Changing of the Queen’s Guard

Changing of the Queen’s Guard, Buckingham Palace, London, September 2009 (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here’s a photo that I took in London in 2009 at the Changing of the Queen’s Guard at Buckingham Palace. (Yeah, I know that this photo isn’t the world’s best. At least nobody will rip it off, I guess.)

This was my first non point-and-shoot camera. I took about 300 photos of the ducks at St. James’s Park on this same trip. Looking back, I’m surprised that I took any photos at all of this particular morning ceremony. I didn’t plan my attendance at this event well. Jonathan was busy with a work conference (that’s why we were in London). I was on my own for this excursion to Buckingham Palace. Our hotel was directly across the river from the Tower of London. I overslept that morning. I had to rush to make it on the ride for the London Underground. (Yes, I minded the gap.) I showed up at Buckingham Place just a few minutes before or a few minutes after this ceremony started. The place was PACKED. I didn’t realize how hard it would be to get a spot in the crowd where I could see anything.

The ceremony included not one, but TWO marching bands.

A lot of the other spectators were dressed up. Some of the women wore dresses, Easter churchy hats, etc. I didn’t even think to dress up to go to Buckingham Palace. I grew up going camping (tent camping and pop-up camper camping and cabin camping) for vacations. It didn’t even cross my mind to take “nice” clothes with me for a tourist trip. When I was a kid, we wore our nice clothes for school, church, and dentist appointments. Not for travel. I’m an American and I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. I’m also just weird.

Anyway, either the day before or the day that I took this photo, I learned that Buckingham Palace was open to the public only one month out of the year. I happened to be in London during the very month that Buckingham Palace was open. So, I purchased a ticket and toured Buckingham Palace. Again, I wore clothes that I had packed specifically because I wouldn’t miss them if the airline lost my luggage. Other people in my tour group dressed as if they were visiting Buckingham Place.

The tour ended in the palace’s garden. There was a tea vendor and tables set up for tourists IN the garden. Therefore, tour participants could choose to purchase tea and have “teatime” in the garden at Buckingham Palace. It personally seemed to me to be a money grab, but whatever. A bunch of the women wearing dresses and Easter hats seemed to be into this.

I’m glad that I had the opportunity to tour Buckingham Palace. If I ever make it back, it would be interesting to see how things have changed and will change under the new monarch.

He Has a Road Sign Along Route 30 in Ligonier Now

Photo of Fort Ticonderoga in New York State by Jonathan Woytek, circa 2009. General Arthur St. Clair faced a court martial for retreating from this fort and leaving it in the hands of the British in 1777 during the Revolutionary War. In 1791, St. Clair commanded the United States forces during their worst defeat by Native Americans, in present-day Ohio. A historical marker and a monument along Route 30 in Ligonier memorialize St. Clair’s final residence.

Arthur St. Clair, the commander of the American forces who suffered the worst ever defeat in United States history by Native Americans, has a road sign on Route 30 in Ligonier Township, Pennsylvania.

I learned about the road sign (erected by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission) from this article by Renatta Signorini on Triblive.com.

The Trib article did not mention Arthur St. Clair’s 1791 military defeat in The Battle of the Wabash. I had to learn about this defeat by reading, first, The Red Heart (a fiction novel by James Alexander Thom) and later from Wikipedia.

The Trib article also did not mention that St. Clair faced a court martial after he retreated from Fort Ticonderoga – and left it in the hands of the British – in 1777.

From what I read about General St. Clair, his supporters argued that St. Clair didn’t have adequate resources to succeed at Fort Ticonderoga (which is in present-day New York) or at the Wabash (which is in present-day Ohio).

The road sign on Route 30 commemorates the Westmoreland County home where St. Clair lived at the very end of his life. The location of St. Clair’s grave a few miles away in Greensburg became a prominent public park named after him.

I myself travel on Route 30 between my current home and my hometown in Somerset County. I’ve never actually noticed the PHMC marker, or the monument installed by the county. That section of Route 30 is sort of tricky to safely drive, so I’m glad that the Trib notified me to the presence of this sign.

If you want to learn more about Arthur St. Clair without leaving Route 30, you can head on over to the museum at Fort Ligonier. The museum has pieces of Arthur St. Clair’s parlor installed in it. From what I read, the United States failed to repay a substantial debt owed to St. Clair. St. Clair lost most of what he owned, including the residence that contained this particular parlor. His possessions were sold to repay his own creditors. According to local folklore, General St. Clair’s ghost and his wife’s ghost haunt the fort’s museum. My fourth grade class visited Fort Ligioner several decades ago. I didn’t see any ghosts. I re-visited the museum in 2018. I still did not see any ghosts.

Just as an aside, I’ve previously blogged – several times – about Simon Girty. I learned from Wikipedia that Girty fought with the Native Americans at St. Clair’s defeat.

If you want to learn more about General St. Clair (or about Simon Girty), I recommend the website for the Heinz History Center.

CMU Fence with Ukrainian Colors

Carnegie Mellon University. Pittsburgh, PA. March 11, 2022. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Carnegie Mellon University has a fence that gets painted a lot as part of a fun campus tradition. I’m going to link here CMU’s own explanation of the fence painting. Everything that I know about the fence tradition came from the internet or from a random friend-of-a-friend who attended CMU.

Shout-out to Ghost Tour Operators

Nemacolin Castle. (Bowman’s Castle.) Brownsville, PA. Circa October 8, 2011. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Firstly, I added a few more photos of downtown New Kensington. Some were of the December parade. I also added a photo of the new Anne Frank mural. You can click on the “Murals” tab in the last post to see all of my posts that include mural photos.

I have a new podcast rec for people who like spooky things. I personally listen to this on Spotify. If you don’t do Spotify, it’s available on other popular platforms. The podcast is “Ghost Tour” from Southern Gothic Media.

I’m already a HUGE fun of Brandon Schexnayder’s “Southern Gothic” podcast. I’m such a fan that I joined its Patreon membership. So, I barked and drooled (not really) when Schexnayder announced that he partnered with Alicia King Marshall of Franklin Walking Tours to produce “Ghost Tour.”

Ghost Tour” currently has only one season. The hosts interviewed the owners and operators of ghost tour companies. I’m not talking about the “scare houses” with theatrical blood and gore and manufactured horror stories. Those are fun for some people. That’s not the theme of this podcast. I’m talking about those research-based ghost tours at historically significant sites. For instance, in Episode #5, Alicia King Marshall discussed the ghost stories that Franklin Walking Tours told about the 1864 Battle of Franklin in Franklin, Tennessee. In Episode #7, the hosts interviewed Janan Boehme, the Tour Manager / house historian at the Winchester Mystery House in California.

Ghost Tour” attracted me since I’m curious about how to create a historical ghost tour.

In other news, Troy Taylor from American Hauntings (a podcast, book, and ghost tour company based in Illinois) did a shout-out to southwestern Pennsylvania in one of his recent Zoom livestreams. He specifically referenced Nemacolin Castle in Brownsville. He also referenced the borough of California, Pennsylvania. Nemacolin Castle is a 1700’s and 1800’s -era home that I blogged about here. It sits on a cliff overlooking the Monongahela River (the Mon). It was built in sections over multiple decades. The same family lived in it from the 1700’s up through the 1900’s. Multiple ghosts from multiple generations reputedly haunt it.

My dad learned how to be a high school Special Education teacher at California University of Pennsylvania while he courted my mom in Pittsburgh. Dad refers to the school as “Harvard on the Mon.” I was really excited to discover that I have a family connection to a place that Troy Taylor visited.

Taylor also gave a shout-out to a tattoo parlor that he patronized in that region. I’m trying to track down the name of this place so that I can get a tattoo from the same person who gave Troy Taylor one. I’m that much of a Troy Taylor fan.

Humor doesn’t translate very well on the internet. I’m not really going to drive out to Brownsville just to do this. It’s a 120 mile round trip from my house. Gas is expensive and I don’t like to drive. I’m still glad that southwestern Pennsylvania made a good impression on Taylor. The American Hauntings podcast, hosted by Troy Taylor and Cody Beck, is available on Spotify, iTunes, and other platforms.

Valley High School Color Guard; Mural by Shane Pilster

Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. December 4, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here’s another photo of Valley High School’s marching band at the December 2021 Christmas Parade in downtown New Kensington.

I didn’t grow up in New Kensington. I grew up in Somerset County. However, I was in my own high school’s marching band for four years. Well, first I was in my elementary and junior high concert bands. I wanted to quit before high school. The high school band seemed like too much work. My parents didn’t want me to quit band because they had already invested money in my music interests (or lack thereof). My parents had a handful of other kids. (There are five of us!) They realized that I had a better chance of getting college financial aid if I had “high school marching band” listed as an extracurricular on my applications. Also, I have never been accused of being “too physically fit.” Most likely my parents figured that participation in the marching band would force me to get some exercise. So, four years of marching band it was!

It worked out well for me. Almost all of my high school friends were also in the band. I’m old. I remember stuff differently than how it actually went down. However, I remember all of the fun stuff about band and very little about the unpleasant stuff. (For instance, band camp.) I’m trying to work on a lifestyle change. I get discouraged about all of the extra walking. I remember that I actually walked much further during four years of football games and parades and practices. (All while blowing through a woodwind.) I can totally up my walking game now!

I recently Googled my old band director. He retired from teaching. He now performs professionally with other professional musicians. He didn’t just put in his time and then let his art atrophy. He’s still going strong. I find this inspiring.

Anne Frank Mural by Christian Miller

Anne Frank Mural by Christian Miller. Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. December 4, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Mural by Christian Miller who is from New Kensington. Thanks to Westmoreland Community Action and Marvin Birner.

Anne Frank Mural by Christian Miller. Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. December 4, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Mural: “Rising Phoenix” at Voodoo Brewery by Shane Pilster

Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. December 4, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

If you Google “New Kensington” and “Voodoo Brewery,” you can find a lot of photos of Shane Pilster’s “Rising Phoenix” mural. In fact, here are photos that I took last December, a week after Krampus brought me my camera.

You can also find a lot of information about New Kensington’s Voodoo Brewery / Voodoo at the Ritz and Old Town Overhaul with a quick Google search. Here’s such an article from the Trib.

So, for this blog post, I took a bunch of photos that showed the “Rising Phoenix” mural in the background as the community gathered for New Kensington’s Christmas Parade.

Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. December 4, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I felt really defeated last spring over the setbacks that Jonathan and I had encountered in trying to rebuild our front porch. I wrote a snarky post on this very blog about how murals weren’t going to solve New Kensington’s problems. The murals weren’t solving any of MY problems. My sister Elizabeth is a hero because she read the post right after I published it. She told me that I was harsh. I took the blog post down about an hour after I published it. The post now resides for eternity in blog post hell. Or, maybe it resides in blog post purgatory because with my luck it’s cached somewhere.

But, now our porch is almost complete. I feel much more hopeful about my future here in New Kensington.

Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. December 4, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

These marchers arrived on a bus from Valley High School in New Kensington. I watched the bus arrive. It travelled past me and unloaded on the next block over from where I sat waiting the parade to begin. I saw kids sitting next to the windows, holding their trombones.

Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. December 4, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I have a soft spot for the high school marching band. I marched in a high school band when I grew up in Somerset County. I played the clarinet.

I don’t remember getting to march past any cool brewery murals, though.

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.

Mural: Shine by Ashley Hodder

Mural by Ashley Hodder. Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. November 27, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Here is a photo of the mural “Shine” by Ashley Hodder.

I wanted to shoot this mural against a blue sky with no cars in the foreground. Maybe I’ll still get to this. However, every time that I drive down this street with my camera, the sky refuses to cooperate. Cars line both sides of the street. I’m lucky that I found a decent place to park today. I won’t complain about a thriving downtown.

I shot this mural once before. As the artist painted it. Here is the work-in-progress on the evening of September 24, 2021, during the September edition of New Kensington’s “Final Fridays.”

Mural by Ashley Hodder. Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. September 24, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

The building to which this wall belongs housed the former Bloser’s Jewelers. Crews filmed a scene from the 2019 movie adaptation of Maria Semple’s fiction novel “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” inside this building.

The story actually took place in Seattle. The movie producers used Pittsburgh and the towns around Pittsburgh (such as New Kensington) as a stand-in for Seattle. Pittsburgh’s a less expensive city. (New Kensington is even less expensive.)

I read the book. The book underwhelmed me. I guess that that whole story was kinda tongue-in-cheek. Most of the humor went over my head.

I didn’t see the movie yet. I kinda want to watch it just to see the scene that was filmed inside of this building. But – the release date kept getting pushed back. Then, I found too many other ways to waste my time than to watch a movie adaptation of a book that I didn’t enjoy.

My Call to Action: Did you watch the movie Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” What did you think of it?

Mural by Ashley Hodder. Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. November 27, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Jenny Saw Victorian House Ghosts: A Haunted Porch Column Story

Our New Porch Columns. October 2021.

Our new Victorian porch now includes all of its Victorian columns.

One of our neighbors stopped on her Sunday walk to tell us how excited she was to see that our porch contractor was “able to save the house’s original columns” for our porch rebuild.

Jonathan explained to our neighbor that these columns AREN’T the house’s original columns. However, we know exactly what the original columns looked like. Our new columns are close reproductions of the original.

Jonathan DID NOT explain to our neighbor that in our quest to identify the house’s original columns, Jenny saw a ghost.

Jenny saw several ghosts, in fact. Maybe.

I am Jenny. I am a semi-educated adult. (I don’t usually refer to myself in the third person.) I do NOT walk through most of life talking about ghosts all day. However, it’s almost Halloween. So, for the pure entertainment value, let’s talk about my “experiences” seeing things that “might be ghosts.”

Jonathan and I attempted to have the porch rebuilt starting in 2014. (We had several, ahem, “false starts” with contractors and vendors as we planned our porch rebuild.) Jonathan attempted to figure out what the original 1890’s porch – especially the original porch columns – looked like. We had seen photos of what our house looked like during the 1936 St. Patrick’s Day Flood that hit Pittsburgh and also a bunch of the other river towns in Western Pennsylvania. (The flood waters went up to the intersection of our street, which is why our house is in the background of some of these flood photos.) We knew that the house’s original 1890’s front porch was replaced in the 1930’s. (The 1930’s porch was the porch that we had removed in 2014.) So, the photos that we saw of our house during the 1936 flood included the 1930’s era porch, not the original 1890’s porch.

Sometime around 2014, I fell asleep in my bed. Jonathan was still awake. I sat up and said the following to Jonathan:

“Jonathan. The people in the hallway want to talk to you about the porch.”

Or – I said something to that effect. I don’t remember what exactly I said because I don’t remember ever saying this.

I was asleep when I said this. Dead asleep.

What I do remember is that during my sleep, I saw people standing in our upstairs hallway.

All of these people wore clothing from the late 1800’s, early 1900’s.

These were the people who wanted to talk to Jonathan about our porch.

Spooky!

Shortly after this happened, Jonathan went through random piles of stuff that previous owners of our house left in our basement.

Jonathan uncovered one of these piles and discovered two of the house’s original porch’s columns.

Here is a photo of one of these columns. The photo is so dark because Jonathan never brought the columns out of our basement. They are heavy.

Original Post from Original 1890’s Porch

Circa 2014 or 2015 or 2016, Jonathan located a company in Texas that produced several of the most popular styles of Victorian-era porch columns. We ordered from this company the porch column style that most closely matched the original columns that Jonathan discovered in our basement.

So, we ordered and paid for these Victorian porch columns circa 2015 or 2016.

The porch columns arrived to us from Texas via a tractor trailer.

There wasn’t enough room for the tractor trailer to park along the street in front of our house. The truck had to park on the next block over. Jonathan had to enlist the help of the truck driver to carry the porch columns over to our house.

The porch columns sat under a tarp in front of our house from that day in 2015 or 2016 until September – October 2021.

We have waited ever since at least 2015 or 2016 to see these columns installed on our rebuilt porch.

We got to realize our Victorian porch column dream last week. Last week, our porch contractor’s crew installed the final column on our porch.

I can’t believe that I finally got to see these porch posts installed on our rebuilt porch. Jonathan’s mom died in 2016 and my mom died in 2018. When we started to plan our porch rebuild in 2014, I never dreamed that both of our moms would be gone before we could sit on our porch again. Within a week from today, I will observe both my mom’s birthday AND the anniversary of when she passed away. (I actually said good-bye to my mom ON her 64th birthday and she passed away less than 48 hours after this.)

The YEARS of delays on our porch rebuild demoralized both of us. We weren’t exactly twiddling our thumbs during these years. Jonathan attempted to hire contractors, find suppliers, etc. We hired an architect. We are so thankful that we found our current porch contractor.

We heard that at least one passer-by asked our current contractor’s crew whether somebody new just bought our house. I guess that they were trying to figure out what prompted the sudden porch activity after years of “inactivity.”

I can imagine this passer-by thinking, “So, is this place Under New Management now, or what?”

I guess that they never attempted to rebuild an 1890’s porch before.

I told Jonathan that I was going to start a local rumor that the influencer couple from “Young House Love” actually bought our house for their next social media project.

“What’s Young House Love?” Jonathan said.

I explained that Young House Love was an old house renovation blog from about a decade or so ago. The married couple who wrote it branched out to Instagram and sponsored posts, and soon they were rich and famous. They were a brand.

“You should turn this house into a brand,” Jonathan said.

Perhaps I will turn this house into a brand.

How does “Porch Column Ghost Love” sound?

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