a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Pittsburgh - the arsenal of the Civil War

Workmen pose beside one of Thomas Jackson Rodman's innovative 20-inch cannons built at Fort Pitt Foundry in Pitttsburgh. (Sen. John Heinz History Center photo)
PITTSBURGH – While the 1863 fighting at Gettysburg, Pa., set a course for the Union Army to win the Civil War, those living in that state's battle-free western region became heavily engaged in the conflict from its start two years earlier.

“Although the battles that determined the fate of the Union were not fought in Western Pa., no life went untouched by the conflict as Pennsylvania played a critical role providing industrial might, agricultural bounty and natural resources for the war effort,” said Andy Masich, president of Pittsburgh's Sen. John Heinz History Center, which created the exhibit about to travel to 40 different destinations through 2014.

“More than 340,000 Pennsylvanians, including 8,600 African American troops, served in the Union army, a number second to only New York state,” Masich stated in a news release.

Pennsylvania as a whole not only gave the U.S. Army men and food, their foundries forged 80 percent of the iron used by the North to produce artillery, making the state the "Arsenal of the Union," a new traveling Civil War exhibit proclaims.

The artifacts in this new display, which fills a 500 square-foot mobile museum, are on display this week at the history center at 1212 Smallman Street before they make their first stop March 31 at Beaver Area Heritage Museum in Beaver, Pa. It's set to arrive at Chartiers-Houston Community Library in Houston, Washington County, Pa., June 17 and stay through July 15. 

The tiny museum is patterned after one known as Pennsylvania Civil War 150, which began last year to travel across the state to commemorate the conflict's 150 anniversary. At each location along their way, both museums leave open space for local historical groups to display their Civil War memorabilia.

The Heinz History Center's traveling exhibit features prominently artifacts of Canonsburg, Pa.'s Samuel B. McBride, a Union soldier who survived a gunshot wound to his head during the Battle of Chancellorsville, Va., and wore a dent in his forehead for the rest of his life to prove the battle scar.

Thomas Jackson Rodman
The exhibit also showcases an innovation of Salem, Ind., native Thomas Jackson Rodman, who perfected at Fort Pitt Foundry in Pittsburgh the world's first 20-inch monster cast-iron cannon of remarkable strength.

Forged at Fort Pitt Foundry and completed in the "Rodman Process" Feb. 11, 1864, the 117-000-pound cannon proved to have been too heavy for mobile battle use. It was given its extra might by having been cooled internally by running water through a hollow core rather than let it cool externally. The Fort Pitt Foundry between 1861 and 1864 created 2,000 pieces of artillery.

Rodman's 15' Lincoln Gun at Ft. Monroe, Hampton, Va. (not in exhibit)
The history center also features four life-like museum figures, plus a companion Dog Jack. The museum figures are:

·   Strong Vincent, a young attorney from Erie, Pa. who rallied Union troops in the fierce battle on Little Round Top with the phrase, “Don’t give an inch!”

·   Martin Delany, a Pittsburgh abolitionist who was one of the first African Americans admitted to Harvard Medical School and later, the highest ranking African American in the Civil War.

·   Kate McBride, a young worker from the Allegheny Arsenal, who represents the women and children who toiled on the home front to support the Union efforts.

·   Tillie Pierce, a 15-year old Gettysburg native who hauled buckets of water for thirsty soldiers, tore cloth into bandages to aid physicians, and comforted the wounded after Confederate troops overran her hometown.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

You wonder how we ever survived.....

(Photo by Katie Roupe, Observer-Reporter)
By Scott Beveridge

One of our photographers at the Observer-Reporter last week was telling two writers, including myself, she had been criticized by a reader for taking a photo of two children riding bicycles without helmets on a residential sidewalk.

“You wonder how we ever survived,” responded a 50-something colleague, recalling how we never wore such head gear while riding bikes as children.

After thinking about it, though, we laughed and then agreed we likely have a bit of brain damage from suffering many bumps and bruises during childhood accidents.

We came from an era when many parents also smoked cigarettes around their kids without any concern about the health affects of second-hand smoke.

I took the conversation to a higher extreme by saying I grew up in the 1960s surrounded by steelworkers, most of whom could belt back boilermakers with the same ease it took them to down glasses of water.

Many of our parents never batted an eyelid while stuffing as many as 10 kids in the back of a station wagon before taking off for a two-hour drive with a stinking drunk dad behind the wheel.

Needless to say we began those road trips from the Monongahela River Valley, a southwestern Pennsylvania landscape peppered with blast furnaces spewing filthy smoke into the air.

We didn’t have smoke detectors in our houses or seat belts, let alone child safety or booster seats to protect young children in cars.

Hell. Frozen pizzas back then came on disposable asbestos cooking sheets. We kids used to stand around the stove and tear those pans apart, daring them to set aflame over the kitchen stove's gas burners.

We also went to learn in Fellsburg, Pa., at Lebanon Elementary School, whose floors were tarred with asbestos tiles and walls were layered with thick coats of pea-green World War II surplus lead paint. I swear my eyes still hurt from having spent endless hours staring at those ugly walls.

Speaking of school, my mother today might be in jail, facing Children and Youth Services for the way in which she sometimes sent us hitchhiking to school when we missed the bus during junior and senior high.

Yet she never permitted my brothers or me out the front door in the morning on school days without our repeating the phrase, "Please God watch over me." If one of us forgot, to the door she ran shouting, "Get your $@*! ass back up her and say it." As a working mom in an era when that wasn't cool, I think it was a crutch she held onto while feeling helpless to protect us at her office.

Certainly I’m not advocating the return to those dangerous carefree ways of the past, even though I still refuse to wear a helmet while riding my bicycle on the trail.

I confess to worrying at times about the affects of cell phone radiation levels and forgetting that it’s illegal now in this state to text while driving.

Like a good citizen I buckle up before putting my Ford sedan in gear and also remember to change the battery once a year in the smoke detector outside my bedroom door at home.

If there are two things that two decades of chasing spot news for this newspaper have taught me are those devices almost always save lives.

But come on. Those cute kids in the photo, above, are riding with training wheels.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The bacon that bonds us

A tasty sandwich we affectionally named the South Franklin bacon and gorgonzola burger. (Scott Beveridge photo)

Call us good friends who have been bonding this winter over bacon.

The cheaper and greasier the bacon on the plates the better for this group of six I have been joining regularly for dinner at the tables  that have switched weekly among our homes.

"Let's have bacon-wrapped shrimp next," one guest said last Sunday, deciding the next menu without argument. "Yes, let's do it."

Our parties began at my house over a cheesy bacon and potato soup.

We also decided in advance that these dinners must also include an activity, and mine featured a rather complicated playing cards game that died on delivery.

Next up it was bowling after dinner of lasagna and a most-excellent spinach salad with warm bacon dressing.

It should have been bowling first and then dinner because all that food, including our devouring an entire large loaf of garlic bread, sat like a lead balloon in my stomach while I bowled gutter ball after gutter ball. Two games were enough to burn us out.

Sunday we regrouped at a different house for bacon burgers with gorgonzola cheese and fresh-cut baked potatoes.

"They were tasty," one friend said.

I couldn't tell because, without realizing it at first, I was coming down with a cold that had begun to numb my taste buds. So I cannot attest to the quality of that last meal, even though it gets props for the effort it received.

But I'm still laughing at the silly cook who prepared the bacon on his stove while wearing a deer head mask.

Then it should come as no surprise that the activity of that day involved watching NASCAR.

The semi-anonymous cook frying bacon for the burgers. (Scott Beveridge photo)