Summertime Odds and Ends

Once again, I am offering a disjointed, unrealated bag of memories to you. Most of these little remeniscences relate to hot summer days in Duquesne, so I hope you enjoy.

Pop Bottle Heaven

At the corner of Texas Ave. and Mellon Street, across from the old Kroger’s Shopping Center, is a vacant lot. For at least the last 60 years it has been vacant and remains so today. I’m not sure who the current owners of the property might be, nor did I know who owned it when I was growing up. What everyone knew however, was that the lot was a veritable treasure trove of money making items.

There is a stop sign at that corner for cars traveling down Mellon Street toward Texas Ave. For some reason, that corner lot with all of the weeds seemed to be the idea spot to toss an empty glass bottle of Coke, Nehi or Mission Orange. The corner was also a bus stop

As a kid, my friends and I would rummage through the jungle of weeds and misshapen trees that grew throughout the lot several times a week. Our mission was to see who could collect the most empty “pop” bottles that we could return for cash! Pop bottles were regularly chucked out of car windows by the cavalier (i.e. those who didn’t mind tossing two cents into the ditch). And there, hidden among the overgrowth of weeds and awaiting youngsters needing to make some pocket change, were the treasures. All they had to do was hunt, uncover, and haul them to any nearby market. Although the normal find was a “2¢ -er,” occasionally we would get lucky and find one of the large bottles that carried a “5¢ reward.” We were quite a troop of bounty hunters!

Since only one of my friends had a wagon, we couldn’t depend on it being available to lug the bottles to the market. Our moms would gladly give us a brown grocery bag orand old box to use for carrying our bottles to cash them in. After a few attempts at returning bottle to various grocers, we became familiar with which market would accept which brands. Not everybody sold Canada Dry, as I recall, and we would hack off the store owners who didn’t by attempting to unload them at their places of business. Soon we had “cornered” (if you’ll excuse the pun) the return bottle business in our neighborhood.

Mourning Doves and Kennywood Park

I am sure that you will think I am losing my mind with this next rambling, but I swear to you, I am right about this. I live on the Eastern Shore of Maryland near the ocean. We have a large variety of birds that create some very soothing sounds throughout the day. Of course, the seagulls and the terns are annoying and very noisy. Each morning when I take my two dogs for their morning rituals, I can always count on hearing the rather woeful song of a Mourning Dove. Usually, they are perched high on someone’s roof and of all the morning sounds, theirs was always the most comforting to me. Click the link below and just listen…..

I finally figured out why their cooing always brought a smile to my face. If you listen closely, their sound is very reminiscent of the sound produced at Noah’s Ark in Kennywood Park. Granted, I realize that the Noah’s Ark sound is actually a boat whistle, but nonetheless, with a bit of imagination and a good deal of homesickness, they sound awfully close.

Now I’m sure that out there in cyberland there is either an ornithologist or Kennywood aficionado that will find “just cause” to dispute my opinion. To them, I say “stuff it!!” I am content to continue to live in my own little fantasy world and to believe my ears and trust my memory.

Thanks for the memory!

When I was searching YouTube for the video of the mourning dove, I came across a wonderful video compilation of vintage Kennywood TV Ads. It these don’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will. Check them out:

Our Own Little U.N.

In 1960, an annual 3 day event began in mid- August and is still going strong 51 years later. McKeesport’s International Village in Renziehausen Park was a “must see” for my family each and every year. The event was a celebration of the many cultures and heritages that made up the community we lived in. The nationalities that were normally represented at the fair were Greek, Italian, Polish, Swedish, German, Israeli, Irish, Hungarian, Russian, Carpatho-Russian, Ukrainian, Croatian, Serbian, Romanian and Slovak.

I happened to see an announcement on Facebook about this year’s event and we shocked to see that it was the “52nd Annual” International Village. Of course, being the doubting Thomas that I am, I did some research and found out that it had indeed begun in 1960! Surprisingly, there wasn’t even a mention in the Duquesne Times about the event, but considering that the paper’s last day of publication was the August 25, 1960, I am sure that the publishers had other things on their mind at the time. However, I did find several references to the event in the Post-Gazette that validate the date.

I do recall how my mom, Aunt Mary, Aunt Rose and Aunt Bubs decided to meet at Renzie for the event along with their families. It was the only time I remember going to the event, but we had a great time. All of the adults went from booth to booth selecting all types of ethnic foods, but I think that most of us kids were content to select from the American booth and settle on hot dogs and French fries. The part that I remember more than anything was the shows that took place throughout the Village. Italian Tarantellas, Greek Syrtakis, Slovak Bottle Dances, Croatian Polkas, Irish Jigs and Russian Barynyas were all being performed at one time or another throughout the day.

Each ethnic group’s booth was decorated in the tradition of the nationality and flags, color and traditional costumes were everywhere. It truly was like a miniature United Nations meeting! I understand that the event has expanded to include many more nationalities such as Caribbean islands, African countries, as well as Central and South American flavors! If I could even fit it into my schedule, I would love to revisit the Village at Renzie and take in some of the old favorite as well as sample the new cuisine that is represented.

Piggys and Cattle and Sheep, OH MY!

Although I didn’t find reference in the Duquesne Times to McKeesport’s International Village, there was another late summer event that was well represented. How many of you recall attending the Allegheny County Fair at South Park Fairgrounds?

THE COUNTY FAIR

Pittsburgh Press – Google News Archive – Aug 31, 1936

The Allegheny County Fair, started in 1932 to acquaint citizens of every part of the county with the spacious acres of South Park and to make them conscious of the agricultural rank or this rich county, begins its fourth successive season tomorrow.

Each year that this exposition has been held, mounting thousands have awakened to the realization that Allegheny County not only has an industrial heritage that classes it with the best, but that in agriculture as well, it holds an enviable rating.

The county fair was inaugurated by Commissioners McGovern. Barr and Mansfield and proved successful from the beginning. It not only attracted people to the exhibits, but it greatly added to the popularity and develop-ment of South Park.

This year Allegheny County again will welcome all of those within its borders and beyond to share in an exposition of the Pittsburgh district’s progress in agriculture and Industry, in stock raising and home economics, in history, the art, in science and in horticulture. Last year a million persons attended the Allegheny Count! Fair, a record attendance. This year we hope that even this figure will be surpassed.”

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

“In the 1930s South Park came to be used as a county fairgrounds, requiring expensive development: grandstands, racetracks, and support buildings. At that time there was great interest in county fairs, and the county had many more farms, ample produce and livestock, and a larger rural population. The County Fair was the big event of the summer, and for more than thirty years attracted an estimated half million people each season.

But by the later ’60s farming in the county had declined dramatically, and rival entertainment activities were everywhere. Gradually livestock and produce had to be brought in from neighboring counties, and the 4H people had to extend their invitations beyond the county. The county fair changed into an industrial exposition as well, showing off the latest in U. S. Steel technology, the newest aluminum making process from Alcoa, or a model of the latest boat built by Dravo. People were interested in industrial products–everything from aluminum screen doors and sashes to continuous casting methods–and the agricultural side of the fair faded away.”

1973 was the last year that I found records of the fair taking place. It was that year that the commissioners permanently cancelled the fair and closed one of swimming pools at South Park.

It seems that we used to go to the fair quite often. It would be an all-day event and my brother and I would look forward to it each year. I remember that our family and my Aunt Mary’s family would usually attend together, meeting at a predetermined rendezvous in the fairground’s parking lot.

It was always held in late August into early September after the local farms had collected their harvests. The weather was usually still pretty warm, hovering around 75 or 80 degrees. I just remember that it was hot enough to somehow add to the rather “organic” smells that would emanate from the farm animal exhibition area. Our young hunky noses had become very accustomed to the day-to-day smells that we lived with every day in Duquesne. The steel mills could produce some “interesting” odors from time-to-time and they never fazed us. However, our delicate little proboscises (as Durante would call them), we far from accustomed to the combined smell of cows, sheep, chickens and what have you.

Nonetheless, even though Mom and Aunt Mary would typically pull out their embroidered hankies from their purses to place over their nose as we toured the farm animal exhibition area, we “guys would brave it “au natural!” After all, we were hunkies and when our grandparents lived in “old country,” they dealt with the rather “rural” fragrance every day. I always wanted to spend a lot of time looking at the animals, much to my parent’s dismay. However, once we witnessed a horse or cow “relieve” themselves and then got a whiff of their “byproduct” we were ready to go to less “pungent” halls.

I never understood how mom and Aunt Mary would “ooh and aah” when we were looking at rows and rows of fruits and vegetables in glass jars. For some reason, it would fascinate them and they would eagerly look for the blue ribbon winner in each category. After the first few tables, I was usually getting antsy for a bit more excitement, and would convince my dad to take us to see something else. Dad and Uncle Lou would quickly make arrangements with Mom and Aunt Mary to meet in another area (truthfully they Dad and Uncle Lou were as bored as we were looking at canned goods). We would quickly retreat from the exhibition hall and head over to more exciting parts of the fair.

Now, perhaps the most vivid memory I have of the fair is the mindless collecting of free “stuff” at each booth in some halls. There were many businesses that exhibited at the fair, so an industrious kid such as I, would always take advantage of the free booklets, gizmos and chachkas that were being distributed. Inevitably, at least one of the exhibitors was giving out shopping bags of some sort, so it became a “contest” between my brother Steve and my cousin Paula to see how much we could collect from the various booths. Karla, the youngest in the group was too small to take part in the “junk collecting Olympics” that was going on, so she was relegated to ogling canned goods with her mom. Poor kid. The saddest part about this whole escapade was that we were stuck lugging these huge bags of useless paper and chahkies around for the rest of the night.

It’s so sad to think that the kids in the area today are not given the chance to witness such a wonderful, educational and fun event. Things change, budgets get cut and children, unlike we kids after a great day of collecting at the fair, are NOT left holding the bag!

This entry was posted in Food and Restaurants, Kennywood, Life in General, McKeesport, Summertime. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Summertime Odds and Ends

  1. Debra Faust-Clancy says:

    Hey Jim,
    I think you are a magician! You can conjure up so many nice memories from the past for all of us. I remember collecting “pop” bottles for the 2 cents to get penny candy at Balchunis’s store
    corner of Grant and ? right down from Jack’s Bar on Polish Hill. A five-center was a big deal cuz a popsicle was 5 cents! My fav–banana or root beer. I loved the International Village and would go back again and again to the Polish stand for the best sauerkraut pierogies and hulushky (sp?) that money could buy– (made by Polish lol’s – little old ladies…) The music and dancing was just icing on the cake. The State Fair was memorable for its pungent aromas in the animal halls–your descriptions captured them exquisitely–but, alas, I too, oohed and ahhed over the rows of jars of canned fruits and veggies, cause I knew ‘zactly how much work had gone into preparing them! Canning was hot, messy, humid work done by grownups during the hottest part of the summer. Your chochkas are “tchotchkes” pronounced choch keys, which is Yiddish. We are all “meshugana” me·shu·ga·na   /məˈʃʊgənə/ Show Spelled [muh-shoog-uh-nuh]
    –noun Slang . a crazy person.
    .——————————————————————————–
    Origin: 1880–85; < Yiddish meshugener,

  2. Paula Smith says:

    Hey cousin Jim,
    I remember going to the South Park Fair and enjoyed the useless gathering of stuff as well. But I also enjoyed looking at the jars upon jars of jellies and honey. Those award winning pies were looking kind of sad toward the end. But the “aroma” of the animals was the best. A not to be forgotten memory!

  3. Linda L. (Negley) Gibb says:

    Hey Jim, Your link for the Kennywood You tube viedos does not open. It says not a valid add.
    I also have very fond memories of the South Park County Fair. My girlfriends & I also use to go around & gather all the freebies. But the best part of the fair were the free evening shows.
    It’s a darn shame they discontinued those fairs.
    WV has a state fair & it was in the next county from us while we resided in that beautiful state. It was ran a little bit different in that you were charged a gate admission. They also had rides for a fee. The evening shows were fenced off & you had to buy a ticket to see them. Allegheny Co. could have done that also.
    Here in FL. there are county fairs all around us but we have yet to take them in due to the heat.

    • Jim says:

      Linda,
      Thanks for the feedback. We are fortunate where I’m living too since Dover and the Delaware State Fair is just a short drive away. I just miss the intimacy of the County Frair however.

      I checked my link for the Kennywood video and it seemed to be connecting without a problem. Here is the direct link to the video that you can cut and paste if you would like http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XV1nDdRLpsQ&feature=feedf.

      Take care!
      Jim

  4. Linda Perhacs says:

    I remember taking the bus to the South Park Fairgrounds every year with my grandparents. One year, I guess I was about 9 or 10, it was the last day of the Fair (Labor Day), and my grandfather won a pink and white girl’s Schwinn bike from one of the vendor forms that he filled out. We had to bring it back home to Auriles St. on the bus. I loved that bike…all shiny and new. I wish I still had it today, I could use the exercise.

  5. Lou Andriko says:

    South Park lives on! Read about it here:
    http://www.alleghenycounty.us/parks/SPFairgrounds/index.aspx
    Anyone else remember when there was a dedicated bus to South Park during the Fair? It ran the usual Duquesne to Mckeesport route, but turned UP Richland Ave in Dravosburg and to the fairgrounds.
    And just to be precise, Poles, Czechs, Germans and several other nationalities are well known for their POLKAS, but go to a DU Tammies performance or the Cro-Club on Grant Ave. and you’ll see and hear Croats dancing the KOLO! Watch this:

    Zivio!

    • Jim says:

      Love this video Lou. The corn shucking and the chickens are a hoot! I seriously could picture my grandma in that exact setting. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Vickie Brady Little says:

    As you are going back in time i would like to mention the Air shows at the Allegheny County airport and also in later years the South Park Rib cook off which I was I worked for a food vendor there many years ago. I was very disappointed when they ended it, but just last year they started it back up again. You mentioned in this article about International Village, it is still going strong after all these years and I am pleased to say that i manage the French booth out there, it is always a pleasure to go back there every year and do the Festival, for me it is going home since I grew up in Duquesne and now live up by 7 Springs Ski Resort cant wait to get back there August 16th 17th and 18th hoping to see some of the friends I grew up, which i manage to see a few every year

  7. Jim Hartman says:

    Here is a good South Park Trivia question for everyone.

    Who is Corrigan Drive named for?

    Douglas G. “Wrong-Way” Corrigan. The 31-year-old flier who ended up in Ireland trying to fly to California July 9, 1938. Corrigan was from Cleveland, Ohio. After flying the ‘wrong way’ to California by crossing the Atlantic Ocean he landed in Dublin, Ireland. The US Dept. of Commerce revoked his license when he planned to fly back to the US. They stated that he had no visa/passport or permission to fly over the Atlantic Ocean. He did this in an experimental airplane that he built himself. RKO movie studios signed him and made a movie about him and he played himself in the movie. His mother once lived in Tarentum, PA and when he came for the big parade that Pittsburgh had for him on September 2, 1938. Commissioner Kane invited him to Pittsburgh.

    You can read it right here http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=MggvAAAAIBAJ&sjid=HUwEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5606,3821157&dq=corrigan&hl=en

    • Jack Schalk says:

      I remember a parade in Duquesne after WW 11 for a storied hero. Commando Kelly is what he was branded, or the One Man Army. His first name was Charles and he lived in Pgh.
      I remember standing on Kennedy Ave as he went by in a motorcade. The people were out in abundance and applause was heard everywhere as he passed.
      He was the first enlisted man to earn the Medal of Honor in the European campaign.
      I was a 9 or 10 year old mischief maker but I felt very proud when I saw him.

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