Jenny Saw Victorian House Ghosts: A Haunted Porch Column Story

Our New Porch Columns. October 2021.

I had to memorize the three types of Greek / Roman columns for a history test in junior high school. Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. I’m not sure why I needed to go through life knowing all this. I can’t even tell you the exact name of the columns used on our rebuilt Victorian porch. Just Victorian, I guess?

Victorian porch columns. 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.

Jenny is a semi-educated adult. (Jenny managed to fool Saint Vincent College enough that they gave her a diploma.) Jenny functions semi-acceptably in adult life. She does NOT walk around at her life tasks talking about ghosts all day. However, it’s almost Halloween. So, for the pure entertainment value, let’s talk about Jenny’s experience with the “ghosts in her house.”

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?

The Time Capsule

Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek May 30, 2016

Our first porch contractor found this bottle when he dismantled our 1930’s era porch in 2014.

What’s this? you say. A broken bottle?

Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek May 30, 2016

We saw the words “Natrona Bottling Company” on the back.

So let’s start here, at the Natrona Bottling Company’s own website. Because luckily for us, they still operate, only six miles from Parnassus. Per this website, the company started in 1904.

Jonathan searched eBay, where he learned that bottles such as these dated from the 1950’s – 1960’s. Frostie was a brand out of Baltimore, and during that time period it contracted with several companies to bottle it. Including Natrona Bottling Company.

You can still purchase Frostie Root Beer.

Natrona Bottling Company no longer bottles for Frostie, but luckily for us it currently does bottle its own root beer today. Jonathan and I drink it, out of glass bottles much thinner than the one found under our porch.

Exciting Things Happening in Parnassus

My new front porch, in progress. I took this photo from approximately the area where I used to sit and blog.

I intend to bore you for several paragraphs if you don’t have any interest in Parnassus or its history. But – I wrap up this blog post by talking about controversial old houses in other states. Maybe that’s more up your alley.

So, in 2014, Jonathan and I truly believed that we were going to get a new porch very soon. Our house was built in the 1890’s. Jonathan blogged about our house’s history here on our other blog in 2014. Heck, in 2016, we still thought that we were going to get a new porch in the immediate future. I was so optimistic in 2016 when I blogged here.

We were so naive.

The good news is, if you visit the first link that I posted, you can read Jonathan’s write-up about the first owner of our house, Frank R. Alter Sr., co-founder of the Keystone Dairy Company. Keystone Dairy Company was also located here in Parnassus, New Kensington.

So, anyway, by 2014 we realized that we needed to hire somebody to tear off our circa 1930’s front porch and replace it. You know, before this porch affected the entire house’s structural integrity. A contractor tore off the 1930’s front porch and started to replace it. Started to replace it. After that, from 2014 until the near present day, things did not go at all the way that Jonathan and I expected. Just one setback after another. I haven’t had a porch on which I could sit with Jonathan since 2014.

I didn’t mention any of this on my blog in September because I was afraid that I might jinx this. I still might jinx it. I’m still holding my breath out this. However, it looks as if Jonathan and I are going to be able to sit on our porch together again soon!

You see, we finally found a new contractor who actually committed to building a new porch for us. During this past September, this contractor’s crew tore off the “porch” that the previous contractor started to build in 2014. This new contractor started from scratch. His crew made a great deal of progress this past month.

I posted above a photo that I took today. I took that photo from the approximate spot at which I used to sit and blog, prior to 2014. From the approximate spot at which I am blogging this right now!

You see, years after the porch saga started in 2014, Jonathan lost his mother and then I lost my own mother. I came home from each of their funerals and thought, “Now she’s never going to see how nice our house looks with a finished porch!”

I promise you that if I die before this porch is completed, or even if I die after the porch is completed but before I have time to enjoy the new porch, I will come back and haunt this place. I will stand on this porch and bug the crap out of whoever enjoys it in my stead. You better hope that my two shots of Pfizer actually work.

I am an extremely privileged and semi-educated. I said what I said partially in jest. But partially not in jest. I associate the entire porch saga with family tragedy. I can’t believe that I might finally see the end of the porch frustration.

We still have a long way to go on the old house work. We need to think about replacing the entire back “mud room” next.

I wasn’t a very ambitious 12-year-old. I wanted to do two things in my adult life:

1.) Live in a house built in the 1800’s.

2.) Have a cat. (My parents wouldn’t let me have a cat.)

I accomplished both of these goals that I set for myself at the age of 12. So, I win!

I wish that I could go back in time and tell myself about the realities of life as an old house owner. Not even my own experiences in Parnassus, but also about other people’s experiences.

North Side / Allegheny West, Pittsburgh

For instance, Jonathan and I used to take tours of Pittsburgh’s North Side / Allegheny West neighborhood. On one of of these tours, we visited a home that the homeowners spent the past twenty or so years renovating. We toured a beautifully restored parlor and dining room.

Then, as we walked towards the kitchen, the homeowner said, “We are currently working on the kitchen.”

The kitchen was a pile of bricks.

Literally.

A pile of bricks sat in the kitchen.

The McPike Mansion in Alton, Illinois

I have an old house renovation horror story that I learned about from podcasts and Facebook. Whenever I feel down about the lack of progress on our porch, I think about the McPike Mansion in Alton, Illinois.

At least Jonathan and I don’t have as many old house problems as do the owners of the McPike Mansion.

Now, everything that I know about the McPike Mansion, I learned from Season #1 of the American Hauntings podcast hosted by Troy Taylor and Cody Beck, some Google research, but mostly just from lurking on the McPike Mansion’s official Facebook page and official website.

A rich businessman built the McPike Mansion shortly after the Civil War. The house has not been occupied since the 1950’s. The McPike mansion is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

From what I understand, the McPike Mansion is not currently approved for occupancy – except for the wine cellar. The current owners, Sharyn and George Luedke, purchased the mansion in 1994. I learned from American Hauntings that the Luedke’s had been led to believe that they would be eligible for some sort of grant money to renovate the place. This turned out not to be the case.

It is my understanding that the Luedke’s intended to renovate the mansion into a bed and breakfast. They have owned the house – and worked on the house – since 1994.

It is STILL NOT CLEARED FOR OCCUPANCY.

Since 1994.

The Luedke’s have been working on trying to restore this house FOR ALMOST 30 YEARS, and they still can’t let guests sleep inside the place.

I learned from reading Facebook that the Luedke’s raise money for the old house renovation by:

1.) Renting out the wine cellar for parties.

2.) Selling tee-shirts. (More on that below.)

3.) Letting people “sponsor” and sign pieces of lumber.

4.) Selling tickets for ghost tours of the wine cellar and premises.

That’s right – ghost tours.

The McPike Mansion in Alton, Illinois is regionally famous for being haunted. That’s how I found out about the place.

And, to me, this “ghost tour as a profit center” thing is a double-edged sword.

One the one hand, the Luedke’s sell tee-shirts that say “McPike Mansion” above a graphic of a cute ghost.

On the other hand, thrill-seekers, vandals, and thieves show up on a regular basis and damage the place. In fact, even the McPike Mansion’s sign got stolen at least once.

I got exhausted just reading about the saga on Facebook. I mean, at what point does this turn into Captain Ahab’s search for the White Whale in Moby Dick?

Sauer Castle, Kansas City, Kansas

Another “old house in need of repair” that fascinates me is Sauer Castle in Kansas City, Kansas. This was another mansion built in the 1800’s by a rich guy. It is listed on at least one “endangered historic structure” list. There is a Facebook group devoted to the castle that has over 12,000 members that I used to follow. However, from what I understand, Sauer Castle is privately owned and the mansion’s owner did NOT manage the Sauer Castle Facebook page. The last time that I followed this Facebook page, I noted that almost all of this Facebook page’s posts criticized the current owner for failing to maintain Sauer Castle.

Sauer Castle has a long history of family tragedies, ghost stories, and vandalism. Nobody currently lives in the place. From what I understand, a descendant of Sauer Castle’s original owner purchased the place several decades ago with the intent to restore it. However, after several vandalism incidents, he halted the restoration efforts and he also refused to sell the place to a developer that expressed interest in restoring it. Every article that I Googled about Sauer Castle regurgitated the controversy between the current owner and preservation advocates.

Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, Illinois

If you’re still bored, Google “Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery” in suburban Chicago. Some people claim that this cemetery holds magic powers. Other people claim that the only magic power found at Bachelor’s Grove is the ability to turn grown adults into quarreling children. Google and Youtube have a bunch of stories about Bachelor’s Grove enthusiasts calling the police on other Bachelor’s Grove enthusiasts for having “unsanctioned” cemetery clean-ups there, people showing up drunk at other people’s houses in the middle of the night just to yell at them about Bachelor’s Grove-related disputes, and people trying to get other people fired over community events held at Bachelor’s Grove. It’s an easy way to waste several hours.

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk. Hope to post photos of a completed new porch soon.

The One with the Cat Mural

Cat mural by artist Raphael Pantalone. This building houses Frankie’s Friends Cat Rescue in downtown New Kensington. Photo taken September 25, 2021

I get my ideas from other places, just like a lot of other people.

You’re probably sick of hearing about this, but after Covid happened, I spent much time consuming Adam Selzer’s “Mysterious Chicago” Facebook page. Adam turned each Monday into “Mural Monday.” On each Monday, he posts virtual tours of himself walking around Chicago neighborhoods looking at murals. When he goes on vacation and his vacation happens to overlap with a Monday, he posts video of whatever town he happens to be in on that day.

So, New Kensington is in the process of being cleaned up and repaired. Preservationists secured funding to paint murals here. (Just like Chicago!)

I said to myself, “Jenny, you know of some people who used to live here, and then they moved away to other parts of the country. Maybe they would like to see these new murals.”

I made this assumption because my mom moved away from the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Carrick in the 1970’s and her parents left in the 1990’s, but every so often, she and my dad travelled to Pittsburgh for various reasons and some of their trips included quick drives around Carrick.

I don’t plan to do Mural Monday. I will just photograph and post murals when the mood strikes me, and then tag these posts with the “Murals” category.

So, here’s a cat mural for you. This cat mural covers the side of the building occupied by Frankie’s Friends Cat Rescue in downtown New Kensington. Facebook taught me that Raphael Pantalone painted this mural as well as additional cat murals inside the building.

Hauntings At The Hoyt Museum in Western Pennsylvania

This looks like a job for Scooby Doo and the Meddling Kids who travel in the Mystery Machine!

I’ve blogged in the past about my favorite spooky podcasts. In fact, here’s my most updated list of 13 Haunted History Podcasts.

My list included Snap Judgement Presents: Spooked. Now, WNYC studios presented the podcast Snap Judgement. WNYC and Snap Judgement originally introduced Spooked to me. That’s why I included the NPR link here.

Spooked later moved to a subscriber-only model on Luminary. However, Luminary occasionally releases former subscriber-only episodes to the public.

My iTunes and Spotify profiles both advised me that Spooked JUST released to the public a former subscriber-only episode titled “Fright At The Museum.” The episode detailed a former museum intern’s allegedly true experiences with ghosts at a museum which she referred to as The Hoyt.

I Googled “The Hoyt” and its alleged ghosts “Alexander Hoyt” and and “May Emma Hoyt” and I discovered that The Hoyt is actually the Hoyt Art Center in New Castle, Pennsylvania.

New Castle is north of Pittsburgh and south of Erie in Western Pennsylvania. If you like to shop at outlet malls, note that New Castle is 16 miles south of the outlet mall in Grove City.

Through this podcast and my Google research, I learned that The Hoyt’s physical location consists of the two adjacent, century-old mansions once occupied by the siblings May Emma and Alexander.

May Emma allegedly lived a Roaring Twenties lifestyle not approved by Alexander. Alexander allegedly burned May Emma’s prized possessions after she died. Hence the ghost stories.

I learned that only very recently did preservationists undertake a major restoration project at The Hoyt. Restoration continues.

I understand. Jonathan and I live in a house built in the 1890’s. Restoration continues at our establishment as well. In fact, I soon hope to blog about a major project at our house!

Once upon a time, I myself worked as a “sort of” intern at an old building-turned-art center in a recovering Rust Belt town. I worked as the “Events Coordinator” at the Bottleworks Ethnic Arts Center in the Cambria City neighborhood of Johnstown. (My placement came from participation in Americorps / Pennsylvania Mountain Service Corps/ PMSC.) The Bottleworks occupied (still occupies) a former bottle factory – hence the name. I never encountered any ghosts at Bottleworks, though. Maybe I just didn’t pay enough attention.

Pennsylvania History Reading on the Eve of September 11

Pious Spring in Somerset County, Pennsylvania

I grew up in Central Pennsylvania and also in a little farming community down the road from Shanksville (the Flight 93 crash site). However, not everyone who reads this blog lived in Pennsylvania for decades like I did. (Not sure whether I should actually admit this . . . ) So, if you’re still new here and want to learn more, here are some books about Western Pennsylvania history that I enjoyed:

1.) Anything by Thomas White

White teaches and archives at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, and he also wrote a million books about Pennsylvania history and folklore. I just finished reading White’s “The Witch of the Monogahela: Folk Magic in Early Western Pennsylvania.”

2.) The Day Must Dawn” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull

Turnbull grew up in New Alexandria in the late 1800’s. She graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. After World War I ended, she wrote this fiction novel about colonial settlers in Hanna’s Town (Hannastown) during the Revolutionary War. When I toured the visitor’s center at the Flight 93 National Memorial, I learned that Flight 93 travelled over part of Westmoreland County just moments before it crashed in Somerset County. The plane travelled over the same mountains that provide the setting for this book about living with fear and hope in the 1700’s.

If you decide that you liked Turnbull’s historical fiction, note that she wrote “The King’s Orchard” about early Pittsburgh businessman James O’Hara. (O’Hara was philanthropist Mary Schenley’s grandfather and also the source of her significant fortune.) She also wrote a novel titled “Remember the End” about Alex MacTay, a fictional mine owner in Greensburg during the Industrial Revolution. I suspect that Turnbull based MacTay on a hybrid of Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Carnegie.

I don’t recommend any other of Turnbull’s many, many novels. For instance, I attempted to read her story “The Richlands” about a farming family in Westmoreland County. The book took place in the late 1800’s – I think? Everyone travelled by horse. The farm boys had to physically build their own prep school. (Kiski Prep?) There was a creepy farmhand. The father fired the farmhand before he did anything exceptionally creepy, such as murder the wife and kids. Kinda disappointing. Turnbull forgot to include a plot in “The Richlands.” NOTHING happened for 300 pages.

3.) Hannah’s Town, by Helen Smith and George Swetnam

This book was “The Day Must Dawn” for kids. It followed a fictional girl named Hannah who lived in Hanna’s Town and thought of it as “her town.” Hannah’s family very conveniently moved away from Hanna’s Town right before the British and their Native American allies sacked and burned the town. The book was written in the style of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books. I mentioned that I just finished reading a Thomas White book. Well, in the White book that I just finished, White specifically cited “Hannah’s Town” co-author Geroge Swetnam as one of White’s folklore sources.

4.) Grant by Ron Chernow

Grant was a biography of Ulysses S. Grant. Chernow also wrote the biography of Alexander Hamilton upon which Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote his Hamilton musical. In Grant, I learned that Grant’s father, Jesse, actually lived in Greensburg (down the road from Hannastown) for years before he moved to Ohio and fathered Ulysses.

5.) The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough

I learned that in the aftermath of the Johnstown Flood of 1889, somebody fished a live baby out of the Allegheny River at Verona. (Verona is downstream from Parnassus (where I live) and upstream from Pittsburgh.)

6.) American Elegy: A Family Memoir by Jeffrey Simpson

Simpson wrote this memoir about several generations of his family who lived in the Parnassus neighborhood of New Kensington. His family lived on the same block on which I now live.

7.) The Girl Factory: A Memoir by Karen Dietrich

Dietrich grew up in Connellsville. She wrote this book about her experiences in elementary and high school in Connellsville. I read this because I saw a write-up for it in a Pittsburgh newspaper. I included it here because the author is my age. She graduated from high school with a whole bunch of people who then attended college with me. Then, even though she didn’t go to college with me, she eventually (briefly) taught creative writing at my old college. I read this book while wondering the entire time if she wrote about anybody that I recognized. I did not recognize anybody. Maybe I’m not very perceptive.

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 “EGE.” This building housed the former Bloser’s Jewelers in downtown New Kensington. Fun fact: Crews filmed a scene from the 2019 movie “Where’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. One can live quite comfortably in Pittsburgh and still maintain an inflated sense of importance. Just saying.)

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 expense (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.

As Seen From the Boat Deck of the SV Pinniped

Off the Coast of Presque Isle State Park (Coming into the Passage to Presque Isle Bay), Erie, PA. Lake Erie. As Seen from the Deck of Our Sailboat, SV Pinniped. July 31, 2021. (Photo: Jenny Gaffron Woytek)

My mom, Shirley, was extremely gifted in the textile arts. Everyone who knew her well knew that she was really, really good at knitting, crocheting, needlepoint, sewing, and quilting. Anything that involved fabric or yarn, really.

One of my earliest memories involves a pink rabbit costume. Mom was under the impression that the town’s trick-or-treating would be held on Halloween night. Well, about a week or so before Halloween, she walked to the post office. She learned from a postal employee that our community’s Halloween parade and designated trick-or-treating hours were actually planned for THAT VERY EVENING. So, she booked it home and got to work on finishing the rabbit costume. It was ready for four-year-old me to wear just before the parade started.

Around this same time, Mom made me a pink (see a theme here?) quilt. She entered said quilt in the community quilt show. She took me to view this quilt show. I threw a temper tantrum when I saw “my” quilt in the exhibition, complete with a tag. How dare Mom attempt to sell “my” quilt!

I didn’t legitimize my own mother’s hand crafts. I don’t excuse myself for this, but I think that this was because a lot of my mom’s work fell into the arena of stuff that they did on “Little House on the Prairie.”

You know – “Women’s Work.”

(By the way, I loved both the “Little House on the Prairie” books and the television show. Mom sewed me and my sisters bonnets and ruffled dresses so that we could be just like Laura Ingalls Wilder.)

But – Mom was an artist. Several years ago, Mom and I visited the Carnegie Museum of Art (in Pittsburgh) while my dad went hunting back home in Somerset County. Mom specifically requested that we view a special exhibition about the hand crafts of women around the world. A lot of the art in this exhibit were the exact same mediums that Mom had created for the people that she loved for decades.

That being said, in the last year or so of Mom’s life, she decided to learn how to paint landscapes. She picked out painting supplies as her Christmas gift from my dad for from Santa Claus or whomever. She watched Youtube tutorials on landscape painting. She painted seashores. This was during the same year that she battled cancer.

Jonathan gives me photography lessons. Our photo outings got me through the chaos of the past few years. When I take photos of boats and birds and water, I feel the peace that I imagine that Mom felt when she painted beaches a few summers ago.

I and my two youngest sisters celebrated a June birthday by going to one of those places where you pay a flat fee to paint a sign. You know, where you can bring your own wine and charcuterie board, or your own beer and nachos, or whatever food and drinks make your own life worth living. It was fun. It reminded me of eighth grade art class.

I’m so grateful to my mom for teaching me to survive through life’s rough patches by clinging to anything that gives me joy. Also, for finishing my pink rabbit costume at the last minute.