2016 Fall

The Challenge of Fighting Back

Reading the latest novel by Stewart O’Nan, the Pittsburgh-born writer who boomeranged home several years ago, is like watching the performance of an experienced athlete who makes it all look so easy. “City of Secrets” is his 16th novel since 1994, and the first to take place entirely outside of the USA. Like 2015’s “West …

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Unfounded Fears of the HPV Vaccine May Have Grim Consequences

The virus is hearty, robust and everywhere: on our skin, our fingertips, our countertops. Most of us can fight it off. But certain strains can lead to chronic infections and later cancer for an estimated 25,000 American men and women. The human papillomavirus (HPV) has long been known as the major cause of cervical cancer …

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Short Takes: “Whiskey, Etc.” “Death by Cyanide”

Sherrie Flick’s latest collection is described as “short (short) stories”—that parenthetical “short” preparing you for one page tales, even one-paragraph blasts. Scholars of marketing might see this as evidence that fiction creators are getting with the short-attention span condition of the modern consumer, offering an efficient product that can be noshed like a meal replacement …

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Molded Tooth Staggered Gear and Worker, 1913

The Mesta Machine Company churned and smoked on more than 20 acres of land along the Monongahela River. Though its central product was steelmaking equipment—supplying some 500 mills around the globe—Americans had Mesta’s 3,000 employees to thank for their working cars and refrigerators, ship hulls and power plant turbines. During the Depression, then-president Lorenz Iversen …

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Richardson, Hamlet, White, McNally, Patrick, George, Crudele, Walker

Kathy Brittain Richardson is the 15th president of Westminster College. She comes to western Pennsylvania from Mt. Berry, Ga., where she was provost and professor of communication at Berry College. A native of Douglasville, Ga., she earned a bachelor of arts in communication and religion/philosophy, summa cum laude, from Shorter College, a master’s degree in …

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Now Entering “Happy Valley”

The Pennsylvania State University has more than 645,000 living alums. Obviously, they know about “Happy Valley,” as do the throngs who attend football games each fall. But if you’ve never visited Penn State, State College or Centre County, it’s well worth exploring, especially on a quieter, non-football weekend. While there are chain hotels available, go …

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Honey, I Have an Idea…

In May of 2013, Renny Clark and I arrived at the Hillman residence at 11 a.m. Our mission was to propose the creation of a forum for student civic engagement at the University of Pittsburgh’s Institute of Politics and hopefully the seed of an endowment to support the forum’s work. Elsie responded with her typical …

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Smart City

Certainly, it’s not great news that Pittsburgh didn’t win a $50 million federal Smart City Challenge grant to redesign its transportation system. The grant would have helped “plan, design and build the next Pittsburgh,” Mayor Bill Peduto said. Pittsburgh’s proposal envisioned a combination of big data working with electricity microgrids to create an “electric avenue” …

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A Monument Then and Now

Did the demolition of the greenfield (really the Beechwood Boulevard) Bridge feel like the passing of an era? The urbane, concrete arch span of 1923 was crumbling far too ominously above the speeding traffic of the Parkway East to be able to stay in place, so it was ceremoniously demolished. A replacement will be completed …

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Vivien Li, River Keeper

My parents came from educated families in China and Hong Kong and immigrated to the United States. My mother arrived in the early ’50s as an undergraduate while my father, who was 10 years her senior, was studying for a Ph.D. Back then, it was difficult for Asians to come here. The immigration laws were …

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Boom and Bust

All over rural pennsylvania, motel parking lots, which just a couple of years ago were teeming with lumbering pickup trucks with out-of-state plates, are nearly empty. So are the hastily constructed “man camps” that not so long ago provided temporary shelter for roughnecks and roustabouts. So are the breakfast joints where they used to eat. …

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A Collector’s Eye

Tradition winds through the leafy streets of Sewickley like a summer breeze, ruffling the flags on stately old homes and the flowers that adorn each perfect lawn. In a neighborhood filled with beautiful houses, the 1950s French-inspired stucco stands out, as it did when Anne and David Genter bought it 10 years ago. “This had …

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Erie Bluffs State Park

One of the most distinctive places to explore in Pennsylvania is Erie Bluffs State Park. Located west of the City of Erie, the park sits along more than a mile of lakefront near Lake City, west of the mouth of Elk Creek and north of PA Route 5. The park’s 587 acres are mostly rustic, …

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Swainson’s Thrush

Fall is a time of movement: college students packed in SUVs returning to classes, younger kids nervous to get back to school, the lazy days of summer fading fast. Millions of birds are moving, too, some passing through the Pittsburgh area en route to wintering grounds to the south. Some of these migrants are more …

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The Old Ways May Be Best

Marino floro plucks a perfectly shaped fig from a tree in his Sewickley yard, opens the door to his chicken coop, and offers the fruit to a chamois-colored hen, which clucks with enthusiasm. Three chickens inhabit this paradise of a mini-farm, where trees yield four different kinds of figs, as well as peaches, plums, apricots, …

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A Long Romance

At first, the performance was delayed because ballerina Carlotta Grisi was recovering from an injury. Then the conductor was battling a tumor. And then safety concerns slowed the set construction. But finally, on June 28, 1841—a Monday night—“Giselle” premiered at the Paris Opéra. After its Paris premiere, the two-act Romantic ballet entered almost immediately into …

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Just Breathe

Emily is an emergency dispatcher, yet work is the only place where she always feels calm. Sometimes, when Emily (not her real name) walks her dog on the sidewalks of her Pittsburgh neighborhood or gets ready to leave her home to run errands, she feels a spell of dizziness. Then comes shortness of breath. After …

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On the Road to Prosperity

Prosperity means different things to different people. But to the residents of a village by that name in Washington County that’s been significantly affected by fluctuations in the coal and Marcellus Shale gas industries, Prosperity is home. Some of the 1,105 residents have made a lot of money. Some are working hard to just get …

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Hidden from History

The life of Esther Phillips (1902– 83) would have languished in obscurity, at most a footnote in history, were it not for the dedication of a few friends and supporters. Her story, which intersects with ideas about women, class and mental health in the 20th century, is all too familiar. An obstinate, free-spirited woman, she …

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Gould, Kolar, Paris, Winter, Cardille, Oelschlager, Mosites, Williams

Rodney S. Gould, 93 Gould captained the undergraduate Cornell crew team where he later earned a law degree. He flew 35 World War II combat missions over Germany as a B-17 Bomber navigator. He was vice president of the Blaw-Knox Company and later Dravo Corporation and was very involved in community affairs, chairing the YMCA …

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The Best of Intentions

I just hope my mother doesn’t testify against me… if she does, I am in deep trouble. I was gathering all the necessary items to bring into my son Joe’s preschool class for his “birthday week” extravaganza: “Manuelo the Playing Mantis” book to read aloud? Check. Praying mantis “hat” craft kits for all 25 students? …

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Once Upon A Tunnel

The calamity began at the stroke of midnight on May 10, 1924, when Pittsburgh Street Railway Company employees walked off the job. The streetcar strike threw commuters into a tizzy, and the following morning South Hills commuters jumped into their cars and headed for the recently opened Liberty Tunnels. Between 7:30 and 8 a.m., a …

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