Peddling (AND Pedaling) in McKeesport

On April 29, my husband Jonathan and I celebrated our wedding anniversary. We drove to McKeesport to try out a “new to us” section of the Great Allegheny Passage bicycle and walking trail.

The McKeesport Police Department sits next to the trail and offers free parking to trail users. So, we parked at the McKeesport Police Department.

We biked past this vacant train roundhouse.

We crossed the Monongahela River (the Mon) on this former railroad bridge.

Then we rode alongside miles of working Norfolk Southern, CSX, and Union Railroad rails. We peddled past Kennywood Park roller coasters running cars of screaming passengers. (Kennywood’s open!!!!)

I don’t have any roots in McKeesport. However, I can tell you a little bit about McKeesport’s saga and struggle with steel.

My mom grew up in Pittsburgh when Pittsburgh and McKeeport and all of the other river towns here thrived with steel mills. (Thrived with the money that steel brought here.)

When I replay the childhood visits to my grandparents’ house in the Burgh, I smell the sulfur. I see the mills glowing on Christmas Eve.

I was born in central Pennsylvania right before the Pennsylvania steel industry collapsed. Aunts, uncles, cousins, and neighbors left the state. Then my friends from high school left the state. Then my friends from college left the state. Then three of my sisters and my sister-in-law left the state.

Which is my way of saying that I know that bike trails alone won’t bring all of these people back to Pennsylvania. But it was fun to bike past all of this history last Sunday.

On the Bike Trail: Dravo Cemetery

Here is the first post about the Great Allegheny Passage (a pedestrian / bicycle trail on the footprint of railroad tracks). This post references the Youghioheny (Yough) River Trail (YRT), which follows the Yough River but is just one section of the Great Allegheny Passage.

The Dravo Cemetery dates back to 1812. A former owner built the Dravo Methodist Church next to it in 1824. The church burned down twice.

You can access the Dravo Cemetery on the YRT from the trail’s Boston (Pennsylvania) trail head in Elizabeth Township.

My husband Jonathan and I once parked at the Boston trailhead, and biked past Dravo Cemetery to Cedar Creek Park in Rostraver Township.

Cedar Creek Park provides bike camping sites, a restroom, and clean drinking water.

We camped one night. As we cooked our dinner, an SUV drove down the bike trail and deposited a family’s supplies in a neighboring campsite. That family set off fireworks all night. I lay on the ground and listened to the freight trains moving along the opposite side of the Yough River. I worried about bears. I also worried about the type of people drive SUV’s down bike trails and then set off fireworks all night in the bike trail campground.

We pedaled back to Boston the next morning.

See this below photo? This pictured drinking well, bench, pavilion (in background of photo) and also Dravo’s Landing Campground all sit next to Dravo Cemetery.

So, you can stop and eat your lunch next to Dravo Cemetery.  Or, you can camp next to Dravo Cemetery at the Queen Aliquippa Campground.

At least the cemetery inhabitants won’t drive their SUV down the bike trail and then set off fireworks all night!

Note: The first summer that Jonathan and I knew each other, we pedaled round-trip sections of the Great Allegheny Passage. We continued each summer.  At one point, we conquered the entire accessible trail in round-trip sections. (Then new sections of trail opened!) 

I based this post about Dravo Cemetary and the YRT on trips that we took a few years ago.  Very shortly, I will post about our April 29, 2018, trip from McKeesport, along the Monongahela River, on the Great Allegheny Passage. 

Aaron Burr and the Two Logan Inns

Vice President Aaron Burr shot and killed Alexander Hamilton.

Did he then hide out at the Logan Inn, mere blocks from present-day downtown New Kensington? Here in the land of Sheetz and the Black & Gold?

Or, did he flee to a different Logan Inn, in present day Flyers & Eagles Country?

Here is the link to Mrs. Luella Rodgers Frazier’s “The Early Years of New Kensington, Pennsylvania.” Halfway through this history, Frazier wrote that Alexander Logan owned the land that became Parnassus.

Frazier wrote that Aaron Burr stopped at Logan’s property “for a few days” after he dueled Alexander Hamilton. Per Frazier, “the Logans did not know about the duel and did not recognize Mr. Burr.”

As Frazier noted, Burr proceeded (by way of Pittsburgh) to Blennerhasset Island in the Ohio River.

Harman Blennerhasset owned the island and he allowed Burr, General James Wilkinson, and others to store men and supplies on the island in their  bid to create a new nation in the southwest.

Burr’s accusers arrested Burr in Alabama. They chained him. (This, during a time when men chained their slaves. During a time when Burr’s own son-in-law owned a plantation.) The accusers brought Burr to Virginia in these chains. They tried him for treason.

Burr won his freedom by acquittal.

This follows the history and lore of Aaron Burr.

History buffs know about the Logan family’s prominence here. I even added to this blog post the photo that Jonathan took of the former Logan Trust Company in downtown New Kensington.

However, ANOTHER Logan Inn on the opposite side of PA – along Ferry Street in New Hope – also claims that THEY hosted Burr after the duel. The OTHER Logan Inn markets itself with Aaron Burr lore.

Perhaps Aaron Burr did in fact shelter at two Logan Inns, on opposite sides of the state. Perhaps both ends of the Pennsylvania Turnpike own this story.

What do you think?

Here’s my post from my other blog about the novel My Theodosia by Anya Seton. 

Help Me to Find Rinehart’s Circular Staircase

Mary Roberts Rinehart’s residence on Pittsburgh’s North Side. This particular neighborhood is now branded as Old Allegheny. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Rinehart wrote “The Circular Staircase” at this residence. (Photo: Dennis Woytek)

Mary Roberts Rinehart grew up on Pittsburgh’s North Side. She wrote her first novel, The Circular Staircase, in the North Side house pictured at the top of this blog post. (MRR’s old neighborhood now markets itself as Allegheny West and it sits behind Heinz Field. Heinz Field is where the Pittsburgh Steelers play.)

(My father-in-law, Dennis Woytek, took this photo when we toured this house on the Old Allegheny Victorian Christmas House Tour several years ago.)

Now, here’s the thing:  I don’t positively know which house actually inspired The Circular Staircase. This novel takes place at a summer home in the countryside.

Now, I have a copy of History of Old Allegheny Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania, From Prehistoric Times to c. 1876 by Rev. Reid W. Stewart, Ph.D., self-published in 2005. Stewart claims that this house which inspired The Circular Staircase “stood toward the southern end of River Forest Golf Course in Allegheny Township.” (This is near Freeport, PA.)

Stewart claims that Duncan Karns built this mansion in the 1870’s but that he lost his fortune in oil speculation. Finally, he claims that Mary Roberts Rinehart visited the house before it burned down.

The First “Roller Coaster” of Mauch Chunk

Have you ever heard of Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania?

Well, then. Have you ever heard of Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania?

In the 1950’s, the officials of Mauch Chunk renamed their borough “Jim Thorpe” after Olympic athlete Jim Thorpe. That whole story deserves its  own blog post. (Or its own blog.)

The humans cognizant in the 1820’s still spoke of this Lehigh Valley town as “Mauch Chunk.” Many earned their livings from the coal mined above this town. In the 1820’s, they built the Switchback Gravity Railroad from these coal mines.

The railroad used gravity to transport the coal down the mountain, past Mauch Chunk. This “railroad” used mules to haul the empty coal cars back up the mountain.

Eventually the railroad offered rides to tourists on this gravity railroad. This inspired the first roller coaster at Coney Island.

If you want to read about Mauch Chunk ghosts, check out this post that I wrote on my other blog:

They Saw the Bloody Handprint – and Orbs

Here is a blog post that my sister wrote:

5 Reasons To Visit The Jim Thorpe This Halloween Season (or anytime)

Bow Tunnel

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.

Invade A Ghost Town. Run For Your Life. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect $200.

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:

Tales of Terror Vol. 8 from “The Dirtbag Diaries. “

“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.

The Ghost Followed Her Home From the Battlefield

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.

The Day The Johnstown Flood Came To The Allegheny

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.