Tube City Online

Filed Under: History, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

August 31, 2007 | Link to this story

Labor Day Weekend

Category: History, Mon Valley Miscellany || By

20 Years Ago This Week: On Aug. 28, 1987 --- 20 years ago this week --- the last crew of employees punched out of USX's National Works, closing the door of what had once been the largest pipe-making mill in the world and which gave McKeesport its nickname, "The Tube City."

A few months later, the electric-resistance weld pipe mill, built in the early 1960s in McKeesport's First Ward, reopened under the management of a separate company, Camp-Hill Corp.

But the old "piercing" and rolling seamless pipe mills that had employed thousands would be dismantled and most of the buildings torn down.

To mark this occasion, I went into the dusty, musty archives and pulled out five interviews I conducted in 1997 for the Daily News on the 10th anniversary of National Plant's closing. These "National Works Memories" are now posted in the "Steel Heritage" section of Tube City Online.

And if you haven't already, be sure to explore the section of Pitt's "Labor Legacy" website devoted to National-Duquesne Works information.

. . .

Right Church, Wrong Pew: State Rep. Bill Kortz is mad as hell about the disgraceful condition of the W.D. Mansfield Memorial Bridge, according to Raymond Pefferman and David Whipkey in last night's News. (No story online, unfortunately.)

At a hearing Wednesday before the state Transportation Commission, the freshman Democrat legislator from Dravosburg called the rusty superstructure of the bridge spanning the Monongahela "disgusting" and said the crumbling sidewalks and concrete deck are posing a safety hazard to pedestrians and motorists.

The bridge is the main western entrance to McKeesport for motorists driving to the city from Pittsburgh, West Mifflin and Allegheny County Airport.

Unfortunately, the bridge isn't maintained by PennDOT. It's a county bridge. And Allegheny County wants to rehabilitate the Rankin Bridge first. (Someone make sure to tell PittGirl.)

They've been working their way up the Mon, repairing the Glenwood Bridge in 2000 and 2001, and the Homestead Grays (nee High-Level Bridge) last year and this year.

Nobody asked the Almanac, but just running the darned street sweeper across the Mansfield Bridge and especially the approach ramps would do wonders for the entire area. The loose dirt, gravel and debris on the McKeesport end of the span hasn't been cleaned in ... well, forever, I sometimes think.

. . .



To Do This Weekend: Are you ready for some football? Woodland Hills inaugurates the newly renovated Wolvarena in Turtle Creek tonight when it takes on Mt. Lebanon at 7 p.m. I can safely predict the joint will be rocking.

Elsewhere around the district ... your McKeesport Tigers are traveling to North Hills High School. Game time is 7:30 p.m. Serra Catholic opens its season tonight at home against North Catholic; kickoff is 7:30 p.m.

Other local home games include (all kickoffs 7:30 p.m.):

  • Clairton vs. Jefferson-Morgan


  • East Allegheny vs. Greensburg Central Catholic


  • Elizabeth Forward vs. Mount Pleasant


  • South Allegheny vs. Seton-LaSalle


  • Thomas Jefferson vs. Belle Vernon Area


  • West Mifflin vs. Allderdice


Away games tonight include Norwin at Seneca Valley, Steel Valley at Carlynton and Yough at McGuffey. Gateway heads to Youngstown, Ohio, tomorrow to play Cardinal Mooney High.

. . .

P.S.: The ‘Woverines’?: Speaking of Woodland Hills, fans are hopping mad over the rally card that was distributed this week by the Pennysaver, a sister publication of the McKeesport Daily News and the Tribune-Review.

The rally card misspelled the “Wolverines.” (They left out the “L”!)

It’s no reflection on Woodland Hills High School's educational standards. (We hear the proofreaders at the Pennysaver went to Penn Hills.) But the school district is urging residents not to display the signs.

Naturally, we here at the Almanac always try to capitalize on other people's misfortunes help our neighbors. So, if you cheer the Wolverines, feel free to download and print out our replacement rally card.

(more)

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August 30, 2007 | Link to this story

An Apology To The Kid in Section D, Row 5

Category: default || By

Meet one of the world's grade-A shmucks. Namely, me.

Last night, Officer Jim and I went to see the final home game of the season of the Slippery Rock Sliders, a Frontier League baseball team that's in its first (and possibly last) year in the Butler County borough.

Since it was the last game of the year, both the team and the sponsors were trying to unload leftover swag, mainly by throwing it to the crowd at Jack Crutchfield Park on the Slippery Rock University campus. Around the second inning, some promotions people from WBUT (1050) and WLER-FM (97.7) radio started throwing T-shirts into the stands.

Naturally, as a radio guy, I wanted me a T-shirt. But they didn't toss them anywhere near our section.

Two innings later, they walked through the stands again tossing WISR (680) T-shirts. And when they tossed some into Section D, right behind home plate, where we were sitting, I stuck my hand up ... and son-of-a-gun if one didn't fall into my grubby palm.

I was feeling like a big man until I heard someone say, "Sorry, sport, but that guy grabbed it right in front of you." When we had taken our seats before the game, no one was sitting behind us. Now I turned around to see a slightly stunned 10-year-old in his Little League uniform and holding a regulation Rawlings catcher's mitt.

Gulp.

"Geez, I'm sorry," I said. "Here's the T-shirt. I didn't know you were back there." He shook his head, "no."

"Aw, c'mon," I said, "are you sure?"

He nodded.

I slunk down into my seat. Officer Jim thought this was hysterical, especially since my own two years as the worst Little League player in the history of the Liberty Borough Athletic Association proved that, as he said, "you couldn't catch a cold in a driving rain storm."

He kept nudging me throughout the game: "Want to go down the concession stand? Maybe you can take some candy from some babies ... Hey, look at those little kids chasing foul balls. Go get one. You're bigger than them."

Luckily, in about the seventh inning a batter from the Sliders hit a pop-up foul right over the backstop that caromed off of the roof of the grandstand and fell int our section. Thank God the kid caught the ball, which he liked a lot better, I think, than a T-shirt from an AM radio station.

The final score, by the way, was the Chillicothe 9, Slippery Rock 6, and the game wasn't that close; the Sliders spotted Chillicothe three runs in the first inning and were down 9 to 3 before scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth. The Chillicothe batters were using the starting pitcher as batting practice; according to the statistician in our section who was measuring the pitches with a radar gun, the poor guy's fastballs were coming across the plate at a leisurely 78 mph.

. . .

To Move or Not To Move: The Sliders were an expansion team put into Slippery Rock primarily because SRU had a nice, new baseball field, but the season has been a long slog of losses (they're 28 and 62 counting last night).

And it's apparent the town really doesn't have the population base to support even a semi-pro club. Either attendance last night was poor, or else a lot of people came disguised as empty seats.

The Sliders don't have a local owner, and played most of their games on the road this season, and speculation has been the team will be sold to someone and moved out of Slippery Rock.

But someone from the club said there's actually a "90 percent chance" the team will stay in Slippery Rock next season. He might have been whistling through the graveyard. I guess it all depends whether Slippery Rock can afford a bidding war to keep the Sliders from moving to Evans City or Chicora. (Actually, Pullman Field in nearby Butler has been mentioned as a possible site.)

I'll say this: We had a very good time, even when I wasn't roughing up fourth-graders. If the Sliders return to Slippery Rock next season, you might want to plan a visit to the ballyard. It's only about a 90 minute drive; you could spend that long trying to get out of the parking lot at PNC Park.

. . .

Low Crime Area: We exited the stadium to discover the driver's side window of my car was open. Officer Jim looked inside. "No broken glass," he said. Sure enough, I had left the window down. "How many beers did you have before the game?" he asked.

My CD player was on the front seat and two new CDs were unmolested; my toolbox was still in the trunk. Nothing had been touched.

"They must have honest people up here," I said.

"Either that," Jim said, "or you don't have anything worth stealing."




Posted by jt3y at August 30, 2007 07:32 AM






Comments



The Paints? What the heck kind of name is the Chillicothe Paints? It looks like a My Little Pony logo.
Posted by: Schultz at August 30, 2007 01:35 PM


The "Paints" refers to a type of horse marking. More commonly referred to as "pinto" a paint is a horse with patchy markings of white and another color.

Chillicothe is prime horse raising country.
Posted by: Bulldog at August 30, 2007 05:05 PM


Boy, am I glad you guys filled me in. That's the kind of thing that would've kept me up nights.

Bunches of thanks.
Posted by: Prof. Windbag at August 30, 2007 05:41 PM



Officer Jim is the best! Nothing worth stealing is a funny reply!
Posted by: Donn Nemchick at August 31, 2007 08:55 AM



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August 29, 2007 | Link to this story

'Pop' Goes Book Country

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

Briefly Noted: Pop City profiles Book Country Clearing House, the remaindered-book wholesaler located on Walnut Street in Christy Park at the old Potter-McCune Co. warehouse. (The Almanac last wrote about Book Country back in September 2004.)



According to John Altdorfer's feature, Book Country now has almost 100 employees and has grown by "nearly 100 percent" every year since being purchased by Richard and Sandy Roberts.



(Tube City hard-hat tip: Several alert readers.)



You can read more about Roberts in this trade industry article. (Book Country's own website appears to be down.)



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August 28, 2007 | Link to this story

Saints Preserve Us

Category: History, Mon Valley Miscellany, Politics || By

The continuing population decline of Western Pennsylvania and the nationwide shortage of Roman Catholic priests claimed three more victims in the Mon-Yough area this week.

On Sunday, the Diocese of Pittsburgh announced that nine church buildings would permanently close, including St. Peter's on Market Street and Sacred Heart on Shaw Avenue in the city, and St. Paulinus in Clairton.

Although Sunday Masses were no longer being celebrated at the buildings, they were still in use for weekday Masses and on special occasions.

St. Peter's and Sacred Heart, along with St. Mary's German on Olive Street, became part of St. Martin de Porres Parish in 1993, while St. Paulinus had merged with St. Joseph Church to become St. Clare of Assisi Parish in 1994. St. Mary's German has since been demolished; new houses have been erected on part of the old parish grounds.

. . .

Among the Oldest Catholic Churches: Of the three churches, St. Peter's is by far the most historic. The Diocese of Pittsburgh's website claims that St. Peter's was founded in 1846.

But according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, St. Peter's predates the Diocese of Pittsburgh itself. According to the Encyclopedia, St. Peter's was one of seven Catholic churches in Allegheny County that were taken over by the new diocese at its creation in 1843. The first pastor, Father A.P. Gibbs, split his time between St. Peter's and three other parishes in Wexford, Pine Creek and Crafton.

Three years later, Catholics in McKeesport (mostly German immigrants) purchased the plot of land at the corner of Seventh and Market streets to erect the first permanent sanctuary. The first permanent pastor was Father Nicholas Haeres. No matter what you consider St. Peter's official founding date, it's clearly one of the oldest Catholic churches west of the Alleghenies, and possibly among the first 100 in the United States.

The present church, which would do many smaller dioceses proud as a cathedral, was built between 1873 and 1875. (When it was dedicated on Sept. 12, 1875, one of the local Swedish newspapers commented sarcastically that the building was dedicated with "all the pomp that catholics are capable of.") Though a little bit worn now, it remains majestic.

. . .

Mother Church: Many if not all of the Catholic parishes surrounding McKeesport that were founded before 1900 started as "mission churches" or "daughter parishes" of St. Peter's. St. Peter's also was the site of the city's first Catholic high school until its students were absorbed into the new Serra High School in 1963.

Sacred Heart, an ethnic Croatian church, was founded in 1906 and the first permanent sanctuary was on Jenny Lind Street, in a former Swedish Baptist church. When Sacred Heart School opened in 1928, the church moved its sanctuary to the third floor and sold the old building to the Greek Orthodox Church. The present Sacred Heart building was constructed in 1955.

St. Paulinus was founded in 1923 in Clairton's Wilson neighborhood (the independent Borough of Wilson until 1921), and the first Masses were celebrated in the old Wilson Municipal Building or the Walnut Street School. The church was built during the Depression by laid-off mill workers using salvaged stones, bricks and lumber.

. . .

Reusing St. Peter's?: Two years ago, the Christian Science Monitor reported on a number of possible uses for old church buildings, including housing.

Unless some Protestant or other congregation purchases Sacred Heart and St. Paulinus, I fear the future of those church buildings will be grim. They're destined to sit empty for years or even a decade until they're torn down or purchased as a "development opportunity" like St. Stephen's Magyar Church, which I wrote about in July.

Because of its history, I hope St. Peter's can escape that fate. It's within one block of the marina and Gergely Riverfront Park, a few blocks from the Palisades, and visible throughout Downtown. There's ample parking nearby, and the historic building would make an ideal performance space for the McKeesport Symphony and other groups; it would also be a wonderful place for a banquet hall, a meeting facility, or a restaurant like the Church Brew Works in Pittsburgh.

I think the need could be demonstrated. Other than the auditorium at McKeesport Senior High School, the city lacks a large indoor performance space (the Palisades is a nice dance hall, but the acoustics leave a lot to be desired) and there also aren't many dining options within easy distance of the marina.

So, do you know someone who's looking to start a business? Would they rather be in some pre-fab building with no character, or a building that's more than 125 years old?

Tell them to take a chance. Call the Diocese of Pittsburgh at (412) 456-3000.

. . .

In Other Business: The new school year for former Duquesne High School students started without a hitch at East Allegheny and West Mifflin, according to Tim Puko in the Tribune-Review.

One mom says her son seems to be happier at his new school. "Duquesne just made him miserable," she said.

Will there be problems in the future? Sure. But there will always be problems; let's allow the students and faculty to solve those without finger-pointing and micro-management.

So, despite the best efforts of shameless politicians and a few hysterical parents, everyone got along. The "kids are all right," and the teachers are too.

Thank God for common sense and simple human decency. Personally, I'll take it wherever I can find it.

(more)

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August 27, 2007 | Link to this story

Just The Snark, Ma'am

Category: So-Called Radio Humor || By



I know what you're thinking, but lung cancer didn't get Jack Webb. He had a heart attack.

In lieu of real content this Monday morning, here's some more alleged humor from my alleged radio shows. It's a large file (3.3 MB) so be patient.

Feel free to light a Chesterfield while you wait.

The WRCT Crime and Incident Report (8/19/2007)



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August 24, 2007 | Link to this story

Sole Man

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By

The current debate over our trade imbalance with China, and news stories about lax quality control in Chinese factories, came home this month.

My two pairs of Florsheim shoes, each about one year old, fell apart in the same week.

Like most American men, I suspect, I only have a few pairs of shoes. For work I have --- well, I had --- the brown shoes and the black shoes. I've been buying Florsheims since high school, first at Rubinstein's on Fifth Avenue, and then via the Internet after Rubinstein's closed.

Florsheims used to be American-made, and then they were made in South America. The last two pair were made in China.

In the past, I always wore the soles out --- in fact, one pair was resoled twice. But I never had Florsheims split apart along the upper until I got these latest, Chinese-made shoes. The talented Anthony Macchiaroli at Valley Shoe Repair in North Versailles says they're unsalvageable.

So, to quote "South Park": "You go to hell, Florsheim! You go to hell and you die!"

. . .

Where could I get a good pair of American-made shoes (actually, two) at a price I could afford?

My preference is to buy locally, but finding a locally-owned shoe store in the Mon-Yough area isn't easy. Gordon's Shoes at the Homestead Waterfront is about the last option. There's also Ponsi Shoes in North Huntingdon, but they sell mostly orthopedics, and while I may act like I'm ready for the nursing home, I'm not quite there yet.

The next step was to find a shoe company still manufacturing in the United States. It's not easy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 98 percent of the shoes sold in this country last year were imported, mostly from you-know-where.

A website called U.S. Stuff helped, but it's not being updated very often, and unfortunately most of the updates are of this nature: "out of business ... closed the factory July 2005 ... closed its only US operation ... now importing all shoes ... all made outside USA."

. . .

Naturally, the companies' websites try to hide where their plants are located. Plenty stress "American style" or "American tradition" or "American craftsmanship" or talk about how their founder opened his first shoe factory in Maine or Michigan or Minnesota in 1898.

They don't brag about the fact that they laid off 1,400 workers a few years ago or shipped all of the machinery to China.

To learn which companies still made shoes here, I looked for articles in newspapers; doing Google searches for "(company name)" + "shoes" + "factory" + "closed" was, sadly, very helpful.

. . .

Price and value are important. One company that makes almost all of its shoes in the United States is Allen Edmonds. They also make an excellent product. But you pay for that quality, and I can't afford shoes that cost $300 per pair. I needed something in the Florsheim price range of $100 to $150.

I also didn't want horribly ugly shoes. I found a lot of steel-toed work shoes and boots made in the United States, but I wasn't about to clomp around all day like Herman Munster.

. . .

Well, believe it or not, I found one pair of shoes not only made in America, but made in Pennsylvania, and only about two hours away. The Cove Shoe Company of Martinsburg, Blair County, makes private-label dress shoes as well as Corcoran and Matterhorn boots. I ordered a pair of black dress Oxfords from them.

Cost? $120, or about what I paid for the last pair of Florsheims.

Cove's products are aimed at the military, police officers, postal workers, and other public employees who have to buy American-made shoes, so the pair I just got will win no awards for cutting-edge style. But they're handsome, fit well, have a thick, Vibram sole, and feel really sturdy.

And after a day or two to break them in, they are comfortable. (They have to be ... cops and postal workers are on their feet all day.) Places that sell uniforms might have them; I ordered mine through a website called Shoeline.com.

Shoeline.com is owned by H.H. Brown Shoe Co., which is controlled by Warren Buffett. If you search on the keyword "USA," you'll find all of the items they carry that are made in the United States.

That led me to another of Buffett's companies that's still making shoes in the United States, Dexter Shoe Co. Many Dexter shoes are sourced from overseas, but some are still American-made; so I ordered a spiffy pair of American-made brown dress shoes from them.

. . .

If you need shoes and want to buy American, first, rots of ruck, and second, I hope this information helps you.

One thing frosts me, though. Cove Shoe can make a comfortable, solid, good-looking product right here in Pennsylvania, and sell it at a competitive price.

That tells me that Wal-Mart, Target, DSW, Payless, etc., could stock American-made shoes --- and other products --- if they wanted to.

They'd rather lower their manufacturing costs and their quality, and keep the money they save rather than pass it along to consumers. Because the prices of, say, Florsheim shoes haven't dropped in the last 10 years. In fact, they've gone up significantly.

Where does the excess money go?

Did you say "executive compensation"? Shoe better believe it.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: McKeesport Little Theater, 1614 Coursin St., holds auditions for "Over the River and Through the Woods" from Sunday and Monday night. Men and women ages 25 to 35 and 55 to 75 are needed. Call (412) 673-1100 ... Resurrection Church, 3909 Donna Ave., West Mifflin, holds a chicken parmigiana dinner and bake sale from 12 to 6 p.m. Sunday. Call (412) 461-8087.

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August 23, 2007 | Link to this story

Pennsylvanians, in the Shadows of Life

Category: Good Government On The March, Politics || By

I have a friend who works at a group home for the severely mentally ill. They're mostly former patients of Western Center, the state-run psychiatric hospital in Cecil Township that closed for good in 2000. For reasons you can guess, I'm not going to identify this person in any way.

My friend has been after me for sometime to write an "expose" on the private health-care company that runs the group home. I try to tell my friend that if no one wants to go on the record or cooperate, an expose becomes difficult if not impossible. And any sources who would cooperate could face legal repercussions.

Nevertheless, I've heard some stories that would curl my hair, if I had any left. The patients in my friend's group home are not functional adults who can participate in meaningful, mainstream activities. They have extreme emotional and developmental problems.

So when the state announced it plans to close Mayview State Hospital, I emailed my friend. "What do you think?" I said.

"Oh, (expletive), they'll be sending them down here," my friend replied. "I'll probably end up with Richard Baumhammers." Well, no. Baumhammers, a former lawyer who went on a racism-fueled shooting rampage in 2000, was eventually ruled competent to stand trial and is now on death row.

. . .

But Baumhammers was marginally successful at navigating society, at least until his internal demons drove him to a deadly burst of violence. My tongue is only partly in my cheek when I say someone like Baumhammers would be an improvement over the patients in my friend's group home:



You might think that a group home environment at least allows them to participate in some outside activities that they didn't have access to at Western Center. You might be wrong. Most of the patients spend their days medicated, watching TV. If my friend can wrangle the company's van for a day trip, he takes them to Wal-Mart to walk around and have ice cream.

A few patients more highly socialized and more functional are allowed limited excursions on their own. One recently was sent on a day trip to Niagara Falls. My friend asked him what he liked best. "I had cake," he replied.

The company for which my friend works hires "aides" who work for little more than minimum wage, and have minimum training. Few have any background in social work, nursing or some related field; they quit as soon as they find a better-paying job.

About 9,000 people are now in these group homes in Pennsylvania. A report by then-auditor general Bob Casey Jr. sharply criticized the level of care and the Department of Public Welfare's response to the problems, calling it an "abomination."

. . .

Now, the Rendell administration, DPW and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania want to dump more of these patients into group homes.

This obviously isn't helping the patients. It's not doing anything for the communities where the group homes are located.

The only people that are being enriched by the closing of state hospitals are those who operate group homes ... and developers who are salivating at the thought of buying the 335-acre Mayview property.

After all, Southpointe, the very successful commercial and residential development in Washington County, was built on the former Western Center property. And the "Kilbuck landslide" was the result of an attempt to build a shopping center on the former Dixmont State Hospital property.

My friend, who's fairly conservative, objects to the cost of maintaining a network of group homes and sending patients on outings at taxpayer's expense when, he says, they don't get any benefit.

The tax expense doesn't bother me if patients receive better care in group homes than in state-run mental health facilities. But group homes are clearly just warehouses. How is that an improvement over the services provided by Mayview or Western Center?

. . .

The movement to close mental hospitals developed in the 1960s and '70s after stories of abusive treatment became endemic. And a lot of people had been committed to mental hospitals who weren't disturbed at all --- people with Down's syndrome or clinical depression, for instance. They should never had been locked away. They deserved a chance to participate in society.

But there is clearly a small group of people who require 24-hour monitoring and professional care. The patients who remain in state hospitals are not bad people, but they are not capable of normal adult activities on any level.

In 2000, the family of a patient at Polk Center sued when the state tried to move her into a group home. A psychiatric evaluation determined the woman had an IQ of 14 and the mental age of a 25-month-old child. Workers at the group home were making $6.31 per hour and had no training in skilled nursing.

Washington County Commissioner Bracken Burns told the Observer-Reporter last week that he supports the rights of the mentally handicapped to live in the community. "I also recognize there are some individuals who are so severely mentally handicapped that they are not safe members of that community," he says.

I can't possibly argue with that. Neither would my friend.

. . .

Former senator and vice president Hubert Humphrey said the quality of a society "is measured by how it treats those in the dawn of life, in the dusk of life. and most importantly in the shadow of life."

We're not doing a very good job treating people at the "dawn of life":



By closing facilities like Mayview, we're doing wrong by people in the "shadows" of life, too.

The only ones left getting a fair shake in Pennsylvania are those in the "dusk" of life, our senior citizens. I guess it's no surprise that they're the people who vote in this state.

Still, instead of coming up with new marketing slogans every 10 months, I'd like to see our local and state governments spend more time caring for the least of our society and less time trying to line the pockets of campaign contributors.

And although it's not a federal issue, where does Bob Casey Jr. stand on this problem today? Surely a U.S. senator would have a bully pulpit to advocate for Mayview patients.

Maybe if we improved the "quality" of Pennsylvania society, we wouldn't need to market ourselves quite so vigorously --- and unsuccessfully.

So, who will be the first political leader to demonstrate some leadership on the Mayview situation?

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August 21, 2007 | Link to this story

Unbuilt McKeesport

Category: Good Government On The March, History, Politics || By



The late Andrew "Greeky" Jakomas still gets a lot of abuse --- not all of it undeserved --- for things he did and shouldn't have done, or for things he should have done, and didn't.

But anyone who loves the city should be grateful to Jakomas, a two-term mayor and longtime councilman, and other leaders of the 1950s and '60s for not building this monstrosity on Fifth Avenue at Huey Street.

I stumbled across this undated architect's rendering while looking for something entirely unrelated in the archives of McKeesport Heritage Center. No date was attached, but I'd suspect it's from roughly 1957.

According to the accompanying caption from the Daily News, this $800,000, five-story structure was proposed by the McKeesport Planning Commission. It would have included a 184-car parking garage with a new city hall on the top floor and storefronts on the lower level, along with "a modern supper club," and "a sun deck and recreation area."

The location --- presently a vacant lot across Fifth Avenue from the back of the Sunoco station, and ironically near the current City Hall --- was then a slum area slated for clearance.

As you can see, this building combines all of the charm of the Lysle Boulevard parking garage with the architecture of an East German prison.

Someday soon, I'll write a defense of the city hall that was built in 1959, which currently houses the police and fire departments. I'm one of the few people I know who likes it.

No, it's not a great building, but it has some handsome lines and it genuinely makes me smile when I see it, especially when the lobby is lit up at night.

But whatever you think of the 1959 city hall, you have to admit it's a Greek temple compared to this rotten building. How would you like to work on the top floor, breathing carbon monoxide fumes all day long? And what would the lower floors looked like when the concrete became stained with salt and soot, or when the parking deck began to leak into the stores on the first floor?

By the late 1950s, the handwriting was on the wall for Downtown, and McKeesport planners were desperately trying to compete with suburban shopping malls. The short-lived pedestrian mall on Fifth Avenue was one attempt. Midtown Plaza was another.

In all likelihood, this white elephant would have fared no better than they did. If there's such a thing as "addition by subtraction," then the failure to build this city hall/parking garage/shopping center was a huge civic improvement.

. . .

Meanwhile, Back in The Present: If I'm not writing at the Almanac, then I'm probably pitching in over at Pittsburgh Radio & TV Online, operated by my friend and cow-orker Eric O'Brien for almost 10 years now.

Right now you can read about a format change at a station in Erie or digital TV or even see Karl Rove with hair. Out of all of the websites covering radio and television in Pittsburgh, it's definitely one of them.

Also, Tube City Online has a new look, with help from local photographer and railroad journalist and historian Rich Borkowski Jr.

. . .

In Other Business: As predicted by the Almanac back in April, subscribers of the Daily News started getting the Sunday Tribune-Review this weekend. (Admittedly, it didn't take the prognostication skills of Kreskin to predict this. The Trib wants to boost its Sunday circulation in Allegheny County, because higher circulation means it can charge higher advertising rates.)

The News, which has never had a Sunday edition, is a six-day-per-week paper, and the Trib is being delivered to its subscribers at no extra cost ... whether they want it or not.

Traditionally, a lot of News carriers have also delivered the Sunday Post-Gazette and before that, the Press, so I'm going to guess that a few subscribers aren't thrilled about getting two Sunday papers ... especially if they don't like the Trib.

I wonder how much a Daily News subscriber has to pay to not get the Tribune-Review? (Rimshot.)

I'm ambivalent, because I don't get the Sunday P-G, but I don't think the Sunday Trib is any prize, either. (The normal caveats apply to my opinions and/or credibility.)

At least Sunday's Trib included a nice profile of McKeesport Mayor Jim Brewster by Jennifer Vertullo of the News. Vertullo has also demonstrated a pretty keen eye for taking good photos, too, which is not a skill that many writers master.

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August 17, 2007 | Link to this story

Requiem For a Real Heavyweight

Category: default || By jt3y

I didn't realize until I saw the front page of yesterday's Courier that William "Mugsy" Moore had died Aug. 6. He was 81 and had lived with diabetes for years.

Best known as Pittsburgh's first black police chief and credited with "blazing a trail" for other African-American patrol officers in the 1950s, I knew him later, after he retired from the Pittsburgh force and served as chief of the Braddock police department in the 1990s.

. . .

Frankly, there would be more pleasant ways to spend your retirement --- like working as the target in a knife-throwing act.

The Braddock police force had been disbanded several years before Moore was hired, and standards and procedures were almost non-existent. So was the budget for police gear and salaries.

The borough's leadership was almost dysfunctional --- state troopers had to break up one council meeting when members started throwing chairs at one another --- and micromanaged the police department's every move.

Moore struggled valiantly and with some success, I thought, to instill a sense of pride, professionalism and responsibility in his colleagues, and to insulate them from interference.

When he retired for a second time, Braddock brought in a police chief from Joliet, Ill., who had blue-ribbon credentials but lacked Moore's diplomatic skills, and the borough council soon fired him. Chief Moore came out of retirement to serve Braddock again for a few months, but his health was failing and I don't think his heart was in it. He didn't last long.

. . .

There were controversies during his tenure, to be sure. Once he was charged with DUI by police in a neighboring borough, but Moore said he wasn't drunk, that his sugar was low, and there were whispers around town the chief in the other community was jealous of the attention Moore got.

And despite his political finesse, Moore still tangled with Braddock council regularly; he tried to get one councilman removed from office on the grounds that the man was a convicted arsonist (he had done time in federal prison) and thus ineligible to serve under Article II, Section 7 of the state Constitution.

I was more disturbed by the fact that the volunteer fire department had elected the guy fire chief.

No, I am not kidding. Only in the Mon Valley do we make a convicted arsonist the fire chief.

The state attorney general's office and the Allegheny County district attorney's office chickened out, and refused to remove the guy; the councilman swore revenge against Moore. A few years later, he wound up being convicted of skimming money from the fire department's bingo.

Chief Moore, on the other hand, was buried last week with a full police honor guard, including Pittsburgh police Chief Nate Harper and Assistant Chief Maurita Bryant.

. . .

The website Freedom Corner lists him as one of the "legends" of Pittsburgh's civil-rights movement; it notes that as riots tore American cities apart after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, Moore joined a peace march from the Hill District.

Besides fighting for equal rights for African-Americans, Moore also stood up for the right of women to take leadership roles. Before Moore became a supervisor, Pittsburgh's female officers weren't allowed to drive police cars. He changed that insane policy, and as chief he appointed the city's first woman police commander.

As a peace officer, wrote Moustafa Ayad in an obituary for the Post-Gazette, Moore had an "old-school ethos of policing that combined compassion and kick-in-the-pants discipline."

I can't say I knew him well, and I had lost touch with him several years ago, but I admired and respected and liked William H. Moore.

And I looked up to him. That's probably why I never felt comfortable calling him "Mugsy." It's a diminutive, and for whatever his flaws, there was nothing small about him. He was a giant of a man.

Requiescat in pace.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: Did you eat too much at International Village? Here's your chance to dance away the calories. CountryFest will be held tonight, Saturday and Sunday at Stephen Barry Field in Renziehausen Park.

Dallas Marks headlines a full slate of local and national performers who also include Lois Scott & The Plum Loco Band, Girlz in Black Hats, T.J. Houston, Cranky Yankee, Jerry Schickling, Bryan Cole, Buc Wyld, Southern Discomfort, Blind Date and Whiskey Grin.

There will also be games, craft displays and food, and fireworks tomorrow night starting at 10:30 p.m. A portion of all proceeds benefits the American Cancer Society; admission is only $5. Visit countryfest.8m.com for details.



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August 16, 2007 | Link to this story

Fireworks Tonight!

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By jt3y



It's the last night of the Village ... fireworks start tonight at 9:15, rain or shine.

Entertainment gets underway on the main stage at 3 p.m. with Radost Orchestra of Pittsburgh, followed by the Gypsy Strings, the P.A.S. Slovak Folk Ensemble, the Sacred Heart Junior Tammies, the Lajkoniki Polish Dancers and Slavjane.

In the Jakomas Pavilion, Ray Jay and The Carousels will be playing from 5 to 9 p.m., and dancing is encouraged .... or at least welcome. (Actually, there were some people really moving out there Wednesday night.)

Councilman Paul Shelly writes to note that parking at McKeesport Area High School is free throughout the Village; lots at nearby churches and Penn State Greater-Allegheny-But-Really-in-McKeesport-Campus seem to be running between $1 and $3.

And where do members of Panthera tigris park? Any place they want to.



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August 15, 2007 | Link to this story

How Long Can You Tread Water?

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By jt3y

The state Department of Transportation has released its list of "structurally-deficient" bridges, and if you live in the Elizabeth-Forward School District, you might want to make sure your life insurance is paid up. By my count, a total of 30 bridges in Elizabeth Borough and Elizabeth and Forward townships are ranked "structurally deficient."

OK, I'm exaggerating the danger. PennDOT is quick to say that bridges deemed "structurally deficit" are safe, but need "costly repairs" to come up to modern-day standards. I'm interpreting that to mean that the bridge might not be falling apart --- it might just be too narrow or rated for smaller loads than modern traffic requires.

Still, the list is fairly sobering. Besides the EF bridges, 20 are "structurally deficient" in neighboring Rostraver, and 10 in North Huntingdon.

Five of North Huntingdon's "structurally deficient bridges" are along Route 993 near Ardara and Larimer.

I regularly drive Route 993 and Route 136, which has five "structurally deficient" spans in Westmoreland and several in central Washington County. So I'm not too surprised to hear that the bridges on those highways are narrow or otherwise in poor condition.

But secondary highways like 993 are hardly major arteries. It's more disturbing to read that nine bridges on the Parkway East are rated "structurally deficient," including the bridges that cross Old William Penn Highway and Haymaker Road.

Or that seven bridges on Interstate 70 near New Stanton and Belle Vernon are "structurally deficient."

In general, the PennDOT chart is a little bit confusing, because it doesn't list the common names for roads --- just the state's four-digit highway numbers. If I get any time this weekend, I'll try and identify some of the offenders, but here are the raw numbers, as best as my calculations allow.

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August 14, 2007 | Link to this story

Your Guide to International Village

Category: Mon Valley Miscellany || By jt3y

(Editor's note: As a public service to the thousands of people who will be attending International Village today, tomorrow and Thursday, as well as the tens of dozens who read the Almanac, we are reprinting last year's handy guide to attending the area's premier food and music festival. It's been updated slightly. Feel free to clip and save it, or if you can't clip things from the screen, just carry your computer with you.

You may also enjoy this 1972 look at the Village, reprinted from
Ford Times.)

. . .

Every year, tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians descend on Our Fair City's Renziehausen Park for the ethnic food, dancing, food, music and food festival known as "International Village." Though other communities have imitated it (and I'm looking at you, Picksberg), they have not been able to duplicate the experience.

For months ahead of time, churches, ethnic clubs and other associations prepare foods and crafts for sale, while performance groups prepare traditional costumes and practice folk songs and dances.

Did I mention food? I did? Good.

Well, that time is here again! Today, tomorrow and Thursday, the balalaikas, tamburas and bass guitars will be plunking, the dancers will be twirling, and thousands of Westinghouse electric roasters have emerged from pantries and basements and been pressed into service to keep pierogies, pirohis, perogis, pirozhkis and pirogies warm. Some people will even be making piroghies.

In the past, International Village was mostly made up of those "nations" that stretched from, oh, say, Dublin to Minsk, and south to Palermo. But over the years, as different ethnic groups have settled in Western Pennsylvania, more and more traditions of Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa are being represented at the "Village." For those of us who enjoy eating sweet and sour pork, cheese ravioli and halushki while listening to Slovenian music, this is a definite plus.

Lifelong residents of the Mon-Yough area know that the Village represents a great time and a chance to get in touch with your ethnic roots. But for those Almanac visitors who aren't in WEDO's coverage area, here's an insider's guide to International Village, telling you the kinds of things that you don't get in the free souvenir program.

. . .

International Village is held at Stephen Barry Field in McKeesport's Renziehausen Park for three days every August.

Contrary to popular belief, you can reach McKeesport quickly and easily, and we do have paved roads. Renzie Park is particularly easy to get to --- from Westmoreland County, take Route 30 west to Route 48 south. Take Route 48 south to Route 148 north. Follow Route 148 north about three blocks to Eden Park Boulevard.

From Pittsburgh, you may take the Parkway East to Forest Hills, then take Route 30 east to East McKeesport. Turn right onto Route 148 south and follow Route 148 to Hartman Street, then turn left.

Unlike what you may have seen reported on the Pittsburgh TV news, we are largely friendly and harmless, and we do have such conveniences as electricity, telephones and indoor toilets. No Starbucks yet, but we're hopeful. (We'll probably get one just as that trend finally dies.)

. . .

Parking is at a premium during International Village. Some of the local churches offer paid parking in their lots, but any free parking near Stephen Barry Field tends to fill up quickly.

Luckily, Renzie Park is a large, regional park, so there are spaces available, but they're not necessarily adjacent to Stephen Barry Field. If you can walk, simply plan to wear comfortable shoes, and give yourself plenty of time. You will enjoy the stroll. Renzie is lovely on a summer evening.

If you are elderly or disabled, I hope you can find a space close to the entrances.

But if you're able-bodied, and you insist on circling the parking lots near the tennis courts endlessly for hours hoping that a space opens up, I reserve the right to mock your wardrobe, grooming and parentage.

. . .

In a related matter, have some common courtesy --- for crying out loud, don't park on the end of the aisle and block other people in. Your legs aren't broken. But maybe they should be. At the very least, someone should steal your hubcaps.

Also, there is no valet parking at International Village. I don't know who you gave the car keys to, but I sure hope you have a bus schedule handy.

. . .

Other Activities: McKeesport Heritage Center, located on Arboretum Drive, will have special extended hours during International Village. If you haven't purchased a copy of Images of America: McKeesport, this is an ideal time to do so.

The Heritage Center also has copies of a recent documentary on the life of pioneer aviator Helen Richey and other memorabilia on sale, as well as exhibits documenting life around the Mon-Yough area and McKeesport's first school house. It's well worth a visit, and I say that not just because the Center supplied about 30 of the photos for the upcoming Murphy book.

Also, the Renzie Park Arboretum, which is surprisingly also located on Arboretum Drive, is open until sunset. It's one of only about 100 nationally recognized rose gardens in the United States, so take a break from the Village and stop to smell the roses. (Rimshot.)

. . .

Do: Wear your "Kiss Me, I'm Irish," "Treat Me, I'm Dutch," "Proud to Be Italian," etc., T-shirt.

Don't: Tell Polish jokes, or say something like, "Wow! Look at all the hunkies!" And speaking in an exaggerated, "Mamma-mia! That's-a speecy-spicy meatsaballa!" accent around the Italian booth is considered bad form.

. . .

If you are over the age of 10, and are eating hot dogs at the "American" booth, you should be ashamed of yourself. You probably think burritos heated in the microwave at Uni-Mart are "authentic Mexican cuisine."

. . .

The food prices at the Village are set by the individual groups doing the vending. You may find $5 for a kolbassi sandwich too much to pay, and decide to eat somewhere else. That is your prerogative.

But for some of the groups exhibiting at International Village, this is the one big fundraising event they have each year. They will no doubt invest the profits from your $5 kolbassi sandwich into silly, frivolous extras like the water bill, the gas bill, the light bill, and educational and cultural programs.

Choose instead to stop for a 99-cent "extra value" cheeseburger on the way home, and contemplate all of the ethnic and social programs the Wendy's Corporation has funded in your community over the last year. I hope the mustard and pickles cover up the taste of regret, you cheapskate.

Or, buy something at the Village to eat. It's your choice. There's no pressure.

. . .

Admission: There is a small admission charge to enter International Village. For a long time, it was 50 cents, and before that, it was free. It's $2 this year.

There are still people who think it should be free, and mark the city's "decline" to the year that they started charging people four bits to walk around International Village. Many of these people are also still upset that CBS cancelled "Ed Sullivan."

If you're one of the people, I'm wondering how you made it onto the Internet to read the Almanac, so please write to me.

A postcard to P.O. Box 94, McKeesport, PA 15134 is acceptable. Feel free to steam a stamp off of a Christmas card, or just send Bob Cratchit over to deliver it.

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August 13, 2007 | Link to this story

Dispatch From The Third-World

Category: default || By jt3y

"Hmm, that stage looks familiar," I thought last week as I read Justin Hopper's profile of Clairton singer Chuck Corby in Pittsburgh City Paper.

Sure enough, it's the Valley Hotel, which I wrote about in July with help from John Barna.

My enjoyment of an otherwise fine story was somewhat marred by the opening paragraph:

Under the harsh stage lights, Chuck Corby's face is strained, reddened as he crouches and begs over the end of a musical phrase: "Honey, let me stay." It's a plea he's been making for over 40 years, and yet tonight, in the confines of Clairton's small, worn Valley Hotel -- a dusty roadhouse between disused Mon Valley mills -- his "Honey, Let Me Stay" means something new. It's as though Corby, the definitive music-world veteran, is begging for one more shot at salvation: one more roadhouse gig, one more aging audience, one more dismissive woman to sing for.


A "small," "worn," "dusty roadhouse." Well, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and I'll admit the Valley Hotel ain't the Sands in Las Vegas.

On the other hand, it's also not in Clairton. It's in Jefferson Hills. And the two nearest "Mon Valley mills" are U.S. Steel's Clairton Works and Irvin Works, both of which are operating, thank you very much; they're not "disused."

(U.S. Steel, by the way, just reported a nice $2.52 per share profit for the second quarter, which is pretty good for a bunch of "disused" mills.)

Am I nitpicking? Yes. But I get tired of the bottomless well of clichŽs that feature writers draw from when they file a report from the Mon-Yough area, and I get especially tired when the clichŽs are wrong.

I was also a little bit peeved by Professor Mike Madison's description of the Mon Valley last month as "Third-World Pittsburgh." (I won't elaborate on the ugly stereotypes that description conjured up of "squalor and filth and poverty.")

I'll be the first to admit there are a lot of problems here. We lack good jobs for people without higher degrees, we have too many buildings owned by absentee landlords, and we haven't attracted enough private investment. Our kids move away and don't stick around to help build up the community. All of those problems wind up feeding on each other.

But we do have running water, working sewers, electricity and telephones, and as the experience in Duquesne makes clear, people even want --- demand --- education.

The residents and writers of "First-World Pittsburgh" might want to spend some time here occasionally instead of just driving through with their doors locked and their windows rolled up.

Maybe they'd learn there's more to us than "dust" and "disused" mills.



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August 10, 2007 | Link to this story

From The Continuing Decline of Western Civilization Dept.

Category: default || By jt3y

What the hell is wrong with people?

A worker at the Subway on Jacktown Hill was assaulted by some clueless idiot who threw pepper juice or some sort of hot sauce in his face through the take-out window.

My old colleague and cow-orker at the Tribune-Review, Jen Reeger, had the story.

It happened last Friday night, and apparently the horse's ass was copying something he'd seen on YouTube. Some jerk in South Greensburg did the same thing at a Burger King, while the Taco Bell at Norwin Hills shopping center was also hit, Jen wrote in a follow-up story.

She quotes a Seton Hill University therapist, Rebecca Harvey, as saying that it's a "bullying" activity (no kidding) and the product of an "increasingly aggressive and violent" culture.

. . .

It's always tempting to "blame pop culture" for incidents like this, but yeah, TV and radio have certainly been on a steady race to the bottom for at least 20 years, fueled by FCC deregulation that refuses to police content ... unless we see a glimpse of Janet Jackson's nipple or hear the F-word:



This is also the product of a pop culture that increasingly mocks the weak and not the powerful. Opie & Anthony, Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and a bunch of other popular entertainers and commentators pick mainly on groups of people who are unpopular (gays or the overweight) or can't fight back (the poor and retarded).

It encourages people who think they have power (like young so-called tough guys in pickup trucks) to beat up on people who don't (like kids the same age who have to work at a fast-food restaurant). Sorry, but this gets up my nose.

. . .

OK, off the soap-box. In the Jacktown Hill incident, township police are looking for a white male in his teens with short brown hair. He's got a late-model, red Dodge Dakota extended cab pickup; it's got a tinted bug shield on the front hood, tinted window shades, Lund hood scoops, brush-bars, fog lights, and a black tonneau cover.

Someone in the Norwin or White Oak area has to know who this turkey is. Drop a dime to the North Huntingdon police at (724) 863-8800 before he or his mouth-breathing friends actually hurt someone.

. . .

In Other Business: Also in North Huntingdon, the Starbucks and Walgreens planned for the site of Chesterfield's Restaurant (the former Ben Gross Supper Club) is on hold temporarily, according to Patti Dobranski in the Trib. The planning commission is asking for changes to be made to the entrances and exits, and also wants the facade to be re-designed.

Meanwhile, another former colleague, Norm Vargo, reports that the township's First Ward Commissioner George Fohner faces a hearing in Westmoreland County Court on Sept. 21 on charges he stole his opponent's campaign sign. Former commissioner Dave Herold defeated Fohner in the May Democratic primary, but Fohner won the Republican nomination with write-in votes.

Fohner is the former fire chief at Strawpump; he's charged with theft by unlawful taking, which is a third-degree misdemeanor. That seems like a bit much, since the sign was valued at only $14, but the law is the law. Details in the Post-Gazette.

. . .

Around Town: Deputy City Fire Chief Tom Balin is retiring after 36 years with the department. Eric Slagle has a nice profile in the Post-Gazette.

Balin is bullish on the city's future: "Everything feels as though it's becoming rejuvenated,'' he said. I like to hear that kind of optimism, and I support it, but I think people who live up along Evans Avenue, for instance, may need some more convincing. Those empty buildings with the windows smashed out don't look very rejuvenated to me.

Also by Slagle and in the P-G: A preview of International Village, which opens at 3 p.m. Tuesday.

. . .

To Do This Weekend: St. Martin De Porres Parish, Market Street, Downtown, holds its church festival tonight, tomorrow and Sunday on the grounds of St. Peter Church. Call (412) 672-9763 ... Want to see the Mon-Yough area from a plane? Wings For Children holds "Fly Around Town For Pennies a Pound" tomorrow and Sunday from 12 noon to 5 p.m. Flights depart Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin; passengers donate 20 cents per pound of their weight for the aerial tour. Proceeds benefit free transportation for sick children who need medical care. Call (412) 469-9930.



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August 09, 2007 | Link to this story

The Big Story

Category: default || By jt3y

In Other News: Worst. Mascot Name. Ever. "Steely McBeam"? It's almost like the Steelers purposely tried to come up with the lamest possible sobriquet for their giant, grotesque, foam-headed freak show.

What was the selection process? I envision a scene similar to the one on The Simpsons when Poochie was announced as the new character on "Itchy and Scratchy":

ART ROONEY II: The rest of you PR guys start thinking up a name for this funky steelworker; I dunno, something along the line of say... "Steely McBeam," only more proactive.

KEVIN COLBERT: Yeah!

[Rooney, Colbert and the lady leave]

PR GUY: So, Steely McBeam okay with everybody?

ALL: [reclining in their chairs] Yeah...


I'm not sure why the Steelers felt the need for a mascot. I understand why the Pirates have so many mascots --- they're trying to distract people from looking at the field --- but do the Steelers need to goose attendance with a mascot?

Maybe it's a clever strategic move by the Steelers. Every time Steely comes out on the field, they're hoping the opposing team collapses in laughter.

And yes, I know the name was submitted by a fan. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of fans.

"Steely McBeam"? Holy hopping Pirate Parrots, that's just terrible.

. . .

UPDATE, 4:35 P.M.: OK, so when Danny O. declares a state of emergency, I guess rainstorms have legitimately become a big news story.

I apologize if anyone was offended; when I wrote the Almanac early this morning, things weren't as bad as they got later on.

So I took down this morning's sarcastic commentary, because I felt it was no longer appropriate.

And everyone knows we run a classy website here.

By the way, numerous reports indicate that Route 837 (River Road) is closed between Clairton and Dravosburg because of a mudslide, so avoid that area.

More information:



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August 07, 2007 | Link to this story

Ask The Shrill Answer Man

Category: default || By jt3y

I haven't done this for a while, so let's peek into the ol' mailbag and see what crawls out. Alert Reader Nathan writes:

Jason, sir, I am at wit's end here. My friends and I look forward to going to the International Village every August, and have faithfully gorged ourselves on three days of ethnic foods straight for the past five years.

My question: When, when, when is it this year? I've found numerous dates online, all for past events. I cannot seem to find one news article about this year's Village, and am beginning to wonder if it's *gasp* discontinued? Please, tell me I'm not going mad.


Dear Nathan: I have no idea if you're going mad. (I do know where I'm going, but why am I in a handbasket?)

Anyway, International Village has not been canceled. I spent most of Friday morning at Renzie Park, and construction of the booths was already underway at Stephen Barry Field. The Village opens next Tuesday, Aug. 14, and runs through Thursday, Aug. 16.

And then the "CountryFest" food and country music festival runs Friday through Sunday; it benefits the American Cancer Society. The headlining act each night is the Dallas Marks Band; other performers include Lois Scott & Plum Loco, Girlz in Black Hats, T.J. Houston, Cranky Yankee, Southern Discomfort, and "many, many more," as they say on TV.

Incidentally, you can find information about upcoming events at the McKeesport Recreation Commission's website, which is at mckrecboard.freeservers.com.

Why isn't there a link on the city's website, you may ask? You crazy kids! That would make it easy. We only want people to come to the Mon Valley who really, really are willing to work for it!

It's part of a new tourism campaign called "The Mon Valley: It's So Crowded Nobody Goes There Any More." I think Yogi Berra is the honorary chairman.

. . .

While I'm on the subject: City controller Ray Malinchak had a letter to the editor in last night's McKeesport Daily News and Trib Total Media Joint that's well worth reading. Malinchak says the International Village Committee has refused to allow the city to audit the admission fees collected at the gate.

He also notes that according to the report provided to the city, last year's admissions at International Village totaled something like $33,000 and 78 cents.

Since admission to International Village is $1, where the hell did 78 cents come from? Either someone stiffed the Village for 22 cents, or someone's not keeping very good track of the money collected.

Personally, if I balance my checkbook three times, I get three different results. I see no harm in having the city controller's office look at the books; if someone from the Village committee wants to explain their reasoning, I'm happy to give them a platform here.

OK, off my soapbox.

. . .

Alert Reader Jack writes:

Being a constant reader of Tube City Almanac, I enjoy your work.


(Editor's note ... oh, you're the one!)

You really bring back old memories of the McKeesport area. I basically left the area about 55 years ago. I have not returned for about 10 years. My, what a change, unfortunately most of it for the worst.

I have a question and perhaps you would be kind enough to answer it for me. I noticed in one of your postings that former Mayor Joe Bendel had passed away. My question is, when did he pass away, and how?

Joe and I were good friends, we graduated from McKeesport High in 1949, and he was one of my groomsmen when I married in 1957. Happy to relate we just celebrated our 50th. We have lived all 50 years here in Florida.


Dear Jack: Joe Bendel was a one of a kind, even though he used to make fun of me for growing up in Liberty Borough. ("Oh, Liberty Borough, but you brag to everyone that you're from McKeesport!")

The former mayor died Oct. 24, 2003 of complications following heart surgery; Bill Heltzel had a fine obituary in the Post-Gazette. He was parochial in the best tradition of McKeesport mayors, but community-minded to a fault, and was gifted with an innate ability to cut through crap. I haven't yet met Jim Brewster, but he seems to carry on in that same tradition.

If you graduated with Joe, then you also must have graduated with Duane Michals, the photographer (in fact, I have a picture somewhere of the two of them together from one of the MHS yearbooks). There was a documentary made about Michals' life a few years ago.

There was quite a diverse lot of talent at McKeesport High in 1949! There still is, actually ... next time you come back, see if you can take a look at the projects some of the students at the "Voke" are working on, for instance.

. . .

An Alert Reader who shall remain nameless sent this comment about the Norwin Band license plate that the Almanac mentioned a few weeks ago:

Our (high school band) director always used to be sure to tell us about Norwin's robust team of choreographers, instructors for each instrument, etc. Whereas our guy had himself, an assistant, and one part-timer to coach the flags, majorettes and rifles.

It was actually pretty amazing how good Norwin's band was back in the day. Competing against them was like watching the Steel Valley Ironmen take on the Steelers. I'm sure they're still on top, although from what I understand a lot of other bands now come close. (Gateway's included.)


Dear Alert Reader: Are you trying to say other bands "come close" to the Norwin band?

You're on dangerous ice, my friend. That's why I haven't printed your name. If the Norwin band ninjas should learn your identity, neither God nor Kenny Ross could save you.

. . .

Finally, Alert Reader Mr. B. answers one of the editor's questions ... namely, did Ed Sigmund Moving have pink trucks?

We got into this discussion some four or five years ago on our forum. During the '50s I lived around the corner from their house where they parked the trucks on the lot facing Stewart and saw them almost every day. They certainly did have at least one pink truck.


God bless you, Mr. B., for confirming this. These are the kinds of questions that keep me awake at night. (I don't have much of a social life.)

. . .

P.S.: Don Morrow, who was the "Shell Answer Man" for seven years, has his own website (of course).



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August 06, 2007 | Link to this story

The 'Tinplate Liar' of McKeesport

Category: History || By jt3y

A McKeesport councilman was once denounced in The New York Times and on the floor of the United States Congress as a "tin-plated liar" for arguing that American workers could produce tin-plated steel as good as that imported from Europe.

Indirectly, he helped to elect William McKinley to the presidency in 1896.

You probably didn't know that, did you? Neither did I until a few weeks ago.

And you may know that the part of McKeesport and North Versailles Township that's under the McKeesport-Duquesne Bridge is known as "Demmler." In fact, the CSX Railroad facility there is still called "Demmler Yard."

But do you know who Demmler is named after? I didn't, either, until recently.

Read all about the growing pains of the Mon Valley's steel industry in "The 'Tinplate Liar' of McKeesport." It's the latest article in Tube City Online's new "Steel Heritage" section.



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August 04, 2007 | Link to this story

It Was a Big Ting, Bruddah!

Category: default || By jt3y

I had a birthday recently. None of your business which one, or what day it was. Anyway, regular Almanac readers will remember that I previously admitted that I'm a fan of Hawaii Five-O, mostly for all the wrong reasons.

So imagine my delight when my brother presented me with my birthday presents: the complete first season of Five-O on DVD; the original Hawaii Five-O soundtrack (on vinyl!); Booking Hawaii Five-O, a critical history by Karen Rhodes; and an authentic HPD ... er, sorry ... Honolulu police badge.



I've already got a Mercury and a blue suit, so now I'm only about 4,000 hair plugs and a chin implant away from living out my Jack Lord fantasies.

For those of you who've read this far, here's a little sample from the soundtrack. This is about 60 seconds of a tune called "Call to Danger" by Morton Stevens.

(WAV file here.)

Those of you of a certain age will instantly recognize the ending --- a portion of this same tune was used as the "CBS Special Presentation" bumper in the 1970s and '80s.

As for the DVDs, I don't know if they did much "digital restoration" on these shows, but they never looked this good on your 21-inch Admiral with the rabbit ears. Though the color is a little bit lurid, most color TV shows were in the 1960s (the better to show up on that 21-inch Admiral).

And the less said about the acting, the better, but as I said back in March, "it's shlock with great production values." The only disappointment is the lack of any special features --- no interviews, no commentaries --- save a 1996 "reunion special" taped by a Honolulu TV station.

Anyway, it was one of the coolest birthday presents I've ever gotten, and I laughed so hard when I opened the package, I thought my pants would never dry.

Mahalo, Jim!

. . .

P.S.: About that headline ... dedicated Five-O fans will recognize the song, I think.

. . .

On a Related Note: By sheer coincidence, Alert Reader Jonathan passed along a link to a New York Times (!) op-ed about ... Hawaii Five-O. (The editorial well has run dry in New York, I think.)

The writer notes that Five-O debuted in 1968, and Lord's strait-laced portrayal of tough-but-cool Steve McGarrett appealled to a nation shook up by assassinations, wars, and riots. He longs to replace the Bush Administration with the Five-O crew (like I said, the well has run dry at The New York Times):

McGARRETT: Chin, go down to the border. It's 1,954 miles long Ñ better take Kono. Nobody comes in unless you know it. Go easy on the workers, but the smugglers and dope pushers Ñ you know what to do.

CHIN HO: Good as done, boss.

McGARRETT: Danno, I want these people legalized. Tell Congress to send me a bill. I want it tough, and I want it fair. And I want it on my desk Monday morning. Then get me a sandwich and my suitcase.


On the other hand, a Morton Stevens-style arrangement of "Hail to the Chief" would rock. And I would love to see the presidential motorcade composed of nothing but these.

. . .

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch: I work and slave on a story about St. Stephen's Magyar Church and the local connection to hinky financial dealings at the Vatican. What do I get as a response? Zilch. I dash out a half-baked parody of Highlights magazine, and I get the freakin' Algonquin Round Table. Yinz crazy kids. Just behave yourself.

. . .

In Case You Missed It: The city's Elbow Room Restaurant and Lounge, on West Fifth Avenue at Rebecca Street, is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Eric Slagle had a story in the Post-Gazette last week. Doesn't a pizza and a pitcher of beer sound good right about now?

. . .

To Do This Weekend: McKeesport's Summer Concert Series continues at 7 p.m. Sunday when the River City Brass Band performs at the bandshell in Renzie Park. Admission is free; Frankie Day from WKFB (770) radio will be the emcee.



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August 02, 2007 | Link to this story

A Bridge Too Far

Category: default || By jt3y

Meanwhile, on the Rankin Bridge ... or the Mansfield ... or



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August 01, 2007 | Link to this story

Highlights For School Directors

Category: default || By jt3y

Gallant Welcomes His Neighbors: West Mifflin Area and East Allegheny school districts last night sent their A teams to Duquesne on a mission to welcome Duquesne high school students. Their presentations to an audience of about 250 were so enthusiastic that the session was more like a recruitment than a forced arrangement. "We're going to make history, and we're going to do it the right way," said West Mifflin Area Superintendent Patrick Risha.

"We're here for education," said East Allegheny Superintendent Roger D'Emidio, who pledged to educate every child who comes to the district.
(Post-Gazette)

: : :
Goofus Rails Against ‘Outsiders’: Yesterday's town hall meeting brought out about 350 people, quick to erupt in angry outbursts. "We don't want 'em!" North Versailles parent George Velardo yelled from near the back of the auditorium. "Why don't he teach 'em at his house?" he shouted moments later, referring to Zahorchak.

When Logan suggested athletes from Duquesne should be able to earn starting spots on their new school sports teams, shouts of "No!" echoed throughout the auditorium. People booed when they were told how much the state would contribute for each Duquesne student -- almost $10,000 -- and again when the discussion jumped to promises of no tax hikes. "This is a lie," East McKeesport councilman Ross Cianflone said.
(Tribune-Review) : : : Gallant Looks Forward to Meeting New Friends: Maha said the Washingtons, and any other player who might come to West Mifflin from Duquesne, will have every opportunity to succeed. "Once a player becomes part of our team and part of our family," he said, "they will be treated fairly."

Maha, also a teacher at West Mifflin, said he's prepared for whatever the ultimate decision regarding the possibility of Duquesne students attending school at West Mifflin.

"If you look at it in general terms as an educator or a coach, whoever is in my classroom I will teach to the best of my ability," Maha said. "And as a coach, I will coach to the best of my ability. That will never change."
(The Daily News) : : :

Goofus Files a Lawsuit: The West Mifflin Area and East Allegheny school districts filed a joint lawsuit in Commonwealth Court this afternoon, challenging the law that will place students from the former Duquesne High School into their schools, West Mifflin solicitor John Cambest said. The goal of the lawsuit is not to block the arrival of Duquesne students this year, but to change the plan in future years, Cambest said.

The Legislature passed a law this month empowering the state Secretary of Education to designate two or more schools to receive students from the closed Duquesne High School. Secretary Gerald L. Zahorchak chose West Mifflin and East Allegheny.

The two districts claim the legislation that empowers Zahorchak is written specifically for Duquesne and therefore should be ruled unconstitutional, Cambest said.
(Tribune-Review) : : : (With apologies to the publishers of Highlights For Children magazine. Goofus and Gallant are registered trademarks of Highlights.)



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