Pennsylvania Stories—Well Told

William Ecenbarger
Book Cover

HC: $25.00
EAN: 978-1-4399-1465-6
Publication: Mar 17

Ebook: $25.00
EAN: 978-1-4399-1467-0
Publication: Mar 17

248 pages
5.5 x 8.25

An engrossing compendium of stories on the people, places, and events that make Pennsylvania unique. Well told.

Read the Introduction (pdf).


With a biting mix of wonder and pride, William Ecenbarger observes that in the quirky state of Pennsylvania, the town of Mauch Chunk changed its name to Jim Thorpe—even though the famous American Indian athlete never set foot in it.

A former journalist for the Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine and author of the best seller Kids for Cash, Ecenbarger presents Pennsylvania StoriesWell Told, a compilation of a dozen of his fascinating articles showcasing the Keystone State . He provides a history of the pencil and considers why the first day of Pennsylvania’s deer hunting season—arguably the world’s largest participatory sporting event—is an unofficial state holiday, closing schools and state offices. Ecenbarger also profiles George “Boom Boom” Zambelli, the internationally renowned pyrotechnic king, and goes driving with Pennsylvania native John Updike in rural Berks County, Pennsylvania.

Other captivating tales that unfold in Pennsylvania StoriesWell Told range from the inspiring account of Governor Bob Casey’s double organ transplant, to darker essays on the electric chair and a former Ku Klux Klansman, to a mile-by-mile appreciation of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

These weird and wonderful stories, in which Ecenbarger highlights just what makes Pennsylvania both eccentric and great, provide a delightfully intriguing read for natives and curious outsiders alike.


" If Pennsylvania had a poet laureate, it would be Bill Ecenbarger. Throughout a long career as one of the most distinguished journalists in the state, he has captured the Commonwealth's unique spirit—in all its glory and all its eccentricity. Pennsylvania Stories—Well Told pulls together the best of his best stories, each impeccably researched and beautifully written. Learn about the literary great John Updike, the role of the Ku Klux Klan, a popular governor's very public fight for life, the notorious state mental hospital known as Byberry. These tales and others create a rich mosaic of Pennsylvania culture and history. I heartily recommend this book."
Former Governor Richard L. Thornburgh

"Bill Ecenbarger—to regular Inquirer readers, one need say no more. Put that name on a story, and they know that what awaits them is a small masterpiece of writing, wisdom, and wit. To editors at the Philadelphia Inquirer , Bill Ecenbarger is a godsend—a writer who covers an inordinately wide range of topics and turns in colorful, provocative stories that you want to read out loud to anyone who will listen."
Fred Mann, editor, Philadelphia Inquirer

" Reading the stories is like listening to your favorite quirky friend. The language rolls like a perfectly poured beer into a glass, gleaming gold and with just the right amount of froth."
Press Enterprise

"(This) collection of a dozen articles... sparkle(s) with entertaining and informative prose, covering subject material from the making of pencils in a Pennsylvania factory to the making of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, from the pervasive culture of deer hunting to the lingering stain of the Ku Klux Klan....This book is likely to elicit a smile, a chuckle, a nod or a shake of the head in readers who appreciate the always interesting and sometimes odd byways of life in Pennsylvania."
—Pennsylvania Heritage

Table of Contents


Intimate Strangers
Mike Lucas Was Struggling to Build a Life. Bob Casey Was Fighting to Keep His. This Is Their Story.

Passing the Torch
Former Klansman Roy Frankhouser Still Dreams of the Day When Men Will Be Judged by the Color of Their Skin rather than the Content of Their Character.

The Shame that Was Byberry
To Behold the Horrors of This Philadelphia Mental Hospital Is to Wonder: Just Who Are the Lunatics?

The Pencil
What's Portable, Chewable, Doesn't Leak, and Is Recommended by Ann Landers?

The Great Zambelli's Theory of the Big Bang
A Profile of Mr. Fireworks, George "Boom Boom" Zambelli

John O'Hara Could Go Home Again
But No Cheering Crowd Would Await the Once-Despised Novelist in Pottsville.

Drawing the Line
The Surveyors Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon Were Hired in 1763 to Settle a Simple Border Dispute. They Never Knew Their Work Would Become One of the Most Famous Boundaries in the World.

The Chair of Death
Some Have Been Dragged to It; Others Have Run to It. They Have Died Crying and Laughing. Many Have Died as Converts; Others Have Shouted Their Rejections. No Two Stories Are Alike.

Why Would a Nice Town like Jim Thorpe Want to Be Mauch Chunk—Again?
How a Pennsylvania Town Came to Be Called Jim Thorpe—even though the Famous Native American Athlete Never Set Foot in It

Pennsylvania's Deer-Hunting Season
The Largest Participatory Recreation Event in the World?

Tales of the Pennsylvania Turnpike
The Pennsylvania Turnpike Is, in a Very Real Sense, America's Highway—a Fenced City, 470 Miles Long and 200 Yards Wide, with a Heterogeneous and Resurgent Stream of Mobile Citizens. And Every Mile Has a Story.

Updike Is Home
The Author Vowed to Leave His Pennsylvania Home Behind, but He Never Quite Escaped—in His Work or His Life.


About the Author(s)

William Ecenbarger, a freelance writer, is the author of Walkin’ the Line, Glory by the Wayside: The Old Churches of Hawaii, and Kids for Cash: Two Judges, Thousands of Children, and a $2.6 Million Kickback Scheme, and the co-author of Catching Lightning in a Bottle: How Merrill Lynch Revolutionized the Financial World (with Winthrop H. Smith) and Making Ideas Matter : My Life as a Policy Entrepreneur (with Dwight Evans).