a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Bert's tiny hot dog stand is world famous

Lila Porchiran, a cook at Bert's Hot Dog Shop in Atlasburg, Pa., serves up one of the tiny restaurant's world famous foot longs.

ATLASBURG, Pa. – Maryann Lyons picks through her foot-long hot dog with disgust on her face while seated in the outdoor dining section at Bert’s Hot Dog Shop.

The woman from neighboring Beaver County, Pa., is dining on a recent spring afternoon beside her husband, Larry, at a dusty picnic table beside the tiny roadside restaurant that has been drawing crowds for decades.

“It’s a hot dog,” Maryann Lyons says, rolling her eyes, when asked if her dog covered in mustard and onions is any good. “I’m here for my first time. He talks so much about this place I had to try one.”

She is not the typical customer of this busy Washington County establishment that has been in the same family for a few generations.

“People come here from California to Florida, and then they just spread the word,” said Lila Porchiran, a cook in the kitchen that is just 15 feet long and about 6 feet wide. “We’re world famous.”

The most-popular item on the menu is actually named the “world famous.” It’s a footlong smothered in ketchup, mustard, relish, chopped onion and chili. This full-meal-on-a-paper-plate costs a mere $2.65.

Porchiran said she couldn’t begin to estimate the number of steamed dogs the shop sells a day. “A lot,” said Porchiran, who shares the workspace with two other women.

Bert’s was founded 60 years ago by Marino Funari in the same spot along Route 18 near Burgettstown. Robert Bertolotti took it over upon Funari’s death in 1972 and it remains to this day in the Bertolotti family.

Patrons order food through a small window while standing outside under a small canopy, even in the winter. The roof line is strung with a strand of Christmas lights, several of which are burned out.

Tucked in a narrow room behind the kitchen is the dining room stuffed with two small tables, a black bar stool, five chairs and two park benches.

“There used to be an expansion plan,” said Larry Lyons, who deals in hardwoods.

He said the man standing in line behind him at the kitchen window mentioned he drove 25 minutes to get one of Bert’s dogs.

“Every trucker knows about this place.” Larry Lyons said. “They all come here to eat.”

(Published with permission of the Observer-Reporter)

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Whack-A-Kitty controversy

This YouTube video is bringing fame and controversy to Rob Belluso of Monongahela, Pa., a family physician at Centerville Clinics in Fredericktown, Pa., who posted it May 9.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Amanda's musings

Sonogram, originally uploaded by mgmcinnis.

I saw the first pictures of Lily last month.

My niece is set to arrive in September, but we saw her clench her fists and kick her feet during my sister’s sonogram, which turned out to be more entertaining than the last one.

When I went with Ashley during her first pregnancy with my nephew, Nicholas, now 5, I almost passed out. As soon as the sonographer said the baby was healthy, normal and of the male persuasion, I started fading fast.

The room went wobbly, I saw stars and a nausea washed over me. I left the room, and a kindly nurse at the hospital offered me juice.

I declined, and said I had again embarrassed myself. Weak stomach, I told her. I’m just squeamish.

“Oh, honey. Don’t worry about it. Lots of people get light-headed when they have blood drawn,” the nurse answered.

When I informed her that I had not, in fact, come into contact with one of her needle-wielding colleagues, she sneered at me, let out an audible huff and stomped away.

I thought that would forever be The Funny Sonogram story, but alas, I was dead wrong.
The second time around, no one was as giddy as Nicholas to find out if the new baby would be a boy or a girl. He had announced early on that his mother was going to bear him a little sister – so the sonogram was seemingly a formality.

I warned him before the sonographer lubed Ashley and started poking around her belly that we had to be quiet and be good during the appointment.

The quiet part lasted as soon as the image of his yet-to-be-born sister came up on the screen.

His eyes went wide and a smile crept across his face as he saw the baby open her mouth.

“Look at that, Aunt Mandy,” he laughed. “It’s like a baby TV.”

I stifled a laugh, shushed him and turned my attention again toward the screen, listening as the woman told us about the size of the baby’s brain and other parts.

A few minutes longer I noticed Nicholas squirming in my brother-in-law’s lap – a sure sign of boredom and a pending spaz attack.

“What’s the matter, bud?” I whispered.

He gave a huge sigh before answering:

“Aunt Mandy, why do they call it a ‘babysound?’ She’s not saying anything.”

My sister's sonogram

After explaining that he was getting babysounds, sonograms and ultrasounds confused, he nodded and went back to watching.

Just as the appointment was wrapping up, and the technician gave Ashley a towel to wipe off the jelly from her burgeoning belly, I asked Nicholas if he wanted to go outside and wait for Mommy and Daddy there.

He jumped off his dad’s lap and ran toward the door, emphatically waving for me to come hither.

I knew this look. Nicholas either had a bombshell to lay on me or an extremely important question.

“Uh, Aunt Mandy? When are they gonna pull her out?” he asked.

He thought the baby would be able to sit by him on the way home.

I explained that Lily still had to get big and strong before she makes her debut.

And I think that was one thing he actually understood that afternoon.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

An editor digs a deck garden

By Liz Rogers, Managing Editor
Observer-Reporter and TWAB Guest Blogger

By the time you read this, I am hopeful that my deck garden will be flourishing. Or at least still living.

Unlike the Observer-Reporter's gardening columnist, Christie Campbell, I am not adept at sustaining plant life. While she attempts to cultivate a butterfly garden this summer, I will be babying a couple of tomato and pepper plants, in the hope that I can enjoy their bounty in a couple of summer salads.

Nearly every plant I have attempted to grow has either withered and died or succumbed to the nibbly nature of my perpetually hungry house cat.

Nonetheless, with the growing season upon us, I decided to try again. Rather than battling the rabbits that have made their home in the wooded area at the southern border of our backyard, I opted to try gardening in containers on the deck. Before going to the garden center for plants, I spent a little time researching my plan.

A cooperative extension service Web site assured me that, indeed, a patio, balcony or even doorstep provides sufficient space for a productive mini-garden. And, problems with soil-borne diseases, nematodes or poor soil conditions are easily remedied by switching to a container garden.

Already in possession of suitable pots, I consulted the list, noted the appropriate varieties and went shopping. As I selected a half-dozen healthy tomato plants and a couple of pepper plants, potting soil and fertilizer, my mouth watered at the vision of fresh produce dangling from green vines.

With renewed resolve, I drove home and began planting. Each morning, I check my crops, and each evening, I water them. The routine has been worked into my daily exercise regimen: Each of the three or four trips from the garage faucet up the 14 stairs to my deck garden – five-gallon watering can in tow – must be burning calories, right?

It’s been only a few weeks, but so far, so good. The plants are still green and growing. And even if my plants yield few or no veggies, at least I should be in better shape from hauling around that watering can.

Enjoy your own outdoor pursuits this summer.

(This story originally appeared in Living in Washington County, a publication of the Observer-Reporter. It was reprinted with permission. Photo was originally uploaded by Seth Dillingham)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Coshocton's corner cafe

By Michael Jones
TWAB Guest Blogger

COSHOCTON, Ohio – Nestled inside a century-old building across the street from this quaint farming town’s county courthouse is one of the best-kept secrets in Ohio. The food is fabulous, but it is the unique decorations that adorn the restaurant walls that keep your eyes wandering and easily jumpstart conversations.

On a business trip to tour the largest American flag production factory in the United States, three members of the Observer-Reporter stopped for a bite at the Courtsquare Café and commented more on the restaurants appearance than the food. And that’s not at all a poor indictment on the food. I gobbled down the Rueben with a side of long potato chips, while a co-worker ordered a ham-and-cheese sandwich wedged inside a soft pretzel. Each dish was arranged on top of a decorative London newspaper page covering the plate.

The Courtsquare opened in 2004 after the owner spent nearly $1 million to renovate this beautiful building on East Main Street, which sat vacant for 70 years. How a prime location like this remained unused for so long is surprising, especially with its close proximity to the Coshocton County Courthouse. Business wasn’t booming around noon, but a steady stream of businessmen came in while we waited for our food.

Over one booth hangs a 94-year-old invoice from the local glassmaker that announces a discount on an order of amber-colored bottles. Across the room are various railroad memorabilia that proudly display the area’s rail heritage.

But the most interesting item is an ornate bar that houses the cash register. Our waitress told us the bar was custom-made in England and cost more than she would like to admit. The restaurant also serves beers at cheap prices from the handcrafted bar. If only we weren’t still on company time and didn’t have to drive 120 miles home, maybe we could have poured a couple drafts.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Graveside tribute to a brave soldier

Members of Monongahela Veterans Council gather today at the grave of Sgt. Russell D. Wakefield to honor him during Memorial Day services at the historic Mingo Cemetery near Finleyville, Pa.

Wakefield was award the Bronze Star for his service in the U.S. Army during World War II.

He is buried near prominent men who participated in the Whiskey Rebellion, including the notorious Tom the Tinker.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A story from the bar at a railroader's memorial

ALTOONA, Pa. – There is a replica of an old blue-collar tavern named Kelly’s Bar two-flights up at the Altoona Railroader’s Memorial Museum.

It has a pressed-tin ceiling and floor covered in tiny marble tiles. A case of Altoona Beer appropriately sits on the back bar beside a ghostly figure of a bartender about to serve a cocktail frozen in time.

The lights dim when you belly up to the bar and then a man with an Irish accent announces that visitors will learn a lot about how America was built on the backs of the thousands of men who once worked the rails in this city in central Pennsylvania. While drinking was discouraged, most of the men gathered after work at bars like this one, or in the many social clubs that built up around what was once the nation’s largest railroad shop complex.

Two hidden television screens soon light up behind the beer case that show men from different periods of time discussing their lives on the railroad, just as if they were sitting across the bar.

In one scene, Ralph and a pal are discussing an accident at work that landed the conductor, Al, in the hospital. Next thing you know, Al strolls in laughing and joking about his escaping serious injury at Ralph’s negligence.

This is nonsense because, in the real world during the 1940s, Al would have wanted to knock Ralph in the noggin for being so careless, while also dropping a few F-bombs and maybe a racial slur or three.

Call me a prude, but I don’t care much for the idea of using alcoholic beverages to tell stories in a museum frequented by children. Although much time and effort went into this display, all we are left with is an example of fake history.

The museum, though, is rather interesting because it’s set in a former Pennsylvania Railroad master mechanics building dating to 1882. At one time, everything from drinking water to light bulbs used on the railroad were tested in the building just off the 17th Street exit from Interstate 99.

Between 1866 and 1946, more than 68,000 steam, diesel-electric and electric locomotives were manufactured at the site when just about everyone depended on the railroads for goods and travel. The industry here began to decline after a 1931 Christmas-day fire destroyed some of the buildings.

Visitors also can walk inside an old caboose to see how railroaders toiled in cramped, dingy quarters at the end of the train. You can almost hear them complaining about having to use the stainless steel commode tucked inside a small closet.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Green energy sprouts on farmette

EIGHTY FOUR, Pa. – James Benney installed his first wind turbine to reduce the electricity bills at his farmette, and already, his neighbor plans to copy the idea.

Benney’s is among few property owners in Washington County, Pa. to turn to green energy. The 45-foot-tall stainless-steel pole holding his turbine comes with a reverse meter to measure the amount of power it sends into the electric grid to calculate how much money will come off his bill from Allegheny Energy.

The time is overdue for America to reduce is dependency on coal and “foreign oil,” said Benney, 59, a psychiatric nurse at Washington Hospital. “I’ve always believed in doing things to help the Earth, rather than hurt it.”

This turbine in Nottingham Township, Pa., is much smaller than those along the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Somerset County. The six turbines at the Somerset Wind Energy Center are the size of a pickup truck.

Wind energy is making a major comeback, given the number of tractor-trailer trucks hauling just one giant turbine blade that can be seen on any given day traveling Interstate 70 in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Benney’s cost nearly $15,000, but he will be reimbursed 30 percent of the money under President Barack Obama’s green energy stimulus plan. And the savings on his utility bills over the next seven years will cover the remainder of the cost of the turbine he purchased from Wind Turbines of Ohio.

This signifies the largest push for renewable energy since 1979, when a similar initiative was put together by President Jimmie Carter during an energy crisis, Reason magazine reports in its June issue. Carter invested billions in an energy program that also was designed to wean America off oil from the Middle East.

Since then, the amount of money Americans have spent on foreign oil has resulted in the largest transfer of wealth in the history of the world.

Obama’s stimulus plan will direct $43 billion toward energy projects, including those designed to build a smarter power grid. This will involve better metering and use of the grid during off-peak hours. Companies that make turbines or better batteries will qualify for a 30-percent investment tax credit.

Wind turbines do not emit carbon or greenhouse gases or require any energy. But they do kill birds, Reason reminds its readers.

Some folks just don’t like to look at them in more populated areas, either. About 8 miles away from Benney’s house, supervisors in North Strabane Township have stalled approval of a residential wind turbine for more than a year.

Monday, May 18, 2009

More of Amanda's musings

me and mark madden, originally uploaded by ybtc.

Dear Mark Madden,

On long drives home from work, 105.9 WXDX is number five on my car radio's presets. So I have the pleasure of listening to you do your thing for a few minutes each day. Granted, I don’t know – or care – much about the Pittsburgh Penguins. But I can tell you do.

With the voice of a Yinzer angel, you let both your fans and those who cheer on the Pens in on the news and gossip. And I really hate to bust on a brother when he is clearly in his heyday what with the Stanley Cup playoffs underway and all.

Now, MM, if I may call you that, my problem isn’t Penguins-related at all. It’s your spouting off about the Stillers that has me red.

As a media professional, I’m calling you on the one thing that irks me the most about on-air personalities and others who have the privilege of pontificating to the public: Come on, dude, enough with the Contraryism.

It’s not a real word. I just made it up. But this is what I mean: I think your distaste for Super Bowl XL MVP Hines Ward and All-Pro defensive linebacker James Harrison has more to do with being a dissenting voice in a land of fans more than anything.

You’ve called them both overrated. You called them loudmouths. You can’t be serious, can you? With the likes of Chad “Ocho Cinco” Johnson and T.O., how can a Pittsburgh boy compete?

Over-rated is a more relative term. I won’t get on you on that other than to say Mr. Ward might not be leading the league in receptions and scoring, but he is undeniably one of the best blocking receivers in the league. I don’t think I need to have years in the sports analysis booth to see the hits he lays out to corners or linebackers that get in his way. Remember Keith Rivers?

Hey, I’m just one woman talking. And I am telling you that trumping up any emotion (like hate of the Steelers or the love of porn stars and area strippers) just to get your ratings up is pretty poor.

So enjoy the Pens while you can. Pretty soon you’ll have angrier, more football-savvy Black-and Gold fans to deal with.

Warmest Regards,

Amanda “keeping it real” Gillooly

(Note: That photo was found in a search of Mark Madden at Flickr.com)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Amanda's musings

Tje Colonoscopy table, originally uploaded by neilransom.

The colonoscopy winning table

Somehow, some way, the colon has become America's "it" organ.

While anti-cancer campaigns promoting awareness of the disease are admirable and necessary for prevention, I think there is a better way than televising the procedure.

Sure, Charles Barkley has a wide fan base. But I wonder how many of them will tune in to see his colonoscopy televised.

Then again, televising the thing is kind of old hat. Katie Couric did it. And John Gerard of NBC is going to jump on the bandwagon soon, too.

CBS, though, has shunned this trend, instead raising awareness by sponsoring a "Colonoscopy Sweepstakes."

When I heard about it, I was sure it was a spoof. I thought someone at "Saturday Night Live" or some sketch comedy group beat me to a punchline. But a quick inspection of the official CBS Web site confirmed that the promotion is no joke.

The "lucky" winner will be flown - along with a companion - to New York, where he will be put up in a luxury suite at Loews Regency Hotel.

The entry page tells potential entrants that the hardest part of the procedure is the laxative drink needed to clear the colon the night before the "award" is given.

Then the powers that be at CBS try to make the screening hip.

Please allow me to share: "When the colonoscopy is about to begin, you'll be given drugs that will make you feel like you're at Woodstock ... only without the music."

And it only gets better, as the CBS public relations flak continues: "If you start to think you are actually at Woodstock (for example, Dr. Paul Miskovitz starts to look like Jimi Hendrix or you feel inclined to answer "far out!" in response to questions) please report the side effect to Dr. Miskovitz or Jimi Hendrix (whomever you see first)."

I guess I just never thought I'd see "Jimi Hendrix" and "colonoscopy" in the same paragraph. They don't seem like natural bedfellows.

After the initial shock wore off, I must admit that I kind of dig CBS' style. Some things, after all, are so serious you can only laugh at them.

Or at least, you should laugh at them.

Colon woes are common in my family, and one of my uncles recently underwent the procedure to ensure that he was polyp-free.

It didn't take long, and he might have thought I was Jimi Hendrix when they wheeled him into the semi-private room for the drugs to wear off.

He was still groggy when the doctor popped in to give him the results.

"Well, Tim, everything looks good. There were just a few small polyps we removed."

My uncle was looking at him seriously and nodded his head in agreement.

"Do I have to feed them?" he asked.

Having little class and less couth, I laughed immediately.

Surprisingly, so did the doctor.

(Published with permission from the Observer-Reporter)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A hero story from Webster, Pa.

Former Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Ernest P. Kline, standing third from right in the middle row, is shown with fellow classmates at Rostraver High School in 1987 at their 40-year class reunion.

A poignant story was told to me the other day about Ernie Kline, a former Pennsylvania lieutenant governor who died Wednesday of heart failure.

Shortly after taking office in 1971, Kline was confronted with an urgent matter involving women barricading a dangerous road in his hometown of Webster, Pa., a tiny village about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh, his daughter, Monica Kline, said while we chatted for her father's obituary.

The small crowd of women was demanding a traffic signal at an accident-prone intersection approachin the Donora-Webster Bridge. A state representative at the time, James Manderino of nearby Monessen, was quick to recommend to Ernie Kline that the state police be summoned to arrest the women.

“Then someone said to my dad, ‘Your mother is in the middle of them,’ ” Monica Kline said for the article that appeared in the Observer-Reporter of Washington, Pa.

My mother and I were there, too, standing off to the side watching a news camera capture the protested. The threat of state police making arrests leaked to the women, and it only seemed to infuriate them all the more.

The police never came, but Kline made sure the traffic signal was installed while also leading the charge to establish the Pennsylvania Commission for Women.

The same traffic signal still hangs above that intersection, while it hasn’t done much to prevent accidents. Today, many of the people in this speck of a town also have no idea that it was once home to Ernie Kline.

But in 1971, the Webster mothers and grandmothers who picketed the intersection were empowered by knowing a man from their ranks had achieved something that, until then, was unimaginable in their neighborhood. For years, people from neighboring communities looked down on folks from Webster, where our family also lived, because many of them were poor, and, some had earned themselves and the town a bad reputation. This is the same village that had its vegetation striped from the land by pollution from a zinc mill, leaving many of the houses to fall into disrepair. So there wasn’t much to take pride in until Ernie Kline became the second-in-command in Harrisburg.

A year before he took office, he made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for governor.

He chartered a bus to bring his suporters from Webster to a rally to hear him announce his candidacy for the office, and I went along as a 13-year-old supporter proudly wearing one of his campaign badges. I don’t remember much about the speech because everyone’s cheers drowned out most of what he said. When we returned home, he sponsored an all-you-can eat pizza and Coca-Cola party at the Webster fire hall. By nightfall, there was no denying his status as a hero in his hometown.

Four years later, Shapp came under criticism for overlooking corruption in Harrisburg that led to numerous indictments against state and party officials. Shapp and Kline were never indicted, but I remember my dad saying then that Kline’s political career would be finished because of his association with Shapp.

Kline’s friend, Bill Northrop Sr., of Washington, Pa., said Kline once admitted to him that he “was a bit naïve” when it came to working early on with those in command of Harrisburg politics.

“He did know how to get things done and was on the up and up, even as an insider,” said Northrop, 74, formerly publisher of the Observer-Reporter.

Kline retired from public office after his second term was up in 1979, and started a second career as a lobbyist.

A six-sentence story about the this morning's funeral for Ernest P. Kline moved a few hours ago on the Associated Press news wire that noted his devotion to faith and how mourners wore blank blue buttons to honor his habit of handing out blank campaign buttons.

Ernie Kline and his wife, Josephine, pose with Barack Obama on a campaign swing last year through Pennsylvania.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Honoring a Civil War veteran's grave

Kay Stepp of North Bethlehem Township, Pa., stands at the grave of a Civil War veteran that will receive new honors.

SCENERY HILL, Pa. – A small group of Civil War buffs will honor a member of Washington County’s famed Ringgold Cavalry by placing a bronze plaque at his grave.

Members of Camp 120, Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War, will place the memorial at 10 a.m. Saturday at the North Bethlehem Township grave of Pvt. James N. Wheeler. He is buried in the Letherman-Tombaugh Cemetery.

The cavalry of 70 men formed July 14, 1847, in Monongahela, Pa., to assist the Pennsylvania Militia in the Mexican War. The soldiers continued to drill after that war, but were initially denied service in the Civil War by the Union Army because they were too old. Members of the company persisted, and eventually went on to great acclaim as some of the toughest fighters in the Civil War.

Wheeler’s small and fading tombstone was located in the aging cemetery on Letherman Bridge Road by his great-grandson, Carl Bowers of Washington, a member of Camp 120.

“The permanent marker, it’s going to last forever,” said Kay Stepp, 73, a club member who visited the grave Thursday. “That one will not last,” he said, pointing to the tiny tombstone that marks Wheeler’s grave.
Camp 120 existed in Washington County in the early 1900s, but went on to disband, Stepp said.

He and a few history descendants of Civil War soldiers reopened the club’s charter a few years ago.

Stepp’s great-great-grandfather, Arthamer Ames, also served alongside Wheeler in the Pennsylvania 22nd Cavalry after the Ringgold was absorbed into that regiment.

“They were the first Pennsylvania cavalry to enter the war,” Stepp said.
Members of his club have adopted the abandoned Salem Methodist Cemetery in West Finley Township, and they meet there regularly to mow the grass.

They also have placed two similar plaques on graves in that cemetery of Civil War veterans. The government-issue markers are provided to them at no charge.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Chasing a chicken in the hills of New York

ONEONTA, N.Y. – There is a classic flashing pink neon sign outside Brooks’ House of Bar-B-Q displaying a chef wielding a hatchet chasing after a chicken.

This sign, as well as the jam-packed parking lot, give me the immediate impression the food is good and fresh in this roadside restaurant in south-central New York.

I take a seat at the curving Formica lunch counter the color of an orange Creamsickle and begin to take in the kitschy ambiance. The counter has swiveling wooden captains chairs. Images of large chickens are stamped across the brown, red and white wallpaper surrounding the room. There are more chicken doodads hanging on the wall facing the counter.

More than 20 people are standing in line for one of the 300 seats in the adjoining dining room, and nearly as many wait in the lobby to place take-home orders. A large moose head hangs above the dining room entrance alongside other animal trophies that add a strange hunting lodge feel to this 1970s-style restaurant that could well have been the backdrop for a Brady Bunch episode.

“Is this where everyone in town comes on a Friday night?” I say to the waitress, after she drops before me a paper placemat with descriptions and images of the different barn types in the region.

“It’s pretty much where everyone comes most nights,” she responds.

I’m directed here while on a trip to the area by a bubbly coworker at the Observer-Reporter, Chistie Campbell, who grew up in nearby Delhi, N.Y.

“They’re famous for their sauce,” she says.

The city, pronounced oh knee yawn ta, is home to a little more than 13,000 people, most of whom vote Republican. It supposedly takes its name from an Indian phrase for “place of open rocks,” a reference to an outcropping of tablerocks.

Among Brooks’ most-famous customers is Hillary Clinton, who stopped here in 1999 during her successful campaign for New York’s U.S. senator. But Oneontians were not especially nice to her when she arrived at the business at 5560 State Route 7 to a large crowd of hecklers.

My waitress, though, has a pleasant smile as she takes my order for a half-dozen wings with mild sauce. Then I watch waitresses deliver platefuls of grilled chicken breasts and spareribs to chubby diners. This is much more interesting than studying those illustrations and descriptions of such barns as the New England connecting or Dutch Gambrel.

My wings arrive in short order. The sauce they drip doesn’t taste any different than your average red-hot Buffalo sauce, but the chicken is especially plump and moist.

It isn’t until I place a cell phone call from the counter to Christie that she tells me the best juice in the house is the yellow chicken variety.

I purchase her a bottle of the stuff while paying the $4.99 tab for the wings, and continue on my journey south to Scranton, Pa. She promises to prepare some chicken in this yellow magic sauce for the newsroom. We’ll let you know how it tastes.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Staking new ground at America's most-famous archeological site

AVELLA, Pa. – Albert Miller knew he was onto something when he began digging around a groundhog hole at the foot of an ancient rock ledge on his property decades ago and pulled out a few burned bones.

In no time, he unearthed an intact Indian flint knife without realizing his find in Independence Township, Pa. would someday lead to one of the most important archaeological finds in the United States.

Afraid of looters, he covered the pit and kept these discoveries to himself until he could find the right person to lead a professional dig at the site, said David Scofield, director of what since has become internationally known as the Meadowcroft rock shelter.

The dig would eventually last for three decades and produce evidence that travelers had been camping down under the shelter for at least 16,000 years, making it the oldest known evidence of human occupation in North America.

“This site just kept going down," Scofied said. “It just blew everyone away. No one had a clue it was this old.”

Among the other early items to be unearthed in 1973 by James Adovasio, a professor at the time at the University of Pittsburgh, were “a chronology of beer cans and drug paraphernalia” left behind by modern parties, Scofield said.

Since then, teams led by Adovasio have discovered more than 20,000 items that range from stone and bone tools to flint and pottery fragments. They also have found 956,000 animal remains that include those of the now-extinct passenger pigeon, as well as elk, turtle and rabbit. Add to that 4 million plant remains, with the most common of them being hackberry seeds.

The most significant artifact is a speartip that has been classified as the oldest such find in American and named the Miller lanceolate to honor Albert Miller.

Other archeologists with opposing theories about the arrival of mankind to North America have attempted to discredit the discoveries by Adovasio, who now teaches at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa. One argued that the coal-rich ground in southwestern Pennsylvania skewed radio carbon tests that were used to determine the dates of his discoveries, Scofield said.

“It’s been a lightening rod for controversy. There were a lot of questions as there should be in science,” he said, adding that most people in the field have since come around to agreeing with Adovasio about Meadowcroft.

Scofield and his staff are working on a game plan to make the best use of this property that also is home to a village of relocated and restored buildings from the 1800s. They want to craft a tour that would first take visitors to the rock shelter to introduce them to the arrival of humans to the continent. From there, they would visit a new Indian village under construct before heading to a yet-to-be-developed sheep farm similar to those that dominated Washington County in the early 1800s. The tour would continue to the restored buildings before ending back at the shelter to discuss modern science and how it is used to evaluate the dig.

“The land is the common theme,” Scofield said. “We’re really building a vibrant tourism industry,” he said

More than $260 million was spent in this county on tourism in 2006, the last year the numbers were crunched. This type of spending is expected to skyrocket because of new gambling opportunities at The Meadows Racetrack & Casino, as well as shopping at Tanger Outlets about 20 miles to the east in Washington, Pa., Scofield said.

(Captions: David Scofield, director of Meadowcroft rock shelter, top, discusses the depths archeologists have gone to unearth evidence of humans in North America. A replica of one of the huts covered in cattail mats that were used for shelter by Monongahela Indians in southwestern Pennsylvania is part of a new attraction at the tourism destination.)

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A giant hoax lives on in Cooperstown

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – An older woman at the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum ticket counter was not interested Friday in discussing power hitters or the records they broke.

Instead, she delivered a hard sell to spend extra cash to see a “petrified body” that convinced me to purchase a second ticket to a farming museum where this oddity is displayed in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“It was a big fraud all along,” she added, while I handed over $22, the cost to enter both tourist attractions.

So after making my way through the history of professional baseball, I drove about a mile down the road to take a look at this mysterious creature, as well as restored barns, period buildings and a collection of agrarian tools at The Farmers’ Museum.

But, I arrived 10 minutes before closing time and was allowed to step inside just long enough to snap a few photos of the Great Cardiff Giant that rests there on a bed of stones, surrounded by bunting and a white picket fence.

It turns out George Hull, a poor tobacco farmer, had this 10-foot-tall, 2,990-pound beast sculpted and buried on his cousin’s farm in Cardiff in 1869. The cousin, William C. “Stub” Newell, waited a year before asking a couple of guys to help him drill a well on the same spot to give birth to the tale.

The chicanery followed an argument Hull, who was an atheist, had with a fundamentalist minister over the literal interpretation of the Bible. The debated centered over a passage in Genesis about giants once roaming the Earth.

Hull later made a fortune after throngs of people paid admission to see his giant. He eventually sold the statue to a Syracuse entrepreneur for $37,500, and it continued to draw huge crowds long after a Yale professor exposed the charade. Some people apparently still viewed it as verification of the Bible, while others were certain it was an ancient statue.

Count me among the suckers who are always willing to hand over money to see these old fake freak shows.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Breakers, a symbol of the filthy rich

By Scott Beveridge

NEWPORT, R.I. – The fabulous summer “cottage’ known as The Breakers has more than enough opulence to turn stomachs during this recession.

But it didn’t take a century for critics to refer to the Vanderbilt family retreat as a white elephant furnished with tasteless vulgarity. They did that a few short years after railroad magnet Cornelius Vanderbilt II built the 70-room mansion in 1895 on a bluff overlooking the Rhode Island Sound.

Mark Twain was even among those who expressed disgust over this mansion, and others like it, about the time he coined the term Gilded Age as a reference to extravagant expressions of wealth and the social injustices they represented.

The Vanderbilts eventually said goodbye to their Italian Renaissance getaway after it opened to the public in 1948 to raise money for the preservation of Newport’s row of millionaires’ palaces. Today, it’s operated by the Preservation Society of Newport County and attracts 300,000 visitors a year.

New this season is an audio tour that walks guests through never-seen-before servants’ halls. The tour introduces everyone at the front door as guests of the family before they step inside the sprawling grand hall with a marble set of matching stairways and the finest furnishings that were meant to dazzle. They’re told children felt at home enough to ride their tricycles around the room and slide down the banisters on serving trays. All the while, adult guests and residents, in those days, put their feet up in the cool shade of the stairs while facing a marble, grotto-type water fountain, only to be pampered by their choice of 40 servants.

Eventually the tour warms me up to the family inside Gertrude Vanderbilt’s bedroom while I peer into a portrait of her with sad eyes. The recording draws lines from her memoirs about the day she realized she was an heiress and longed for people to like her for personality rather than her family’s money.

Later, somewhere about the time I step into a two-story china closet, the craggy voice of Rudolph B. Stanish begins to dish on the women he served in the 50-foot dining room with solid alabaster columns. He confesses to daydreaming about dropping their dinners in their laps for keeping him waiting. But, he also applauds the family for helping him to become the "king of omelets" after he moved on from being its domestic servant. The Vanderbilt money rubbed off on most of the staff, he says.

One adornment that piques my interest is a frieze or two cherubs above a door in the main hall. One is holding the switch of a locomotive while the other grasps a railroad spike and hammer. It’s designed to mold classic symbols of old technology with those representing new wealth during America’s Industrial Revolution.

Then, I wonder if any of the servants were revolted by this image, and reminded of their place while carting 15-pound serving trays through this door before retreating to their hot, stuffy quarters in the attic.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

This nice restaurant is a Rhode Island thing

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The sign outside Local 121 in this city on the mend is on the dull side.

But don’t let it fool you because the door below this Washington Street number opens to one of Providence, R.I.’s, trendiest restaurants, one with an intriguing menu featuring local foods, wines and beers.

“In the winter, it’s kind of rough,” a server explains after I ask her tonight where they come up with vegetables this early in the growing season to stock the kitchen. “We change the menu up with lots of root vegetables.”

It doesn’t matter if they cheat by substituting store-bought goods to the table before the fall harvest. The décor is much better than new stuff and Local 121's food is good enough to make this waterfront city in New England proud.

A local arts association, AS220, purchased the former Dreyfus Hotel four years ago for a reuse plan that turned the rooms into affordable live-in studios. State Sen. Josh Miller, a self-professed foodie who owns the Trinity Brewhouse around the corner, decided to take up space on the first floor and covert it into a restaurant that promotes sustainable farming. Kudos to these folks for their preservation work.

The dark mahogany-paneled bar and stained-glass windows are original to the hotel built in the 1890s, and it’s a perfect spot to enjoy a fine, mellow Trinity ISP drawn from the tap. For a time, this space doubled as a cafeteria while the building was used as a college dormitory.

I peek into the restaurant. Its draperies, puffy seats and white ornamentation are a little over-the-top for my taste.

A few minutes later, I decide to look over the small plates, and opt for my server’s favorite: the bacon-wrapped grilled scallops. As far as I’m concerned, anything that comes with bacon is all good. In short order, she returns with a few slices of bread beside whipped butter that pops because it’s blended with a healthy pinch of sea salt.

Four plump scallops arrive in no time, and they are a happy marriage of salty smoked bacon and seafood garnished with shaved red onion, celery and parsley leaves tossed in sherry vinaigrette. That's a sweet deal for $12.

Further down on the menu are Local 121 jonnycakes, so I ask for an explanation.

“It’s a Rhode Island thing. I’ve never tried them,” the server replies, adding that they are made with cornmeal.

That’s odd because people who work in better restaurants should at least sample everything on their menus. By now, I have to have some of these jonnycakes, even though I hate polenta.

My mistake. They are bland, pasty beige discs that look like dog treats. The maple syrup on the plate does nothing to improve their taste. Rhode Island can keep this dish.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Stories of inspiration from Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa., – Celia Reynolds and her adult student begin each tutoring session with a mantra, “Reading is power.”

“Once we have that power, we can do anything we want,” the chant continues between Reynolds, a volunteer, and a Mexico-born woman who turned to the Washington County Literacy Council to learn how to better read and speak English.

The power is working, as Elva Sanchez of Houston, Pa., is now studying for her GED, while Reynolds walked away tonight with Pennsylvania’s Outstanding Tutor of the Year Award.

“This is an honor that is too big for one person,” the demure Reynolds, a retired elementary schoolteacher from South Franklin Township, said when she accepted the award from Tutors of Literacy in the Commonwealth.

The group receives money from the state Department of Education to train tutors across Pennsylvania. It selected Reynolds from among 17 candidates for the nod because of her people skills and how she uses them to encourage Sanchez, said Kim Rossman, an administrator for Tutors of Literacy.

Reynolds said the honor is humbling after she heard the stories of nine adults from across Pennsylvania who also received awards Tuesday from the Department of Education for their outstanding achievements in tutoring programs.

“The people I worked with gave me back my self worth,” said Hilda Iris Hampton of Reading, who is pursuing an associate’s degree in business management now that she has a GED with help from one of these programs.

The statistics don’t lie during this recession; the unemployment rate among workers with a college education is half that of those who don’t, said Kathleen Shaw, a deputy secretary of the education department.

“It takes a lot of guts as an adult to stand up and say, ‘I need help,’” added Michael Westover, acting director of ABLE.

(Caption: Kim Rossman presents the award to Celia Reynolds, who is at the side of Amy Manko, executive director of Washington County Literacy Council)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cool house moving video

Gary Sylvester's Building Movers and Excavators relocate this Victorian mansion in 2007 at Brown University, Providence, RI.

People are saying great things about this city and its revitalized riverfront.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

The mysterious photographer of Donora steel

The town of Donora owes a debt of gratitude to Bruce Dreisbach, an early 20th century photographer who left behind a vast and impressive collection of local images.

But most of his story remains a mystery to the Pennsylvania borough, said Brian Charlton, curator of the Donora Historical Society that owns the Dreisbach collection.

American Steel & Wire Co. apparently brought him to town because it wanted him to create a visual record of a new steel mill in which it was investing millions of dollars in Donora. Dreisbach shot groundbreakings, gatherings of steelworkers, scenes of them toiling in the zinc works, steel products and thousands of other scenes of one of the most infamous mills in the world. He also worked for stretches in the mill as an engineer and safety inspector.

Donora went on to become forever associated with the smog of October 1948 that killed at least 20 residents and sickened thousands of others. Considered the worst air pollution disaster in the United States, the smog became the impetus for the country’s first clean air laws.

All the while, Dreisbach faded from memory until his wife, Lulu, died about two decades ago and many of his glass negatives were found in her apartment above the then-Mellon Bank Building in downtown Donora. He had a fancy for shooting hundreds of shots of her, too, and dressing his beloved model in the hats of the day or silly costumes.

Several other boxes of Dreisbach’s glass negatives turned up at a flea market in Virginia, only to be purchased and donated to the historical society, Charlton said.

It’s a wonder why the mill took such great measures to capture this history and then its executives decided to abandon the record when they closed the mill in stages, beginning in 1957.

The historical society also has acquired through donations a large collection of microfilm containing blueprints of mill buildings and others in downtown, steel sales records and flyers the company sent out to clients to advertise its wire products.

“It’s all very fascinating stuff,” said Charlton, who has viewed some of the film at California University of Pennsylvania.

Unfortunately, the historical society doesn’t own a microfilm reader to allow the public the opportunity to view this collection at its new Donora Smog Museum. Meanwhile, the local library’s microfilm reader is broken, rendering these records to the imagination.

But luckily, many of Dreisbach’s photos are on display at the museum at 595 McKean Ave., a destination that is gaining in popularity. Some of the collection also can be viewed at the digital archives of the University of Pittsburgh, where the photographer’s name is spelled incorrectly.

(Captions: That's Bruce Dreisbach, top, and his silly wife, Lulu, above. Photos courtesy of Donora Historical Society)