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By Rebecca Price Janney, Feb 15 2018 07:32PM

In the aftermath of the Florida school tragedy, we could all use an uplifting story, a reminder that other eras also had to deal with senseless violence. This one about Sojourner Truth struck me as especially encouraging:

Her original name was Isabella, and she was born sometime in the late 1790s in upstate New York. After slavery was abolished in 1827, she took herself and her freedom to New York City where she worked as a domestic servant. Isabella also joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church and began preaching at evangelistic services, discovering she had a compelling gift for speaking about the faith.

In 1843, she decided to change her name because, as she said, “I wasn’t goin’ to keep nothin’ of Egypt on me.” She prayed for a new name, “And the Lord gave me Sojourner” because she was being called to preach in many places. Then she asked for a last name “cause everybody had two names; and the Lord gave me Truth, because I was to declare the truth to the people.” In addition to preaching, Sojourner also spoke out against slavery and for women’s suffrage.

She was speaking at a Massachusetts camp meeting in 1844 when a rowdy group of men broke into the gathering, threatening to set fire to the tents. Sojourner was the only black person at the rally and, scared to death, she hurried to a corner of a tent and hid behind a trunk. Realizing her faith was calling her to be strong, she roused herself from her position and went outside. She climbed to the top of a hill and began singing:

It was early in the morning,

It was early in the morning,

Just at the break of day,

When He rose,

When He rose,

When He rose,

And went to heaven on a cloud.

Both rioters and worshipers gazed at Sojourner in amazement. Her worst fears, however, started materializing when the protesters began surging toward her, most of them carrying sticks and clubs. Finding herself surrounded on every side, she called out to them, “Why do you come about me with clubs and sticks? I am not doing harm to anyone.”

Several of the men responded, “We ain’t goin’ to hurt you, old woman. We just came to hear you sing!”

(Excerpted from Great Stories in American History, Rebecca Price Janney, 1998)


By Rebecca Price Janney, Feb 8 2018 08:10PM

Everyone knows I love a good story. One of the very best I ever heard happened 75 years ago this month.

The time was World War II, the setting, the icy North Atlantic. Four U.S. Navy chaplains accompanied some 900 personnel aboard the U.S.A.T. Dorchester, a luxury ocean liner-turned transport ship. They were traveling from Newfoundland to an Army base in Greenland and the captain, Hans J. Danielsen, was especially vigilant. He knew German U-boats were lurking like a constant, roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

He ordered his men to sleep with their life jackets on, just in case. Many did not. The jackets were bulky, and those occupying berths in the hold were already overheated.

At 12:55 a.m. a German torpedo suddenly blew through the Dorchester’s starboard side, killing scores of men as they slept. One of three escort ships saw the explosion and managed to rescue 97 men, followed by a second ship, which picked up 132 others. On board there was panic among those who’d lived through the blast, with many men plunging into the water, trying to climb into lifeboats or rafts.

According to survivors, the four chaplains calmly prayed for the dying and encouraged the living. When Rabbi Alexander Goode asked a petty officer why he was trying to return to his cabin, he learned the man had forgotten his gloves. “Never mind, I have two pairs,” Goode said. He took his off and gave them to the officer, who later realized the rabbi did, in fact, have only one pair.

The four chaplains opened a locker storing life jackets and immediately started distributing them. There were not, however, enough to go around. That’s when the men of God removed their own life jackets and gave them to others.

As the Dorchester began slipping beneath the waves twenty minutes after the explosion, survivors witnessed another poignant scene. Rabbi Goode, Lt. George L. Fox, Lt. John P. Washington, and Lt. Clark V. Poling were standing together, arms linked, offering prayers as the Atlantic Ocean claimed their lives.

A survivor, John Ladd said of the Four Chaplains’ sacrifice, “It was the finest thing I have seen or hope to see this side of heaven.”


By Rebecca Price Janney, Feb 1 2018 03:26PM


901 Washington Street

Easton, PA



February 5, 2018

12: NOON to 1:00 PM

The public is invited. There is no charge for admission.

Rebecca Price Janney is the award-winning author of 20 books including her latest, Easton in the Valley, the sequel to Easton at the Forks, as well as Harriet Tubman, Great Women in American History, and The Heather Reed Mystery Series. She has also written for dozens of newspapers and magazines and regularly contributes to other books. A graduate of Lafayette College and Princeton Theological Seminary, Rebecca received her doctorate from Biblical Seminary in April 2000, having focused on the interpretation of women's roles throughout American history. Rebecca enjoys speaking at schools, churches and synagogues, libraries, historical societies, civic organizations, and the Daughters of the American Revolution, as well as on radio and TV.

She grew up in the Lehigh Valley, where her grandparents lived across the street from each other, and the

Delaware River ran down the middle of the towns she calls home, Phillipsburg and Easton. Inspired by the writings of Jan Karon, Rebecca invites you to know heart-warming characters and a town you’ll want to visit again and again. She now lives in suburban Philadelphia with her husband, 13 year-old son, and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Books will be available for purchase at $13 each 2 for $25

For more information on this presentation call EACC 610-253- 8271


By Rebecca Price Janney, Jan 26 2018 03:48PM

Most people associate my love of American history with the 18th century. I write about that era and sometimes even dress up on colonial clothes. When I go to Williamsburg or any colonial venue, I feel right at home, as if I belong.

However, I’m also quite taken with the mid-20th century. So much was happening in America before, during, and after the Second World War. I find the drama, personalities, and various movements compelling. When I read an article in the paper this week about a Lehigh Valley Drive-in Theater, a throwback to that time, I invited people to share their memories.

In 1934, a man named Wilson Shankweiler opened what is, according to the Allentown Morning Call, America’s oldest drive-in theater. The venue in North Whitehall Township has been operating ever since then.

Apparently, Shankweiler’s wasn’t the very first drive-in, though. That distinction belongs to one in Camden, New Jersey, which opened a year earlier, but closed a long time ago. Not far away from Shankweiler’s, in Lehigh Township, the venerable Becky’s Drive-in is also still in operation, distinct in being the oldest one continually operated by the same family.

According to the article I read, the peak of drive-in movies was the late 50s and early 60s, with about 4,000 across the country. Now there are just a little over 300 left.

I shared on Facebook my memories of going to see a Disney movie at Easton’s Starlite Drive-in, when I was allowed to wear my pajamas in public! I also loved how going to the drive-in was an excuse to stay up late--the movies started around dusk, so I wouldn’t get to bed until well after 11 o’clock. Thus, the pajamas.

A lot of people wrote to tell me about their drive-in memories, including another Eastonian who recalled pony rides down by the big screen at the Starlite, along with swings for the kids. Another said a South Carolina drive-in she went to was little more than a mown cow pasture with a ticket booth! One woman recalled seeing a scary movie on a foggy night at a drive-in.

I’d love to hear more drive-in memories. Oh and if you’re so inclined, Shankweiler’s is for sale. Would you want to operate a drive-in?

Drive-In Movie (Public Domain)
Drive-In Movie (Public Domain)

By Rebecca Price Janney, Jan 19 2018 03:41PM

What was your favorite all-time pet? Is this special friend from your childhood, or maybe later in your life? What made this pet so special to you?

This past week I recorded a show about Presidential Pets with my radio host friend, Cynthia L. Simmons. Although the interview will run on Presidents Day, here’s a sneak preview, as well as an item or two I didn’t have time to talk about.

A famous quote has been attributed to Harry Truman: “If you want to have a friend in Washington, get a dog,” and certainly dogs have been the favored pets of our Presidents. In fact, there’s a Presidential Pet Museum, which was inspired by Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s dog, Lucky. When the Reagans first moved into the White House, they didn’t have a dog. In December 1984, the poster child for the March of Dimes gave the President and First Lady a Bouvier puppy that grew to the size of a small pony. There’s a famous picture of the dog taking the President for a walk on the White House Lawn with him with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher laughing in the background.

Lucky’s groomer, Claire McClean, once saved some of Lucky’s hair, and her mother incorporated the hair into a portrait of the dog. Mrs. McClean began collecting other pet-related White House artifacts and decided there needed to be a place for them. That’s when she came up with the idea of a museum dedicated to Presidential pets.

The Reagans ended up sending the dog to their California Ranch the next year after the dog failed to adjust to life at the White House. That Christmas, William F. Buckley, Jr. gave them a much more manageable pet, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel whom they named Rex. (I think all of you know how partial I am to Cavaliers!)

Other pet stories touched me, including one about beleaguered President Andrew Johnson who, during his impeachment trials, would put flour out at night in his room for a family of white mice.

Then there’s the account of President Calvin Coolidge, whose image was austere and aloof—his nickname was “silent Cal.” In fact, when he died someone asked, “How can you tell?”

Surprisingly, his love for pets showed a dramatically different side of his personality. During Coolidge’s tenure, many people referred to the White House as “The Pennsylvania Avenue Zoo.” The Coolidges had twelve dogs, two cats, four birds, a goose, a donkey, and a bobcat. The President’s most famous pet, however, was a raccoon named Rebecca, who loved to play in the tub with a bar of soap. Mrs. Coolidge used to cradle the animal in her arms like a baby, and the President often walked the raccoon on a leash!

While most of our Presidents have had pets, Harry Truman angered many Americans after an admirer sent him a Cocker Spaniel puppy, and the President promptly gave the dog away. Thousands of angry letters poured into the White House, but Truman told a reporter, “I didn’t ask for him, and I don’t need him.”

Another controversy erupted after Lyndon Johnson was showing off one of his beagles, whose name was Him, and he pulled the dog up by its long ears (the dog was still on his hind legs). He was widely criticized. The President apologized, but he explained he’d been doing this since the dog was a puppy, and Him seemed to enjoy the experience.

I’d love to know a story or two about your favorite pet.

Rex, the Reagans' Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
Rex, the Reagans' Cavalier King Charles Spaniel
LBJ with Him
LBJ with Him
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