Holy Saturday morning in my house means a frantic “grocery store hop” in which we visit every store in New Kensington.
You see, families in our traditionally Polish Catholic parish in New Kensington assemble baskets of the food for their first meal on Easter morning. We bring the baskets to church Saturday for a short ceremonial basket blessing by our priest.
Our baskets include very specific foods, including beet horseradish. Every year, we forget to purchase beet horseradish until Easter weekend.
And of course, the store closest to our house is clean out of beet horseradish the morning of Holy Saturday. Because this store is, like, 2 minutes away from the church and other people beat (beet) us to all of it!
So, we walk into our third store of the morning. We can buy the last remaining bottle on that store’s shelf.
Then we meet up with our in-laws at the church. They tell us similar stories of frenzied dashes to assemble their baskets five minutes before the ceremony.
Then it happens all over again the next Easter.
This is Jonathan’s family’s collection of pisanka (or pysanka) eggs. Jonathan’s uncle crafted all of these when he still lived right outside of Pittsburgh. (Uncle did the whole “go west, young man” thing when the steel industry collapsed in the 1980’s.)
Jonathan’s Babcia (Polish for grandmother) set these out every Easter.
I mention all this on my blog about Pennsylvania because Jonathan’s family traditions and his family’s Polish and Slovak roots partly wrote PA’s history.
I will post morsels of Easter traditions throughout the holiday weekend. Have a blessed Holy Thursday.
Come see the western entrance to Bow Tunnel.
This former canal tunnel treks under Bow Ridge. The eastern side of this tunnel lies, sealed off, under the water of the Conemaugh River for part of the year.
You can take the West Penn Trail to reach the other side of Bow Ridge on foot. Then proceed two or three more miles to reach the ghost town of Livermore.
You can see this tunnel for yourself at the Tunnelview Historic Site.
Jonathan, his mom Fran, and I visited Tunnelview in February 2016 when I took this photo. Here is the post that I wrote on our other blog when we returned from that trip.
Finally, here’s a photo that I didn’t post our other blog: the February ice inside Bow Tunnel.
Have you ever been to Livermore PA?
Me neither. No (living) people reside there now, and most of the town is under the Conemaugh River.
Livermore is (was?) near Blairsville and Saltsburg. In the 1950’s, the US Army Corps of Engineers built the Conemaugh Dam on the Conemaugh River. This created the Conemaugh Lake and flooded Livermore. The town’s cemetery remains above the river bank.
However, I learned some urban legends about Livermore from a national podcast. I learned about the internet rumor that the town remains flooded from the Johnstown Flood of 1889. That a witch and a ghost train haunt the former town and its cemetery. That on at least one website, thrill-seekers document their trespassing adventures to Livermore.
Also, that at least one group of real-life midnight visitors to the Livermore Cemetery ended up running for their lives from a very real threat.
Here’s the the podcast:
“The Dirtbag Diaries” is podcast about real life outdoor adventures all around the globe. Every year for Halloween, they do a scary story episode. These Halloween stories are all still outdoor adventures. However, in each of the Halloween stories, the narrator ends up terrified (and or fighting for survival) in the course of said adventure. Volume 8, the episode for 2017, was the best yet.
Tales of Terror Vol. 8 includes five stories. The other four stories in Tales of Terror Vol. 8 are also fun to hear. However, the very first story in the episode is the Livermore ghost town episode.
I downloaded both of these from iTunes, but I’m linking here to each podcast’s actual website.
This is my late grandma’s story as retold by my dad. If anybody remembers this story differently, please feel free to tel your version in the comments.
My dad was born in the 195o’s and he has four siblings. His aunt and uncle and several cousins lived directly across the driveway from him. His other aunt and uncle and cousins lived a very short walk away. This being the baby boom, my father grew up with hordes of kids around his own age.
Many of the kids were children or grandchildren of World War I and World War II veterans. They lived in North Huntingdon Township (near Circleville and Irwin) in Westmoreland County very close to a marker noting that the British Army under General Braddock camped in their neighborhood before the Battle of the Monongahela in 1755. I mention this because my dad his siblings and cousins and neighbors grew up retelling stories of military history.
Most of the boys in that neighborhood were all in the same Cub Scout pack. The neighborhood mothers chaffered and chaperoned a pack field trip to Bush Run Battlefield near Harrison City and Jeannette. This battlefield is a relic of Pontiac’s War in 1763.
The battlefield now includes a public park and a museum that houses the musket balls and arrowheads recovered there.
Anyway, my grandma and her sister-in-law and the other neighborhood mothers loaded the boys up into station wagons and they all spent the day at the battlefield.
The docent explained how in 1763 a combined force of Native Americans ambushed British troops marching to Fort Pitt. How Colonel Henry Bouquet and his British troops built a fort out of flour sacks to shield their wounded from the enemy. How British troops and the Native Americans both sustained heavy casualties.
The Cub Scouts and their escorts hiked through the fields where the dead from both sides fell.
My grandma’s neighbor, “Mrs. Rivers,” felt something follow her through the battlefield. Not a child; she spent most of her life directing children through grocery store aisles, or church, or Kennywood on a crowded Saturday. No, this time no child followed Mrs. Rivers. Instead, an unseen but felt presence pursued Mrs. Rivers through the battlefield.
Mrs. Rivers knew – she just knew – that this unseen presence was the ghost of a Native American man who lost his life at the Battle of Bushy Run.
Mrs. Rivers felt the ghost get into her station wagon when she drove the Cub Scouts back to North Huntingdon Township.
At home that afternoon, Mrs. Rivers felt the ghost with her as she cleaned her kitchen. As she folded laundry. As she weeded her garden.
That afternoon, Mrs. Rivers showed up at my grandma’s door.
“Please watch my kids,” she told my grandma. “Something followed me home from Bushy Run. I have to take it back.”
Mrs. Rivers drove the 15 miles back to Bushy Run.
She said farewell to the ghost.
She told the ghost that it had to stay at the battlefield.
And when Mrs. Rivers drove home again, she was confident that she left “her” ghost at Bushy Run Battlefield where it belonged.
After the Johnstown Flood of May 31, 1889 killed at least 2,209 people, tourists took picnic lunches to Johnstown so that they could sight-see the damage.
People who lived along the Allegheny River (including the people of Parnassus) didn’t have to make this trip, though. The Johnstown Flood came to them.
You see, the South Fork dam upstream from Johnstown failed. The deluge wiped out several communities including downtown Johnstown and its surrounding neighborhoods. The debris washed downstream on the Conemaugh River.
Now, if you look at a map, you will see that we residents of Parnassus actually live downstream from Johnstown. Here’s why:
1.) The Little Conemaugh and Stoneycreek Rivers merge in downtown Johnstown (at Johnstown’s own “Point”) to form the Conemaugh River.
2.) The Conemaugh flows into the Kiski at Saltsburg.
3.) The Kiski flows into the Allegheny.
4.)About ten miles later the Allegheny flows past Parnassus (the city of New Kensington wasn’t founded until 1891), then past numerous other river towns such as Verona.
5.) Eventually the Allegheny meets the Monongahela at Pittsburgh to form the Ohio.
Here’s a passage from Chapter IX of Pulitzer Prize-winning (and Pittsburgh native) David McCullough’s “The Johnstown Flood,” about the aftermath of the flood:
The Allegheny River, with its endless freight of wreckage, also continued to be an immense fascination. Children were brought from miles away to watch the tawny water slip past the shores, so that one day they might be able to say they had seen something of the Johnstown Flood. The most disreputable-looking souvenirs, an old shoe, the side of a packing box with the lettering on it still visible, were fished out, dripping and slimy, to be carried proudly home.
There were accounts of the most unexpected finds, including live animals. But the best of them was the story of a blonde baby found at Verona, a tiny river town about ten miles up the Allegheny from Pittsburgh. According to the Pittsburgh Press, the baby was found floating along in its cradle, having traveled almost eighty miles from Johnstown without suffering even a bruise. Also, oddly enough, the baby was found by a John Fletcher who happened to own and operate a combination wax museum, candy stand, and gift shop at Verona.
Fletcher announced his amazing discovery and the fact that the baby had a small birthmark near its neck. Then he hired a pretty nineteen-year-old, dressed her in a gleaming white nurse’s uniform, and put her and the baby in the front window of his establishment. Within a few days several thousand people had trooped by to look at the Johnstown baby and, it is to be assumed, to make a few small purchases from the smiling Mr. Fletcher. Then, apparently, quite unexpectedly, the baby was no longer available for viewing. The mother, according to Fletcher, had lived through the flood and, having heard the story back in Johnstown, rushed to Verona, identified the birthmark, and went home with her baby.
So if this story is true, in the aftermath of the Johnstown Flood somebody fished a live baby out of the Allegheny River at Verona. (Verona is downstream from Parnassus and upstream from Pittsburgh.)
So, voyeurs may have stood on the ruins of Fort Crawford in Parnassus or on the adjoining grounds of the Presbyterian Church as the debris of demolished towns and demolished lives discharged past them. Perhaps a looky-loo climbed down the river bank here to fish a souvenir out of the Allegheny. Perhaps bodies washed ashore here.
I worked in downtown Johnstown for several years. Buildings there include plaques showing 1889’s high water mark and the downtown park features makers honoring the victims from Johnstown’s three deadliest floods (in 1889, 1936, and 1977). I often drove under the stone bridge that trapped many of the 1889 flood’s victims.
How sobering that the ruins of Johnstown coursed down the Allegheny, past all of these river towns on the way to Pittsburgh, in 1889.