a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Paper snowflake craft project

By Scott Beveridge

MONACA, Pa. – It's become a tradition for the past three years to join a friend in creating a Christmas craft project.

Last December Mary Margaret and I made a miniature house from part of a cardboard half-gallon milk carton iced in whipped melted wax, in a tradition my mom started when she was in her 30s. It worked out much better then with five or six people sitting around the table putting those things together in the 1960s than it did last year with just two pair of hands in Mary's kitchen in Monaca, Pa. Our version of the project was too much work, even though the end result turned out pretty damned cute. But, remind me to never do that again.

In 2010 we covered canning jars with Elmer's Glue-coated colored tissue paper cut into shapes of evergreen trees to create faux forest luminaria.

This year it was her idea to make the paper snowflake, above, in what probably was my favorite project, thus far. I mean we could probably sell those things in a few years at craft shows to helps us pay for our prescriptions in our retirement years.

And, making one of them is not a  difficult as it might appear at first blush.

You need to start out by cutting paper into six 8 1/2-inch squares. A heavier weight paper works best as those made from printing paper are kind of floppy, but still cool.

Fold each square into a triangle, as shown, above.

And, then fold that a second time to create a smaller triangle. We're on a roll.

With the folded crease toward your right, make four cuts parallel to the side at your left, as shown, above, stopping short about a quarter of an inch from the top. I used a tile cutter and metal ruler because this snowflake was made with sheets of heavy weight watercolor paper. A sharp pair of heavy-duty scissors would likely have worked, as well.

This is how the cuts should look by now. No need to measure them or worry that they need to be measured out to precision. This is a snowflake, remember. It's not supposed to be perfect.

Now comes the fun part. Starting with the smallest cuts, roll the paper together, as shown, and attach the edges, preferably with acid-free clear tape.

Then, turn over the square and roll and tape the next section. Repeat that step until your snowflake section looks like this:

Seriously. How cool is that. The final steps work out a lot better with a second set of hands and a small stapler.

Staple together three sections at one end of their bases, like this, and repeat the step with the other three sections, before stapling all six sections together in the same place.

Lastly, individually staple together the outer ring of the snowflake where their top edges naturally come together. This worked out so well that I think we'll make another using the fancy paper of a white wedding gift bag purchased at a mall card shop.

Happy holidays from Travel with a Beveridge.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Bizarre thrift store sells by the pound

Shoppers seek bargains at a Pittsburgh-area Goodwill store that sells its merchandise by the pound. Scott Beveridge photo.

By Scott Beveridge

McKEESPORT, Pa. – A Goodwill worker steps out from the back room of a sprawling Pittsburgh-area thrift store to announce the next sale.

"Goodwill shoppers. Please step behind the cash registers," he screams to a room where most customers have already lined up there with their buggies in high anticipation of the incoming merchandise.

About a dozen employees of this store in North Versailles Township, Pa., then scurry about the floor carting away large blue bins on wheels containing merchandise that didn't sell over the past few hours.

"Do people ever fight over this stuff?" I ask the older woman beside me, who has already identified herself as a regular shopper at this Goodwill Outlet at 294 Lincoln Highway.

"Oh my," she replies, as the staff here quickly returns nearly 75 of the carts to the floor heaped with more used bargains. "They sometimes have to call the police."

The same man who ordered everyone behind the cash registers soon invites the shoppers back to the merchandise, with hesitation.

"Please. No pushing or shoving," he says.

Then, as if this Wednesday in late November is Black Friday, the 40 or so customers rush to the bins to sift through the 'new' items for sale.

Most of them wear garden gloves because some this merchandise is filthy dirty or includes broken glassware.

A few people here are immigrants grabbing up cheap, donated shoes and clothing to send home to poor people in Africa, another veteran customer explains. Others are here looking for cheap stuff to line the shelves of their thrift stores.

Goodwill Southwestern Pennsylvania leased this former 96,000-square-foot Ames department store in October 2010 as a way to dump stuff that didn't sell at its other thrift shops in Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has reported.

The bins turn around here about every two hours. The stuff is sold for $1.39 a pound, a price that drops in stages to 59 cents a pound when a customer accumulates more than 50 pounds of merchandise

On this day the bins contain items ranging from a one-piece Jason Voorhees "Friday the 13th Part V" Halloween costume for a toddler to a semi-naked Barbi Doll with a missing leg.

I'm here with one of my aunts, and we spend $34 for a bunch of stuff we actually like.

She went home with a pretty angel to add to her vast collection of them, along with a handmade doily and a cool Steelers raincoat.

I went home with, among other things, an original signed painting of a water scene by an artist named G. Gomez R. and the biggest prize, a small metal toy Porsche.

This is supposed to be the only store of its kind in Pennsylvania, and it's worth a visit, if only once, because it's that bizarre.

An original painting signed by artist G. Gomez R. and purchased for a bargain at a Goodwill Outlet near Pittsburgh. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A great Thanksgiving leftovers sandwich

My Thanksgiving leftovers turkey salad sandwich with green grapes (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

MY KITCHEN, Pa. – My favorite part of Thanksgiving is leftover turkey allowed to rest overnight in the refrigerator and then turned into a turkey salad sandwich.

The recipe is rather simple. I use the eyeball method for measuring the ingredients, starting with a heaping handful or two of turkey breast meat cut into chunks, depending on how many people I am feeding for lunch.

Into the bowl toss in a couple of cut-up hardboiled eggs, small chunks of onion and celery, about six chopped green grapes and a heaping amount of mayonnaise and about half that amount of a good brown mustard. Adding some sliced almonds won't hurt this recipe one bit. Salt and pepper to taste and mix with a fork until the ingredients become sort of creamy.

The key to the success of this sandwich is the bread. Use something good. On this day I've selected a fantastic black pepper and Parmesan bread, toasted, from Giant Eagle Market District in Robinson Township. Seriously, I would marry that grocery store if it were possible.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Mr. Conductor enjoys fun side of the tracks

Bryant Schmude of Pittsburgh entertains a group attending a child's birthday party  at Pennsylvania Trolley Museum. Scott Beveridge photo.

By Scott Beveridge

WASHINGTON, Pa. – The green and silver Car 2711 with colorful balloons waving out its windows approaches a trolley stop, preparing to pick up a load of people attending a child’s birthday party.

Shown in the destination window above its windshield is the number 7, beside the letters NICO, – the age and name of the boy who’s hosting this party at Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Chartiers Township, Pa.

“He’s really into it,” said museum worker Alison Gregg, referring to the man operating the trolley built for Philadelphia in 1947 by the St. Louis Car Co.

“He wants them outside at the right time so they can see the car arrive,” Gregg said. 

Otherwise, the children would become bored, she added.

In real life, the trolley operator is Bryant Schmude of Pittsburgh. But, on many weekends throughout the year, Schmude transforms himself into Mr. Conductor, a boisterous child-like character he invented to keep children interested in trolley history.

Schmude has been doing this routine for 18 years, having raised a considerable amount of money to support the museum.

In the weeks before Christmas, he redecorates the trolley in tinsel and with animated holiday characters to host rides on the Yuletide Shuttle to the South Pole, as opposed to visiting Santa at the North Pole. He does a little act then as Mr. Conductor, reminding children they might receive a lump of coal for Christmas if they behave badly. He changes the schtick a bit every year to keep it fresh.

He arrives here Friday nights before weekend birthday parties and sleeps in an old, retired Monongahela Railways caboose, which holds a bed, desk and small pot belly stove.

He awakens the next day about 3 a.m. to give himself time to make each birthday sign and decorate the trolley for the party about to arrive.

When the time comes to greet the children, he pulls the vehicle into the station bearing a wide smile, repeatedly sounding the vehicle’s horn and waving to the crowd.

“Would you like to take a ride on the Nico Express?” Schmude yells, receiving a resounding “Yes!” from the children and their parents.

“Well, the door’s right here,” he says, welcoming them aboard for a short ride to the museum’s car barn, all the while pretending to be taking them across the plains of Montana before taking a wrong turn to a dead-end in Kansas City.

Nico and three of his pals are huddled together on one seat behind the conductor.

The boy loves everything about trains, said his father, Ralph Castelucci, who also is a big fan of Mr. Conductor.

“He’s the greatest,” Castelucci said before Schmude reaches for a tool to reverse the trolley’s gears to back out of the end of the line, turn around and head back to the museum.

“I’m astonished that people come here as a result of something I created,” said Schmude, who prefers not to discuss his life outside of his museum act.

“I wear many hats in many places,” he said.

Birthday parties at the museum at 1 Museum Road are on hold until spring to allow the staff to host trolley rides with Santa Nov. 23-25, and Saturdays and Sundays in December through Dec. 16., events that coincide with the Yuletide Shuttle.

(This article first appeared in the November/December 2012 edition of Living in Washington County magazine, a publication of the Observer-Reporter.)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Growing my MO

By Scott Beveridge

This morning, for a split second, I didn't recognize myself in the mirror when I went to the bathroom sink to shave my face.

No. I'm not in the early stages of dementia. Yet.

There are two week's worth of mustache growing under my nose for the first time since I was 18 years old and sprouted peach fuzz there in hopes of looking older than puberty to my college dorm mates.

As a disguise after that one grew in, I used a tiny brush daily to color it brown mustache wax because it grew in a shade about a bleached blonde as Marilyn Monroe's locks and the hair on top of my head was dark brown.
          Dad and me with a Mo in 1975

At some point I even tried coloring it with Clairol only to unfortunately discover that the hair dye formula in the 1970s burned my sensitive skin, lips and nostrils.

Sometime in my early 20s I removed what had become a nicotine-and-coffee-stained bush from above my lips and, until Nov. 3, have since been a relatively clean-shaven man.

That Saturday this month I challenged myself to join Movember, a global male bonding experience every November when dudes grow mustaches to raise money for men's cancer research. You might call it the guy version of the Pink Ribbon Campaign.

For reasons that are not important here, I am not going ask my friends and acquaintances and strangers to create a Movember account to support my "team."

Instead, come December 1, I am going to make them each give me a dollar for making it through the month with hair tickling my lower lip, and then match the donations up to $100 to send directly to the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

The money will be given in memory of my pal Tom Sypula, a WTAE cameraman who put up a good fight against a male form of cancer before suffering a fatal heart attack nearly two years ago while reporting spot news in Washington County.

What happens to my new mustache after Nov. 30 is yet to be determined.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Let the experts do the talking

WQED-TV's social media guy Zack Tanner speaks at PodCamp Pittsburgh to nonprofits entering the sometimes scary world of social media. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH – When it comes to getting an education in social media for beginners the Web guru at WQED public television station has great advice on how to build a strategy.

Jump right in and engage your followers on Facebook or Twitter. Ask questions.

"Get them talking," said Zack Tanner, the Web developer at the station made famous by the likes of the affable cardigan sweater-wearing character Mr. Rogers and his kid-friendly "neighborhood."

"Be a good social media citizen," said Tanner, while speaking Oct. 28 at the 7th annual PodCamp Pittsburgh, a free conference organized by tech geeks and hosted by Point Park University.

His session is specifically designed for nonprofit organizations with small staffs that are being told to embrace social media platforms to raise money. But, he also makes great suggestions that can help anyone who is tiptoeing for the first time into what can be an intimidating place to play for some people.

"It will really put a nice face on what your are doing in a way that's never been done before," Tanner said.

Here is social media 101, Tanner style:

"Interact with other nonprofits. Retweet their tweets because as nonprofits everyone has to work together."

Pay close attention to what similar organizations are doing online.

Avoid cross posting, he said, defining that as loading Facebook and Twitter with identical information.

"It takes away the uniqueness of the different platforms."

Let the experts do the talking because they know the business and already have the information in their heads.

Nonprofits can run into problems, he said, when dividing up the chore of who is going to post what, where and when. Keep that to two or three people, at best, and avoid using platforms that roboTweet.

"We don't want to look like a machine doing the posting in real time. That's worse than not posting at all."

And, he said, don't over ask for money.

"That's one thing nonprofits are notorious for."

Design a campaign and explain on social media why you are raising money.

"Do the right thing. The donors will come. Post well. Be upfront."

Take a second to think about posts, too, before putting them out there to make sure they are sending the intended message.

And, then think about whether or not the post could cause a "secondary backlash" that can land organizations in crisis mode.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The unfortunate burial grounds

A white bronze grave marker bearing the ironic phrase, "These Monuments Will Endure For Ages," is toppled among the ruins of Hill Grove Cemetery in Connellsville, Pa. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

CONNELLSVILLE – On a cool autumn afternoon I took what proved to be a disappointing journey to a decaying, rural southwestern Pennsylvania town in search of the grave of my great-great-grandmother, a descendant of a soldier who served in the American Revolution.

The destination resulted from the long belief of some amateur genealogists that my ancestor, Phoebe Ann (Sheppard) Hart, was buried in 1898 in historic Hill Grove Cemetery just outside Connellsville, a city whose heyday was forged in coal mining and coke-making along the banks of Youghiogheny River.

I arrived planning to walk the entire grounds looking for the graves of any members of the Hart family, the maiden name of my mother, June Hart Beveridge, only to become immediately shocked by the sight of this Fayette County cemetery's condition.

"What happened to this place? Was it undermined or something?" I asked a woman walking along one of the roads.

She leaned inside the passenger window of my Ford sedan said revealed the  tombstones here bearing the names of White Anglo-Saxon Protestants were toppled by vandals about five years ago. She went on to say the cemetery association had recently hired a new landscaper who has been working hard to remove brush covering some of the headstones.

It was the second known time vandals had visited this cemetery off Snyder Street since 1936, when three boys were taken into juvenile custody after admitting to causing several hundred dollars worth of damage by overturning 35 tombstones, The Pittsburgh Press reported at the time.

A nearby sign indicated Uniontown attorney John Cupp would accept donations for the cemetery through an address, yet it contained no telephone number to reach him.

I left this unfortunate burial ground without finding a trace of the final resting place of Phoebe Anne Hart, or those of any Harts.

Her grandfather, Henry Lenox Sheppard, fought for America's independence in Massachusetts, and, in 1784, bought hundreds of acres of Pennsylvania land, joining the first settlers of Westmoreland County.

She never learned to read, census records indicated, and married a blacksmith from Connellsville named Jacob Isaac Hart, an adventure seeker who would decide to join the Western Movement at about age 50. By 1870 he had relocated with his wife and three of their seven children to Saline, Ohio. Soon he took his skills and family to the wild and booming city of Abilene, Kansas, where he died in 1871, supposedly of dysentery. Poebe and her children quickly returned to Connellsville, where she died at age 79 in 1898.

Meanwhile, Hill Grove Cemetery wasn't the only burial grounds in her hometown to suffer a terrible fate.

Her father, Theophilus Ebenezer Sheppard, was initially buried in Connell Graveyard, which disappeared from the map when its land was needed in Connellsville to build a Carnegie Library.

The morbid and curious flocked to the graveyard along South Pittsburgh Street in April 1900 when his remains and the other bodies there were exhumed and relocated, with original tombstones, to the nearby Chestnut Hill Cemetery, the Connellsville Courier reported at the time. Oddly enough, two coffins were found in the same grave, and there was another marked by a tombstone bearing Indian engravings.

A tombstone that may or may not mark the grave of Phoebe Ann Hart at Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Connellsville, Pa. (Scott Beveridge photo)

In another attempt to find Phoebe's grave, I visited Connellsville Historical Society's headquarters in the library, only to learn from the librarian that the society was in limbo as it relocated to another building. The library neither had a copy of the society's 1984 book, "Cemetery Records; Chestnut Hill Cemetery and Hill Grove Cemetery, Connellsville," on its shelves of available for sale to the public.

A couple phone calls to the society's president produced a copy of the 133-page book at a cost of just under $17 in a deal arranged in a local art gallery. She didn't appear that much interested in why I wanted the book, and the gallery worker didn't have much to add about Hill Grove, other than to say it had run out of money for restorations.

The book indicated there were three Harts buried in Hill Grove, none of whom were Pheobe, and that no one with that last name would be found buried in Chestnut Hill. It revealed, thought, that some poor soul named George E. Hart was buried in 1875 at Chestnut Hill, but, to no surprise, his stone was down and overgrown.

Out of curiosity, I embarked to Chestnut Hill off Wills Road thinking her son and my great-grandfather, Mack Kelly Hart, surely would have buried his mother there with her relatives rather than beside George. It turned out to be neglected, too, and in varied stages of restoration.

There, not far from the road, stood a large white marble tombstone bearing the Hart family name and little else because time had weathered away much of the information about the graves it marked.

Upon closer examination one side appeared to include the date of the death of Phoebe Ann Hart and indicated the person buried there, like her, had died at age 79.

I left believing (hoping) I had likely found her grave, and with a new appreciation for those whom are dedicated to genealogy because so much about what's out there tends to be inaccurate.

A statue missing its head, fingers and feet 'stands' guard outside the J. Soisson mausoleum at Chestnut Hill Cemetery in Connellsville, Pa. (Scott Beveridge photo)

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Mock jury cites military in deadly 1862 Allegheny Arsenal explosion

Michael G. Kraus, curator of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Pittsburgh, left, testifies at a mock coroner's inquest into the 1862 Allegheny Arsenal explosion, before Cyril Wecht, a noted pathologist in the city. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

PITTSBURGH, Pa. – A jury at a mock coroner's inquest headlined today by noted pathologist Cyril Wecht found the U.S. military negligent during the Civil War in the handling of gunpowder leading up to the Allegheny Arsenal explosion that killed 78 workers, mostly women and children.

After hearing nearly two hours of testimony at Sen. John Heinz History Center the jury also concluded a spark from a horseshoe or the wheel of a cart the animal was pulling ignited gunpowder wrongly swept by boys from an arsenal porch onto the cobblestone street, set off three back-to-back explosions.

"Yes, Army officers were concerned about powder accumulating in the street," said Andy Masich, the center's president and chief executive officer who served as chief investigator at the event timed for the 150th anniversary of the disaster.

The ruling contradicted conclusions reached by a military inquest that followed the Sept. 17, 1862, explosion in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville section, an investigation that relieved Union Army officers from being responsible for the deaths and didn't nail down the cause of the blasts. Meanwhile, a local coroner's inquest at the time reached decisions similar to those rendered after the evidence was re-examined through a modern-day lens at the history center.

"Lots of blame goes around to lots of people, people taking shortcuts when the supply demand was up," said Jim Wudarczyk, a Lawrenceville Historical Society historian who testified at the mock inquest.

Following the explosions and subsequent fire that leveled the arsenal's laboratory, the wagon driver, J.R. Frick, reported hearing a "fizzing sound" about 2 p.m. and then seeing flames shooting up from its right, front wheel, said Tom Powers, another Lawrenceville historian.

Frick was then blown out of his wagon and he landed on a fence before becoming covered, uninjured, by two feet of debris consisting of pieces of the laboratory roof. His horse was badly burned, Powers said. A woman nearby the wagon, Rachel Dunlap, reaffirmed Frick's statements, yet she was never called to testify before the military inquest, he added.

The roof also collapsed on the female workers, causing most of the casualties. Nearly half of the bodies were so badly burned they could not be positively identified.

The initial investigation attempted to place the blame on the victims over claims the steel hoops they wore under their skirts or friction from their woolen, silk and cotton clothing created the spark that set off the explosions in gunpowder dust.

"It could not be ruled out," said Jimmie Oxley, a Homeland Security explosives detection expert, while discussing the possibility a static charge from the women's clothing caused the catastrophe. Oxley disagreed with the mock inquest's finding of negligences.

"They did very well for its time," Oxley said, referring to the practices at 19th Century U.S. arsenals.
Col. John Symington

Pittsburgh, though, was shocked before the tragedy after the arsenal's commander, Col. John Symington, fired the 200 boys who worked there for playing with matches and replaced them with females, mostly Irish immigrants. The girls were favored because they had small, nimble fingers that could quickly fill paper-lined cartridges with gunpowder and work for less money than boys, said Mary Callard, an author of Civil War history.

"It was a shock to Pittsburgh sensibilities to bring women into this factory," Callard testified. "But, there was a war."

Some people in 1862 suspected a conspiracy, that Symington had sympathized with Confederate saboteurs to wipe out the arsenal.

"The sentiment in Pittsburgh was against those military officers," Masich said.

Others blamed the Dupont family for insisting the barrels they used to ship the gunpowder be recycled, something that caused their lids to eventually jiggle and leak. There even were suggestions the deadly spark was caused by heavy shoes with nails in their soles worn by men in the plant

"You see we've got a lot of different possibilities here," Wecht said.

However, "sabotage was the most absurd theory," Wudarczyk said, adding that Symington had a stellar military career.

In the end the situation that day seemed to have been a perfect story, with too much gunpowder in use or stored in buildings that were too close together, allowing the flames to easily jump from one to the next.

"This (was) a very, very volitile situation," said Michael G. Kraus, curator of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Pittsburgh's Oakland section. "They knew they shouldn't be doing things that caused sparks."

Kate Lukaszewicz portrays an Allegheny Arsenal employee during a mock coroner's inquest at Sen. John Heinz History Center into explosions at the Civil War-era factory 150 years. (Scott Beveridge photo)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Secret CIA operative, Webster, Pa., native dies at 76

William E. “Bill” Kline, a native of Webster, Pa., who held a long and secretive career with the CIA, died Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, after a brief battle with a bacterial infection at age 76.

He was the remaining son of three Kline brothers who went on to successful careers, despite the sudden death of their father in 1941 to a brain aneurism.

His oldest brother Allen Kline Jr., worked as city editor of The Valley Independent newspaper in Monessen, Pa., and later as public relations director of Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel.  Another brother, Ernie Kline, served two terms as Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor from 1971 to 1979.  Their mother, the former Elna Natali, was an Italian immigrant who raised them alone after their father’s death.

But, it was William Kline's career that quietly drew the most questions from family and friends.  After a tour in the United States Air Force, he was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency, where he worked until retirement.

Little is known about his work experience except that he lived in several countries and spoke several languages.  Upon retirement, he signed a non-disclosure agreement and maintained secrecy for the rest of his life.

After retirement, he used his talents to advocate for those less fortunate, including a volunteer stint as a cook in a soup kitchen for the homeless.

In early 2011, he and other activists made national news at the Wisconsin state capitol building during a lengthy protest against Gov. Scott Walker’s attempts to break up the unions in Wisconsin.

In addition to his multiple degrees from Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, he credited his Webster upbringing as pivotal in his development as a social activist.

The family plans a memorial service later this year in Webster.

He is suvived by his daughter Amy Thorne, married to Steve, two granddaughters, of Idaho Falls, Idaho; son Jeff Kline, married to Lisa, two granddaughters, Brisbane, Australia; daughter Beth Shoemaker, married to George, one granddaughter, Berryville, Virginia; son Matthew Kline, two grandsons, one granddaughter, Overland Park, Kansas; and ex-wife the former Audrey Nemish, originally from Donora.

(Obit provided by his nephew, Robert Kline)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Turning a cold shoulder to the Pledge of Allegiance?

Students in Washington, D.C., recite the Pledge of Allegiance circa 1899. (Frances Benjamin Johnston photo)

By Scott Beveridge

After the morning bell rang on my first day of teaching in a rural southwestern Pennsylvania high school in 1983, I instructed my homeroom to stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

The students to my surprise remained seated with bewildered expressions on their faces as if I had arrived to the Bethlehem-Center School District from another planet.

One of them didn't hesitate to say, "Why are you making us do that? None of our other teachers do."

I was shocked to learned that something we had never overlooked when I  attended grades K-12 had become passé in Fredericktown, Pa., just eight years after receiving my high school diploma.

"Well, I am not like the rest of your schoolteachers, and, we will say the pledge every morning in this classroom," I responded that January morning as I began to fill in until June for an art teacher on leave.

I remember that day, though, every time a Christian patriot pops a nerve when a lawsuit is filed by an atheist in an attempt to remove the phrase 'under God" from the pledge.

And, then I think the shouters should have more important things to worry about than whether or not public school students take the time each day to express their loyalty to the U.S. flag. It makes me wonder, too, if they should be more concerned about the quality of the curriculum and whether or not the kids from poor homes are getting proper nutrition at school. Now, today in Pennsylvania, school districts are making bare-bones cuts to their budgets and facing dwindling funds to afford to pay teacher salaries, books and supplies.

Back in 1983 it struck me that the pledge wasn't making these students better citizens or boosting their patriotism, as the didn't speak its words with any degree of sincerity. And, even today at the municipal meetings I attend, no one seems to recite the pledge enthusiastically. It just seems like something everyone does quickly and quietly to get it over with before moving on to the agenda.

By 2002, just half of the states in the country were requiring public school students to recite the pledge at the start of school, The New York Times reported that year in a story about a federal judge banning the pledge from schools, citing the "under God" phrase. That ruling later was overturned, yet a similar appeal would be argued again in 2010.

All this makes me curious about how many public schoolteachers still require their students to take part in a ritual dating to 1892 and adopted by Congress in 1942 as America was heading into the Cold War.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

One great little robot movie

By Scott Beveridge

The new movie "Robot & Frank" takes us to the near future to a place where an old man receives from his son the best technology available to slow the pace of dimemtia.

Aside from an enema the gift of Robot provides retired cat burglar Frank, portrayed wonderfully to the bone by Frank Lengella, with encouragement to exercise, eat his vegetables and rob a young jerk of a neighbor of his valuable jewels.

This little movie has a great cast, one that features America's sexiest old lady - Susan Sarandon - and Peter Sarsgaard as the Robot in a role that really should earn him an Oscar nomination. Liv Tyler delivers a great performance, too, of that sibling many 50-somethings know who means well when she tries to give an aging parent exactly what he doesn't want or need.

Lengella, though, offers a Best Actor-worthy performance in an engrossing movie, which is so different from that norm that it will rob you of the urge to check your Android or iPhone in a dark theater to see if someone has mentioned you on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Railway fail

WEBSTER, Pa. - Little did I know until recently that investors in my hometown were once interested in bringing the streetcar to the small town along the Monongahela River.

In fact, the village of Webster showed up in as the first word in what became the failed 1919 venture known as the Webster, Monessen, Belle Vernon & Fayette City Street Railway Co., according to the copy of the stock certificate, above, given to me last week by the staff at Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.

The museum workers know I'm from Webster, Pa., which has been growing smaller by the day, and love history, and that's why they gave me this small piece of history.

They also reminded me of the fact that this streetcar line never reached Webster. I'm not sure why, but guess Webster investors fell short on their promise. Those with old money here began to relocate in large numbers about the same time of the stock sale and shortly after U.S. Steel's zinc works opened across the Monongahela River in Donora. That mill created huge volumes of acidic pollution that it killed most of the vegetation within sight of Webster, along with farm animals, according to any number of local histories.

Yet Kerfoot W. Daly bought 47 shares of the stock at a cost of $2,350, a tidy sum of money at the time. He was vice president of the new railway company. He also worked as a cashier at the Bank of Charleroi, according to  FamilyTreeMaker.com, and surely rubbed elbows with former Pennsylvania Gov. John K. Tener, whose leadership helped to build a bridge over the river between North Charleroi and Monessen to serve the streetcar line.

Daly was seen as a rising star of his generation in the banking business, but it would appear that he lost his shirt by investing in the plan to lay streetcar tracks to Webster.

Still, though, I would like to conduct some more research or hear from local streetcar enthusiast before drawing any concrete conclusions about the company.

Monday, August 27, 2012

French toast à la Scooterlicious

By Scott Beveridge, AKA Scooterlicious

WEBSTER, Pa. – While enjoying the luxury of a staycation this week with no other plans than to relax it's a great opportunity to experiment in the kitchen.

I developed a craving for French toast the other day after seeing a photo of the breakfast food on an Instagram post, but thought the white-bread variety had become boring.

While gathering the ingredients yesterday at Giant Eagle Market District in Robinson, Pa., I decided to go with a pecan raisin whole wheat bread and dress it up with sliced banana cooked in a raspberry sauce.

It turned out awesome, especially thanks to the bakers at the great supermarket on steroids that has become one of my favorite places to shop, eat, drink a beer and chill.

The raspberry sauce with banana recipe:

2 Tbs butter
2 heaping Tbs. Smucker's Simply Fruit Seedless Red Raspberry Spreadable Fruit
1 ripe banana, sliced into 1-inch discs

Melt the butter and spreadable fruit on a low-to-medium flame and fry the banana discs a few minutes on each side and set aside, covered.

French toast:

4 slices of Giant Eagle Market District pecan raisin whole wheat bread
3 large eggs, whipped
1 Tbs butter
4 Tbs olive oil, approximately
A dusting of powdered sugar

Melt butter into the olive oil over a medium flame in a large skillet.
Dip both sides of the bread in the egg batter and fry on each side until brown. I poured extra egg over the bread as it cooked to give it volume because the bread wasn't all that absorbent.

Garnish with banana and sauce, dust with powdered sugar and enjoy. Serves two.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Furloughed workers return to their steel-making roots

Former U.S. Steel employee Gary Condon of North Strabane Township, Pa., right, leads a tour of Carrie Furnaces. (Scott Beveridge photo)

By Scott Beveridge

RANKIN, Pa.  – Gary Condon went into a routine meeting with other steelworkers at the Homestead Works of U.S. Steel on a Thursday in 1981, expecting to learn his schedule for the upcoming week.

But, instead, his supervisor instructed the crew at the 10 a.m. meeting to begin banking the row of seven Carrie Furnaces in Rankin for their shutdown the following Saturday.

"He said, 'We'll never turn them on again,'" said Condon, 60, of North Strabane Township, Pa., who once worked as a pipefitter at the historic blast furnaces just south of Pittsburgh .

Condon often revisits his former workplace now to tell stories and lead tours through what remains of these rare examples of pre-World War II blast furnaces, the only ones still standing in the Pittsburgh region.

"It's like coming home. The pipes around here, I worked on every one of them," said Condon, who lived in nearby Bethel Park when the mill was running.

"So much of this has been torn down so it's hard to imagine what all went on here," he said on a May 5 tour of Carrie Furnaces.

Nothing, however, would have remained at the site on eastern banks of the Monongahela River just south of Pittsburgh had it not been for the efforts of local residents who took on big business to preserve their history.

The Cleveland-based Park Corp. purchased the 430-acre brownfield after U.S. Steel forever closed the mill July 25, 1986, and reinvented most of the property at the Waterfront, a string of strip malls, restaurants and theaters. The corporation was in the process of dismantling Carrie Furnace No. 7 when a court battle halted demolition.

"It was a grassroots effort to say, 'Wait a minute. You can't wipe away our history. We have to save some of it,'" said Ron Baraff, director of archives and museum collections at the Homestead-based Rivers of Steel Heritage Corp., the nonprofit that manages Carrie Furnaces.

The organization also saved the mill's pump house, the site of the infamous Battle of Homestead waged in 1892 when Carnegie Steel Corp. hired Pinkertown guards to quell a lockout of Amalgamated Association of Iron and Steel Workers. Seven steelworkers and three detectives were killed in the battle, which dealt a crushing blow to the U.S. labor movement.

Visitors make their way around the seemingly frozen-in-time Carrie Furnace No. 6, part of the infamous Homestead Works near Pittsburgh. (Scott Beveridge photo)

Rivers of Steel was determined to memorialize the mill's role, which went far beyond the battle, as it once employed 15,000 workers and produced a third of all of the steel used in the United States, Baraff said.

"It's the story of the growth of this region, the growth of this country," he said.

Tens of thousands of families immigrated from Europe to work in Pittsburgh's steel industry, which produced materials that allowed the nation to "grow vertically and expand westward," he said.

Steel manufactured at Homestead forms the gates of the Panama Canal and Gateway Arch in St. Louis, and gives structural support to the Empire State Building, U.S. Steel Tower in Pittsburgh and Willis (Sears) Tower in Chicago.

The fate of the last of the Carrie Furnaces, Nos. 6 and 7, wasn't sealed, though, until June 2010, five years after Allegheny County purchased the site from Park Corp. in a $7.2 million investment. The deal allowed Rivers of Steel to trade the Hot Metal Bridge it owned from the site into Homestead, which the county needed for access into the property, for management rights of the furnaces, said Sherris Moreira, the heritage corporation's marketing and tourism director. The organization has begun raising money to convert a large building on the property into a regional steel museum, she said.

"There's a lot of history here. It's the real stuff," said Howard L. Wickerham III of Peters Township, who once worked here as an electrician and is being trained as a guide for tours the nonprofit now offers of the site.

Meanwhile, Condon explains how raw materials – iron ore, limestone and coke – were offloaded by rail to make pig iron in the furnaces. Larrymen would measure the correct amounts of the ingredients into skip cars, which carried the mix into the furnaces. Hot air was then blown into the furnaces to suspend the materials until they melted, a process that separated the iron from the slag. Other workers around the base of the 2,000-degree furnace manually opened gates that permitted the iron to flow into troughs and drain into torpedo-shaped rail cars, which carried it across the Mon to form steel.

Near the base of Carrie No. 6, Wickerham tells a story that best describes the fortitude of the men who once worked here. A coworker smashed his thumb with a sledgehammer, only to remove his glove, wrap the injury with electrical tape and resume his duties.

"He turned to me and said, 'You didn't see anything,'" Wickerham said, adding that such accidents resulted in five days off without pay.

"It was noble work."

A torpedo-shaped railcar that has survived its days of carrying hot metal across a bridge over the Monongahela River to the U.S. Steel Homestead Works. (Scott Beveridge photo)

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

Monday, August 6, 2012

Former Pirates pitcher delivers smiles

Kent Tekulve, a retired member of the Pittsburgh Pirates, delivers smiles Sunday to a Rostraver Township woman. (Unity a Journey of Hope photo)

ROSTRAVER, Pa. - Props to the Washington Wild Things Frontier League baseball team for helping a Fayette County nonprofit fulfill a terminally ill woman's dream of meeting a member of Pittsburgh Pirates who played in the 1970s.

The Washington, Pa., ball club knew Kent Tekulve because he previously worked there as director of baseball operations after retiring from Major League Baseball and sent the request in an email to him after hearing about the wish from Unity a Journey of Hope in Vanderbilt, Pa.

Tekulve, who is famous for showing off his 1979 World Series ring, did more than that for 93-year-old Grace, who suffers with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, when he visited her Sunday at her Rostraver Township home. He let her wear the ring after learning she never missed watching him play a game on television.

Volunteers with Unity and Albert Gallatin Home Care & Hospice Services provided food for a family reunion for Grace, timed for the visit from the former right-handed relief pitcher.

Tekulve even found time to appear with one of the volunteers in this silly video: