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New Book Recounts Legends of Western Pennsylvania

Urban legends and folklore are the passions of Thomas White, archivist and curator at Duquesne University. This passion was channeled into his new book, Legends & Lore of Western Pennsylvania. As a public historian, first at the Sen. John Heinz History Center, where he started collecting stories of legends, then at Duquesne University, White documents commonly held lore that abounds in Western Pennsylvania.

One of the oldest tales mentioned in the book revolves around British Gen. Edward Braddock’s death in 1755. Popular accounts suggested that enemies on the battlefield killed the general, but an alternative story related that one of the general’s own men was responsible for the shot that killed him. The rough-necked man in question, “Old Tom Fossit,” was seen with a skeptical eye until a spine-tingling revelation in 1804. Tales of Braddock’s treasure, which was never found, add more intrigue.

Another piece of White’s Pittsburgh lore focuses on the lost B-25 bomber that crashed into the Monongahela River in the 1950s. The official story is that the bomber was never recovered. However, several urban legends have suggested alternative points of view that still carry weight among conspiracy fans.

White provides readers with tales about “America’s Most Haunted House” on Pittsburgh’s North Side, the legendary “Green Man” and “Zombieland.”

And where would all these supernatural happenings and legends be without a curse? Maybe all of these occurrences find a connection with the curse of Native American leader Oppaymolleah, uttered on the land that he suspected his tribe was in danger of losing to frontier scout Christopher Gist.

These legends, according to White, persist because of a stable population that uses tales to hand down its history to generations. “Folklore and legends can convey fears, provide warnings, and commemorate people and events that otherwise might be forgotten,” White said. “They can show what average people hold as important, as well as what leaves a permanent impact on their lives and community.”

The 124-page paperback, which is White’s first book, was published by The History Press. He will hold a book signing at Joseph Beth Booksellers on the South Side on Thursday, Aug. 6, at 7 p.m.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.