Post Challenge - Local Mythology

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Post Challenge: Local Mythology

An artist's impression of Joe Magarac bending a bar of steel with his bare hands.

Have you ever had a first-hand encounter with The Ghost Chicken of Highgate? What do you know about Joe Magarac? What I know about him is that he was sort of made up by a bunch of disgruntled steelworkers. The point is: look around you. The place you live in is full of folklore.

For Instance, There Was This Time in the Ohio Valley…

You want an example? Here goes:

Back when I was in junior high school, we enjoyed having Mrs Girty as a maths substitute. We all liked Mrs Girty, a humorous, white-haired lady. But whenever our maths teacher went AWOL, we had one earnest agenda: keep Mrs Girty from teaching us anything computational. There was a good reason for this.

Mrs Girty was in her sixties. The maths she had learned were a foreign language to us. Instead of explaining Venn diagrams and Set Theory (Mengenlehre to you Germans), she spoke of 'minuends' and 'subtrahends', and other exotic creatures. As the hour went on, Mrs Girty would become frustrated, and we confused. It would be up to our poor maths teacher to sort out the chaos, while nursing the aftereffects of the 'flu. As students, we believed that an ounce of prevention was worth a pound of cure. So, instead of maths, we insisted on studying history with Mrs Girty. It was still school, and it was at least comprehensible.

All it took was a question. 'Hey, Mrs Girty! Tell us about Simon Girty, please?' And off she'd go. For the next hour, we would hear about the unfairness of the historical record, as applied to her late husband's infamous ancestor. And we'd listen, open-mouthed. You see, Girty's Run, a tributary of the Allegheny River, regularly floods Millvale. A good number of the class lived in Millvale, a picturesque Pittsburgh borough distinguished by cobblestone streets at a 45-degree angle, regularly cursed at in German. Girty's Run Road – originally an Indian trail, now an Indian trail with tarmac on – meandered around the North Hills. This was Local Treasure, and we treated it as such.

We suspected Mrs Girty was right. Your average historian lies like a rug.

The Story of Simon Girty

The French and Indian War was a nasty fight.

Simon Girty was born in 1741, to Scots-Irish immigrant parents. When he was 15, Girty was kidnapped by the Senecas. He had a rough time of it. His stepfather was tortured to death in front of him. One suspects that Girty's psychology was rather complex after that. He grew up to be a wild, harsh, and cunning man. Girty was good at languages – French, English, and 11 Indian tongues, such as Seneca and Lenape. He settled down by the creek that became known as Girty's Run. He farmed, fished, hunted, and trapped.

During the French and Indian War, Girty served as an interpreter for the British. A woodsy from childhood, he didn't like army discipline much. He was accused of treason, and charged with trying to deliver Fort Pitt to the French. He was acquitted. When the War of Independence came along, Girty at first sided with the Americans. Later, that relationship soured, and he helped the British. That's when it all went pear-shaped.

The war in the west was nasty, brutish, and long. And –   pace Mel Gibson and his Hollywood writers – not all the atrocities were committed by the British. In March, 1782, an American force massacred 96 peaceful Lenape Indians in the Moravian missionary village of Gnadenhütten, Ohio. A few months later, outraged Delware Indians captured an American commander, Colonel William Crawford, by the Sandusky River. Simon Girty was with them.

The Delaware wanted revenge for Gnadenhütten. Simon Girty probably wanted revenge for a lot of things. Crawford was tortured to death. This is where accounts differ.

According to one soldier, Crawford begged Girty to shoot him, and put him out of his misery. Allegedly, Girty merely laughed. As we said, it was a truly nasty war. Another eyewitness, Cornelius Quick, told quite a different tale: according to him, Girty tried to get the Indians to spare Crawford. He only gave up when they threatened to kill him, too. Guess which version everybody believes?

Even though some people credited Girty with ransoming captives from various tribes, at his own expense, Girty went down in history as a traitor, rather than a champion of Native American rights. His descendants are still burned up about it.

After the war, Girty continued to aid the Indians in their fight against encroaching settlement in the Ohio Valley. This was futile – the Americans had won, and to hell with the Line of Demarcation. When the Indians gave up, Girty fled to Canada. But his descendants lived on in Western Pennsylvania. And Mrs Girty was around to tell the tale. And now we knew. When our English teacher made us read Stephen Vincent Benet's 'The Devil and Daniel Webster', we laughed.

…and there was Simon Girty, the renegade, who saw white men burned at the stake and whooped with the Indians to see them burn. His eyes were green, like a catamount's1, and the stains on his hunting shirt did not come from the blood of the deer.

You see, we'd already got our history from someone who knew.

The Challenge

Here's what we want you to do:

  • Go out into your local area and find a folkloric figure, a local tale, or a weird story. Or just an oddity.
  • Write, compose, draw, or photograph something. Let us in on the juicy details.

Our one request: keep it short! 1000-word limit for prose. We want to know, but we want to be able to read it in one sitting.

Come on! Find a ghost chicken! Or a maligned ancestor. Tell us about it!

Man holding chicken in front of trippy, moving swirls in an attempt to hynotise it!


Campaigns, Puzzles, and Quizzes

Dmitri Gheorgheni

07.10.13 Front Page

Back Issue Page

1Now, how would he know that? He wouldn't. That's just racism. Girty was portrayed as a 'white savage'. This translates as, 'What do you expect from the Scots Irish?' Frontier Sawney Bean types terrified Philadelphia lawyers and snotty New Englanders.

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