I’m starting to feel the early tremors of a panic attack. In just two weeks I hit the unfriendly skies for a 10-day trip east. Never mind that I have a book due in two months, or that my desk at the law firm looks like a paper bomb hit it, or that we're in the middle of two huge projects. It’s a trip that has been on my calendar for a long, long time. And even though I’m looking forward to it, I also wish I had another six weeks between now and liftoff. Each day the trip gets closer, my blood pressure goes up with worry that I won’t be ready. It’s the same with every long trip I take.
This trip will be a combination of book conference, book signings, and a visit to my family. I haven’t seen my family in a couple of years and my niece has had two children since my last visit, the last baby just a month ago. If I postpone visiting any longer, Megan and Catelyn will be in college before they get a chance to spit up on me.
My trip will start with four days at the Malice Domestic Conference in Arlington, VA, followed by the Mystery Lovers Bookshop Festival of Mystery in Oakmont, PA. On May 4th, after dumping pals at the Pittsburgh airport, I’ll go solo and point my rental car in the direction of Jim Thorpe, PA. That’s right, there really is a town named after one of the greatest athletes in history. The weird thing is Jim Thorpe wasn’t even from there and probably never in his life step foot in the former coal mining town located at the foot of the Poconos. Seems his widow sold his remains to the town, once known as Mauch Chuck. The town then changed its name, interred ole Jim in the city limits, and gave him a suitable monument.
Originally, I had planned on simply driving from Pittsburgh to Massachusetts. But since it’s a 9-hour drive, I decided to check a map for a suitable place to stay half way through the trip. As my eye scouted the route, it caught on the name “Jim Thorpe.” Let me stop right here and say that I love maps. I love to see where places are in relation to other places, and odd names always tickle my nose like the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies.
The town of Jim Thorpe, it seems, has a very wild, woolly and even haunted past. Of course, this was back in the days when it was named Mauch Chunk. And, yes, I said haunted. Right then and there, I knew this was where I was going to stop. As soon as I read a sketch of the town’s history, my spidey sense told me a future Ghost of Granny Apples book was brewing. In fact, the story started coming alive in my head immediately.
Mauch Chunk was the setting for some of the Molly McGuire trials of the 1870’s, when Irish miners were charged, convicted and hanged for violence and conspiracy against the mining companies. To some, these were the early union organizers. Back then, they were branded criminals, although there is historical evidence that they may have been in large part railroaded. There’s an old and imposing jail in the town, appropriately named the Old Jail. Several Molly McGuires were hanged in the jail and today there is a replica of the gallows, along with a rumored haunted jail cell in which the hand print of one of the hanged men can still be seen on the wall, in spite of decades of paint and plaster.
The owner of the Old Jail Museum has promised me a private tour on May 5th. I can’t wait!
Also of interest in the town is the Harry Packer Mansion, which was used as a model for the Haunted House at Disneyland. The Mansion is now a B&B and is also purported to be haunted. If you’ve ever seen the Haunted House at Disneyland, you can see that it’s a dead ringer (pun intended). I’m staying two nights at the Inn at Jim Thorpe, also supposedly home to things that go bump in the night.
People always ask me where I get the ideas for my books. I get them from anywhere and everywhere, including while checking out a map for a place to rest my head.
Okay, just 14 days until the trip. I can do this. I know I can. I just have to remember to breathe.
Sue Ann Jaffarian