a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, October 29, 2007

Swept out the door

Welcome to nowhere, chapter 9

By Scott Beveridge

U.S. Steel Corp. delivered the news on a muggy July 1962 morning that its Donora works was shutting down forever, leaving the borough’s fate in the hands of its citizens. The company was sweeping its nearly 3,000 Pennsylvania workers out the door as if they were dust bunnies that had been allowed to collect for too many years in the corners and under the beds of an unkempt house. In keeping with tradition, the Donora Herald-American newspaper showed itself as a mouthpiece for the corporation and took sides with management. Never was it more evident than in the lines of an editorial that was printed in bold letters under the front-page story about the mill closing that July 24:


A Time for
United Decision

American Steel and Wire Division’s announcement today that the steel making and the obsolete Number Three Rod Mill operations will be discontinued permanently in Donora is not, or should not have been, a surprise to Donora and the Monongahela Valley.

Those who have read carefully the annual report of United States Steel Corporation who have followed the development of technological changes in steel-making in this country and abroad, and who, indeed, watched only yesterday the European television networks showing steelmaking operations in the industrial Ruhr Valley of Germany know what has happened.

As a woman housecleans her home and discards articles which have outlived their usefulness, so steel companies, or any other industry for that matter, must also houseclean for efficiency of operation.

Donora has been without these operations for more than two years now, and has continued to survive, as already has been proved, but it also can and must go forward. Progress, however, will depend more than ever before on an intangible commodity which Donora has in abundance – good people, working together toward a common goal.

The Telstar broadcast yesterday pointed out that the world is becoming more highly competitive daily. Today’s worker produces products which must compete, not only with products of immediately surrounding industries and the country, but also with products on the common world market. No longer may he be satisfied with “good enough.” He must produce highest quality goods or see the goods he has produced unsold in a highly competitive market.

He also must compete to keep the very industries for which he produces these products. No longer may he be complacent and content to let his community remain a one-industry town.

Donora, therefore, would be wise to heed the ancient Biblical handwriting on the wall, “Mene, mene, tekel upharsin.” Translated freely it reads, “You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting.” It is time now for Donora’s people to weigh the situation in balance and determine that Donora shall not be found wanting, and that its united people are ready to begin rebuilding for the future – starting today.

Strangely, the folks in Donora didn’t believe the company was telling the truth, said John Lignelli, who was a grievance man in the blooming mill and would go on to serve as mayor of Donora three decades later.

“We all thought it was nothing but a threat,” Lignelli said last week.

U.S Steel, he said, had just overhauled the blast furnace at great expense. Nearly everyone was praying that the announcement was a ploy to sucker the union into giving back benefits or wages. But the company wasn’t attempting, that time, to manipulate anyone in Donora.


Chapter 10

(The photograph and editorial were published with permission of the Observer-Reporter, Washington, Pa., which owns the rights to the old Donora newspaper.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Doctoring the dead

The nation’s first crematory, built on Gallows Hill in Washington, took shape because of a country doctor’s disturbing work with exhumed bodies, some of which went to their graves still breathing.
Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne would argue that his crematory was an experiment in improving public health, but he really built the oven because he feared waking up six feet underground after his own funeral, a professor theorized.

“He built it for his own reasons,” said Stephen Prothero, chairman of religious studies at Boston University and an expert on the history of cremation in the United States.

The venerable physician would become the third person to be reduced to ashes at his crematory following his death at 3 p.m. Oct. 13, 1879. Upon LeMoyne’s death at 82, his body was placed in a plain rosewood coffin and carried by his sons and grandsons to the crematory amid speculation that he had more bizarre plans for his funeral.
His demise, however, would be forever overshadowed by the first cremation on the steep hill overlooking Washington and its many staunch, conservative Presbyterian families.

The decomposing body of Baron Joseph Henry Louis Charles De Palm arrived in Washington on an especially frigid Dec. 6, 1876, to become the first cremation in the New World.
De Palm paraded himself as an Austrian nobleman when he joined the ranks of New York’s Theosophical Movement, whose members wanted to create an equal opportunity society and investigate the mysteries of nature.
De Palm died penniless, but had expressed a desire in his will to be cremated, plans that were executed by another modern thinker from New York, Col. Henry Steel Olcott.
De Palm’s body was packed in “potter’s clay and crystallized carbolic acid” in an attempt to preserve his corpse before better embalming techniques were invented, Prothero found. But it took six months between the time De Palm died and LeMoyne completed his crematory before the body arrived in the backwoods town of Washington, followed by curious newspaper reporters from across the United States and Europe, scientists and physicians.

“It wasn’t like it was in New York City, some cosmopolitan city,” Prothero said in a telephone interview. “The reaction was something you would expect in Middle America; it was un-Christian, shocking.”

Prothero included a chapter about the cremation in his book, “Purified by Fire,” which revealed LeMoyne as a man of many contradictions.
At Washington County Historical Society, which makes its home in the historic stone LeMoyne House on East Maiden Street, the physician is revered as a tireless advocate of the unfortunate. He was a staunch supporter of the anti-slavery movement, and had opened his home to slaves seeking freedom on the Underground Railroad.
He believed in equal rights for women, too, and founded the Washington Seminary long before he got the idea to build the crematory on the hill, which also had been the site of public executions.

But Prothero uncovered reports that some Washington folks had looked upon LeMoyne as a filthy, unkempt old fool who had been excommunicated from First Presbyterian Church for his unconventional beliefs.
It was true that LeMoyne had the notion that soap and water not only removed the dirt, but it also washed away the “spiritual essence of the body,” Prothero said.
To mask his scent, LeMoyne splashed himself with cologne he made from roses and herbs that grew in his garden, said Jim Ross, director of the LeMoyne House, which keeps De Palm’s ashes in a jar in the physician’s office.

“He was way ahead of his time,” Ross said.

Rather than focus on LeMoyne’s fears of a premature burial and worries about the theft of bodies at Washington Cemetery, everyone at the historical society refers to him as a brilliant visionary.
But LeMoyne had no way of predicting the high jinks and farce that would accompany De Palm’s cremation, Prothero said.
Hundreds of people were standing outside the simple, one-story, two-room crematory when the baron’s body arrived. The affair resembled a public execution at a time when people were still fascinated by “macabre entertainment,” Prothero said.

There was nothing fancy about the reception room, which was furnished with two bentwood chairs, a hand-carved table for the coffin, a hutch and cast-iron heating stove. Its walls were whitewashed. There were no curtains on the window. One side door led to the furnace room in the 20-by-30-foot building that was built for $1,500 and designed by LeMoyne, who tested the oven with dead sheep from his farm.
It was a man named John Dye who did the construction and maintained the coking coal that fueled the oven, Ross said.

“Everything was plain, repulsively so, one might say,” Olcott wrote in his book, “Old Diary Leaves,” about the De Palm cremation. “Just a practical corpse incinerator, as unaesthetic as a bake-oven ... with none of that horror of roasting human flesh. The corpse simply dries.”

At least 100 people crowded inside the red brick building, where one person lifted the shroud covering De Palm’s body, which had shrunk from 175 pounds to 92 pounds, to examine the condition of his loins.
The body was then dusted with herbs and spices and outlined with pine branches to add a sweet scent to the smoke that was about to rise from the chimney. The body was placed head-first on an open grate into the 3,000-degree oven in such a manner that it didn’t touch the flames.
Some took turns looking through a peephole in the heavy, cast-iron oven door before the cremation was over, two-and-a-half hours later.
One observer, Prothero noted, remarked that the evergreens and De Palm’s hair were the first to catch fire like a “crown of glory for the dead man.”
Another claimed to have witnessed De Palm’s left hand rise up with three fingers pointing to the heavens in what a physician dismissed as involuntary muscle contractions, the professor’s research showed.

At the time, LeMoyne had also begun to wither; his aging body so pained by arthritis that he witnessed the events while hunched over in a chair.
And the spectacle that accompanied the De Palm cremation apparently haunted the physician until the time of his death, which was followed by a funeral that was anything but spectacular.
Before he died, LeMoyne dictated to a secretary his final arguments for cremation while “under the embarrassment of infirmities of old age, and under the depressing influences of a fatal disease.”

He believed that a body was of no use to God once its soul was removed, and that burials were the most “barbarous and disgusting” methods to deal with the dead.
As for science, LeMoyne knew that decomposing bodies polluted the ground water and made people deathly sick if they drank from wells near cemeteries.
The physician also said cemeteries were resting places for the vain and rich to be remembered in the sinful custom of marking graves with expensive, magnificent monuments.

Jan Pitman of Cincinnati, Ohio, agreed with LeMoyne. Her corpse became the second body to reach his crematory on Feb. 15, 1878, and she was recorded as the first woman in the United States to be cremated. The wife of Benjamin, who designed a phonograph system, wished that her ashes be buried and transformed into a rose for her husband.
In all, 42 bodies were cremated at LeMoyne’s crematory, where a prince was treated the same as a pauper before it closed in 1901.

The LeMoyne Crematory survives in remarkable condition and is identical to the way it appeared when the first cremation took place there in 1876. To this day, the building on South Main Street in Washington has no electricity or heat.
The simple building is maintained by the Washington County Historical Society, which offers limited tours of the building on the second Saturday of each month, between May and September. Special school tours can be arranged by calling 724-225-6740.

Taken from the pages of the target="_blank">Observer-Reporter

LeMoyne Crematory

Built in 1876, the LeMoyne Crematory in Washington, Pa., was the first such facility in the United States. It was the result of country doctor Francis Julius LeMoyne's fear of being buried alive after his unpleasant experiences with exhumed bodies.
The first creation, that of the Baron De Palm of New York, created a media sensation in was then a backwoods town.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The burger beautiful

Kenny’s Grocery still has an old icebox with a beveled mirror along the back wall, an oak chest that was converted to electricity but rarely gets plugged into a wall socket. There are photographs of school kids behind the counter, too, between pictures of deer kill and women in skimpy bikinis. Dusty boxes of candy seem to be calling out to the kids who live here in sleepy Scenery Hill and along Pennsylvania’s stretch of the historic National Road, North America's first interstate.

Customers do stop by, though, for the hamburgers that Rick Mowl cooks on a cast iron skillet the same way they have been fried since 1949. He said the flavor comes from the old Griswold skillet that “is probably worth a lot of money” to collectors of cookware. The pan and special spices, including a little garlic and onion powder, come together to create a beauty of a burger that keeps people coming back for more. They are always served on a paper napkin with a dose of Mowl’s dry humor.

Mowl would have to kill you if he told you what is in the shakers that he uses to dust his patties that do not appeal to everyone in town. The thin lady up the road is a naturalist, he said, who must “eat berries” because she never orders one of his burgers. "She's Euell Gibbons," he says while flipping what is about to become my lunch.

This is downtown country living in North Bethlehem Township, which is home to less than 1,800 people who must drive about 10 miles to the nearest gasoline station and even further to a big box supermarket.

And the best part – Mowl’s juicy quarter-pounders sell for $1.75 apiece. Add a quarter to the bill if you want cheese, lettuce and tomato.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

Where Bobby Vinton cut his chords

Sammy Davis Jr. did not set the house on fire the last time he was booked at a once-famous Mon Valley supper club.

That's because his appearance was canceled by a second mysterious blaze within hours that destroyed the Twin Coaches on the first day of Fire Prevention Week in October 1977.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," said Mike Godzak, 46, of Rostraver Township, who was among the first firefighters on scene when the fire was burning out of control.

Godzak said he and others "scrambled off the roof" as it was collapsing into the ballroom, and were fortunate to avoid injury.

Hours earlier, they had doused a small fire among linens stored too close to a hot water tank. Embers from the second blaze smoldered for a week at the Westmoreland County business. The damage was so severe that it apparently prevented investigators from determining the cause of the blaze that brought down the curtain on one of the most famous stages east of the Mississippi River.

"It was 35 miles from the big city and it was packed all the time. That was the beauty of it," said Cassandra Vivian, chief executive officer of Monessen Heritage Museum, recalling the nightclub where every big name in the 1950s and 1960s except for Frank Sinatra had wooed audiences.

Meanwhile, crooner Bobby Vinton was a big draw, even before his signature song, "Roses are Red," shot up the charts in 1962.

"It was one of the highlights of my early career," Vinton said in a telephone interview.

The Canonsburg, Pa., native was often in the audience as a fan while studying music at Duquense University in Pittsburgh.

His favorite memory there was meeting John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jackie, in 1959 during the then-Massachusetts senator's campaign for the White House.

"He shook my hand and said, 'Hello.' Here I was, just a young kid from Canonsburg," the 70-year-old Vinton said.

The club's owner at the time, Rose Calderone, wanted to give the Kennedys the royal treatment, and instructed her kitchen staff to prepare them lobster. It was a Friday and the future Roman Catholic president could not dine on steak for religious reasons, said Ron Paglia, a former newspaper editor in the Mon Valley.

"He said, 'No, Rose. Give me some scrambled eggs and a beer,'" Paglia said.

Calderone ushered Kennedy to her private kitchen, seated him on a step-stool and served him eggs and a bottle of Stoney's, a local label produced in Smithton by the family of actress Shirley Jones.

Kennedy was not the only big-name politician to visit the Calderones. President Harry Truman, the nation's 33rd president, spoke at their club in the 1950s, as did untold other prominent Democrats.

Calderone and her husband, Tony, had purchased what was a run-down bar in need of a more-refined clientele in the 1940s. He had taken a gamble on what amounted to two rusting Pullman railroad cars parked side-by-side, the 91-year-old Rostraver Township woman said, discussing her famous career in October at her kitchen table.

She said she stood at the bar's front door and barred men from entering if they were not wearing a coat and tie. She kept a baseball bat behind the bar in case of trouble.

In 1950, her husband added the 250-seat Rose Room to the establishment and booked television celebrity Al Morgan to perform.

"He had vision. He really did," Calderone said of her husband.

Three years later, he built the Butterfly Room, adding 1,000 seats to the club, making it the largest nightclub in the Pittsburgh region. Pop singer Tony Martin opened the room with four black-lit butterflies on its ceiling, along with Alan King, his warm-up comic.

"It just grew, and Rose came along, and she booked the best," said Warren Sheppick of Fallowfield Township, who played tenor saxophone in the house band. "It was the place to play."

Sheppick said he performed for Liberace, the Four Tops, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Johnny Mathis and Rosemary Clooney.

"They had all the big names," Paglia added.

However, Rose Calderone took center stage when her husband died unexpectedly in 1960.

"It was either sink or swim," she said. She befriended the stars and traveled to New York or Las Vegas to haggle with the top booking agents.

Her hard work also provided well-paying jobs for women who lived in the small coal towns that dotted the region.

"Some of the waitresses, ladies in the 1950s, were making $100 a night in tips. That was good money then," Vivian said.

The club was on the national radar screen because guests on the Tonight Show often mentioned it when host Johnny Carson asked them where they would be performing, Vivian said. Calderone was even profiled in 1969 in Cosmopolitan magazine because of her Hollywood friends and success in the male-dominated show business.

She later sold her club to a group of investors, not long after supper clubs were losing their popularity, and she had converted hers into a dinner-theater. She decided to invest in a Holiday Inn across the highway.

The nation's nightclub trade began to die with the arrival of the Beatles in February 1964, Vinton said.

Rock and roll demanded much-larger concert halls, the size of which, Calderone said, she could not compete against.

"Entertainment changed," Vinton said.

"The time was up for the big supper clubs," he said. "You had TV. People didn't go as much ...."

(Captions: Bobby Vinton in a promotional photo for his orchestra when he played at the Twin Coaches; Club owner Rose Calderone with a young Johnny Mathis; and actress Shirley Jones at the supper club, flanked by its owner, Tony Calderone, and Jones' then husband, Jack Cassidy.)


Saturday, October 20, 2007

Divine intervention with a punch

CHARLEROI, Pa. – The New York-based Guardian Angels is looking for brave men to conduct foot patrols in drug-infested neighborhoods in Pittsburgh, and even in the tiny borough of Charleroi.
Members of the nonprofit crime fighters are touring such neighborhoods as Pittsburgh’s Hill District and McKees Rocks soliciting members to help police rid the communities of crime.
“Rather than think of us as Hells Angels or vigilantes … we’re the biggest (police) cooperators, the biggest rats out there,” said the group’s founder, Curtis Sliwa, while speaking to a crowd of nearly 70 people at a town meeting Friday in Charleroi.
Sliwa founded the group in 1979 to attack crime and violence in New York’s subways. It has since grown to include chapters in 11 countries and 86 cities. A new chapter was being trained Friday in Mexico City.
But the visit to Charleroi, at the invitation of Mayor Frank Paterra, had caused a rift between council and the mayor over concerns that advertising a drug problem might hurt local businesses.
“We have a crime problem like everyone else,” said Paterra, whose borough is home to just 4,800 residents.
After Sliwa finished speaking, one middle-aged man stood up and announced that he would “be the first to volunteer.” Retired Charleroi police Chief Armand Costantino, meanwhile, announced his support of the Guardian Angels. Donn Henderson, a supervisor in neighboring Fallowfield Township, said he wondered how a local chapter might be formed.
Sliwa said he would need a professional who is trained in self-defense to head up a local chapter. If local police cooperate, they would perform background checks on applicants before new members undergo three months of training.
The volunteers would then dedicate 8 hours of their time a week to patrol in groups of four outside crack houses or bars where fights often break out. The angels carry no guns, he said, but get physical when necessary, Sliwa said.
“This is all on the cuff for free,” he said.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

On better days....

Tombstones that carry photographs of the people below them have always freaked me out.

While that is one handsome couple buried in St. John’s Cemetery in Monaca, Pa., most of the photos that I have seen at cemeteries did little to flatter the dead. There is one corpse buried in Indiana, Pa., below a marker that bears a headshot of the dead guy with an ugly comb-over head of hair. Why on Earth anyone would want to be remembered in the afterlife on a bad hair day is beyond me.

Just think - your dear old uncle Rupert might, at this moment, be scanning his photo album to find the perfect pose to put on his grave.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Muffler Man is "The Man"

Motorists entering Uniontown from the south are once again greeted by a giant roadside attraction known as the Muffler Man.
The Paul Bunyan lookalike, which stands 20 feet, 6 inches tall, reappeared last month in the Fayette County, Pa., county seat after spending nearly six months in the repair shop.

“He’s back in service,” said Dave Thomas, an employee at Import Export Tire Shop, where the landmark lumberjack stands alongside Route 51. “He looks brand new,” Thomas added.

The fiberglass statue was among many that popped up in the 1960s outside muffler shops across the United States. But last year, the one in Uniontown had begun to look a bit tipsy because its steel skeleton was rusting away.
“He was starting to lean over,” Thomas said.

Originally, these odd advertisements gripped mufflers and tailpipe in their muscular hands instead of hatchets. As those shops closed over the years, their “men” would take on as such appearances as a cowboy, Indian, pirate, Viking and spaceman, according to Roadside Magazine.

The Uniontown Muffler Man has a fresh coat of paint, and retains much of his original, tough-guy style. Somehow, he pulls off the look with his pant legs tucked in his boots. But without a muffler, this Muffler Man resembles a jiggy redneck rapper.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A sunny promise

Pennsylvania Sen. Jim Ferlo, shown at the table above, testified today at a hearing on amendments to the state’s open records law, where we were reminded, once again, that the state’s access law is about as bad as those in Communist nations.

Ferlo, D-Allegheny County, said a Better Government Association study ranked Pennsylvania 40th in the nation when it came to quality of its Right-to-Know law.

“It’s time for us to clean up state government,” Ferlo said before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee at the hearing in Uniontown.

Those of us in the news business don’t need rhetoric on how difficult it can be to take peek at such things as police blotters, reports paid for with taxpayer money or coroner’s records. Reporters fight this battle on a daily basis, and often meet up with ridiculous denials.

But state lawmakers are promising to add teeth to the law, that the hearing was not just another “dog and pony act.”

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Adult viewing recommended

WQED-TV will feature the Monongahela “Calendar Girls” Wednesday (Oct. 10) in a segment on its Emmy-winning news magazine.
The group of older women from Southwestern Pennsylvania who posed semi-nude for charity will appear when OnQ airs at 7:30 p.m., the public television program announced Tuesday.
The women, the youngest of whom is in her late 70s, have sold nearly 3,000 of their 2008 calendars to benefit the Monongahela Area Historical Society. Their story is expected to air in repeats.

(Caption: Calendar models Lois Phillips, left, and Kathleen Bordini at a fireman's parade in Monongahela.)

Monday, October 8, 2007

Far away ferry

FREDERICKTOWN, Pa. – If this old river ferryboat was closer to a city, it would be earning huge tourism dollars.

But, stuck deep in the country, Ferry Boat Frederick mainly shuttles prison workers back and forth across the Monongahela River between Fredericktown and East Fredericktown in Fayette County.

“It’s not going to be a tourist attraction,” said Scott Bower, a local historian from Fredericktown.

“Can you believe it’s in little Fredericktown and no one knows it’s here?” added Bower’s son, Scott, who co-owns a nearby bar.

There has been a ferry in the area since 1790 or earlier, when James Crawford escorted people across the Mon in a wooden boat that crossed a short distance to the north, where Fish Pot Run spills onto Route 88.

The current, 60-foot steel boat was built in 1948 and is the only remaining one of its kind in operation east of the Mississippi River. The 35-ton vessel is powered by an engine that pulls it across the river along an underwater steel cable. It can carry as many as six vehicles and a small number of pedestrians.

The ferry sat on the shore from about 1963 to 1973 after its former owners, Ed and Betty Bercoski, realized it was no longer profitable to stay in business.
The red and white boat was rescued in a partnership between Washington and Fayette counties because there are no bridges in the area. It would be dry-docked for repairs one more time in 1997 after a coal barge struck the cable.

The ferry’s future was again in doubt two years ago when its hours of operation were cut because of a shortage of pilots, who must be certified by the U.S. Coast Guard. At the time, it was making about 50 400-foot trips a day across the river.
The pilot shortage came at a time when ridership had doubled with the 2004 opening of State Correctional Institution at Fayette, a prison across the river from Fredericktown.

“In the summertime, it’s beautiful,” said Jim Harvey, 60, a ferry pilot from LaBelle. “The wintertime, high water, can be a little tricky and cold.”
“I love it,” added Carl Walker of Waynesburg, a prison manager who uses the ferry to get to work.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Pioneer Square and Seattle Underground

The Seattle underground is a perfect complement to the West Coast city's quirky characters.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Big John's ring?

Private John Palmer of Philadelphia boasted the honor of having been the heaviest Colonial soldier to fight in the American Revolution. So said one of his descendants, Norma Langham, who made her way to California University of Pennsylvania two centuries later to teach theatrics.

Before she died in January 2003, Langham laid her hands on a giant ring at a flea market, a band that Palmer supposedly flashed on the ring finger of his right hand. She prized the possession so much that she even wrote a poem, Fat John Palmer, that paid tribute to the man, his ring, and her family’s unsuccessful bid to claim the land the Quaker once owned in Philadelphia.

“Philadelphia now has a lot of debt and we don’t want it,” wrote Langham, who also was an actress, singer, poet, composer, playwright, investor, producer and director.
Her poem about Palmer went on to thank him for “being fat, else we never would have known the ring was yours.”
At her instruction, the ring was donated to the archives at the California Area Historical Society, which counts the object among its weirdest possessions. And its staff has some doubt as to whether the ring really belonged to the soldier who tipped the scale at more than 400 pounds.

Either way, the society has an incredible collection of history that relates to the borough along the Monongahela River in Southwestern Pennsylvania. It should be the first place to turn for anyone who is chasing down genealogy that has a connection to that area.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Fall sick in Pennsylvania

It’s autumn in Southwestern Pennsylvania and time to welcome the whitetail deer into our vehicle headlights. This is deer rut season, when buck run their breeding competition for a suitable mate. The men deer lose all sense of their summer passiveness as they chase down a female to cuddle before the winter freeze arrives.

But sadly, this annual ritual leads to slaughter along unfenced highways, especially Interstate 70, where these animals succumb in large numbers to the steady flow of big rigs and cars that compete for the four-lane highway. The resulting deer blood bath is disgusting, one that should require a periodic wash-down of the highway to remove the carnage.

This is Pennsylvania, where it's too much to ask for a smile from the snuff-rubber behind the wheel of a rusting white Ford pickup truck who always flips me the bird for pulling onto I-70 and into his path to Greene County.

If you are heading here to "oh and awe" over the tree leaves as they turn, each fall, to brilliant shades of red, yellow, orange and brown, consider bringing a barf bag if you follow I-70 to this neck of the woods.

(Caption: OK - that is not a whitetail deer in the leather postcard, above, dating to the late 1800s but you have to admit that it's cool.)

Monday, October 1, 2007

Home of the Slavic dumpling

The Polish pierogi
The pierogi might have originated long ago in Eastern Europe but the delicacy also known as the Polish dumpling has found its home in Pittsburgh. The recipe brought to Southwestern Pennsylvania by Slavic immigrants seeking work in steel mills and mines remains a staple around Pittsburgh, and especially during Steelers season. Those who are too lazy to roll out dough and spend hours filling it with potato and cheese, sauerkraut or cottage cheese have stooped so low as to make pierogi casseroles with store-bought lasagna noodles, mashed potatoes and cheese.

Though my heritage has lines straight to England, I count myself among the fans of pierogi, and will settle for store-bought under the Mrs. T's label when I can’t get them sizzled with onions at a street festival or ethnic church bizarre. (Mrs. T makes a fine pierogi)
Among the best in Pittsburgh are those sold at Bloomfield Bridge Tavern, which is also known as Pittsburgh’s only Polish party house. Polka music blares from speakers inside the bar where one wall is lined with mirrors and the other a picture window overlooking the drab-gray concrete and asphalt Bloomfield Bridge.

The dumplings, along with a Polish sausage called kielbasa, are served with a paper, red and white flag of Poland rising from the food atop a toothpick. The kielbasa is grilled well done and served with the red Polish platter that comes with mounds of dough, cottage cheese and beef-stuffed cabbage. And go figure ... the establishment at 4412 Liberty Ave. is located in the heart of what is known as “Pittsburgh’s Little Italy.”