You can already sense it here in the Valley. Before you know it, tens of thousands of students will make their way back to Penn State for another academic year. Soon after, tens of thousands more fans, alumni, and friends will follow them for seven Autumn weekends, many who are drawn back to a place they never managed to fully leave behind. It is one of my favorite times of year, when the cycle that keeps this place vibrant and dynamic begins anew. Our August Town & Gown contribution features an excerpt from The Legends of the Nittany Valley that speculates on the magical origins of the seemingly mystical force that draws us back here again and again.
No matter how mystical or supernatural it seems, this legend offers a telling and satisfying explanation for one of the most striking and oft-remarked phenomena of the Nittany Valley. Almost everyone who lives here for any length of time seems to have an irresistible desire to return as often as possible. Is there something in the water, or in the breezes that come down from the surrounding mountains, that keeps us coming back—or at least longing to come back? There seems to be an attractive power in the mountains and valleys of this region that calls us.
The next time you, or anyone who has once been in the Nittany Valley, suddenly feels a strong urge to go back to Penn State or to any of the areas that were once part of Wi-Daagh’s kingdom, just smile and remember this legend, and you will immediately understand why the feeling seems so irresistible…
You will have to head over to Town & Gown’s site to read the full story of King Wi-Daagh’s spell. Most of us know someone who has remarked on the uncanny magnetism of Penn State and State College; many have experienced this phenomenon first-hand. It is fun to have our own local myth to explain its roots. There is another element to Wi-Daagh’s story in particular that I wanted to highlight here.
Although the story of his spell lingering even from beyond the grave may be pure fantasy, the grave site of King Wi-Daagh (pronounced “wye-dog”) is very real. Wi-Daagh, unlike some other figures of local legend, actually existed. He was, in fact, an American Indian chieftain who held dominion over much of modern-day Central Pennsylvania, and he did fall prey to English settlers offering one of their notoriously lop-sided real estate deals.
Wi-Daagh’s burial site is marked by a 41′ column and rough-hewn headstone. It is located on what is now private land, and the encroaching wilderness has reclaimed much of the ground. Nevertheless, the column and marker remain, monuments to one of the last great Pennsylvania Indian leaders. I am including a gallery of photographs of his tombstone and memorial column, taken with the property owner’s permission. I share all this to add more flavor to the tale of King Wi-Daagh and his mystical spell and to reinforce the notion that this mythology is uniquely ours, rooted as it is within the very places we inhabit.