a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Breathing new life into Pittsburgh

Asian Valley, originally uploaded by Scott Beveridge.

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Artist Ian Thomas applies the final strokes Friday to his eye-catching large public mural, one of many that have appeared in recent years on buildings in the Pittsburgh area over the past few years.

His is titled “Urban Lung,” and it can be found on the side of an Asian market along Penn Avenue in the city’s Strip District, a Mecca for bargain prices on fresh produce and gourmet foods. Thomas, of Butler, Pa., said he came up with the idea for his interpretation of an Asian river valley by talking with the building owner and people who work or live in the area.

The murals are the brainchild of a nonprofit corporation, The Sprout Fund, which formed in 2001 to bring communities together to develop innovative projects in hopes of finding solutions to the problems that face the region.

I think the murals work great to add some beauty to areas of the city with blight and give folks something to think about while stuck in traffic on the many outdated roads in the region.

Click here to check out the six other new murals that went up this year.

Click here to take a look at those from previous years.

Here is one from a previous year by Lucas Stock further up Penn Avenue at The Midwife Center for Birth and Women's Health:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

No contact here with the dead, for me anyhow

Judgement, originally uploaded by srinehuls.

POMFRET, NY – At the gated entrance to a village where people claim to converse with the dead, I reach for a $10 bill to pay the price of a day’s admission, eager to test the water and consult a medium.

The attendant smiles, hands me a guide to the unincorporated village of Lilly Dale in New York wine country and quickly opens it to a map of its streets.

“Have you been here before?” she asks.

“No,” I say.

“Well if you hurry, you can make it to the service at Inspiration Stump,” she says. “It starts in a few minutes. It’s something you don’t want to miss.”

Curious, I drive off, following a narrow lane only to be struck by a sudden uneasy loss of any sense of direction. The narrow roads, built for horse-drawn buggies in the 1800s, follow circular or oval paths unlike the orderly grid-pattern streets that can be found in most towns and cities in the United States.

I find a place ahead to park, grab the map and begin my journey to the mysterious tree stump in the woods.

The streets here are lined with impeccably maintained Victorian-era cottages on postage stamp-sized lots. Many of the houses have signs posted on their doors that indicate the medium who lives inside is either not home or has a booked schedule. There goes my shot at reaching out to my dearly departed great-aunt Blanche, who supposedly knew all the skeletons in the closets of my mom’s side of the family.

This oasis on Cassadaga Lake dates to 1879 and is supposed to be the largest spiritualist center in the world. It's roots are affiliated with the Fox sisters, Katie and Margaret, who at ages 11 and nine, respectively, on March 31, 1848, told people they held conversations with ghosts that had taken up residence in their home’s walls in Hydesville, NY. Their “haunted house” ended up being moved in 1916 to Lily Dale only to burn to the ground four decades later. The girls have long been credited with launching America’s spiritualist movement, even though some historians have labeled them pranksters.

On the sunny early August afternoon that I stroll these streets, nearly 50 Canadian believers are holding one of many conventions that are held here each year. A white-haired guy at the podium insists that most nonbelievers must first experience a physical apparition, such as seeing a bottle move on its own across a table or hearing some unexplained rapping in their homes, before they buy into spiritualism.

At the nearby corner of Library and East streets, another older gentlemen talks with a young couple inside the one-room Lily Dale Museum about his interpretations of handshake energy he receives when he greets people. Instead, I concentrate on an old photo of Susan B. Anthony and am surprised to learn that the famous suffragette once held court in town. She recognized the Lily Dale Assembly for its equal treatment of women, whom she believed were oppressed by Christianity. Down the wall is a series of portraits with piercing eyes the museum insists appeared by themselves on paper at the hands of spirits.

The museum is a short walk from Leolyn Forest, where services have been held since 1898. The historic stump is down a path from a creepy pet cemetery that even holds the remains of a horse. Circled in ducky stones, it’s the grave of Topsy, a white horse that plowed snow from local streets and died Feb. 13, 1900, when it fell through thin ice on the lake.

The ancient woods turn dark and damp under old-growth pine and maple trees. There gathered before the stump are about 100 people seated in park benches. A bird chirps nonstop from a nearby branch as resident or visiting mediums take turns at the stage to channel the dead among the people they handpick from the audience.

This is where things become foggy. The channeled information seems like stuff that could fit into anyone’s life. One woman claims to be on the line with a white-haired regal looking woman in the spirit world. “Do you know who I mean?” the medium asks.

The audience member smiles and nods her head in agreement.

The medium then tells her the dead lady wants her to slow down, that she is biting off more than she can handle. The audience member is in joy, and leaves with some vague message about a teacup.

Come on. Who doesn’t have a special regal aunt, grandmother or great-grandmother who no longer walks the land? And name an average American who isn’t overworked if he or she has enough money to buy the gasoline for the car to get to Lily Dale along with the admission to this out-of-the-ordinary destination.

While Lily Dale is fun to see, it’s going to take a visit from Aunt Blanche spouting off family secrets during a full moon to convert me to this church.

Monday, August 25, 2008

This road stops making sense

NEW PARIS, Pa. – For some old-fashioned fun, turn off your GPS tracker in Bedford, Pa., and stop in this quaint town to ask for directions to Gravity Hill, where the law of physics takes another road.

It’s imperative to visit the Bedford County Visitors Bureau on business Route 30, where the staff is “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous, kind of obedient, cheerful, thrifty, clean and irreverent,” the guide to this kooky hill indicates.

“I think I’m pretty clean today,” the young woman at the desk says after I ask whether she showered this morning.

“What do you think of the hill?” I ask.

“Oh, it’s a quirky place that we took on,” she replies. “It worked. Tour buses go there, so has Science Magazine.”

She then opens a hot pink and black brochure to its page with directions to this destination, instructs me to stay on Route 30 west and make a right at the only red light in Schellsburg.

“Are there signs?” I ask.

“Oh, no. That’s why it’s important to follow these very detailed directions,” she says.

US Route 30 in Pennsylvania dates to 1913 and is near or sometimes part of Lincoln Highway, the first paved coast-to-coast highway in America. In the Bedford area, however, the road is dwarfed by the nearby Pennsylvania Turnpike, which opened in 1940 as the nation’s first rural highway.

I'm en route to New Paris that has a population of 214 people unless someone died since the 2000 census.

The 8-mile trip on Route 30 takes in cow pastures, a goat farm and several beautiful old stone farmhouses. Another four miles along Route 96 north leads to a narrow and winding couple of miles on Bethel Hollow Road and a right turn to the famed Gravity Hill Road, where turning around in a driveway is strictly prohibited.

Save for a lonely tractor pulling a hay wagon, no one else is on this road today. I pull out the official guide, where it instructs me to “look for the GH spray painted on the road. Go past the first GH about 1/10 mile and stop at the second GH.”

It goes on.

“First, you need to stay calm … put your car in neutral (after checking in your mirror for oncoming traffic, of course) and take your foot off the brake.”

Now, everything about this road tells me that I am traveling downhill. After following said directions, my well-oiled Ford pickup begins to drift backwards at a good clip. This is freaking me out. Yep, the truck seems like it’s being pulled uphill by a giant magnet.

I also know in my mind that physicists have already been here with scientific measuring tools that confirm that this hill is among many such optical illusions across the globe. The horizon line and tilt of the trees and slopes all come together to trick the eye into believing the law of gravity has been suspended.

Regardless, this gem offers one of those precious thrills in life that does not come with the steep price of a day pass to a theme park.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Remastering a Wright

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Isabelle Martin walked out the front door of her outlandish Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home toward the end of the Great Depression, never to return.

The widow of Darwin Martin, a longtime Wright patron, had little if any money in 1937 when she left her "weird" house in Buffalo, NY, that was considered an to be eyesore by her neighbors.

“She couldn’t give it away because no one wanted it,” said Margaret P. Stehlik, director of operations for the Martin House Restoration Corp. in Buffalo, N.Y. “It was a very strange building.”

It’s obvious, now, that Martin’s neighbors were clueless about Wright’s genius or how he would later impact America’s concept and appreciation of great architecture.

Today, the house is undergoing the costliest restoration project ever performed on a design by the greatest American architect of the 20th century. The restoration corporation hopes to invest $50 million to transform this house into the best example of Wright’s prairie houses in the nation. It also is seeking to lure tourism dollars to Buffalo, knowing that Wright’s beloved Fallingwater in Faytte County draws more than 140,000 visitors a year.

“When this is done, people are going to say, ‘Oh my gosh,’” Stehlik told a July tour group.

Darwin D. Martin made a fortune as secretary of the Larkin Soap Co., a Buffalo-based powerhouse in the mail-order trade. He also influenced the company to hire Wright in 1904 to design the groundbreaking Larkin Administration Building, a remarkable innovation that had air-conditioning and built-in office furniture. However, the building was razed in 1950.

Recognizing Wright’s gift, Martin also hired the architect in 1904 to build his family a mansion in Buffalo’s tony Parkside district.

The suburb developed alongside a network of lovely parks designed in 1868 by Frederick Law Olmsted, the superintendent of New York’s Central Park who founded America’s landscape movement. Buffalo’s wealthy businessmen were soon attracted to Parkside, where they built pretty Victorian, Queen Anne and Tudor-style houses.

But Wright shunned those construction styles, having considered their sharp rising roof lines as being “fantastic abortions tortured by features,” like large, reaching chimneys that interrupted the sky. Those houses, he believed, lacked individuality.

“A house that has character stands a good chance of growing more valuable as it grows older while a house in the prevailing mode, whatever that mode may be, is soon out of fashion, stale and unprofitable,” Wright wrote in the 1941 book, “Frank Lloyd Wright on Architecture.”

Martin, who rose to become one of America’s wealthiest executives of his time, apparently gave Wright an unlimited budget to build the 15,000-square-foot, two-story yellow Roman brick house. It cost him $175,000, excluding the windows and furnishing, an incredible sum of money at the time.

True to Wright’s signature designs, it has long dramatic horizontal lines, a solid base to firmly root it to the ground and a low rising roof with wide cantilevered eaves.

He went as far as to omit gutter downspouts so not to interfere with the horizontal planes, leaving rain water to free-flow to the ground.

Isabelle Martin didn’t always buy into Wright’s ideas, and complained that her house was too dark as she grew older and her eyesight began to fail.

The light danced through 394 art glass windows with sheets of gold sandwiched between two layers of iridescent glass. While Wright did not name the design, it is commonly called the “Tree of Life” and believed to be inspired by the wisteria tree.

A 15,000-piece glass mosaic in a wisteria design surrounded the main walk-around fireplace. Exposed to the elements, it fell to pieces and is expected to be recreated with new, matching glass.

The pergola, which has been rebuilt to its original scope, stretches from the back door and creates a 180-foot-long, straight unobstructed view from the front door to a statue in the new conservatory.

“It’s certainly an unusual way to come into a home, particularly at the turn of the century,” Stehlik said.

The original conservatory, with built-in planters, also was razed after the house was abandoned and left open to vandals for nearly two decades after Isabelle Martin left. Children then played inside and were even known to roller-skate down the long hall.

Eventually, the property was sold to an architect and then to the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1967, which used it for a time as its presidents’ residence. The nonprofit corporation now charged with preserving the house took ownership in 2002.

But by then, the university had already replaced the Wright kitchen and its thick milk glass counters with a 1970s-style canary yellow Formica design.

Piece by piece the house is being returned to its origins, although the heavy kitchen glass is no longer produced. In the meantime, it lacks furnishings and offers tourists a peek into the many challenges these projects encounter. Facing a $13 million shortfall in the money needed to finish the restorations, Stehlik said she doesn’t know when the house at 125 Jewett Parkway will entirely satisfy the many Wright fans who visit.

“When you come back, I think you’ll be dazzled,” she said.

Amazing Pittsburgh Firsts

From the Sen. John Heinz Regional History Center, Happy 250th birthday Pittsburgh!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The hippy farm

The hippy farm, originally uploaded by Scott Beveridge.

Here we have apparent peace, love and understanding on a farm in Center Township, Beaver County, Pa.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Nightmare on North Central

Vandals have caused rather severe damage to this old house that is the only still-standing relic of the oldest college in the United States west of the Alleghenies. It's a larger tragedy that this house was allowed to fall to this state of disrepair in the first place.

Here is a story about the vandalism that appeared today in the Observer-Reporter:

CANONSBURG, Pa. – The vandalism to the last surviving Jefferson College building couldn’t have been found at a worst time.
Extensive damages were found Friday inside the historic Roberts House in Canonsburg, Pa., on the same day a nonprofit obtained its federal tax-exempt status to raise money for its restoration.
“It just makes you sick to the stomach,” said Canonsburg Mayor Anthony Colaizzo, who also is a board member of the group that wants to turn the house into an arts center.
The log, stone and brick house, with portions dating to the 1790s, was used for decades as a home for presidents, vice presidents and the faculty at the college before it merged to become Washington & Jefferson College. Founded in 1787, Jefferson College was the first school for higher learning west of the Allegheny Mountains. John Roberts then operated a post office and general store in the house, beginning in 1808.
To the dismay of the Washington County Cultural Trust, vandals reduced a priceless cherry bentwood stair railing to pieces. An antique mirror was shattered, too, as were many windowpanes.
“It was a senseless act of vandalism,” Colaizzo said. “You’d have to be sick to do it. I am just lost for words.”
This isn’t the first time vandals have struck Canonsburg in recent months. In mid-June, someone scrawled the word “nemesis” in black spray paint on houses and vehicles in the East End of the borough – about 30 tags in all.
Canonsburg police continue to investigate the incidents, which detectives said caused between $15,000 to $20,000 in damages.
Police and firefighters also were called Saturday to St. Patrick Church on Pike Street after a recycling bin was set on fire.
The trust had reached an agreement for the house to be purchased by Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation for a year. The foundation is expected to sell the house with a sagging roof at 225 N. Central Ave. back to the trust.
The Landmarks Foundation dispatched a crew to the house to resecure it Monday.
For information, call 724-514-6106. Donations for the restoration project can be mailed to the trust at P.O. Box 45, Canonsburg, PA 15317.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Mon "Calendar Girls" in the news

WQED Multimedia's short documentary featuring the older Monongahela women who posed semi-nude for a 2008 calendar is up for an Emmy Award.

The show on OnQ, "Calendar Girls," is nominated in the entertainment program feature or segment category. It's among 23 nominations the public television station picked up in the awards that will be announced Sept. 13.

David Solomon is the supervising producer of the segment on the women who raised more than $10,000 for the Monongahela Area Historical Society. He's the same guy who produced that station's great documentary, "Stone Soldiers," about decaying Civil War monuments in Gettysburg.

Here's wishing that WQED breaks a leg, and that more good fortune comes to the Vixens of the Valley, who also helped to put this blog on the map.

(Caption: Dot Krol, a fitness technician, left, and Peggy Savadeck, a Senior Olympics gold medalist, greet their fans in 2007 at a firemen parade in Monongahela)

Donora "Man of Steel" grave was a hoax

DONORA, Pa. – It seems that nearly everyone in this town bought a story about the burial of a “man of steel” who died tragically in a crucible of molten metal.

Until their deaths, even Andrew Posey’s 10 siblings held tight to their belief that U.S. Steel created a special grave in Donora, Pa., beside the open hearth for the steel that instantly devoured him in the 1920 accident.

“I think there was a lot of pressure from the family put on the mill,” said James McKenzie, a retired North Dakota University English professor who grew up in Donora, and, for a time, believed the tale.

But evidence surfaced this week that suggests the burial was nothing more than a hoax at a time when the life of a steelworker meant little to America’s steel barons.

The Mon Valley Progress Council Inc. released a report to the Observer-Reporter on an excavation it conducted in 1995 at the site that revealed nothing more than undisturbed earth in a section 8 feet deep around Posey’s tombstone.

“This completes all work toward (the) memorial site investigation and we conclude that this site is a memorial only and no slab or ingot of steel is located within the area of our investigation,” the engineer, Samuel M. Bitonti, noted in his report.

“We were very interested in finding it,” said Joe Kirk, the council’s executive director, who went in search of the steel while trying to sell the site to a new manufacturer.

“I wonder if it was all graveyard PR theater to make the family feel better,” said McKenzie, who wrote an essay about Posey that was published in Notre Dame Magazine’s winter 2006-07 edition.

Posey, who was born July 4, 1898, had just returned from service in World War I when he was hired as a ladle stopper checker in the open hearth. His job required him to climb down into the 100-ton ladle on Jan. 8, 1920, when an explosion in the back of the furnace covered him with 3,000-degree steel, McKenzie, of St. Paul, Minn., wrote in his essay.

Posey’s brother, Joe, built a low, yellow firebrick wall 20 feet wide and 15 feet long around the “grave” after the family was told the entire fatal 65-ton ingot was buried at the site, McKenzie added. A small concrete cross holding a bronze plate containing the steelworker’s name in raised letters rests on the ground.

Each year, war veterans place an American flag on a medallion beside the cross. Others have been known to decorate the stone with artificial floral arrangements.

The local newspaper, The Valley Independent, had earlier repeated the myth, unquestioned, in a 1968 article that pondered the fate of the memorial after the mill closed.

“After the accident, the entire heat of steel containing the remains of Posey was placed into a grave on a plot of ground on the steel firm’s property,” the article states.

And the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission even honored the “grave” as eligible for protection under the National Register of Historic Places in 1992. It went as far as to send a researcher to Donora to interview former mill boss Glen Howis, who repeated the burial story as truth.

“The young man’s remains sealed within the steel were loaded from the open hearth area onto a rail car and carried via a rail spur to the vacant area … where the mass was buried,” the narrative of the PHMC research states.

Now, in light of the Progress Council report, the agency is unsure whether the Posey site can survive the National Register, said April Frantz, a commission survey coordinator.

“I don’t know … just because a whole hoax was perpetuated and the story was that good,” Frantz said.

She said it could survive the distinction because it sheds light on the way “the company operated and how it treated its workers.”

When he revisited the site Tuesday, McKenzie, 67, said a bigger mystery exists as to why Posey was afforded any special attention by the company in an era when as many as 900 steelworkers died on the job a year in the Pittsburgh region.

The company could have been attempting to keep peace with workers who had just returned to their jobs from the bitter first labor strike against U.S. Steel in 1919. During the walkout, a band of Donora steelworkers set off dynamite at the homes of two of their coworkers who crossed their picket lines. Another angry mob of striking workers, their wives at their sides, assaulted and disarmed the police chief when he escorted mill bosses through the gate to the Donora zinc works.

The labor dispute was marked by other riots, one of which involved 50 men who threw bricks at black scab laborers, according to headlines pulled from The Donora American.

“This is the only 'grave' of its kind in America,” McKenzie said.

“I wonder if there was any ceremony at that site at all? Did they move in a rail car for theatrical purposes? Blade up the surface a little to fool the grieving rubes? We’ll probably never know.”

Regardless, Jeff Huff, who manages a nearby warehouse for Elizabeth Milling Co., regularly mows the grass around the Posey plot out of respect for any relatives who still may live in the area.

“There was a time family members would come to visit,” said Dave Felgar, manager of Elizabeth Milling, which doesn’t own the Posey land. “Less and less, they’ve been coming.”

(Caption: Former Donora residents James McKenzie of St. Paul, Minn,, right, and his friend, Paul Rank of Rock Cave, W.Va., visit the so-called Andrew Posey grave in their hometown.)

First published in the Observer-Reporter

Friday, August 15, 2008

Buffalo wings really were born in Buffalo, NY

Stay tuned for a restaurant review from "Travel with a Beveridge"

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A tearful goodbye to a fireman

STOCKDALE – Watching Linda Whiten follow her husband’s casket away from his funeral today made everyone who was there cry with her.

She carried a folded flag while clutching the arm of her son Sean, who shares his father’s first name and love of fire departments.

Even newspaper photographers who didn't know Roscoe Fire Capt. Sean T. Whiten, 47, wept with the nearly 1,000 mourners who came to the funeral in Stockdale Volunteer Fire Department along the Monongahela River in southwestern Pennsylvania.

I hardly knew Whiten, having just talked with him on the telephone a few times about his fire calls in the years before he died of a heart attack Saturday. He collapsed while teaching fire school for Westmoreland County Community College near Smithton.

But surely he was a helluva nice guy like his brother, Bob, who has been fire chief for many years in nearby Charleroi. Bob serves his community well and always presents himself in public as a gentleman in times of stress.

The Whitens are the type of community minded people who can make hundreds of brave men sob in their footsteps.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Free concert for the smog museum

Zakk Fine, right, and Bob Menzler of Rhyme and Reason play a free concert Tuesday to promote the new Donora Smog Museum in Donora. The museum dedicated to the nation's deadliest air pollution disaster is a work in progress and has yet to establish regular hours.

Click here for more information about the museum and the folks who are putting it together.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The lobster slider is a winner

The anonymous chef and I attempted Saturday to pull off lobster sliders, a recipe for an alternative to grilled burgers that was featured last month on the Today Show.

It’s an expensive experiment because two lobster tails weighing slightly less than a pound cost $34 at Wholey's fish market in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.

“They’re delicious,” the chef said as she tore into a sandwich.

For bread, we slice a loaf of light and airy flatbread from Sunseri’s, a fantastic bakery that can be found, too, in the Strip. Dollops of mayo and thin slices of a garden fresh tomato are used to top off the sandwiches.

There is one problem, though, with this recipe – it lacks a bonding ingredient. That makes the patties difficult to turn over and hold their shape. So we toss an egg into the second batch that is shown in the photo, above. That probably isn’t the best idea for a solution. But who cares? It’s lobster.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Party at the Smog Museum

Smog Museum, originally uploaded by Scott Beveridge.

The new Donora Smog Museum in Donora is hosting a concert Tuesday, Aug. 16, in the town gazebo to invite the public into the exhibits.
A local group, Rhyme & Reason, featuring Bob Menzler and Nikk Fine, will perform from 6 to 10 p.m. near the intersection of Fifth Street and McKean Avenue.
The museum at 595 McKean Ave. also will be open with artifacts being added to the displays nearly every day, said DeAnne Pavelko, an organizer of the event. The committee will be selling $1 ice cream cones.
On display are an oxygen tank used by firemen during the 1948 Donora smog and a large collection of photographs taken at the sprawling U.S. Steel mill that closed in the borough in the 1960s.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Welcome home thief junkie

The birth of a crack house in America’s Rust Belt in southwestern Pennsylvania, in the following order:

1. Grandma dies and none of the kinfolk want her house in an urban area in decline with darned few jobs on the table

2. No one else wants to buy the place either

3. In short order, a junkie armed with a hacksaw breaks in and steals the copper water pipes to redeems them – no questions asked – for cash at a scrap yard

4. The door is open for said junkie to return, get stupid on newly-purchased crack, sleep off a high and start the process over tomorrow at an abandoned house down the road

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A tragedy nearly out of control

While some may think differently, I do not derive any pleasure from having to take these types of photographs. Emotions soared Sunday afternoon in Webster, Pa., when 12-year-old Terrence Carlock of nearby Donora drowned after being swept under by the currents in a dangerous stretch of the Monongahela River.

Volunteer firefighters at these scenes can lose all sense of rationalization when they see someone with a camera taking photos of grieving relatives, as was the case after Terrence disappeared while swimming with a group of unsupervised children.

Like it or not, everyone in America has the right to free speech and stand in a public place to shoot photographs or videos. It’s among our federal privileges that some of us in journalism work hard to uphold.

Often in these situations, news photographers end up with shots of rescuers in boats or concerned bystanders watching from afar. Or, they get there too late and settle for a long shot of the scene after everyone has left the area. But, I just happened to be in the area when the emergency sirens flared.

And, this photograph would never have been taken had someone taken better charge of the situation and not allowed the victim’s 11-year-old sister to be given a police escort to the riverbank, only to witness her brother’s lifeless body being pulled by a scuba diver from the water.

It's not like I was hunting her down or in anyone's face. I was just doing my job.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

This hotel bar is zapper in Canada

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, Canada – The abundance of summer flowers along the street give rise to a grand early Victorian redbrick hotel in Canada, and they immediately draw me to the door.

It gives way to a richly appointed English-style room with intricately carved mahogany covering every inch of the walls and ceiling in the Prince of Wales Hotel pub in downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake.

I grab a stool, its seat upholstered in maroon leather, before hearing a loud zap, pop and fizzle behind the bar. From the corner of my right eye, a bright light flashes from a stainless steel wine and beer cooler.

“I’m not touching that,” exclaims the beautiful young female bartender while maintaining an infectious smile. “There is a fire in there.”

A waitress afraid of a shock emerges holding a white linen napkin and uses it to open the refrigerator door, releasing a putrid cloud of smoke and gases. The fire is out but, the room now stinks like burning wire and car tires. She calls for maintenance. A few minutes later, a manager comes to the rescue with a can of air freshener that she sprays around the back bar.

“There, now it smells like apples,” she says, leaving the room with more obnoxious chemicals in the air.

I wonder if I should gulp down a beer and find somewhere else to eat, even though the vegetarian sandwich advertised on the outdoor menu is calling my name.

The air clears so I order the grilled asparagus with Monteforte feta off the Churchill Lounge menu from the still-bubbly bartender. It arrives with roasted red peppers in two wedges of rosemary focaccia spread with basil mayo. A plain salad of just mixed greens equally covered in a white balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil dressing also springs from the plate. Together, they make for a great light lunch on a hot, breezy day in Upper Canada’s wine country, costing $14 in Canadian cash.

This town is understandably where dark-tanned, wealthy white boaters come to play at the juncture of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. Niagara-on-the-Lake is commonly called one of the prettiest towns in Canada because of its quaint residential streets and small downtown lined with restaurants, shops and galleries. A half-hour’s drive from Niagara Falls, it’s a fantastic tourist destination filled with pristinely restored Colonial- and Federal-style buildings. The town dates to the 1700s, having been the first capital of Upper Canada, now known as the province of Ontario. But, the village had to be rebuilt after being leveled by American troops during the War of 1812, when the United States tried unsuccessfully to expand its territory into Canada.

The Prince of Wales, with more than 100 luxury rooms, dates to 1864. Leisurely guests can enjoy a traditional afternoon British tea in the frilly drawing room or relax at a spa. Instead, I sample a cold glass of Niagara Pale Ale, a product of the Niagara Falls Brewing Co., before taking a stroll through the downtown, where horse-drawn white carriages compete with slow-moving cars along narrow streets.

“You came at the most exciting time of the day,” the bartender says, giving a nod in the direction of the dead beer cooler.

“It was the highlight of my day,” I tell her.