a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Thursday, July 29, 2010

A young white musician sings for racial harmony

Jordan Umbach of Washington, Pa., performs a song tonight he wrote to protest the 2006 church burnings in America's South. His appearance in his hometown at the George Washington Hotel is part of this city's bicentennial celebration.

He is backed up by members of various male choirs from local black churches to celebrate the city's African-American heritage.

This young guy who is featured in Pittsburgh's City Paper appears to have a future in the music industry.

Pittsburgh's soul man Billy Price takes the stage Friday night, followed by a bluegrass lineup Saturday at Washington & Jefferson College headlined by country singer Big Kenny of Big and Rich.

More information

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

This birthday party begins smashingly

WASHINGTON, Pa. – The Washington Symphony Orchestra proved tonight that people will come to downtown entertainment in the city of Washington, Pa., when quality takes the stage.

The group of talented musicians conducted by Yugo Ikach drew an overflow crowd to a free concert that kicked off the small Pennsylvania city's bicentennial celebration. The turnout was a surprise to many local residents, who have been accustomed to festivals that typically bomb here.

It's a great beginning to four days of events in what apparently got off to a sluggish start in the planning stages, but is headed to become a smashing success thanks to generous donations from big local industries, which include Consol Energy, The Meadows Racetrack & Casino and Range Resources Corp.

More information

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Billy Price to start the party in Little Washington

The singer known as the "East Coast blue-eyed soul man" will be performing a free concert Friday night in Washington, Pa., as part of the small city's bicentennial celebration.

This sounds much-more exciting than my witnessing today a lazy slob pedestrian punching the driver's side window of a slow-moving car driven by an old man who got in the way of that nutcase while he was jaywalking on Main Street. (That really happened)

Seriously, though, Billy Price has been rocking Pittsburgh for 35 years with a cool style and great horn section. He's a great reason to come downtown, where they say East Wheeling Street will be shut down and loaded with food and beer vendors.

The stage has been set up in a nearby city parking lot in the 100 block of Main Street. It sounds like a serious party in the making.

More information

Monday, July 26, 2010

Among the best places to look up in Pittsburgh

This building at 931 Penn Ave., Pittsburgh, is among some of the city's best-surviving examples of merchant architecture dating to the late 1800s.

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Culture District in Pittsburgh is a great place to stop and look up at the old buildings.

The tall narrow ones especially have some of the most-interesting architectural stories to tell in this section of Downtown that is becoming vibrant again.

A quick study shows these brownstones were built in layers, almost as if their owners gave them a new top hat every few years as their businesses and families expanded. The bottom two or three floors were built first, then additional floors were added as the flow of immigrants required more living space in this downtown, which was then a major stop in the late 1800s for trade during America's Westward Movement.

This several block section of Pittsburgh along Penn and Liberty avenues has some of the best-preserved examples of wealthy merchant architecture from that era.

The five-story commercial Richardsonian loft at 931 Penn Ave., shown above, dates to 1892, when it was built for Levi Wade as part of a block of furniture businesses. It's among a number of similar buildings in the area with bronze plaques explaining why they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

They are located in an area where a number of hip new restaurants have opened in response to a bustling theater district that certainly is among the best of its kind in small cities in America the size of Pittsburgh.

Exciting things are happening in this city, especially with the opening this year of the nearby luxurious and environmentally-friendly Fairmont Hotel. It's just off the Market District, portions of which also are being renovated and restored.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Broken Promise

When you take away a man's dignity he can't work his fields and cows, "Rain on the Scarecrow"

By Scott Beveridge

The house losing its white paint and becoming overgrown by nature caught my eye while driving along lonely Route 27 in western Minnesota about five years ago.

It especially was the tall, broken tree near the front door that convinced me pull over, turn around and go back to take a photograph of the abandoned farmhouse in the heart of America's Great Plains. After I drove off toward Minneapolis, I thought the composition would make an interesting watercolor.

The scene then made me think of songs by John Mellencamp and Willy Nelson about farmers struggling to keep their land and those who have lost the battle to keep the property that had been in their families for generations.

I wondered, too, how long it would take before a strong wind toppled the rest of that once-mighty tree and sent it crashing into the house without anyone immediately noticing the damages.

Eventually, I sketched this house on watercolor paper and spread some paint here and there, but kept putting the painting aside.

Finally it's taken a number of fresh brushstrokes tonight for me to decide this often-ignored painting is finished just like that house. Maybe.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

There is a California Pennsylvania

It's been said many times before that new students occasionally show up for the first time at California University of Pennsylvania and ask for the location of the ocean.

The best alternative to the Pacific Ocean the school in Southwestern Pennsylvania has to offer them is the nearby murky Monongahela River.

Maybe this old clip from a former student's appearance on the "Late Show with David Letterman" will held to dispel the notion among naive students enrolling from a distance at Cal U. the school is on the West Coast. Maybe not, but the video, above, is pretty funny.

It shows a smiling Jon Reed, who hopefully has learn better driving skills since the show first aired a couple years ago, taking Letterman's challenge to parallel park a car in a tight space. Reed bumps his car several times into other parked cars, after Letterman takes a few shots at his school.

"I've never heard of the California University of Pennsylvania," Letterman quips. "There is a California Pennsylvania? I'll be darned."

After the car-parking is over, Letterman pulls out a map of Pennsylvania showing the small town circled in red along the Mon south of Pittsburgh.

Letterman said - probably jokingly - that his show's switchboard "lit up" from people wanting to know more about the borough.

What the show didn't mention was the town was founded and named after the 1849 California Gold Rush.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Outhouse mania

People keep calling me to report outhouse sightings more than a week after I wrote a quirky story about the rise in popularity of these little buildings as their numbers have nearly weathered themselves to extinction.

One call came from an activities director at an old folk's home where residents made miniature versions of the outdoor toilets just for fun. Someone made a clever little outhouse with a rubber snake beside the pooper, while another crafty person included a likeness of a man scaring a woman of the pot with a firecracker.

An older lady who lives on her own drove from the country to the newspaper where I work in Washington, Pa., to show me a tiny replica of an outhouse she owns that someone from West Virginia molded in real chocolate. That one had a candy bunny and some edible flowers around its base. Yum.

The real one shown in the above photo can be found along Route 19 in tiny Amity, Pa. It's not immediately known if that can is in working order.

Monday, July 19, 2010

"Cyrus" is an eerie Oscars contender

From left, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei and John C. Reilly in “Cyrus,” a weird comedy that stands out from the pack so far this year. (Chuck Zlotnick/Fox Searchlight Pictures)

By Scott Beveridge

It's been a stretch to take young actor Jonah Hill serious in his bevy of films where he typically plays a hilarious nerd or born loser.

But, the Judd Appatow-favorite has landed himself a breakout man-boy role in this summer's odd little movie, "Cyrus," co-starring the forever-hot Marisa Tomei as his "roll-your-eyes" kind of freaky mom.

Hill, 26, deserves to show up in the 2011 Oscars best-supporting actor category for this chilling performance of Cyrus, who one would expect to be a serial killer in training and take out his mom's new boyfriend at any bloody moment to break them up.

Tomei and her costar, John C. Reilly, both deliver Oscar worthy performances, too, in the strangely funny and sweet movie about two lonely, love starved people who meet, fall in love and break up only to reunite once more. That story has been told thousands of times before, but never quite like this. The two come together at a party when Tomei's character, Molly, catches Reilly portraying John and drunk and peeing in a bush. Upon startling him, she says, "Nice penis."

John eventually follows Molly home when she disappears after their second love-making scene, only to discover she has a bizarre 21-year-old son with apparently no friends beside his mom, a personality disorder and an obsession with making strange synthesizer music. It's no wonder John becomes concerned when he finds a photo on Molly's dresser of her breast feeding Cyrus well beyond the breast-feeding years.

The film directed by brothers Jay and Mark Duplass plays out like a jerky home movie with rich dialogue dubbed over many shots, including those where Cyrus comes to grips with it being high time to share his mom, grow up and find a life. Yes, letting go of Tomei, who remains a goddess at 45, would be tough for most guys - even that creep.

Whether or not he can break from her apron strings isn't revealed until just before the movie's abrupt ending, after Cyrus and John go at each other for one final battle. And, then it almost seems as if the joke is on the audience.

This movie is definitely the best contender of year as Hollywood prepares to leave the summer blockbuster season and bring out its best shots for the awards season.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Weekly inspiration

From the marque at Webster United Methodist Church, Webster, Pa, where the least-expected and most-appreciated messages often appear:

"He who thinks by the inch and talks by the yard deserves to be kicked by the foot."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The steel man who became a Pinkerton

By Scott Beveridge

It's hard to imagine how my father survived 1972.

Big Jim Beveridge had lost his steel mill job as pipefitter that year in the shutdown of Page Steel & Wire Co., one of America's earliest casualties in the decline of the Industrial Revolution. His mother, Madge, by then was entering the critical stages of Alzheimer's disease. It would seem to have been an impossible time for him to also swear off cigarettes and beer, but he did, probably because he didn't have any money for vices the year he turned 50.

The challenges were many because unemployment compensation extensions didn't exist that year, when the unemployment rate hovered around 5.7 percent. The federal government also hadn't yet drafted any employment retraining benefit programs. It was out the door and goodbye for the Page workers.

Our family spiraled out of control with dad, although, I do not remember him taking the time to fall into a depression and moan about his stage in life.  I can only imagine now how close he must have come to losing our home in Webster, Pa., to foreclosure.

There was little time to waste because my father had once again put himself in debt, continuing his pattern of spending far more than he earned. He often gambled on consumer finance companies and always lost the bet. He chose wages over sleeping in every day until mid-afternoon to deal with his problems.

So he took a job as a Pinkerton guard, which paid maybe 10 cents more than the $1.60 minimum wage. It had to be hell for him to put on that uniform bearing a name that represented everything steel labor had hated for 80 long years.

His father, also a steelworker, had often cursed Henry Clay Frick for hiring the detective agency in 1892 and pitting it against striking workers at his Homestead steel mill in what became an historic, bloody defeat for unionization.

Somehow dad appeared proud to button down that uniform, as it gave him purpose. The job was something to put on his resume; experience that helped him become a campus policeman at California University of Pennsylvania and begin to crawl out of the miseries of underemployment.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Longing for an outhouse

Sandy Mansmann, a preservationist from Nottingham Township, Pa., sizes up a double outhouse behind the closed Mt. Zion Church near her farm.

By Scott Beveridge

Sandy Mansmann's restored 1870s farmstead includes many original outbuildings, from the old chicken coop to a spring house.

But, there is one building missing: the outhouse. And, she has been on a difficult journey to find a replacement to move to her farm in Nottingham Township, even though she has an indoor toilet.

"It was probably the first thing to go when they got indoor plumbing," said Mansmann, a preservationist and member of Washington County History and Landmarks Foundation.

Oddly, outhouses have become a hot, trendy landscaping decoration – maybe because so few of them have survived and people are longing for nostalgia, Mansmann said. They also make great conversation pieces, she added.

"They can be charming little buildings," she said.

To keep them was a sign that homeowners "were not modern enough," she added.

Retired antiques dealer Lorys Crisafulli said she knows a guy who wants an outhouse so bad he is willing to pay $500 for one.

"All of a sudden, everybody wants one," Crisafulli said.

The buildings are featured annually in outhouse calendars, and replicas come in all sizes and shapes, from Christmas ornaments to birdhouses.

"They are real popular. I have no idea why," said Stan Fidorek, manager of Over the Garden Gate greenhouse on a century-old farm complete with a sagging outhouse in Richeyville.

He found it amusing that a stranger stopped at the store one day inquiring about purchasing the outhouse, which has the traditional crescent moon carved out of its door.

"He never came back," Fidorek said.

The customer would have been out of luck, though, because the owner of the farm on Route 40 – Bunny Waleski – wants to keep her outhouse.

"She doesn't want to destroy anything," he said. "She wants to restore everything, even the chicken coop."

Preservationists who have old farms believe the outbuildings – including barns and summer kitchens – help to tell the story about how the property was originally used, Mansmann said.

"Placement was very important," she said.

The outhouse needed to be erected away from the spring so as not to contaminate the water supply, and downwind from the kitchen, she said.

Not everyone remembers them so fondly.

Bill Miller said he was "glad to see them go" when public sewerage arrived in 1990 in his hometown of Beallsville.

"If you had to go in the night, you had to run through the yard or find a stream," said Miller, 72. "You'd sit there at night with the door open and see the skunks run by."

"I hated using them at night. Sitting out there alone was scary," added Crisafulli, 84. "It made me think twice before I ate or drank much after dinner."

But, Fidorek believes an outhouse is a "good standby" in case something goes wrong with the modern plumbing.

"It's good forever," he said.

(This story first appeared in the Observer-Reporter newspaper in Washington, Pa.)

Monday, July 12, 2010

A old door stands out in Annapolis

The front door to the Hammond-Harwood House is supposed to be the loveliest entryway in the United States, so they say.

By Scott Beveridge

ANNAPOLIS – It's possible the carved roses above the fan light were responsible the claim that an old Colonial entryway was the most-beautiful door in America, an honor that stuck to a house as tightly as its mortar.

Or, maybe the perfect symmetry of the double doors flanked by stately columns were the reasons behind the title applied to the entrance to Hammond-Harwood House in Annapolis, Md.

No one has ever known exactly where the story originated, according to The Capital newspaper in that Atlantic Coast city, where the wealthy 25-year-old tobacco planter, Mathias Hammond, built the fine Georgian mansion in 1774.  It's also doubtful he ever lived there, the newspaper reported.

We breezed past the place last Sunday, when the house museum was closed. But, it's other claim to fame arrived in 1940 when the Hammond-Harwood House Association set out to convert the house into a "premier museum of decorative arts and paintings," the newspaper further reported in 2006.

Without a doubt, though, this old house was planted in what would become one of the best-preserved historic districts in the United States. That was my call after that too-brief visit there.

The downtown and waterfront areas have been converted into a sprawling tourist area lined with interesting shops, pubs and restaurants. The summer traffic, though, was too congested on streets built for horses and buggies.

My only other criticisms involved a streetscape with too many overhead wires atop utility poles also topped with lights dating to the 1960s. It would be much prettier there if city officials had spent the money to bury the utilities and improve public transportation to the tourist areas.

The two photos, below, are scenes from the downtown waterfront area:

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Police at their finest

Members of the Annapolis Police Department Honor Guard at the funeral today for retired Officer Pete Medley. Scott Beveridge photo.

Over the years, I've had to report from the perimeters on several funerals for police officers and firemen, and they always were extremely sad and emotional affairs. Even strangers were sorrowed, possibly over the shear number of men in dress blues holding back or wiping away tears.

But, over the past two days, I've had the opportunity to witness such an event from the inside after my cousin Celeste's husband, Pete Medley, died unexpectedly at 56, shortly after retiring from the Annapolis Police Department.

Another officer in that Maryland police department spent all of his off-duty daylight hours one day at my cousin's side, dispatching help for her every need. It came in the form of perfectly prepared food delivered for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The guy went as far as promising to find a babysitter for her sister that Saturday night.

This detective who they called Ben had a way of making everyone smile at just the right moments at the Medley home, when Medley's closest relatives were still in shock over his death from a blood infection that occurred within just about 24 hours of his taking ill.

It was impressive to see such a display of dedication and comfort to members of that police family.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A clown urinal?

Good for a laugh

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Given Ground

Echo Lake, Plymouth, Ludlow, Vermont, originally uploaded by luanyoung.

 by D. Hart
--for my Dad

What we need, you and I, are tall pines.
Tall pines and a cold Vermont lake.  Copper wisps carpet granite
Outcroppings to the shore.  We sway and talk, in the pool
To our knees.  We like this and the water we lick from our fingers.
It tastes, more than anything, green.
We laugh and the ducks snicker with us, Hah Hah Hah.

Later, long, preposterous cries detach the hush from the dusk.
In our cabin beds, we lie there listening. 
Listening, always, for the loons.

(D. Hart is a writer, poet and artist in Minneapolis, Minn.)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The U.S. flag tugs at their souls

Edsel Bryner of Chartiers Township, Pa., hold a photo of himself when he was in the Merchant Marines during World War II. Jim McNutt photo.

Writer Barbara Miller asked a number of veterans from Washington County, Pa., one question: "What does the U.S. flag mean to you?" Here are their answers published in the June/July issue of the Observer-Reporter newspaper's magazine, Living Washington County:

Edsel Bryner said the flag reminds him that he was "born into a loving family, I went to school and my family taught (me) good moral values and respect for our country."

"I take those three and I wrap the flag around them. Together, they make a great country," said Bryner, of Chartiers Township, who served in the Merchant Marines during World War II.

Herbert Hermann said the flag following veterans until the day they die, and beyond.

"It's laid on the coffin of the veteran who fought to protect it. It's the last cloth of their coffin before their body is interred. It also flies over their graves. I believe it's one of the most important symbols of our great country," said Hermann, of Fredericktown, who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War.

U.S. Army Col. Lewis Irwin said the flag reminds him of the U.S. Constitution.

"Every member of the U.S. military swears an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear the true faith and allegiance to the same. With this oath in mind, our flag represents the core values of our nation," said Irwin, of Peters Township, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Dan McPoyle said the flag represents the freedoms Americans enjoy because of the efforts of veterans.

"Let us never forget the veterans who gave the ultimate sacrifice, their lives in protecting our country," said McPoyle, of Lawrence, who on the USS Niagra Falls during the Vietnam War.

Sally Stephenson said her feelings about the flag are personal.

"My deepest emotional reactions to the flag are not necessarily demonstrated at organized public rituals, but instead at private encounters that suddenly remind me that I am an American," said Stephenson, of Monongahela, who taught instrument flying with the Navy WAVES during World War II.

U.S. Army 1st Lt. John A. Terminato said the flag is a symbol of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the commitment to self-determination and the will to achieve.

"But even more than that, the flag symbolized an ageless connection between past, present and future Americans who choose to defend those very same ideals," said Terminato, of Burgettstown, who is serving in Afghanistan.

Barry Grimm said "mixed feelings tug at my soul" when he looks at the flag, some of which involve thoughts of being blessed for having freedom.

"The memories of fellow servicemen who cannot be here to celebrate our veterans' holidays with us and to enjoy the liberties we share is a heavy burden to bear," said Grimm, of Monongahela, who served in the Army National Guard during the Vietnam War.