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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I intended to blog this month about the Revolutionary War soldiers from Western Pennsylvania who wintered at Valley Forge from 1777 – 1778. However, “Winter at Valley Forge” doesn’t radiate sunshine and warmth. A lot of people that I love are pretty sad this month. Anyway, I don’t think that I can tell you much that you can’t just learn from a five second Google search.
Jonathan and I toured Valley Forge once. We watched the movie at the visitors’ center that was basically footage from a 1977 re-enactment. (I could tell because the “soldiers” wore eyewear from the 1970’s.) We walked around the entire National Historical Park. Jonathan photographed Washington’s headquarters. Maybe next winter, I will post some of Jonathan’s Valley Forge photos. My sister K. got married right down the road from it, so this is what we did before the rehearsal dinner.
In the meantime, if you really want to read about soldiers from Westmoreland County who served during the Revolutionary War, go read my blog post about Lochry’s Defeat.
So, Christmas time always reminds me of the music programming at Berlin Brothersvalley School District. My four sisters and I all graduated from Berlin. The entire district consists of three buildings connected by a tunnel. The entire school district has one auditorium that everybody shares. My poor mom and dad sat in this auditorium every December for over three decades, watching their kids perform in various holiday concerts. Sometimes, they attended multiple concerts in the same month!
It’s a really long story, but the school district’s Christmas music programs in this auditorium began in either kindergarten or first grade. Then, all four of my sisters and I were in Christmas programs for either band or chorus for elementary, junior high, and high school. Keep in mind that there is a nine-year age gap between me and E., and a 13-year age gap between E. and O. So, I started elementary school over thirty years before my sister O. graduated from high school. That’s how my parents got stuck sitting in Berlin’s only auditorium every December, for over three decades. (This doesn’t even count all of the spring concerts and musicals, and all of the hours and hours and hours that my parents spent watching K. and I perform in the high school marching band.)
The thing that makes me feel so guilty now is that I NEVER PRACTICED my clarinet on my own. I got away with this because my school was so small that the music teachers basically took every warm body that showed up for all of the rehearsals. I am so sorry that my parents had to sit through so many concerts (and football games and parades) in which I played the clarinet so poorly.
Remember when I said that my parents sometimes watched their kids appear in multiple performing arts events in the same month? Well, that’s because all of the bands and choruses from the elementary, junior high, and high school each had their own separate events. Except for one December.
Berlin sits on top of a mountain in Somerset County. One winter, the weather was so bad all December that everybody’s separate events got cancelled. Multiple ice storms or something.
So, Berlin Brothersvalley School District combined all of the rescheduled holiday music programming (band AND chorus) from grades 4-12 all together on one special evening! Seriously. The entire combined holiday concert was four or five hours long. I wish that I was making this up. I’m not.
Well, what do you think happens when you fit an entire school district’s worth of families into one auditorium to watch every single band and chorus student from grades 4-12 perform? Do you think that the entire audience sits there quietly? Do you think that the audience stays for every single musical group’s entire performance? Do you think that audience members who do need to cut out early take care to be quiet in the hallway?
If this were the game show Jeopardy!, I would say, “What is none of the above, Alex?“
My high school band director, Mr. B., was PISSED that this entire school district’s worth of families in grades 4-12 did not sit quietly for the five hour Christmas Concert from Hell.
Mr. B was so upset that on the very next school day, he made the entire high school concert band get into groups and brainstorm lists of concert etiquette. Then, he made all of the groups get together and compile one master list of concert etiquette.
Then, at the beginning of every single performing arts event held at Berlin for the rest of my high school career, a student had to come up on stage and read our master list of concert etiquette to the audience.
Mr. B. also made sure that our master list of concert etiquette was printed inside every paper program for every musical event held at Berlin.
Years after I graduated from high school, I returned to the school to watch a musical in which one of my younger sisters performed. The master list of concert etiquette that I helped to compile after the Christmas Concert from Hell appeared at the very front of that event’s program.
Now, I can’t even go to see something at the Benedum without mentally tsk-tsking whenever I see or hear somebody violating the giant list of concert etiquette that Mr. B. made us create. For instance, one time I went to see the muscial RENT. The woman sitting next to me pulled a sandwich out of her enormous purse and ate it in the middle of the show while the lights were down and people were singing. At the Benedum. The place with the $100+ tickets. (Disclaimer: Maybe she had blood sugar issues. Who am I to judge.)
The concert etiquette disaster at the Christmas Concert from Hell happened long before everybody and their dog owned smartphones. So, maybe the audience’s behavior would have been even worse if the Christmas Concert from Hell had happened (pre-Covid) in 2019.
At the time, I thought that Mr. B. made us band members write the giant list of concert etiquette in order to teach all of us kids a lesson. Now, looking back, I think that the concert etiquette list was directed at the parents, at all of the adults who didn’t set a good example that night.
(But also: a four-or-five-hour concert, featuring every music student from grades 4-12? Really?)
I can’t wait until the Covid crisis ends so that I can go back to judging other people’s concert etiquette behavior at live performances. In the meantime, I sit here and think about the Christmas Concert from Hell. Those days were the good old days.
Up until mid-March 2020, I commuted into downtown Pittsburgh almost every weekday to my job. I now telecommute for this same employer from my dining room in Parnassus.
My employer’s Pittsburgh office is several blocks away from the Omni William Penn Hotel. The hotel was built in 1915-1916. Omni purchased it in 2001. So, for the rest of this blog post, I will just refer to this hotel as the “William Penn.”
One morning in November 2019, I walked to the Starbucks that is located inside the William Penn (and which opens into the hotel’s lobby), and then I sat in the lobby with my coffee and enjoyed the hotel’s holiday decorations.
This was less than a week before downtown Pittburgh’s 2019 “Light Up Night.” The hotel’s hardworking staff decorated the lobby ahead of this event. I watched many Starbucks customers pull out their smartphones and take photos of the gingerbread house built to look just like the William Penn’s facade. So, I too took a smartphone photo. I didn’t think to take photos of anything else in the hotel lobby, such as the enormous and fully decorated tree.
I expected that this November or December, I would once again walk to the William Penn for a coffee break and holiday decorations.
Just for reference, here below are the only photos that I took of the William Penn’s actual facade. I took these photos on December 13, 2011. Occupy Pittsburgh camped at Mellon Green, across the street from the William Penn. Wikipedia tells me that BNY Mellon filed in court on December 12, 2011, to end the encampment. So, the local news coverage from this filing must have inspired me to walk from my workplace (a financial services job) up to Mellon Green to sight-see the people who were protesting financial services industries (and the people who worked there). I did not actually interact with anybody “residing” in this encampment. I assume that many of them were away at class (Pitt, perhaps?) or their own jobs.
I lived in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, for a few years out of college. I graduated from high school in a tiny town about one hour south of Johnstown. After college, the very first job that I found that included health insurance was in Johnstown. So, I stayed there for a few years until I was able to find a much better paying job in downtown Pittsburgh.
I actually went to Johnstown about once a month each month or so while I was growing up. Johnstown had the closest mall and the closest new release bookstore. We couldn’t order books off of Amazon because that’s how old I am. So, my mom drove me to the bookstore in Johnstown every time that a new Baby-Sitters Club book came out. I was in my high school’s marching band. We travelled to Johnstown to perform at football games and at the Halloween parade. My sixth grade class visited a bunch of the famous sites connected with the 1889 Johnstown Flood for our spring field trip. (You know – the site where the South Fork Dam burst, the flood museum in Johnstown, and of course, the cemetery where many of the flood’s over two thousand victims were buried.)
This story isn’t about all of the people who died in the Johnstown flood. This story is about ANOTHER calamity in Johnstown that killed a bunch of people in the 1800’s. I just learned about this particular calamity this month. I think that this is because Johnstown has just experienced SO MANY tragic mishaps.
This story is bonkers.
Anyway, in 1865, the Civil War ended and John Wilkes Booth assassinated President of the United States Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s Vice President, Andrew Johnson, became the new POTUS. Things did not go well for Andrew Johnson.
In 1866, Johnson took a “Swing Around the Circle” train trip. He was trying to convince people to like him better. In September 1866, Johnson’s train stopped in Johnstown, between his route from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg.
Thousands of people showed up in Johnstown to see Johnson and the Civil War heroes whom he (allegedly) pressured to travel with him. Maintenance staff in Johnstown built a viewing platform over an old canal for the spectators.
Hundreds of people stood on the platform.
The platform collapsed. Many spectators fell about 20 feet.
Several spectators were killed.
The train moved on to the next stop WHILE THE RESCUE AND RECOVERY WERE STILL IN PROGRESS.
Now, I don’t have the talent or the patience to write about Andrew Johnson. Especially not for a blog post here. Especially not on Thanksgiving Eve, while I have several shots of whiskey in me. That’s why God created Wikipedia on the eighth day!
When I was a kid, I read a children’s historical fiction novel about Andrew Johnson that I either found in a used book store or else I found in the back of a classroom. I think that it was called “The Tennessee Yankee” or else “The Yankee from Tennessee” or something. The book made Johnson out to be a hero. However, everything else that I ever read about Johnson after this pretty much called him a jerk. People are complicated. The American Civil War was complicated. Reconstruction was complicated.
I never had anything THIS exciting happen to me when I visited or lived in Johnstown. One of my co-workers from Johnstown told me that her ex-husband went to see Sting at the Johnstown War Memorial. Sting – ALLEGEDLY – performed so poorly that night that the crowd threw their beer bottles at him when he sang “Roxanne” for twenty or thirty minutes. So, that’s an exciting thing that happened in Johnstown – to somebody else – during my lifetime.
So, for a few years now, I’ve casually followed the efforts of local preservationists to purchase and restore the Old Stone Tavern, aka Elliott’s, in Pittsburgh’s West End. Daniel Elliott, or perhaps somebody else, built the tavern / inn during the late 1700’s.
I took an interest in the tavern because it appeared in Agnes Sligh Turnbulls’s historical fiction about late 1700’s Western Pennsylvania. (Turnbull graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and she wrote several books including The Day Must Dawn and The King’s Orchard.)
In The King’s Orchard, the protagonist, James O’Hara (an early Pittsburgh business leader and also philanthropist Mary Schenley’s grandfather) lived for a while at Elliott’s while he established himself as a fur trader. Also in Turnbull’s fiction, the famous / infamous Colonel William Crawford and Simon Girty drank at a colonial Pittsburgh tavern that I believe may have been based on Elliott’s. Daniel Elliott himself appeared in Turnbull’s fiction.
Turnbull’s historical fiction also referenced either a Pittsburgh innkeeper or Pittsburgh store owner named Sam Semple. I haven’t yet figured out whether Semple’s establishment later became Elliott’s, or if these were two different operations.
I can’t ask Turnbull about Sam Semple and his connection to Elliott’s because she published The Day Must Dawn in 1942 and The King’s Orchard in 1963. She passed away in 1982. She is buried in her hometown of New Alexandria, Pennsylvania.
Everything that I know about the preservation of Elliott’s Tavern came from Wikipedia, the preservationist group’s Facebook page, and the first articles that appeared when I Googled “old stone tavern Pittsburgh.”
For instance, here is an article that appeared in Pittsburgh Magazine in December 2019:
The last post of the “Old Stone Tavern” Facebook page showed a February 2020 date. It detailed a fundraiser held that same month in order to raise money to purchase the building.
Less than a month after this Facebook posting and the fundraiser, Pennsylvania’s governor shut Pennsylvania down due to Covid-19.
So, will Elliott’s ever open as a tavern again? I wonder. If currently open restaurants struggle right now to stay open, who knows what will happen to a tavern that closed years ago?
I’ve never looked into becoming involved in the tavern preservation group’s fundraising efforts. My husband and I have enough frustration trying to preserve our own 1890’s house. For instance, this past weekend, Jonathan transplanted a baby Japanese maple tree that was growing into our house’s foundation over to a different part of our yard, and the tree didn’t get blown over in the next day’s giant windstorm. This was a major accomplishment in our house restoration. I don’t need to get my heart broken over a 1700’s tavern.
That said, I’ve thought about Elliott’s and compared it to what I know about the Jean Bonnet Tavern in Bedford. I’ve come to the conclusion that Elliott’s needs to have its own ghost. Or ghosts. Or, at least, ghost stories.
I’ve heard that you can purchase “ghost in a bottle” kits on the internet. I think that these are all Caveat Emptor deals, though. What if the ghost that you ordered turned out to be a woman who had unpopular opinions about things?
On a more serious note, what if the ghost was one of the Native Americans slaughtered in the Gnadenhutten Massacre of 1782, or else one of the Native Americans slaughtered by Colonel William Crawford’s men, or else one of the Native Americans who received a smallpox blanket from the soldiers at Fort Pitt?
You never know what you’ll actually get when you order a ghost online. Also, a preservation group can’t purchase ghosts for a building that it doesn’t currently own.
Most of the articles that I read emphasized the tavern’s role in colonial and very early American history. I read about more recent (1870’s and Roaring Twenties) history that happened there; I’d love to blog more about that later.
Thanks for sticking by my side on this blog. I’ve blogged before about the tavern, but I owed you an American history post.