Category Archives: western pa

Kennywood Park nearing 125th anniversary

What began as a trolley park in the late 1800s is now one of America’s top amusement parks.

Nestled above the Monongahela River, Kennywood Park has remained a constant as the world around it in the Mon Valley — sometimes referred to as “the valley that built the world” — changed.

The park sits across the river from a still-in-operation steel mill — one of a few left in a region that prospered in its heyday of steel works that provided jobs and also polluted the region.

Most of the steel mills are gone, the cities dotting the region that flourished during the time now struggle, and the area’s population continues dwindling.

As the region around it changed, Kennywood Park solidified itself as Western Pennsylvania’s amusement park, with annual school picnics, celebrity guests, ethnic celebrations and thrills for everybody in the family.

In 2022, as COVID-19 pandemic restrictions lifted and people navigated a new world, Kennywood Park management ushered in the start of a major celebration: The kickoff of the park’s 125th anniversary.

With it came word of the return of one of four rides the park removed, plus other park improvements — long overdue cosmetic enhancements to spruce up the park.

Sadly, with the great changes came a rollback in operating hours. The park, where legend has it that the coasters run faster at night, and where thousands of lights sparkle when the sun goes down, closed before the sun was even at the horizon, marking regular closings at 7 or 8 p.m.

It seems, more big changes are in the works in 2023 for the park’s 125th anniversary.

Kennywood is teasing at least one themed area improvement.

Little details are available but, apparently, aliens speak Pittsburghese!

The QR code takes fans to a site on Kennywood’s page.

Looking carefully at the site, these are some clues:

  • The site title says “UFOTracker.”
  • The image shows the number “1122,” which could mean the park might use Nov. 22 to reveal more information.
  • The image also shows “2023,” so that seems pretty obvious.

The Cosmic Chaos, which sits next to this area, was added to the park in 2007. It was manufactured by Zamperla, where the generic ride is called the Mega Disk’O.

The new ride is rumored to also be from Zamperla. Kennywood has some other Zamperla rides, including Aero 360 and SS Kenny (in Kiddieland).

Could any of these rides be coming to Kennywood in 2023? Hmm…

Of course, before then, the park will hold its Phantom Fall Fest (you know it as Phantom Fright Nights but now with daytime fun for everyone) and Holiday Lights!

My 2021 in 21 Instagram posts

While I spent much of the year navigating the pandemic, I still got to experience so many things. Every year is filled with love and loss and great memories. Here’s a slice of what my 2021 looked like.

Kicked off 2021 with … cold brew coffee

This was the first cold brew coffee of 2021. The first of many!

Presque Isle Lighthouse in snow

I don’t know if I had ever walked to the lakeshore side when there was snow on the ground.

I walked on (frozen) water

This was my first time walking on Presque Isle Bay from the Presque Isle side! I watched people ice fishing, playing hockey and doing other ice-related activities.

I got vaxxed

Doing the neighborly thing.

Visited the Erie Zoo!

This little baby orangutan is adorable!

I visited Wawa. (Twice)

We all make mistakes.

Saw the White House

Pennsylvania Avenue was closed, so this was the closest I could get.

Swam in this natural spring pool

My first visit to Bedford Springs! I had this pool to myself for at least 90 minutes.

Got to see this Gulf station!

Finally! I’d wanted to see this building ever since WQED’s Rick Sebak shared it on a history program.

Visited the United 93 crash site

I was here a week shy of the 20th anniversary.

Our beloved rescue Kaci died

❤️

Visited Ellicottville

Took a stroll to see old buildings, sites in Ellicottville

Selfied with world’s largest pickle

It’s a big dill.

Watched fireworks be lit off of Pittsburgh’s City-County Building

That had never been done before!

I got to see NYC decorated for Christmas

This was such a highlight of my life!

Saw Macy’s Christmas windows!

Hello, Tiptoe!

Saw the Rockettes!

What a great show!

Made new friends

Best NYC tour guide!

Saw old friends!

I love these guys.

Saw Erie history light up!

The Warner Theatre marquee had not been lit in more than 40 years.

Rode the Jack Rabbit on Christmas Eve

In the 101-year history of Kennywood Park’s Jack Rabbit, it had never operated in December. I got to ride it on Dec. 24! I also ate Potato Patch fries on Christmas Eve. Yinzplosion!

My 2021 Sheetz cold brew coffee count is ‘for the Kidz’

Back by nobody’s demand!

As the year winds down, I’m counting up the number of Sheetz cold brew coffees I’ve had in 2021! And, this year, I’m supporting Sheetz For the Kidz with this crazy cold brew coffee addiction.

As you might know, I’m slightly addicted to cold brew coffee from Sheetz. (If you don’t know, now you do.)

What began as a joke in 2020 from some people wondering how many Sheetz cold brew coffees I had during the year turned into a fun guessing game! Sheetz makes it easy to keep track in the MySheetz app.

The winner for my 2020 count was Sheetz worker Ashley who likely made a majority of those cold brew coffees.

So, let’s do it again for 2021.

Drop a guess under my tweet or Instagram post before the Times Square ball drops on Dec. 31.

That’s it! I’ll pull the guesses together and see who’s the closest.

I’ll share the actual total — and winner! — on Jan. 1!

As a bonus this year: For every cold brew coffee I had in 2021, I am going to donate $1 to the Sheetz For the Kidz nonprofit group that helps support children and their families in need in Sheetz communities.

The Sheetz employee-driven charity focuses on three areas: Gifts, wishes and food. Sheetz For the Kidz supports an annual holiday gift-giving program for children, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Feeding America.

Sheetz For the Kidz dates to 1992 when two Sheetz district managers raised $12,000 and took 126 children shopping for the holidays, according to its website. Today, the nonprofit organization supports 9,700 kids every year.

You can support Sheetz For the Kidz by making a donation here, using MySheetz rewards points to make a donation, buying Sheetz For the Kidz charity water and checking Sheetz stores for in-store efforts in July and December.

Need a hint for making a guess?

  • I offered a tip last year sharing how many cold brew coffees I had through the end of September. Not doing that this year! I have to make it a little more difficult. But here’s a tip to maybe help you get in the ballpark: In September, I had 35. In July, I had 40. Were other months higher, lower or about the same? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ 

Quick rules and other things:

  • We’ll follow “The Price Is Right” method: The winner whose guess is closest without going over wins. (So, if you live under a rock: If the correct answer is 5 and you guess 6, you lost.)
  • There’s no prize for winning other than the satisfaction of making a lucky guess.
  • In the event of a tie, those with the correct answer will all be considered winners!
  • Post your guess to the above mentioned social media posts by 11:59:59 Dec. 31.
  • Disclaimer: Adding this disclaimer so you know that Sheetz is in no way connected to this, they didn’t ask me to do this, they’re not overseeing it, they’re going to find out at the same time you do when reading this. I’m just a crazy Sheetz Freak who loves Sheetz.

Flight 93 National Memorial: ‘A common field one day. A field of honor forever’

One week shy of the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, I visited the Flight 93 National Memorial for the first time.

Located along Route 30 (the Lincoln Highway), this “common field” became a “field of honor” on Sept. 11.

United Airlines Flight 93 left the Newark International Airport in New Jersey at 8:42 a.m. en route to the San Francisco International Airport. The flight was originally scheduled to depart at 8 a.m. It pushed back away from the gate at 8:01 a.m., but, due to the amount of flight traffic, had been delayed in departure.

Forty-six minutes after takeoff — just over the Ohio line from Pennsylvania — hijackers stormed the cockpit, eventually taking control.

Passengers and crew had learned, through phone calls, what had already transpired in New York City and Washington, D.C.

After flying over the Pittsburgh region, passengers and crew attempt to take over the flight at 9:57 a.m.

Just moments later — at 10:03 a.m. — Flight 93 crashed into a Stoneycreek Township, Somerset County, field.

Though the exact destination is unknown, experts and published reports suggest the hijackers were ultimately aiming for the Capitol. The crash site is just 18 minutes in air from Washington, D.C.

The actions of the Flight 93 passengers and crew are at the heart of everything within the Flight 93 National Memorial.

Upon entering the site, visitors come upon the Tower of Voices, soaring 93 feet into the air. This unique monument holds 40 wind chimes, representing each of the passengers and crew onboard Flight 93.

“The Tower of Voices provides a living memorial in sound to remember the forty through their ongoing voices,” the National Park Service says of the tower on its website.

After viewing the tower, visitors can get back into their vehicle and take a roughly 3.5-mile drive to the visitor’s center.

Inside, visitors can gain a better understanding of the day’s events, timeline of the flight and other related pieces of history through a permanent exhibition featuring audio and visual artifacts.

I offer a warning that the exhibit can trigger memories of that morning and might be difficult for some visitors.

The National Park Service recommends budgeting at least 45 minutes to view the exhibit. It’s important to note that no photography is permitted inside the exhibit, according to signs posted in early September 2021.

And, as of September 2021, for health and safety measures, face masks are required inside the visitor’s center.

In addition, a bookstore offers books and other items relating to the site.

Outside of the visitor’s center, visitors can see an overview of the crash site, Memorial Plaza, Wall of Names and the boulder denoting the impact site.

After stopping there, visitors have a choice between walking a path or driving to Memorial Plaza.

Two trails — the 1.2-mile Allée Trail and the 0.7-mile Western Overlook Trail — allow visitors to walk to Memorial Plaza. The Western Overlook Trail follows the path the plane took.

At Memorial Plaza, visitors can walk to Wall of Names, which lists the names of passengers and crew members.

On the walk to the plaza with the Wall of Names, visitors will see the large boulder.

While the impact and legacy of Flight 93 is the focal point of this national site, other work continues to reforest what once was a coal mine.

After visiting the national memorial, I recommend a short drive to an unsuspecting Sept. 11, 2001, memorial.

Just about 9 miles from the entrance to the national memorial site is the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel & United Airlines Crew Monument.

This little white church sits just outside of the small, rural town of Shanksville, which became the epicenter of emergency response crews, journalists and others in the days and weeks following Sept. 11.

The church is located at a quiet intersection, near a cemetery and surrounded by corn fields. If you’re driving too fast and not paying attention to your GPS device, you’ll miss it. Look for the large bell tower.

There is little information online about this memorial site but a friend who had been working on 20th anniversary special coverage for a Western Pennsylvania newspaper suggested I visit.

On my visit, a family of three was making their way through the tiny chapel-turned-museum.

Chapel volunteer Connie Hay so graciously took her time to explain items inside the chapel, providing details about how the items arrived and a brief story behind them. She showed me a small room off of the main space that provides a photo and short biography of each passenger and crew member, and allows people to light a candle in their memory.

One of the items on display includes what became the first memorial of Flight 93.

Outside of the chapel is a monument dedicated to the Flight 93 crew members. The plaza is flanked by flags from each state. Off to the side is a piece of steel from the World Trade Center — etched in the shape of “UA 93.”

Connie told me the site sees an increase in visitors as Sept. 11 nears each year, including visits from United crew members. On the Saturday before the 20th anniversary of the attacks, Connie told me they anticipated a bigger increase.

The site is a short drive that is certainly worth the trip. If you’ve got time, take a gander around the tiny town of Shanksville and head to the elementary school to see an outdoor statue given to the school after the attacks.

If walls — or springs — could talk at Omni Bedford Springs

Published: Sept. 7, 2021

If walls (or natural springs) could talk.

As I meandered the lavish Bedford Springs resort grounds on a recent early September visit, I couldn’t help but think of the history that (pardon the pun) just keeps flowing through the place.

The property — which dates to 1796, when Dr. John Anderson purchased 2,200 acres for a mineral springs resort after learning about the springs from nearby indigenous people — has played host to the likes of politicians (Aaron Burr, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun); business magnates (Henry Ford and department store innovator John Wanamaker); actors and those seeking the reputed medicinal benefits of the natural springs.

Pittsburgh socialites such as the Fricks, Mellons and Heinzes also made use of Bedford Springs.

Hotel historical records suggest as many as 13 future, current and past presidents visited Bedford Springs over the last 225 years — from Thomas Jefferson in 1819 to George W. Bush in 2012.

In an effort to escape the brutal summer heat of the nation’s capital, the Supreme Court, in 1856, informally convened at Bedford Springs. While there, the court worked on the Dred Scott Decision, which gave more support to the anti-slavery movement and, ultimately, paved the way for the Civil War.

The Navy, during World War II, used the hotel and grounds as a training school and — later — as a holding facility for Japanese diplomats.

But it is James Buchanan who might be the resort’s most well-known frequent guest. As president, Buchanan used Bedford Springs as the summer White House between 1857 and 1861. His first visit was made in 1821.

In 1858, Bedford Springs made history as Buchanan, serving as president at the time, received the first transatlantic telegraph on Aug. 12, 1858. The telegram was sent from Queen Victoria to Bedford Springs.

Anderson’s family, in 1887, sold Bedford Springs to a group led by Pittsburgh attorney Philander Knox, who would eventually become secretary of state, serving from 1901 to 1904.

That group sold it again in 1896 to Delaware industrialist Samuel Bancroft.

In 1895, one of the nation’s first golf courses was laid out. Ten years later, in 1905, Bedford Springs became the site of one of the nation’s first indoor swimming pools.

In 1984, the site was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

But just two years later, in 1986, the property closed.

It sat vacant until 1998, when it was purchased for $8 million by a group of 10 investors under the Bedford Resort Partners Limited name.

Over the course of a $120 million effort to reopen the property, an eighth spring was discovered (Eternal Spring) in 2006. The property reopened to overnight guests in July 2007 and was purchased by the Omni Hotels chain in 2009.

Among the amenities the resort offers is a 30,000-square-foot spa — Springs Eternal Spa — that pays homage to the springs.

Along with an 18-hole golf course (spanning the work of Spencer Oldham, A.W. Tillinghast and Donald Ross) and two pools (the 1905 indoor pool and a new outdoor pool), the property offers a 24/7 fitness center; 25 miles of hiking trails connecting hikers to many of the springs; a plethora of outdoor activities; five onsite dining options (the 1796 Room is temporarily closed and the Turtle Shell at the outdoor pool is seasonal); and several onsite shops.

Guests can spend hours looking at all of the artifacts, photos and decor around the lobby, nearby rooms and hallways — including a desk Buchanan used, guest logs and images from when the Navy used the property. Behind the front desk is a 39-star United States flag.

Rocking chairs, lounge chairs, sitting chairs and benches scattered throughout the resort let guests lose track of time watching hotel life go by, watching wildlife, reading a book or taking a nap.

Of the five buildings of guest rooms, my particular room was in the Springs Eternal House. The charming room offered antique furniture and vintage decor. The granite vanity and marble floor in the bathroom provided such an exquisite feeling.

Being accustomed to slim, trendy and functional furniture in other hotels, this was a nice change. The surroundings didn’t feel too fancy (think: Grandma’s house where you can’t touch anything) or too old (think: Old motel). And, it should be noted, that with so much to do at the resort, the rooms quite literally are for resting. I wasn’t in my room except for late evening, through the night and early morning.

Omni Bedford Springs links

Things to do, see and experience in and near Bedford County

Clarification (9/21/22): Information regarding the design of the golf course was clarified to say that the golf course’s work spans the work of Spencer Oldham, A.W. Tillinghast and Donald Ross. The post previously made it sound as if the three worked together.