WPSU explores the present-day lessons hidden in the shared tales of 'Past PA'

Photo of the 1889 Johnstown Flood damage
Credit: Johnstown Flood Museum

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — WPSU uncovers the stories that unveil the triumph, grit, caution and legend that make up the history of the commonwealth in a new digital series titled "Past PA." Hosted by Jared Frederick, historian and assistant teaching professor at Penn State Altoona, the series will take a closer look at events from the Johnstown Flood of 1889 and the Battle of Gettysburg, to the Whiskey Rebellion and the legend of the White Lady of Wopsy.

“I have taught Pennsylvania history for nearly a decade and in each semester, students and I embark on a rather astounding journey,” Frederick said. “My job is to present chapters of the state's past and infuse it with fresh perspective. The goal is to generate stronger appreciation of Pennsylvania and thereby instill a sense of stewardship in the young professionals I educate.”

Frederick said he presents a similar approach in WPSU’s "Past PA," focusing on how history’s lessons are valuable today.

“The Johnstown Flood is the quintessential cautionary tale of the Gilded Age, a tragedy that should resonate in the modern era. Every day in the news, we witness people with power being held unaccountable for actions that often unleash harmful ramifications,” Frederick said. “Although we are over 130 years removed, the Johnstown Flood is representational of that troubling trend. At the heart of the story is an elite group of citizens whose apathy about their privately owned, long-neglected dam leads to the deaths of over 2,200 people. The dramatic tale is one that Hollywood needs to revisit.”

Frederick said history has the power to console, inform and inspire if people have the patience to listen and learn.

“I have always adopted the philosophy of teaching the good, the bad and the ugly of Pennsylvania history. Our residents of past and present have achieved incredible undertakings, but so too have they partaken in dark episodes some would rather not talk about,” Frederick said. “Only by balancing our interpretations of the state's story can we fully come to terms with its potentials and perils. That is my stance in the classroom, and I hope we can fuel similar conversations via 'Past PA.'”

Andy Grant, lead producer of digital media for WPSU, said the series was created to illuminate the history of Pennsylvania.

“We want to deliver a deeper understanding of important events to people who may have heard about them but know little about the details. An example would be John Burns' role in the Battle of Gettysburg,” Grant said. “Many of the historical events we feature have important lessons to teach us today.” 

Season one of WPSU’s "Past PA" will feature the following episodes and will be available on May 17 to view via YouTube and on the PBS app:

  • “The Johnstown Flood”
  • “The Whiskey Rebellion”
  • “John Burns, Hero of Gettysburg”
  • “The White Lady of Wopsy”

"Past PA" classroom resources are available for teachers to download here.

Season two is planned to launch later in 2023.

WPSU-TV serves 24 counties in central Pennsylvania and reaches 515,000 households, and WPSU-FM is accessible to more than 450,000 listeners in 13 counties. The public media station also includes WPSU Digital Studios, which offers original web series that explore science, arts and culture.

WPSU is a service of Penn State Outreach. Visit the WPSU website to learn more about central Pennsylvania’s public media station.