“Indentured Slaves” in Pittsburgh?

So, I’ve been trying to blog about this for about a year now. I couldn’t figure out how to handle the topic. I still don’t know how to handle the topic. However, we might all be dead before 2020 ends, so I will give it a shot now.

When I was a teenager, I was super “into” the American Civil War. That is, I was “into” upper class white women’s experiences in the Civil War. (Such as the the fiction of Gone with the Wind.) I didn’t care about the military strategy. Then, I went to college and formed interests in OTHER things. About a year or so ago, I joined a Civil War message board and I started to read about the Civil War again.

I still don’t care about military strategy. I still read about upper class white women’s experiences.

Last year I read most of “The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant (Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant).” Julia Dent Grant was the widow of American POTUS and General Ulysses S. Grant. (Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant during the American Civil War in 1865.) President Grant wrote his memoirs to great fanfare shortly before he died of cancer in 1885. After this, Mrs. Grant wrote her own memoirs. Mrs. Grant was actually the very first First Lady of the United States to write her own memoirs. Unfortunately, she did not find a publisher for her own memoirs during her lifetime. Mrs. Grant’s memoirs were published in the later half of the 20th century.

In Mrs. Grant’s memoirs, she wrote that her own mother, Ellen Bray Wrenshall Dent, grew up in Pittsburgh, attended school in Philadelphia, and then lived briefly in Pittsburgh as an adult. Mrs. Grant wrote that her mother and her father moved from Pittsburgh to St. Louis two years after their marriage. Mrs. Grant wrote, “Nearly all Pittsburgh assembled on the river bank to wish pretty Ellen Wrenshall and her brave young husband Godspeed.”

Here’s one part that caught my attention: Mrs. Grant wrote of this journey “The party consisted of papa, mamma, baby John, Mr. Edward Tracy, a friend of father’s, also two indentured slaves, Hester and Bob, with men for handling the rafts, etc.”

Now, the Dent family’s ownership of enslaved workers when they lived in St. Louis is well written about. The reason that I hesitated to blog about this is because on the Civil War message board that I joined last year, some of the posters use Ulysses S. Grant’s connection by marriage to a slave-owning family as support for their arguments that the American Civil War was fought over “States’ Rights” and not Slavery. I didn’t want to give any of the fools such as these more ammunition for their arguments. (Pardon the ammunition pun.)

But, I would like to know more about the “two indentured slaves, Hester and Bob” with whom the Dent family left Pittsburgh for St. Louis.

I learned through a Google search that the Dent family left Pittsburgh for St. Louis in 1819. How many of their friends who wished them well on the riverbank in Pittsburgh also had “indentured slaves?”

I didn’t even know until I was an adult that people who lived in Western Pennsylvania exploited indentured and enslaved workers in the 1800’s.

Now, in this same section of the memoir, Mrs. Grant mentioned that when she was growing up in St. Louis, several family friends visited them from Pittsburgh: “the Nevilles, O’Hara’s, Wilkinses, Robinsons, Dennys, Ogdens, etc.” I recognize several of these family names from Pittsburgh history. For instance, I blogged before about James O’Hara, who was Mary Schenley’s maternal grandfather. Ebenezer Denny was Pittsburgh’s first mayor. How many of these families had their own “indentured slaves” in Pittsburgh?

Whenever I had trouble verbalizing a thought to my late mom Shirley, Mom used to say, “Spit it out, Jen.” I don’t know if this is a saying that she learned from her own working class, German-descended Pittsburgh upbringing. But, I think of my mom whenever I am having a hard time expressing my thoughts. So, tonight I “spit it out.” Mom’s advice has actually served me very well!

By the way, I took a “break” from the Civil War message board. I can’t deal with the posters who are more upset about Robert E. Lee’s legacy being tarnished (he actually tarnished it himself!) than about the living Americans that our society failed to protect.

Midnight Train to Chicago: Redux

Chicago, Illinois. June 2017. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

In June 2017, my husband Jonathan and I took the Amtrak from Pittsburgh to Chicago for a week. Jonathan had a business trip and I tagged along to do the tourist thing. Jonathan hates to fly, thus the train.

Our trip began in a large crowd of Cubs fans. We walked into an Amtrak station reeling from an engine fire, a passenger train stranded in the mountains, a rescue from Norfolk Southern, and another train stranded by a severe storm.

And this was all before we left Pittsburgh.

Two different Amtrak routes stop in Pittsburgh. Just to simplify things, I am only going to describe the East – West Routes for each of these.

The Pennsylvanian runs between New York City and Pittsburgh, with a crew change in Philadelphia.  The Capitol Limited runs between Washington, D.C. and Chicago, with a crew change in Pittsburgh.

When things happen the way that they are supposed to, the westbound train for the Pennsylvanian stops in Pittsburgh earlier in the evening. Then, the westbound train for the Capitol Limited stops in Pittsburgh shortly before midnight. Therefore, a passenger can board the Pennsylvanian in New York, disembark in Pittsburgh, wait around the Pittsburgh station for a little bit, and then board the Capital Limited to continue into Ohio.

(In the past, Jonathan and I rode on the Pennsylvanian for weekend trips to NYC. We rode the on the Capitol Limited for trips to Washington. And we also previously rode on the Capitol Limited to Chicago as the first leg of longer trips out west.)

We planned to leave Pittsburgh for Chicago on a Friday night. We had booked a sleeping car for our trip. We intended to sleep through most of the trip across Ohio and Indiana, then wake up shortly before we reached Chicago the next morning.

We both went in to our jobs in Pittsburgh that Friday. We had respectable thunderstorms throughout the day. After our work days ended, we ate dinner at a restaurant a block away from Pittsburgh’s Amtrak station.

The Chicago Cubs were actually playing the Pirates IN Pittsburgh that same evening, and also for the next several nights after this. So, when we walked from the restaurant to the Amtrak station in Pittsburgh, we stepped into a crowd of people wearing Cub’s jerseys.

The Capitol Limited to Chicago was scheduled to leave shortly before midnight that evening. We arrived at the station about 2 hours early. (Jonathan loves to watch trains, and we showed up extra early to do just this. Many freight trains pass the Pittsburgh Amtrak station.)

We barely found a place to sit down in the Amtrak station.

The station was full of people waiting to pick up loved ones from The Pennsylvanian’s return trip from New York City.  

The Pennsylvanian was late.

Why?

Well, that’s because the Pennsylvanian’s engine caught fire near Altoona, Pennsylvania. The train lost its air conditioning and the toilets no longer worked.

Now, Altoona is near a summit of the Allegheny Mountains. So, the train had broken down near the top of a mountain.

Later that evening, I spoke with a fellow passenger of the westbound Capitol Limited who had been on the Pennsylvanian for this adventure. He travelled on the Pennsylvanian from his former home in Lancaster to Pittsburgh, with the intention to travel from Pittsburgh to his new home in Ohio. He told me that when the Pennsylvanian’s engine burned out, someone ran down the aisle yelling “Fire!” The train cars all carried the burning smell. The crew passed out the remaining food and drink from the snack car. This all happened during a thunderstorm.

An hour after we arrived at the Pittsburgh station, two Norfolk Southern freight engines towed the Pennsylvanian into the station.

All of the Pennsylvanian passengers rushed into the station. (I wonder how many of them went looking for the indoor plumbing.) They and their family left, except the ones who were connecting in Pittsburgh to the Capitol Limited.

All of us learned that the Capitol Limited would be a half hour late. Then an hour late.

We sat by the tracks, and we saw a train heading towards us.

It was a freight train. Not the Capitol Limited.

Another half hour passed. Another freight train passed us.

The station made an announcement. One of the storms had blown tree debris onto the tracks just outside of Pittsburgh. The Capitol Limited would not arrive in Pittsburgh until the tracks were cleared.

The Amtrak employees passed out bottled water to the crowd. A few people bitched.

The Capitol Limited finally showed up in Pittsburgh.

Jonathan and I boarded at about 2:45. Our train porter had our sleeping car set up with our beds. I fell asleep.

When I awoke, the sun was up and we were halfway through Ohio.

I went to eat breakfast in the dining car. Breakfast is included in the cost of a ticket for the sleeping car. Back in pre-pandemic days, if you had less than four people in your party, they sat you at a table with strangers. I sat with a mother and daughter who had travelled into Pitttsburgh from Latrobe on the Pennsylvanian. (Remember that photo that I posted of the oil-covered engine? Well, that photo happened – several years earlier – directly in front of the Latrobe Amtrak station.)

The train pulled into Union Station in Chicago a bit later than scheduled, but at least we were in Chicago.

That evening, we ate dinner at a Chicago restaurant full of televisions showing the Cubs playing in Pittsburgh.

At the end of our trip, Jonathan and I got back into Pittsburgh two hours late. Another storm had blown debris onto the track in front of the Capitol Limited, this time outside of Toledo.

We had no trouble with wind during our time in the Windy City, though!

Restaurant Confessions Part I: The Great Veterans Day Weekend Oil Shower

I have a confession. Before the Covid-19 crisis changed my world in March, I ate out at restaurants A LOT. Everyone has a different definition of “A LOT.” I’m not going to provide my definition of “A LOT.” Let’s just say that I’m embarrassed to let my dad and sisters know how often I ate out.

I didn’t always eat out A LOT. I didn’t go out much during college or right after college because I couldn’t afford it. In fact, when I worked at my first job after college in Johnstown, my friends and I made fun of a co-worker who did go out to eat “A LOT.”

Then, I got a job in downtown Pittsburgh. I married a man who worked in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh. I moved into his house in New Kensington. New Kensington isn’t that close to Pittsburgh during rush hour. My after-work commute changed from 5 minutes in Johnstown to much longer. I also made more dough because I no longer worked in Johnstown. Also also, my living costs were still really low because- well, because I lived in New Kensington. So, I paid other people to make my dinner.

That all changed in March 2020. People on Facebook told me that I could die or kill my grandmother if I went outside. My employer told me to work from home. (Woot! Woot! No painful commute!) The governor shut down all of the restaurants. So, I learned how much money I actually save by making my poor husband cook for me.

The very last time that I ate in a restaurant was Sunday, March 15. My husband Jonathan and I ate at the brunch buffet at DiSalvo’s Station Restaurant in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. According to Facebook, we should both be dead right now! Good thing that the restaurant only had about five other patrons during our meal.

DiSalvo’s is a renovated former train station that sits under active railroad tracks. The current Amtrak station sits above the restaurant. When you dine at DiSalvo’s, you can hear freight trains or perhaps even the Amtrak over your head.

I visited DiSalvo’s for the very first time when I was a senior at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe. I ended up at DiSalvo’s as part of a double date. It turned out that my “date” part of the double date actually wanted to be with the other girl in our foursome, and a few months later he did just that. However, that’s the way that things go sometimes. I got a free meal out of the whole thing.

So, the place has a model railroad that travels along the dining room wall. This little train passes replicas of Latrobe landmarks, including the Saint Vincent Basilica. When I went there on my “double date,” the other girl and I cooed “Oh, train!” every time that the train passed our table. Someone finally turned the train off just to shut us up.

A few years later, I went to a wedding reception held at DiSalvo’s for a college classmate who got married at Saint Vincent Basilica.

A few more years went by and I got married myself. (I married a guy who never went on a double date with me while he actually wanted the other girl. Also, my own wedding wasn’t as fancy and it didn’t take place in Latrobe.)

A few years after this, my sister K. gave me a gift card to the place. Then, I went cabin camping with my husband and in-laws at nearby Keystone State Park over Veterans Day weekend. My father-in-law is a veteran. My father-in-law loves trains. We used the gift card to treat him to Sunday brunch at DiSalvo’s.

So, after brunch, we walked up to the railroad tracks to watch trains. A few freight trains passed us. We even saw a male and female stowaway riding on one of the cars. (I’m too politically correct to use the word “hobo.”)

And then . . . it happened. A train stopped on the tracks directly above DiSalvo’s Station. Oil covered the locomotive and several of the front cars.

It turned out that the thing’s turbo had exploded. Thus the mess. Oil everywhere.

We watched railroad employees disconnect the oil-covered locomotive from the front car and replace it with a fresh, oil-free locomotive. We watched this for over an hour. We didn’t need no stinking model train that could be turned off by the whim of annoyed restaurant employees. We had our own, real train entertainment outside!

I swiped this photo of the oil-covered locomotive from my sister-in-law’s Facebook page. Good thing that I don’t actually make any money from this blog!

My husband and I saw all of this with his mom Fran, his dad, his sister M., and her future husband J. After this, my husband and I drove to Latrobe sometimes to grab brunch at DiSalvo’s. Every time we ate there, we talked about the Great Veterans Day Weekend Oil Shower.

After Fran died, I couldn’t think about the Great Veterans Day Weekend Oil Shower without thinking about how much fun Fran seemed to have had that day at the train tracks above DiSalvo’s Station.

Now, as I said, my routine completely changed in March 2020. A lot of people’s lives did. My employer had planned a major client social function at a downtown Pittsburgh restaurant for mid-March. Two weeks before everything shut down, my big manager announced that the client function was still on her schedule. She told my co-workers that she herself planned to keep eating out.

By that time, Twitter was filled with memes about how our entire family would die if we left the house. I ignored the memes because my mother-in-law and my own mom had both lived their lives “correctly” and they had both died anyway. So, if I croaked from eating at a brunch buffet, at least I got to eat that final piece of chocolate cheesecake.

So – about that brunch at DiSalvo’s Station on March 15. The restaurant was pretty empty. We were at least six feet away from the other patrons the entire time. The only other patrons sat on the other side of the dining room. The staff seemed really nervous and stressed. Maybe I just projected my own feelings onto them.

The next day, Monday March 16, was my last day inside my employer’s downtown Pittsburgh office. During that day, we received an email to start working from home effective immediately. The governor shut down all of the restaurants less than a week later.

I’m blessed because I didn’t lose my job. I got to stop making my commute. I saved a lot of money. However, I’m sad that I haven’t eaten inside of a restaurant since March. I’m sad for all of the restaurants that I loved to visit. So, from time to time, I will blog about my restaurant memories.

By the way, I’m aware that Pennsylvania restaurants eventually opened again to inside diners. However, my husband and I decided to cherry-pick our activities. We are involved in some other stuff (including my husband’s participation in our community’s volunteer fire department) so we balanced this out by not eating inside of restaurants. Now restaurants in my area are being shut down again. It looks as if I won’t be eating inside of a restaurant for a long, long time.

Happy Birthday, Stephen Foster!

Here is songwriter Stephen Foster’s grave and also those of his parents at Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh.

From this photo, you can see that:

1.) Stephen Foster’s birthday is July 4.

2.) Stephen’s father, William Barclay Foster, served as a veteran in the War of 1812.

Return to the Ghost Town Trail

Ghost Town Trail, Cambria County, PA. May, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Almost every person in the entire world had a rough few months, or a rough few years, or a rough life.

I’ve worked from home full time since mid-March. I know that this takes me out of the running for “who had it roughest.”

I don’t want to get into a contest about who had it roughest. I won’t win. I don’t want to win.

Even so, I’ve struggled since March to make it through each work week – and that’s okay.

I heard through our aunt that my cousin K.G. and her co-workers decided to NOT call our current reality the “New Normal.” Instead, they refer to it as the “Temporary Weirdness.”

(Cousin K.G., if you’re reading this, keep in mind that I’m not trying to be F. Scott Fitzgerald as he plagiarizes his wife Zelda’s diary. Let me know if you want me to remove all references to “Temporary Weirdness” or else give you a writing credit for this blog post.)

So here’s two things that keep me going through this “Temporary Weirdness”:

1.) My “new” chair

My husband J. also works from home in our “Temporary Weirdness.” When this “started,” J. purchased a “new” chair for himself. That is, he purchased a chair from a company in Chicago that refurbishes office furniture and also manufactures Covid-19 masks. (The company was permitted to stay open BECAUSE they added “mask making” to their list of things that they now do.)

Meanwhile, I worked each day from one of our dining room chairs. I did this for several weeks.

I told myself that it wasn’t “necessary” for me to spend money on my own “new” chair because I should save up all that I could just in case I caught Covid-19 and got really sick or died. I know, that was stupid.

My back hurts even when I’m not sitting all day on a dining room chair. So, for several weeks, I snapped at J. all day, every day.

Then J. said to me, “Why don’t you use my chair today?”

I used J.’s chair that day.

That evening, we ordered a chair for me from the same company.

I really wish that I had just purchased my own comfortable chair back in early March!

See, I read the blogs of other people who work for long periods of time from home offices. A bunch of these people highly recommended that readers invest in comfortable office chairs. And it STILL took me weeks before I broke down and bought myself such a chair.

2.) Awesome podcasts, videos, and live-streamed events from extremely talented people

Ever since the global pandemic “quarantine” (it’s not a REAL quarantine) hit my world, I’ve entertained myself with podcasts, virtual tours, videos, live-streamed events, etc, from entertainers. Many of these extremely talented souls post links to their online tip jars since they haven’t been able to perform to live audiences since March. And of course I tip. After all, I’m privileged enough to work 40 hours a week from my “new” comfortable chair.

I consider many of these talents to be “essential workers” because they’ve helped me to function ever since the “Temporary Weirdness” started.

Actually, some of these talents helped me to make it through life as a semi-functional adult ever since my mom got sick and died two years ago.

And the thing is, almost all of these talents perform in places too far away for me to realistically visit in person. So, if the internet didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have the joy that they all give to me.

Here’s the thing that hurts me: I know that I will never be able to do for other people what these performers do for me. I will never be able to write a podcast, or take a photo or video, that will help somebody who just lost her mother make it through a stressful day of work. I will never give somebody a reason to get out of bed after nightmares about dying alone of Covid-19.

But, I can attempt to keep a single reader fairly amused for a few minutes.

Ghost Town Trail, Cambria County, PA. May, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

If you haven’t figured it out by now, this post isn’t actually about the Ghost Town Trail. Here is an actual post about the Ghost Town Trail.

(Just to recap: The Ghost Town Trail is a walking and bike trail in Cambria County, Pennsylvania. I graduated from high school in the county that sits just below Cambria County. After college, I worked for Americorps in the nearby economically devastated city of Johnstown. I shared office space with several Americorps members who contributed to the Ghost Town Trail. )

Anyway, my husband J. and I biked on the Ghost Town Trail last month.

(Don’t worry, the trail was “legally” open that day. We social distanced. We brought masks. We hand sanitized. We did nothing during our bike ride that would cause you to blame us for killing your grandparents. )

I blogged last June about our previous trip down the trail.

Last month, we rode on a newly-opened trail spur. This spur took us past the spooky old train depot pictured in this post.

The thing reminded me of Stephen King’s short story “Willa.”

I told J. that the train depot just HAD to be haunted. I just HAD to grab a photo just in case I “saw a ghost”.

I didn’t see any ghosts. Still, I hope that you enjoyed these photos for a few minutes.

Here’s something else that’s up with me and J.: My husband has been really busy with woodworking during our “quarantine.” He finished our downstairs bathroom medicine chest and he made himself a new desk. (You know, so that he can work from home during our Temporary Weirdness.) Here’s a blog post about the chest. He already wrote the post about the desk and he will post it next week.

Soldiers’ Lot, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh

Cannon. Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

In 2018, I took a guided tour of Allegheny Cemetery. This cemetery is on the National Register of Historic places.

 Allegheny Cemetery includes a National Cemetery Administration’s soldiers’ lot. The Allegheny Cemetery Soldiers’ Lot is located in Section 33 of Allegheny Cemetery. The majority of the 303 soldiers buried here were Civil War soldiers. Most of the burials were of Union soldiers; however, the lot also contains several Confederate soldiers.

I returned to the Soldiers’ Lot in 2019 in order to take some photos.

Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I didn’t have any prior knowledge of this following soldier, but I Googled his name when I returned home.

From the Veterans Affairs / website for Allegheny Cemetery Soldiers’ Lot: Corporal John M. Kendig (Civil War). He received the Medal of Honor while serving in the U.S. Army, Company A, 63rd Pennsylvania Infantry, for actions at Spotsylvania, Virginia, May 12, 1864. His citation was awarded under the name of Kindig. He died in 1869 and is buried in Section 33, Lot 66, Site 32.

Corporal John M. Kendig (Civil War). He received the Medal of Honor.
Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here’s a grave for an unknown Union (United States) Civil War soldier:

Unknown U.S. Soldier grave.
Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Finally, here is a Confederate grave that I saw at the Soldiers’ Lot. Note how the headstone differs from that of a Union soldier.

Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Severe Weather Photos

New Kensington, Pennsylvania. April 8, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here are some photos that I took of the damage from the severe storm that hit New Kensington early this morning.

New Kensington, Pennsylvania. April 8, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
New Kensington, Pennsylvania. April 8, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
New Kensington, Pennsylvania. April 8, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
New Kensington, Pennsylvania. April 8, 2020. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Quarantine Podcast

Historic Downtown Fredericksburg, Virginia. November 2011. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Yesterday, I viewed an online training session. The host joked that “everybody” is now producing “quarantine podcasts” since most of us are now living under “Shelter in Place” orders.

Now, I received podcasting equipment for Christmas a year and a half ago. I haven’t used it as much as I had hoped. So, I’m going to take another shot at creating a podcast series about folklore and history, mainly in Western Pennsylvania.

So, this new series will be my personal “quarantine podcast.”

I don’t expect to make any money from my upcoming podcast. I’m not trying to take anything away from the people who already create podcasts – or give ghost tours – as their bread and butter. I’m just working on this to have a little bit of fun. So please be kind when I finally post an episode.

(If you get all snarky about me anyway, then I guess that I deserve it.)

In the meantime, here is a virtual flower show for you to enjoy.

Magnolia Tree. University of Pittsburgh Student Union. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. March 31, 2016. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here is a photo of my husband Jonathan taking a photo at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh:

Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here is another photo from Phipps Conservatory:

Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. April 2015. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here are some photos that I took when I visited Longwood Gardens during a rainstorm and a flood warning:

Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. June 2015. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. June 2015. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. June 2015. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
Longwood Gardens, Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. June 2015. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)