Book Reviews: Fall 2013

Ligonier Valley Vignettes: Tales from the Laurel Highlands, by Jennifer SopkoLigonier Valley Vignettes: Tales from the Laurel Highlands
By Jennifer Sopko
Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2013
125 pp., B&W photos, bibliography
$19.99 softcover

It is said that all roads lead to Rome, but perhaps a few routes wind their way through the scenic Laurel Highlands before reaching their final destination. Author Jennifer Sopko models Ligonier and the surrounding communities as thoroughfares for the figures and events of the past few centuries, which have all left a lasting impression on the region’s heritage.

Sopko, a native of Pittsburgh’s White Oak neighborhood, begins by tracing Ligonier Valley’s American Indian heritage, and its role as a crossroads during Native and colonial occupations, including Fort Ligonier and the part it played in the French & Indian War. Traveling through time, she recounts Ligonier’s history as an established town, a conduit for the rail industry, a community of war heroes who served far overseas, and as a place of travel and recreation. While not a detailed history of the region, Sopko’s vignettes serve to illustrate the character of this crossroads community. Her investigation into the mystery of the town’s drinking fountain and remembrances of Idlewild Park are sure to engage readers who have fond memories of their time spent in and around Ligonier.

Reviewed by Kelly Anderson Gregg, Assistant Editor of Publications, Heinz History Center

The Angola Horror: The 1867 Train Wreck that Shocked the Nation and Transformed American Railroads, by Charity VogelThe Angola Horror: The 1867 Train Wreck that Shocked the Nation and Transformed American Railroads
By Charity Vogel
Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013
296 pp., B&W photos, bibliography
$26.95 softcover

In well-researched and often graphic detail, author Charity Vogel recounts the devastating train disaster in Angola, New York, that changed the way Americans thought about rail travel. On the quiet day of December 18, 1867, there was no indication that tragedy was imminent for the passengers of the Buffalo and Erie Railroad’s eastbound New York Express train. However, as the train traveled along Lake Erie, a faulty track line and a bridge suspended over a snow-covered gorge came together to culminate in one of the worst train derailments at that period of American history. Approximately 50 people lost their lives, despite the aid efforts of locals, and many more were injured.

Vogel weaves a gripping tale, drawing out details of the events themselves and of the lives of the passengers affected by the tragedy, many of whom hailed from Western Pennsylvania. The young and old, married and single, country-dwellers and city folk were equally impacted. Even the rich were touched by the day’s awful events: John D. Rockefeller (of Standard Oil fame) missed the train by minutes, nearly a victim of the Angola Horror himself. The resulting book fascinates and horrifies, putting into perspective the assumptions that many readers have about 19th-century transportation, and relates to many modern-day fears we share with travelers from centuries past.

Reviewed by Kelly Anderson Gregg, Assistant Editor of Publications, Heinz History Center

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