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Introduction to The Legends of the Nittany Valley

Introduction to The Legends of the Nittany Valley

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"The Legends of the Nittany Valley" is an original publication of The Nittany Valley Society, presenting a special collection of Henry W. Shoemaker's famous and beloved folklore to new generations. Chris Buchignani, founding president of The Nittany Valley Society, authored the Introduction to this book.
"The Legends of the Nittany Valley" is an original publication of The Nittany Valley Society, presenting a special collection of Henry W. Shoemaker's famous and beloved folklore to new generations. Chris Buchignani, founding president of The Nittany Valley Society, authored the Introduction to this book.

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Published by: The Nittany Valley Society on Apr 04, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/05/2013

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Introduction
 When we speak of the Nittany Valley, we shouldrecognize that the Indians were here
rst.
ey gavetheir names to the places we inhabit today — Nittany, Waupalani and Bald Eagle, for example and they 
rst gave voice to the spirit of the place. Later came the pioneering educators and students of what wouldbecome
e Pennsylvania State University, whobreathed in and gave form to that spirit, even naming themselves for it:
ey became the Nittany Lions.Little is known of the factual history of theAmerican Indians in whose spirit we live today. Almostall that is known are their legends and stories, passed onby the few who survived in this area by the latenineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Fortunately, a young man from McElhattan, Henry W. Shoemaker(1880-1958), began hearing these stories as a boy. Hemade it his life’s work to seek out all the Indian andsettler story-tellers he could
nd, in order to record and
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 publish them before their words disappeared intohistory.Penn State students read these stories in theAltoona
Tribune
, where Shoemaker
rst publishedmany of them, and then read the books in which hecollected them. From him they learned the legendary origin of the Nittany Mountain, and the saga of thegreat Indian Princess who inspired it.
e studentschose her as their exemplar, and took her name astheirs. Several versions of this story, along with many others pertaining to the places and characters of thischarming regional folklore, are collected here in
e Legends of the Nittany Valley
.In the years since their initial publication, there hasbeen much debate over the authenticity of the legendsas products of a genuine oral tradition, with many historians suggesting that most if not all of themsprung from Shoemaker’s fertile imagination. Inconsidering the legends’ impact on the people of theNittany Valley, such questions, while undoubtedly relevant for scholars, are largely immaterial. WhetherShoemaker’s stories are truly relics that have survivedfrom our long forgotten past, products of his owncreative impulse, or a bit of both (which is most likely),their in
uence is indisputable. For the purposes of this publication in particular, they should be taken at face value, not as historical artifacts that reveal the precisehistory of peoples past, but as unique stories —
our 
stories — that evoke our common cultural history andconfer greater meaning on our present.Consider the unique power of myth to instill a senseof community.George Lucas described one of his goals in making Star Wars as the creation of a new mythology for the
18
 
modern age. From Darth Vader and Obi-Wan Kenobi tothe Death Star and The Force, Lucas has furnished us with a remarkably flexible and resilient contemporary common language with which to express timelessconcepts like the quest for wisdom and the battlebetween good and evil. Today, people from around thecountry or the world can better communicate and relatethrough the shared language of myth. In this respect, it isno more relevant that the Star Wars mythology is only afew decades old, or that no one ever actually 
believed 
inPrincess Leia, than it matters whether our own PrincessNita-Nee walked among the American Indians hundredsof years in the past or was invented by yarn spinners fromthe turn of the century. References to Yoda, Han Solo orLuke Skywalker help us share sentiment in ways that aresimple, direct and transferable across distance andculture. So too can our own local myths provide a sort of cultural shorthand for those who dwell, in body or spirit,in Central Pennsylvania.The power of myth also grows from and strengthensa sense of place. J.R.R. Tolkien spent years of his post-war lifemeticulously crafting the languages, legends and history of his imaginary realm before he took to writing TheLord of the Rings, or even its predecessor The Hobbit,so that when Aragorn sings “The Lay of Leithian” theepic poem of the love and adventure of Beren andLuthien for Sam and Frodo while lapsing into Elvish orspeaks with sadness of the fall of the Northern Kingdom,it lends an air of authenticity that draws the reader intothe story. There can be no question that this attention todetail, employed throughout Tolkien’s books to addflavor and depth to the storytelling, has contributedgreatly to their enduring status as among the great worksof Western literature. We are able to escape the daily 
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