Blog Archives

Gettysburg 2017: Pickett’s Charge

In this installment of my video blog documenting my recent trip to Gettysburg National Military Park, I explore the main Confederate attack on July 3, 1863: Pickett’s Charge. Longstreet’s attack on the Union center at Gettysburg is stuff of legend, but even at the time most observers knew it wouldn’t succeed, including Longstreet himself. Years later, when asked why the attack failed, George Pickett replied, “I’ve always thought the Yankees had something to do with it.”

Gettysburg 2017: The Town

In this installment of my video blog documenting my recent trip to Gettysburg National Military Park, I explore the Borough of Gettysburg. While Gettysburg is noted for its history, and I certainly spent a lot of time on the battlefield, it’s also an interesting destination itself. Shops selling antiques and memorabilia line the streets, and of course there are several historical and haunted tours. I can’t imagine a more picturesque town, keep alive by over one million visitors to the battlefield each year.

Gettysburg 2017: Little Round Top and Sickle’s Salient

In this installment of my video blog documenting my recent trip to Gettysburg National Military Park, I explore key sites of the fight on July 2, 1863: Little Round Top, the Wheatfield, Peach Orchard, and Cemetery Ridge. Longstreet’s attack on the Union left flank at Gettysburg is probably one of the most famous of the war. It was only quick action by Union commanders that saved the day.

Gettysburg 2017: Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill

In this installment of my video blog documenting my recent trip to Gettysburg National Military Park, I explore key sites of the fight for Culp’s Hill and Cemetery Hill on July 2, 1863. That evening, Confederate Lt. Gen. Richard S. Ewell’s Corps demonstrated against the Union left flank, but this became a sideshow, gaining nothing but additions to the casualty roles. It’s interesting to explore the battlefield’s lesser-known quarter.

Gettysburg 2017: Day 1

In this installment of my video blog documenting my recent trip to Gettysburg National Military Park, I explore key sites of the first day of battle, July 1, 1863: McPherson Ridge, Barlow’s Knoll, the death of General John F. Reynolds, and capture of Brig. General Archer. I’ve learned a lot about this important Civil War battle, but I also learned not to eat a powdered doughnut before recording a vlog.

Gettysburg 2017: The Drive

I spent a weekend in Gettysburg in early November 2017 and decided to make a vlog documenting the trip. While Gettysburg is noted for its history, and I certainly spent a lot of time on the battlefield, it’s also an interesting destination itself. I had an amazing homemade meal at the Dutch Kitchen in Frackville on the way there. Join me as I explore many aspects of the Gettysburg battlefield.

Folk Magic in Illinois

The following is an excerpt from my new book Witchcraft in Illinois: A Cultural History. In this chapter I discuss folk magic, or popular charms and conjurations similar to witchcraft, intended to bring good fortune to oneself and suffering to an enemy. Order it today on Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com

The work of folklorist Harry Middleton Hyatt revealed that there were, quite possibly, three types of aspiring magic users on the Illinois frontier. While witches were people who purportedly sold their soul to the devil in exchange for occult powers, and witch masters used magic to combat witches, there also existed a third category: the common person, who attempted to use magic to gain advantage over his or her neighbors.

In the course of interviewing residents of Adams County about their beliefs regarding witchcraft, dozens of informants from all backgrounds told Hyatt how to influence people and events through magical means, without the aid of an emissary.

These accounts included simple superstitions like “If you have not seen anyone for a long time, take their picture and put it behind the looking-glass and they will come soon,” as well as more elaborate rituals and potions. For example, “If you want to put a spell on someone, take a bottle and put a penny in it and two live cockroaches, and put it on their doorstep so the party will have to pick it up. And you will have a spell over them as long as they have the bottle in their hand.”

Though closely resembling the magic allegedly used by witches and witch masters/doctors, users did not consider themselves to be either, much like a person who rotates his or her own car tires does not consider him or herself to be a mechanic.

If these informants are to be believed, a rich subculture of folk magic existed in Adams County. The lack of this folk magic in other folklore accounts could mean that Adams County was somehow unique among other counties in Illinois, or it could mean folklorists like John W. Allen and Charles Neely did not record them. Legends & Lore of Southern Illinois (1963) only hinted at these beliefs.

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