Fire History

A few years ago, my husband Jonathan and I visited the Michigan Fireman’s Memorial in Roscommon, Michigan. I took the above photo at this memorial. I post it tonight in honor of the following dates:

September 29 – October 6, 2019: Light the Night for Fallen Firefighters

October 6 – October 12, 2019: Fire Prevention Week

October 8-10, 1871: Great Chicago Fire

October 8, 1871: Peshtigo, Wisconsin Fire

October 8, 1871: major fires in Holland, Manistee, and Port Huron, Michigan

October 9, 1871: major fire in Urbana, Illinois

October 12, 1871: major fire in Windsor, Ontario

In honor of Chicago and its firefighters, here is a photo that I took of a Chicago fire boat:

FIRE BOAT

Here’s a little story for you: I learned on Wikipedia that a town by the name of Singapore, Michigan ONCE existed on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Singapore became a ghost town as a result of the October 1871 fires, but it DIDN’T burn.

Singapore, MI was founded in 1836. The town included two sawmills. As one might expect of a town that has sawmills, a forest bordered Singapore.

Well, the fires produced such a great demand for lumber that the businessmen in Singapore deforested the area surrounding Singapore. With the trees gone, the town had no protection from Lake Michigan’s sand dunes. By 1875, the town was covered up by sand!

In my opinion, this is the premise of a Margaret Atwood story.

Stay fire safe this month.

“What Did the Romans Ever do for Us?”

The English language is inane. I just Googled the capitalization rules from three different style books in order to type the title for this blog post. I’m still not sure if I have the capitalization correct. I couldn’t just Google the phrase itself because this phrase comes from a much longer sentence in Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian.”

Anyway, the ancient Romans engineered arch bridges.

You can picnic underneath the pictured stone arch bridge at Tunnelview Historic Site in Western PA (near Saltsburg).

The Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) built the stone arch bridge in 1907.

This bridge crosses the Conemaugh River on the side of Bow Ridge. This bridge replaced two other bridges and aqueducts at this river crossing. The bridge survived the Johnstown Flood of 1936. The Army Corps of Engineers built the Conemaugh Dam nearby in 1952 for flood control. This stone bridge no longer holds railroad tracks, but it now provides access to the dam’s east side.

The iron bridge that passes over the stone arch bridge IS a currently active railroad bridge. I took the above photo as a freight train carrying crude oil crossed the bridge and also crossed the Conemaugh River. Keep in mind that the Conemaugh feeds the Kiski River. The Kiski feeds the Allegheny River. The Allegheny feeds the Ohio River. The Ohio feeds the Mississippi River. Think about this as you watch a train full of crude oil traverse the Conemaugh.

Both of the bridges at Bow Ridge cross the Conemaugh River downstream from the dam.

If you cross the stone arch bridge to access Bow Ridge, you will see the remains of the Bow Ridge Tunnel. The ghost town of Livermore, Pennsylvania sits beyond this tunnel, on the other side of Bow Ridge. (The government partially flooded Livermore when they built the Conemaugh Dam and created Conemaugh Lake.)

This is very close to the boundary between Indiana County and Westmoreland County. You can reach this by driving through the Conemaugh Lake National Recreation Area, or from the West Penn Trail.

If you access the Tunnelview Historic Site through the entrance to Conemaugh Lake National Recreation Area, you will see this fantastic sign:

Drunk Elephant

Here- at the Tunnelview Historic Site – you will find a small pavilion, primitive restroom, parking lot, and canoe put-in. You will also see remains of the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal.  This is where Jonathan and I put-in when we kayaked to Saltsburg twice.

Oh! I have to tell you about the FIRST time Jonathan and I kayaked from here:

We parked here at the Tunnelview Historic Site. We paddled downstream six miles, almost to Saltsburg. We stopped for lunch. It was June, and the current didn’t “seem” all that strong. As per our plan, we set off to paddle upstream back to our car.

Hey, I think that we have been paddling next to that same rock for the past ten minutes. What the – when did the current get that strong?

That’s right – we couldn’t paddle upstream. We portaged our kayaks upriver for a good part of the return trip. We smelled a dead animal rotting in the water. Jonathan didn’t tell me about the snakes that swam past us because snakes scare me.  I worried that we wouldn’t get back to our car before the sun set, that we would have to spend the night in the woods, and that somebody would find our car and report us as missing on the river. As I pulled my kayak over the stones on the riverback, I fantasized about the search party that would be sent after us, about our faces all over the news. (We did get back to our car and get the kayaks loaded right before it got dark.)

In hindsight, we should have paddled to Saltsburg, then hired the canoe outfitter in Saltsburg to take us upriver to our car. We talked about doing this when we realized that we couldn’t paddle against the current.  Why didn’t we? Because we’re stubborn.

On our second trip, we parked in Saltsburg and let the outfitter drive us to the put-in at the Tunnelview Historic Site. Then we paddled downriver to our car. Much better.

Life is easier when we aren’t stubborn.

Here is the sign that SHOULD have tipped us off that the Conemaugh River’s current “might” be sorta strong at our put-in spot:

Here’s another important sign:

(Here is a close-up of the artist names:)

We haven’t picnicked at Tunnelview or kayaked on the Conemaugh River for a while because we’ve spent so much time this year with the “new” sailboat. However, I really think that you would enjoy your visit to Tunnelview.

As I noted, the remains of the canal and aqueduct at this site were part of the Pennsylvania Mainline Canal, which worked in a system with the Allegheny Portage Railroad. From the 1830’s – 1850’s, this system hauled boats over the Allegheny Mountains. Pennsylvania paid to construct the entire thing. Then, after about only two decades, the system became obsolete! I WILL blog about this on some future day.

(This is a redux from the blog that I created with my husband Jonathan, www.jennyandjonathangetmarried.com. I will shortly pull more of my favorite stories out from the crypt. I want to share more of my favorite moments and places with you fantastic readers.)

Allegheny Arsenal Explosion

Today marks a grim anniversary.

On September 17, 1862, Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Arsenal exploded.

Most of the 78 arsenal employees killed were young females (teenage girls). The arsenal manufactured munitions for the United States for the American Civil War.

Here are the photos that I took of the marker in Allegheny Cemetery for these industrial accident casualties.

Cokie Roberts Inspired This Blog Post

FYI: NOT our boat.

Blogger’s Note: I originally posted this on July 6, 2019. However, today (09/17/19) I learned of Cokie Robert’s passing. So, I present to you my redux of the blog post that Cokie Roberts inspired.

My husband Jonathan and I recently purchased a 35 foot sailboat.

I didn’t grow up in a “boating family.” Neither did my husband. We both grew up in middle-class families with multiple kids and multiple priorities. About once a summer or so, my own parents rented for me and my sisters paddle boats, a rowboat, or perhaps a canoe from a PA State Park boat concession. My dad eventually purchased a used canoe from a boat concession auction.

When Jonathan and I were on our honeymoon, he purchased a kite. He flew his new kite on the beach. He told me that wind power fascinated him. He later confessed to me that sailboats and sailing actually fascinated him since childhood but that he was too shy to mention this to his parents.

We took a few sailing lessons on a Flying Scot at Lake Arthur at Moraine State Park in Western PA. We borrowed my parents’ canoe once. We purchased our own canoe / kayak hybrids.

Jonathan monitored Facebook for postings about boat sales. I learned that prospective boat buyers have no problem finding boats for sale at the end of summer, before prospective boat sellers need to store their boats for the winter. So, on one October Friday, Jonathan drove through several counties to meet the man selling a Flying Scot. By the end of that day, we owned our first sailboat.

That weekend gave us “hot” October weather. We took our “new” Flying Scot to Lake Arthur that Saturday. We rigged our new boat in the parking lot of Moraine’s public boat launch. We sailed and sailed. We noted that the sun started to set and that other boaters headed to shore. We headed to shore. Then . . . the wind died down.

Did I mention that our Flying Scot had no motor? Yeah, this is important. The wind powered our boat. After the wind died, we sat in the middle of the lake.

We sat there for about an hour. Then, Jonathan grabbed the boat’s sole oar and “paddled” us to shore. In the twilight. Then, we had to de-rig our sailboat in the dark, assisted by one flashlight.

That next summer, we returned to Lake Arthur with our Flying Scot and rented a slip at the marina’s dry dock. We sailed again. And again, the wind died on us. We found ourselves becalmed on Lake Arthur, with no motor, again.

Except, this time the wind died due to a very impending, severe thunderstorm. We saw the lightning as we sat, stationary, on the lake. Mother Nature mocked us.

I said a few angry things to Jonathan. He grabbed the oar and, once again, paddled us back to shore.

The storm’s downdraft actually pushed us the last few feet to the dock. We jumped off of the boat and ran through the rain to our truck. Then, we realized that our truck keys were still on our boat! So, Jonathan had to run back to the boat before we found shelter inside of our truck.

Jonathan is very lucky that I sailed with him again after this.

This summer we now have a sailboat docked in Erie, PA, on Lake Erie. I sailed with Jonathan ON THE OPEN LAKE. I have the experience of sitting becalmed on Lake Erie, covered in bug spray and swatting at biting flies. Thank destiny that we now own a motored boat!

After I first sailed, I collected the sailing mishaps noted in historical fiction AND nonfiction.

For instance, Aaron Burr’s only child, Theodosia Burr Alston, boarded the schooner Patriot in 1812. The ship sailed from South Carolina. It never arrived in New York City. History noted Theodosia Burr Alston as “disappeared” or “lost at sea.” Theories and folkore (see Wikipedia) abounded on the fate of “Dear Theodosia.” One famous legend involved pirates. In fact, one storyteller described Theodosia walking the plank to her death.

Now, for the promised 1779 sailing mishap, here is a passage from Chapter Five of “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation” by Cokie Roberts. This recounts John Jay and his wife Sally’s voyage to Spain after Congress named John Jay as Minister to Spain during the Revolutionary War:

“ Two months later, still aboard the ship and nowhere near Spain, Sally recounted their adventures to her mother. After being at sea a couple of weeks, she heard a terrible noise on the deck in the middle of the night: “We had been deprived of nothing less than our bow-spirit, main-mast and missen-mast . . . however our misfortunes were only begun, the injury received by our rudder the next morning served to complete them.” The ship was dismasted and rudderless, the seas were high, and winter was on the way. A council of ship’s officers concluded tht there was no way to reach Europe under those conditions, so they set course for the island of Martinique. It took a couple of weeks for the winds to get them going in the right direction, but, Sally cheerfully reported, “we are now in smooth seas having the advantage of trade winds which blow directly for the island . . . while our American friends are amusing themselves by a cheerful fireside, are we sitting under an awning comforting ourselves with the expectation of being soon refreshed by some fine southern fruits.”  . . . What she didn’t tell her mother was that she was pregnant. Stranded at sea, Sally and John threw a party, surprising and delighting fellow passengers. Finally, at the end of December, the ship limped into port in Martinique, where Sally was able to send off her letter home.”

Cokie Roberts, “Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation.”

Just imagine drifting around for several weeks on the ocean in a ship that lost most of its sails. And its rudder. Just hoping that the trade winds would blow the ship to Martinique before winter. With a navigation system from the late 1700’s. And no motor!

Maybe, if this happened in 2019, Sally Jay would tweet a selfie of herself on the disabled ship. “Can’t believe where I ended up. LOL.”  Followed by an interview with Anderson Cooper. (Or Cokie Roberts.)

Stay tuned for my next sailing update.

Confessions of a Train Passenger

Amtrak in Western Pennsylvania

I watch and listen to strangers. At the park. In restaurants. In stores. On the train.

Several years ago, I rode the Amtrak by myself from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh. The Capitol Limited. I sat in the coach section.  A man and woman sat behind me. They were both white and slightly older than myself. This couple – especially the man – talked throughout the ride. To each other. To the conductor. Also, the man talked to numerous folks that I never saw – on his phone.

I never spoke to this couple, and yet I learned much.

The man grew up in Connellsville (Pennsylvania). He most recently lived in Louisiana. He and the woman had just taken the Amtrak from New Orleans to Washington. Now, they travelled from Washington to Connellsville on the Capitol Limited.  At which point they intended to show up – with no prior notice – at the home of the man’s parents in Connellsville.

The man had not seen his parents for 17 years.

You see, this is why the man spent large amounts of time on his phone during our trip. He needed someone to give him and his woman a ride from the train station to his parents’ house.

So that he could show up unannounced on his parents’ doorstop after 17 years.

In between these phone calls, the woman asked the man if he thought that his parents would like her.

The Amtrak stopped in Connellsville before it reached Pittsburgh. This couple disembarked and I never heard from them again.

Later, I thought about posting a “Lost Connection” ad to see if I could learn the ending of this story. Post it where, though? Facebook? Reddit?

Or maybe somebody who knows the ending will Google “Amtrak” and “Connellsville” and find this blog.

(This is a redux from the blog that I created with my husband Jonathan, www.jennyandjonathangetmarried.com. I will shortly pull more of my favorite stories out from the crypt. I want to share more of my favorite moments and places with you fantastic readers.)

Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber

Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber Induction Ceremony, June 2015, Downtown Pittsburgh

This is a photo of the induction ceremony for the Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber at the 2015 Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival. The ceremony and the festival occurred in Point State Park (at the Point) in downtown Pittsburgh in June 2015.

See, the festival occurs each year during the week of my husband Jonathan’s birthday. So, we usually spend Jonathan’s “birthday weekend” at the festival. We plant our camp chairs at the festival and view whatever programming appears.

In 2015, we showed up at the festival about noon on “birthday Saturday” and looked at the schedule. We actually arrived a few minutes before the start of this “induction ceremony,” which happened directly in front of our chairs. So, we watched this ceremony.

Now, the festival commissioned Rudy Shepherd to create this artwork. At this “induction ceremony,” a performer spoke about all of the negative energy that the artist designed this artwork to absorb.

This ranks among my favorite artwork from the festival!

Now, if you’re not familiar with Western Pennsylvania, know this: downtown Pittsburgh marks the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, and the mouth of the Ohio River. That’s why Pittsburgh exists. George Washington served in two military campaigns in the 1750’s to claim this land for the British.

After the second campaign, the very piece of land in my photo became the British Fort Pitt.

A lot of blood spilled over this piece of land.

If you want to read a bunch of depressing stories about Fort Pitt and the founding of Pittsburgh, you don’t have to work too hard on your Google search. There’s even a Lore podcast shout-out to the Fort Pitt smallpox blankets.

If you want to read “upbeat” historical fiction about this, then I recommend the novel The King’s Orchard by Agnes Sligh Turnbull.

Anyway, I have a rock that I took from the Great Lakes that I can use as my own negative energy absorber.

I Grew Up Near the Flight 93 Crash Site

This isn’t a political post.  I’m not going to repeat any rumors, conjectures, or hearsay. This is my personal experience on September 11, 2001.

Flight 93 crashed less than 10 miles from my parents’ house in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. I grew up in that house. In September 2001, I was between apartment leases, so I lived in that house with them and some of my sisters.

I worked at my first post-college “office job” in downtown Johnstown, PA. Johnstown sits just north of the Somerset County line.  Even though Johnstown is a third class city, the region south of it (in Somerset County) is pretty rural. My parents lived thirty miles south of Johnstown. When I commuted between my parents’ house and Johnstown, I drove through one traffic light.

I remember that a few days before 9/11, a resident of Davidsville (a “Johnstown suburb” that is actually in northern Somerset County) crashed his ultralight in somebody’s yard. This was not the first time that the guy crashed his ultralight. I saw this all over the local news. I was under the impression that the guy was okay.

On the morning of 9/11, I went to work at my employer’s office in Johnstown. We gathered in a conference room for our weekly meeting. Someone at the meeting mentioned that an airplane had crashed into a skyscraper in New York City.  We proceeded with the regular business of our meeting. We returned to our cubicles.

One of my co-workers turned on a television located on the other side of the office to watch the news coverage in New York. I ended up in front of the television. I watched the first tower collapse.

The television coverage also referenced a plane collision at the Pentagon.

The owner of the company that employed me walked over to the television and told his employees to get back to work.  I went back to my desk. One of my co-workers walked past my desk to tell me that the second tower had fallen.

THEN, the daughter of the company’s owner rushed through the office. She announced loudly that an airplane had just crashed in Somerset County.

I said, “No.  That wasn’t an airplane. That’s an ultralight. This guy in Davidsville keeps crashing his ultralight.”

The company owner’s daughter said, “No, it was an airplane that crashed.”

Really? In Somerset County?

I emailed my good friend E. who worked in downtown Pittsburgh on that day. E. told me that her office was being evacuated.

Well, it just so happens that a United States federal courthouse sits in Johnstown. So, public officials announced an evacuation of downtown Johnstown.

Even though my employer had told me only an hour or so previously to “go back to work!,” I got to evacuate my office.

Here’s the problem: I lived south of Johnstown, in Somerset County. And, we had just learned that an airplane crashed south of Johnstown, in Somerset County.

There was very, very  limited information available online about the airplane that had just crashed in Pennsylvania. We didn’t have Twitter back then. I didn’t own a smartphone, and I didn’t use any social media. I heard rumors from my co-workers that the main highway and a bunch of other local roads were closed south of Johnstown, but I didn’t have any concrete information about this.

Finally, I couldn’t call my parents. I tried, and none of my calls went through. So many other people tried to make phone calls at that same time!

I got into my car and turned on the radio. The local radio personalities didn’t have any helpful information for me. So, I decided to just drive towards home and see if I hit any road closures. I reasoned that if I came upon any, I could just detour on a back road. (I didn’t own a smartphone or a GPS system. However, I learned how to drive on a series of farm roads between my parents’ house and Johnstown. I reasoned that I could just “wing it” on the back roads of rural Pennsylvania if I needed to do so.)

It turned out that the local authorities closed the main highway just north of downtown Johnstown, but they left the highway open south of Johnstown.

So, I made it home by taking my usual route.  I didn’t actually see any barricades or any sign of the crash.

Then, someone drove past my parents’ house in a pickup truck with a bed full of gas cans.

A few days after 9/11, my employer at that time wrote a letter to the local Johnstown newspaper proposing that a memorial to the Flight 93 passengers be installed next to the convention center in Johnstown. The newspaper printed his letter.

Look, I know that my story isn’t very exciting. I don’t have firsthand testimony to support anybody’s theory of WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED.

However, I won’t forget the day that I watched television coverage of three airplane collisions into nationally known buildings, and then learned that a fourth plane had crashed “somewhere” between my workplace and my home.

The Theater Formerly Known As Stanley

This is the main chandelier that sits above the Benedum’s balcony. I took this photo after the Benedum staff lowered the chandeliers for cleaning.

The Benedum Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Pittsburgh opened in 1928 as the Stanley Theater.

Every year or so, the Benedum staff lowers the chandeliers for cleaning. Last month, Jonathan and I attended a theater “open house” held during such a cleaning. We saw the chandeliers up close!

The Benedum staff treated us to a short history talk at their open house.

Fates and Traitors

This spring, author Jennifer Chiaverini released Resistance Women, a novel about the German Resistance in World War II. The protagonists in this novel included Mildred Fish Harnack, a Wisconsin native whom the Nazis arrested for spying. Adolf Hitler personally ordered Harnack’s execution. Resistance Women reached bestselling lists and garnered accolades this summer.

I didn’t read Resistance Women (yet). Instead, I read Chiaverini’s 2016 historical fiction Fates and Traitors: A Novel of John Wilkes Booth.

In case you’re not an American, actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC, in April 1865.

Fates and Traitors” told the story of Booth and these four women who “loved” him (according to the book jacket):

1.) his mother Mary Ann Booth;

2.) his sister Asia Booth Clarke;

3.) his secret fiancée Lucy Hale (the daughter of an abolitionist Republican senator from New Hampshire); and

4.) boardinghouse owner Mary Surratt. The United States government executed Surratt over her alleged role in the Lincoln assassination.

Now, before I get into too much detail about Fates and Traitors, I want to use Chiaverini’s work to explain one reason that I love historical fiction so much.

Chiaverini’s published historical fiction highlighted these families (among others): the Booths, the Lincolns, the Chases (Salmon P. Chase and daughter Kate Chase Sprague), the Grants, and the Byrons (Lord Byron and daughter Ada Lovelace). 

The historical characters in Chiaverini books discussed the characters from other books.

For instance, several of the historical figures from Chiaverini’s other books (including Abraham Lincoln) went to see the Booth brothers perform prior to the Lincoln assassination. Several of the historical figures from these books enjoyed reading Lord Byron’s poetry. Several of the historical figures from these books gossiped about Kate Chase Sprague’s political ambitions for her father. Several of the historical figures from these books observed Mary Lincoln’s fine wardrobe. In Fates and Traitors, John Wilkes Booth stalked both the Lincolns and the Grants prior to the Lincoln assassination. In another Chiaverini book, Mrs. Grant observed John Wilkes Booth stalking her.

 I learned from my reading that nobody’s family dynamics are perfect.

I personally enjoyed Fates and Traitors. However, the first part of the book moved slowly. I learned about the large Booth family. Family patriarch Junius Brutus Booth Sr. was named after one of the assassins in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Junius Sr. established a highly successful Shakespearean stage acting career in London and Europe. Junius Sr. and Mary Ann fled to the United States to avoid a scandal. Junius Sr. reestablished his acting career in America to great fanfare and acclaim.

The Booth family struggled with one family crisis after another. (Pardon the cliché, but the Booth family created a lot of family drama!)

Three of Junius Sr.’s sons (Junius Jr., Edwin, and John Wilkes) followed their father into acting. I’m under the impression that historians considered Edwin to be a more accomplished actor than his famous father.

Asia raised her own large family and also established herself as a writer and poet. She produced several memoirs about the Booths.

I recommend this book to readers of Civil War historical fiction.

Jenny’s Recap of Tall Ships Erie 2019 Festival Weekend: Part 1

As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, my husband Jonathan and I spent this past weekend in Erie. We attended Tall Ships Erie 2019 on Saturday. We slept on our sailboat at our Erie marina on Saturday night. We cruised past Tall Ships Erie 2019 on Sunday. Then we sailed on the open Lake Erie.

Jonathan plans to blog a detailed pros-and-cons recap of the festival on our other blog, so I won’t go into much detail about the festival here.

This was our third one-day trip to an Erie tall ships festival. We attended for one day each in 2013, 2016, and now in 2019.

I want to be clear that in my experience, this festival involved significant crowds and significant walking. We even encountered large crowds in the lines for the shuttle buses and the ice cream stand. In fact, the ice cream stand ran out of waffle cones and several flavors. I was so relieved that I could still get my chocolate cherry ice cream!

For each trip, we purchased the one-day passes that permit us to walk past the boats but not to board and tour the ships. These are the lowest-cost passes.

During all three festival years, we observed significant lines to tour most of the ships. For instance, this year the festival included Santa Maria, a claimed replica of Christopher Columbus’ ship. We heard someone at the festival say that a two-hour wait existed to tour that ship.

Here is the Santa Maria as it looked on Saturday:

Santa Maria

We also observed significant wait times to tour Picton Castle. Here is Picton Castle‘s bow:

Picton Castle

Here is Picton Castle‘s Stern:

Picton Castle

On Sunday, I took several photos from the water as we cruised on our own sailboat to Lake Erie. I will post my water photos shortly.