Sunsets and Sunrises

Mount Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church. New Kensington, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. May 7, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

So, a little bit over a week ago, my maternal grandmother died. Grandma Margaret.

Grandma celebrated her 90th birthday this past summer. In fact, she celebrated her birthday during the week between my birthday and my sister’s birthday, and several other family birthdays occurred during this same week. Grandma left behind a lot of people who loved her. However, I understand that all or almost all people who live to the age of 90 lose much. My grandfather died several years ago. And, as Grandma reminded me, she herself had only one sister, named Shirley. Shirley died of cancer in her 20’s. About two years after the first Shirley died, my grandmother had my mom and she named my mom Shirley. My mom, the second Shirley, died of cancer three years ago. Grandma wondered about this to me. She wondered about the odds of losing both of her Shirleys to the same disease, decades apart.

But, I remember something completely different now. After my mom died, I sat and looked through Grandma’s photo albums with her. We looked through an album consisting mostly of photos that Grandma herself took. Grandma took A LOT of photos of sunrises and sunsets. She took some of these photos when she visited my uncle in Florida. She took other sunset photos over the winter countryside after my grandparents retired and moved out to farmland in Beaver County and raised goats. She took them with her point-and-shoot camera. She paid to develop them, then put them into her photo albums along with her photos of her family.

I learned that day that when I enjoy a sunrise or a sunset, I owe this at least in part to Grandma Margaret.

Sunrises are beautiful. Sunsets are sad but also beautiful. Neither exists without the other.

My TRUE Parade Hero (It’s NOT Who You Think!)

Western Pennsylvania Firemen’s Association Convention Parade. Downtown New Kensington, Pennsylvania. August 7, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

This blog is “The Parnassus Pen.” Parnassus is the oldest neighborhood of New Kensington, so here’s a New Kensington update.

Scroll to the end of this post to learn who I nominate as the TRUE hero of the 2021 parade for the Western Pennsylvania Firemen’s Association.

Super awesome REVITALIZERS – that is, people who poured time and money into fixing up downtown New Kensington – rolled out the first “Fridays on Fifth” this July, which was last month. These super awesome folks intend to celebrate “Fridays on Fifth” on Fifth Avenue on – wait for it – the last Friday evening of each month. Well, each month when we don’t freeze off our dupas from standing outside on Fifth Avenue.

Here are photos that I took of last month’s inaugural Friday on Fifth.

Inaugural Friday on Fifth. Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. July 23, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

When you look at my below photo, you will see a red brick wall directly behind a food truck. You will see that the building to which this wall belongs has a verticle sign that includes in white the letters “EGER.” This building housed the former Bloser’s Jewelers in downtown New Kensington. Fun fact: Crews filmed a scene from the 2019 movie β€œWhere’d You Go, Bernadette?,” at this building.

(Confession: I read Maria Semple’s 2012 fiction novel upon which they based this movie adaptation. I haven’t yet watched the actual movie. Have you read the book or watched the movie? Just a heads-up: the story takes place in Seattle and the dad in the movie works for Microsoft. That’s one way that the book lets readers know that this family is FANCY and SPECIAL. 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. )

Inaugural Friday on Fifth. Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. July 23, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

So, now I want to share an observation. I live within walking distance of the blocks where the “Fridays on Fifth” events were held. In fact, my husband walks from our house to downtown New Kensington twice a day. I could have walked to this event from my house. I should have walked to this event.

However, the evening of this event – July 23 – was really hot and muggy. I’m lazy and I’m out of shape. So, I drove to this event. However, I showed up about an hour after the event started. I drove past THREE full, generous-sized parking lots before I found an open parking spot.

As soon as I finally parked, I took a photo of a building because I liked the way that the setting sun hit the building. Here is the photo:

Inaugural Friday on Fifth. Fifth Avenue, Downtown New Kensington. July 23, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Now, had I posted this photo by itself with no context, I just KNOW that I would have received comments to the effect of, “That’s so sad! I remember when downtown New Kensington THRIVED. Now all of the streets are so empty! Just look how empty everything looks in that photo!”

You can’t tell from just looking at this one photo that just one block away, the street was closed and PACKED with people.

So anyway, the Western Pennsylvania Firemen’s Association held its 2021 convention and parade in New Kensington on August 7. Jonathan is a volunteer firefighter in New Kensington, so convention events busied him that entire weekend. I watched the parade and I posted about a hundred parade photos here on my Facebook page.

Now, I want to say something about my parade photos that relates to something that I just said. On more than one occasion, after I posted New Kensington parade photos, a commenter would post something to the effect of, “Look at that empty street in the background! I remember that when I watched parades in New Kensington back in the day, the streets were PACKED with people!”

So, I want to point out several things about my parade photos:

1.) I don’t watch parades near the grandstand. Even pre-Covid, I chose to not be around huge crowds of people. I choose less popular blocks when I watch parades. I usually sit on Fifth Avenue for most of the New Kensington parades. The grand stand usually sits on Fourth Avenue. (New Kensington parade routes often use both streets.)

2.) I burn VERY easily. So, sit in the shade when I watch parades. Fifth Avenue is very narrow. The sun usually hits at an angle so that one side of the street is shady and one side of the street gets all of the sun. I sit on the shady side. So do a lot of other people. Not many people chose to sit out in the sun, on the opposite side of me.

3.) I get paid $0 to take parade photos. The most that I ever made from taking a photo was $15 and a ribbon when I was ten years old and I won second place or something in the juvenile landscape division of the photography competition at the Berlin, Pennsylvania Community Fair. (I look a photo from a scenic viewing platform on top of Mount Washington in Pittsburgh.) So, I don’t sit out in the sun in order to take parade photos that have more people in the background.

So, here’s the thing. You know how I just mentioned that I’m lazy? Well, when Jonathan and I go out and have mini photography lessons, Jonathan tries to encourage me to switch camera lenses during our photo shoots. I usually refuse because I’m lazy. Also, because I’m clumsy and I’m not confident that I can switch out camera lenses “in the wild” and not drop one or both of the lenses.

So, at this month’s parade for the Western Pennsylvania Firemen’s Association, I borrowed Jonathan’s fairly new, fairly expensive (for us) special camera lens. I switched camera lenses several times during the parade. I DID NOT drop any camera lenses.

However, I lost the the screw-on plastic hood for Jonathan’s special camera lens. I figured this out about an hour after I got home from the parade. I drove back to the parade route and I retraced my own walking route, looking for said hood.

I did this during a thunderstorm and a torrential downpour.

I did not find the hood.

I jumped on the internet. I found a replacement hood from a photography supply shop for $29.99 and free shipping.

So, it actually costs me money to take photos at parades.

I was really excited to see Somerset represented in this parade. I grew up in Somerset County. My dad retired from teaching at Somerset Area High School. I grew up in the next school district over, Berlin Brothersvalley. I belonged to Berlin’s high school marching band for four years. I marched in Somerset’s own Summerfest parade every July for four years. The Summerfest parade always happened the same week as my birthday. So, here’s Somerset’s fire truck as it appeared in New Kensington’s parade.

Western Pennsylvania Firemen’s Association Convention Parade. Downtown New Kensington, Pennsylvania. August 7, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Now, for the moment you’ve been waiting for:

Here’s my personal HERO of the 2021 parade for the Western Pennsylvania Firemen’s Association.

It’s this woman:

Western Pennsylvania Firemen’s Association Convention Parade. Downtown New Kensington, Pennsylvania. August 7, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

I don’t know this woman’s name. She pushed a wheelbarrow behind the parade’s horse partcipants. I didn’t personally witness this woman shovel horse dung off of Fifth Avenue. However, I assumed that she shoveled horse dung off of Fifth Avenue and into the wheelbarrow that she pushed.

Now, all of the men and women who volunteer for the fire service are heros. My own husband belongs to New Kensington’s volunteer fire department. I know that he worked off his butt during convention time.

However, I nominated the horse dung shoveler as my personal parade hero for this reason:

As I mentioned above, I marched in Berlin Brothervalley High School’s marching band (the Mighty Marching Mountaineers) for four years. I marched in many a parade BEHIND horses. On streets COVERED with horse dung. Apparently, cleaning horse dung off of streets during parades wasn’t a thing when I was a teenager in Somerset County? (Were the parade organizers in Berlin, Meyersdale, and Somerset a bunch of uncouth barbarians?)

For instance, I mentioned above that I marched in the Summerfest parade in Somerset every July for four years. It happened the same week as my birthday. One year, the parade happened ON my birthday. I marched on a horse dung-covered street in downtown Somerset on my fourteenth birthday.

So, as a former marching band kid, I’m really happy to see that New Kensington parades include horse dung shovelers.

My runner-up for parade hero is the New Kensington parade organizer who made sure that the horse group brought their own horse dung shoveler.

Harry K. Thaw’s Grave

Grave of Harry K. Thaw. Henry Kendall Thaw. February 12, 1871 - February 22, 1947. Allegheny Cemetery, Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Harry K. Thaw’s Grave, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA. May, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

A few months ago, I blogged about the time that Harry K. Thaw shot Stanford White over White’s relationship with Thaw’s wife, Evelyn Nesbit. (Thaw was from Pittsburgh, and Nesbit was born in Tarentum, PA, although the two of them met in New York City.)

I visited Thaw’s grave in Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh.

I didn’t put the rosary on this grave. I don’t know who put the rosary on the headstone.

Here is the marker for the Thaw family plot:

Thaw Family Plot, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA.
Thaw Family Plot, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA. May, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

If you want to hear a podcast or two about Evelyn Nesbit, “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing,” and Thaw’s murder of White, check out these podcast episodes:

1.) Criminal (hosted by Phoebe Judge), covered this in episode 91The β€œIt” Girl.

2.) Then, an episode of the podcast My Favorite Murder talked about this in episode 136 and heavily “cited” Criminal. (In my opinion, the bulk of the My Favorite Murder host’s “research” consisted of her listening to the Criminal episode! This is merely my personal opinion, though.)

Thaw Family Plot, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh PA
Thaw Family Plot, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)
William Thaw Grave, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh
William Thaw Grave, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh PA. November 10, 2019. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

5 Tips to “Weather” the Longwood Gardens Rain

In June 2015, I made my pregnant sister K. take me (and our sister E.R.) to visit Longwood Gardens during a torrential rainstorm.

Longwood Gardens is a botanical garden and conservatory in suburban Philadelphia. (It’s in Chester County, PA.) It originated from Pierre S. DuPont’s estate.

That day’s weather reports for that part of PA – the eastern part – called for several inches of rain. The National Weather Service nailed that forecast! It rained so much that on our trip back from Longwood to my sister’s house, we avoided the PA Turnpike.  In fact, we stopped at a Wawa on our trip back. We were the only customers in that Wawa. The Wawa clerk asked us why we were out traveling.

In my prior blog post, I mentioned that on my one visit to Longwood, I liked Longwood’s parking options much better than the parking options at Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh.

Longwood Gardens provides free on-site parking. On peak days, they also offer free off-site parking and provide transportation to their Visitors Center. My one visit to Longwood took place on a rainy day without many other visitors. So, we didn’t have to share the parking lot with many other cars.

So, here are my tips for visiting Longwood Gardens on a rainy summer day:

1.) You might see cats, and you might not see cats.

Multiple cats live at Longwood Gardens. During our visit, we read signs alerting us to the existence of the cats. The signs asked us to contact a staff member if we saw any of the cats hanging out in the parking lot. Here’s a link to the website information about Longwood’s Cats. Unfortunately, we did not see any cats during our visit.

2.) Wear a long, light raincoat and bring a golf umbrella. Resign yourself to getting wet.

Longwood Gardens includes over 1,077 acres of space to visit. We walked in the rain a lot that day, and we didn’t even see all of the outdoor gardens.

I stood in the rain and photographed the outside water lilies and water platters.

3.) Spend time indoors in the Conservatory.

The Conservatory is the name of the building that includes four acres of indoor gardens in multiple wings.

We still needed to have the umbrellas for our walk from the Visitors Center to the Conservatory.

4.) Explore your meal options ahead of time.

Longwood offers a full-service restaurant and a cafe. You can check its website for details about restaurant reservations.

However, we ate at a favorite fast-food restaurant in a local shopping center before we arrived at Longwood.

5.) Be prepared to walk a lot.

Longwood does NOT offer any shuttles around the gardens.

I need to mention that in addition to working cats, Longwood Gardens also has award-winning restrooms.

My sister K. sometimes blogs about restrooms at tourist attractions.

Check out my sister’s blog shout-out to Longwood’s restrooms.

What places do you like to visit in inclement weather? Can you name any tourist attractions that have working cats?

Quakertown Train Station and the Month of Turnpike Baptisms. Mural by Jared Badder.

Mural by Jared Badder. Quakertown, Pennsylvania. Eastern Pennsylvania, across from the Train Station. September 2018. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

Jonathan and I returned to Pennsylvania at the end of July. Then, in a three-week span, we witnessed the baptism of two brand-new nephews, on opposite sides of this state. (One baby belongs to Jonathan’s sister, and the other baby belongs to my sister.)

I joked to Jonathan that August was the month of turnpike baptisms.

(FYI if you’re not familiar with our family or with Pennsylvania: Jonathan and I live in a suburb of Pittsburgh, in Western PA. The first baptism that we attended was also in Western PA, and thus on the western end of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The second baptism that we attended was in Eastern PA, and thus on the eastern end of the turnpike.)

For this second baptism, we stayed in Quakertown.

The temperatures during each day of our trip hit the 90’s. We spent our “free” time before and after the baptism enjoying the hotel pool and air conditioning.

Thus, we only explored and photographed one thing: The Quakertown Train Station.

Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek

I linked the train station’s official website above so that you don’t have to witness me poorly regurgitate the website. To paraphrase the website, the station was built in 1902. At some point before 1989, the building stopped being used to service rail passengers. In 1989, a fire significantly damaged the building. Non-profit restoration efforts saved and repaired the building. The public can now rent the train station for private events.

The train station sits at an intersection. When we pulled into the train station parking lot, the first thing that I noticed was a classic car with a “for sale” sign at the edge of this parking lot. A mural promoting Quakertown landmarks covered the building on the other side of the intersection. The photo that I took of this car is the first photo in this blog post.

Then, I took the second photo of this blog post. Now, these are the only two photos of this blog post that I took.

Jonathan took this photo of the restored train station:

Photo: Jonathan Woytek

Now, Jonathan also took these photos of the non-restored freight house next door, as well as the surrounding tracks:

Photo: Jonathan Woytek

The freight station brought to my mind the Stephen King short story “Willa.”

Photo: Jonathan Woytek

See also:

Photo: Jonathan Woytek

Here is a hand-operated jib crane for loading freight:

Photo: Jonathan Woytek

Here are the photos that Jonathan took of the building that housed the Quakertown Traction Company. “Traction” is another word for “trolley.” This building sits across the tracks from the train station and the freight house:

Photo: Jonathan Woytek

Here is the front facade for the Quakertown Traction Company:

Photo: Jonathan Woytek

If you would like to see more of Jonathan’s railroad photos, leave me a comment here or on Facebook.

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