Monthly Archives: September 2015

Young Romanian woman escapes Communism, reunites with husband

LEBANON, Pa. — Sunbury Press has released Ionica: A Romanian Immigration Story, Catalina Petcov’s memoir of life under Communism and her escape from it as a young woman.

This touching memoir tracks the life of Catalina Petcov, called Ionica by her family, as she experienced the difficulties of being a young girl in rural Romania, though her escape to Italy and ultimately the United States.

In 1952, Catalina was born in Bozovici, Romania to parents whose work ethic was absolute. Her mother and father worked her like a farmhand—save the fact that they would’ve treated a farmhand better.

From a very young age, she already was involved in work that typically was reserved for adults. She tended to cows in the fields and looked after pigs and chickens in the backyard; she pulled weeds and helped plow when it was time to plant new crops; she even prepared her own breakfasts, because her parents didn’t provide any for her. Having an older sister was little help; Catalina was the one who had to do the bulk of the work.

She started growing up in rural Romania just thirteen years before the communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu came into power. And while her life certainly was affected by his dictates, she was first and foremostly affected by the dictates of Floarea, her mother.

* * *

Floarea was born on August 30, 1928. And, when she still was an infant, her mother, Pelagia, abandoned her. Perhaps this tragedy occurred because Pelagia was not married to Floarea’s father and the custom at that time was to give up a baby that was born out of wedlock. At any rate, as a consequence, Floarea’s paternal uncle Pavel and his wife Mila raised her. And, although Pelagia lived only several miles away, she never visited her daughter.

Catalina's parents and extended family in Romania.

Catalina’s parents and extended family in Romania.

Floarea’s father, Tomas, raised sheep in the nearby mountains and rarely came home. If he ever was married to Pelagia, these extended absences of his must have led to the end of that presumably loveless arrangement.

Years later, Pelagia got married to a man who already had children, and she was delighted that those step-children gave her step-grandchildren to love and cherish. As fate would have it, those step-grandchildren lived down the street from Floarea’s house. Thus, Pelagia had to go past her daughter’s house on her way to visit the only family she seemed to care about. Even on the occasions when Floarea and she locked eyes for an instant, neither of them said a thing.

In 1945, 17-year-old Floarea married 28-year-old Nicolae. He was born on July 5, 1920, and he was a very bright man. In fact, his mother was proud of him for being the only boy in their town to finish seventh grade. He had much more smarts than he did money, though, and because he was poor, his mother (and he, too, probably) feared that he wouldn’t be able to do much with his life.

This may be one of the reasons why he decided to marry Floarea. Her father was one of four siblings, and he was the only one who had a child. Because of this, Floarea’s two aunts and one uncle left their homes and their land to her. Floarea sold two of the homes but retained all of the land, leaving her with a good amount of money and property—and making her an excellent prospective bride. The home she kept was in the village of Bozovici, where Nicolae and she later raised their family.

Mr. & Mrs. Petcov, reunited

Mr. & Mrs. Petcov, reunited

Two years after they were married, in 1947, the couple brought their first child into the world. Her name was Florica, and they absolutely adored her. Being their first child—and their only one for a number of years—Florica lavished in their love and admiration. They made or bought her everything that a growing child needed, and they spent quality time with her.

However, when Floarea became pregnant again, both her husband and she wanted the baby to be a boy. Only boys carried on the family name, so a family without a baby boy had to watch its name fade and then disappear entirely. After months of hoping for a baby boy, though, Floarea (Momma) discovered to her dismay that she had been carrying another baby girl.

Catalina came into the world five years after her sister, in 1952, but instead of being met with rejoicing and excitement, she was met with dissatisfaction. Nicolae’s (Poppa’s) mother, her paternal grandmother, was especially upset that Catalina wouldn’t carry on her last name. So the family made a bitter resolution. While they named the new baby Catalina, they never called her by that name. They always referred to her as Ionica: the female version of Ion, Poppa’s brother’s name. If they couldn’t have a boy, they resolved that they at least would treat their second daughter as though she was one.

Therefore, because everyone in Catalina’s town knew her as Ionica, she will be referred to as such throughout the remainder of the book.

Ionica: A Romanian Immigration Story
Authored by Catalina Petcov
List Price: $14.95
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
152 pages
Sunbury Press, Inc.
ISBN-13: 978-1620066249
ISBN-10: 1620066246
BISAC: Biography & Autobiography / Women

For more information, please see:


Seeing the Slave as a “Crushed Vegetable”

In researching the Underground Railroad past of my hometown, Waverly, Pa., I came across a fascinating explication of the abolition mission, at least as it was understood by white participants in the 1830s. I’m at the point in my book manuscript when the quote fits in—when white Waverly was helping to set up its own settlement of fugitive slaves—and I recently shared the lengthy quote with a key supporter of my work. I want to share it with you, too.

They are the words of John Mann, president of the Anti-Slavery and Free Discussion Society. On July 4, 1836, Mann gave a keynote holiday address at the Montrose Presbyterian Church. Montrose, thirty miles north of Waverly, was a haven of abolitionism, and its newspaper, The Spectator and Freeman’s Journal, proudly printed the text of Mann’s speech. Here’s his message for you to savor:

Emancipation, Mann said, “is not what many of its enemies would have you believe. It does not mean the uncaging of a menagerie and letting out a force of wild beasts, to ravage the country and commit depradations on society. … It means to restore the oppressed children of Africa to that niche in the architecture of society which the Great Founder designed, or in other words, which they are qualified to fill. It means, in short, to make men and women of slaves.

“But, says goggle-eyed prejudice, you cannot do it. They are so degraded they can never rise to your beau of moral excellence and self-respect. To this we reply, that to doubt of success is to distrust the moral government of God. The two and a half millions of slaves in the United States are descendants from the same original stock with ourselves. Climate and local causes have produced the difference of complexion, and circumstances have produced the difference in condition. They have been crushed by the lever of power. Remove the pressure, and they will rise as naturally as the crushed vegetable regains its upright position whenever the rubbish that keeps it down is removed. If, however, the plant may have remained in an unnatural position, so long, as to have acquired a deformity, the careful husbandman will stake it up, and assist it to regain its proper form. If the moral powers of the slaves have been so long and so cruelly crushed that they cannot, unaided, acquire they proper direction, it is our duty to lend the helping hand. We are morally bound, first to remove the burden, and then to assist the crippled sufferer in rising, and to support him in his feet, till he can sustain his own weight.”

So there you have it. Mann knew how to turn a phrase, didn’t he? “Goggle-eyed prejudice” is my favorite. And his imagery about the husbandman carefully staking up a deformed plant was fitting for the farmers of his day. But still, I told the friend with whom I shared Mann’s quote, while the empathy is laudable the ideology behind it is more than a little patronizing. Who wants to be compared to a deformed plant in need of trussing?

My friend wasn’t so bothered by that. He was struck by how Mann was promoting a pseudo-scientific belief that “climate and local causes” affected racial complexion, and doing it decades before Darwin came out with Origin of Species. Also, he was enthralled by Mann’s lofty language, which he said is so beyond the reach of most students today.

What do you think? Patronizing? Laudable? Lofty? Over the top?

USA’s most interesting misanthropes detailed in Bressi’s “Hairy Men in Caves”

HMIC_fcMECHANICSBURG, Pa. — Sunbury Press has released Hairy Men in Caves: True Stories of America’s Most Colorful Hermits, Marlin Bressi’s biographical compilation of 80 hermits who lived in all corners of our country.

Hairy Men in Caves: True Stories of America’s Most Colorful Hermits profiles the lives of over 80 of the most eccentric hermits from the 18th century to the 20th century. It is the largest compendium of historical American hermits ever assembled.

Part I: Hermits of the Northeast
Old Shep (New York)
The Prodigal Father (New York)
The Hermit of West 16th Street (New York)
The Hermit of Broadway (New York)
Amos Wilson (Pennsylvania) 17
“She Was Too Cruel” (Pennsylvania)

Old Shep

Old Shep

The Hermit of Buckingham Mountain (Pennsylvania)
The Hermit of Blue Hill (Pennsylvania)
Arthur Carey (Massachusetts)
The Hermit of Melrose (Massachusetts)
Old Gold Toes (Vermont)
The Hermit of Hoot Owl Pond (Vermont)
Jeff Bryant (Vermont)
The Hermit of Avalon (New Jersey)
The Tramp of West Hoboken (New Jersey)
Kneeling Francis (New Jersey)
The Killer Mosquitoes of the Hackensack (New Jersey)
The Highwire Hermit (Connecticut)
English Jack (New Hampshire)
Edward Young: The Socialist Hermit (Maine)

Part II: Hermits of the South
Wild Man of the Chattahoochee (Georgia)
An Inventive Hermit (Georgia)
Mason Evans (Tennessee)
The Tree Dweller (Tennessee)
From the White House to the Wilderness (Tennessee)
Mum the Meat-Eater (Kentucky)
Thirteen Years in Darkness (Kentucky)
Pig Jack (Kentucky)
Polly of the Pines (Kentucky)
Basil Hayden (Kentucky)
The Hunchback of Chulafinnee Mountain (Alabama)
A Lesson in Karma (North Carolina)
Robert Harrill (North Carolina)
The Coward of Blacksburg (South Carolina)
Cole Carrington (West Virginia)
Miss Jennie Senkhart (Mississippi)
The Storm King (Florida)
Silas Dent (Florida)
From Riches to Rags (District of Columbia)
Aunt Nancy (District of Columbia)

Part III: Hermits of the Midwest
Hugh Cameron (Kansas)
Rudolph Myers (Kansas)
Fred Kupler (Kansas)
The Strange Funeral of Otto Shaffer (Kansas)
The Hermit of Swan Lake (Minnesota)
William Knight (Iowa)
Captain Stubbs (Iowa)
The Nun and the One-Eyed Hermit (Iowa)
The Hardshell Harpers (Indiana)
Diana of the Dunes (Indiana)
The Heroic Henry Malone (Michigan)
The Man Who Turned Pebbles to Gold (Michigan)
The Robinson Crusoe of Lake Huron (Michigan)
Edgar Donne (Michigan)
The Man Who Lived in a Cage (Missouri)
Patrick Welsh (South Dakota)
The Angry Englishman (Wisconsin)
The Treetop Hermit (Ohio)
Charles Allenton Comes Home (Ohio)
Gottlieb Leitsof (Illinois)

Part IV: Hermits of the West
John Stink (Oklahoma)
Pierre the Prophet (Oklahoma)
The Mysterious Adolph Hauserhufen (Oklahoma)
A Sad Story of What Might Have Been (Oklahoma)
The Tragic Fate of William Hamley (Idaho)
An Ogre’s Ship Comes In (Idaho)
Anton Glasmann (Colorado)
The Ballad of Beatrice and John (Colorado)
Old Man Reavis (Arizona)
Lord Neville of the Garbage Dump (Arizona)
The Green River Hermit (Wyoming)
Upside-Down Mullen (Wyoming)
The Skunk Whisperer (Washington)
Ike Powell (Oregon)
Sailor Jack Seeks a Bride (Oregon)
The Frontier Pharmacist (Texas)
The Hermit Priest of Old Baldy (New Mexico)
Billy Pester Goes Hollywood (California)
The Hermitess of Santa Anita Canyon (California)
Roscoe Overhardt (Montana)

Hairy Men in Caves: True Stories of America’s Most Colorful Hermits
Authored by Marlin Bressi
List Price: $16.95
5.5″ x 8.5″ (13.97 x 21.59 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
262 pages
Sunbury Press, Inc.
ISBN-13: 978-1620066300
ISBN-10: 1620066300
BISAC: Biography & Autobiography / Criminals & Outlaws

For more information, please see:…

A mass slave sale, so cut-and-dried

As fresh evidence of the bloodless manner enslaved black people were auctioned in antebellum America, the library system at the University of Pennsylvania has digitized a 1855 sales brochure that a brokerage firm issued to buyers at a New Orleans auction. It’s entitled “178 Sugar and Cotton Plantation Slaves!” Entries describe the individual slaves and family groups, and auction2payment options are spelled out. Very helpful and handy–as long as the customers remained dead to human compassion.

The brochure hit home because one of the main figures in my research about the fugitive slave settlement in my hometown of Waverly, Pa., was a Maryland runaway who’d seen his master sell off his chattel wife and two youngsters to a slaver in the Carolinas in the early 1840s. The runaway, George Keys, fled north, resettled in Waverly, and later became a Union soldier during the Civil War. I’m writing a book about Waverly’s Underground Railroad era and its dozen unsung black men including Keys who enlisted and fought in the war. His heart must have ached for his vanished wife and children, who were among the thousands “sold down the river” to new plantations being developed in places like Louisiana. Might his chattel family have been r e-sold at the New Orleans auction? It’s possible.

As part of my research I’ve been following the fine Slate Academy podcast series, “The History of Slavery in America.” My wife has been listening to the series as well, and she sent me the Slate article about the 1855 brochure. In the article, historian and podcast host Rebecca Onion writes that the brochure’s sales terms “show how the financial structure around purchasing enslaved people had evolved by the middle of the 1850s.” Customers of the Beard & May sales firm “had to provide a down payment of one-third of the price, and could pay the remainder on credit; the seller would earn 8% interest ‘in case of non-payment at maturity.’ For buyers who weren’t wealthy enough to buy people outright, an investment in enslaved property was a financial commitment.”

Louisiana, Onion notes, was one of the only slave states “that had laws against selling very young children separately from their mothers—as historian Heather Williams writes, ‘the vast majority of enslaved children [in the United States] belonged to people who had complete discretion to sell them or give them away at will.’ Even when an advertisement like this one stipulated that families were to be sold together, Williams writes, ‘the purchaser usually stood to make the final decision as to whether to take the whole group or only part.’ ”

It was a jolt to notice that many of the 178 slaves listed in the brochure were being sold off from someplace called The Waverly Plantation. What a horrible counterpart to the Waverly in Northeastern Pennsylvania, which not only assisted fugitives passing through but was so supportive that dozens of them decided to make their new homes there.

Check out the Slate article and see images of the brochure here.