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.

The Most “Pittsburgh” Part of Pittsburgh?

The Pennsylvania Shelf at my favorite used book store.

Here’s a Monongahela (Mon) River secret: I believe that one of the most “Pittsburgh” things about Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania isn’t actually within Pittsburgh’s city limits.

By this, I mean the stretch of the river about ten or so miles upstream from where the Mon meets the Allegheny to form the Ohio River in downtown Pittsburgh.  By this, I mean the communities of Braddock and North Braddock, PA. The Mon flows south to north here.

Here are my reasons:

1.) Every Pittsburgh “origin story” includes the Battle of the Monongahela during the French and Indian War. In 1755, the French and their indigenous allies ambushed British General Edward Braddock’s army and his indigenous allies at Braddock’s Field (this land is now present-day Braddock and North Braddock, PA). A young George Washington served as an aide-de-camp to General Braddock. Braddock died from his wounds during the retreat. Washington lead the retreat and he oversaw Braddock’s burial.

Marker on General Edward Braddock’s grave. General Braddock was mortally wounded in Braddock’s Field during the Battle of the Monongahela in 1755.

Any internet search on “Braddock’s Defeat” and “folklore” will overwhelm you. For fun, throw in these search terms: “Simon Girty,” or else, “missing gold.” One legend even claims that divine intervention saved Washington from death. Another alleges that one of Braddock’s own soldiers (intentionally) shot him.

This re-enactor portrays a British soldier during the French and Indian War.

2.) In 1794, rebels of the Whiskey Rebellion gathered in this very same Braddock’s Field before they marched into Pittsburgh to protest the U.S. government excise tax on whiskey. President Washington sent federal troops to put down the insurrection. In the fiction novel The King’s Orchard by Agnes Sligh Turnbull, angry frontiersmen threatened to burn down the houses of Pittsburgh’s leaders during this rebellion. 

My copy of “The King’s Orchard” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull

(My own hometown in Somerset County, PA later celebrated the Whiskey Rebellion with a festival out of memory for rebellion leader Robert Philson. Another rebellion leader, “Whiskey Dave” Bradford, fled to Louisiana and established the famously “haunted” Myrtles Plantation.)

3.) Braddock’s Field sits very close to the present-day Edgar Thomson Steel Works. 

Edgar Thomson Steel Works, Braddock, PA and North Braddock, PA

In 1872, Andrew Carnegie and his business associates built this steel mill. They named the plant after J. Edgar Thomson, the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. They equipped the plant for the Bessemer process. 

U.S. Steel owns this working steel mill today.

I found one travel blog in which the writer (a military history enthusiast) visited the Braddock community and attempted to retrace the Battle of the Monongahela. The blogger recounted the battle (in great detail) and provided maps. The blogger complained that later “progress” corrupted this land to the extent that he couldn’t actually view the battlefield in its pristine state from 1755.

The blogger’s complaint stuck with me. Just think about the tragedies and injustices (including labor disputes and the Johnstown Flood) that some blame on Pittsburgh’s Industrial Revolution leaders. If the blogger wants to complain about Andrew Carnegie and his business associates, he needs to take a number!

Al Roker spotlights Pittsburgh Guilded Age leaders such as Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and J. Edgar Thomson in “Ruthless Tide,” his book about the Johnstown Flood. Roker’s book also taught me about the Edgar Thomson Steel Works.

What do you consider to be the most “Pittsburgh” places in Pittsburgh?

These re-enactors portray French settlers in North America during the 1700’s. In the 1750’s, the French and British fought for control of the mouth of the Ohio River (present-day Pittsburgh) during the French and Indian War.
My view of the Edgar Thomson Steel Works and of the Monongahela River as I sat on the opposite side of the river, behind Kennywood Park in West Mifflin.

This was my Part 3 of my Secrets of the Mon.

Here is Part 1 and Part 2 of my Secrets of the Mon.

The Dead Bride (And Other Tales of Friendship Hill)

Friendship Hill, Albert Gallatin’s home above the Monongahela River

This is Part 2 of my series on the “Secrets of the Mon.” You can read Part 1, Taj Mahal on the Mon, here.

In Part 1, I blogged about Nemacolin Castle, a mansion overlooking the Monongahela River (the Mon) in Brownsville, Pennsylvania.

Today I blog about another home on a hill above the Mon. At this new estate, I saw all of these: a Jefferson cabinet member’s “cursed” home, the rumored grave of this man’s dead bride, a live bride preparing for her own wedding, and Robert E. Lee’s confiscated furniture.

Today I blog about Friendship Hill National Historic Site in Point Marion, PA. Today I blog about the country estate of Albert Gallatin.

By now, you’ve all heard of the United States Secretary of the Treasury, right? President Trump appointee Steven T. Mnuchin (Net Worth: $300 million) serves as our current Secretary of the Treasury. 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.

Gallatin was born into a wealthy family in Geneva, Switzerland. He emigrated to the Unisted States in 1780’s.

So, just like Hamilton, Gallatin was an immigrant. Just like another Secretary of the Treasury, Gallatin was born into wealth and privilege.

Since Gallatin had money, he got to chose where to live. He first tried to live in New England. He then moved to Virginia.

Finally, Gallatin settled on a rural estate in Southwestern Pennsylvania. He settled above the Mon. He settled on the property that became Friendship Hill.

The Mon flows south to north. Downstream from Friendship Hill, the Mon joins the Allegheny River at Pittsburgh to form the Ohio River. The Ohio River then flows into the Mississippi River.

Now, as I blogged here, tremendous earthen mounds dotted the banks of the Mon, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers.

From where did these come? If humans built these, then who? 

Archeologists maintain that indigenous people built these hundreds or even thousands of years ago. But how? 

One theory claims that humans significantly larger than ourselves – those known in lore as the “Tall People” – built these mounds.

Some storytellers insist that aliens from outer space built the mounds.

What is the truth behind these mounds?

Did these mounds bring special energy – special power – to the banks of the Mon?

Did the Mon’s special power call Albert Gallatin to build his home along the Mon?

Gallatin purchased the 400 acres of land in present-day Fayette County, Pennsylvania, that we now call Friendship Hill. 

Since Gallatin pursued a political career, he still lived at times in Richmond, Virginia.

By 1789, Gallatin proclaimed his love for Sophia Allegre, the daughter of a Richmond boardinghouse owner. Gallatin wanted to marry Sophia and take her back with him to Friendship Hill.

Now, keep in mind that this happened less than a decade after the American Revolution ended. Friendship Hill still belonged to the wilderness, the unknown.  Friendship Hill sits on the edge of the Appalachian Mountains. White settlers battled the Iroquois Confederacy for this land.  Illness and violence threatened all. In 1789, Virginia and Pennsylvania still recovered from years of war and sacrifice. 

Whatever the reason, Sophia’s widowed mother opposed the match.

And for her own reasons, Sophia eloped with Albert Gallatin in May 1789. 

Albert and Sophia Gallatin set off to build a life together at Friendship Hill.

Five months later, Sophia Gallatin died at Friendship Hill.

How did Sophia die? Pregnancy complications? Illness? Rumors even hint that Sophia Gallatin suffered a violent death in the woods.

In any case, Albert Gallatin buried his Sophia in an unmarked grave overlooking the Mon.

Gallatin left Friendship Hill and carried on with his long diplomatic and political career. He represented Pennsylvania as a United States Senator. He served as  4thUnited States Secretary of the Treasury under Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, from 1801-1814.  In this position, he purchased the Louisiana Territory and funded the Lewis and Clark expedition. 

Gallatin remarried. His new wife insisted that the couple not live at Friendship Hill. Did the new Mrs. Gallatin fear Friendship Hill’s remoteness? Did she know dark secrets about her husband’s home on the Mon? Whatever the reason, Gallatin agreed to give up living in southwestern Pennsylvania. He sold Friendship Hill.

Future owners lived in and expanded the original structure where Albert and Sophia Gallatin lived. 

The story claims that workers discovered Sophie’s original grave as they constructed a cistern and pump house. They moved her body to another location on the property. 

Friendship Hill changed owners several times. Homeowners suffered misfortune and tragedy. Local folklore blamed the tragedies on a curse.

Then the ghost stories bloomed.

The National Park Service (NPS) acquired Friendship Hill in the 1970’s. Later, volunteers claimed to hear footsteps in restricted places. Rumors told of a young woman’s ghost who peered through windows. 

The NPS placed signage at the location that they believe to be Sophia Gallatin’s “new” grave. Is this truly her grave? 

See more here on Sophia Gallatin’s grave.

Sophia Allegre Gallatin’s grave, per local folklore

I visited Friendship Hill National Historic Site a few years ago.

According to the NPS website for Friendship Hill, the park includes 661 acres and over 10 miles of nature trails.

I saw no food concessions or any vending machines that sold food or drink during my visit to the park. I didn’t pack enough of either of these. I had to leave after a few hours to find a grocery store. I had to drive about three miles to the actual town of Point Marion.

I did locate a clean and comfortable restroom with indoor plumbing.

Friendship Hill, Pennsylvania

I planned my visit during the operating hours for the original stone house where Albert and Sophia Gallatin lived. I paid no admission fee to tour the house. The park staff member at the front desk gave me a map so that I could do a self-guided tour of the main house.  He allowed me to bring my camera inside and take photos.

Friendship Hill includes no original furniture that belonged to Gallatin.

Now, during my visit, the rooms of Gallatin’s Friendship Hill contained Robert E. Lee’s family’s furniture. Here’s why: the NPS also operates Arlington House in Virginia. Robert E. Lee’s wife, Mary, (Martha Washington’s great-granddaughter) inherited Arlington House. (The United States confiscated Arlington House during the Civil War.) At the time of my visit to Friendship Hill, the NPS was renovating Arlington House. So, the NPS moved the Arlington House furniture to Friendship Hill temporarily.

Friendship Hill

When I walked from the main house to the parking lot, I saw an event tent. Well-dressed people walked from the parking lot to the event tent.

I drove past a (living) bride and her azure-clad bridesmaids. They modeled for their photos on the edge of the woods where Sophia Gallatin rested.

I went looking for a dead bride that day. I found a living bride instead.

Taj Mahal on the Mon

I gave you a full month to catch up on my blog! You’re welcome.

This is my first post about the “Secrets of the Mon.” You can read here about the “Taj Mahal on the Mon.”

“Taj Mahal on the Mon” is my name for Nemacolin Castle (aka Bowman’s Castle) in Brownsville, here in Western Pennsylvania.

See, Nemacolin Castle sits on a bluff above the Monogahela River (known by locals as “the Mon”).

(My dad graduated from nearby Cal U – California University of Pennsylvania. Cal U also sits on the Mon. Dad refers to his alma mater as “Harvard on the Mon.”)

About 40 miles or so downstream from Cal U and Brownsville, the Mon joins the Allegheny River. This confluence forms the Ohio River at downtown Pittsburgh. (The Ohio flows into the Mississippi River.)

Now, a very long time ago, tremendous earthen mounds dotted the banks of the Mon, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers.

From where did these come? If somebody built these, then who? 

Archeologists maintain that indigenous people built these hundreds or even thousands of years ago. But how? 

One theory claims that humans significantly larger than ourselves – those known in lore as the “Tall People” – built these mounds.

Some storytellers insist that aliens from another planet built the mounds.

What is the truth behind these mounds?

Did these mounds bring special energy – special power – to the Mon?

In the 1700’s, British settlers spoke of the Mon and Allegheny’s confluence as the “Forks of the Ohio.” In the 1750’s, Britain and France quarreled over the Forks. They both wanted access to the Ohio River. The French and Indian War started. George Washington served in a British army under General Edward Braddock. Braddock marched up from Virginia and Maryland in an attempt to seize the Forks in 1755. The French and their Native American allies ambushed Braddock. Braddock’s army suffered heavy losses in this defeat. Braddock himself died during the retreat. Washington witnessed all of this. In 1758, Washington served in a different British army under General John Forbes. This time, Forbes seized the Forks for Britain. The British built Fort Pitt at this confluence that formed the Ohio River. The site of Fort Pitt became Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh.

I bring this all up right now just to point out the Mon’s importance to local history and folklore.

Now, as I blogged above, Brownsville sits on the Mon. The town includes the spot that European settlers called “the Redstone Creek River Crossing.”

The river crossing sat on Nemacolin’s Path. This path emerged from  a series of trails used by Native Americans to travel through the region. 

White settlers named the path after the Shawnee chief Nemacolin.

General Braddock’s army actually marched on part of Nemacolin’s Path on their way to the Forks of the Ohio in 1755.

Then, as I just blogged, General Forbes reached the Forks (present-day downtown Pittsburgh) in 1758.

In 1759, British Colonel James Burd built a fort on the earthen mound overlooking the Redstone Creek River Crossing at the Mon. This became Fort Burd. 

Then the British won the French and Indian War. 

After this, the white colonial settlers fought against the Iroquois Confederacy during the American Revolution. 

Around the end of this war with the Iroquois, Thomas Brown purchased much of the land surrounding the Redstone Creek River Crossing.

Brown sold part of this land to Jacob Bowman.

Jacob Bowman built his trading post and tavern out of material taken from the old Fort Burd.

Remember, the British built old Fort Burt on a very old earthen mound. A mound that some claim to be an indigenous burial mound. A mound that others claim was built by an ancient tribe of giant people. A mound that still others claim was built by visitors from outer space. Then the Bowman family used part of Fort Burd to build the family home. How much ancient history – how much ancient power – did the Bowman family import from this mound into their home?

Now, here’s how Jacob Bowman’s trading post and tavern became the architectural “wonder” that we now call Nemacolin Castle:

Jacob Bowman built a room above his trading post. Bowman and his wife lived in this room. They added more room as their family grew.

The home morphed from a trading post to a colonial home.

Jacob’s son Nelson inherited the home in the 1840’s.

Nelson Bowman added the east wing and the brick tower.

Thus, the 1789 trading post grew into a 22 room Victorian mansion. A Victorian mansion with a tower. A castle.

During this time, the Bowman family saw births, marriages, and deaths. Lore claims that this home functioned as a stop on the underground railroad. The family’s tragedies and the land’s bloody history figure in ghost stories here.

Three generations of the Bowman family lived in the castle until the Brownsville Historical Society acquired it in the 1960’s.

The castle’s official website refers to it as Nemacolin Castle but also states “also known as Bowman’s Castle.” The website confirms that “Nemacolin” is in reference to Nemacolin’s Trail.

I toured the castle with my sister E.R. in October 2011. We joined a special “ghost tour.” As the name implies, our guide dressed in nineteenth century period clothing and told us ghost stories about the castle.

I felt uneasy during the “ghost tour.” But not because I saw any ghosts. I felt uneasy because the house is such a hodgepodge of architectural styles.

As E.R. and I waited for our tour to start, we ran into our Aunt L. and our cousins R. and J. Our cousins explained that they toured the castle every year for Halloween. One of my cousins revealed that she once felt something grab her ankle as she stood on a stairway inside the castle.

Did you ever tour Nemacolin Castle? Did you see any ghosts?

Sophia’s Grave

They call this your grave. Your haunted grave.

Little girls grow up fast in the American colonies. You turn nine years old in 1775. Your native Virginia erupts in seven years of rebellion, of war, of sacrifice.

Did you ever know a time free of hunger and sacrifice? At what point did your widowed mother open her Richmond door as a boardinghouse?

At what point did your boarder, Albert Gallatin, fall in love with you? Was this before or after he told you of his dream to live on a remote estate in the Pennsylvania wilderness?

And did your mama know – just KNOW – of your early death, far from everything you knew,  on the edge of the Appalachian Mountains?

Is that why your mama opposed the match?

You eloped in May 1789.

You begged your mama’s forgiveness. Then you set off with Mr. Gallatin for his Pennsylvania estate, Friendship Hill.

And five months later you died.

How did you die? Illness? Pregnancy complications? Or, as one legend goes, something darker, more gruesome?

Mr. Gallatin buried you in an unmarked grave overlooking the Monongahela River.

Mr. Gallatin later remarried and sold Friendship Hill because his new wife didn’t like to spend time there.

Another homeowner found your grave and reburied you. We now believe that you are buried in that stone square behind your former house.

The countryside of Friendship Hill became Fayette County. Friendship Hill became a public park.

One day I read an article in my local media about Friendship Hill. About the ghosts of Friendship Hill. About the ghost of you.

I drove out to Friendship Hill to see your grave.

I visited your grave on a bright sunny day. No ghosts at your grave that day, Sophia!

As I trekked through the woods and fields back to my car, well-dressed men and women walked towards the house that was yours for five months, Sophia. They proceeded to a reception tent next to your house.

I watched the bride and her azure-clad bridesmaids model for their photos on the edge of these woods where you lay, Sophia.

I went looking for a dead bride that day. I found a living bride instead.

Friendship Hill, Pennsylvania

McKeesport to Duquesne Bike Ride, Part Deux

This post is just more photos from last weekend’s rail-trail bike ride along the Great Allegheny Passage past McKeesport, Port Perry, Duquesne, and Kennywood Park.

Here are more scenes from the McKeesport roundhouse:

This is the US Steel Braddock Works. We stopped for a rest directly across the Mon River when I took this:

Peddling (AND Pedaling) in McKeesport

On April 29, my husband Jonathan and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. We drove to McKeesport to try out a “new to us” section of the Great Allegheny Passage bicycle and walking trail.

The McKeesport Police Department sits next to the trail and offers free parking to trail users. So, we parked at the McKeesport Police Department.

We biked past this vacant train roundhouse.

We crossed the Monongahela River (the Mon) on this former railroad bridge.

Then we rode alongside miles of working Norfolk Southern, CSX, and Union Railroad rails. We peddled past Kennywood Park roller coasters running cars of screaming passengers. (Kennywood’s open!!!!)

I don’t have any roots in McKeesport. However, I can tell you a little bit about McKeesport’s saga and struggle with steel.

My mom grew up in Pittsburgh when Pittsburgh and McKeeport and all of the other river towns here thrived with steel mills. (Thrived with the money that steel brought here.)

When I replay the childhood visits to my grandparents’ house in the Burgh, I smell the sulfur. I see the mills glowing on Christmas Eve.

I was born in central Pennsylvania right before the Pennsylvania steel industry collapsed. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors left the state. Then my friends from high school left the state. Then my friends from college left the state. Then three of my sisters and my sister-in-law left the state.

Which is my way of saying that I know that bike trails alone won’t bring all of these people back to Pennsylvania. But it was fun to bike past all of this history last Sunday.