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Making women's history at the Pennsylvania Derby

Plus, Pa.'s accidental mummy.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

October 6, 2023
Inside this edition: Historic call, funeral service, Halloweentown, holiday cheer, calendar shoot, and TV cameo. October is here! Thanks for checking in.
🏆 SMART STUFF: Did you stay on top of Pennsylvania news this week? Prove it with the latest edition of the Great PA News Quiz: State park shortfall, McCarthy votes, and a megadonor’s money trail.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

Where would you find a “Pittsburgh potty” in a Pittsburgh home?

A. Second-floor bathroom
B. Backyard
C. Attic
D. Basement

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One event worth witnessing: Reading residents can see “Stoneman Willie”, one of the United States’ oldest mummies, take a trip through town tomorrow before he receives a long-overdue burial.

» One place worth visiting: New Hope in Bucks County is one of the best Halloween destinations in the country, according to Trips to Discover. It has lantern-led ghost tours and a "nationally acclaimed" scarehouse.

» One ticket worth gifting: Mariah Carey is already defrosting for her holiday takeover, and she announced a holiday tour with December stops in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Tickets are available now.

» One story worth sharing: Olli, a disabled opossum from Pennsylvania, has won a global contest and will be gracing the 2024 Walkin’ Pets calendar. Olli was rescued after an attack he suffered as a baby. 

» One episode worth watching: Philadelphia was featured in the 15th season premiere of NBC’s 1st Look, a travel show exploring destinations around the world. Watch on YouTube or Peacock.

The top stories published by Spotlight PA this week.
» More charges brought in DuBois corruption case
» One man's spending is dominating Pa. judicial races
» Automatic voter registration draws lawsuit threats
» Expanded voter ID back on the table in Pennsylvania
» Why officials are wary of changing Pa.'s 2024 primary date
» Your guide to Pa.'s Supreme Court candidates
» Your guide to Commonwealth, Superior Court candidates

📅 Upcoming events: 

» A free panel on Pa.’s 2023 Supreme Court, judicial candidates
» Spotlight PA hosts 'Path to Equity' summit in Harrisburg
Join Spotlight PA's Path to Equity event on Oct. 11 in Harrisburg.
Jessica Paquette in the booth. (Photos submitted)

Horse race announcer Jessica Paquette made history last month when she called the Pennsylvania Derby.

The Sept. 23 race at Parx Racing in Bensalem marked the first time in North America that a woman called a Grade 1 horse race, which is the highest level of the sport.

“This is a groundbreaking stride in the world of horse racing and sports in general,” Ashley Eisenbeil, marketing director for the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Association, said by email. “Jessica serves as an inspiring figure, assuring young girls worldwide that they can achieve anything they strive for."

When PA Local spoke with Paquette in early October, the 38-year-old was still elated from the historic moment, and eager to inspire other women.

“It is very rewarding and a huge honor to be a trailblazer because other women have paved the way for me in other areas of the sport,” she said. “To be able to show younger girls that they have a seat at the table is important to me.”

Storytelling is a big part of her job as track announcer at Parx Racing. During races, she paints a picture of what’s happening on the track for viewers tuning in. Monday through Wednesday, she typically calls 30 races — about 10 a day, she said. To prepare for each race, she studies the horses and jockeys, memorizing their skill levels and profiles.

Paquette was a bundle of nerves on the historic day. During the races, a downpour muddied the track and limited visibility of the horses’ numbers and names as she called.

“I was intimidated by the weather at first, but I took each race as it came and stayed focused and calm,” Paquette said.

Her voice bobbed as she called the action down on the muddy track, which she viewed through binoculars. She had to catch her breath a few times to keep pace with the shifting lead, but she sounded authoritative. Her calls audibly increased in excitement and volume as the horses neared the finish line.

Her poised performance drew wide praise from horse racing announcers and fans. Paquette said the outpour of support moved her.

“It is very much a community and family to me. I do have to say the one that meant the most to me was Charlsie Cantey,” she said. “I was a little starstruck by that.” Cantey is a veteran horse race broadcaster and sports analyst.

Paquette, who was born in Massachusetts, says she was a “horse-crazed kid” growing up. Trips to a local race track when she was young gave her early exposure to equines. 

Joining Kids to the Cup, an organization that brings young people into the horse racing industry, further stoked her passion. She drove herself out to the tracks as soon as she got her driver’s license. Sometimes she would skip school to go to Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts or spend Friday nights at Rockingham Park in New Hampshire.

“I just wanted to be close to the horses,” she said.

Her full-time job at Parx Racing, which began last fall, is as notable as her Pennsylvania Derby performance. The Athletic reported earlier this year that a woman hadn’t worked as a full-time announcer in the U.S. since the 1960s. The role builds on Paquette’s two decades of working in the horse racing industry as an analyst, sideline reporter, and paddock handicapper.

As a broadcast analyst, Paquette would study the stakes of races and predict winners. As part of her research, she would watch the horses in the paddock get saddled and warmed up, observations that would inform her predictions. 

She describes announcing full-time as a new frontier.

“This is beyond my wildest dreams,” she told Spotlight PA. “It never occurred to me that a woman could be an announcer. That never occurred to me that it was a career path. I just kept saying yes to things, and here I am.”

Paquette says her path has offered more highs than lows, but doesn’t deny that working in a male-dominated field sometimes took a toll. She said she has received a fair share of sexist and hateful comments on social media. She said she once received an email from a man who said he “goes to the race track to get away from his old lady’s voice” and didn’t want to hear her.

She’s grown thick skin in response. “You take all the arrows. They are certainly not ready yet to hear a woman’s voice and they show that.”

As she continues to call races, she wants to be more than just a milestone. 

“I just want to be known as a really good announcer,” she said.

Paquette says a good announcer is accurate, entertaining, and able to tell the unique story of each race they call.

As for her own story, she hopes other women follow in her tracks, advising, “don't let anyone tell you you don’t belong. Say yes to every opportunity. Your dreams are never too big.”

Tanisha Thomas, newsletter writer / reporter

Our favorite quote about Pennsylvania — or from a Pennsylvanian — this week.

“In this male-dominated world that we live in, for a woman to be in control and not necessarily using her body to do so — it means a lot.”

Fin Fairy, a financial dominatrix in Philadelphia, receives money from "finsubs" who relinquish control by giving her money

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
Honey the goat greeting visitors during Northampton County's recent open gate farm tour, courtesy of @jan.schwartz3 on InstagramHave a Pennsylvania photo to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
A closeup of a small goat on grass with what appears to be tree bark in its mouth.
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

D. Basement

In some Pittsburgh homes you will find a “Pittsburgh potty” in the basement. After a day spent in the mills, workers would go downstairs to clean up and change into clean clothes to avoid dirtying up the common areas upstairs, according to a WQED video discussing the origins of the fixtures, which sometimes came with a shower and sink.

Some Pittsburgh potties are out in the open, leaving no room for privacy. The city's new public toilets share the name but not that feature.

Thanks for reading PA Local. We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 

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