IN WILLIAM ECENBARGER’S NEW BOOK, WEIRD AND WONDERFUL STORIES TELL THE TALE OF PENNSYLVANIA.
In William Ecenbarger’s new book, weird and wonderful stories tell the tale of Pennsylvania.
In Pennsylvania Stories— Well Told, former Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine journalist William Ecenbarger presents a dozen unique, offbeat tales about the Keystone State. Here, he talks about driving with author and Reading native John Updike and touring Eastern State Penitentiary.
What was the inspiration for the book? “A couple of people had approached me over the years to put together some of my best Inquirer articles into a book. And that included my former editor, Art Carey, and my wife. I came upon a time in my life when I had some time to do this, so I just spent three or four months working on it.” You dedicate a chapter to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. How would you describe this 450-mile road in three words? “Root of history. The turnpike was the original US superhighway, and there was never anything like it before.” Tell us about your time with John Updike. “He was very congenial and had a nice sense of humor. He was a little bit reluctant at first— his mother set up the interview with me—but then as he got going he was quite enthusiastic. He drove my car so I could take notes.” If you penned a book called Philadelphia— Well Told, what’s one story that would make the cut? “I wrote a story about Eastern State (for the Inquirer) when it was getting ready to open to the public. It was a cold February day, and we got locked in Willy Sutton’s cell. This was before the age of cell phones. So we had no way to get out. We waited an hour before someone found us.” Joseph Fox Bookshop, 1724 Sansom St., 215-5634184; foxbookshop.com
“JOHN UPDIKE DROVE MY CAR SO I COULD TAKE NOTES.” — william ecenbarger
In his chapter about the Pennsylvania Turnpike, William Ecenbarger (inset) talks about the history behind the highway. “It was built right before WWII so we could send materials quickly to the ports of New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore,” he says.
One of Pennsylvania’s most unusual places is Fairmount’s Eastern State Penitentiary, regarded as the world’s first true penitentiary, and where Ecenbarger accidentally got locked in a cell.