The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


BackStory’s Top Blog Post of All Time

A photo of "Cannibal feast on the Island of Tanna, New Hebrides" by Charles E. Gordon Frazer. Source: Wikimedia Commons

A photo of “Cannibal feast on the Island of Tanna, New Hebrides” by Charles E. Gordon Frazer. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In honor of our last year of production, BackStory is bringing you memorable moments from outside of the podcast.

In 2016, BackStory intern Elizabeth McCauley wrote a story about the windigo, a creature from the spiritual beliefs of the Algonquian peoples. The blog post served as a companion to the “Where the Windigos Are” segment from “American Horror Story “ and further explained how the windigo made its way into popular culture.

Since then McCauley’s story “The Mythology and Misrepresentation of the Windigo” has become BackStory’s most popular blog post of all time. We caught up with McCauley to learn why she originally pitched the story, her thoughts on why so many have read the post and to see what she’s been up to since BackStory.

BackStory: Your blog post on the Windigo is BackStory’s most popular post ever! Do you remember why you pitched it?

McCauley: I was so pleased to hear that a story I wrote four years ago as an intern has continued to interest readers. Though I don’t recall the specific pitching process for this post, I know we felt that the Windigo story was rich enough that even with an
entire dedicated segment on the podcast, there was still more history we could unpack.

Not being a folklore buff myself, I hadn’t heard of the Windigo prior to BackStory’s segment. Upon beginning research, I was fascinated by just how backwards Western uses of the Windigo had become. Of the many examples of Western writers drawing from Indigenous peoples’ folklore, some more objectionable than others, this was particularly egregious: A warning against greed had been greedily snatched from its context to serve as simply another boogeyman, with no regard for the Windigo’s modern associations with colonialism rather than wilderness.

BackStory: Why do you think this story continues to draw readers?

McCauley: I learned a lot in the process of writing this piece and I’m glad others have seen fit to share and cite it. I think — and hope — that it resonated with people over the past few years because we’re finally realizing as a culture that it should be the norm for Western storytellers to do their due diligence when drawing inspiration from other cultures’ stories and traditions.

BackStory: What have you been up to since leaving BackStory?

McCauley: Since interning at BackStory, I’ve graduated from the University of Virginia, moved to New York City, and worked in digital media production in various roles over the past three years. I now work as an animator and video editor, but I still like to dabble in freelance writing whenever I have time. BackStory was the first opportunity I had to write professionally, and the experience I gained in pitching, reporting and storytelling from interning there has been invaluable throughout my short professional life thus far.

Read “The Mythology and Misrepresentation of the Windigo.”