David Laubach,
Witches & Rebels
(Aperture, 2014)

David Laubach draws on a pair of Pennsylvania legends for Witches & Rebels, a short book with two very different tales.

The first, Confederacy in Blue, takes a look at the legends -- and the modern, historical perspective -- of the anti-abolitionist movement in Columbia County, the hatred for Lincoln and distrust of the Union army, and racist perspectives that linger to today. Writing from points of view set in 1864, when the killing of a bounty hunter looking for draft dodgers set off harsh reprisals by the Union, and 2013, when a modern scholar wrestles with the contemporary perception of those events, Laubach links the racism of the Civil War era with the racism of the Obama presidency.

It ends a little too abruptly, though, leaving the reader to wonder what happened next in both eras.

Season of the Witch explores a very different place in history, the 1928 slaying of a powwow doctor in York County by a man who believed he was "hexed." The story pulls together the paths of John Blymire, who believes his own healing powers have been snatched away by a more established practitioner, Nelson Rehmeyer, and is led to murder by the advice of Nellie Noll, the River Witch of Marietta.

Laubach, recently deceased, retired as an English professor from Kutztown University and continued teaching courses at Cedar Crest College about folklore, Amish history and language until his death early in 2015.

The stories place the reader in the moment of both events, rounding out the facts as they are known with well-reasoned fiction.

book review by
Tom Knapp

21 November 2015

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