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.)

Ghost Town #1

Maybe you’re looking for “free” places to explore with your family each summer. My own awesome mom did this because she had five active daughters.

Maybe I can help you. I know of several “free” ghost towns in Western Pennsylvania.

Here’s Ghost Town #1: The Ghost Town Trail in Indiana and Cambria Counties. This is a 44-mile “rails-to-trails” trail. You can ride your bicycle or walk / run this trail from Blacklick, PA to Cardiff, PA.

Such trails here in Western Pennsylvania charge no admission. You don’t need to have a special permit to enjoy our public trails! (I vacationed once in the Adirondacks in New York State, and the bike trails there charged admission.) You can access the Ghost Town Trail through several trailheads that provide free daytime parking.

As the name “rails-to-trails” implies, this trail lived an earlier life as working railroad lines. People dependent on the economic opportunity from blast furnaces and coal mining lived along these tracks. They built houses, schools, churches, and stores along these tracks. They died along these tracks.

Some of the structures remain as ghost towns. Thus the name, “Ghost Town Trail.”

For instance, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s uncle, Warren Delano, developed the railroad town of Wehrum along these tracks. Wehrum evolved into a ghost town after the mines closed in the 1930’s. Wehrum now consists of one standing house, a bank vault, and the Russian Orthodox cemetery.

Jonathan and I travelled from the Pittsburgh area on PA Route 56 to access the trailhead in Vintondale. The bike trip took us through the Blacklick Creek Valley. Adventurers can view two out of the valley’s three original iron furnaces: 1.) Eliza Furnace (AKA Ritter’s Furnace), and 2.) Buena Vista Furnace.

Folklore claims that one of the Eliza Furnace’s original owners died suddenly after a financial or personal setback. The lore includes tales that this owner still haunts the furnace.

I’m sure that other ghosts, real or imagined, also haunt this trail.

We define places through our own pasts, our own kaleidoscopes.

For instance, I grew up in Central and Western PA to Pittsburgh-area parents. PA’s steel industry collapsed. My extended family left the state for brighter futures elsewhere. My friends from school left the state. My family and friends who stayed here struggled to find (and keep) family-sustaining jobs. I know a lot of good people who suffered after the steel business imploded here.

Johnstown, near Vintondale and the Ghost Town Trail, nearly became a ghost town in its own right.

I lived in Johnstown for a few years after college. I had my own reasons for this. I struggled when I lived in Johnstown.

I organized cultural activities through an Americorps program that served (economically distressed) communities in Western PA. I shared office space in Johnstown with two fellow Americorps members who worked on remediating the section of the Ghost Town Trail that ran through Vintondale.

I lived and worked in an almost-ghost town while my office-mates preserved a tourist attraction marketed as a “ghost town.”

Then, I moved to the Pittsburgh area. Jonathan and I returned to Vintondale to pedal along the Ghost Town Trail. We now belong to the Ghost Town Trail’s “Pittsburgh tourists.”

When I pedal along the Ghost Town Trail, I reflect on my time spent with loved ones in PA’s “almost-ghost” towns.

You’ll reflect on your own truths as the you tour the Ghost Town Trail.

Maybe you’ll even see ghosts!

The Mystery “Guardian” of Livermore Cemetery

Did a man who later claimed to be affiliated with Livermore Cemetery actually pursue several trespassers during a late night car chase in Derry Township, Westmoreland County? Did the Livermore Cemetery “associate” actually shoot at the trespassers and also try to force them off of the road as he chased them down?

I ask this because I actually heard this story on “The Dirtbag Diaries,” a national podcast for outdoor enthusiasts sponsored in part by the clothing company Patagonia. Each October, this podcast releases its Tales of Terror. On Tales of Terror Vol. 8, released in October 2017, contributor Joe Shearer claimed the following:

Shearer recounted that he and his friends admittedly trespassed in Livermore Cemetery.  They arrived in two cars. They walked through the cemetery. Shearer did not admit to causing any vandalism. He claimed that he and his friends merely visited the cemetery in order to spook themselves. The following happened as the friends returned to their two cars:

1.) A “mystery man” who did not identify himself allegedly pointed a gun at the group and told them to put their hands on one of their cars.

2.) Half of the group was actually still in the woods, so this half of the group ran out of the woods to their second car.

3.) The entire group was able to jump into cars and drive off.

4.) The “mystery man” with the gun allegedly got into his own auto and pursued one of the cars as he shot at them.

5.) This “mystery man” also allegedly tried several times to force one of the cars off of the road as he pursued it.

6.) Both cars managed to get away from the “mystery man.”

7.) The group riding in one of the two cars eventually managed to locate a state trooper on the main highway. They convinced the trooper to accompany them back to the Livermore Cemetery.  They located the “mystery man” at the cemetery. The “mystery man” allegedly identified himself as being associated with the Livermore Cemetery. The podcast then referred to the “mystery man” as an “overzealous grave keeper.”

8.) According to the podcast, the state trooper convinced both sides to shake hands and drop the matter.

If you want to listen to this specific podcast episode, here is the link on the podcast’s website. This specific story begins at 3:32 in the episode. This is the very first story told in Tales of Terror Vol. 8, and you can go to 3:32 to skip the show’s introduction.

Today, the local media website Triblive.com posted a story by Jacob Tierney about Livermore Cemetery. Tierney interviewed several people associated with the cemetery about issues surrounding vandalism and trespassing. I am very curious as to whether the officials at Livermore Cemetery are aware of this podcast episode about this alleged incident.

If the incident in this story did actually happen, I am sure that the self-identifying “cemetery associate” has a completely different perspective on what happened that night.

I’ve personally never been to Livermore Cemetery. I have picnicked many times at nearby Conemaugh Dam and Tunnelview Historic Site.

As I wrote in an earlier blog post, the actual town of Livermore no longer exists. Most of Livermore is actually under the Conemaugh River.

Livermore is (was?) near Blairsville and Saltsburg.  In the 1950’s, the US Army Corps of Engineers built the Conemaugh Dam on the Conemaugh River. This created the Conemaugh Lake and flooded Livermore. The town’s cemetery remains above the river bank.

Have you ever visited Livermore Cemetery?