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Circus Trip 2018: Fallingwater

Day 39 & 40, Wednesday & Thursday, August 23 & 24, 2018

Rockwood & Mill Run, Pennsylvania

Thursday was a rest day.  It had been a little while since I had a day just spent at the campground, but there was another reason too.  My former employer was being sued, and I was being deposed as a witness in the lawsuit.  I have to admit that it was an odd experience, laying in my car bed with my laptop at the ready (part of the deposition was answering questions about exhibit documents), answering the attorney’s questions under oath.  It is not an unheard of experience in my career, but it was the first time I’ve ever been deposed while hanging out in a campground in Pennsylvania!  I’m just glad I didn’t have to fly home for the deposition!

The rest of the day, I relaxed, took some walks, and wrote.  The Hickory Hollow Campground in Rockwood was mostly set up for RVs, and I had the tent area all to myself!  Unfortunately, the Laurel Highlands area of Pennsylvania was quite cool during my visit, so I didn’t have an opportunity to check out the pool at the campground.

Friday I was back at it, and ready to see a highlight of the trip.  The architect Frank Lloyd Wright is fascinating to me.  I have enjoyed visiting the homes he has designed and seeing how he incorporates nature (and styles representing nature) into his designs.  So it is no surprise that I was excited to visit Fallingwater!

Fallingwater is considered to be Wright’s masterpiece.  It was built in 1935 for Liliane Kaufmann and her husband Edgar, owners of the Pittsburgh based Kaufmann’s department store.  The Pittsburgh wealthy had long been building homes in the Laurel Highlands area outside of Pittsburgh, and the Kaufmanns were no exception.  What is unique, however, is the home.  Fallingwater is built directly over a waterfall on Bear Run, and incorporates the waterfall and the stream into the design of the home.

It is incredible!  There are stairs from the living room of the home to access the water below.  There are 4 bedrooms and six bathrooms in the home.  Fallingwater has several sections that are cantilevered, meaning they are only supported at one end, including the living room and the outdoor balconies. The home is constructed with concrete and locally quarried Pottsville sandstone, and a series of cantilevered “trays” make up the home over the waterfall.  Wright called his style organic architecture, where stone floors continue inside and out, corner windows blur the lines between interior and exterior, and glass is used in abundance to bring the outdoors in.

Wright wanted the design to be in harmony with nature, and he did not want to have unnecessary braces or structural support.  Wright also insisted that he design the furniture on most of the homes he designed, and Fallingwater contains the original furniture that came with the home.  The Kaufmanns were permitted to display some of their own knick-knacks and artwork; Wright liked to control every detail of the homes he designed.

Unfortunately, there were some disagreements between Wright and the contractors, and the owners of the house.  The Kaufmanns were concerned about whether Wright had enough experience working with concrete and structural engineers recommended much more structural bracing than Wright wanted; the owners had the additional bracing added in spite of Wright’s protests.  Even with this additional structural support added, a study done several years ago showed that the cantilevers were still in danger, and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has had to add additional support in recent years.

The tour was very interesting and gave a lot of information about the Kaufmanns and their prized home.  Unfortunately, you can’t take photos inside, and there were far too many people on the tour to sneak any, but I did wander the grounds and I made sure to get the iconic shot of the home and the Bear Run waterfall.  Fallingwater is certainly worth a visit if you have the chance!

 

COVID Diaries: Day 65

It’s the weekend!  I have a four-day weekend this weekend, due to my work schedule, which is awesome, but the staying at home part is not as awesome.  Originally, in life-before-COVID days, I was supposed to be taking a long weekend trip, but I guess you folks will just have to put up with me instead.

Other than that, I’ll just be reading, writing, cleaning, organizing, doing yard work and hopefully doing a hike or two.  I have been watching the Channel Islands National Park, Georgia Aquarium and Monterey Bay Aquarium live cams when I need a little relaxation.  I swear when this is all over, I’m going to travel every weekend for weeks and never get tired of it!

I put on jeans this week. The kind of denim that isn’t super-stretchy even, and I was so excited that they aren’t tight!  I have felt like I’ve been doing pretty well staying in shape, because I have been taking long walks most evenings and being really good about getting my steps in, but jeans were a test.  I passed!  It was literally the first time I have worn real pants since March 23.

Yesterday after work my friend Shelley and I went for a long walk on a different route than we normally take.  We checked out the old Georgia Pacific property in town; it is finally being redeveloped.  The Port purchased the property in January 2005, and some of GP’s operations there continued until 2007, when GP finally closed for good.  Political infighting left the redevelopment languishing for years after that.  In the last three years or so, it has finally gotten moving, with old buildings being demolished, and roads, a bike pump track and a park being built.  One old building has been redeveloped, but is currently closed due to COVID.  In the years to come, additional mixed use buildings will be built and old GP buildings converted, a combination of light industrial, retail and residential space.  I love that they have saved some of the old industrial features of the site, and they stand proudly as architectural salvage and a reminder of the history of our city.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and remember those who fought and died for our freedoms.

 

Circus Trip 2018: Flight 93 National Memorial

Day 38, Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Stoystown, Pennsylvania

I was in graduate school when the planes hit the Twin Towers.  I was still asleep, as I didn’t have class until afternoon, and got a phone call letting me know I should turn on the TV.  Seeing that second plane crash on live TV was something I’m sure none of us who saw it will ever forget. Then seeing that another plane hit the Pentagon, and finally a fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

 

Seeing the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania was a powerful and emotional experience.  The Visitor’s Center is perched on top of a hill overlooking the crash site; a new, modern building with exhibits that really hit home.  You know it is going to be emotional when you see that they have boxes of Kleenex parked all over the place – take some; you will need them.

You see, the thing about Flight 93 is that it was the last plane to crash that morning.  By then, the passengers and crew knew what had happened to those three other planes.  They knew they were going to die, so they made the heroic decision to fight against their hijackers.  By fighting back, they could at least prevent them from crashing that plane into another occupied building – it wasn’t until later that authorities learned that the likely target was the U.S. Capitol.

The Visitor’s Center has news footage playing of that morning.  You learn that the flights weren’t chosen at random. The hijackers chose long haul flights (more jet fuel to explode) with few passengers (fewer people to interfere with their plans).  The exhibits also include recordings of some of the last phone calls that the passengers made to their loved ones.  You can hear the fear, and the emotion of those goodbyes.  If you are anything like me, you will bawl your eyes out…

One of the exhibits is a note on Best Western Hotel stationary.  It reads, “I was in DC, across from the White House, on the top floor of the tallest building nearby.  The way I figure it, you all gave your life for me.  I won’t waste it.  I promise.  -CH”

You can drive or walk down to the site – I chose to drive since it was getting to be late in the afternoon, and there were only a couple other people there.  I walked out along the path, watching a large, sandstone boulder that has been placed at the impact site and the final resting place of the passengers and crew.  Rays of sun shone down on that stone that afternoon like a message from God.

There were 40 passengers and crew on board that day, along with the 4 hijackers.  The names of those 40 people who lost their lives that day are engraved on a white marble wall; the wall lines up with the final flight path of the plane.  It is a somber tribute to these souls; simple and beautiful.

It may be easier to not confront the pain that this place represents for so many people.  However, it is important to experience, and to never forget.

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: Grandview Cemetery

Day 38, Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Johnstown, Pennsylvania

I have long enjoyed a historic cemetery.  I get this from my mom, who enjoys taking me to find our departed ancestors and making me pose with the headstones…

This is Grandview Cemetery in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, where most of the victims of the Johnstown Flood are buried.  It is a beautiful cemetery, with so many interesting stones.  I wandered around searching for people who died in the flood, and found several.  There was also a beautiful memorial to veterans.  They were certainly fans of obelisks!

 

Do you enjoy historic cemeteries?

2018 Circus Trip: Johnstown Flood National Memorial

Day 38, Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Johnstown, Pennsylvania

The previous evening, I crossed into Pennsylvania (sorry I wasn’t able to get a pic with a sign!), and discovered that Pennsylvania really LOVES its toll roads.  In the span of about 30 miles, I racked up $17 in tolls!  Ugh!  I was excited to start exploring a new state though!

I first learned about the Johnstown Flood when I read a book about the event by David McCullough about a dozen years ago.  I have always thought that this tragedy could have been avoided, and find the story pretty interesting, so I wanted to see the Johnstown Flood National Memorial.

In 1889, the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania was a thriving community built on the banks of the Conemaugh River, just past where the Stonycreek and Little Conemaugh Rivers joined together.  The Cambria Iron Works was a bustling iron and steel mill supporting a town of about 30,000 people.  Above the city was the South Fork Dam, an earthen dam originally built by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania between 1838 and 1853 as a part of a cross-state canal system.  Once the railroads took over, Pennsylvania sold off the canal and dam to the railroad, who in turn, sold the dam and its lake to a private interest.

That private interest was the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, a membership club for the wealthy elite of nearby Pittsburgh.  The hunt club was built near Johnstown, and members and their families could enjoy a country respite from the dirty, crowded city.  Unfortunately, over several years before the flood, a series of alterations were made to the dam which affected its structural integrity, regular maintenance was lacking, and leaks that sprang up were repaired haphazardly.

Which leads us to May 31, 1889.  During the three days leading up to this fateful Friday, there was rain.  In fact, so much rain that they estimated between 6 and 10 inches fell in the 24 hours before the dam breached.  Colonel Elias Unger, who managed the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, lived above the dam, and recognized that it was in bad shape that morning.  He called in engineers and laborers who tried desperately to clean out the spillway, which had been clogged by debris.  They also tried to dig a new spillway to release water, but stopped when they became convinced that it would just cause the entire dam to give way.  Unger also sent a man to the telegraph station to warn communities down below of the danger, but it is unclear whether the message was received in Johnstown.  Oops.

When the dam finally breached at about 2:50 pm, more than 3.8 billion gallons of water released in a torrent downstream.  It hit several communities along its path, which suffered more or less depending on whether they had enough advance notice to get to higher ground.  One community was wiped away completely; the land where the town had been located was scoured down to bedrock.  Johnstown, about 14 miles from the dam, was hit about an hour after the dam breached, and by that time the river was carrying a huge amount of deadly debris along with it, including trees, logs, houses, locomotives, barbed wire, animals, and human victims.

The horror was unimaginable and people died from drowning, being bludgeoned to death by debris, and even being burned, as a large pile of debris got trapped by a bridge over the river and caught on fire.  Bodies were found as far away as Cincinnati, Ohio, 357 miles away by today’s roads, and as late as 1911.  When it was over, 2209 people had died, including entire families; at the time it was the largest civilian loss of life in U.S. history.

The Johnstown Flood National Memorial preserves the site of what remains of the dam and gives visitors a view of the narrow valley where the waters raged, and have continued to flood the towns below periodically (most recently in 1977).  The Visitor’s Center has exhibits on the flood, photos and artifacts that were collected from the flood waters, stories of the people who died and those who survived.  There is also a very powerful (and not suitable for young children) movie on the event; it evokes the fear that you would have felt as that wall of water crashed into town.

The Johnstown Flood National Memorial was authorized by Congress on August 31, 1964 and annual visitation of the National Memorial is approximately 112,000.

It was very interesting to see the artifacts and the movie; they also have a list of nearby sites that also relate to the flood, including the Grandview Cemetery (where most of the victims are buried) and the historic structures of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club.  I’ll blog about those next!

 

 

 

Circus Trip 2018: McKinley Memorial

Day 37, Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Canton, Ohio

I heard somewhere that this is the largest Presidential tomb in the United States.  I tried to corroborate this with information online, but I came up empty, but having seen it, it seems plausible.  That said, I wasn’t really expecting that, since President William McKinley isn’t exactly the most famous or revered of our Presidents.

The memorial

McKinley lived in Canton, Ohio for the majority of his adult life. He served in the Civil War and participated in several battles an officer in a regiment of the Ohio volunteers; he was the last Civil War veteran president. After the war, he became a lawyer and had a robust civil and political career before being elected President in 1896.

On September 6, 1901, an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz shot McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. He died eight days later after developing gangrene. His body was returned to Washington, D.C. to lie in state at the United States Capitol, and then he came home to be interred in Canton.

McKinley’s friends planned a memorial for McKinley and raised over $600,000 to build it in Canton’s Westlawn Cemetery.  Construction started in 1905 and was completed in 1907, the same year that Ida McKinley died.  McKinley, Ida, and their two daughters who died in early childhood were all interred in the memorial building.

And what a memorial it is!  It stands on a grass-covered hill overlooking the city of Canton, and is immense!  It was designed by architect H. Van Buren Magonigle (that’s a name you really have to grow into!) and is a huge domed pink granite building that is 96 feet tall and 79 feet in diameter. To get to the building, you must first climb up 108 stone steps that lead up to the mausoleum.  When I visited, there were quite a few joggers getting their workout in on these imposing steps.  There used to be a long reflecting pool in front of the memorial and steps, but it was replaced in  1951 by a depressed lawn.  About halfway up the steps is a bronze statue of President McKinley delivering his last speech in Buffalo, by artist Charles Henry Niehaus.

You can go inside the mausoleum and see the tomb where the McKinley family is interred, but it was already closed for the day when I visited.  It would have been neat to see!  Instead I took pictures outside, where my hair really shows how windy it was at the top of the hill that day!  The memorial is managed by the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum – one day I’ll visit there too!

 

Circus Trip 2018: First Ladies NHS

Day 37, Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Canton, Ohio

After I left Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I went down to Canton, Ohio and spent a little bit of time there.

Canton is where the family home of Ida Saxton McKinley is located, the wife of President William McKinley.  The home is beautiful!  It was built in 1841 by Ida’s grandfather and modified in 1865; and remained in the family until 1919.  Although Ida and William McKinley didn’t own the home themselves, as her father purchased a home for them a few blocks south, the President and his wife spent a considerable amount of time living here with Ida’s sister and her family, 13 years in total.

This historic site is unique, because although the home is tied to a US President, it focuses on the story of Ida McKinley, his wife.  She was born in 1847; the daughter of a wealthy banker, and enjoyed a privileged upbringing.  She and William McKinley were married in 1871, and had two daughters together; sadly, both died in early childhood.  Ida was grief-stricken over the loss of her daughters and the death of her mother, which had occurred two weeks before the birth of her first daughter.  She believed that the deaths were God’s punishment of her, and developed epilepsy, which severely hindered her ability to participate in society.  Despite her health issues, McKinley was devoted to her and made accommodations for her seizures and ailments in his schedule and public appearances.

 

 

Of course, you probably know that during a Presidential trip to Buffalo, New York, President McKinley was shot on September 6, 1901 by anarchist Leon Czolgosz; he died of his wounds on September 14, after gangrene set in. Ida had accompanied her husband on the trip, but was not present at the shooting.  She held up well while McKinley fought to survive, but her health suffered even more afterwards.  She went back to the home in Canton where her sister Mary Barber and Mary’s family lived, and her sister cared for her until Ida’s death in 1907.  During that period, Ida largely spent her time in a rocking chair, crocheting slippers to give to her friends as gifts.  President McKinley, Ida and their two daughters are now interred in McKinley’s memorial monument in a nearby cemetery – an upcoming post!

 

 

The First Ladies National Historic Site is operated as a partnership between the National First Ladies Library, and the National Park Service.  There is a small visitor’s center in a nearby historic bank building and the home, which is open to the public on a tour.  The historic site has a movie about Ida Saxton McKinley and the role of First Ladies in general.  There was also an interesting exhibit on First Lady fashion, with featured dresses of several different first ladies in history.  It was interesting to see a perspective dedicated to the women who supported their husbands in their First Lady roles, as well as the women who took on their role for other family members, as not all First Ladies were spouses.

What a unique historic site!  I hope we will have a woman as President too, so we can see our first First Man!