The Civil War Time Capsule

The Civil War Room. Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall. Carnegie, PA.
The Civil War Room. Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Carnegie, PA. November 25, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Andrew Carnegie endowed the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, in 1901.

In 1906, the Captain Thomas Espy Post No. 153 of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) established a meeting room on the second floor. The GAR was a fraternal organization open to honorably discharged Union soldiers, sailors, or marines of the American Civil War.

The Civil War Room. Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Carnegie, PA. November 25, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

After the final member of this GAR post died in the 1930’s, somebody locked up this room with the GAR’s Civil War collection – its library, flags, etc. – inside the room. The room stayed locked for the next 50 years. The room became a time capsule.

This Bible belonged to the Captain Thomas Espy Post No. 153 of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR).
The Civil War Room. Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Carnegie, PA. November 25, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

The room suffered water damage and deterioration. Preservationists restored the room into a Civil War museum – the Civil War Room – in 2010.

Volunteers open the museum to the public during limited hours. They opened it for viewing the night of Marie Benedict’s talk on Carnegie’s Maid.

The Civil War Room. Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Carnegie, PA. November 25, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
The Civil War Room. Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall, Carnegie, PA. November 25, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

My Trip to Carnegie Hall

I went to a lecture at a Carnegie Hall last night.

No, I didn’t travel to THE Carnegie Hall in Manhattan.

Jonathan drove me to the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. I heard an author speak about her historical fiction novel about the industrialist Andrew Carnegie and his (fictional) Irish maid, Clara Kelley.

I learned that the staff at this library refer to the place as the “Carnegie Carnegie.”

Andrew Carnegie gifted the community of Carnegie with this library since they named their hometown after him. Most of the other libraries named after Andrew Carnegie in Greater Pittsburgh required community contributions to build. Not so with the Carnegie Carnegie. Andrew Carnegie funded this himself.

I came there for the talk by author Marie Benedict about her novel Carnegie’s Maid.

Benedict created the character of Clara Kelley based in part on her own Irish immigrant ancestors who worked as maids during the Industrial Revolution. She cast Clara Kelley as the fictional lady’s maid for Andrew Carnegie’s strong-willed Scottish mother, Margaret Carnegie. The book took place during the years 1863 – 1868. At this point in time, Andrew Carnegie was rich enough to pay for a lady’s maid for his mother. He was rich enough to pay an immigrant to take his place as a Civil War soldier. He was not yet one of the richest men in American history.

I enjoyed reading Carnegie’s Maid. I enjoyed the book talk even more. This was one of the best book talks / author visits that I ever attended. The author brought a slide show with photos of Andrew Carnegie, Margaret Carnegie, and historically significant buildings that figured into the novel. She taught us about her research process.

Here’s something that I noted when I read the book, but that Benedict came out and said: Pittsburgh’s dirty air occupied a role as “its own character” in Carnegie’s Maid. Benedict’s narrator mentioned the dirty air often. Now, the book took place in the 1860’s. However, my own husband’s late Babcia (the Polish word for grandma) worked in downtown Pittsburgh in the late 1940’s / early 1950’s. In that time, the woman wore white gloves as they travelled and worked. Babcia brought TWO pairs of gloves with her each day. She had to change her gloves partway through each day because the original pair became dark with soot. She did this every work day. And she worked in an OFFICE.

Pittsburgh’s air was DIRTY for a century or more. In fact, as I mentioned last week, I wonder often about the role that Pittsburgh’s air played in my own mother’s death from lung cancer.

I was born before Pittsburgh’s steel industry imploded and took a lot of American dreams with it. I visited my grandparents in Pittsburgh (Carrick) during my early years. I remember how the city smelled of sulfur from the mills on a late December night.

Pittsburgh was built on the backs of Americans and future Americans who ingested this filthy air.

Now I work in downtown Pittsburgh. My downtown Pittsburgh is much cleaner than Babcia’s downtown Pittsburgh. I hear the hype about Pittsburgh’s exciting renaissance. I visit some of the trendy, gentrifying “hipster” neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. And I remind myself that people suffered – still suffer – from Pittsburgh’s gritty past.

I brought much of myself and my past into this book as I read it.

Carnegie’s Maid showed Andrew Carnegie as a complex human being. As a hungry opportunist who also built libraries and defined philanthropy.

I want to attend another talk by this author after she releases her next book.

Lung Cancer

I started this blog in part to give my fantastic readers a respite. So, I won’t get hurt if you stop reading now.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.

My mom, Shirley Gaffron, passed away in October 2018 from lung cancer. She passed away two days after her 64th birthday.

Mom never smoked or used tobacco products. She never lived with a chronic smoker. I don’t want to stigmatize smokers. However, I also don’t want to stigmatize lung cancer as a “smoker’s disease. ” Research into the causes of lung cancer should be pursued further.

We had extended family who smoked. Some of these family members smoked indoors around other family members. To be honest, I wonder if – and to what extent – this contributed to my mom’s illness. I wonder if I’ll eventually receive a lung cancer diagnosis.

Here’s another thing – mom lived in Pittsburgh from her birth in 1954 until her marriage in 1974.

Pittsburgh doesn’t exactly have a reputation for having had clean air in the early 20th century. For instance, my husband’s late babcia worked in an office in downtown Pittsburgh in the late 1940’s / early 1950’s. She told us that back then, the woman wore white gloves as they travelled and worked. She had to bring TWO pairs of gloves with her each day. She had to change her gloves partway through each day because the original pair became dark with soot. She did this every work day. And she worked in an OFFICE.

My mom worked in an office, too. She also worked in a nursing home and a school. She lived in rural Pennsylvania for the last four decades of her life. She never worked inside a mill or a coal mine.

So, did two decades of life in Pittsburgh end up killing my mom?

I blogged today just to address some lung cancer stereotypes. I will return soon with more photos, ghost stories, and book recommendations. Please come back.

Confederate Grave, Pittsburgh, PA

LIEUT W.M. Parker CO. D 21 ALA. INF C.S.A.
Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I took this at the Allegheny Cemetery Soldiers’ Lot, Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, PA. This headstone marks the grave of a Confederate soldier from the American Civil War. (C.S.A. stands for “Confederate States of America.”)

Glessner (Covered) Bridge

Glessner Covered Bridge
Glessner Bridge, Somerset County, PA. November 9, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I visit the Flight 93 National Memorial during some trips to my hometown of Berlin, PA. I travel from Berlin to the memorial on a series of back roads. (These roads are a much more direct way for me than the posted route on U.S. 30 / Lincoln Highway.)

On each trip, I pass signs for the Glessner Bridge. Tobias Glessner built this bridge in 1881. The bridge sits on the National Register of Historic Places.

Only five miles separates the Glessner Bridge from the Flight 93 National Memorial.

I visited the bridge last weekend.

If you visit the bridge, be mindful that you will leave the “main drag” of Route 30. You will travel past working farms. Last week, I had to slow down for chickens on the road. I also saw an Amish buggy. In other words, PAY ATTENTION as you drive. STAY OFF OF YOUR PHONE.

(Sidenote: Both my mother and my mother-in-law lived in rural Pennsylvania at points in their lives. Both women told stories of having to stop their cars for cows sitting in the middle of various farm roads. It happens.)

Also, here’s the barn that sits next to the bridge.

Red Barn
Red Barn, Somerset County, PA. November 9, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Perry Monument, Erie, PA

Perry Monument, Presque Isle State Park, Erie, Pennsylvania. American flags. Veterans Day
Perry Monument, Presque Isle State Park, Erie, PA. October, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here is the monument dedicated to Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry at Presque Isle State Park, Erie, PA.

This monument sits on a small penninnsula between Misery Bay and Presque Isle Bay, near the entrance to the Port of Erie.

Here is my prior blog post about Misery Bay.

Embrace the People Who Love You

Linn Run State Park, PA, October 26, 2019
Jenny Woytek

A few months ago, I went to a Barnes and Noble store to watch a “Psychological Thriller Author Panel.”

At this event, five novelists answered questions from the audience and then they each signed books purchased by their fans.

The actual five authors who performed at this event are immaterial to this story, so I will name them as Jane Doe, Jill Doe, Joy Doe, Joanna Doe, and Jada Doe.

I have only actually read the work of Jada Doe. I met Jada Doe at a previous event. I enjoyed Jada Doe’s last novel so much that I read it in one weekend. However, I didn’t watch the event particularly to see Jada Doe speak. I attended the event to watch five different writers speak to the audience and to each other about their experiences. Also, the event was free for me because I didn’t purchase any books that night.

One of the other authors at this event – Jill Doe – is currently NTF. That is, Network Television Famous. At least, her work is Network Television Famous.

Anyway, this event occurred on the same evening as a live music show that my husband Jonathan wanted to attend. The events took place on opposite sides of Pittsburgh. Jonathan dropped me off at Barnes and Noble two hours before the “Psychological Thriller Author Panel” began so that he could find parking at his show.

I won’t complain about having two hours to kill at Barnes and Noble.

However, I got bored looking at books on the Barnes and Noble shelves that I intended to purchase from Amazon. So, I sat down in the special section that a bookstore employee prepared for the “Psychological Thriller Author Panel.” The section consisted of a head table in front of several rows of folding chairs. A sign printed with the five author’s names stood between the chairs and the table.

When I walked into the special section, three people already sat in the front row: a young woman and an older man and woman.

The man pointed at the sign and said loudly, “Which one of those is the famous writer?”

“Shhh!” the young woman said. “You’re embarrassing me!”

A woman with a Barnes and Noble name tag introduced herself to the three people sitting in the front row. The young woman explained that she was a college student and also a huge fan of Jill Doe’s work. The young woman introduced the older man and woman as her parents. She explained that her parents drove her from their home in Greensburg into Pittsburgh so that she could meet Jill Doe.

The five authors showed up, and then the “Psychological Thriller Author Panel” commenced. The five spoke well about their work and their experiences. The question and answer session ended. The spectators formed a line to get their books signed.

I didn’t plan on meeting any of the writers at this book signing, so I watched the young woman who travelled from Greensburg with her parents to meet Jill Doe.

Jill Doe signed the young woman’s book, and then posed with her for a photo.

The young woman bounced back to her parents with her newly-signed book.

So, this isn’t a story about a famous person being a jerk to a nobody.

Sorry to disappoint you.

What I remember most about this evening was that a young woman enjoyed a book (or several books) so much that she convinced her parents to drive her through rush-hour Friday evening traffic from her home in a remote suburb to the major city, so that she could meet this book’s author for five minutes.

I thought, We all have our own people who “love” us in that same way.

Thanks for sticking with me through 2018 and 2019. I am learning how to use another “new to me” camera. Let me entertain you with new scenes and stories.