a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

And then the 911 call went silent

A couple pauses Tuesday at the temporary overlook to the new Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pa., two weeks before it opens on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

SHANKSVILLE, Pa. – As the 10th anniversary nears of the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Queda terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, many Americans seem to be recalling where they were upon hearing the news about the tragedies.

My story about that day begins with the drive to work at a newspaper in little Washington, Pa., while listening and laughing to the venerable Pittsburgh rock & roll station WDVE-FM's morning show.

The disc jockey broke in, saying a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center as I traveled a few blocks away from my job at the Observer-Reporter

My mind flashed then to an old photo I once saw of a B-25 that accidentally crashed in 1945 into the Empire State Building, and I mistakenly assumed something similar had just happened.

WDVE's next report a short time later that a second jetliner had struck another one of the Twin Towers as I pulled into the newspaper's parking lot sent me scurrying into the newsroom for more information.

My startled coworkers had gathered there around a television staring at its screen in stoned silence. I joined them before turning on a computer at my desk moments before the telephone there rang.

It was my mom, June Beveridge, on the line calling from Rostraver Township police department, where she worked as a clerk.

"Another plane just crashed in Westmoreland County," she whispered on the other end. "Are you OK?"

She was under strict orders not to leak police information to me because of my job as a journalist in neighboring Washington County.

The rule was off the table. Like most of us she was frightened. Like most mothers she wanted to be reassured her children were safe, especially because this terrorist attack played out before our eyes, too close to home.

I turned from our conversation to tell my colleagues about the fourth jet crash shortly about the time they watched on TV the third in flames at the Pentagon. They looked at me in stunned disbelief, and went back to watching CNN.

Moments later CNN announced the fourth plane had actually crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa., in a county on the southeast side of Westmoreland.

Little did we know at the time that our newspaper probably received the first official report in the United States from my mother about that leg of the story.

Armed with the information, though, we couldn't do much with it in an era predating instant news reports on our website, Twitter or Facebook. Truth be told most people in America were helpless to the situation. Everyone seemed to have wanted to help. About all anyone could do was offer a hug or later donate blood for the survivors or sign up for the military to fight the subsequent and long war on terrorism.

Ten years later the story of the passengers and crew of Flight 93 that embarked from New Jersey to fly to San Francisco has become familiar to most Americans. Most of us now know they decided to overtake the hijackers, who selected to crash that plane in Somerset, just 20 minutes away from their attended target, rather than fulfill the mission.

Those Saudis were supposedly en route to destroy the U.S. Capitol while lawmakers were in session when that Boeing 757 rolled upside down in the sky 50 feet above ground before it crashed in a ball of fire, killing the 39 passengers and crew aboard the aircraft. The four hijackers perished as well, before having murdered a flight attendant during the ordeal.

The mistake about where that crash occurred is retold now in Shanksville as the National Park Service prepares to open a new memorial at the crash site this Sept 11 to the passengers and crew of Flight 93. The call came in from the plane to 911 over Westmoreland airspace from passenger Edward Felt.

The 911 transcript is in a notebook now in Shanksville detailing the confused responses from an unnamed dispatcher, who surely could not have been trained to receive such a disturbing call.

Felt used his cell phone at 9:58 a.m. near a rear rest room to place the call, according to the FBI report.

"Hijacking in progress," said Felt, a computer engineer from Matawan, NJ, and father of two daughters.

The dispatcher asked him for his phone number amid sometimes inaudible responses.

"Said plane is going down," the dispatcher stated.

The dispatcher then inaccurately announced the plane crashed somewhere over Mount Pleasant, a town in Westmoreland an hour's drive by car from Shanksville.

And then their conversation went silent.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Missing: poor kids in college

Home away from home came in the form of a love seat for California University of Pennsylvania freshman Kody Wisilosky of Connellsville, Pa., not shown, above, to park in to study or play video games in his dorm. (Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter)

By Scott Beveridge

CALIFORNIA, Pa. – It struck me last week while reporting on move-in day at California University of Pennsylvania that I probably wouldn’t have had the opportunity to attend college as a freshman in 2011.

While watching today’s new high school graduates move mountains of belongings into Cal U.’s dorms, I also wondered how their displays of acquired stuff would have made a kid like me feel in 1974 on my first day at college, having come from a low-income family. I mean it took two vehicles in some cases Thursday to bring one new kid to the campus.

I went to Edinboro State College with barely enough beloingings to put inside a cheap, black Masonite footlocker my parents purchased the previous year at Hill’s Department Store as my Christmas present. I packed it the following August with my junk, including a coat that wasn’t warm enough for the upcoming winter, and went to Edinboro wearing shoes with holes in their soles and just enough money to pay for my first semester’s books.

That was all we could afford with mom and dad each earning a little more than minimum wage two years after he lost his skilled labor job at a steel mill, when it forever shuttered its gates.

Fortunately, though, their incomes qualified me for state and federal college grants that covered the entire cost of tuition and room-and-board my first term and a good portion of those costs for the next three years after transferring to Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Those grants since have disappeared. On top of that, my less-than-stellar high school academic performance and college entrance exam score wouldn’t have been good enough now for acceptance into some of Pennsylvania’s state universities, which claim to have raised those bars on prospective applicants.

These things also made this newspaper journalist wonder if Pennsylvania and its public universities have squeezed out the poor.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

That's a lot of food

                                                             Scott Beveridge photo

MEADOWLANDS, Pa. – Jake Karp of Mt. Lebanon, Pa., above, sorts food today as it arrives to the Meadows Racetrack & Casino in North Strabane Township as the clock winds down on its efforts to break the world record for the most food collected in a 24-hour period.

The Great American Food Drive, which began yesterday at 8 p.m., had collected nearly 200,000 pounds of food by about 2 p.m. today, far short of its goal. The casino must collect more than 559,885 pounds of food by 8 p.m. to make the Guinness Book of World Records, organizers said.

"I feel pretty confident we are going to make it," said Ken Westcott, a former mayor of nearby Washington, Pa., and a member of the Washington County Food Pantry board.

Several tractor-trailer trucks had arrived at the casino with food and were awaiting the scales.

But the drive would need another four truckloads and additional donations to break the record, said Chris Plumtree, the pantry's coordinator of charitable giving.

"It's not about breaking a record, but about raising food to help people," Plumtree said.

UPDATE: The casino fell short of its goal, but did collect a whopping 431,000 pounds of donated food and marked a Guinness notation in a category now known as the Great American Food Drive. That record will need to be broken in the future by any other food pantry that attempts to break it, a casino spokeswoman said. The food collected in this drive will feed 10,102 families, she said.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

This is the way Pittsburgh does it

I'm sort of surprised this YouTube video of Fort Cherry High School quarterback Tanner Garry hasn't gone viral, given the cool tricks the Washington County, Pa., athlete performs with the pigskin.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Music on the Mon

The bluegrass tune "Dance All Night With a Bottle in Your Hand" performed by Tiger Maple String Band at Nemacolin Castle in Brownsville, Pa., in a concert sponsored by Brownsville Area Revitalization Corp.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fredericktown of yesterday

If you're heading to Washington County Agricultural Fair this weekend set aside some time to stop in the historic stone John White House owned and operated by Washington County History and Landmarks Foundation. The organization has put together an exhibit of old photographs taken in towns along the Monongahela River Valley. The video, above, shows a number of them from Fredericktown, Pa.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"Dixie" on the banjo

Harry Fisher of Fayette County, Pa., on the banjo and backed up by a nephew, Michael Fisher, performs this Civil War-era folk song at Charleroi Senior Center in a program sponsored by Charleroi Area Historical Society.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

An open letter to Batman

Batman's batmobiles known as Tumblers leave downtown Saturday after a film shoot came to a successful end along nearby Smithfield Street. (Scott Beveridge photo)

Dear Caped Crusader,

Things haven't been going so well since you showed up in Pittsburgh last month to begin filming "The Dark Knight Rises."

The Pittsburgh Pirates' winning streak came to an abrupt end after the Golden Triangle was transformed into Gotham City, dropping the home team from first place to fourth in the National League's Central Division.

Meanwhile, your movie director Christopher Nolan has dusted Downtown with fake snow, giving it the appearance of a bitter cold January day in the muggy heat of August. As if Pittsburgh's weather isn't already schizophrenic.

The traffic jams have been nothing short of sinister since your Batmobile known as the Tumbler began to speed along Smithfield Street. Just so you know, Pittsburghers have been calling this backed-up traffic, baffic, in your honor.

While the hottest Catwoman to date, Anne Hathaway, received a private tour of The Warhol, some downtown establishments have been starving for business because said baffic is scaring off customers. Holy Belgian Beer Batman it was even slow Saturday night in Sharp Edge Bistro on Penn Avenue.

There is only one way to make this up for all this commotion.

Please accept our invitation to hold this movie's premiere here in Pittsburgh before it hits screens across America in July 2012. We are sure something could be worked out at the ornate Heinz Hall to satisfy the glitz of Hollywood.


Travel with a Beveridge

Cold signs in Downtown Saturday on sidewalks dusted with fake snow during filming of the newest Batman movie. (Scott Beveridge photo)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Left in a cloud

Check out the humorous logo a couple police officers came up with in Donora, Pa., to put on T-shirts for the upcoming Donora Smog Run.

The 5K run/walk and 10K skate will be held Nov. 5.

Monday, August 8, 2011

James Madison hid his slaves behind his case for freedom

The National Trust for Historic Preservation in Washington, D.C., is rebuilding slave cabins, which once were shielded behind trees to the right of James Madison's Montpelier in the Piedmont of Virginia. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

ORANGE, Va. – The father of the U.S. Constitution left behind a conflicting legacy in terms of equal rights when it came to slave ownership.

As a young lawmaker James Madison argued in support of abolishing slavery, only to later seek a compromise on the issue to hold the young, divided nation together, said Mike Dickens, a guide at the fourth president of the United States' beloved plantation, Montpelier.

"He died knowing he failed," Dickens said while leading a tour on a hot, muggy July afternoon of the property in Orange, Va., undergoing intense restoration by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Dickens' tour focuses exclusively on the enslaved community here, where as many as 110 slaves lived at any given time to run the house and work the tobacco fields.

He begins with the murky story about Madison's grandfather, Ambrose, supposedly having been poisoned by three of the family's slaves six months after he acquired the property in the Piedmont of Virginia in 1723. While the science of proving cause of death then proved unreliable, one of the slaves died by execution, while two others would be convicted, too, only to be returned to the plantation and work there for the remainder of their lives.

"It raises all sorts of questions," Dickens said, including one about why slaves at that time would have even been afforded their day in court.

"These were real people," he said. "They had certain rights."

Years later, James Madison would plant an alley of pine trees on each side of his stately brick mansion to shield from view the buildings where his skilled slaves worked and also the tiny cabins where they lived. Montpelier's slaves bedded in six, two-room duplexes, which each measured 19 feet by 20 feet and slept 10 people, Dickens said.

Madison shielded the outbuildings, having stated his house did not "look tidy" sandwiched between them, Dickens said.

Meanwhile, Madison would write the draft of the U.S. Constitution in the second-floor library of the big house under the direction of America's founding fathers. He did so while reading books written in several languages on the topic of governmental policies sent to him from abroad by Thomas Jefferson.

He would later author the Bill of Rights after the First Congress convened in 1789, with a personal master slave at his side. On one trip to Philadelphia, he wrote home that his slave Billey "has been tainted by freedom" and argued in support of setting the man free.

Once freed Billey chose the name of William Gardner, went on to become a shipping agent and did business with the Madison family - while his parents remained enslaved at Montpelier. Gardner likely wanted to keep a good relationship with the Madisons to ensure his parents were treated properly on the plantation, Dickens said.

Gardner soon went missing at sea during a storm, and Madison "had enough decency in his soul that he wrote to Gardner's parents that he had perished," Dickens said.

He ends his tour in the slave cemetery, where tombstone are barely visible on grounds covered in periwinkle. He breaks off a piece of the green vine and says, quietly, that most slave cemeteries like this one are buried under the plant because its leaves break off in fours and resemble a Christian cross.

"Madison deserves some postmortem credit," Dickens said.

Madison authored the 14th Amendment, which states the federal government cannot take away a man's liberties without due process, he said.

"And he helped to form the U.S. Supreme Court, which used it to put an end to the Jim Crow era," he said.

If you go make sure to set aside time to also visit the nearby segregated 1910 Southern Railroad train depot, shown above, which has been restored by the Montpelier Foundation without changing its separate entrances for coloreds and whites. Its two waiting rooms, one smaller for black people, were required by segregation laws on the books in Virginia from the 1890s until the 1960s. And don't miss the freedman's cabin, either. It's one of just two such remaining log houses built by an emancipated slave in this state about the time of the Civil War. The house, shown below, was built by George Gilmore, a slave born at Montpelier after he was freed in 1865 during federal occupancy of the area.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Brahms' "Lullaby" with a little wine

Take a well-deserved few minutes and relax to Brahms' "Lullaby" performed today by Washington Symphony Orchestra at the first Wine Jazz & Pops Festival at Mingo Creek County Park in Nottingham Township, Pa.

The event benefits the Washington, Pa., orchestra and Mental Health of Washington County.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Ringgold Cavalry: A Civil War outfit of bushwhackers

Surviving members of the Ringgold Calvalry gathered for this group photograph during a 1903 reunion in Fredericktown, Pa.

By Scott Beveridge

A patriotic fervor swept across Washington and Greene counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania after Confederate troops opened fire on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, S.C., signaling the start of the Civil War 150 years ago.

Local men believed the Union Army would quickly prevail and the war would be over before any of them had a chance to fight, said Mark Tomazin, former president of the Washington County Historical Society.

"Everybody was revved up," Tomazin said.

Few could have predicted then that it would take the North nearly four years to regain Fort Sumter following the April 12, 1861, attack.

In the early months of the war, Capt. John Keys of Beallsville, Pa., petitioned Pennsylvania Gov. A. G.. Curtin to reorganize the Ringgold Cavalry, which formed on July 4, 1847, to enter the Mexican-American War. The fighting horsemen had taken their name from Maj. Samuel Ringgold of Washington County, Md., an 1818 West Point graduate who was killed in that war, and they were eager to serve again.

Keys was "anxious to do what he could (to) save the Union," Sgt. John W. Elwood of Coal Center wrote in his 1914 memoirs, "Elwood's Stories of the Old RinggoldCavalry 1847-1865."

But Curtin turned Keys down because President Abraham Lincoln was interested in recruiting only foot soldiers, Tomazin said. Some of the cavalry members were thought to have been too old for service, added John "Jack" Cattaneo, a retired Ringgold High School history teacher.

"They went over his head to Secretary of War Simon Cameron," Cattaneo said.

Cameron, who had befriended Keys' father while working as a contractor on the National Road, delivered his approval of the cavalry in a letter that arrived in Beallsville June 18,1861.

"It was read and reread until it was almost worn out," Elwood's book states.

By then, the area known today as West Virginia was being brought into the war, and Gen. Thomas Jonathan "Stonewall" Jackson and other Confederate leaders would soon have their sights set on destroying fertile farmland the Monongahela River valley. Those farms stocked the Union Army's food supply. From there Confederates forces planned to march north and attack Pittsburgh, which was a major supplier of soldiers and weapons to the North.

"The Ringgold left with farm horses and ancient weapons. They had to outfit themselves," Cattaneo said.

They had no uniforms or arms other than "flintlock horse pistols" and were required to supply their own ammunition, Elwood wrote.

Of the original cavalry of more than 50 men, fewer than a dozen went to the front lines. The reorganized cavalry left a large crowd of well-wishers in Beallsville only four days after Keys received the Cameron letter with 70 new recruits to serve in Grafton, W.Va., then part of Virginia.

The Ringgold probably never fought in any famous battle, although some of its members fought in the Battle of Gettysburg, Tomazin said.

Among the most famous campaigns the cavalry served in was Jackson's failed Romney Expedition to secure western Virginia. The campaign took place seven months after the cavalry formed, and it became known as Jackson's first major defeat of the war.

Jackson was forced back to Winchester, Va., mostly because of bitter winter weather. His troops were inexperienced. Many soldiers either deserted Jackson or froze to death, Tomazin said.

However, its members marched more than 375 miles in one campaign and traveled at least 800 miles on another, Ralph Haas wrote in his book, "The Ringgold Cavalry, the Rest of the Story."

Haas described the cavalry as an outfit of bushwhackers, or cold-blooded guerilla fighters.

Their mission mostly had them serving as scouts and guards protecting the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, Tomazin said.

The Ringgold also had numerous skirmishes with the McNeill Rangers, Confederate scouts known for plotting their killings, Haas wrote.

"They served long and hard," Tomazin said.

The two units fought so often that they developed a mutual respect across enemy lines, he said. The onetime enemies even attended each others' reunions after the war ended, according to Haas' book.

The Ringgold would end the war having lost three enlisted men to battle and 19 to disease. Keys, who died in Beallsville Nov. 10, 1863, was among those who succumbed to disease, according to Civil War in the East, an online reference guide to the war.

Four decades ago, Ringgold School District formed and took the name as a tribute to the cavalry.

"To me they were heroes," Tomazin said.

(This story first appeared in the Observer-Reporter)

Monday, August 1, 2011

A smart photo app

Here are two examples of the fun I'm having with the Droid X picplz app, which allows users to pretend as if they are using a camera with special filters.

The top shot is the Washington County Courthouse in Washington, Pa., through the "The 70s" filter. The other shows the broken-down, historic Donora-Webster Bridge over the Monongahela River in Westmoreland County, Pa., in "high contrast monochrome."

I have to admit - even as a journalist who doesn't like highly processed photographs - this app is a pretty cool way to jazz up images. The only criticism I have for this app is that there doesn't seem to have a function to cancel an upload once it has been started. (For iPhone users the app similar to picplz is Instagram)


So I went experimenting again with this app in Donora, one of my favorite rust belt places to photograph, and came back with the following:

A fire hydrant atop freshly applied cement at McKean Avenue and Fouth Street, how it appears digitized in the "Russian Toy Camera" filter.
The long-closed Pennsylvania Liquor Store in the former Grand Theater in the 600 block of McKean Avenue. This is how it appears in the "Little Plastic Lens."
The Norfolk Southern rail line, north of the walkway on the Donora-Webster Bridge and run through "Instant Film."
The shuttered Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church at McKean Avenue and 10th Street, as seen through the "Russian Toy Camera" filter.