“Dead Letters: Delivering Unopened Mail from a Pennsylvania Ghost Town” with Jess Weible

Sunday, November 14, 2021 • 11:00 am - 12:30 pm
$5 per person | Register online
Hosted with the Jewish Genealogy Society of Pittsburgh | Virtual Program

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On assignment for a small-town newspaper in rural Pennsylvania, rookie reporter Jessica Weible meets Joan Swigart, a creative fireball and “pioneer in print.” As the two women forge a relationship based on their passion for storytelling, Joan reveals a mystery that she had discovered years ago, but had never solved—a pile of dead letters found in an abandoned general store, just before it was torn down. Joan gives Jessica the letters, each stamped and dated over a hundred years ago, and encourages Jessica to investigate the untold stories of the people and places contained in each one.

What begins as yet another assignment for the reporter, a young millennial who relies happily on email and texting as the primary means of communication, develops into a heartfelt mission to tell the story of the people and places in the letters. The young reporter’s journey takes unexpected twists and turns through the quiet lumber towns of Pennsylvania, the early American settlements in Massachusetts, the bustling crowds at Ellis Island, the violent strikes at the Passaic textile mills, and beyond.

Among the letters is a correspondence in Yiddish, which connects to a web of Jewish stories in Pittsburgh. Attendees in person will get a chance to see the actual letters.

This program is made possible by support from the William M. Lowenstein Genealogical Research Endowment Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation.


This program costs $5 per person. It’s free for Jewish Genealogical Society members. Please register online.

This is a hybrid program. Attendees can participate either online or in-person at the Heinz History Center. In-person attendance will be limited to the first 20 people who register. Social distancing will be enforced. Depending on public health conditions at the time of the program, we may revert to all-virtual format and send updated instructions to all registrants.

This program is a collaboration between the Jewish Genealogy Society of Pittsburgh and the Rauh Jewish History Program & Archives at the Heinz History Center. The program is free for JGS-Pittsburgh members and $5 for the general public. To become a member of the JGS-Pittsburgh and receive a free membership code, please visit their website.

Register now

For more information, please contact the Rauh Jewish Archives at rjarchives@heinzhistorycenter.org.

Jess Weible profile photo

Jess Weible is a freelance writer and reporter. Her writing has been featured in the Huffington Post and various local news outlets. Her column featuring writers of the Pennsylvania Wilds appears every month in the Brookville Mirror. Jess’s poetry has been published in the Apeiron Review and the Tobeco Journal. Her fiction appears in the Bridge Literary Arts Journal. She is also a founding editor for The Watershed Journal, an inclusive, regional literary magazine for the western Pennsylvania wilds.

Jess leads two writing groups, the Writer’s Block Party and the Rebecca M. Arthur’s Young Writers. She lives with her husband and two boys in Brookville, Pennsylvania.

Jewish Genealogy Society of Pittsburgh