January. And the Plague. And Ice.

London, 2009. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

So, here’s a fun fact that I found on Wikipedia: In January 1863, the world’s first underground railway opened in London. It opened between Paddingdon and Farringdon. We call it the “London Underground.”

If you Google “London plague pits underground,” you can read all about the urban legend on this. Local lore claims that the detours that the workers had to dig for the London Underground’s path so that the train didn’t barrel through the mass graves of Bubonic Plague victims from 1665. (One of the articles visible to me on the first page of my Google search questions the “research” used by the author who claimed this as fact in her non-fiction book, but it makes a cool story.)

On this week in January 2020, I went to an author visit for a New York Times bestselling author at a Barnes and Noble near Pittsburgh. The author promoted the release of her newest book, a novel about a prominent person in London during both World Wars.

As I stood in line waiting for the author’s signature, I heard a man identify himself as a reporter from our local Pittsburgh “newspaper.” (I say “newspaper” because it’s not available in print form in many Pittsburgh area locations now; it’s online.) The reporter said that THE AUTHOR had reached out to the “newspaper” and asked them to cover the event.

Again, this was a New York Times bestselling author. She had several successful books under her belt. She had to contact the Pittsburgh media on her own and ask them to cover her event at Barnes and Noble. So, if you dream about writing your own book, and about having your publisher (or Barnes and Noble or whomever) market your book tour for you, think about this again.

I have a final story that mentions London. It has absolutely nothing to do with January, but it involves ice, so close enough. My husband is a huge fan of iced beverages. Before I met my husband, I always ordered “Diet Pepsi with no ice” at Subway or Burger King or whatever so that I could get “more bang for my buck.” Then, I met Jonathan. He turned me on to the joys of drinking beverages with ice.

When we went to London, we learned that we wouldn’t get ice in any of our drinks unless we specifically asked for it. It was a hot-ish week in September. We stayed in a hotel directly across the Thames from the Tower of London. Even better, the hotel had a working ice machine on our floor, directly across the hallway from the elevator!

As soon as we checked in to our room, I grabbed the ice bucket. I headed for the ice machine. As I filled our ice bucket, the elevator opened, and a woman stepped out.

The woman said to me, “You’re an American, aren’t you?”

How did she know? I hadn’t even spoken. Did I make a gaffe that only an American would make? Did I wear the wrong thing? OMG, did I drop my passport on the floor for her to find?

I said, “Yes.”

The woman said, “I could tell because you are getting ice. I’m from Texas!”

“Hamilton” -Adjacent: Friendship Hill

Friendship Hill, Point Marion, Pennsylvania. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

I found an article titled “Who Was Alexander Hamilton’s Real Nemesis: Aaron Burr or Albert Gallatin and the Jeffersonians?” by Christopher N. Malagisi, dated August 30, 2018, on the Townhall website. This article referenced the book “Jefferson’s Treasure: How Albert Gallatin Saved the New Nation from Debt,” by Gregory May.

The idolized and fabled Alexander Hamilton served as our first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton rival Albert Gallatin served as our fourth Secretary of the Treasury.

Thomas Jefferson was the President of the United States who appointed Gallatin as Secretary of the Treasury. Aaron Burr was elected as Jefferson’s Vice President in the election of 1800. So, these guys all knew each other.

Now, my brain totally shut off about one paragraph into reading about the subject matter. Just as it did when I had to learn about the Federalists and the Whigs and the Jeffersonians in high school. So, I don’t have my own fully-formed opinion about whether Albert Gallatin was Hamilton’s real nemesis. I do think that if Lin-Manuel Miranda had rewritten the Hamilton musical so that it was just a bunch of guys arguing about whether Hamilton or Gallatin made a better Secretary of the Treasury, it would not still be on Broadway.

Albert Gallatin owned an estate in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Gallatin’s first wife, Sophia, is buried on the estate. The National Park Service now runs the estate as Friendship Hill National Historic Site. There is no admission fee to visit.

Part of me wishes that Miranda had at least written Gallatin into his “Hamilton” musical – even in a tiny role – so that Point Marion could use it to lure tourists there.

If you want to sight-see while also social distancing, you may want to check out Friendship Hill. Here is my prior blog post about Friendship Hill.

Who Remembers Fashion Bug?

Christmas tree decoration at former Hornes department store. NOT Fashion Bug. Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

When I think of Christmas-time, I think about my times shopping at Fashion Bug.

Fashion Bug started as a women’s clothing store in Eastern Pennsylvania decades before I was born. I think that all or almost all of the stores were located in Pennsylvania.

By the time that I was in junior high school, we had our own Fashion Bug in a strip mall in Somerset. I lived in Berlin, which was about ten miles from Somerset and 30 miles from Johnstown. So, we did most of our shopping in Somerset. I was so excited when I saw regular advertisements for Fashion Bug in “Teen Magazine,” and then I realized that we had one of our very own in Somerset. I believe that this was the only time that I ever saw an advertisement in one of my magazines for a store actually located in Somerset.

I remember that the Fashion Bug ads included coupons for $10 off of a $30 purchase. The coupon was one big reason why I was permitted to purchase my eighth-grade winter coat from Fashion Bug in Somerset instead of from Kmart in Somerset. (Kmart and Fashion Bug shared the same strip mall in Somerset. Come to think of it, every single Fashion Bug at which I ever shopped was located in the same shopping center as a Kmart.)

After I outgrew “Teen Magzine,” my favorite thing about Fashion Bug was the adrenaline rush that I got from thinking that I saved a TON of money from shopping there during a “sale.” Everything that I ever purchased from that place included a price tag that indicated a significant price reduction. The store printed this same price reduction on the LONG receipts that I received with every bag of clothing. Every single item on my receipt would say something to the effect of “Full Price: $59.99. New Price: $14.99.” Then, the end of the receipt would say: “Total: $34.99. You Saved: $2,999.”

I once purchased a pair of sandals from Fashion Bug’s clearance rack for a college function for $6.99. Unfortunately, the shoes were so uncomfortable that I only wore them one or two times.

By the time that I graduated from college, I purchased most of my office “work clothes” from Fashion Bug. Twinsets, turtleneck sweaters, etc.

One time, I watched a “Saturday Night Live” skit in which a contestant on a fake dating game show identified herself as a Fashion Bug employee. The punchline was that the contestant didn’t have an opportunity to find love because she was too busy with her entry-level retail career at Fashion Bug. (I’m not laughing at retail employees. I worked in fast food next to the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I worked a low-paying retail job at a non-Fashion Bug clothing store. I worked in the shoe department at Walmart. I am sure that the “Saturday Night Live” show writers did similar.)

What does this have to do with the winter holidays? Well, I bought SEVERAL of my winter coats from Fashion Bug. I Christmas shopped there. I bought a New Year’s Eve dress for my friend’s 21st birthday party there.

I miss Fashion Bug.

Cremation Pioneer on Gallows Hill

The United States’ first crematory is located in Western Pennsylvania. Its first cremation took place in December 1876.

I learned today that the United States’ first crematory is located in Washington, Pennsylvania.

I learned about this in the book “Disconnected from Death: The Evolution of Funerary Customs and the Unmasking of Death in America” by April Slaughter and Troy Taylor.

I learned that Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne, a Washington, PA, physician, dedicated decades to practicing medicine and advocating for Civil Rights. By the 1870’s, Dr. LeMoyne vocalized his concerns regarding the pollution and hygienic / public health consequences of embalming and burial. Dr. LeMoyne proposed that a crematory be built in a local public cemetery. This did not happen. So, Dr. LeMoyne had the crematory built on his own property.

Dr. LeMoyne’s cremation advocacy resulted in negative responses from the Washington, PA, community. Dr. LeMoyne even offered to educate the public about cremation. How do you think that this went?

On December 5, 1876, Dr. LeMoyne finally received a body to cremate.

Dr. LeMoyne passed away in 1879 and his body became the third to be cremated in his own crematory.

According to “Disconnected from Death,” Dr. LeMoyne’s crematory still stands on Gallows Hill in Washington, PA. The Washington County Historical Society maintains it.

I had to memorize a bunch of Pennsylvania “firsts” in school. I didn’t have to learn about this cremation thing in school. So, here you go.

Back in the olden days before Joe Biden was elected POTUS, I had to learn in “Pennsylvania History” class that James Buchanan was the only U.S. President born in Pennsylvania. My history teacher and my “Pennsylvania History” book both pretty much said, “James Buchanan was the only President born in Pennsylvania. We shall NEVER speak of this again.” Ha, ha, ha. If you want to learn a little bit more about Buchanan’s administration, go Google what was said about his Secretary of War, John B. Floyd.

Do you have any interesting Pennsylvania “firsts?” If so, please reach out to me.

Thank you for continuing to read this blog. This has been a tough year. I have really enjoyed sharing stories, lore, and photos with you. Please share this blog if you enjoy it as well.

Woytek Virtual House Tour Christmas 2020

Here is a photo of Wigilia (Christmas Eve) during a much simpler, pre-pandemic time. No, this photo will not appear in the video, but I am thinking of all of my friends and family right now with love. Thank you for all of the happy memories!)

I am so excited to present Jonathan and Jennifer Woytek’s Christmas 2020 Virtual House Tour. Jonathan finished this tonight especially for all of you, since we aren’t having visitors at our house this holiday season.

Our house was built in the 1890’s. I intend, at some later date, to blog a little bit about this house and the Victorian-era traditions that it might have seen.

Click here for the YouTube link.

Virtual Work Party

Gingerbread House

I work in downtown Pittsburgh. (Well, I haven’t actually been to the office since March. But, I still get taxed as if I work in Pittsburgh.) Part of my team works out of downtown Philadelphia. I have several managers, and one of my managers works out of Philadelphia. In “normal” years, we have separate holiday parties.

However, this year, my employer didn’t host in-person holiday parties anywhere. So, for this year’s holiday party, my Philadelphia manager had gingerbread house kits shipped to everybody’s houses. We assembled our gingerbread houses ahead of time. Then, we decorated them together over video conferencing. (I didn’t say “over Zoom,” because my employer uses a Zoom competitor. We’re not permitted to install Zoom on company-issued machines.)

The kits that my manager ordered listed “Age 3 and Up.” I personally found the house pretty easy to assemble by myself. However, my house has some structural deficiencies. A load bearing wall is visibly leaning in the above photo. So, maybe you shouldn’t take my word for it. I’m not confident that my gingerbread house is “up to code.”

I had a lot of fun with this. I only got my gingerbread house partially decorated during the “party.” Jonathan actually finished decorating the house for me after I let the unfinished house sit around for a week.

Jonathan and I might purchase the same kit and do another house together, next year. This might even be fun to do over Zoom with my sisters.

You hear that, sisters?

Nor’easter in New Ken?

Beer Garden at Voodoo Brewery, downtown New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. December 16, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I joked in a prior post that Krampus brought me a new camera for Krampusnacht.

In reality, I received a new camera for Christmas. The camera arrived on Krampusnacht. I tested it today during our first snowstorm of the winter.

I actually took these photos several hours ago. We have even more snow right now. The snow is still falling.

Alcoa Aluminum Smelter in Voodoo Brewery’s Beer Garden. December 16, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

You should see above a photo of the Alcoa aluminum smelter that now sits in Voodoo Brewery’s beer garden in New Kensington.

This relic sat for decades at Station Square in Pittsburgh. (Station Square is a dining and shopping district along the Monongahela River, directly across said river from downtown Pittsburgh.)

The property owner at Station Square no longer wanted it.

Now, Alcoa actually plays a role in New Kensington’s history. HUGE role.

So, a month ago, crews moved this smelter 20 miles to the beer garden on Fifth Avenue, New Kensington.

Pittsburgh’s loss. Our gain.

Here’s an article from the Trib about the Alcoa smelter if you want to read more about it.

To be honest, I have eaten out at Station Square many times. I went there for boat trips on the river when I was in high school. This smelter actually stood next to the dock that we used for these trips. I don’t remember EVER seeing the smelter during my trips to Station Square. I’m sure that this was because Station Square just had so much other things to see. Also, because back in the olden days, I wouldn’t have actually cared about an Alcoa smelter. I never had any interest in industrial history when when I was high school. (The only reason that I remembered Henry Clay Frick was because Emma Goldman’s boyfriend shot him during the Homestead riots.) I never cared about Alcoa until I met Jonathan Woytek and he brought me to New Kensington.

Now that this smelter sits down the street from my house, I am sure that I will have plenty of opportunities to check out the smelter as I sip on my Voodoo beer. Maybe take a few selfies in front of it.

Not now, of course. We are living through a snowstorm and also a global pandemic. But soon.

Catoris Candies, Fifth Avenue, New Kensington. December 16, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
This block is caddy-corner from the Beer Garden at Voodoo Brewery, downtown New Kensington. December 16, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

“Todays [SIC] Gonna Be Great”

I looked through my laptop for photos that will cheer you.

I found this photo, saved in my Lightroom folder on May 10, 2019. I think that I actually took the photo earlier that spring on my smartphone.

Shelter at Gateway Center Bus Stop, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Spring 2019. This is a photo that I took of a Phipps Conservatory advertisement posted on the side of the bus shelter.

In the pre-Covid days, on most days, I waited in front of one of the Gateway Center buildings to catch a bus home from Pittsburgh to New Kensington.

In the spring of 2019, the bus shelter at my bus stop featured an advertisement for weddings at Phipps Conservatory. This ad featured a couple dressed as a bride and a groom, standing in one of Phipps’ exhibit rooms. The copy on this ad read as follows: “THE POWER TO plan a better future.”

Above the photo of the “groom,” somebody put a sticker on the bus shelter glass that said, “Todays [SIC] gonna be great.” I assume that whoever placed the sticker on this glass intended for it to look like a thought bubble from the groom.

I snapped a photo of the bus shelter with the Phipps ad and the comical sticker placement so that I could text it to my husband and his family. I thought that they would all get a kick out of it. Later, I realized that I could see reflected in this same glass the building where I worked. So, I kept the photo saved on my laptop.

I don’t know anything about the photographer who took the original photo for the Phipps advertisement, or about the advertising firm that created the copy.

I actually majored in Advertising and Public Relations in college. I ended up working in the Property and Casualty insurance industry because that was where I found my first post-Walmart, post-Americorps job. However, from what I understand per my school’s alumni magazine, some of my classmates pursued actual advertising careers in Pittsburgh. So, maybe one of my former classmates worked on this ad campaign.

Let me tell you about this bus shelter. When I waited for my bus home, I faced the far west part of Liberty Ave. This bus shelter stood on my left. If I were to walk past this bus shelter, I would reach Point State Park. If I followed the path in Point State Park that leads to The Point, I would walk past the footprint of Fort Pitt and eventually reach the actual point where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers join to form the Ohio River. This used to be considered as the “Gateway to the West” before St. Louis became the Gateway to the West. In fact, you could boat from Pittsburgh’s Gateway to the West until you reached St. Louis’ Gateway to the West. Lots of people, some famous and some forgotten, actually did this. Pittsburgh’s Gateway to the West is a very short walk from the Gateway Center bus shelter where I waited every day for my bus home to New Kensington.

So, when I waited at the Gateway Center bus shelter, I had Gateway Center buildings both in front of and behind me. If you look at the bus shelter that I posted, you can see the Gateway Center T station. (The “T” stands for “train.” This is part of the city’s light rail system.)

One time, I stood directly across Liberty Avenue from the site of this photo, and I heard “Jenny, Jenny.” It was my aunt – my mom’s sister – and my cousin. They were in town for the Three Rivers Arts Festival. We hadn’t planned to meet up. They had no idea that I worked across the street from this bus station.

Another time, I stood across the street from the scene of this photo and I ran into a cousin from my father’s side of the family. It turned out that her favorite coffee stand was located in the same building where I worked.

I haven’t been to this bus station, or this block, or this downtown since Covid changed everybody’s life.

I used to visit Phipps Conservatory several times a year. I haven’t been there, either, since Covid changed everything. My last trip to Phipps occurred in January or February 2020. That time, I laid on the floor to take a photo of an exhibit hanging from the ceiling. Then, I tried not to grasp the handrail when I walked the stairs down to the ground floor, even though I actually needed it. How many germs did it hold? I had just recovered from some mystery bug that had kept me sick and coughing for the past month. Weird. Looking back, I probably shouldn’t have laid on the floor that day.

Thank you for reading this blog. Todays [SIC] gonna be great.

Happy Krampusnacht and Happy Feast of St. Nicholas

My husband’s co-worker once told my husband that our Married Life blog (www.jennyandjonathangetmarried.com) was the most G-rated thing that he ever read. The Parnassus Pen might or might not be G-rated. I just want to keep my readers entertained.

I’m going to type today’s blog post from memory. If you want to read the actual stories, you can go to Wikipedia.

Today (December 6) is the Feast of St. Nicholas. St. (Saint) Nicholas was a European bishop. According to one legend, St. Nicholas travelled past the home of a very poor family. The family had no money to afford dowries for their three daughters. Since the daughters would have no dowries, they would not be able to secure husbands. The girls’ only career option at this point was sex work. The daughters hung their stockings outside of their house at night. St. Nicholas placed gold coins in each stocking. Thus, the girls could now afford to purchase husbands. The girls would not have to become sex workers after all.

The college that I attended, St. Vincent College in Latrobe, was founded by Benedictine monks from Bavaria. On the eve of the Feast of St. Nicholas, we dorm residents placed our shoes in the hallway outside of our doors overnight. The dorm prefects filled our shoes with bags of candy.

(I used to explain to people that a “prefect” was St. Vincent’s version of an R.A., or Resident Assistant. Then, the Harry Potter books introduced the concept of prefects to its readers. So, now I don’t have to explain this so often.)

The night before the feast of St. Nicholas, December 5, is Krampus Night or Krampusnacht. Krampus is a demon who drags poorly behaved children off to Hell. You know how some parents use Elf on a Shelf to try to convince kids to be good in December? Well, in olden days, parents used Krampus for this purpose. Folkore describes Krampus as half-goat, complete with cloven hooves and horns. Some versions of the Krampus story are super racist.

I’ve joked with Jonathan all weekend that Krampus brought me a new camera for Krampusnacht.

In reality, Jonathan ordered me a new Nikon for Christmas. The camera just happened to arrive on December 5. I already owned a Nikon. However, this is a newer, much more lightweight Nikon model. You see, pre-Covid, I commuted almost every day to my employer in downtown Pittsburgh. I sometimes brought my camera to work with me so that I could photograph anything that I found interesting. I didn’t do this every day because I found my camera to be a bit heavy when I also carried my purse, my laptop, and my lunch.

Usually, whenever Jonathan or I get a new piece of photography equipment, we take it to Phipps Conservatory to experiment with it. I don’t think that we will make it to Phipps this year. So, here is a winter scene that I took in early April 2013 in Parnassus, Pennsylvania.

Happy Krampusnacht and Happy St. Nicholas Day!