5 Tales of the Brackenridge Family (that I Learned from a Novel)

Cemetery talk prompted this post.

The Community Library of Allegheny Valley announced an informational session at its Tarentum branch about the history of Prospect Cemetery in Brackenridge, PA. 

I learned about this talk from our local newspaper. I cannot attend the session. However, I DID attend a “ghost” (and history) tour at Prospect Cemetery one Halloween.

I learned that Hugh Marie Brackenridge and his wife and family are prominently buried at Prospect Cemetery in Brackenridge.

Hugh Marie’s father, Hugh Henry Brackenridge, founded both the University of Pittsburgh and also the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

And then I read the novel “The King’s Orchard” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull. This historical fiction follows General James O’Hara (George Washington’s quartermaster and Mary Schenley’s grandfather), with Hugh Henry Brackenridge as the protagonist’s good friend.

And here’s what I learned from “The King’s Orchard” (and also from the internet) about the Brackenridge lore:

1.) Hugh Henry Brackenridge grew up poor on a farm in New England. He borrowed other people’s books. A cow ate one of these borrowed books.

2.) Hugh Henry saved up enough money to send himself to the school that became Princeton University.

3.) The first time that Hugh Henry  saw his wife Sabina, he was a lawyer headed to the courthouse in Washington PA. Sabina was a farmer’s daughter chasing after a runaway cow. (Cows are a theme here!)

Hugh Henry watched Sabina vault over a fence without touching the fence. Then, he told the other lawyers that if Sabina did it again, he would ask Sabina to marry him. She did it again.

Sabina’s father said that Hugh Henry couldn’t marry Sabina because dad needed Sabina to “shrub the meadow.” Hugh Henry paid Sabina’s father $10 to hire somebody else to “shrub the meadow.”

4.) Hugh Henry (again, the founder of Pitt) wanted a political career. Sabina had no education. So after the wedding, Hugh Henry sent his new wife to finishing school in Philadelphia for a year.

5.) Hugh Henry’s son (Sabina’s stepson) was Hugh Marie Brackenridge.

McKeesport to Duquesne Bike Ride, Part Deux

This post is just more photos from last weekend’s rail-trail bike ride along the Great Allegheny Passage past McKeesport, Port Perry, Duquesne, and Kennywood Park.

Here are more scenes from the McKeesport roundhouse:

This is the US Steel Braddock Works. We stopped for a rest directly across the Mon River when I took this:

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.

Love In the Age of Locks

This has nothing to do with bike trails.

However,  Pittsburgh Magazine published a story yesterday (April 30, the day after my own wedding anniversary) about Newly Married Couples (NMC)  who made their love and commitment “more real” by sticking a lock on a bridge after their weddings.

I couldn’t pass up the chance to blog about this because I like to joke with my husband and sisters about the “bridge lock thing.”

See, I work in downtown Pittsburgh and my husband works a few miles away in Oakland. Both areas are hot spots for the trendy new Pittsburgh “tradition” of couples IN LOVE to write or engrave their names on a lock.  Next, the couple closes “their” lock around the chain link fencing of a Pittsburgh bridge.

This “bridge lock thing” started in Europe and spread to Pittsburgh. (Granted, A LOT of things started in Europe and spread to the New World.) And the whole practice generates controversy – about bridge safety, among other issues –  in Europe and in Pittsburgh.

This “bridge lock thing” was not a thing when I met and married my husband. Otherwise, I KNOW that I would have begged my husband for us to do this. Actually, I asked my husband to do this a few years ago for our anniversary. (I’m human.) My husband did not agree to do the “bridge lock thing.”

Now I joke.

I joke that somewhere on the internet sits a wedding message board where brides and grooms groupthink the whole lock thing. That they strategize their wedding day visit to a Pittsburgh bridge for the “locking of the lock.” That they include a “bridge lock photo” among their list of “must-have” photography shots.

Here is what I satirized about this in April 2016:

Some of the locks on Schenley Bridge look as if they were engraved at Things Remembered. And those locks have dates, like a wedding date.  In this scene in my head, a wedding limo stops on the bridge. A Newly Married Couple (NMC) get out of the limo and place an engraved lock on the bridge. They pose for a photo as they fasten their lock to the bridge, together. It’s their first act as a couple. They do this before they even change their Facebook statuses from “Engaged” to “Married.”

I told this all to Jonathan. And then we joked that this is what really happened: The bride-to-be probably joined the Pittsburgh board on The Knot. All of the other brides (called Knotties) on the Pittsburgh board talked about ordering an engraved LOCK from Things Remembered. This bride also needed a LOCK from Things Remembered to commemorate The Day. She added this to her wedding “to-do” checklist. (The “to-do” checklist is the Bible for Knotties.) This bride made the groom go to Things Remembered with her the same day that they picked out the wedding bands. She put her groom in charge of remembering to bring their LOCK to the ceremony. He forgot to do this. After the Newly Married Couple took their deathless vows and climbed into their limo, she asked him for the LOCK. He didn’t have it.  Married for 30 minutes, and the groom was already in trouble with his wife. After they came back from their honeymoon, they FINALLY placed their LOCK onto the Schenley Bridge. Then they rented a loft in a trendy city.

And now I see, by reading Pittsburgh Magazine, that this is no joke.  That couples actually plan this as cherished rituals of their wedding days.  I wish them much peace and love.

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)

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