you to know, we created it because we believed in it and still do.  

We'll never forget 9/11.  It's difficult to imagine how much it affected so many things in this world including a dopey little americana podcast by 2 goofy irish-american guys.  We’re not sure if anyone really knew how much that event affected our show.  Every town has a tale.  Every person has a story.  Keeping telling and tell them with purpose.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Remembering Ms. Doyle

For several years around Halloween, we visited Hillsborough Middle School.
Two outstanding teachers from that school, Ms. Moreno and Ms. Doyle, gave their students the opportunity to learn about folklore, history, legends and ghost stories.  Specifically how those stories impact our culture around us.  Hometown Tales helped that curriculum along with a yearly guest assembly.

The first year we did the assembly, we were at the height of our "Public Access" years with the Hometown Tales TV show that ran locally throughout much of NJ, NY and PA.  Hillsborough, NJ had high viewership.  The local papers joined our presentation at the school and we taped segments for an upcoming show. It was a great foray in to speaking engagements on behalf of Hometown Tales.  We continued the tradition for years.

Last Fall, Ms. Doyle left a voicemail message saying she had been out of school for a few months with an illness but she was getting better and would be back soon.  I returned  the call, leaving a message for her indicating she was in my thoughts and prayers and for her to call back when she had a chance.  Months went by and I had not heard.  A common situation that we all probably encounter, the last few weeks, I had been thinking, "I need to call Ms. Doyle back" to see how she is.  Just this morning, I received an email from Ms. Moreno.  Ms. Doyle had passed away.

Bryan and I have been "swamped" with the regular chores of life the past year or so.  This has made Hometown Tales pretty stagnant and quiet.   Hometown Tales has been in sort of in limbo.  Appropriately, I had recently been thinking of trying to get a reunion show recorded and perhaps even writing a blog entry about some of the coolest life experiences Hometown Tales has brought me.  Coincidently, the honor of speaking to enthusiastic and inspiring 7th and 8th graders was one of them.  I thoroughly enjoyed the speaking engagements at Hillsborough Middle School and greatly enjoyed spending my lunch break  during those yearly presentation with a teacher who had such a passion and love for her students. She was dedicated to giving them an opportunity to learn and grow.  In addition, she was a friend.  Because while we only got to have lengthy conversation once a year at a hurried school lunch break.  She always remembered details about what we had talked about years before.  She always remembered I had a son, I was involved in my local town, she asked about my wife, our friends, our jobs and truly listened to the answers.  She was often a good sounding board for career ideas, parenting tips and potential new stories for Hometown Tales.

A good teacher creates the environment for a student to learn and grow.  He or she gives them the tools to think and expand their knowledge.  Ms. Doyle was a great teacher not just to 7th and 8th grade student but to everyone around her because she listened and gave the person she was talking to the opportunity to think deeper, look further and learn more.

Ms. Doyle On behalf of Bryan and myself, who share your passion for history, folklore, learning and legends.  Thank you.
Rest peacefully friend. The person you were made a difference in many lives.  You will be greatly missed.


Sunday, July 18, 2010

Tales of Pennsylvania

Enjoy our Radio Show & Podcast on PA. Hometown Tales: Tales of Pennsyvlania.
Obviously there are only so many legends and stories we can get to in a 1/2 hour but here's a start. I'm sure they'll be a part 2 someday.

Tales of PA

Altoona, PA - The World's Oldest Roller Coaster

Beyond the tilt-a-whirl, merry-go-round and salt & pepper shaker at the Larchmont Family Amusement Park is a 48-foot high, wooden roller coaster built in the classic figure eight design. It was named “Leap the Dips” by designer E. Joy Morris back when it was built in 1902. It’s 102 years old and still operating. It’s the oldest operating roller coaster in the world.

It was closed in the early 80's and partially destroyed, but preservation efforts helped to restore this coaster back to its original form. Leap The Dips reopened in 1999 in full operating capacity. It is one of the few remaining side-friction coasters in existence and a National Historic Landmark.

It’s named Leap the Dips because you leap the dips … at a top speed of 10 miles an hour. So in this era of the 70 mph, corkscrew, upright roller coaster, why do some of us still scream when riding Leap the Dips? Because it’s over 100 years old, maintained by minimum wage high school students, and held together with over 100 years worth of paint, rusty nails and heavy grease.

But that’s why people still ride this old and slow wooden roller coaster; not for the thrill of the speed or g-forces but because in the back of every person’s mind is the very likely notion that this old beast will crumble, fold and fling you to your untimely death on the very next turn.
That’s the thrill!.

Check out Bryan's Trip on the World's Oldest Roller Coaster.

Central, PA - The Watermelon Baby

There is a strange legend told by camp councilors and big brothers in select parts of Central Pennsylvania. One that lacks many details and historical facts but is extremely interesting nonetheless. It usually involves a beat up old house just along Route 78 or the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Inside that house lives a deranged person raised by abusive and wicked parents. A pair of parents that kept him locked up as a child, deprived of sunlight, food and all the basic needs of a normal human being. The only food he was fed was watermelon- it’s seeds and rinds. He ate his nutrition-less meals locked inside a closet or basement depending on who you hear the legend from.

Of course now this “Watermelon Baby” resides alone in the decrepit shack visible from the highway and does not welcome visitors. Occasionally, travelers passing by will notice a dim light flickering in the window of the unstable home. There are the rumors of the college kids being chased away by the intelligible large and freaky resident. It seems everyone has a friend of a friend that encountered the mutated being.

While there is speculation this legend has foundation in a murder case involving a criminal from Pittsburgh who locked up his victims feeding the same fruity produce, the dates don’t add up. The legend of the Watermelon Baby dates back much earlier.

Feral children gone wrong seem to be a common theme of urban legends in many towns and states. But in central PA, there is an abandoned house off the highway that embodies this theme. And adds a little twist involving the food the child was raised on. Regardless, Pennsylvanians should be wary of the beast raised on nothing but large melons.

Photo courtesy of Ronnie Bergeron

Centralia, PA - Town on Fire

Just a couple of hours drive from NJ (west on I-80) is a little slice of hell: fire, brimstone, smoke, ruin. Take a moment to create a picture of hell in your head (forget about the bible and all those lost and tormented souls). Now, slap that image down on a map of eastern Pennsylvania and you’ve got a fairly accurate assessment of Centralia, PA.

Centralia is a small town located in Columbia County, the heart of mining country. As legend goes, in May 1962, a fire started in a garbage dump in an abandoned strip mine. Not a problem … until flames reached a large coal vein running under the town. The coal began to burn.

And it hasn’t stopped burning for over 40 years.

The fire crawled along coal-rich deposits below ground, venting poisonous gases up into town, up through streets, basements, yards.
Residents and the government came to realize that the fire was not going to be extinguished, or ever burn itself out. Centralia was declared “municipalis non grata” by the United States. Citizens were relocated, houses were destroyer, a new road was built to detour traffic away from the hot spots … the town was slowly killed. A town of over 500 homes now occupied by a dozen or so recalcitrant residents.

Thinking of taking a stroll around? You’ll think twice when everywhere you’ll see government postings that warn you of toxic gas, underground pockets ready to collapse underneath you, and the ubiquitous references to major injury or death.

Girardville, PA - The Molly Maguires

Between the 1840s and 1860s million of Europeans: Polish, German, Russian, Welsh; probably even your very own great grand parents entered New York harbor to be greeted by the message: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." And then there were the Irish who got a completely different message: “Irish need not apply.”

Life back in Ireland was cruel and here it wasn’t much better. The thick brogue, the religion, the poverty and illiteracy all provoked ridicule. Irish Catholics were called a "massive lump in the community, undigested, undigestible". The worst demonstration anti-Irish hatred took place in Philadelphia on May 6, 1844 when two Catholic churches were burned and 16 people lost their lives.

But they’d be welcomed by the mine owners of Pennsylvania’s anthracite coal mining region. In fact, the mine owners were only too eager to take advantage of their desperate need for work.

1860 - After a hard day in the mines, many Irishmen sat drinking the night away in the Girardville, PA lodge of the Ancient Order of Hibernians (a benevolent association founded by the alienated Irish Catholics). They would sit, and drink and argue about their unfair treatments. To the Irish working class, drunk and pissed off is not a good combination as the Irish have a rich history of vengeance, of righteous indignation. It was here that the Molly Maguires would be reborn in America. The Molly Maguires go back to the 1700's as a secret brotherhood of Irishmen intent on exacting revenge upon the English landlords who were famously cruel to their tenants: at times killing them or burning their homes so they could raise the rent on the new tenant. The “Mollies” are said to have taken their name from an elderly widow named Molly Maguire who was being cruelly evicted from her home by a wicked landlord. The people who sought to revenge the act called themselves "The Sons of Molly Maguire".

Historians would attribute 12 or more killings between 1860 and 1862 to the Mollies. Most of the victims were mine foremen. Most were beaten to death. In several cases, alleged attackers were arrested, but later freed by mobs. With all the violence in the area at the time, it was unlikely that a proper police investigation could take place.

Enter the Pinkerton Agency, a private detective agency employed mostly by former criminals (they being the best at going undetected). They were hired by mine owners to infiltrate and bring down the Mollies. The willingness of the Pinkerton Agency to resort to any means necessary to destroy the Mollie Maguires lead these undercover detective to go so far as to attack and kill people on the Molly hit list. Of course, another list was being written: a list consisting of Molly Maguires.

On February 5, 1876, Police broke into the homes of seven Mollies in the early hours of the morning. The men were shackled inside their homes and taken to the jail where they would await trial for murder.

June 21, 1877, a day remembered as “Black Thursday” or by others as the “Day of the Rope”, the reign of terror ended when the confessed leaders of the Molly Maguires were hanged.

Justified or callous? Murder or revolution? Heroes of the working class or the first American terrorists? Either way you look at the Molly Maguire, they fought for the rights of the unskilled laborer and in no small way contributed to the creation of our Labor Day Holiday.
Mark Major Interview, Director, Schuylkill County Visitors Bureau
“Unsolved History: The Molly Maguire Files” by Mark Major
“Murder and Mayhem. The Molly Maguires in Tamaqua” by Historic Preservation & Tourism Task Force
Making Sense of the Molly Maguires by Kevin Kenny, Oxford University Press, 1998

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division

Kecksburg, PA - Herbie the UFO

Mysterious lights spotted in the sky are common, a quick glimpse of an alien-like creature in the woods on a dark night has been reported by several but a full-blow UFO landing in your backyard is the mother-load. (HT Discusses in Show #323 & #324)

On a cold winter night in 1965 thousands in the midwest saw a streaking fiery illumination dance in the sky but several just outside of Pittsburgh saw it land in the woods. The shape of an acorn but the size of a Volkswagen Beetle with hieroglyphic writings was what a volunteer fireman found in the woods. Some claimed the US Military quickly carted the alien Herbie away and claimed nothing was found.

The Air Force confirmed that there was a large meteor that flew through the atmosphere that evening that most likely was seen all throughout the Northern Mid-West but the folks in Kecksberg believe they got the landing. Conspiracy theories have run amuck, partly due to a documentaries later appearing on the SciFi Channel and more. But here's some observations that make this the ever-growing tale;

The fireman who saw the crashed UFO. - he's always just known as a "Volunteer fireman". Who is he? Does he have a name? is there any confirmed record of this fireman and his sighting or just hearsay?

Reporter John Murphy- He was a radio reporter at the local station and was on the scene quickly in 1965 interviewing those who had seen the crash. As reported in one of the documentaries, Murphy was told by authorities to keep quiet as were other witnesses. He never spoke much about the incident again and many many years later died of a hit-and-run accident in California (sounds suspicious doesn't it? or maybe totally coincidence and just makes our conspiracy-craving brains go wild). His former wife claimed he had much more information than what was reported in his radio reports.

NASA - After some court orders, They claimed it was a "Russian Satellite" which of course was a different story that what the State Police and Military claiming nothing was found. Although it makes good sense. During the height of the Cold War in 1965, would the military really want to be forth-coming about Russian Satellites hitting our nation?

The SciFi Documentary - It's a really entertaining production but it's hard to discount that SciFi has a bit of a vested interest in keeping this tale full of conspiracy and alien references.

At the end of the day, none of the above matters. What's really important to Hometown Tales is that Kecksberg has a giant acorn-like statue outside their firehouse created as a replica from an Unsolved Mysteries show highlighting the tale. Kecksberg displays it with pride and celebrates what has shaped their town.

Western PA, The State of Westylvania

In the early days of our nation the union was extremely fragile. Incorporating different settlements into the “United States” was a difficult endeavor. Especially when states would be held accountable to laws of a larger federal government ruled from a central capital in Philadelphia. This was no more evident than across the Appalachian Mountains in Western Pennsylvania. Since the early 1770s there were proposals and notions by the western part of Pennsylvania to be it’s own state called- Westylvania.

The areas near Pittsburgh were then considered to be part of the wild frontier or wild west. Filled with forest, animals and savages, it was a rough and rugged territory.

In 1791 the new government introduced the Whiskey tax. This would be the boiling point of tensions between Western Pennsylvanians and the Federal Government. Tax collectors were tarred and feathered, beaten, harassed and eventually a risen militia caused bloodshed and took the lives of collectors. The Spanish and English also wooed the “Westylvanias” to succeed from the union. Our First President, George Washington, faced one of the most difficult times in his presidency. The fragile republic could not withstand a Federal Government birthed on freedom violently enforcing it’s laws on it’s citizens. But at the same time the nation could not allow its authority to have no value. After holding off for some time and resisting the “hawks” in Congress, Washington decided to send in troops. However, he would not send troops into battle without reinforcing how strongly he believed in the authority of the new republic. At the age of 62, President George Washington would suit up and return to potential battle, commanding troops himself into Western Pennsylvania to crush the rebellion. The rebels resolve was overestimated and the rebellion was defeated. Order was restored and the New Republic withheld.