a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, August 31, 2009

A friendly library says good-bye to a kind soul

Mary Olivieri poses for a portrait between the shelves of Donora Public Library this week as she prepares to retire from her job there as a clerk. Photo: Christie Campbell/Observer-Reporter

By Scott Beveridge

Too often, I have been met at public libraries by bookish employees who don’t know how to be friendly to patrons because they have spent much of their lives deep in books and away from people.

Admittedly, that’s my rude assumption about them.

But Mary Olivieri broke this stereotype at Donora Public Library that has a long reputation for being one of the friendliest such resource centers in southwestern Pennsylvania. With an eager smile, she knew how to find even the most mundane bits of information in the collection in which she surrounded herself for some 30-odd years. And she did that with more kindness than you could find in the sweetest of candy stores before her retirement today.

Donora will be hard-pressed to replace her, especially in this downturn in the economy when libraries are struggling to keep their doors open.

(Click here to read a story written by Christie Campbell in today’s edition of the Observer-Reporter newspaper.)

A Cherokee-style wedding in the woods.

Terri Ann Yates and Vern Campbell pose for a photo after exchanging vows in a Cherokee-style wedding Saturday in Mingo Creek Park, Pa. Photography was prohibited during the ceremony.

By Scott Beveridge

EIGHTY FOUR, Pa. – A fire is set in a sacred pit at the center of a large roped-off circle as a Cherokee-style wedding party awaits the blessings of an Indian priestess.

The woman who has taken the name Spotted Feather uses smoke and a large feather to bless nearly 30 people Saturday before they proceed to the fire, where Mon Valley, Pa., residents Terri Ann Yates and Vern Campbell will join hands in marriage.

A boy about 4 years old sulks appearing unwilling to participate while wearing store-bought Indian costumes. Campbell, though, is dressed in expensive white buckskins. The location of the bride remains secret as the women lead the party to the fire.

Spotted Feather then escorts the groom to join them with a blue blanket draped over one arm and marching, Indian-style, to the sound of recorded drums blaring from a loudspeaker.

The couple will be married in Washington County's Mingo Creek Park in a blanket ceremony, one of the the oldest and most-beloved traditions of the Cherokee Nation. The ceremony offers them two blue blankets to represent the their past lives before they are wrapped together in one white blanket to represent newly-found happiness.

Vern Campbell apparently has some Cherokee blood in his ancestry while his new bride does not. Yet they selected this style of ceremony because they seek to embrace Indian traditions that include respecting the earth and its living creatures.

As the ceremony proceeds, a small group of males briefly leave the circle and walk to the woods where they will find the bride hiding behind a tree. They return to the circle with Yates dressed in an ornate white buckskin dress and hiding her face behind a bouquet of flowers.

At face value, the ceremony is quite unusual and nothing that waspish Americans are accustomed to witnessing. But at its core, the wedding is every bit as traditional as those in a Presbyterian Church where newlyweds promise a holy union before one creator and shed their past lives for a new beginning.

“All water is under the bridge as you say,” Spotted Feather announces.

But here Saturday, the couple will take seven steps clockwise around the fire and leave the circle under an arch created by the waving arms and hands of the wedding party.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

We can't get enough of these gals

The 2008 Monongahela "calendar girls" made a command appearance this month as bridesmaids in a hippie-themed marriage renewal ceremony to mark the 240th birthday of their city in southwestern Pennsylvania. The event also marked the 40th anniversary of the opening of an unusual riverfront park in the town otherwise known as Mon City.

The following is a story about the event published in the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa.

By Scott Beveridge

MONONGAHELA – The bride wore an orange tie-dyed long dress Sunday to renew her marriage vows and her toenails were painted with flowers to match her hippie style.

Elissa Stein of Monongahela walked down the aisle as her daughter sprinkled white rose pedals to the white gazebo in Monongahela’s Chess Park where she meet her husband, Bill, for the ceremony.

“We loved it,” said Bill Stein, 62, after the event sponsored by the Monongahela Area Chamber of Commerce.

The organization wanted to have a hippie-themed, wedding-type event to mark the 40th birthday of the city’s landmark arena that rises from the banks of the Monongahela River in the nearby downtown.

Elissa Stein, 61, said she volunteered to participate after reading about the plan in the newspaper.

“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t that be fun?’” said Elissa Stein, a welfare supervisor.

Bill Stein, chief executive officer of CLI Corp., wore blue jeans and leather sandals to the affair.

Meanwhile, a group of older women who became local celebrities after posing semi-nude last year for a benefit calendar served as bridesmaids.

They arrived at the park to applause riding in either a 1972 pink Cadillac convertible, classic Volkswagen or 1932 white Model A Ford. One of the women who is in her 70s relied on a walker for the short stroll to the John Moreschi Gazebo.

Monongahela Mayor Bob Kepics carried out the service wearing a black wool tuxedo with tails under a humid sky and the temperature approaching 90 degrees.

A disc jockey then played Sonny & Cher’s signature song from 1965, “I Got You Babe,” as the couple left the gazebo.

“The city was just great,” said Lorys Crisafulli, who organized a number of events over the weekend in honor of the Noble J. Dick Aquatorium.

Built in 1969, it has wooden benches painted to appear like the U.S. Flag and seats more than 3,000 people. It’s about to close to undergo more than $1 million in rehabilitation work.

“This whole town came together for this,” said Crisafulli, one of the “calendar girls” who came to Sunday’s ceremony wearing a cowgirl skirt and colorful hippy beads around her neck.

Nearly 100 people witnessed the ceremony, she said.

Bill and Elissa cut a cake in the park before going to their Monongahela home with their four children and friends for a Champagne toast.

“These people put together a wonderful celebration,” he said.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

This pizza parlor will draw you back for more

By Scott Beveridge

BRIDGEVILLE, Pa. – It would seem pointless to stop at Burgh’s Pizza and Wing Pub for anything other than, well, the pizza and wings that have made this restaurant a success.

So the Bridgeville, Pa., eatery is the destination tonight, where we order 10 jumbo Buffalo wings and a Mit’s white way thin deck pizza.

The place at 533 Washington Ave. in the heart of this town about 20 minutes from Pittsburgh has two bars and a mid-sized dining room. The beer selection is broad with 28 brews on tap and more than 100 different bottle brands in the coolers.

The ceiling is industrial looking, while the walls are painted mauve and yellow. There is a hearty mid-week crowd inside, an indication that the grub here is worth its weight on a pizza pie pan.

The wings arrive first, and are not any bigger than your run-of-the-mill wing dings. The sauce tastes like the standard Buffalo variety served in this area. The saving grace: they are crisp and not greasy, my friend says.

But the pizza is the star of the meal. The crust is probably the best I’ve had in some time. It also has a perfect mix of toppings – artichokes, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and feta, we agree.

“Sometimes you can overdo feta,” my friend says.

I think the pizza, though, is a bit too garlicky

“Too much garlic is never enough garlic,” she argues.

A great thing about this family-owned bar and restaurant is the fact it has helped to raise $140,000 over the years to develop a nearby hiking and biking path known as Montour Trail. Even better – it makes it’s own dough and pizza sauce, said Frank Daily, who owns the business with his brothers, Dan and Tom.

However, when one of these pizzas is consumed it requires a full workout on the 40-mile recreational rail-trail park to digest it without adding more width to the spare tire.

A glance at the mound of pizza with pepperoni being devoured by a couple across the room makes me jealous of them. The envy worsens while I’m en route to the rest room and spot a deep-dish red pizza screaming my name from another table.

I’ll definitely come back for seconds, and then scout out that trail.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Charleroi transformed

Here is a great shot of North Charleroi, Pa., taken from the air before the dam, at right, along the Monongahela River was relocated in the 1930s.

Some 80 years later, the replacement locks and dam is undergoing renovations to keep navigation moving at a quicker pace on the Mon.

Click here to see the top photo in a larger format.
Ditto here to see the other one huge.

(The old photo is courtesy of the Charleroi Area Historical Society while the new one is property of the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Donora-Webster Bridge status

Here is the weekly update from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation about the closed Donora-Webster Bridge:

SAI Consulting Engineers, Inc. of Pittsburgh is continuing their investigation into the feasibility of repairing the bridge so that it could reopen with a three ton weight limit. Lehigh University has completed their testing of the structural steel samples from the bridge. The results of this testing program shows that the initial repair concepts for the structure that have been developed will not be sufficient. SAI is now conducting additional studies to determine the feasibility, extent, and potential cost of repairs.

Valerie Petersen Community Relations Coordinator
PA Department of Transportation
District 12 Office

PennDOT officials declined to comment on the initial repair concepts it developed for the historic 101-year-old bridge that closed July 14 because of badly-deteriorated steel supporting its deck.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Judy sky

The skies in southwestern Pennsylvania have been quite unusual and especially fantastic this summer.
This is the glow of ball lightening tonight over Donora.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Giving a Guernsey cow a Mohawk

Jonathan McMurray of Twin Brook Farm in Bentleyville, Pa., right, gives his Guernsey a trim before it's entered into the dairy cow shows Wednesday and Thursday at Washington County Fair. David Robins of Venetia, a farm employee, is shown at left.

By Scott Beveridge

WASHINGTON, Pa. – The last thing a dairy farmer wants to take to the county fair is a cow with a drooping spine.

The judges would give the animal negative points for being weak over the topline render it back to the pasture.

So to trick them, farmers have begun to give their cows without the best of frames Mohawk haircuts to make them appear stronger in the show pen.

This cow barbering isn’t considering cheating at the Washington County Fair in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The judges there permit the style of grooming, explained Jonathan McMurray of Twin Brook Farm in Bentleyville, Pa.

He uses an electric hair clipper to sculpt his Guernsey’s back with the precision of a master craftsman.

The hair at the withers, or the highest part of the back directly behind the base of the neck, is cropped close to the skin. Likewise he trims the hair at the top of the animal’s rump. He leaves the haircut standing taller in the center of animal’s spine where its back sags the lowest.

This is an example of the lengths farmers go to make an impression at their version of the summer Olympics.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The barbecue potato chips burger

By Scott Beveridge

This recipe for a barbecue potato chips burger is an easy guide to turning ordinary ground beef into a gourmet meal, with the help of mighty fine cheese. Whoever said chips should be the side dish for a quick sandwich?

It's important to grab a bag of Wise barbecue potato chips, a quality brand that has been around since 1921. They call them Wise for a reason. They have a smart blend of flavorings and grease that can be pressed into raw meat and make anyone look good in the kitchen, even those who do not know their way around a spice rack.

Then look in the supermarket for extra lean ground meat, the kind that sells for the highest price per pound. Pick up a small tub of Gorgonzola, Italian blue cheese that usually can be found on a refrigerated shelf above the salad-in-a-bag display. This cheese is so good that it gives new meaning to pork chops and steaks and would probably even church-up a hot dog.

Next up, grab a bag of hard rolls and then zip over to the check out line. Your time in the grocery store is over in a snap.

If you are lucky enough to live in the Brownsville, Pa., area stop at a Duda Farm stand to also take home a half-dozen ears of its sweet corn and a fat, juicy tomato. These red ripe summer beefsteaks taste almost as sweet as apples. The corn grown at the 100-year-old farm is so sweet you would think it was harvested in a vat of honey. Duda has no rival in southwestern Pennsylvania.


1 ½ pounds of lean ground meat
2 handfuls of barbecue potato chips, broken into small pieces
4 ozs Gorgonzola, crumbled

Optional garnishes

1 small red onion
1 bunch Romaine lettuce
1 large tomato


In a large bowl, fold the chips and cheese into the ground meat. Mold the mixture into four patties. Grill or broil. (Save some of the Gorgonzola to sprinkle over the burgers before serving.)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The town before the trees died

By Scott Beveridge

It’s often been said that Webster, Pa., shown in the background of this photo, was a picture-perfect village before America’s Industrial Revolution brought a zinc mill to its border.

Aside from its having a small, bustling business district, the town in Westmoreland County also had sprawling farmland, orchards and well-kept houses, as this shot from 1909 documented.

That would all change six years later when the infamous mill in neighboring Donora opened and its pollution began to strip Webster’s hillsides of its vegetation. It became an environmental disaster that spanned four decades.

There are many stories on this blog about the Donora mills, the infamous 1948 smog in this bend of the Monongahela River and the deindustrialization of the region. They can be found by searching Donora or Webster in the search engine at the top of this page.

I posted this photo because it offers some evidence that a steel mill that opened just south of the Donora-Webster Bridge in 1901 was not responsible for the acidic air that caused the trees to die in Webster. It’s the first such photo of Webster before the zinc mill that I’ve ever seen.

It’s also a great illustration of how big steel encroached on farms and recreation at a time when livestock grazed up to the American Steel and Wire Co. complex fence and baseball was played beside a crude coal mine railcar loader.

The game was being played at the time on Gilmore’s Field that later was known Fourteenth Street Field before the zinc mill wiped it off the map.

Meanwhile, there is little known here today about the Gilmore family that once operated a ferry on the river.

(Photo courtesy of Donora Historical Society)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

So long Domino

Sadie Wright, 14, of Mt. Morris, Pa., and other members of her 4-H Club in Greene County prepare to part with their steers before the animals are sold at a fair to raise money for college scholarships for the local farm kids.

It's hot for the people in the Greene County Fair show barn in Waynesburg yet the cattle are pampered with fans, showers and good food before they are sent to the butcher.

Monday, August 10, 2009

She had a way with hair

By Scott Beveridge

DONORA, Pa. – The historical society in this town doesn’t know Mrs. Koehler’s first name, but it keeps her dead relatives’ hair preciously preserved under a glass dome.

The woman took the Victorian art of weaving such hair into art to a higher level by turning it into intricate flowers, sprays and springing doodads attached to an 18-inch-tall black wooden cross.

“It just gets creepier and creepier,” a volunteer said last week at the Donora Historical Society’s museum at 595 McKean Ave. where the sculpture is proudly displayed near the front door.

This type of folk art became widely popular in the late 1800s when people seemed to care more about how they wore their grief in public than about returning to a normal life following the death of a child or spouse.

So while British Queen Victoria made mourning fashionable by wearing black clothes every day after her husband died, her many adoring fans opted to turn the hair of their loved ones into jewelry or framed art.

Some of them created such things as a picture of a weeping willow tree leaning over a tomb, a crown or ribbons to adorn a photograph of the dearly departed.

We’ll probably never know why Mrs. Koehler left Donora, Pa., with this bizarre gewgaw or whom it was intended to memorialize.

The grand morbidity of this fashion, though, makes it clear why the art form fell completely out of style after cheap photographs made it much easier to remember the dead.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Don't Mess Around Monongahela Sal

The following excerpt from an article in the Observer-Reporter helps to explain the purpose of the silly skit in the video captured at the Noble J. Dick Aqautorium in Monongahela, Pa.:

The four-day celebration, sponsored by the Monongahela Area Chamber of Commerce, will include a rededication of the 40-year-old riverfront park featuring Susan Withers’ performance in “Monongahela Sal.”

“This takes nerve,” said Lorys Crisafulli, who owned a consignment shop in neighboring New Eagle.

The folk song, whose composer is unknown, is about a Sal, a “typical” Monongahela woman who was born in an old alley. One night she happened to notice a handsome riverboat captain, Mote Stanley, piloting the Jason down the Monongahela River. Crisafulli’s nephew, Doug Wible of Monongahela, will portray Stanley.

He pulled ashore, Sal stepped aboard and the two made passionate love. Mote promised his enduring love and marriage, but ended up pushing Sal overboard near Emsworth Dam. Sal later meets up with him after swimming to safety and shoots him to death.

The lyrics end with this line, “So let all you pilots take warnin’, don’t mess around Monongahela Sal.”

(NOTE: "Monongahela Sal" was written and recorded in 1947 by Robert Schmertz)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Let's party at the river

By Scott Beveridge

MONONGAHELA, Pa. – This antique photo is among an assortment of quirky items on display this weekend to celebrate the 40th birthday of an odd riverfront arena in Monongahela, Pa.

It shows Maywood Kesterson posing beside a wagon once used by J. E. Long Dairy, and on the reverse side of the postcard, someone scribbled a message to take note of the Bell Telephone lettering on the vehicle.

Kesterson’s image is tacked to a display beside a number of photographs of the old Monongahela River falling into the Monongahela River with the help of dynamite about 20 years ago.

Nearby are a few T-shirts on sale bearing hand-drawn sayings spouted by a guy named Earl who thinks you never lived until you had a snake on your head. This exhibit in the old Monongahela Ford showroom at Fourth and Chess streets pays perfect homage to something named the Noble J. Dick Aquatorium.

The stage between Third and Fourth streets where they meet the Mon has wooden plank seats painted red, white and blue to look from the sky like a U.S. flag. People go there to feed ducks or, up until recently, exchange money for drugs until the dealers were scared off or arrested by the “new sheriff in town.”

The aquatorium is in bad shape and scheduled to close after this party to undergo more than $1 million in rehabilitation work.

So hurry down to the river here at noon Saturday to witness the main event. It will feature local actors playing out an old folk song, “Monongahela Sal.” The tune is about a riverboat captain who tosses a pretty girl named Sal overboard after a night of wild lovemaking when he promised his everlasting love. Sal swims ashore and returns to shoot him in the head and then beat the rap.

This only gets better. A couple celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary are supposed to stop by the nearby Chess Park at noon p.m. Sunday to renew their marriage vows in a hippie-theme ceremony. We pray they keep their clothes on their bodies.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Donora-Webster Bridge watch

For those who are concerned about the status of the closed, 101-year-old Donora-Webster Bridge, here is today's update on the span from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation:

SAI Consulting Engineers, Inc. of Pittsburgh is continuing their investigation into the feasibility of repairing the bridge so that it could reopen with a three ton weight limit. They have completed the initial assessment of all work that would need to be completed. Because of the poor condition of the structure and its low load carrying capacity, they are now investigating the constructability of repair concepts. Structural steel samples have been taken from the bridge and have been sent to Lehigh University for analysis. Once the actual properties of the material is determined, this data will be used in the final determination of the feasibility, extent, and potential cost of repairs.

Jay Ofsanik | Safety Press Officer
Department of Transportation
Engineering District 12-0

P.S. In an attempt to dispel rumors that Donora police have been citing people for walking on the bridge sidewalk, there have been no such fines processed at the local court as of 1:30 p.m. today.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A quirky roadside attraction

The Turtle Twist

(Video by Margo Wilson)

By Scott Beveridge,

CANONSBURG, Pa. – Jim and Colleen Tatano weren't looking to become owners of a quirky roadside attraction when they went shopping for the tools to sell ice cream.

That all changed after the couple stumbled across a 28-foot-tall replica of an ice cream cone for sale on eBay.

"It was pure luck that we came up with the building," said Jim Tatano, 50, outside the giant cone he and relatives relocated to Route 980 in Canonsburg five years ago.

"Once I saw the building as a marketing plan, it's kind of taking on a different attitude," said Colleen Tatano, 46.

The couple hopes it becomes a popular destination for people who prefer custard over soft ice cream that is typically sold in the region.

And thanks to a listing on the popular RoadsideAmerica.com that catalogs odd tourist destinations, their Turtle Twist building has become almost as famous as Canonsburg's Perry Como statue.

Almost as impressive, a group of local kids recently produced a video of the business in the form of a commercial that has garnered 199 views on YouTube.

The Fiberglass building dating to the 1980s was part of a small chain of ice cream stands in Florida known as Twisty Treats that went bankrupt.

The Tatanos' building ended up in a New York park with miniature golf and bumper cars until that business was leveled for a strip mall.

It came to Canonsburg in 23 pieces, and with a cherry atop the cone that was replaced with a 3-foot turtle.

"There are a lot of turtles in the family," explains Colleen Tatano, a graduate of the University of Maryland, whose mascot is a diamondback turtle. Her husband has an uncle with the nickname Turtle.

They chose to sell custard because they fell in love over the richer form of ice cream while dating at the beach, Jim Tatano said.

"We've had 20 years of marriage," he said. "This is our third child."

"Sort of," his wife responds.

She said they thought the business would become a destination, even though it's in a semi-rural area.

"It is turning into a trip for people," she said. "They are coming for the custard."