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The Murder of the Beautiful Cigar Girl

In 1841, the smoky confines of the Liberty Street Cigar Shop drew a regular crowd of gregarious New York City literary men to admire the “dainty figure and pretty face” of the girl behind the counter, 20-year-old Mary Rogers. So when Mary disappeared in July of that year, the news made headlines—and when she was found days later floating in the Hudson River, her death became America’s first big murder story. What happened to Mary Rogers and how did a dissolute young writer named Edgar Allen Poe play a part in the search for the killer of the beautiful cigar girl?

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The Actor and the Assassin, Edwin and John Wilkes Booth

We have all heard how the U.S. Civil War pitted brother against brother—and the observation was never more apt than in the dramatic clash between the renowned actor Edwin Booth and his fanatical brother John Wilkes Booth, neither of whom actually served in the war. Join us this month to learn the story of how familial pride and sibling rivalry brought stage triumph to one and historical infamy to the other.

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OLD WEIRD AMERICA; Film Noir, the Dark Side of the American Dream Thursday, April 8 6:00pm

After WWII, the U.S. emerged as a world power, enjoying the greatest economic boom in the history of the world. America was experiencing a cultural malaise that reached its climax during the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s. The black and white crime dramas which French critics dubbed Film Noir, often featured a war weary male anti-hero led further astray by a scheming woman toward a tragic end. Come see and hear about some of the characters who made up this dark world, and the elements of culture these atmospheric films represent. Virtual program, please register under events!




Old Weird America: Satan in Salem Village, The Witch Hunt of 1692 / Thursday, March 11 6:00 PM

During the summer of 1692, nineteen women and men from a small Massachusetts village were carted out to a hill near town to be hanged as witches, while hundreds more stood accused. What brought the paranoid fear of supernatural evil into the hearts of Salem’s citizens and why did they suddenly begin to accuse each other of consorting with the devil? And why, by the end of the same year, did the accusers confessed they had been “sadly deluded and mistaken” in their judgment?



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BIBLIOGRAPHY (All titles available at KPL)

Emerson BakerA Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience.

Mary Beth NortonIn the Devil’s Snare: The Salem Witchcraft Crisis of 1692.

Marilynne RoachSix Women of Salem: The Untold Story of the Accused and Their Accusers in the Salem Witch Trials 

Marilynne RoachThe Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege. 

Stacy SchiffThe Witches: Suspicion, Betrayal, and Hysteria in 1692 Salem.

Also try: Unobscured—season 1, a 12 episode Podcast by Aaron Mahnke.


Old Weird America: Unusual Slave Narratives Thursday, February 11 6:00-7:00 PM

Not light-heartedly weird, but unusual and courageous, were lengths to which some enslaved people went to escape their enforced captivity. You will be awed at the harrowing stories of Henry ‘Box’ Brown, who mailed himself to freedom; Ellen and William Craft, who passed themselves off as master and slave; and Harriet Jacobs, who hid out in a crawlspace measuring 9 by 7 feet for seven years before fleeing north.

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Many collections available at KPL:

Henry Louis Gates (ed.),Classic Slave Narratives.

Joel Christian Gill (ed.), Strange Fruit: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History.

James Grannaisaw (ed.), Slave Narratives.

These narrative titles also available free online (Project Gutenberg):

William Craft, Running a Thousand Miles to Freedom.

Henry Brown, Narrative of the Life of Henry Box Brown.

Harriet Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.


Jean Fagan Yellin, Harriet Jacobs, a Life.

Kathleen Chater, Henry Box Brown: From Slavery to Show Business.

Jeffrey Ruggles, The Unboxing of Henry Brown.

Barbara McCaskill, Love, Liberation, and Escaping Slavery: William and Ellen Craft in Cultural Memory.

Virtual Old Weird America: Oscar Wilde’s American Tour /Thursday, December 10, 6:00 pm

Until his infamous fall in 1895, dramatist and poet Oscar Wilde was the toast of British artistic society, known for his sharp wit and outrageous presentation. But did you know his reputation was really made during his year-long speaking tour of America in 1882 when he declared to custom’s officials, “I have nothing to declare but my genius”?  Let’s travel with Oscar from conventional Boston drawing rooms to the truly ‘Wilde” west for a look at this vital 19th-century influencer.

Virtual Old Weird America: Nikola Tesla, the Spark of Genius Thursday, November 12/ 6:00-7:00 PM

Despite his ultimate triumph over Thomas Edison in their infamous feud over AC versus DC electrical power, Tesla gave up a fortune in royalties to help save the company that bought and used his patents to electrify the world. Tesla had a hand in developing modern technology from radio to wireless technology, including radar, transistors, and the use of x-rays. Register on our website to learn why the eccentric loner, Tesla understood that, “the present is theirs, the future, for which I really work, is mine.” 


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Old Weird America Goes Virtual! P.T. Barnum, America’s Premier Purveyor of Humbug Thursday, September 10, 6:00PM

There’s nothing weird about the out-sized entrepreneurial spirit of showman P.T. Barnum although he certainly was a master promoter of some of the weirdest oddities to be found in 19th century America. A philanthropist and progressive politician later in life, he built his reputation upon the exploitation of unfortunate human specimens such as the dwarf Tom Thumb and outright hoaxes like the Fiji Mermaid. We will explore the crusades and gaffs that marked Barnum’s colorful career. 

Virtual Old Weird America: Victoria Woodhull / Thursday, August 13 6:00 PM

In honor of the centenary of votes for women, we celebrate the life of the weirdest suffrage pioneer of them all. This lively daughter in a family of con artists, Victoria Claflin Woodhull used her considerable allure and skills as a tabloid journalist, spiritualist healer, and gold digger to acquire prominence in finance, politics, and ultimately, the British aristocracy. Her audacity won the respect of suffragist leaders such as Susan B. Anthony, and she became a power player in the movement as the first woman to run for president in 1872. Her subsequent fall from grace and retirement as a fine lady in England round out the story of this colorful cultural influencer.

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