a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, March 31, 2008

Forever an optimist

Amanda Gillooly, a blogger at Couch Potatoes, finds inspiration from her late grandfather's belongings:

When my Pap died I never cried. Not at the viewing, where he looked ravaged by the Alzheimer’s Disease that slowly stole his personality, his memory and his independence. I thought he’d want to me to be strong.

James W. Crowe died Sept. 27, 2004 in The Masonic Village in Sewickley from complications from a long and courageous battle with the disease. Despite it all, he never forgot what was important to him. He never forgot my name.

I held back the tears through the funeral, and choked back more when I delivered one of his favorite Bible verses and then a eulogy I had written. Of all my writing assignments, I had never encountered one quite that daunting.

How do you describe a person who you knew somehow better than anyone else in the world, and who, perhaps, loved you more than any other one person? How do you pay homage to a person who -- always, always -- loved and believed you?

I did it by telling everyone about the Pap that I knew, the man who would get all dolled up to drop off mail at the post office, but would walk around the house in July wearing Bermuda shorts paired with black socks and sandals. Because of the heat, he would often forego a shirt, but still wear the requisite suspenders. James W. Crowe wasn’t one to “bust a sag” as they say.

I shared many Pap-isms. He had a healthy dislike for ethnic foods. He believed the cure to all life’s ills was a good bowel movement. I told everyone that, despite his snappy appearance, he always seemed to forget to insert his bridgework, revealing a big toothless smile.

What I didn’t say, what I couldn’t say, is how much more there was to him than anyone – his wife, his children, his colleagues and friends – detected. If I had the heart, I would have told everyone he changed my life. I would have told them he was my hero. I would have told them that any success I had in my young life could be directly attributed to him.

I had a difficult childhood, as I guess many of us do. I never told anyone about the horrors of home life, just prayed for Friday to come so I could visit Gram and Pappy, and maybe help him file some of the paperwork he handled for the Masons or Oddfellows, two fraternal organizations where he served as secretary.

We never talked much about the serious things in life. There really were never heart-to-heart conversations. He wasn’t in the habit of giving advice. But he always seemed to know when I was at my breaking point. Surely, he knew there was something wrong at home.

One Sunday my senior year of high school, I was broken. With no money for college, and thinking there was little hope for my future, I had made my decision: I was going to kill myself.

Pap was driving me home, and was stopped at a traffic light while I thought about how I would pull off the act. In the silence of his Ford Taurus, without ever taking his eyes from the road, said, “Keep your chin up.”

It was the only advice he ever gave me. And it was all he had to.

From those four words, I knew Pap was an optimist. I knew he believed in “keeping on keeping on” and he never, not once in his long life, ever gave up. In anything, or anyone he believed in.

I looked through some long-forgotten boxes on Saturday in his basement office and found a few clippings and mementos I’m sure he never thought would be discovered. And when I read them I cried.

I cried for the fact he was gone. I cried because I knew there was a side of him that agreed with the great Ghandi: You must be the change you wish to be in the world.

One newspaper clipping said, “The world has takers and givers – takers eat better; givers sleep better.”

I cried when I uncovered it. That was totally him. I remember retrieving the daily newspaper for an elderly neighbor. As a small child, the dollar the gentleman handed me could have been a $1 million check. But Pap always looked down at me and shook his head, telling me gently to give the dollar back.

“You don’t do it for the money. You do it because it’s the right thing to do,” he would say time and again.

In one of the boxes, I also found a small pocket book with a weathered card titled “The Optimist Creed.”

I bawled when I read it, and can only hope that one day I can make him proud by keeping this creed in mind always.

It read:
Promise Yourself…
To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness and prosperity to every person you meet.
To make all your friends feel that there is something in them.
To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
To think only of the best, to work only for the best and expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are your own.
To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and give every living creature you meet a smile.
To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have not time to criticize others.
To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.
(It was attributed only to the Reynoldsburg Optimist Club)

Friday, March 28, 2008

Spanish Guitar: Guajira by Paco de Lucia

A nice song to start up your day

Dawn discovers the Burgh

The Observer-Reporter has a new education writer, Dawn Keller, who is getting to know Pittsburgh, and finding a lot to adventure. Here are her thoughts about the Carnegie Science Center:

I’ve always loved the outdoors and animals. However, as a teen, my classes turned me off of science.
So I was surprised at how much I enjoyed a recent trip to the Carnegie Science Center.
It started with a tour of the USS Requin, a submarine actually used by the United States military. It’s an intriguing look into how the man on that boat lived. In addition to seeing how they lived and where everything was stored, the submarine has a computer system that allows you to hear men who served on the USS Requin to explain what life on there was like.
From there, it’s hard to decide what to do first. The child in me loved the experiments that explained how everything works from birds flying to waves.
The miniature hand-built scale model trains were beautiful and finding the animated people within the exhibit was a lot of fun. The digital planetarium makes you feel like you are rocketing through space.
We also stopped at the Omnimax Theater to watch a movie about natural disasters, including volcanoes and tornadoes. The special effects were amazing and definitely worth the watch.
The aquariums give you a close-up of coral reef and beautiful fish.
All I can say is that it’s definitely worth a second visit. I can’t wait to return.

NOTE: The photos of the sub are printed with permission of vivid sky, who appears in the shot, above.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tom the Tinker was a stinker

By Scott Beveridge

This Tom was the most-elusive whiskey rebel ...

Angry workers with shrinking wages these days have nothing on Tom the Tinker, who was the toughest of all rebels to rise up against paying income taxes to the United States.

A grain farmer in the Finleyville area of Pennsylvania in the late 1700s, Mr. Tinker was a sneak who rendered useless, in the dead of night, the whiskey stills of his neighbors who agreed to pay a federal tax on their Monongahela rye to erase the national debt of the American Revolution.

“Beware! Tar, feather and burning for any who vote for submission,” he stated in letters shown at town meetings to garner support for annexing what is now known as Southwestern Pennsylvania from the new union. His hammer was ready to poke holes in whiskey stills. He further threatened to burn down the barns of any taxpayers and even steal all mail containing tax payments before they reached government.

Those rebels prayed for salvation at the Mingo Creek Presbyterian Church, even though they were among the most violent of the opposition groups of the era. While some historians believed the tough-talking Tom was a farmer named John Hollcroft, whose tombstone can be found at a modest, well-preserved grave in Mingo Cemetery, his true identity has never been revealed. Others have insisted that the name stood for a group of men.

In their day, the rebels hoisted a flag bearing seven stars rather than the official 13 representing the number of new states. Its seven stars represented the number of counties that supported the formation of a new state independent of the nation led then by President George Washington.

Their forces numbered 70 armed insurgents, according to “Sim Greene and Tom the Tinker’s Men: a Narrative of the Whiskey Rebellion,” written by Richard T. Wiley and published in 1943.

The ragtag militia was no match, though, to the thousands of troops Washington sent to the area in 1794 to quash the uprising. The rebels were wise to succumb to paying the tax before any weapons were drawn. Statesman Albert Gallatin was credited with settling them down in an eloquent speech in Monongahela, one that assured the angry farmers they would appear more like heroes than cowards for helping to balance the nation’s budget.

But many of them, as well as their ancestors, continued to hide their whiskey stills to avoid taxation. And to this day, there aren't any legitimate distilleries to be found in the region.


(Captions: The tombstone of John Hollcroft, who was possibly Tom the Tinker, above, can be found beside that of his wife at Mingo Cemetery along Route 88 just south of Finleyville, PA. A rendering, shown above, at right, of Tom the Tinker)

The end of the road, chap

This sign at the dead end of the Glacier Highway has become a popular target among bored residents of landlocked Juneau who own guns.

That's because it's difficult for them to get out of town. The capital of Alaska is tucked between the Gastineau Channel and a rugged coastal mountain range and can only be reached by air or water. The end of the 40-mile paved road is just ahead of this friendly sign.

(Hey, e-mail us a photo of your favorite "signz" with a description of them and we'll consider posting them...)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Loo with a view

People who drink too much coffee spend a lot of time running with a caffeine buzz to the potty. And nowhere in Pittsburgh will they find a crazier place to deposit their high-octane premium blend than in the johns at The Beehive Coffee House in the city's South Side district. For instance, a funky 1950s refrigerator door doubles as the gate to the commode stall in the men's room.

While the shop’s Web site credits the place’s offbeat decorations to local artists, a counter clerk there attributes the bathroom designs to graffiti scribes and owners who refuse to pay to have the walls repainted.

In either case, the rooms are a cool work in progress.

The Beehive at the corner of East Carson and 14th streets is eclectic with its mismatched tables and chairs and kooky lamps. College professors join youngster with bright green and pink hair there for a brand of coffee that is supposed to have won many awards while competing with a nearby Starbucks.

The hive has been operated for 15 years by Scott Kramer and Steve Zurnoff, who are retired from stalking Gerry Garcia. They wanted to create a second living room to invite over artists, ministers, students, bikers, businessmen and nerds, like me.

The food is good - especially the assortment of hot soups that always includes a vegetarian selection. I like the spicy chickpea variety that comes with big hunk of asiago cheese bread.

Besides the entertaining clientele, The Beehive has free wireless Internet and banks of computers that can be used for $1.10 for 17 minutes in a less-than-hip city that needs more places to easily hop the Web.

Click here to see the women's room.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter

St. Dominic Church, Our Lady of the Valley parish, Donora, PA

Friday, March 21, 2008

Peace sign bling bling?


English textile designer Gerald Holton wasn’t thinking of rhinestone-studded key rings when, five decades ago, when he became the first to scrawl what would come to be known as a global symbol of peace.

Holton had a much more serious issue on his mind, like trying to defuse atomic bombs.

He wanted his symbol to represent the flag signaling positions of N and D but for them to take on a new meaning of nuclear disarmament in advance of a protest march to a nuclear testing facility in England on Good Friday in 1958.

The peace sign grew in popularity as the emblem of the anti-Vietnam War movement in America during the late 1960s and 70s. Some people carried them to flash in the faces of riot-patrol cops who were about the club them in the head for protesting the war outside such places as the White House.

After the war ended, the peace sign went on to become the emblem of pot-smoking losers while the hippie generation conformed, had children and settled for saving the planet.

Today, we can purchase a glittering silver key chain bling in the shape of a peace sign beside shelves lined with stash boxes decorated with marijuana leaves at any Spencers gift shop.

Sorry but peace sign bling is not my thing.

But click here to see what a peace sign means to a veteran who served in Vietnam.

And then click here to see cool shots of the 50th anniversary protest in England.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mean mother of the road

BEALLSVILLE, Pa. This is supposed to be the face of a nurturing mother but her expression could scare the daylights out of the baby in her bosom.

After withstanding 81 years in the elements, Madonna of the Trail has taken on the appearance of a mean old hag beside the historical National Road in Washington County, Pa. I guess acid rain isn’t good for the complexion.

This is even going to scare you more: She is one of a dozen of these evil statues that were placed along the nation’s first interstate by the Daughters of American Revolution.

Surely she looked a little less rugged when artist August Leimbach’s design was selected for the statues that were cast in crushed granite and marble, and cement and lead ore. Seriously, this Madonna looks as if she is Satan's daughter growling at vehicles that get in her way to the West.

She is in serious need of a makeover at the hands of someone with a good arm and chisel to remove that furrowed brow and the dark circles under her eyes.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Exposing a forgotten architect

CHARLEROI, Pa. – Benjamin Trnavsky’s greatest gift to architecture might well have been a 1930s gasoline station in the shape of a tiny cottage with a turret and wood-shingled roof.

The cute brick building in downtown Charleroi, Pa., stood among a time capsule of old buildings that helped the borough’s downtown earn a listing last year on the National Register of Historic Places.

Built as the Diaz Gas Station at the corner of Tenth Street and McKean Ave., the building managed to survive while many others of its kind were dismantled over time, according to Charleroi Area Historical Society records.

Today, the building that also looks like a sunken castle is hardly noticed behind several parked vehicles, including one with a crude sign on its rear window that promotes a bait shop. The owner, Charles Diaz of Charleroi, said he just used the garage for his personal reasons and deflected most of my questions. He said he didn’t like publicity. Sometimes, it takes the will of such a strong-willed independent family to hold onto these types of rare buildings in downtowns, like Charleroi, that struggle to stay alive.

Meanwhile, Trnavsky preferred to be remembered as the architect of the Charleroi Area Junior-Senior High School, a rather plain two story set of classrooms. It’s most unusual feature is a 60s-inspired, curved roof over the auditorium.

His obituary published in June 1976 in The Valley Independent newspaper in nearby Monessen indicated he belonged to the local Lions Club and participated in its minstrel shows when white people, like him, thought it was socially acceptable to perform in blackface. There’s a good chance that the Syracuse University-trained architect who died at age 66 was among those who posed for the photograph, below, that was pulled from the local historical society’s files. If so, he should have spent more time venting his creativity on designing good buildings.

Monday, March 17, 2008

This one's from the guy at the end of the bar

J.R. Moehringer can saddle up to a bar and rattle off some of the best stories. He’s had a lot of practice, too, by having grown up in Publicans, a well-oiled Long Island, NY, pub run by his Uncle Charlie.

Moehringer puts his life on the table in his bittersweet memoir, “The Tender Bar,” with the perfect blend of wit and humor.

It's an engaging look his taking wisdom from a bunch of drunkards and losers who are regulars at the bar.

I especially like the nicknames he give the characters, including "Wheelchair Eddie," who earned his by rolling his car and losing control of his legs.

Moehringer overcomes great odds while growing up fatherless and searching for male role models, even though many of his ended up begin gamblers and crooks who drowned their sorrows at Publicans.

Fore example, he lands a scholarship to Yale and a job at the New York Times while developing his own drinking problem.

And, he shows a great knack for putting to words the process of loosing his mind with every swig of gin.

Best of all, his book published in 2005 and available in paperback is 110 proof that a little guy can come out on top after starting life with a near-empty glass and ending up sober.

Moehringer explains this process best at start of Part II, “Measure for Measure,” with this quote from William Shakespeare:

“They say best men are molded out of faults,
And, for the most, become much more the better for being a little bad.”

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A sign from the Lone Star State

This sign comes to “Travel with a Beveridge” from Wise George, a blogger whose brother apparently knows all the best bars in Austin, Texas.

With our small budget, we’d definitely come back to Dirty Martin’s Kum-Bak Place on the strip near the University of Texas at Austin for a double meat burger with cheese costing 60 cents. And, no doubt, there is a line this very minute out its door because of ridiculous inflation rates that will soon have most of us eating kidney beans out of a can.

George the wise one tells us that business has been going strong at the Kum-Bak since 1926, and getting better since management got in the habit of mopping the floor.

(Hey, e-mail us a photo of your favorite "signz" with a description of them and we'll consider posting them ...)


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The presidents dig this campus

WASHINTON, Pa. – Bill Clinton earned the distinction Tuesday of becoming the 13th president to visit Washington and Jefferson College.

Whether or not the unlucky number will have an impact on his wife Hillary’s race for the White House remains unknown. But Mr. Clinton joined an impressive list of U.S. presidents who have rubbed shoulders with students at the storied small campus in Washington, Pa., which became the first in 1781 to form west of the Alleghenies.

The Clinton campaign chose the college as its first of what will surely be many stops in Pennsylvania in advance of the state’s April 22 primary. The Clintons are so determined to beat Barack Obama for the Democratic nomination for president that political pundits have been joking that Bill and Hillary might go as far as follow people to their cars after a rally to win votes.

Yet it's amazing to think that so many presidents have followed the National Road to what the hicks around here call “Little Wershington.” Especially since the collage has fewer than 1,500 students taking classes this term.

James Monroe was the first to stop there in 1817 while touring the west to promote a nonpartisan federal government, of all things. He was followed by Ulysses S. Grant, who was known to sometimes hide out with relatives in the then-backwoods city in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The other sitting presidents who came knocking were Benjamin Harrison, Warren G. Harding and John F. Kennedy.

The others who would become president after stopping at the college were John Q. Adams, Andrew Jackson, James Polk, Zachary Taylor, William Howard Taft, Harry Truman and Richard Nixon. A rather impressive list of leaders, indeed.

Maybe they came thinking that their stature would be raised a notch by having their names mentioned in the press beside a college named after two of the nation’s most honored presidents. Of course, many of the visits were initiated by a college that has rightly boasted a collective ego as big as some of the presidents who have accepted its invitations for tea.

(Caption: Bill Clinton prepare stomp for his wife's bid for the White House during a rally at Washington and Jefferson College.)


Monday, March 10, 2008

Art Rooney's "den" gets a makeover

It is possible to decorate with everything Pittsburgh Steelers without coming off looking like a total yinzer.

Interior designer Christine Jones has pulled off this luxurious black-andigold look at the 2008 Pittsburgh Home and Garden Show, creating her vision of how a highbrow study could have looked in home of the team’s founder, Art Rooney. It’s part of an exhibit by fancy decorators who used famous Pittsburghers for décor concepts, including one of “Andy Warhol's kitchen” complete with refrigerator magnets inspired by his silkscreen portraits.

Meanwhile, Rooney’s office has a herringbone, black-and-gold-stained bamboo floor and an 18th-century mahogany map desk that surely would have met “The Chief’s” masculine decorating tastes.

Some classic Steelers memorabilia was borrowed for the design from BC Collectibles because Rooney’s study wouldn’t have been complete without reminders of some of the greatest moments in history.

What you won’t find in this “room” is former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw’s likeness on black velvet. But there is a fancy fireplace behind an elegant Tibetan silk rug, a refined setting for passing around kielbasa, pierogies and Isaly’s chipped-chopped ham barbeque sandwiches.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

This here's a fancy eatin' table

Kingdom Billiards has the solution for pool sharks who don’t have room in their houses for a billiards table.

The company based in Sacramento, Calif., has designed classy dining room tables that fit snuggly over its high-end pool tables.

“You can add the table top to any pool table for $595,” a company salesman said today at the Pittsburgh Home and Garden Show.

This product had to be inspired by the television show, “The Beverly Hillbillies,” whose characters passed around a crock possum grits on the end of a pool stick while mistakenly thinking their billiards table was meant for dining with good company.

It’s a good idea to purchase a vinyl cover to sandwich between the two tables to protect the pool table’s felt-covered slate top from spilled gravy. It’s highly recommended if you plan to invite me over to dinner or one my neighbors from up Turkey Hollow because we have a tendency to drool when we see food.

But then again, money wouldn’t be an issue in your home because these finely-crafted maple pool tables start at $4,800 without the parts for spreading the fine china.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Signs across America

Travel with a Beveridge introduces today an occasional series of landmark or just plain odd signs along back roads or highways in the United States.

Here is a fading landmark Grain Belt Beer billboard on Niccolet Island alongside the Hennepin Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis, Minn.

During the Prohibition, from 1920 to 1933, the brand went undercover as the Grain Belt Juice Co.

To celebrate the return of legal booze, the company erected this sign in 1940 with blinking lights that spelled out the beer's return to barroom taps.

The beer was first produced 1893 by the Minneapolis Brewing Co. to honor farming in America’s heartland. August Schell came to the rescue of the fledging brewer in 2002 and continues to produce two labels, Grain Belt Premium and Premium Light.

Hey, e-mail us a photo of your favorite "signz" with a description of them and we'll consider posting them.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A tale forged in steel

DONORA, Pa. – In a far corner of former mill property, behind a loading dock to a modern milling company, lay “the remains” of a steelworker who met his death in a ladle of molten steel in 1920.

Just home from World War I, Andrew Posey, 21, was working as a stopper setter when he was killed in the open hearth at U.S. Steel’s American Steel and Wire Co. Donora works, a mill that would disappear from the landscape in the 1960s.

Legend has it that, behind a blast furnace, U.S. Steel buried the entire 65 tons of steel that consumed Posey. And his 10 siblings bought the story, as did many others in the borough along the Monongahela River.

As it turned out, developers of a new building in what is now the Donora Industrial Park considered relocating the grave site in the 1990s because it stood in the way of progress.

The Mon Valley Progress Council had experts drill and dig into the “grave” protected by a 20-foot wall of crumbling yellow bricks and marked off by steel pipes forged at the mill. The grave turned up empty.

A historian was also consulted who theorized that the Posey family had probably been duped by the company into thinking that a big chunk of expensive steel had been buried as a fitting tribute to their loved one. These kinds of tales have been told for decades in the many mill towns that dot the Pittsburgh region, where the life of a steelworker once had much less value to a company than an ounce of steel.

In the end, the road was routed away from the Posey monument that also is hidden behind an outcropping of weeds. Stop by to pay your respects if you can find the site just north of the Donora-Monessen Bridge, but poor Andy Posey’s memory is more likely part of a bridge over a different valley.


Monday, March 3, 2008

Decay in Donora and beyond

While walking around Donora today, through its seemingly endless blight, I came upon yellow tape strung around a sidewalk and a small pile of bricks that had fallen from a building.

The mess was beside a once-busy Ackerman’s newsstand where I used to buy penny candy as a kid in the 1960s when the Pennsylvania borough still held onto a few hundred steel jobs.

In recent weeks, water seeped through the roof only to freeze and then thaw in today’s warm weather, stretching the wall enough to peel off yellow bricks below the roof line and send them to the street.

A few blocks away sits a closed hardware store with a storefront window showing a dead sparrow that has been turning into a skeleton before my eyes over the past four years. Two years ago, the brick façade on that abandoned building fell onto the street, burying a car parked along McKean Avenue, the main drag through the borough. This is the legacy of the steel industry that all but walked away from the Ohio River Valley in Southwestern Pennsylvania between 1960 and the mid 1980s.

Later I opened my e-mail, only to find a letter from a stranger, Sean Posey, a journalism student at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He wanted me to take a look at a slideshow he put together of Youngstown, Ohio, a former steel town where he grew up about an hour’s drive west of Pittsburgh.

It’s one more reminder of the vastness of America’s Rust Belt that inspires photographers to capture the severe problems our nation faces in its faded industrial heartland.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

Webster, now and then

In many ways, it seems as if time has been standing still in Webster, a tired small village along the Monongahela River about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh. The shot above was taken in March 2008 from the top of the ramp to the Donora-Webster Bridge. The one below was taken in the 1960s by Monessen photographer John Hurrianko. Have fun comparing the differences.......