a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, February 28, 2011

Some good out of war

U.S. Army Reserve Sgt. Mary Rhoads of California, Pa., arrives home in March 1991 days after a devastating enemy attack on her unit in the Persian Gulf War. (Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter)

By Scott Beveridge

The first time I met Mary Rhoads she was dispensing a parking ticket in 1990 while working as a meter maid in her hometown of California, Pa.

The motorist receiving the violation, though, didn't respond with the expected snarl, but rather a smile. He then said it was difficult to be upset about receiving a ticket when it was delivered by someone as friendly as Rhoads, in what was in impromptu exchange among three people sharing the same sidewalk.

I turned to her and said every town should have someone like her in that job.

The next time I noticed her name it was on the list of survivors of a U.S. Army Reserve unit that had come under attack Feb. 25, 1991, in Operation Desert Storm against Iraq.

I was a cub reporter and had suddenly been tossed into an international story because two local members of her unit, the 14th Quartermaster Detachment, were among those killed by a Scud missile that leveled its barracks. The attack took the lives of 13 members of the unit, including Spc. John A. Boliver Jr., 27, whose wife, Paula, was a friendly pizza shop employee near where I worked in Monongahela a short distance from their house. Spc. John Biongorni III, 20, of Hickory, also died in the Feb. 25, 1991, tragedy in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, just hours before the brief war ended. It was the deadliest enemy attack on U.S. troops in the war.

Rhoads had become a symbol of the incident when CNN broadcast her image cradling her best friend, Spc. Beverly A. Clark, 23, of Armagh, immediately after Clark was killed. Rhoads had just stepped outside, taking a break from a card game, when the Scud landed.

The 14th based in Hempfield Township would quickly be returned home by air to Latrobe Airport in an event heavily attended by the press. Rhoads rushed to her husband and daughter upon landing. Flowers were distributed. It was a happy affair if only for a few hours.

Soon many members of this unit would later complain about suffering mysterious illnesses that eventually were attributed to Persian Gulf War syndrome. Rhoads landed in the Veterans Administration Hospital in Pittsburgh in a room down the hall from a comrade who died there during her stay from an unknown heart disease.

There would be thoughts of suicide among other members of the 14th as the Department of Defense investigated a spate of theories the illnesses were caused by such things as exposure to chemical warfare, reactions to inoculations and their having breathed fumes from burning oil wells. Others were convinced Saddam Hussein had ordered the Scud laced with biological warfare.

Rhoads testified about her medical problems before Congress and would become among the first from that war to receive full military disability on a claim linked to the syndrome. She then shielded herself from public attention after being criticized for complaining about service to her country. Back in the newsroom at the Observer-Reporter, I received anonymous hate mail attacking her for being a woman who didn't belong in a war zone to begin with.

I didn't see Rhoads again for more than a dozen years, until being asked to take photographs at a veterans program at a Canonsburg personal care home, where she had been volunteering. It turned out she since has survived cancer and two heart attacks, and was caring for her ill husband, both of whom were in their early 50s.

It seems her critics were wrong, given the bravery she has faced in dealing with the medical problems that have plagued her and her family. She can still muster a smile, despite her bouts with survivor's guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"Some good has come out of all of this," she said Friday, when the 14th marked the 20th anniversary of the Scud attack. "It's been hard but you make the best of it."
The aftermath of an attack on temporary barracks shared in the Persian Gulf by members of the 14th Quartermaster Detachment in Greensburg.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

You can thank my hometown for cleaner air

An illustration from the late 1940s showing the extent to which air pollution from steel and zinc mills in Donora, Pa., had defoliated the hillsides and farms across the Monongahela River in Webster.

By Scott Beveridge

WEBSTER, Pa. – A story I have often repeated about the prejudice folks expressed about my hometown involved an awkward date three decades ago with an upper-class young woman from a "better" part of town.

We were in our early 20s and hanging in her fancy ranch home in a pricey Rostraver Township neighborhood when she decided to introduce me to her father.

I reached out my hand to shake his, as did he mine, and then he paused and asked me where I lived.

"Webster," I responded, before he rudely withdrew from the handshake and walked away.

Needless to say he set the tone for my having had a short-lived relationship with that family, and I likely can sigh in relief, today, for that.

So the news today that Webster, and its neighboring town of Donora, have been deemed eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Districts, can allow residents of these neighborhoods to stand a bit taller in this neck of the Monongahela River Valley.

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission recently gave preliminary approval for them to qualify for the distinction after the state agency rediscovered the dramatic story about the killer smog of 1948. More than 20 people died and thousands of others were sickened when a thick smog settled over the Northeast and trapped toxic steel and zinc mill pollution over the towns that Halloween weekend.

Webster residents reacted by launching an antipollution crusade, which became an impetus for the nation's first federal clean air laws.

Under the leadership of local restaurant owner Abe Celapino, Webster neighbors organized the Society for Better Living in a charter approved in 1949 by the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas. Among its goals were to conserve soil, real estate and plant life in Webster, and to seek the "elimination of poison gases and pollution of the air," the charter indicates.

U.S. Steel, the owner of the Donora mills, eventually settled a string of federal lawsuits filed by the smog victims, taking responsibility for the damages, and then the story faded away, only to resurface every time another 10 years were tagged onto the anniversary of the smog.

It wouldn't receive significant attention until a U.S. Public Heath Service historian, Lynne Page Snyder, decided in the early 1990s to look into the smog for her post-graduate studies. She concluded that the thousands of pages of court documents in the Donora case, as well as another downriver in Clairton, enrolled enough people to get science involved in seeking air pollution limits

Before the 1990s were out, fluoride pollution investigator Chris Bryson cited Snyder's research in an article for the Earth Island Journal that federal records on the smog had turned up missing. Regardless, Bryson wrote, the "lessons learned at Donora resulted in the passage of the 1955 Clean Air Act."

Despite the haters of Donora and Webster, everyone in America can thank those who came before us here for our having cleaner air to breathe.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Knowing how to read is a treasure

WASHINGTON, Pa. – The deadline is fast approaching to reserve tickets to a worthy cause to support literacy education in southwestern Pennsylvania, and also get a chance to win the fancy treasure chest, shown above.

The Washington County Literacy Council will auction the chest featuring a 67-inch strand of new cultured pearls, and also have plenty of raffle items at its annual Mardi Gras dinner and fundraiser March 5 at Jeremiah's Reception and Conference Center in Washington, Pa.

"It's a huge hit with all of our guests," said Amy Manko, executive director of the literacy council, discussing the chest provided by an anonymous donor. "It's just full of treasures."

She needs to know by Tuesday (March 1) if you are coming to the party, where Cajun-Creole food will be served, a king and queen will be crowned and the popular Pittsburgh Zydeco band, Mon Gumbo, will perform. The proceeds benefit the council's efforts to teach adults how to read, a skill that can help them find jobs.

Reservations or donations can be made by calling 724-228-6188. The council also has a website and Facebook page.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A feeshy tale

This $5 find at Black Rose Antiques & Collectibles in Washington Crown Center mall, Washington, Pa., reminded me of my father's funny way of mispronouncing words.

By Scott Beveridge

The origins of my father's hillbilly accent has been an amusing subject for decades.

Jim Beveridge didn't eat fish sandwiches on fish fry Fridays during Lent. He ate "feesh" sandwiches.

And when the Webster, Pa., steelworker wasn't in the mood for bread with cod, he ate his "feesh on a deesh" at home or the annual fire hall fish dinners here in the middle reaches of the Monongahela River Valley, about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh.

His dialect certainly wasn't Pittsburghese. Most of us here seem to know how to correctly pronounce fish, but we have earned a famous reputation for screwing up the plural you, by turning it into "yinz," and also saying "wersh," rather that wash, when its time to do the laundry or redd up the house.

I heard a hint of where my late father learned how to talk like an Appalachian misfit a couple weeks ago while meeting with a Marcellus Shale executive in Washington County, Pa. That guy didn't sound like the Texans who hold many of the jobs around here working in the booming industry, especially when he turned the word, flash, into fleesh.

"I'm from Steubenville," the Ohio man revealed.


My dad spent a good part of his childhood in that Ohio River town during the Great Depression.

A subsequent Google search provided a second source that loosely confirmed that he hadn't learned how to talk like an outsider in these-here parts of the mountains.

The search engine led to an excerpt from a book, "Me and Orson Welles: a novel," by Robert Kaplow, and a passage about the comical way in which Ohioans say, "feesh on a deesh."

Mystery solved.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Going to miss you Babe

Click here to read the Observer-Reporter feature obituary of Thomas Gregg Sypula, 60, of Canton Township, Pa., who died yesterday en route to cover a story.

Click here to view a touching WTAE-TV video about Tommy.

The funeral home obituary:

Thomas Gregg Sypula, 60, of Washington, died unexpectedly Sunday, February 20, 2011, in Canonsburg General Hospital, of an apparent heart attack.  

He was born November 16, 1950, in Tarentum, a son of June L. McAllister Sypula of Natrona Heights and the late Albert Thomas Sypula.

Mr. Sypula was a member of Immaculate Conception Church.  

He graduated from Tarentum High School in 1968. While at Tarentum High School, he was a standout football and baseball player and also played basketball. He then attended Kansas State University prior to enlisting in the U.S. Navy. During his service in the Navy, Mr. Sypula received the National Defense Service Medal. He served on the USS Hornet in 1969, which was the ship that participated in the retrieval of the Apollo 12 Space Capsule.

Mr. Sypula loved photography and videography. He loved being the first man on the scene to cover a news story. Mr. Sypula was a self-employed photographer and videographer providing coverage for several Pittsburgh news stations.  

He was an avid sports fan. From 1989 until 2009, he produced football films for Washington High School and then for Canon-McMillan High School.  

Mr. Sypula enjoyed spending time with his nieces and nephews. He loved his children, Tommy and Sara, and his wife, Charlotte. Mr. Sypula was a devoted family man and a friend to many. 

On June 23, 1979, he married his high school sweetheart, Charlotte Demma ,who survives. 
Also surviving are a daughter, Sara (Rico Dillard) Sypula of Beechview; three brothers, Lynn (Janice) Sypula of Creighton, Kim (Michelle) Sypula of Peters Township and Chuck Sypula of Natrona Heights; a sister-in-law, Rosemary (Gene) Trenski of Freeport; a brother-in-law, Michael (Joan) Demma of Fort Collins, Colo.; and eight nieces and nephews, Gina, Joe, Eric and Kaila Sypula, Jonathan (Ashley) Trenski, Michael Demma, Michelle (Mike) Jones and Kristine (Ray) Medrano. 

In addition to his father, deceased is his son, Tommy M. Sypula. 

Friends will be received from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday and 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday in Warco-Falvo Funeral Home Inc., Wilson at East Katherine avenues, Washington, S. Timothy Warco, supervisor/director, Susan Falvo Warco, director, S. Timothy Warco II, director. A prayer service will be held at 9 a.m. Friday, February 25, in the funeral home followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 10 a.m. in Immaculate Conception Church, West Chestnut Street, Washington, with the Rev. William P. Feeney, pastor as celebrant. Burial will follow in Washington Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, those wishing to make memorial contributions may do so to the Washington High School Scholarship Fund in Memory of Tommy M. Sypula, in care of Charlotte Sypula, 132 Laddie Drive, Washington, PA 15301. Online condolences may be expressed at www.WarcoFalvoFuneralHome.com.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The finest pure hitter in history

The Donora Historical Society has set aside a section of its museum in the Pennsylvania borough to honor Stan Musial on his being given the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.

President Barack Obama, when the award was presented Tuesday at the White House, said the Hall-of-Famer is "a gentleman you would want your kids to emulate." 

As another way to honor the 90-year-old Donora native, let's look back to December 1999 and take another look at this story about him that appeared in the Observer-Reporter:

By Matt Jacobs

Before the phrase, "You da man," weaved its way into the fabric of modern pop culture, there was just "The Man."

Stan "The Man" Musial, that is. 

During his 22-year Hall-of-Fame career with the St. Louis Cardinals, Musial, who was born and raised in Donora, was, and perhaps still is, regarded as the finest pure hitter in National League history. 

At times overshadowed by American League stars of the era like Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, Musial has the statistics to back up his immortal nickname. 

From the time Musial first broke into the big leagues with the Cardinals in 1941, until his final game in 1963, the three-time National League Most Valuable Player compiled a .331 batting average to go with 475 home runs and 1,951 RBI. Musial finished with 3,630 hits, won seven NL batting titles and was the first Cardinals' player to have his number (6) retired. 

As a member of three World Series champions, Musial frequently saved his best for when it mattered most. All that, despite missing the entire 1945 season while serving the United States in World War II. 

Despite his success at the major league level, Musial never forgot his humble beginnings on the rugged, unforgiving ball fields of Donora. 

"Sixty years ago, I was a batboy for the Donora Zinc Works (a semipro team)," said Musial in 1996 during a dedication ceremony for Stan "The Man" Musial Baseball Field.

"My neighbor, Joe Barbao, took me under his wing. He tutored me and we played baseball all the time. One day when we were playing, the regular pitcher didn't show up. So Joe put me in to pitch. 

"Well, I struck out something like 15 guys in six innings. Of course, that was quite a feat because I was only about 14 at that time. After that game, they voted me into their association so I could play. It was terrific experience because I was playing against fellows who were 18, 19 and 20 years old." 

While Musial frequently returns to his old stomping grounds, the field dedication held special meaning. 

"I want these fields to be a symbol and an inspiration to all the young ballplayers," said Musial, who was born November 21, 1920, to Lukasz and Mary Musial. "Somewhere along the line, something like what happened to me could happen to them."

Musial also met his wife of nearly 60 years, the former Lil Labash, in Donora. 

"I remember when I was about 14," Mrs. Musial recalled. "I was at a baseball game and everyone kept telling me to look at the little Polish kid. Well, I wasn't interested in boys at that age. But the following year, I met Stan at 15 and everybody told me he was the Polish kid who played baseball. I knew it was Stan." 

The couple has four grown children, 10 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. 

Musial, who was voted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1969, runs Stan "The Man" Inc., a St. Louis firm that deals in memorabilia from his baseball career. 

He remains as humble as ever. Musial never wanted to be DiMaggio or Williams. He's quite content just being "The Man." 

"I played on this field 60 years ago – 60 years ago, that's hard to believe," he said at the ceremony. "I'll tell you, I'd rather have a bat in my hands than a mike. I knew what I was doing with a bat."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The tricks to growing African violets

African Violet, originally uploaded by Edward Kaye.

By Terri T. Johnson

Growing an African violet is not difficult. Just find a sunny, preferably east-facing window and place the plant on the windowsill.

Native to humid areas, an African violet likes humidity so a kitchen
window above the sink can be ideal.

Known officially as Santpaulia, the plant is actually a genus of six
species of herbaceous perennial flowering plants native to Tanzania and to neighboring southeast Kenya. Hence, African violet.

The vibrant green, fine-haired leaves provide a stark contrast to the soft white, pink or violet flowers that grow in clusters near the center of the plant.

The showy plant does require some work, like proper watering,
fertilizing and exposure to light, but it’s nothing even the most inept
gardener can’t handle.

There are several ways to obtain an African violet, the most common
being to buy one, usually at a supermarket, home improvement or
discount-type store or a nursery.

Another way is to find a friend or family member who grows the violet
and take a leaf cutting. Some recommend dipping the cutting in a
special solution, but an easier, and less expensive way, is to simply
place the cut leaf in a small vase with water.

A clear shot glass or small juice glass is an excellent way to start the leaf to root.

Do not allow the water to touch the actual leaf. Just submerge the
stem. Place the glass in an area where it won’t be disturbed and watch for the roots to form. Once the root system is established, plant the leaf and watch the plant take shape. This method takes longer than simply buying a plant, but it is less expensive.

For those who buy a plant, the experts recommend repotting it almost
immediately. Clay or plastic pots are fine, but make certain there are
drainage holes-one hole is acceptable-and place a pebble on each
drainage hole.

Fill the pot about halfway with African violet soil, place the plant in
the middle and fill the remainder of the pot with soil. A teaspoon
works well to add the soil without damaging the actual plant. Tamp down the soil and add more if necessary.

Always place any African violet pot in a saucer and then fill the
saucer with tepid water and let sit for about an hour. Take the pot out
of the saucer and empty any remaining water and return the saucer to
under the pot.

Light is important, that’s why an east window is good, but a
north-facing window will also work.

If the plant doesn’t flower, it’s probably not getting sufficient
light, and if the leaves develop brown edges or brown spots, it’s
getting too much light. Pay attention to the plant. It will let you
know when it’s not happy.

Water is also vital. Never, never water an African violet from above
leaving wet spots on the leaves. And never, never use cold water. Fill
a watering can and let it sit, maybe for several days to allow the
water to reach room temperature and for the additives, like chlorine
and fluorides, to evaporate.

One way to test if an African violet needs to be watered is to stick
your finger in the soil. If the soil sticks to your finger and feels
damp, don’t water. If the soil does not stick, it’s probably a good
time to add a little water from a watering can with a small spout
directly on the soil.

Once the flowers are through blooming, like with any plant, deadhead it by gently cutting or pinching off the dead blooms.

Growing African violets is relatively easy but fungal, bacterial and
viral diseases can strike, and the plant can become home to certain

Don’t panic, just keep the plant happy with the correct
amount of light and water, with a little fertilizer thrown in and
beautiful flowers will be the reward.

Terri T. Johnson is a staff writer at The Almanac weekly newspaper in McMurray, Pa. This column first appeared in its Suburban Living magazine's February/March edition.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pass the meaty marshmallows, please

Gourmet offerings from Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory, not of the vegan variety. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH – The conversation with the gourmet marshmallow saleswoman went like this:

"So what exactly is a vegan marshmallow?" I asked her at Pittsburgh Public Market, a great new place where local food producers sell their goods in the city's Strip District.

"It's made without any animal products," responds this cook at Pittsburgh Marshmallow Factory.

I visited this market curious about a Tweet from this start-up company that it had manufactured a marshmallow for vegetarians, while wondering which meat traditionally went into the making of this fluffy and gooey candy.

So I first called a friend, a scientist with a background in laboratory work for her opinion.

"Here's the story:" she said. Marshmallows are concocted with gelatin made from bones, tissues and sometimes intestines of domesticated farm animals, she thought. The vegetarian recipe calls for the gelatin to be replaced by agar-agar, a gelling agent made from sea weed on which lab workers grow bacteria, she adds. (Yuck on both accounts)

"Are vegetarians that particular when it comes to eating marshmallows?" I ask the woman selling them Saturday in Pittsburgh.

"Oh yes," she answers. "They have been asking for them ever since we opened."

"What flavor do they come in?" is the next question out of my mouth.

"Just vanilla," she said.

That was not appealing when before me were animal-based marshmallows in flavors including chocolate, mint and Orange Creamsicle.

Tiny samples on the table at this Smallman Street market proved this company knows how to make top shelf marshmallows, which are about the size of 2-inch squares and sell for a buck apiece.

There even is a marshmallow here made with hot peppers, and word has it, this company owned by Debbie Steinberg and Chris Momberger of Creighton have flavored others with bacon.

I decided to buy an assortment of non-vegan marshmallows before heading over the South Side for a cheeseburger at Birmingham Bridge Tavern.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Storied newspaper championed civil rights

A display of a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe from the 1940s near the entrance to an exhibit on the 100th anniversary of the Courier weekly newspaper. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

The robed dummy dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan is alarming at the entrance to a Pittsburgh museum holding a special tribute to a celebrated black newspaper.

Worse yet, upon closer examination, the hooded costume supposedly worn by a Beaver County steelworker appears to be walking on copies of The Pittsburgh Courier, the weekly being honored on its 100th anniversary at the Senator John Heinz Regional History Center.

The display reveals there once were nine klaverns in Beaver County in 1920, and that the hooded robe behind the glass case likely had been worn by Earl Long of Hopewell, who worked at Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. in Aliquippa. It's here as a reminder that the newspaper had mounted an anti-Klan campaign as a crusader of America's Civil Rights Movement.

It’s unfathomable to fully comprehend the fear The Pittsburgh Courier’s reporters had to have faced in unraveling their stories when racism was rampant. The job, today, is challenging enough for a white reporter like myself, especially when it comes to dealing with uncooperative police and court officials or politicians who avoid answering questions and then attempt to intimidate you once they are cornered.

Founded by poet Edward Nathanial Harleston in 1910, the newspaper went on to be regarded at the most-widely circulated and best black weekly newspaper in the United States.

Among its more famous journalists were photographer Charles "One Shot Teenie" Harris, who covered President John F. Kennedy's 1962 tour of Pittsburgh, and reporter George Barbour, a winner of 6 Golden Quill Awards for exposing racist hiring practices in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.

Pittsburgh was "fertile ground for a newspaper" to report on the challenges of the black community in the early 1900s, when blacks in growing numbers relocated to Pittsburgh from the South for work and freedom, the exhibit states. The Great Migration saw the black population rise in the county from 34,217 to 83,326 by 1930.

Yet this newspaper didn't just report on racial problems in the city. It dispatched reporters to wherever there were major problems, and even exposed deep-seated racism in the South when nine young black teens nicknamed the Scottsboro Boys were falsely accused of gang raping two white girls on a train in 1931.

Meanwhile, I had the privilege of interviewing Barbour 14 years ago for a Black History Month feature story in the Observer-Reporter. The Bridgeville man was heralded by Variety as having been the "first full-time Negro broadcast journalist on a major Pittsburgh broadcasting station" after he was hired by KDKA to expose discrimination in the local housing market.

"I got thrown out of a tavern in East Liberty and denied buying a home in a number of areas," the then-71-year-old Barbour said.

Management told him he was doing a wonderful job.

"But when I looked around KDKA, I didn't see any black faces. I was waiting for them to say they wanted to hire me," he said.

He went on to say that young children need to know their history, regardless of their race.

"There isn't one person in this country whose ancestors haven't experienced racism, hatred. America has a long way to go to become mature."

Barbour could possibly have once sat behind the antiquated green steel desk and old manual typewriter in a display near the end of the exhibit, where visitors are reminded of the challenges newspapers have faced in recent years over declining circulation and competition from the Internet.

The display ends with hope because The New Pittsburgh Courier and its online reports, including those on Twitter and Facebook, give it a bigger voice in one day than "it did in a month at its height in the 1940s."

It will run through at least the end of the summer at the museum at 1212 Smallman St.

The colored waiting room in Union Terminal, Pittsburgh, early 1900s, shown at the entrance to the exhibit.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Black history toppled

The LeMoyne House, named a national landmark in Washington, Pa. for being among few surviving buildings that were stops on the Underground Railroad. (Stan Diamond/Observer-Reporter)

Editor's note: This feature story first appeared in February 2002 in the Observer-Reporter, timed for Black History Month

CENTERVILLE, Pa.  – Toppled tombstones rest beside fallen timber or under thick underbrush at an ancient cemetery near Centerville.

Other than a grave robber or vandals, few have climbed the steep hill for decades to the burial ground of some of Washington County's first free African Americans.

"It was very moving," said Kay Clendaniel, a former member of the Washington County Historical Society board, who was drawn to the cemetery in West Pike Run Township. "It makes me almost want to investigate more because you feel so bad about it."

The history of this cemetery and others like it in the area is almost as mysterious as the Underground Railroad used by slaves here in their escape to freedom 150 years ago.

Fewer than 10 known written accounts exist detailing where runaway slaves, en route to Canada, found cover in Washington County, one historian says. And some of what is told about the slave routes could be doubted because the stories amount to nothing more than folklore, said the historian, Terry Necciai of Pittsburgh.

Tales have been told at the landmark LeMoyne House in Washington, Pa., about how escaped slaves were hidden there under a bed or passed through a hole in an attic wall covered by a bookshelf. The real events are unknown, possibly kept secret because it was illegal to participate in the Underground Railroad.

"To the best of our knowledge, we don't know where they were sheltered here," said Leslie A. Yoder, education coordinator at the LeMoyne House, built in 1812 and one of only two buildings in Pennsylvania added to the National Registry of Landmarks in the 1990s as Underground Railroad sites. "It was hidden," added Chuck Edgar, who volunteers in the LeMoyne House library. "If you keep it quiet, you keep it quiet for a long time." The other National landmark tied to the railroad in the state is the stone Johnson House in Germantown, dating to 1765.

Racism also may have played a part in the lack of documentation, Necciai said.

"Unfortunately, the black story has been under-told because the white side was told," Necciai said.

Other Pittsburgh-area historians have gone as far to suggest that the runaway slaves were never welcomed in southwestern Pennsylvania because there were no Quaker communities near that city, Necciai said.

But his research indicates Quakers, some by the name of Talyor, did settle in the Brownsville area, including West Pike Run Township, a portion of which became Centerville Borough.

A house built in the mid-1800s in Monongahela also was a stop on the trail to freedom, according to an account written in 1908 by a man who was a conductor on the railroad stop at that house when he was a teen-ager.

Capt. Joseph T. Armstrong recalled, briefly, how he escorted slaves hidden under hay in a wagon to a skiff on the nearby Monongahela River in a book about the city's homecoming week.

He stated his "strong-minded" aunt, Mrs. J.B. Taylor, lived in the house on Main Street and threatened to kill him as a boy if he repeated her conversations with a black man about hiding fugitive slaves.

Armstrong stated that he wasn't sure his participation was "right or wrong" but that he understood he was in "possession of a great secret." He went on to state that he didn't think the "present generation" of blacks appreciated the "privileges they enjoy" before ending his story, noting that he had already said more than he should have.

Juan and Judy Rodriguez make their home today in the 11-room brick house decorated in Victorian gingerbread at 714 W. Main St.

"I just wish the walls could just talk so I could know what was going on," Juan Rodriguez said.

Necciai believes Mrs. Taylor had Quaker relatives in Centerville.

The nearly forgotten cemetery near that borough contains several members of the Smith family, the women buried in one line and men in another, Clendaniel said.

Two rusted, cast-iron posts provide the only hint that an ornate fence once framed a section of graves. A broken but newer granite tombstone marks the grave of Simeon R. Smith, who was born in 1845 and died in 1914, and was a descendant of Ralph Smith, California Area Historical Society records indicate. Ralph Smith, who died in 1858, became a free man at the age of 28 and took the name of his master and began the generation of Smiths in Centerville.

The historical society in 1991 attempted to identify as many graves as possible at the cemetery, which isn't far from the intersection of Route 40 and Toll 43. While investigating the grounds, society member Edgar Harris said he found a shovel sticking out of a hole being dug in a grave of a member of the Jeffries family.

Not far away, on a hill overlooking Daisytown, weeds obscure another cemetery where freed slaves owned by Dr. Wheeler were buried, Clendaniel said. One broken tombstone marks the Dec. 24, 1831, death of Sarah West. The Little Zion Methodist Episcopal Church, dating to 1844, once marked the site, LeMoyne House archives indicate.

At some point in history, Clendaniel suspects the freed slaves who were sheltered by Quakers in the Centerville area were made to feel unwelcome and moved elsewhere.

"It's a shame," she said.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Pittsburgh is papered in black and gold

Black and gold confetti spills onto Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh's Strip District as Steelers fans engage in a Steelers merchandise shopping frenzy the day before the city would play in Super Bowl XLV. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH – It rained black and gold today in Pittsburgh’s Strip District on the afternoon before the home football team would play in Super Bowl XLV.

The Steelers colors falling from the sky came from fans shooting confetti canons over the popular city’s ethnic market district.

Among its stores carrying such food as pierogies, biscotti and Vietnamese rice stick, are others stocked with cheap Steelers merchandise, including T-Shirts bearing any number of clever phrases.

“Long sleeve, hoodies, short sleeve,” yelled one guy selling clothes from a sidewalk table alongside Penn Avenue and near Prestogeorge, a purveyor of the finest coffee roasted in southwestern Pennsylvania.

One pile of yellow Pittsburgh T-Shirts were silkscreened with, “REV’N FOR SEVEN,” the number of Super Bowl trophies the Steelers would have if they win the upcoming game against the Green Bay Packers. Other shirts there showed the heavily-bearded face of Brett “The Diesel” Keisel, whose famous facial hair has its own Facebook page.

Across the street another salesman had shirts with that well-known Photoshopped image of a young boy giving the middle finger. The wording across the front and back of those shirts was too offensive to repeat here.

But, tacky comes easy to Pittsburgh Steelers fans.

“You say, ‘Y’all,’ we say ‘Yinz,’” a young woman was overheard saying to a Southern visitor, while explaining the local hillbilly dialect known as Pittsburghese.

Not too far away a man wearing a black-and-gold spiked wig sat counting handfuls of cash, his bootie from the day’s sales. Another merchant stood the door to his overflowing Steelers store to force customers to use the side door to keep the foot traffic flowing in the right direction.

“You need to make a U-turn,” he said to the crowd of people, some of whom needed to walk in traffic because the sidewalk was jammed tight with shoppers.

Another young female, with her cell phone to hear ear, was talking about some shirts she had eyed on the sidewalk.

“There’s a shirt here that says, ‘I’m an Italian Steelers fan,’” she said to the other person on the line.

Steelers fans will buy anything in the colors worn by their pigskin sports legends, ranging from Myron Pottios to Terry Bradshaw.

The confetti canons sold out quickly, leaving many shoppers disappointed in the rain-slicked streets where parked vehicles were papered in black and yellow. Another vendor couldn’t weave his ribbon wreaths in those high-holy colors fast enough to keep up with the demand for them.

“It’s unbelievable, really unbelievable,” he said while working this black and gold mine.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The terrarium trend

Terrarium, originally uploaded by I am Jacques Strappe.

By Christie Campbell

Combat drab winter weather and introduce some greenery into your home this time of year with a terrarium.

Terrariums were first popularized in Victorian England, and they make a comeback every so often. Remember those large, alien-looking plastic containers of the 1970s? Or the soda bottle varieties children make in grade school?

Perhaps owing to the growing confined spaces where people labor on computers, terrariums are becoming trendy again.

The ones in vogue today are planted in unusual recycled glass containers and involve some type of theme. Personally, I see real value to having plants around that don’t require much care to look fresh and green!

To make a terrarium, first find a unique container. Don’t limit yourself to what you will find in a garden store. Check out what’s available at thrift or secondhand stores or even peek inside a pet store where aquariums might include oversized brandy snifters.

You might have something at home right now that will be suitable: a large pickle jar, especially one that you’ve saved the lid to, a canning jar, angled cookie jar, cake stands and even old glass lamps. Wash the container well and use plenty of hot water to kill bacteria.

Once you know what your container will be, select a few appropriate plants. If you plan to put your container near a window, you will want something like jade, aloe, cacti, sedum, African violet or herbs. A container in a low-light area would be better with plants such as fern, baby’s tears, ivy or peperomia. If your container is large enough, you might want to have a couple of plants, mixing something with a slender stalk with a plant with rounded or variegated leaves.

Aim for something slow-growing.

Place about an inch of stones or sand in the bottom of the container for drainage. You can use pea gravel or aquarium gravel for a more attractive look. It’s not necessary to do so, but you can add a half-inch layer of activated charcoal or mix it directly into the soil to help filter the air and, on top of that, a layer of Spanish moss to prevent the soil from filtering down into the stones.

Add several inches of potting soil and into this soil, plant your plants. Some artists just use a layer of moss and smooth stones in their terrariums to resemble a lawn or grassy yard.

Add miniature figurines of people or animals to create the theme you want.

I had never thought of this, but terrariums can include a small pet: crickets, toads, hermit crabs, salamanders or gecko. If you create a wet terrarium, you can add toads, frogs, tadpoles or crayfish.

Just remember that you won’t be able to put fertilizer into any terrarium with a live creature, and you’ll want a cover for the top of the container.

Spray the terrarium’s interior with water and slide a cover in place. Check it for the next few days to see how moist it stays. If the soil is soggy, you will want to take the top off for a while and let some of the moisture evaporate. Too much moisture and fungi or mold can form on the plants. However, I wouldn’t put it in direct sun as that is likely to burn the plants.

It’s a bit of a trial basis to determine what works best. But overall the care is very minimal, and you will have a nice miniature garden to enjoy.

(This article first appeared in the November/December issue of Living Washington County magazine, a publication of the  Observer-Reporter newspaper.)


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Reintroducing the Queen of Rock 'n Roll

Give 73-year-old Wanda Jackson some horns and especially the magic of Jack White and she reminds her audience "The Party Ain't Over," her new release that is sure to become a Grammy winner. Or at least in the nominations.