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Eric Wise

Eric Wise

Eric Wise is a stay-at-home dad with three children, ages 11, 9 and 3. He was formerly a reporter for the now-defunct Hershey Chronicle newspaper, and he has 10 years of experience in public relations with four different statewide associations. His home improvement column, "Around the House," appeared in daily and weekly newspapers around Pennsylvania from 2007 to 2009. He is a graduate of Hershey Senior High School and Elizabethtown College. He enjoys reading, playing guitar and photography. 

Gilberton Police Chief Mark Kessler has drawn plenty of attention in Pennsylvania and elsewhere with his videos posted to YouTube. In the videos, Kessler rants about Second Amendment rights, fires a few weapons and voices an obscenity-laced attack against Secretary of State John Kerry and other "liberals."

This is the same Kessler who was wounded when his gun discharged during a bar scuffle in 2011. Oops. So much for reasonable arguments and responsible gun ownership. 

Mary Lou Hannon, mayor of Gilberton, made a statement to the New York Daily News that Kessler will not be disciplined because he did not break any laws and he recorded and posted the videos on his own time. 

Some things employees engage in during their off time may displease their employers: chewing tobacco, visiting seedy establishments or being an Atlanta Braves fan. Regardless of what an employer or supervisor thinks about these habits, they are simply the employee's own business.

Posting obscenity-filled, hateful videos to YouTube is quite different. When you work in a position that deals directly with the public, your off-duty actions reflect on your official role. This effect is intensified if you are employed in a position of public trust. Kessler could be dismissed for his actions without any problems. 

The government does not have a right to restrict someone from expressing his opinions, however, as an employer, it may choose to take action following a person's public statements. Hate speech and obscenity are not protected forms of speech. When a person demonstrates a lack of judgment and responsibility with public statements like Kessler's postings on YouTube, any employer, especially one involving public trust, has a responsibility to remove him.

Kessler has attracted enough attention that he has already damaged the reputation of Gilberton. Unfortunately, Kessler has also tainted the North Schuylkill School District, where he also serves as a school director. Damage to an organization's reputation is the clearest reason a person may be removed for what is described as lawful behavior during one's own personal time. 

Kessler's views about the Bill of Rights and gun rights are not an issue that's a problem with his actions; it's his hate-filled speech. His performance undermines the public trust that is awarded to law enforcement. Worse yet, when Kessler and people like Ted Nugent engage in such shrill and basically unhinged performances, they detract from the valid arguments that favor Second Amendment rights. 

 

Reading aloud, just like Nixon did

Monday, 08 July 2013 17:04

This past week, Gettysburg marked the passage of 150 years since the nearly unmatched American-on-American brutality scarred its fields. In the midstate, the commemoration of the Civil War overshadowed the Declaration of Independence on July 4.

Today, the crowds have thinned in Gettysburg, and a reenactment of a different sort broke out in Pennsylvania. A National Park Service Ranger, dressed in period garb, read the Declaration of Independence aloud in a ceremony that is repeated every July 8. Each year, the ranger will perform the Declaration to a lively crowd who cheer the passages about freedom and loudly decry mention of England's King George III. It's a celebration of a different type than those at Gettysburg, when someone like John Wayne* gets up to read the Declaration of Independence at Independence Hall, just like Nixon* once did. 

The Declaration, a proclamation of war, was written with a particular cadence and a certain unquestionable flair -- crafted for reading aloud by men in three-cornered hats. A trip to Philadelphia has its own benefits, as the sites of the Old City have far fewer ticks, mosquitoes and other pests than the path of Gen. Robert E. Lee's men during The Charge on Gettysburg's third day (call it Pickett's Charge if you must, Longstreet's Charge if you choose -- both have unneeded baggage). Since the annual reading kicks off at high noon, you will still have plenty of time to enjoy your time in the city.

Plan now for your trip next July!

* Lt. Col. John Nixon first read the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia July 8, 1776. 
** John Wayne is a park ranger who has dressed up and performed the reading of the Declaration in recent years. 

Civil War enthusiasts and others commemorated the June 28, 1863 burning of the Wrightsville Bridge with 25 fires along the remains of the bridge 150 years later. Some 12,000 people turned out this year for fireworks and other festivities to remember how the Union soldiers burned the bridge to prevent the Southerners from using it. I doubt many in the weekend crowds realized free Blacks had used the bridge to transport fugitive slaves east across the Susquehanna and into Lancaster County in their journey for freedom, but that's part of the story, too.

As the weekend continued, a Civil Wargasm began in Gettysburg as people journeyed from all over the country -- and probably from overseas as well -- to remember the fierce battle July 1, 2 and 3, 1863. The crowds in Gettysburg will subside in another week, making the trek home at a faster pace than Gen. Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia, who pulled out in the midst of storms and left piles of corpses, animal carrion, a lingering stench and a scarred town, farmland and landscape behind in southern Pennsylvania.

Confederates led by Major Gen. Jubal Early made another stop during the Gettysburg Campaign, in what is today Caledonia State Park. Early's troops went out of their way to burn an iron furnace in Franklin County, Pa. They had a specific reason for torching this particular business: It represented the abolitionist attitudes they hated.

Thaddeus Stevens, an abolitionist member of Congress from Lancaster, owned this iron furnace in what later became the state park. The iron furnace, in operation since 1837, provided jobs to fugitive slaves. Stevens dedicated a great deal of his life to the Civil Rights of the Africans enslaved by plantations in the South, even before the struggle was known as "Civil Rights." Up until his death, Stevens worked for the rights of former slaves with the same devotion he had worked to free them before the war. Unlike some other whites of the time who opposed slavery, Stevens helped to see that former slaves were educated and he wanted them to be able to settle and earn a living like contemporary whites, shown in his ownership of the iron furnace.

That's why Early and the Confederates took a detour just to destroy an iron furnace.

Early was an educated man of his time, a lawyer and convincing writer. He knew the seriousness of the crimes leaders of the Confederacy had committed, and this led him to scurry for the exit as soon as the war ended. He immediately hopped a boat to Cuba and spent five years outside the U.S. In his postwar years, he was an "unreconstructed" rebel, to put it mildly. A staunch white supremacist, he did what he could to keep the former slaves from rising above the social status they held as slaves.

In his writing, Early produced voluminous works to establish The Lost Cause mythology, which tried to hide the pro-slavery motivations that caused the war. Early defended Robert E. Lee vehemently, placing blame on former Confederates like James Longstreet who favored reconciliation after the war ended. Early's efforts helped many Southerners justify the war and ease the burden the resulting cultural and social changes that followed. Unfortunately, they obscured the arguments about slavery behind the Trojan Horse of "states' rights." Sadly, the Lost Cause mythology continues to molest Americans' understanding of the war because it took root so well, and dozens of former Confederates wrote memoirs after the war that spouted the same ideas. Southern historians took up the Lost Cause, sourcing many Confederate-penned accounts, some written years after the war when Reconstruction and Lost Cause ideas tinged memories.

Although movies like "Lincoln," help continue to improve Stevens' legacy, the societal memory of his work on behalf of the enslaved and formerly enslaved painted him in a negative light for decades. The same "scholars" who bemoaned Stevens and the "Radical Republicans" of the 19th Century also took aim at General and President Ulysses Grant. Instead of remembering the general who helped save the Union by relentless pursuit of his enemy, detractors labeled Grant a butcher with far superior resources. As president, Grant made strides for civil rights that should have defined his legacy, and yet we only seem to remember that he was more flawed as a politician than a general, having chosen some corrupt cronies for government appointments.

If you are taking time to remember the three days of unquestionable butchery in Gettysburg as we mark the passage of 150 years, consider how the actions of Confederates who burned an iron furnace shed light on their character and the true character of Thaddeus Stevens. Jubal Early's decision to burn the iron furnace tells us far more than the writings that he intended to cement his legacy. Stevens' decision to employ former slaves adds a lot to historical papers that document his feelings about slavery.

Other things happened on the Gettysburg Campaign. It wasn't simply two armies who bumped into each other because one was looking for shoes. Look for the nuances of history, and you will understand a lot more.


None of us wants to be the groom who splits his pants during the wedding or the woman with a dryer sheet stuck to her rear when she walks up to receive a lifetime achievement award. We try to do what we can to avoid putting ourselves in situations where we look silly in front of others.

Over the years, I have seen a few people take a metaphorical pie to the face in public. I know a few who had a great laugh about it -- two or maybe 10 years later. At the time it's mortifying. Most of us don't want to see others flustered and panicked by the unexpected and undesired happening in public. It's painful to watch anyone, especially a friend or relative, embarrass himself or herself in public.

While many such incidents put a single person on the spot, poor planning or preparation can make an organization look bad. I spent years working for associations that hosted dozens of events for their members, associates and honored guests. I attended events held by national organizations, local clubs and groups that fall somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, any group has a chance of looking ridiculous, farcical or undignified at an event.

Larger groups often have professional meetings or events planners while volunteers plan them for smaller organizations. At some point, you might be a part of a group responsible for making arrangements for a banquet, meeting or some other event, so I am sharing some examples of gaffes that I have seen so you might avoid making a similar mistake.

At one point, I was paired with another employee to help plan a small conference for a group of professionals. Each of us planned speakers for one day of the conference. I gathered our organization's shirts and other items with its logo for speaker gifts. My coworker said she would get some other gifts appropriate for all the speakers. The speakers I arranged were members of the organization, so my coworker and I knew most of them for a few years. One in particular had spoken at other events within the past two or three years. When the event day arrived, my coworker gave me the gifts to provide to my speakers, including the speaker who was most familiar with our organization, for whom she had gotten a box of chocolate candy. I reacted in shock at the inappropriateness of candy for our speaker, an insulin-dependent diabetic. It would be easy to laugh off such an error with a first-time speaker, or if we had asked another organization to provide a speaker from its panel of experts, but this was someone with a long history and respected reputation within the organization.

While the speaker was gracious, such an uncaring oversight shows poor planning and coordination. If you are choosing a gift for a member, run it by a few people, just to make sure there is no reason the gift would be a bad choice. You never know what you might learn that could avoid an awkward situation.

When another group was preparing for its annual banquet, someone had printed out cards for certain tables so they would be reserved for leaders or distinguished guests. I am sure that for many years, printing cards with "Reserved: Smith" or "Reserved: Reynolds" had worked just fine. However, there was one year when this didn't work out so well. I don't want to identify the group or person in question, but to understand what happened, imagine that 15 or 20 years ago, your organization had managed to score legendary musical guests Barry White and Clint Black. In this case, using the Reserved: Last Name format could raise eyebrows for two tables. I know families with last names like Good, Fake and Flowers. How much time would it take to look at the cards prior to the event and print new ones with first and last names, or even Mr. Hank Good and Guests?

Fortunately, only a few people noticed the table sign, but that's not the point. It takes only one person to see it and cause a scene, and that just makes the whole organization look bad. Pay attention to this type of detail, and you will avoid the appearance of having an organization of ham-fisted amateurs.

When some events are organized, the planners (or someone else) provide speakers with the program. This may appear in several forms: a copy of the agenda, a list of important points, or a list of names of those to be recognized or a script. People work differently from scripts, based on their familiarity or comfort level with public speaking. Some take a script and read 95 percent of it verbatim, and yet they are so natural that they got up and spoke off the cuff. In contrast, there are speakers who use the script as a guide or a crutch.

Many things might go wrong when your speaker opens his or her mouth. I have heard plenty of names butchered. Sometimes, the master of ceremonies has stumbled around because the outline provided nowhere near enough detail to meet the speaker's needs. At one event, an organizational leader read every word of the script. That doesn't sound bad until you realize he read every word. At one point, he said, "And now join me in welcoming tonight's honoree, ("John Smith") to the stage. Pause here for applause... whatever the heck that is supposed to mean." Take some time to discuss the script with the speaker, verify that it meets his or her needs. Double-check to make sure stage directions like "pause here for applause" are not read aloud.

At one event, a member welcomed a well-known speaker by reading an extensive, detailed biography. She took the stage and deadpanned, "It's always nice to hear someone read your obituary." At another event, an organizational leader took the stage to welcome a guest speaker at a banquet. Her introduction to this speaker went on for at least 10 minutes, comparing the speaker to Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus. No one could live up to her deluge of flattery. I am sure most of the audience thought it was absurd.

To introduce a speaker, tell the audience the speaker's name and a few words about his or her background. You may add the topic, and the reason this speaker is qualified to discuss it. The handoff should be brief and unremarkable; it should take one minute. The audience should remember the speaker, not your introduction.

Finally, you should try to avoid a problem because of the stage setting and your speakers' appearance. I have heard about, but never seen, this happen. A woman gets up to speak wearing a dress the exact color of the backdrop. The audience sees a head and hands "floating" on their own in front of the curtain and starts laughing hysterically. This situation can get out of hand quickly, so if there is a way to let your speakers know ahead of time, it's worth doing. It seems like a million-to-one shot, but it has happened.

Take a few minutes to consider some issues involved if you are ever called upon to help plan an event. I hope it goes smoothly for you!


Bad history on Flag Day

Friday, 14 June 2013 17:10

During my school days, one of the elementary school highlights was a field trip to Philadelphia where we visited the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the Betsy Ross House. We were supposed to go to Valley Forge as well, but the class was so interested in the Betsy Ross House and its gift shop that we had to skip Valley Forge.

As I look back on that trip, I wonder how many generations of students shuffled through those same sites in Philadelphia. Why exactly, did our class or any other make a stop at the "Betsy Ross House?"

Betsy Ross, of course is the fabled woman who created and sewed the first American flag for our fledgling nation. Read that again. The key word is "fabled," not in the sense of Ross' fame, but of the phony flag story. There are no Continental Congress records reflecting any truth to the Betsy Ross story, which first appeared in print more than three decades after she was dead. Historians have precious little evidence for the Ross Myth. The fact is Betsy Ross never designed the flag, did not sew the first flag and probably never met George Washington.

Historians aren't even convinced that Betsy Ross even lived at the tourist trap now deemed the "Betsy Ross House." When American celebrated its bicentennial in 1976, someone chose two graves, had the corpses exhumed and they are now buried at the Ross house where they now rest under headstones of Ross and her husband, regardless of whose bones they were.

Moving the grave sites was ridiculous, especially when moving the right sets of remains was something of a crapshoot (even a "best guess" is still a guess).

Sending children to visit "The Birthplace of Old Glory" was a waste of time when I was in fifth grade, and it still is today.

Best ideas I ever heard

Thursday, 13 June 2013 02:47

Late night talk shows and drive-time radio personalities love to skewer humanity's dumbest ideas, including silly laws, useless or unneeded products and the absurd life choices of others (often celebrities). 

We hear about so many of these than it's possible to rank them. I have even stopped counting the times I thought that TV networks have reached a new low with a particular series now broadcast.

In the inverse situation, I rarely learn about an idea that blows me away. We have had them in the history of humanity, but how often has it happened lately?

I know people who love certain novels, movies or comedy routines. Sure, entertainers are creative and innovative. But I am looking for the best idea you have ever heard. To narrow it down, let's stick with new ideas within your lifetime. I have heard two remarkable ideas in the past few years.

The Lifestraw is a personal water filter that is worn around the neck. It filters 99.9 percent of waterborne parasites and 99.9999 percent of waterborne bacteria. Distributed in developing nations where safe water is rare, the Lifestraw provides potable drinking water instantly -- up to 1,000 liters, a one-year supply. The Lifestraw Family will provide a family of five safe water for up to three years. 

The world's water problem is a monumental problem that is not going to be solved with something you can wear around your neck, but the Lifestraw is a phenomenal way to improve lives of so many people, in developing nations and in areas ravaged by natural disasters.

Like the Lifestraw, my other favorite idea found a way to help a lot of people as affordably as possible. Josh Silver, a professor of physics at Oxford University, developed fluid-filled eyeglasses that people can adjust themselves to improve their vision. Although the glasses do not correct all vision problems, the glasses improve the vision of many common problems corrected with refractive lenses. 

In most of the world, people who need glasses do not get them. This health problem becomes an educational and economic problem, especially in nations where the vast majority of the people have no access to an optometrist, even if the doctor's services were affordable to them. Glasses based on Silver's design cost about $19 just a few years ago, and now have dropped to about $15. Researchers continue to look for ways to drop the price to $5, perhaps $1.

Tens of thousands have been distributed in developing nations so far. Silver's goals are lofty -- he wants a billion people to get them.

I like these ideas because they give people a way to help a lot of people. They don't require building something or changing major institutions where they are needed. They offer a way for people to see well and get safe drinking water. That's why they are the two best ideas I have heard.


Early this year, after a 10-year break, I joined a gym (following my wife, who did the same earlier) and started exercising again. It's been a rough process to get myself back in shape after putting on weight and being mostly inactive, aside from a few physical gigs and regular yard work.

I have been sticking with it, averaging about 4 days each week in the gym, never going below 3 and sometimes hitting 5 days. During my workouts since January, I often think about a something I heard the first time I tried to lift weights a long time ago.

I was puny and weak as a teen. At one point in high school, I was 6'2" and 120 pounds, miles from imposing. I filled out a little by the time I graduated, but I was still weak. After high school, I spent a year driving a van making deliveries between a company's several buildings, which kept me moving all day. I felt fit, but definitely not strong or truly in shape.

One of my friends talked me into trying to lift weights with him, as he had recently lost some weight and was trying to get in better shape. We lifted with his uncle, a high-school dropout who had been into working out most of his adult years. The "gym" was an old barn with limited ventilation that was stocked with free weights that the uncle and another relative had purchased together.

Starting with no knowledge of weightlifting, I learned the basics of proper form, how to warm up and how to balance a workout by covering the various muscle groups. One of the first times I was there, my friend's uncle said, "You know, after you lift weights for just a couple of weeks, you make a little progress and you really start feeling better about yourself. It helps your self-esteem."

At the time, I thought, "Sure." I knew I was weak, and that I would soon be very sore. I didn't know how embarrassing myself by lifting such light weights would ever make me feel better about myself.

Turns out that he was right. Before long, I did make improvements and start feeling better about myself. I continued working out when I started college, and got into a routine. My workouts continued through college when I got in the best shape of my life. After college, I continued for several years until eventually life got too busy.

Now at it again, I am making some progress, and I am feeling a lot better about myself. For the first time in my life, I know and accept that it's about my own potential, goals and perseverance. There will always be plenty of people stronger than me and in better shape than I am.

When I keep that in mind, I always feel good about myself and the progress I have made. The only competition is with myself, trying to get better than yesterday, last week or last month. When you invest effort and time into your workouts, you will see and feel improvements. Working out helps push me to make better choices regarding my diet, although I have a long way to go. Managing stress and getting enough rest also help with making progress on becoming healthier. Every step toward improving your health and fitness should and will help your self-esteem, if you set reasonable goals for yourself.

I know that I am in better shape than the guy who sat on the couch too much for too long. I set some reasonable personal goals that I achieved. And like the Oracle Uncle suggested, I feel better about myself than I have in a long time.

That was the best thing I learned about workouts and weightlifting.

I am planning another blog post about the best ideas I have ever heard. What is the best idea you have ever heard?

Pennsylvania is home to thousands of towns and cities, and more than a few are small enough that you can miss them when you are passing through. Quentin is one little town of a little more than 200 households near where Routes 72 and 419 meet in Lebanon County. Most people associate Quentin with this intersection that includes a gas station, Quentin Haus restaurant and Quentin Riding Club on Route 72 from the Turnpike into Lebanon. I only recently learned that it was named for the son of President Theodore Roosevelt.

When the Great War (now World War I) broke out in Europe in 1914, Theodore Roosevelt was only a few years removed from the end of his presidency in March of 1909. When America was drawn into the conflict in 1917, it was Roosevelt's youngest son, Quentin, who dropped out of college and enlisted in the First Reserve Aero Squadron.

Quentin Roosevelt served in France, and he was shot down and killed July 14, 1918. The Germans buried him with military honors out of respect for his service.

The loss was reportedly a great one for the former president, who would also die within a year. At the time, the Quentin Roosevelt's death meant a great deal to the American people: The son of a popular president chose service over other options and it cost him his life at 20. It's hard to imagine a recent president's child enlisting and being killed in action; one of the greatest criticisms of our leaders during the past 65 years is that they are often of an elite class separated from the blustery cold Korean winters, the jungles of Viet Nam, the turmoil in Mogadishu, the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq and the unforgiving terrain of Afghanistan. TR and his family may have been wealthy, but they were not above serving the United States.

Today Quentin rests in Normandy American Cemetery beside the grave of his brother, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who died of a heart attack about a month after serving as the highest ranking officer to lead troops ashore on D-Day. Quentin Roosevelt, the only World War I casualty buried at Normandy, may be largely forgotten today, but he was not 95 years ago.

This little town in Lebanon County named itself in his honor. The airfield where he had trained in Long Island, N.Y., was also named in his honor (it no longer exists today). Quentin Roosevelt was honored many times throughout the United States, including Quentin Roosevelt Elementary School in Pittsburgh. Today, that school has been replaced by Roosevelt Elementary School, which belittles the honor to Quentin, as I am sure most people associate "Roosevelt" with Presidents Theodore and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

If you happen to travel through Lebanon County and venture near Quentin, take a second to remember the man who left college to serve his country and lost his life doing so. Fittingly, Quentin is located near the Veterans Administration hospital just outside Lebanon, where veterans of our armed forces with less prestigious lineage receive care and treatment. Take a moment to remember them as well.

Easily amused and endlessly fascinated

Tuesday, 04 June 2013 03:20

I worked at a large outdoor event last weekend, just the latest in a long series of promotions and events where I joined an eclectic group of people assembled for a few hours to a few days.

My supervisor, Will, took a few minutes to introduce himself and chat with the 40 staff members assigned to work in his area. He is a friendly guy, and he naturally found a connection with everyone in a brief conversation, i.e., a college, a neighborhood or a sports team. He asked me where I was from, and I said "Lancaster County" because people outside the area know the county better than Elizabethtown. He followed up by asking me how many counties there are in Pennsylvania. I quickly answered (correctly) "67 counties."

He said I must have experience working for government or social services, so I explained I had worked for several statewide associations, groups whose missions varied so much that I visited all 67 counties for one association or another. (It turns out Will works in social services, and he has visited about 25 counties.) But there's another reason I know how many counties we have in Pennsylvania: I am a journalist.

I was reporter for a weekly newspaper, in addition to several years of freelancing for different newspapers, magazines and web sites. More importantly, when I worked for associations, I never lost being a journalist. I wrote and edited publications for the association members with the drive and mindset of a journalist.

If you visit curmudgeons with decades of newspaper experience haunting a newspaper copy desk, many are sure to scoff at the notion that an association's editor is anything but a public relations flack engaged in press agentry: some combination of that guy at the fair barking encouragement to visit the freak show display and the "secretary" who presidents and governors send out at a press conference to do anything but give substantial answers to questions.

That's not what I was interested in doing. I was looking for great stories for the association, its area of focus and its members. So, like many newspaper copy editors, I picked up a lot of knowledge that might seem useless, trivial and just plain weird.

I find all sorts of stories and tidbits interesting, and I easily remember them. I think this is why I rarely find anyone willing to play trivia games with me. But I like learning all sorts of things, perhaps because I am easily amused. One copy editor friend makes posts on Facebook, starting with "Today in my endlessly fascinating job, I learned ...."

I have even managed to infect my son with this, at least a little of my penchant for facts. In his written report about an animal, he noted that Shakespeare coined the term "alligator," as the first recorded use appears in "Romeo and Juliet." Sure, I know Shakespeare gave us "wormhole" and "puking" and "eyeball," but that was not a part of his report (See? I can't resist it). At least, not this report. Maybe high school.

Lists of trivia and odd facts have bloomed and reproduced like weeds in my front yard since the Internet made sharing them that much easier. These lists are not the sort of things I am talking about. Too often, they are simplistic, misleading or wrong.

Just recently, while I was reading about something else, I came across a reference to how 14 years ago, the National Park Service was spending millions on a site of the President's House, where George Washington (and John Adams) lived as president during the 1790s, yet not planning to mention that part of its history in the resulting site. Do you know where the former President's House was located?

To answer, you have to think about the capitals of the United States prior to its permanent move to Washington, D.C. Well, it's not in New York City, Baltimore or Princeton, New Jersey (really, of all places, founders?). Nearby cities York and Lancaster also served as the U.S. capital, but too briefly for the President's House (Sorry, does it seem like I am showing off now?). The actual site is the Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia. The discovery and confirmation of the President's House caused a bit of controversy when the Liberty Bell site was designed and built. The site includes not only where Washington lived, but also where his slaves lived. Adams did not own slaves when he lived at the President's House; in fact, of the first dozen American presidents, the only ones to never own slaves were named Adams. John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams, regularly spoke out against slavery.

The Liberty Bell's engraving, "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof," had inspired the abolitionists starting in the 1830s. The notion of Washington keeping slaves on the site clashes with the image of the Liberty Bell and its history of the anti-slavery movement.

Public outcry led to the inclusion of the site's history in the Liberty Bell Center, although original plans were to focus solely on the Liberty Bell and American independence.

Now that's something I find fascinating: A link to America's tragic and troubled history is found on the site of a precious symbol of liberty. A patriotic update to the historic district of Philadelphia -- the cradle of liberty and freedom -- denuded an ugly pus-filled cyst on America's backside (or in its backstory, as it were), the hideous part of our shared history that was the antithesis of freedom and liberty.

I like knowing the full story of the site. History is varied: triumphant and cringeworthy, awe-inspiring and sad. The full story is "good history," to reference my last blog post.

What's the most interesting thing you learned recently? Tell me about it in the comments.

Good history and bad history

Friday, 24 May 2013 18:01

Pennsylvania has a rich and storied history, and yet a true understanding of it is out of reach for many people. I have always enjoyed learning about history, finding stories from the past and trying to get a better understanding of the people who influenced events for centuries up until today.

Unfortunately, I see far too little of what I call good history. It's not about what's bright, uplifting and shiny. I do not need anyone to blow sunshine up my pants to tell me our predecessors were wonderful. They were as complex and bewildering as people of today. Good history instructs and it tells a intriguing tale of what actually happened. Each issue of your newspaper includes items that the editors have ranked by importance -- take a look at where a news item appears, the size of its headline and how much space is allotted to tell the story. Good history works the same way.
In contrast, bad history and really BAD history works in the opposite way. Instead of telling us the most important or consequential bits of information, those are left hidden while we learn something useless, wrong, misleading or trivial. While I love trivia, I would prefer to take away something that makes me think, including something controversial, rather than a factoid that clutters the history. Even worse, bad history tells us who, when and where and leaves out the what, why and how. That leaves it about as dry as can be!

Bad history is too easy to find; it seems to be everywhere. Historical sites, markers placed by the government, textbooks and TV provide countless examples of the useless history. Good history is harder to find.

One of the best examples of good and bad history is the Underground Railroad. When most people talk about the Underground Railroad, they spew bad history like smoke from an incinerator. I once spent a month researching the Underground Railroad, specifically in relation to some sites in Pennsylvania, for a feature article. The editor came back with suggestions from his background in extremely BAD history. I tried to explain, and even offered the alternate title "Everything You Know about the Underground Railroad is Wrong." He didn't get it, and my article was never published.

I will use some of my upcoming posts on this blog to highlight both types of history for you. Keep in mind that my goal is always presenting a good story with something for you to think about, not a dry history of names, places and dates.