Post Written By Brett Wilson
When children are frightened into believing that a ghost story is real, the effect is usually temporary. But one local author offers a compilation of actual belief in witchcraft — and the persecution of witches — right here in Pennsylvania.
White’s account takes us to counties all over the state, with accounts of belief in witchcraft that many people might be surprised to hear took place so close to them.
White, 38, has written seven books on folklore and the supernatural. He is Duquesne’s archivist and curator, and specializes in legends and folklore. He says the idea for this book arose while he was researching his other books.
“I realized that there were stories of strong beliefs in witches coming from nearly every part of Pennsylvania at some point in time,” White says. “Most of the witchcraft stories in Pennsylvania come from the German population that originally migrated here and brought their stories and beliefs in witches with them.”
Among the stories he tells is that of “Mary ‘Moll’ Derry, The Witch of Fayette County.” She was rumored to have been mocked by three men once, and in response hauntingly told them that they would be hung. As she predicted it, someway or another over the years, each of them died from hanging.
While Pennsylvania has had just one official witch trial, in 1684 — presided over by William Penn himself — belief in witchcraft persisted. In 1802, an Allegheny County judged helped an accused witch escape an angry mob. And in 1934, in Schuykill County, a woman was shot and killed in her home by a man convinced she had put a curse on him.
White says that Pennsylvania has been rich with stories of witches for much the same reason that the Steelers are so popular nationally. “A lot of people originally migrated here,” he said. “Throughout time, for one reason or another, many people left and took the stories they heard with them. Then some people returned, and because of this in Pennsylvania we have a really prominent history of beliefs in witches and the supernatural.”
Mystery Lovers Bookshop’s coffee-and-pastries reception for White starts at 10 a.m. tomorrow. The event is free, but registration is requested at 412-828-4877 or here.