a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Thursday, July 5, 2007

One freaky calf and a Frick

Well sufferin' catfish, will you look at the heads on that.
They're what remain of Jasper, a two-headed calf that was born in 1922 on the Oscar Keener farm in Lamber, Fayette County, Pa.
“It’s not a joke. It’s an anomaly,” said Sally D’Alessandro, a guide at West Overton Village in nearby Scottdale, where the stuffed animal is among the prized possessions of an eclectic museum.
If you go, ask to see a basket made entirely from the carcass of an armadillo that they keep hidden in a closet because it freaks out the staff.
There are many other cool things to see here that speak to the early farming and industrial revolution eras in the United States, such as fancy pianos, antique furniture, sewing machines, quilts and tramp art.
Tucked among the rolling green hills of Southwestern Pennsylvania, West Overton is the only surviving pre-Civil War site of its kind. Dating to 1800, it has 18 original buildings, including several worker houses, a six-story whiskey distillery, a stately mansion and the largest brick barn in this neck of the woods.

The estate is most famous, however, for being the Dec. 19, 1849, birthplace of Henry Clay Frick, who would establish himself as a ruthless steel and coke baron by 1889. He made his debut in a modest stone cottage over the spring house, a son of John W. and Elizabeth Overholt Frick.
By all indications, the couple had been banished from the big house by Elizabeth’s father, Abraham, because she was three months pregnant with her oldest daughter at the time of her scandalous marriage.

But, Henry Clay Frick would polish his business skills after the Overholts, wealthy Mennonites whose influence Frick used to borrow the money to get into the business of baking coal into coke to forge steel.

The office furniture where he managed his fortune at the Frick Building in Pittsburgh is on display at this museum, including the black horsehair chair where he was sitting when an anarchist tried to assassinate him. The ill-fated plot was carried out in revenge for seven steelworkers who were killed during an historic strike in Homestead.

The West Overton property has survived, largely due to the generosity of the Frick family.
It’s an Overholt, though, who still looks over the place. They say the grounds are haunted by the ghost of Clyde Overholt, who killed himself with a shotgun in 1919 in a bedroom in the mansion. He was the last Overholt to live in the house, and he took his life after an older brother claimed all of the family possessions upon the death of their mother. The body was not discovered for a month.
“I’m sure Clyde had other problems, too,” said Mary Ann Mogus, president of the museum board. “We blame all the strange happenings on Clyde.”
Everything, of course, except for the calf and armadillo.


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