Mural: New Ken by Bernie Wilke and Other Artists and also a Santa Claus Cameo

Mural by Bernie Wilke and Other Artists. Fourth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. December 4, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I cheated and posted a version of this photo on Facebook yesterday so that I could share it with New Kensington’s Fire Department.

I wrote before that my eyes have a “little bit” of a strabismus. I’m having a really terrible time figuring out if this photo is straight, even with the tools on my Lightroom software. So, please let me know if this photo looks crooked. A close family member told me that my photo cropping on this is fine, but I don’t believe them.

Bernie Wilke and other local artists, including local volunteers, painted this mural in the spring of 2021. Here are the photos of that I took of the Work-In-Progress Mural and also of the mural dedication.

If you leave the Pennsylvania Turnpike at the Allegheny Valley Exit, drive through Cheswick and Springdale, and then turn right to drive across the C.L. Schmitt to cross the Allegheny River into New Kensington, you will see this mural as you enter downtown New Kensington.

The very first time that I ever came to New Kensington, I drove here on Route 56 from Johnstown. I lived in Johnstown at that time because I worked in downtown Johnstown at my very first post-college job that provided health insurance. (I used to refer to the job in Johnstown as my very first “real job.” But, you see, that’s not fair to anybody who worked with me at Wendy’s or McDonald’s or Wal-Mart before I found an office job with health insurance in Johnstown. So, I’m going to replace “real job” with “job that provided health insurance.”)

On my very first trip ever to New Kensington, I visited my future husband, Jonathan, at his then newly-purchased house in Parnassus. Then, I watched a New Kensington Civic Theater play for which Jonathan provided tech and manual labor.

I left New Kensington in the dark on that visit. I intended to use the Pennsylvania Turnpike to drive to my parents’ house in Somerset County. This being my very first trip to New Kensington, I had no idea how to access the turnpike from New Kensington. I did not own any mobile devices that had GPS.

Jonathan said, “Oh, how about if I drive to the turnpike on-ramp in my car, and you can follow me. The turnpike is really close to my house, and it’s no problem at all for me to just show you where it is.”

So, I followed Jonathan to the turnpike entrance. Turned out that the turnpike was NOT “really close” to Jonathan’s house. The drive took us 15 minutes with no real traffic. Jonathan later admitted to me that he feared that I would get lost finding the turnpike and thus I would never agree to drive to New Kensington ever again if he left me to locate the turnpike on my own.

Anyway, I took the photo at the top of this blog post yesterday during New Kensington’s Christmas parade. I considered skipping the parade this year because my mom used to drive up (drive down?) from Somerset County each December to watch the parade with me before she passed away in 2018. But, we didn’t have a parade in 2020. So I went to the 2021 parade.

The above photo was an afterthought. The parade route started on Fifth Avenue, made a left, made a second left, and proceeded onto Fourth Avenue. So, the parade route has a U shape. I set myself up to watch the entire parade on Fifth Avenue. After the parade ended for the people watching on Fifth Avenue, I cut across the parade route to re-watch the tail end of the parade on Fourth Avenue. I crossed Fourth Avenue behind the end of the parade and I kept walking until I stood directly across Fourth Avenue from the New Kensington mural. Just then, the fire truck carrying Santa Claus passed by the mural. I decided at that moment to take out my camera and try to grab a photo. I really wish that I would have pre-planned this. Maybe I could have gotten a photo of Santa Claus looking at the camera.

But, I can’t complain about a photo that I didn’t plan at all.

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