THE CIVIL WAR IN WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA
October 12th-14th, 2019
THE ANNUAL General Meade Society Fall Excursion was a tremendous success!
Enjoy this reporting of the excursion into Western Pennsylvania by loyal Meade Society member Kerry Bryan, who claims to have regular ghostly visitations by Elizabeth E. Hutter!
“PITTSBURGH IN THE CIVIL WAR”:
GENERAL MEADE SOCIETY FALL TRIP 2019
The fog and rain lifted after our bus crossed the Allegheny Mountains, and the sun was shining brightly as we pulled into Pittsburgh. We went right to a dock along the Allegheny River to go on an hour-long boat ride narrated by a guide named Sarah, who was impressive in that she could say three words in the time that most folks would say one. She introduced us to some “Pittsburghese,” i.e. local idioms, and pointed out some cityscape highlights during our cruise. We later checked into our suburban hotel, where the traditional General Humphries pizza party was held that evening.
Saturday was a very full day! We visited numerous Civil-War related sites, including the site of Allegheny Arsenal, the Allegheny Cemetery, the site of Ft. Croghan, a ride on the Duquesne incline (a funicular!), the Allegheny County Soldiers Memorial, Hampton Battery Monument, and the site of the Western Penitentiary. Our guide was Richard (Rich) Condon, a certified U.S. Park Service Ranger and historian, who had developed the tour route that we followed. He proved highly knowledgeable and personable. We also had on board Diane Klinefelter, curator of the Civil War collection at the Andrew Carnegie Free Library and Music Hall.
That evening we had a delicious dinner at a German restaurant, the Hofbräuhaus, where we had a large private dining room and assigned servers (in Bavarian style costume). Portions were generous, and there was a polka band playing in the main room of the restaurant, which contributed to the ethnic ambiance. Five, ten, and fifteen-year attendance certificates were handed out to faithful Meade Society fall trippers.
On Monday, we were greeted again and hosted by Diane Klinefelter at the Free Carnegie Library and Music Hall in Carnegie, PA. We learned the history of the library, from its initial endowment by Andrew Carnegie, to its desperate days in the late 1990s when it almost had to close due to financial straits. But then, with the help of a Carnegie High School alumni, a superbly effective fundraiser was hired, and the library and its wonderful 1901 music hall have been thriving since.
In additional to holding the largest Civil War-related library in Allegheny County, the Free Carnegie Library features a special gallery, its Lincoln Hall, where 100 beautifully framed, large photographs of Abraham Lincoln line the walls, arranged in chronological order from 1847 to 1865. This exhibition provided the memorable backdrop for our lunch there (an array of cold cuts and salads).
Moreover, we learned that G.A.R. Post 153, the Thomas Espy Post, was located on the third floor of the building. This Post had moved into the library in 1906, and after its last member died in 1938, the door was padlocked and remained so for more than 50 years, during which time the roof leaked, crown molding disintegrated, paint fells in chips off the walls, and there was no temperature control. However, this room was like a “time capsule” for those interested in Civil War and G.A.R. history; thus, we are grateful that fundraising efforts were successful, and Espy Post was carefully restored, beginning in 2009.
Three volunteers, gentlemen in G.A.R. period attire, joined us in touring the Post quarters and then met us at the nearby Chartiers Cemetery, where we paid our respects at the G.A.R. plot there. Those of us who then witnessed the demonstration of the use of a dousing rod to locate graves will never forget the experience!
We departed the Pittsburgh area to go to our final significant stop: The Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Somerset County, PA. We were met there again by Rich Condon, now in his official Park Ranger uniform. He pointed out to us the carefully embracive architectural features of site, and then we walked along the demarcation of the flight path of the doomed aircraft to an overlook, where we could see the now quiet field that was the point of impact. Chosen by Flight 93 family members, there is an enormous oval boulder towards the end of the field that suggests the continuation of the flight symbolically. The field is set behind a gate to which family members have keys, so that they may visit at any time in relative privacy.
Many of us wished that we could have spent more time at the Flight 93 Memorial, but we had a long drive back to Philadelphia ahead of us. We made a brief stop at a Turnpike rest stop, where many of us cheerfully picnicked on the remains of cold cuts and bread from our lunch at Carnegie Library.
We had had yet another wonderful three-day Meade Society trip, and many of us are already looking forward to 2020! — Kerry Bryan
Many thanks to John Gavin for his photos from the trip!
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