a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Relations need improving at U.S./Canada border

"Entering the US", originally uploaded by AgentG427.

If only the border guards crack smiles, crossing the Canadian/United States line at Niagara Falls might be a bit more pleasant.

But no, traffic moves at a crawl’s space as the officers rattle off a series of questions that don’t seem to go anywhere before they allow people to cross the bridges between these free countries.

“Why do you have an Arizona plate on the front when you live in Pittsburgh?” the Canadian with bulking biceps asks after I hand him my passport

“I like it,” I respond, wondering why it's a crime to make a fashion statement with my front bumper when Pennsylvanians are allowed to bolt any old vanity plate there.

“What are you doing all this way from Pittsburgh?” he says.

“I’m a writer who was working in Buffalo,” I reply. Later, I wonder why he thinks it's odd to drive four-plus hours from my home to such a landmark as Niagara Falls, which is a much shorter distance than exists between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Pa.

The questioning continues. He wants to know where I am heading and how long I plan to be in Canada.

I hear Niagara-on-the-Lake is a nice place and want to see it, so goes my answer, before he hands me my passport and waives me into the world’s second largest country in terms of land mass.

The return into my homeland is more unpleasant. The young man in a United States uniform asks me what I do for a living, how long I was in Canada, the name of my employer and where I am staying tonight, among other things.

Then he asks me where I last worked, after I had already answered that question. “The Observer-Reporter,” I repeat.

“No, I mean, what is the last travel story you did?” he says.

I never told him, prior to this point, that I write travel stories. He waives me along after saying that I came to Buffalo, NY, to write some stories and felt like seeing the falls from the Canadian side.

As I head south on Interstate I90, I remind myself that America is still struggling with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the border guards might be afraid for our country. That, or they lack the right training or any sense of common courtesy. At the same time, there is no way these folks can be effective in their jobs with this line of questioning because there is heavy traffic crossing the border today, with much longer lines leaving Canada than my country that has an incredibly shrinking dollar.

I have no criminal record, work hard for a paycheck, am not apparently on any terrorist watch list and have a legal passport. If the passport systems works, it should make crossing these points a breeze. I prefer to be ushered home with less suspicion, a higher degree of pleasantness and fewer stupid questions from the person holding the key.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Clean dome a shocker on weathered landmark

WASHINGTON, Pa. _ The fresh coat of brilliant white paint on the terra cotta dome of the old Washington County Courthouse in Pennsylvania is going to take some getting used to.

Above the roofline, the century-old landmark in "Little Washington" looks brand new as the scaffolding comes down around the dome.

But, its new manicured look now makes the rest of the weather-beaten building look much worse for its wear and screaming for a makeover, as well.

Unfortunately, the clean dome no longer goes with the rest of the
building that seems akin to a fancy classic car that only has one door painted.

The contrast has the county looking into having the rest of the building power washed because sandblasting could further damage the aging and deteriorating stone.

There has been a running joke among courthouse workers about their bosses' tendencies to hire the lowest irresponsible bidders to patch and repair their place of employment. There have been times when pigeon droppings littered the grand stairway below the rotunda amid buckets catching leaks during rain.

To the staff, it seemed as if a long line of commissioners has been approving bandages atop bandages to mask deteriorating conditions there until June 2007, when shards rained down from a stained-glass windoww during a trial.

While no one was injured, the mess forced the county's hand to take measures to better protect the public and hire R.G. Friday Inc. of Pittsburgh to fix the roof. By all outward appearances, the company has been performing excellent work on the main dome on the 108-year-old Beaux Arts landmark.

Built of Columbia sandstone from Cleveland, Ohio, and South Carolina granite, the courthouse reflects the architectural style dating to 1850 France for having heavy adornment. It boasts large, white marble stairways to the second floor, carved Honduran mahogany and Flemish oak woodwork, a marble-lined vestibule, Mexican onyx fireplaces, ornate stained-glass windows under the large dome and dozens of rose-colored skylights.

Now, the commissioners are introducing yet another construction material to the mix. They are embracing a plan to replace four smaller, crumbling domes on the roof with fiberglass replicas, rather than hire a clay artist to reproduce the bad tiles.

And no one, not even an anal-retentive preservationist, has stepped forward to allege the gross bastardization of the courthouse by finishing it off with a product that looks similar to plastic.

The folks who appreciate the rich details of the focal point of downtown Washington will just have to adjust to the sight of those fake cupolas after the toppers are hoisted to the four corners of the roof in a few weeks.

(Story first published in the Observer-Reporter)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Don't give Foote the boot

(Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Larry Foote takes down Washington Redskins running back Ladell Betts on Nov. 28, 2004. Photo by Greg Tarr.)

Dear Larry Foote,

Yes, I am a reporter. But I’m not writing to you as one now. I’m no Dale Lolley or Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports writer Ed Bouchette. My name is Amanda Gillooly, and I’m simply writing as a fan.

The first time I saw you play I was getting loaded in Virginia Beach while on vacation in 2004. It was a preseason game, and nobody knew who the hell you were. You seemingly came out of nowhere and blindsided the quarterback.

My cousin, who knows the name, height, weight, eye color and underwear preference of every Steeler, was finally stumped. The QB’s ass barely hit the turf when said cousin jumped off the couch and said something to this effect: “Holy (expletive deleted)! Did you see that play? Who is that dude? Larry Foote?”

In true Yinzer form, he totally massacred your name. But you have been lovingly referred to as “My Man Footay” ever since. That’s why I felt compelled to write. I’ve heard all the stuff about rookie Lawrence Timmons whose talent in the draft pedigree might send you to the sidelines. And I’m not going to lie to you, Larry (if I can call you Larry): I don’t like your attitude.

Seems to me like you are resigned to getting less time on the field, and as fan, I think you need a mental check. In fact, I think you need to press up. Hard core.

I’m not going to say I’m psychic. I know I’d sound like a nut if I did. But I will admit to you that I’ve had a vision.

It’s the 4th quarter and the Steelers are playing the hated New England Patriots. Quarterback Tom Brady drops back for a pass, looking for Randy Moss. Unfortunately, you chewed up his line and hit him like a freight train. The momentum of the hit sends you both into the Patriots’ sideline, toppling coach Bill Belichick and causing his floppy comb-over to come undone.

OK. That wasn’t a vision, it’s just wishful thinking on my part (actually, I just wanted you to take out Brady. It was my podmate, Mike "Jimmy" Jones, who has it out for Belichick). I guess I’m just trying to say that you make Steelers football more fun to watch. Indeed, while some proclaim Big Ben or Hines Ward their favorite, I cite No. 50 every time.

Here’s to a bitchin’ season. I hope to see you kicking ass and taking names.

Warmest Regards,

Amanda “I love quarterback sacks” Gillooly

Friday, July 25, 2008

iJustine is at it again

Justine Ezarik, the so-called "Internet it girl" who was raised in Scenery Hill, Pa., has again made the yahoo.com home page for her devotion to the iPhone.

Her bio follows:

WASHINGTON, Pa. – The media buzz began swirling around Justine Ezarik after she received her first iPhone bill, one that itemized her text messages and calls across both sides of 300 pages.

Stories about the young woman and her fascination with mobile technology were picked up by USA Today, CNN, Fox News and CNBC, as well as hundreds of other media outlets, after she posted on her Internet blog a self-made video about the $274 bill so thick it came in a box.

“A friend of mine was in Spain and opened up a newspaper, a Spanish version: the iPhone bill with my picture on it,” said Ezarik, 23, a Scenery Hill native who is the current “It girl” on the Web.

The digital world took notice of Ezarik, who uses the screen name iJustine, in a big way in August. The short film about the bill was subsequently viewed more than 3 million times in 10 days and earned her $5,000 in ad revenues from her online host.

“Now I’m signed up for E-billing,” she said.

But the Internet never dies and iJustine is along for the ride while building a huge fan base.

She was the lead story on Yahoo’s home page two weeks ago because of the popularity she has gained from lifecasting her daily chores on two Web sites.

Whether capturing her travels from a mini-camera attached to her ball cap or pointed at her face from a table, Ezarik has become the star of justin.tv.

The new media company is the brainchild of Justin Kan, who is among the first to use mobile technology to stream live videos to a Web site. Broadcasters have free access and personal control over the look of their pages and the ability to chat with viewers.

There were more than 400 people tuned in when Ezarik showed up Monday to meet a reporter and cameramen from the Observer-Reporter at the Crazy Mocha coffee shop in Washington.

Most of her viewers say nice things, and some periodically dare her to perform the Chicken Dance polka in public places. She usually complies and breaks into the dance that requires hand signals to suggest duck quacks. She was drawing as many as 4,000 viewers at any particular moment after the Yahoo story hit.

“This is crazy. Why am I doing this?” she said.

Others have not been so nice, and complained that she has odd eyebrows, wears too much makeup or is too self-centered to think that anyone with a brain would want to watch her sleep.

“Many of her critics urged her to ‘get a life,’ ‘read a book’ and cease her ceaseless self-promotion,” a writer noted Aug. 29 on the popular news blog Pittsburgh Dish.
“People like to hate for whatever reason,” Ezarik said.

While some viewers think she is surfing the Internet while running her fingers through her hair at a coffee shop, Ezarik said she actually is editing videos or designing Web sites for her business.

The graduate of Pittsburgh Technical Institute now lives in Pittsburgh and also is spokeswoman for Pittsburgh Councilman Bill Peduto. Through her blogging, she has landed a job with Xtrain, a company that offers online expert training. Just this week, Warner Brothers was trying to track her down to invite her to appear on “The Tyra Banks Show.”

She’s unsure just how much longer she will be sharing her life with the digital world as a lifecaster.

“A lot of my friends don’t like it when they’re around. It’s too invasive,” she said.

But her father, Steve, of Scenery Hill, said he is beginning to like lifecasting in a era when many children Justine’s age forget to call their parents.

“At least we can follow her around,” he said.

Watch our video of iJustine
at www.youtube.

(Story first published in the Observer-Reporter)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Socialist's story unfolds

CHARLEROI, Pa. – Darlene Pennline’s mother gathered all documents linking their family to the Socialist Party and tossed them into the flames of a coal furnace in the 1950s.

The files were destroyed because U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy had launched the Red Scare, an intense mission to expose and prosecute communists and their likes in a wide-reaching witch-hunt.

“My grandfather wanted all of that stuff concerning his father out,” said Pennline, 72, of Charleroi, Pa., a former retail center in the heart of steel-making country.

And so the family’s impressive story of their ancestor, Louis Goaziou, was swept under the rug, discussed only in whispers, until the last surviving Goaziou died in April 2008

The death of Herbert Goaziou reopened the doors to his grandfather’s intact Charleroi print shop that barely changed since the early 1900s, when Louis Goaziou began publishing a newspaper that promoted the Socialist mission.

It’s an astounding collection of a bygone era with a story of international interest because of its connection to the French Socialist movement, said Ronald A. Baraff, director of museum collections and archives at the Steel Industry Heritage Corp., whose employees came to Charleroi last week after hearing about the print shop.

“To walk in and it be unchanged and to have that story all in one place is phenomenal,” Baraff said this month at the 807 Fallowfield Ave. building.

Louis Goaziou was born March 22, 1864, in Scrignac County in the French province of Brittany, where his family raised him to be a priest.

But he shunned the rigidity of the Roman Catholic hierarchy, Pennline said, and became involved in France’s radical workers’ movement after experiencing hardships while employed in a coal mine.

Goaziou immigrated to America in 1880 and settled in Charleroi, where he began about 20 years later publishing a French-language newspaper, L’Union Des Travailleurs, which, when translated, means the union of workers.

He used the newspaper to spread Socialist propaganda, which pushed the importance of workers pooling their resources to benefit their families and neighbors. He has been called by the French a militant and “the most remarkable figure” of the Franco-American Socialist movement.

The Charleroi area was a hotbed for union activism under the leadership of Goaziou, who also founded the Co-Masons that gave women equal rights to join the organization.

As many as 40 percent of the steelworkers in nearby Donora could have been considered socialists for rejecting World War I. Goaziou hosted a visit in Charleroi in 1911 by Eugene V. Debs, who ran for president on the Socialist ticket. He also helped to organize volatile labor rallies, one of which was attended by Mother Jones, a fierce labor and community organizer who was popular in the coalfields.

In 1908, Goaziou became the first president of the American Federation of Human Rights, which wanted its members to shun ignorance, keep high standards of honor and support social justice for men and women. He had noble ambitions, Pennline said, in an era before communism and socialism became associated with oppression after the 1917 Russian Revolution.

After his March 31, 1937, death at age 73, the printing business was owned by his son, Herbert, and passed along to his grandson, Herbert, who stopped printing on his 90th birthday on May 25, 2003.

Pennline is Louis Goaziou’s great-granddaughter, and a niece of the Herbert Goaziou who recently died and never had any children. She has vowed to dedicate her retirement to turning the print shop into a museum in partnership with the Charleroi Area Historical Society.

The museum is the first step in developing a walking and driving tour of Charleroi, whose downtown with Belgium-influenced architecture was included in September on the National Registry of Historic Districts.

The Goaziou story also prompted the National Park Service to dispatch a photographer to Charleroi last week to document the building. The photos will be added to the public digital files of the National Library of Congress.

Despite the loss of the family’s Socialist files, the Goazious kept just about every other record down to the shop’s first contract April 27, 1910, for power from West Penn Electric Co.

They weren’t much for show, having just painted the walls in the shop once in a dull battleship gray. Several dusty and faded nude photos of pinups were attached to the wall behind the three printing presses, including one of actress and 1930s sex symbol Jean Harlow.

The presses are known in the industry as platen jobbers that date to the 1840s and are considered to be America’s contribution to the printing industry.

Pennline has been asked to refrain from moving anything in the pressroom until a preservation expert is consulted to date the presses and devise a preservation plan, said Nikki Sheppick, the historical society’s secretary.

She said the shop was deemed the most important among the 1,800 buildings in town that earned the National Registry honor.

“This is the premier site in the puzzle,” Sheppick said.

(First published by the Observer-Reporter)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

There is gold in the new m&m's

Mars has rolled out a new specialty treat that is not your grandmother’s m&m’s in a campaign targeting chocolate lovers with discriminating taste buds.

The candy-maker introduces a fancy variety of its time tested, bite sized classic, the new m&m’s Premiums, which is billed as “a delightful chocolate gem with a colorful outside and rich, scrumptious inside.”

It comes in such flavors as Mocha or Raspberry Almond, pieces coated in bright marbleized, paper thin candy that disappear before melting in the mouth. Those Mochas look like shiny nuggets of gold covered in hues of coffee and burnt orange that make them far sexier in appearance than traditional m&m’s.

It appears Mars is appealing to people who shop for premium products to convince their friends they have refined senses of elegance.

The new candy is selling in local Giant Eagle markets for upwards of $5 for one 6 oz. box that is clumsy to seal after opening.

A box of the Mocha label amounts to enough chocolate to fill one cup, 920 calories and 160 percent of the recommended daily dose of saturated fats in a healthy diet. Regardless of the potential damage to my arteries, I like this coffee-flavored junk food a lot, and pass it around to my coworkers to see if they agree with my fondness for this stuff.

An unofficial, random sampling today among the news staff at the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pa., resulted in unanimous approval of the Mochas and feedback that will make Mars smile.

“They are worth every penny and calorie,” an editor said, prior to leaving work to find more of them more at Target.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A gripping story from Cambodia

Loung Ung manages to beat the odds and survive the killing fields of Cambodia after the United States abandoned the war in neighboring Vietnam in 1975.

While all eyes in America are turned on the collapse of Saigon, Ung and her middle-class family begin to run from the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge army and its merciless genocide campaign. All the while, the world turns its back on one of the ugliest periods of the 20th Century.

Ung is five years old at the time, and spends the next several years starving and on the run before landing in a child labor camp to train as a soldier.

Her memoirs are told through a child’s eyes in her gripping 2001 book, “First they Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers,” that became a national bestseller and is now available in paperback.

The book is uncomfortable and depressing to read as Ung, her six siblings and their parents suffer under the weight of Pol Pot’s regime. Some 2 million of Cambodia’s population of 7 million die, with many being executed, before Vietnam liberates her country in 1979. Yet, this book is difficult to put down because of Ung’s brilliant ability to tell a story, even though it gave me the urge to vomit while reading some passages.

At one point there are so many corpses in her village that many decay into clumps of foul-smelling maggots because everyone else is too sick to dig graves. “There are so many dead people here,” she recalls in the book. “The people who die here have no relatives to grieve for them.”

Ung eventually flees with a brother to Saigon, where they are smuggled by boat to a refuge camp in Thailand. Eventually, a family in Vermont agrees to sponsor them as immigrants. She obtains a good education and later works with a campaign to rid her country of land mines, all the while being haunted by nightmares of her childhood.

At least some good comes out of this horrendous tragedy.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Putting the "she" in she crab soup

It isn’t the female blue crab eggs that usually put the she in Charleston, S.C.’s elegant she crab soup.

A dribble of sherry wine and whipped cream in to each piping hot bowl is what actually sets the soup apart from bisques and chowders, said Ricky Jones, a manager of a Crab Shacks, a popular chain restaurant in the South Carolina seaport city where the dish originated.

“It’s just one of those things you can’t find anywhere else,” Jones said.

A butler to Charleston Mayor R. Goodwyn Rhett supposedly created the soup as a special meal during a visit by President William Howard Taft about 1908. The butler was asked to spice up the pale, white crab soup they usually ate, and he decided to tint it orange by adding crab eggs, or so the story went.

Chefs these days use a trick to substitute the crab eggs with finely chopped carrots for coloring and an extra dash of salt, Jones said. Crab eggs are expensive, hard to find and only available in the spring.

And it may come as a surprise to some diners that chefs in Charleston and elsewhere in the United States aren’t using the tasty, sweet Chesapeake blue crabs, either, to make the soup or crab cakes.

Commercial trapping of the crab is prohibited in the Chesapeake Bay area because of their dwindling population, according to the fishmonger at Wholey’s in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. The cans of lump blue crab meat that are sold now are packed in Asia, he said.

There was a time when these crab cakes were sold almost exclusively in the bay area. But the cakes that don’t have a fishy taste have become so popular that they can be found on many menus across the nation, either as appetizers, sandwiches or drizzled with hot mustard or sweet-and-sour sauce.

Crab meat is more available inland because the Asian crabbing market has expanded in the United States, said Mike Williamson, owner of Solomon Seafood restaurant in Washington, Pa.

Many people from this area vacation at the beach, have developed a taste for the blue crab and want to eat it here, too, Williamson said.

“It reminds them of the beach,” he said.

The cakes are always best when they contain more crab meat than cake. And, restaurant-quality crab cakes are easy to make at home if you know where to find a good fishmonger and how to fry food in a skillet.

But the cost of a 15-ounce can of crab can rise and fall like oil, an was recently as high as $25 apiece in Pittsburgh. So be careful with the spices until you are comfortable with them in the right doses.

Meaty She Crab Soup

Makes: 4 to 6 servings


2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
21⁄2 cups milk
11⁄2 cups heavy cream
1 (15-ounce) can lump blue crab meat
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1⁄2 carrot finely grated
Pinch of mace, thyme, white pepper and celery salt
Dry sherry, whipped cream and fresh parsley for garnish
In a double boiler, melt butter and slowly add flour until dissolved. Add milk slowly, stirring continuously, until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and cook over simmering water for 20 minutes.
To each bowl before serving, add a teaspoon of sherry and a small dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley.

Thai-Inspired Crab Cakes

Makes: About 10 meaty crab cakes


1 (15-ounce) can lump blue crab meat
3⁄4 cup Kellogg’s Corn Flake Crumbs
4 leaves fresh mint, cut into tiny pieces with scissors
2 cloves minced garlic
1 egg
1⁄2 fresh lime, juiced
1 small onion, diced
1 teaspoon dried cilantro
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon brown mustard
Pinch of sea salt and pepper
Season to taste with sweetened red chili sauce with sesame seeds (available at an Asian market), or use Old Bay seasoning, hot sauce or freshly chopped red chili peppers
Toss ingredients into food processor, chop and combine well. Form into patties, and roll them around in some more Kellogg’s crumbs. Fry cakes in a large skillet with more than enough olive oil to cover the pan for about 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels before serving.

(First published in the Observer-Reporter)

Friday, July 18, 2008

A photo that screams, wow

WASHINGTON, Pa. – Photographer Christie Campbell steals the show in a retrospective exhibit that opened today in celebration of a daily newspaper’s 200th anniversary.

Her shot for the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pa., captured a man’s raw emotions in 1988 as he slammed his fist on the hood of a car that collided with his brother’s motorcycle, and killed his sibling on the spot.

“It’s the best photo we’ve ever run,” said Tom Northrop, publisher of the mid-sized family-owned newspaper.

The staff selected 60 photos to include in the show at Washington and Jefferson College, including one slick birds-eye view of a huge crowd that came to Main Street to celebrate the first fluorescent streetlights in Pennsylvania. Their glow cast eerie shadows on the buildings and people in the small city named after the nation’s first president.

The newspaper was founded in a partnership of two entrepreneurs from Greensburg, Pa., William Sample and William Brown, one that lasted just 18 months. It appeared Brown had issues that weren’t good for business, Mr. Northrop said during the opening reception for the photo exhibit.

“He was a man of unfortunate habits,” he said.

The Northrop family has owned the newspaper for more than half of its history, which is something to be proud of in today's climate of shrinking newspaper circulations. In 1970, there were 1,200 family-owned daily newspapers in the United States, he said. Today, there are fewer than 150.

Fortunately, there are working O-R staffers such as Campbell who remind readers of the lasting power of a still photograph during times when citizen journalists and the Internet are putting so many other newspaper employees out of their jobs.

The show is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. through July 25 in The Rossin Ballroom, 60 S. Lincoln St. (Route 19), Washington, Pa.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Turtleman

Folks think he's crazy, but that's fine with him.....

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Remembering Quecreek "nine for nine"

By Michael Jones

SOMERSET, Pa. – A lush, green field with nine evergreen trees and a metal grate covering a small hole is all that remains of the place where a miracle occurred six years ago.

To strangers passing by, the field looks like nothing more than a peaceful park in rural Somerset County in Southwestern Pennsylvania. But it holds more significance to many people.

It was at this site in July 2002 that nine miners survived underground for more than four days after water rushed into the Quecreek Mine. As the miners huddled in frigid water with dwindling air, hundreds of people worked tirelessly above to rescue the men.

The property owners, Bill and Lori Arnold, know the story intimately and revel in explaining the desperation, sadness and courage exhibited during those days.

“It’s something we didn’t ask to happen here, and we didn’t go seeking it. It found us,” Bill Arnold said. “We feel like we have this place for a reason, so we’re very committed to maintaining it and continuing to tell the story.”

“We’re humbled,” Lori Arnold added. “If God had placed (the rescue) here, it’s our job to keep it going.” And they have.

The couple estimates that nearly 1,000 tour buses have rolled onto their 135-acre organic dairy farm since the miners were rescued July 28, 2002.

On a brisk April afternoon this year, Lori Arnold cheerfully greeted two curious strangers who stumbled upon the rescue site. Hunched over and pulling weeds, she introduced herself and, without hesitation, began explaining the incredible events that unfolded 240 feet below.

She remembers the faces of the rescue workers, the families and the children that came to the farm, especially their expressions of sadness and joy. She recalled the starlit sky, humming of machinery and glowing lights around the area that reminded her more of a high school football stadium than a frantic rescue mission.

“To look at that you’d never know something so sad and desperate was going on underneath,” said Lori Arnold.

Even six years later, caring for the Quecreek Mine rescue site has become a priority over the daily chores on the farm. But they have embraced the work and enjoy accepting visitors daily.

“It is so exciting for us even in the sixth year,” Lori Arnold said. “This is me. It’s part of who I am. Every year I become more passionate. I can’t explain it.”

Her husband still becomes emotional at the thought of the rescue.

“I have a hard time getting through the story without getting choked up,” he said. “It’s been such a blessing, and we never lost the impact and magnitude for either one of us.”

Both are amazed by the number of people from across the world who have traveled to the farm four miles north of Somerset. The visitors seek them out, they said, to learn the details of a story that still seems unbelievable.

Near the rescue portal is a large garage that used to house farm equipment. Now it shelters dozens of precious items that were integral to the success of the rescue mission or explain the history of mining.

The yellow cylindrical basket that pulled each miner to safety stands next to the broken drill bit that nearly doomed the rescue. All the items are neatly arranged around the garage for visitors to inspect and even touch. The Arnolds describe the rescue timeline while pointing to maps and equipment.

The couple hopes to begin construction of a permanent building this month. The visitors center could be completed by the winter depending on donations to the nonprofit Quecreek Mine Rescue Foundation the couple started.

The rescue site and nine evergreen trees – one for each of the miners – has become a place for people to reflect. Some visitors had family members who worked or died in the mines. Others just want to hear the intricate details of an inspirational story that is best told by the

Many leave with dropped jaws and tears flowing down their cheeks.

“There’s so much more to the story,” Bill Arnold said. “It really does make an impact.”

(Michael Jones is a writer at the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pa. This story first appeared in the newspaper's July-August 2008 magazine, Living in Washington County.)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A springhouse "unspoiled" by time

It wasn’t safe to drink water from the faucets in our home when we moved in 1960 to a tiny village in Pittsburgh’s industrial belt.

The stuff was too dirty when drawn from a deep, musty cistern buried beside the two-story clapboard house in Webster. The sink was fed by rainwater that ran off the black slate roof singles and into rusty downspouts that led directly to the concrete-line storage tank.

Within a few years, health officials in Pennsylvania felt sorry for Webster and they dispatched a crew of men to construct a public spring on the hillside to serve the town of nearly 800 residents.

Soon, my parents sent me packing a glass gallon milk bottle in each hand to fetch the water, barefoot, for our kitchen. I slid back down that barren hillside barely able at age 7 to carry the weight of the jugs, allowing them to spill to lessen my load and praying that they didn’t drop and shatter.

In short order, the state slapped a sign on that spring warning us not to drink the water because it was heavily polluted with E. coli traced to spillages from the many poorly-built septic systems at the rows of houses on top of the hill.

The sign was quickly torn off and the neighbors continued to draw the water. Thankfully, mom had the sense to follow instructions to boil all of our water before storing it away in the refrigerator. Frustrated, the state ordered the removal of the spring, and we were forced to look elsewhere until “city water” came to town in 1965.

But in the interim, our search for drinkable water led us to an old springhouse that had been in use for a century beside the main road at the north end of town. No one monitored that crystal clear water because it was on private property owned by a family that didn’t care if people stopped by for refills.

The property has since been abandoned, yet many people still stop there each day to gather water. Some say they just like the taste, while others still believe that spring water has magical healing qualities, even though scientists long ago proved that notion wrong.

As a public service for the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pa., Pennsylvania American Water tested that springhouse supply last week for bacteria. The results showed that it is as good as any good well, but it contains trace amounts of coliform and should be boiled before consuming. Folks undoubtedly will still drink that water without boiling it, as Willie Pettyjohn has been drinking from the springhouse for 40 years and has no immediate plan to stop.

“It hasn’t harmed me,” the retired steelworker from nearby Fellsburg told the newspaper.

At this point, who has the heart to spoil his taste for the stuff?

(Caption: George Casson of Carroll Township, Pa., stocks up at a old springhouse in Webster, Pa.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Another case of the corn cup

Corn Cups, originally uploaded by cote.

A popular gardens and greenhouse in Pittsburgh is banning commercially sold bottled water from its property in a move to become more earth friendly.

The Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, instead, is now serving cold beverages in “eco-friendly” compostable cups molded from corn that look and feel just like plastic. The addition of corn into the plastic makes the cups disappear in to the dirt 47 days after they are thrown away in special sites and worked over like compost. The breakdown doesn’t work in a traditional landfill.

When the remodeled Phipps opened in 2005, its management made the move to sell only water bottled locally to cut down on the cost of shipping and help shrink its carbon footprint. But that wasn’t good enough for the tourist destination that strives to be a model of sustainability, its executive director Richard V. Piacentini stated in a Monday news release.

If you don’t care to drink from a corn cup, Phipps is selling reusable bottles for filtered water.

I’m thinking that it might be a good idea to quench your thirst before arriving there on your next visit because the corn is sent through a chemical reaction before it becomes a cup.

The corn kind will melt and gobble up if you make the mistake of tossing them into a dishwasher. And some folks are worried about the cups consuming yet more of the nation’s corn supply.

Meawhile, some bottled water companies have joined this trend to sell products in containers made with this scary sounding polylactic acid resin over fears that traditional plastics leech into the drinking water on grocery shelves.

Whatever happened to drinking water from a glass and then wiping it clean with some soap and warm water to use again?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The gamble on Donora steel

Part IV: Dangerous jobs among deadly air

Steelworkers in America’s industrial heartland faced many dangers in the early 1900s before federal workplace safety laws. But those in Donora, Pa., would put themselves and their families at particular risk while living in the shadows of a putrid row of zinc smelters.

There were many horrific accidents as the steel belt bloomed around Pittsburgh, and Donora claimed its share of them.

A month into construction of what would become known as U.S. Steel’s Donora works, a man named Rocchi Fiavelli fractured his skull in a fall from a tall building. The same day, Mike Dzugan’s right hand was severed by a circular saw in the Donora pattern shop, while blacksmith J. W. Campbell had his arm punctured by a sliver of metal, the Donora American newspaper reported July 5, 1901.

A lad named Albert Hornbeck, working as a mill water boy, had his leg amputated after it was crushed between two rail cars in April 1905. Henry Clay Davis, 39, would die in May 1922 upon being crushed between two railroad cars serving the mill.

Thirty-year-old Roderick Hastie, a Scottish immigrant, was killed while he was unloading a river barge a few days before Christmas 1923. Meanwhile, Michael Furda, 67, who was born in Slovakia, succumbed in February 1949 after his left leg was amputated following an accident at the blooming mill.

But despite the risks, the machine continued to grind out steel and zinc while immigrant families did their best to create idyllic lives for their children in the smoky town. Promoters of Donora responded by publishing post cards, like the one shown above, that were made pretty with brush strokes of green paint to disguise the ugly surroundings.

The casualties of steel went largely overlooked elsewhere, too, until late October 1948, when a mysterious fog settled over the Monongahela River. The eyes of the nation turned on Donora over startling news that 20 people had died there and at least another 600 were sickened by the thick air. Seventeen of the deaths occurred within just 12 hours, prompting health official to fear a pneumonia epidemic.

Five days later, after rain had washed the air clean, a mill attorney ordered the cooling of the zinc smelters as mill chemists began arriving in Donora to spin the story. Investigators with the Pennsylvania Department of Health also came to town where the zinc mill had been spewing sulfurous fumes, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, along with various other heavy metal dusts into the clouds since 1915.

The downwind residents in the village of Webster, Westmoreland County, were not about to be calmed by the rush of investigations. They had been complaining for years about that acidic air that had always quickly peeled fresh paint off their clapboard houses and turned them into worthless pieces of real estate.

The acidic air had also stripped the land of nearly all of its vegetation for miles around Webster. After the smoke cleared a bit, those neighbors decided to hold secret meetings to oppose the mill, led by local restaurant owner Abe Celapino, who had a reputation for disliking the steel-making giant.

His group called itself the Society for Better Living, adopting the credo: “Clean Air and Green Grass” in a charter that was approved by the courts in May 1949. Its members wanted to conserve soil, property and plant life and eliminate poison gases from the air because they feared for their lives over the smog deaths.

The society criticized U.S. Steel for its strong influence over Donora Borough Council that had ignored its pleas for a local smog ordinance similar to the one that was on the books in Pittsburgh. No one was really surprised at council's decision because men who worked at the mill held six of the seven seats on council at the time.

The U.S. Public Health Service, in a preliminary report on the smog that was never reopened, placed most of the blame on the smog deaths on the weather. A spate of Webster lawsuits lingered in federal court for several years before paltry settlements were reached without the mill admitting to any responsibility for the tragedy.

It would take at least another decade before federal lawmakers recalled the Donora smog as a reason to enact the first federal clean air law. The folks in Webster breathed a sigh of relief while those across the river braced for the worst as the mill jobs began to disappear.

Click here to return to Part I, A borough rises from hell's bottoms

Click here to read Part V: Big promises and pipe dreams

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Man grins upon his arrest for killing family

Orlando "Foo" Guarino stopped and smiled for a photo tonight after the 38-year-old man was arrested on charges he killed his wife and their two young children at his home in Marianna, Pa.

Guarino’s estranged wife, Ashley Guarino, 22, and the couple’s 2-year-old daughter, Dreux, and 11-month-old son, Orlando Jr., were found dead yesterday in their father’s home at 405 Third St. It appeared that all three had died of asphyxiation, according to the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pa., after he threatened to kill them during a marital separation.

I paused, also, and wondered why he had any reason to be happy. The arresting state police trooper, Thomas Kress, appeared to be similarly perplexed.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Girl seeks diet for chubby feline

By Amanda Gillooly

I admit it: I’m a bad mother. My cat, Lincoln, is a fat ass. I’ve denied it for more than a year, but now that his belly almost rubs the floor when he saunters across the room, I can no longer turn a blind eye to his rotund figure.

It isn’t like I haven’t tried to get him to drop some poundage. I’ve limited his food. I switched to the Big Boy brand for fat cats. I’ve thrown toys. But the only time he hauls ass is when I pretend to go to the basement.

Every time I open the door, he zooms past me and whizzes down the steps. But you can only fool him so many times. Linc might be morbidly obese, but he’s not dumb.

My uncle, who I live with, thinks that by calling the formidable gray and white cat such names as “Big Fat” and “Lard Ass” will somehow motivate him to get his heart rate up. I don’t think it’s done much but hurt his self-esteem.

But I digress. I’m actually worried. The cat door into the basement is becoming too small for Lincoln. As it is, every time he jumps through the door, it trembles in its frame. If he gets much bigger, he’s gonna be too big to get downstairs.

He has to be a good 30 pounds by now. That’s many, many pounds heavier than my youngest cat, George. But that doesn’t stop the black menace from attacking his older counterpart, taking bites out of his fur and causing the remaining hair to become matted.

Thing is, Linc is so damn big that he can’t stretch to clean any body part south of the nipples. When the clumps of hair became too pronounced last week, my uncle brushed him for several hours over several days to remove them.

It’s gotten so bad that I’ve turned to kitty uppers to help me energize my 5-year-old buddy. I get a stash of homegrown catnip from my boyfriend’s mother. After scarfing down most of the leafy green stuff, he rolls around in it. Sometimes, if I get lucky, he’ll bat around a toy mouse for a while afterward.

Short of buying a leash and walking him (which I believe would be a poor life choice), I don’t know what else to do. I’ve jeopardized my relationship with the publisher of this blog, Scotty B., for making this Web site look like a “cat blog.” But the purpose of these few paragraphs isn’t to entertain you; it’s to earnestly ask for some help.

I need a cat whisperer hardcore.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Donora paintings hold deep messages

In the top corner of Todd Pinkham's colorful new mural about the Pennsylvania borough known as Donora, an entrepreneur named Frank Donner is depicted among blazes of sun.

Nearby is a likeness of Nora Mellon, the wife of Andrew W. Mellon, a Pittsburgh industrialist and banker who invested heavily with Donner in a giant steel mill in the town in 1901.

But the main focus of the painting is a rendition of an old photo of Beanie Huhra, an eccentric Donora resident who appeared in parades on a surrey pulled by a donkey. He used the getup to promote the Society for Better Living, which had formed in nearby Webster to protest pollution from Donora's zinc mill that was blamed for 20 local deaths during a smog in 1948.

The only difference in the mural between then and now is that Huhra is surrounded by flowers instead of dead soil thanks to the society's complaints that were partly responsible for the first federal clear air regulations in the 1960s.

"I tried to give them a work that reflects today," said Pinkham, 39, a painting professor at California University of Pennsylvania.

He included Donner and Mellon in his scene because their names were joined to create the borough's name. The large painting is among two that Pinkham created for a new museum that is being developed in Donora for the 60th anniversary of the smog in October.

And, other works of art in a Donora theme will be presented to the town, free of charge, by Cal U. students after their classes resume in the fall, Pinkham said.

He is using Donora and its troubled economy to inspire his students to reach out and do something good for the world around them.

The theme of "social justice" is gaining popularity among artists in the United States, he said.

"Basically, Donora is a community that would benefit from getting a little bit of notice," Pinkham said.

In addition to the smog, Donora became famous in the early 1960s for being home to the first major steel mill in the nation to close permanently. And the borough is poised for some new attention about dirty air because "times are changing" as the green cause keeps gaining momentum, Pinkham said.

He strives to include images in his works that inspire people to use mental associations about things that are otherwise concealed in society.

“Looking at my paintings becomes a sensory adventure of discovery that started when I began to paint it and continues with the act of viewing it,” Pinkham stated on his Web site.

His Donora projects work to pull the story of the town together, said DeAnn Pavelko, a member of a committee organizing events for the smog commemoration.

"I think when you look at them, you see Donora, the episode, the whole story," Pavelko said.

The committee plans to hold a parade and football game between Donora and Monongahela. No one was able to see those events in October 1948 because of the heavy smog, yet they went on as scheduled.

(Portions reprinted from the Observer-Reporter)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Jerome Bettis' bar is a gas

Somehow, it’s hard to imagine the mighty Jerome Bettis dining on dainty, scrumptious Pacific Rim tuna rolls with Asian slaw swimming in sweet and sour sauce and sinus burning wasabi paste.

But, the retired Pittsburgh Steelers running back known as “The Bus” considers this dish to be among his favorites at his new restaurant, Jerome Bettis’ Grille 36 in Pittsburgh, Pa. His palate pleasers are listed on the menu beside a footnote, 36, the number on the jersey he wore to help bring his team a Super Bowl victory against the Seattle Seahawks in Detroit in 2006.

Mr. Bettis also likes to sink his teeth into “The 36,” a whopping 36-oz., bone-in New York strip steak that sells for $49.95 a plate. That heart attack inducer is smothered with mushrooms and onions and served with asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes. Now, that’s the kind of grub that should be consumed by a player who was known as “The Battering Ram” when he played as a rookie in 1993 with the Los Angeles Rams.

This is a man of many surprises and known for being fast on his feet. And, he delivers one tricky gimmick in the men’s room at this ultimate sports bar in the Del Monte Building on the North Side, next door to the Steelers’ home at Heinz Field.

When a guy bellies up to a urinal, he faces the see through side of a giant see-through mirror overlooking the front doors, staff counter and entire bar scene. The view came as such a surprise that I had trouble peeing after I stopped by Friday for a beer, consumed a plate of those fantastic tuna rolls and needed to take a leak.

Right then, a fellow left the bathroom, walked quickly around to the front of the mirror and looked into it, appearing to stare me down, while making sure that no one could see him when he was inside that John.

“That is just too weird,” I said to a dude over at a sink washing his hands.

“Yeah, that is pretty weird,” he responded with a laugh.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

This exhibition offered a chilling, up close look at the Titanic story .........

PITTSBUGH, Pa. – For about an hour today, I pretended to be Mr. Wallace Henry Hartley heading to America aboard the ill-fated R.M.S. Titanic.

That was the name I was given on the boarding pass allowing me into the “Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition” at the Carnegie Science Center on Pittsburgh's North Shore.

It remained unknown until the end whether I would be among the survivors of the White Start Line ship that struck an iceberg and never arrived on its maiden voyage to America in April 1912.

Hartley set sail as the leader of an orchestra that played light music for first- and second-class passengers. He was a talented violinist who had been hired for the job only two days before the ship embarked on its journey from Southampton. “Wallace was no stranger to the Atlantic; he had made over 80 crossings,” according to the passenger facts on the reverse side of the ticket.

The exhibit walls were painted as black as the ocean night the Titanic and 1,517 of its passengers went missing as the ship settled to the bottom of frigid water two miles deep off the coast of Newfoundland. Soft blue lights and spooky background noises combined to make some people think twice before rounding each corner, one of which revealed itself to a mock up of a highfalutin cabin for ultra rich travelers. It had a well-appointed bed, fainting couch and table set with an old pair of sterling silver binoculars. Ahead, a life-sized photograph of the ship’s grand stairway appeared behind a statue of a cherub that once decorated the boat's steps. That sculpture was pulled from the wreckage after it was discovered Sept. 1, 1985 by an American-French expedition.

Some walls contained telling phrases spoken by passengers who survived the accident that took place at 2:20 a.m. April 15, 1912. “My feeling was so strong that I would never reach America in that ship,” said Edith Russell, a first-class passenger.

More than 200 artifacts were selected for the exhibit, including bathroom floor tiles, a porcelain chamber pot, dishes and even a hot water tap from a bathroom. The passengers were immortalized through pieces of their jewelry, clothing, money and boarding passes that were recovered from the deep. The finds were chilling reminders of real lives that were lost in a story that has otherwise been romanticized in film and through popular music.

The passengers' names were eventually revealed on a large wall at the end of this remarkable exhibit. More than half of the 324 first-class passengers survived, while 527 of the 710 third-class ticket holders died. Just 212 members of a crew of 910 made it to safety.

My heart skipped a beat as I scrolled down the ranks of second-class passengers and found the name of the man from Dewsbury, England, on my ticket among those who died at sea. I had hoped it wouldn't end that way for a guy who was just 33 years old and engaged then to be married.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Speed demon heading for Daytona

Blogger Mike Jones over at Jonesinforspeed will begin tomorrow posting live from Daytona, Fla., with a focus on the happenings in and around the Coke Zero 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Race.

While the race takes place Saturday, "Jonesy" will be filing stories about what happens beside the barbecue grills, beaches and bar scene outside the track. One of his favorite pit stops is the Ocean Deck, a bar and restaurant that fronts the Atlantic Ocean and is known for its drunk and crazy patrons.

“Is anyone else excited about sun splashed beaches, beer and restrictor plate racing?” said Jones, a writer at the Observer-Reporter in Washington, Pa.

I don’t have the foggiest idea why some people get excited about restrictor place racing, but am looking forward to reading what Jones has to say about this Fourth of July weekend in Daytona.

Yet another blogger, Amanda Gillooly, doesn’t understand the interest in NASCAR, either, but she can't wait to read Jonesinforspeed every day through Sunday.

“I’m willing to get my learn on,” Gillooly said.

(Photo of Mike Jones by Greg Tarr)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

An open letter to Miss Anderson, from Amanda

Dear Pamela Anderson,

I hate to give you more press, I really do. I thought the sale of your used undies was going to be the first and last time I wrote about you. But, girl, you need a wakeup call.

I’m sure you know what I’m referring to. You basically went off on pop star Jessica Simpson for wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the phrase: “Real Girls Eat Meat.”

Being, perhaps, the most busty and well-known spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, I can understand why you’d be upset. However, as a ‘spokeswoman,” I thought you’d have something more literate to say.

As it was, you just called Simpson, if I remember the sound bite played repeatedly by nearly every morning radio show in Pittsburgh, your comments were short. I believe you called the blonde bombshell a “bitch” and a “whore.”

Flag on the play. Pammy, you need to repeat first down.

While I don’t understand how anyone could snub a nose at a nice, fat steak, I appreciate your passion. But, you’re making all the vegetarians out there seem like crazies when you come out this harshly about a T-shirt.

Does the garment have some magical mind-altering powers that I haven’t read about? Do you really think that vegetarians everywhere are saying to themselves and others, “You know, forget about this conviction, if Jessica Simpson eats meat, then I need to throw away my bean sprouts for burgers!”? I thinkith not.

And besides, Ms. Anderson, don’t you have bigger things to worry about? I’m sure you’re busy raising your two children, caring for your Hepatitis A and thinking about what new cosmetic procedure you can buy with the royalties from your Tommy Lee sex tape.

Bottom line: Chill out, woman. You’re gonna pop an implant.

Warmest Regards,

Amanda “I need beef, dude” Gillooly


(Note: PETA added the word, stupid, to the photo of Miss Simpson)