By Lorita deSiena
Feature Reporrter PI
Despotissa Heirusalem Crystoma has been working for Pennsic newspapers since Pennsic 21. Sadly, this year is her last, as she is stepping down as publisher and will not be returning to Pennsic. She asked me to tell her story, which I am honored to do—after all, my current career is thanks to her. It was because of my years of experience writing for the Independent that I now have a job as a journalist back home. I owe her this much at least.
Heirusalem is stepping down due to ongoing health issues. Both Pennsic and her work as the Pennsic Independent’s publisher have become increasingly difficult for her, so she has made the decision to stop. The next publisher of the Independent will be announced once a final decision has been made.
“I’ll definitely be following the Independent and trying not to bother the new staff,” Hierusalem commented. “I’m not sure what I’ll do with the extra time now. I may take a vacation elsewhere, or visit family, or stay at home and write my book. I’m not leaving the SCA, I’m just leaving this.”
Heirusalem, who was made a Pelican for her work on the Pennsic Independent and for her years as a Chronicler, including at the Society level, knows that the newspaper will be in good hands moving forward.
“We’re not going to go away,” she said. “We’ve got a good core group of people to take care of it. This is a really good group of people. They were trained well and they’re so confident in their abilities that they’ve done a great job.”
Heirusalem, or “H” as many of us call her, has seen firsthand how well her staff can manage the paper. When she took a five-year hiatus to care for her daughter, Myra of Rivenstar, after a cancer diagnosis, her staff took over for her.
“As soon as she was diagnosed, they took the paper and ran with it,” she recalled. “When I came back, I hardly had to do anything.”
What H says she will miss the most about running the newspaper is the people with whom she works. What she’ll miss most about Pennsic is “everything.” She has many fond memories of past adventures and activities.
“I loved hanging out here, sitting and kibitzing,” she said. “I loved talking to people, getting ideas for stories, and working with my Protégés, Myles and Grizzly and Donalbain. I remember throwing Ho-Hos at people walking by, carrying signs with moons on them around and ‘mooning’ people in other camps, giving a tribute of Chocolate Chaucers to the Horde as thanks for helping us, and hanging out with the autocrats—back when we had an autocrat and not a Mayor, and back when this was the Pennsic War Chronicle.”
H also remembers Og’s bedtime stories for children, being “the original Pennsic zombies” with her staff, and the year that Og instigated an urchin strike.
“The paper was running really late that day,” she recalled, “and the kids were getting restless. I asked Og to go take care of them, since he was so good with kids. The next thing I know, I’m in the production building and I’m hearing shouts of ‘What do we want? Beer! When do we want it? Now!’ I pulled $20 out of my wallet and told the person in the building with me, ‘Go get ice cream for all the kids!’ That was how we learned that we should never let Og be in charge of the urchins!”
H also has many memories of how the Pennsic Independent has evolved over the years, as Pennsic itself has evolved and grown.
“When I started with the paper, we were the first ones able to publish photographs,” she said. “Our photographers’ ‘black room’ was just them with a black cloakå thrown over their heads while they developed their photos. We’ve gone from physical cut-and-paste to email. We used to carry masters up to the gate for publishing, and then we used to carry CDs up to the gate, then we carried flash drives up to the gate, and now we email everything. Technology has changed a great deal.”
Other things that have changed are the staff (“There’s a lot more of us now.”), the paper’s location (it started out on Merchants’ Row, moved to the Serengeti, and finally landed in its current location on the Great Middle Highway), and the workspace (the paper started out in a tent and now has a trailer to protect all the electronics from the weather). The current trailer that the Pennsic Independent operates out of is a temporary space while a better one is being built. It’s currently $6,000 short of its cost to finish, but there is a GoFundMe where people can donate to help the trailer get finished. You can find it at gf.me/u/9y4a2.
When Heirusalem first took over the Pennsic Independent in Pennsic 31, that was the year that the newspaper got an online presence. A website and PDF editions were now available, which meant greater accessibility for the Known World.
“People who were fighting in the Middle East would email me saying how much they enjoyed reading the paper,” H said. “And people who couldn’t come to Pennsic could read the paper online or download the PDFs right away, instead of waiting until after the end of the War for them to be delivered in the mail.”
Her favorite thing about the newspaper was having the War come to her as her disabilities made it increasingly hard for her to get around. She also loved having her kids all be involved with the paper in some way. Her oldest son was an office manager, her youngest son was an urchin and a minion, her middle daughter worked at the urchin desk and wrote some articles, her oldest biological daughter was an urchin wrangler, and her youngest daughter helped in the off-season to work on the trailer.
“This really was my dream job,” she said.
H, thank you for everything. To say you will be missed is an understatement.
Heirusalem has a “My Last Pennsic” book at the Pennsic Independent front desk. She would like to invite folks to write something in it that she can read at home.