Sunday, December 27, 2009

Interest in Shale Refuses to Pale

Had a Cool Yule? Have a Frantic First
and Marcellus Shale Revisited

Are we in recovery yet: Let’s see, Christmas day plus a couple. My best guess is that you had at least one of the following awkward moments grace your Christmas day festivities: Grandpa made the kids squeal when he took out his teeth, somebody burned the turkey and dinner plans had to be altered, family members who’d said they couldn’t make it showed up – at least one was crude, obnoxious, and drunk. Two brothers-in-law got into a fight. Grandma comments that your brother’s “trophy” wife dresses like a tramp. Somebody forgot to take the stuffing out of the turkey before baking and it caught fire. Halfway through dessert somebody realized the giblet gravy had not been put on the table. Somebody asked the newly married couple when they are going to start their family and got the finger in response, and finally, somebody said, “This is the last time we’re doing this. Next year we eat out.”

Hidden gold or fool’s gold: We would like to share a few more bits of information regarding Marcellus Shale and the impact it might have on Clairton and the entire Southwestern Pennsylvania region. Some see it as the savior of the region’s economy and others see it as one more snake oil pitch. But the facts are that things have happened quickly and there are some heavy hitters interested in the pursuit of a potential bonanza.

Discuss it and they will come: Several months ago event coordinators planned to host a Pittsburgh conference for natural gas producers. They expected somewhere between 200 and 300 attendees. Once registrations for the conference began to arrive it became clear that the numbers would exceed the projection – so much so that the conference venue was changed from a downtown hotel to the Convention Center in order to accommodate the nearly 1,500 attendees.

The giant sleeps tonight: The Marcellus Shale range, which extends from Tennessee to New York, is not a recently-discovered phenomenon. Neither is the technology required to extract natural gas from the shale a recently-discovered technique. What happened to spark interest in the gas was the publication of two reports; one by a Texas natural gas company, whose annual report documented production of the first natural gas wells, drilled in Washington County, PA. The following month a geology professor from Penn State co-authored a report with a colleague from a university in New York that further discussed the potential for the extraction of natural gas from the rock bed far underneath the rich Pennsylvania (and neighboring states) soil. In the report, the estimated amount of underground gas was increased from about 2 trillion (reported earlier by a U.S. Geological Survey) cubic feet to 516 trillion cubic feet of gas – up to 250 times the earlier estimate.

If gas production were to even closely approach its estimated potential, another Penn State study reports, the result could initially be the creation of some 30,000 new jobs in Pennsylvania. The following year that number could jump to 48,000 and the year after to 98,000 new jobs directly and indirectly related to Marcellus Shale development. By 2020 the development could add $13.5 billion to the state’s economy and create more than 176,000 new jobs. Collectively, these reports have begun a rush to be the first to exploit the new industry.

Where the wealth lies: In order to reach the Marcellus Shale layer of rock and extract the gas bonanza, it is first necessary to drill a well 6,000 to 8,000 feet straight down. Once Shale layer has been penetrated the drilling apparatus must turn 90 degrees and drill horizontally, as the caverns that contain the gas lie horizontally. A portion of the well is then sealed and water is pumped in. The pressure fractures the surrounding rock and allows for more gas recovery over a wider area. This process is called “hydrofracking.”

Timing is everything: The hydrofracking technique has been around for decades, as has the knowledge that rich gas deposits lie beneath the soil but it had not been economically practical to pursue the gas until a natural disaster hit. Beginning late August 2005 three storms; Katrina, Rita, and Wilma struck the Gulf of Mexico causing massive disruptions in the nation’s natural gas supply. As a result the price of natural gas doubled and doubled again, then skyrocketed from $2.00 per BTU to nearly $16.00 per BTU by the end of the year. Still, it was thought that Marcellus Shale gas deposits were buried too deep to be removed economically. However, after a few test drillings and importing the use of hydrofracking from West Texas (it had been used in other regions for nearly 30 years but not along the Marcellus range) made the gas more easily accessible. Once the horizontal-then-vertical drilling was coupled with hydrofracking, production increased dramatically. Hence, by 2007 the Marcellus Shale Range, more specifically, Southwestern Pennsylvania, became THE place to consider drilling for natural gas.

It’s never that easy: Although the natural gas producers are excited and the residents of Southwestern Pennsylvania are hopeful, environmentalists are worried and have erected a “Proceed with Caution” approach. Their biggest concern has to do with the wastewater produced with hydrofracking. One of the drilling companies has developed a system for recycling all its wastewater, another recycles part of its flowback and disposes the remainder through state or federal facilities. A third possibility for the recycling of the wastewater has been suggested – extracting the salt for use as snow removal deposits on roadways. Environmentalists, Industry representatives, and government agencies have formed the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a 62-member group that is examining possible risks and solutions.

In order for the Marcellus Shale natural gas exploration and mining to continue successfully, gas prices must stay above $ 3.50 per BTU. Recent prices have stabilized in the $5.00 per BTU range which bodes well for the industry and business in the region for years to come. Already several of our readers have written to report they’ve been approached by companies wishing to drill on or under their land in exchange for royalties.

Much of the information in this post was provided by former Clairtonian Thomas Nixon of Nixon and Associates, and an article by Elwin Green.

A little blogging music Maestro… “Classical Gas” by Chicago.

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What the Shale? Clairton wins!

Of Marcellus Shale and Football Champs

Date Opponent Time/Result
Fri., Sep 4 at Laurel L15 - 8
Fri., Sep 11 Monessen W46 - 0
Fri., Sep 18 Frazier W62 - 7
Fri., Sep 25 at Bentworth W53 - 0
Fri., Oct 2 at Fort Cherry W45 - 6
Fri., Oct 9 Chartiers-Houston W63 - 3
Fri., Oct 16 at Burgettstown W53 - 0
Fri., Oct 23 at Avella W59 - 0
Fri., Oct 30 Serra Catholic W39 - 7
Fri., Nov 6 South Side Beaver W61 - 0
Fri., Nov 13 at Avonworth W24 - 0
Fri., Nov 20 at Laurel W33 - 0
Fri., Nov 27 Rochester W14 - 13
Fri., Dec 4 Conemaugh Township W46 - 0
Fri., Dec 11 Farrell W13 - 7
Fri., Dec 18 Bishop McCort W15 - 3

More Marcellus Mania: Our previous post regarding the possibility of Marcellus Shale discoveries as a possible boon to the Clairton economy brought a host of responses – some positive, some negative, but many hopeful. Several readers reported that they or their neighbors or family have already signed leases and others have reported being contacted by companies seeking permission to drill on or under their land. Environmental organizations and local watershed groups have expressed concerns over the potential impact of Marcellus Shale natural gas development on public water supplies and water quality. As a pre-emptive strike one company has announced that it will donate $750,000 to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) to underwrite the deployment of a remote water quality monitoring network in the upper reaches of the Susquehanna River watershed.

It is obvious that economic benefits and job creation from Marcellus Shale development will be tempered by the environmental precautions and safety measures taken by the industry. On the other hand, if Marcellus Shale gas production is to proceed, perhaps the monitoring by environmental groups will create even more jobs. Town hall meetings are being held throughout the region to educate the locals regarding the potential and potential risk of mining natural gas from Marcellus Shale. We invite comments from readers who have attended those meetings and will share the comments and reactions of attendees. More to come.

Bears just do it: Clairton is the Rodney Dangerfield of communities and by extension so are its schools and athletic teams. And the worst offenders in the dissing of Clairton are its own citizens current and past. On a Clairton bulletin board the Bears football team was predicted to choke this season, especially after the first game that resulted in a loss. As the Bears rebounded from that non-conference loss, even after drubbing the same team that had beaten them earlier in the season, locals and former locals still insisted the team would choke. They are bums and thugs. They will play an uppity private school in the playoffs. Bishop McCort prepares their young men for Penn State; Clairton prepares its young men for the state pen. No way do the Bears have the self discipline to complete a season as state champs. Coach Nola doesn’t know how to coach and the players will eventually fold. So went the online bulletin board. However when the dust cleared, NOT!

No touchdown for Johnstown: Bishop McCort High School is a private Catholic school in the hard luck town of Johnstown, PA. Johnstown is most famous for the Great Flood that happened 120 years ago. Ok, the school also had a player in the 1960s by the name of Jack Ham who went on to Penn State then had a stellar career with the Steelers. The McCort Crimson Crushers football team has a proud tradition. The private parochial school opened in 1929 and it costs thousands of dollars in tuition to attend. Its football team was undefeated (14-0) going into the State playoffs. Clairton High School is a public high school, also rich in tradition with an excellent football team. Last year Clairton lost a heartbreaker in the State championship game and this year lost its season opener, which could have broken the Bear’s spirit. But it didn’t.

McCort came into the game as District 7 champs, Clairton as District 6 champs. McCort did not go into Hershey for the playoffs the night before as Clairton did. Instead they kept to their normal routine for an away game. But the Bears, whose season included 8 shutouts, who outscored their opponents by a total score of 619-58, or an average of about 41-4, and whose defense had not allowed a touchdown throughout the entire playoffs, were loaded for… well, Crushers.

Going into the fourth quarter Clairton’s vaunted defense was again too stingy to give up a touchdown but the offense had managed only a field goal – their first of the season - and the score was tied at 3. The Bears drove to the Crusher one yard line and Desimon Green forced his way into the end zone for a touchdown. Five minutes later running back Deonte Howard broke free for an 80 yard scamper to score the final touchdown in the game. Final score: Clairton Bears 15, previously unbeaten Bishop McCort Crimson Crusaders 3. Congratulations to the State Champion Clairton Bears.

Don’t let your heart be snowbound: The East Coast, including Clairton is blanketed with a snowstorm this weekend. The temperature in Las Vegas yesterday was nearly 70 degrees with plenty of sunshine. But that was not the case this time last year. From my blog one year ago today, “Yes, Las Vegas is in the Mohave Desert. Yes, the desert is hot and dry. Yes, the average precipitation in Las Vegas is about 2.75” annually, but when it rains, “gully washers” start high in the foothills on the west side of town and cascade down onto the Strip a little more than 300 feet below, then down to Henderson, another 300 feet or so, and finally into Lake Mead. The County has spent millions of dollars to tame the flooding with catch basins strategically placed throughout the Las Vegas Valley and for the most part it works pretty well. No longer do cars float in the Strip Hotel Casino parking lots, and those lucky enough to be visiting during a desert rainstorm are no longer treated to Mother Nature’s fury. But the snow… well, that’s another story.

Oh the weather outside was frightful: Earlier this week a storm blew down from Alaska and Canada and through the desert. This happens every 5-8 years or so and the Las Vegas valley sees a sprinkling of show but not very often and not for very long. But records are made to be broken, right? The 3.6 inches that fell on Vegas last Wednesday was the heaviest snowfall in recorded history. That is not a misprint 3.6 inches was a record. McCarran International airport was shut down tighter than the lid on a pickle jar, and I-15 northbound to Utah and southbound to California was shut down. U.S. 95 north toward Reno and south toward Boulder City and Arizona was shut down. The city came to a grinding halt. Thousands of airline passengers were stranded. Of course, there are worse places to be stranded than Las Vegas, unless of course, you gambled all your money and had your airline ticket pinned to the inside of your underwear. Nobody was Leaving Las Vegas.”

A little blogging music Maestro… The Clairton High School fight song played by the Clairton Band.

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rock Around the Clairton Clock

Marcellus Shale

Could Marcellus Shale be Clairton’s savior? Clairton, PA is located on the Monongahela River several miles south of Pittsburgh. The city was incorporated in 1903 and in the early 20th century boasted an amusement park, dance pavilion, and popular beach, all frequented by the upper crust of the Pittsburgh social scene. As the steel industry began to populate the area Clairton carved out its niche by housing the major coke producing plant in the world. Coke is the product that links coal to steel and thus is a crucial component in steel production. Clairton boomed. The local high school was one of the few in the area that sported a swimming pool. Residents’ taxes were low because the steel mill paid the bulk of the taxes. Services were first class – fire and police had state-of-the-art equipment and the city’s own street department kept the roads clear on snowy days and nghts so workers could get into and out of the steel mills. Times were good from the end of World War II into the late 1970s and early 80s.

A one-horse town: For all its good living – affordable housing, one of the most beautiful parks in the area, steady work; it was a one-industry town. The ancillary businesses were directly or indirectly supported by the steel industry, so when the steel industry began to rust, families moved away. The exodus was not like the influx. As entire families had moved into Clairton during boom years, families moved out in pieces. Many products of the highly rated Clairton high school went off to college or to the military service and found jobs elsewhere, leaving middle aged parents and elderly grandparents behind. Property values tumbled and people looking for work moved in but were too often unsuccessful in their quest. As time passed two main segments remained in the poverty-stricken town; the elderly who owned their homes, could not sell them, and lived on meager pensions and Social Security, and young people who moved into low rent housing but had little if any income. Like so many other one-industry towns, Clairton sank into the depression of poverty as evidenced by empty storefronts, limited public services, and a rising crime rate.

Enter Marcellus Shale: This writer knew little of Marcellus Shale prior to several informative correspondences form an ex-patriot Clairtonian who now resides in what used to be referred to as “dahntahn.” (That’s Pittsburgh for those of you uneducated in colloquial Clairton English). Devonian black shale is a rock called the Marcellus. It is black in color and easy for geologists to spot in the field and its slightly radioactive signature makes it easily recognizable. Marcellus Shale found beneath the earth’s surface, is organically rich and contains a large amount of natural gas, mostly propane and butane.

As recently as 2002 the United States Geological Survey in its Assessment of Undiscovered Oil and Gas Resources of the Appalachian Basin Province, calculated that the Marcellus Shale contained an estimated undiscovered resource of about 1.9 trillion cubic feet of gas. That's a lot of gas but it is spread over an enormous geographic area that extends from Tennessee to New York, with the majority of the range in Western PA, Eastern Ohio, Southwestern New York, and most of West Virginia.

How does the gas hide in that rock? Natural gas occurs within the Marcellus Shale in three ways: 1) within the pore spaces of the shale; 2) within vertical fractures (joints) that break through the shale; and, 3) adsorbed on mineral grains and organic material. Most of the recoverable gas is contained in the pore spaces. However, the gas has difficulty escaping through the pore spaces because they are very tiny and poorly connected.

Drilling began in Washington County, an hour south of Clairton in 2003 in an effort to determine the quality and quantity of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale Range. Until recently it was not considered cost effective to remove the gas from the rock. However new methods of drilling techniques have been developed that show much promise.

What does this mean for Clairton? A Fredonia State College professor calculated that there might be as much as 500 trillion cubic feet of gas within the Marcellus Shale Range. The huge amount of recoverable natural gas will likely start another boom. Just as the steel mills created cities in the Monongahela Valley, so might this new industry revive struggling municipalities. Lower transportation costs to heavily populated Eastern Seaboard states as well as to the Midwest will make the price even more attractive. It is also possible that land in Clairton as well as surrounding communities will be leased for drilling with long term royalties going to landowners. Since 2007 many local landowners have been approached by companies to lease their land for drilling.

What about the downside? As in any other venture that takes something from the earth there are environmental potential downsides. Marcellus Shale is, quite literally, a tough nut to crack. It has to be fractured successfully in order to get economic quantities of gas to flow. These "frac" techniques have advanced to the point at which many fractures can be made along the length of the well in a single pass. Marcellus Shale also tends to extend laterally, so that's the shape a wellbore needs to take in order to hit the most pay. High pressure water is used in the horizontal drilling required to tap the resource. There are some concerns that the residue could get into the water table and cause an environmental hazard. This is still speculation, but it is one issue that needs to be addressed. With the air over Clairton and Glassport already ranking as in the top four of most polluted cities in America, there might be some reluctance to move forward with another procedure that could potentially cause harm.

Thanks to Tom and others who have forwarded information for this blog.

A little blogging music Maestro… Any good Rock nad Roll song. How about “19th Nervous Breakdown,” by the Rolling Stones..

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Karen Dynan's Shopping Myths

Media Myths - Ho, Ho, Ho

Tis the season for the obligatory newspaper columns that total up the price of items found in the song "Twelve Days of Christmas." Instead of researching the price of French hens and calling birds - not to mention the fluctuating price of gold, we decided to share a column by Karen Dynan. She is vice president and co-director for economic studies at the Brookings Institute. This year Ms. Dynan discusses media myths and partial truths about Christmas shopping. She can be reached at Read and enjoy...

By Karen Dynan

Every year, TV coverage of the holiday shopping kickoff takes on the sort of breathless urgency typically reserved for hurricanes or car chases. We’re told that fate of the nation hinges on the contents of our shopping bags. Historically, we’ve obliged by overstuffing them: Bankruptcy filings tend to surge early each year as consumers struggle to pay their post-Christmas credit card bills.

But if one of this season’s hottest gifts — an $8, battery-operated toy hamster — is any indication, we seem to be scaling back a bit this year. And that might be all right, since much of the conventional wisdom linking holiday spending and the health of our economy turns out to have been, in many cases, myth.

Myth one — Most retail spending occurs around the holidays. With so much attention focused on shopping and sales during the holidays, people often assume that the vast majority of our spending takes place around this time of year. But over the past decade, only about 19 per cent of each year’s retail sales were in November and December — just a bit higher than the 17 per cent of total days in a year that fall in those two months. Of course, the holiday season’s importance varies by type of store, with those that sell nonessential goods more dependent on holiday cheer (and the spending it inspires). Toy stores and jewelry shops rack up about a third of their sales in November and December, whereas supermarkets and hardware stores see a much smaller blip in demand.

The winter holidays do beat out other much-hyped shopping seasons. For example, while sales at apparel and department stores tend to be stronger during the back-to-school season than they are early in the year, they’re a good deal more substantial in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Myth two — This year’s holiday sales will tell us whether the economic recovery is real. Retail sales during last year’s holiday season were pretty much abysmal, with what economists call the “core’’ category (which excludes spending on cars) falling eight per cent compared with the 2007 holidays. While most analysts don’t think we will see that kind of decline this year, they aren’t expecting a blockbuster season. The consensus view is that consumer spending will rise only slowly in coming quarters, held back by weak labour markets, high consumer uncertainty and the big hit that households have taken to the value of their stocks and mutual funds, including those in their retirement portfolios.

Although consumer spending accounts for about 70 per cent of U.S. economic output, it has rarely led the way out of past economic downturns. Such spending doesn’t usually increase until income and overall economic activity do.

Myth three —The hoopla over electronic shopping notwithstanding, online sales made up less than four per cent of fourth-quarter U.S. retail sales last year. Although this represents a big increase since earlier this decade, online shopping remains a modest part of overall spending.

5. From an economist’s perspective, cash is the best gift.

Economists are known for arguing that giving your loved ones cold cash is better than giving them presents because people can spend the money on items of their own choosing. In “The Deadweight Loss of Christmas’’ — a famous article published in the American Economic Review in 1993 — Joel Waldfogel, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, presented evidence supporting this point. He’s now updated and expanded the argument in a book called “Scroogenomics: Why You Shouldn’t Buy Presents for the Holidays.’’ (Waldfogel may be arguing against gifts, but with this book, he’s also ready to profit from them: “Scroogenomics’’ is packaged as the sort of small, stocking-stuffer-ready book sold next to bookstore cash registers.)

Waldfogel surveyed college students and found that they valued the Christmas gifts they received at between 75 and 90 percent of their original price. Consider fruitcake: Is it worth as much to you when you receive it as it cost the giver to make or buy it? A strict interpretation of Waldfogel’s results implies that the difference between the price of a gift and the value its recipient attaches to it — which can add up to tens of billions of dollars a year nationally — is essentially wasted money.

But this logic misses the point of exchanging presents. Gifts have more than monetary worth; the effort and care involved in their selection gives them sentimental meaning. If what mattered most were their cash value, we wouldn’t exchange presents at all — we’d simply let whoever was going to give the more expensive gift pay the net difference to the other person. But even most economists will be found at the mall sometime in the coming weeks.

A little blogging music Maestro: "Its Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," by Perry Como.

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Annabelle Bucar, Part II

More on Annabelle Bucar
From Clairton Bear to Russian Bear

Annabelle stays in the spotlight: In the early '60s a radio program called "Moscow Mailbag" was broadcast throughout the United States on the “Voice of Russia,” the Soviet answer to Voice of America. The show was hosted by Joe Adamov (In Russian that was Иосиф Адамов) and featured a female newsreader spoke with a Western Pennsylvania accent. Adamov interviewed many Americans on his program including President Eisenhower, Eleanor Roosevelt, Walter Cronkite, and Larry King. The woman who read the news and sometimes the questions to this program was Annabelle Bucar, who came from Clairton, Pennsylvania. In 2000 Adamov described her as, “A fine woman if ever there was one. She was a person everyone loved. And I'm not saying this just because she passed away over a year ago. After the war, she worked at the U.S. Embassy, married a singer from the operetta theater and soon joined our staff. (Her family) in the States are pretty well off. She visited her home only a few years before she died. When she first came to us, she was always accompanied by a bodyguard. Many years later, she told me, ‘I don't know whether they were guarding me, or seeing to it that I did nothing wrong; in other words, keeping a 24-hour eye on me.’” That description was a glimpse into the adult life of Clairton-born Annabelle Bucar.

Her family in the Clairton had been a large one. One sister, Emily, moved to California. Another, Barbara, had moved to Florida. A third sister, Eleanor, stayed in the area, in Baldwin. Each of those sisters, like Annabelle, lived into their eighties. Other siblings are still alive, but I purposely have not named them.

Prior to her marriage Annabelle was an Assistant Information Officer of the magazine America while serving in the American Embassy in Moscow. During her stint in the Embassy she saw what she believed to be a culture of anti-Soviet paranoia among members of the Diplomatic corps, who by definition were supposed to have been unbiased. Her disdain for fellow Embassy employees who, in her eyes were at least “Ugly Americans” for not bothering to master the language of the people in whose country they served, or appreciate the culture. At worst, she alleges that many were spies instead of diplomats, and worse yet, that many enriched themselves illegally by purchasing items on the black market, shipping them back under diplomatic cover, then converting the items for many times their value. Several excerpts from her book follow:

Charles Bohlen, Embassy chief, “Did everything he could to undermine President Roosevelt’s policies toward the Soviet Union.”

Frederick Reinhardt: “He is one of the most obnoxious of this group of obnoxious people.”

John Davies: “He will do anything to further his career no matter how low he has to stoop… Davies, furthermore is greatly influenced by his wife who is no less clever than he and just as interested in his career… Davies has the mentality of a stooge.”

“Another officer, Wallace by name, was expelled from Moscow by Embassy Staff after getting into a drunken brawl and nearly fracturing his skull.”

“All the strategic positions in the Embassy… have been for many years in the hands of the State Department anti-Soviet clique, namely Kennan, Durbrow, Bohlen, Reinhardt,”

“(Durbrow) is an exhibitionist among his other talents. He once showed up at a cocktail party dressed as a circus strongman with close-fitting tights inscribed with lipstick… This “expert” in Russian Affairs who does not know enough Russian language to sufficiently explain to his cook what he wants for dinner, and knows almost nothing about the Soviet Union, finds a willing audience in Washington for “reporting.”

“A security guard at the Embassy regularly made rounds of the offices after hours. Twice he found Durbrow’s safe open and unguarded and reported it to the State Department. Shortly thereafter the guard went on vacation and was quickly and unexpectedly transferred to another post.”

“Freddy” Reinhardt is most at home at diplomatic receptions and cocktail parties which somebody else pays for. Reinhardt is a ladies’ man who works the art of charming the wives of men helpful to his diplomatic career. He received much of his schooling, even elementary, in Western Europe. He speaks French, German, Italian, and Russian fluently. He knows practically nothing about America and probably cares less. He is pro Hitler, pro-Germany, and anti Russian.”

Regarding former Major in the U.S. Intelligence Service, Louise Luke, Bucar tells of a supposedly pleasure trip Luke took on the Trans-Siberian Railway. “When she returned to Moscow Louise Luke wrote a detailed report of what she had seen and heard during her trip...Luke herself admitted to me that she had invented many of the facts because en route she had met a pleasant couple with whom she spent most of the time drinking and playing cards.”

Bucar also accuses former chief of the information bureau, Elizabeth Egan, of returning to the U.S. and writing a long story in Coronet magazine which highlighted her many love affairs with Russian men and the facts she was able to glean. All such facts, says Bucar, were sheer imagination.

Government waste: Annabelle might have been considered one of the first whistleblowers. Her assignment in the Embassy included the Russian language magazine Amerika. The purpose was to provide a glimpse of America to the Soviet people. The magazine was reported to be self sustaining in the Embassy budget. This was done, according to Bucar, by not including the cost of editors, writers, and other personnel whjo worked on the magazine. Further, she alleges, the 50,000 copies per printing rarely found their way into the hands of Russians, leaving the U.S. taxpayer to foot the bill.

Other allegations of corruption: In chapter 6 of her book Bucar takes to task those employees of the Embassy who are speculators and war profiteers. This is done by trading cigarettes and even American cash for valuable heirlooms that can be resold in America for huge profits. An investigation into speculation was done at the Embassy and headed by previously mentioned Counselor Durbrow. She alleges that he himself had traveled to Moscow through Warsaw where he bought Russian rubles at one-tenth their value, then brought them to Moscow under the protection of diplomatic immunity, and resold the rubels at obscene profits. The investigation named one dentist’s assistant and a couple of low level workers and sent them home. Every person of diplomatic rank was exonerated.

Summary: Annabelle Bucar, it appears, was a bright, principled person who saw first hand the seamy underbelly of politics by virtue of working at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow during an historic time. Her allegations of bumbling incompetency within the federal government would hardly bring a yawn today as such incompetence is offered daily by cable TV. Her allegations of corruption within the ranks and a few lower level employees taking the fall have been repeated in instances such as the Abu Ghraib prison torture allegations. That her book created such a stir in the late 1940s and early 1950s probably had more to do with three factors: first, she happened to make those allegations in the height of the Cold War and McCarthy communism hysteria, second she chose to forsake her country of birth and live in Russia, America’s antithesis at the time – an unforgivable sin in the eyes of many patriotic Americans, and third her book attacked only American foibles and corruption without comparing them to those within the Russian government. The fact remains, however, that she was one of Clairton’s most famous, if not infamous, citizens.

A little blogging music, Maestro: America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee) played by John Phillip Souza.

Dr. Forgot,

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Let Us Give Thanks

Gobble, Gobble, Gobble

Happy Thanksgiving Day: Today we celebrate with turkey, pumpkin pie, cranberries, and football games. Tomorrow we brave the cold winter weather and hit the malls for Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. Tradition! Of course it is called Black Friday because that is the day merchants hope to go from red ink to black. I think it should be called Green Friday in honor of losing those greenbacks in your wallet but I guess St. Patrick already spoke for that color.

Where do we begin: The first Thanksgiving Day celebration occurred somewhere around the year 1620. According to historical records, participants at the first Thanksgiving Day dinner included 53 Pilgrims and 90 Indians. The main course was probably some sort of fowl, but likely not turkey, there were no pumpkin pies, as there were no baking ovens, although there could have been some boiled pumpkin. Cranberries had not yet been introduced in the colonies and since flour was scarce, there was no bread at the table. More likely the feast included duck, geese, venison, fish, lobster, clams, swan, berries, dried fruit, pumpkin, squash, and other vegetables. There were no Lions in Detroit or anywhere else in the New World so the TV stayed in the off position during that first Thanksgiving dinner.

Thanksgiving Day had been celebrated primarily as a religious observation to give thanks to God for the farmers’ bounty but now is considered a secular holiday to give thanks for all blessings including food, fun, and family. It has been regularly celebrated on the fourth Thursday in November since 1863 but did not become a federal holiday until 1941, ironically just eleven days before the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Guess they were ticked at not being invited to dinner.

Days of fife and drum: During the Revolutionary War the Continental Congress assigned one or more Thanksgivings each year until the First National Proclamation of Thanksgiving was issued by the Continental Congress in 1777. That one was inspired by George Washington to give thanks for defeating the British at Fort Saratoga. In the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be celebrated on the final Thursday of November, 1863. Every president who followed Lincoln continued the tradition of proclaiming the last Thursday in November as Thanksgiving Day, until 1939. That year President Theodore Roosevelt broke with tradition. Since November had five Thursdays in 1939 Roosevelt declared the fourth one to be Thanksgiving, and in 1940 and 1941, since November had four Thursdays, he proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the third November Thursday in each of those years. Roosevelt’s thinking was that since the country was in the midst of the Great Depression, having Thanksgiving one week earlier would give merchants a longer period to sell their Christmas wares, as selling Christmas products before Thanksgiving was deemed inappropriate. Many states followed Roosevelt’s proclamation but 22 did not and celebrated the last Thursday in November and referred to the earlier date as “Franksgiving.” Texas declared both weekends as government holidays. I suspect they were still confused about the Alamo. On October 26, 1941 both houses of Congress passed a bill making Thanksgiving Day the last Thursday in November. The Senate later amended the bill to make it the fourth Thursday. (And you wonder why they can’t agree on the Health Care Bill?)

Thanksgiving Traditions: From football to turkey, Thanksgiving traditions are weaved into the fabric of our society. It is considered to be the family holiday and children gather in the homes of their parents, not helping with the dishes and reminding their parents that spring tuition will soon be due. As far as the parents... well, I came across a job description for parents that I’d like to share:

Mom, Mommy, Mama, Ma
Dad, Daddy, Dada, Pa, Pop

Long term, team players needed, for challenging permanent work in an, often chaotic environment.

Candidates must possess excellent communication and organizational skills and be willing to work variable hours, which will include evenings and weekends and frequent 24 hour shifts on call.

Some overnight travel required, including trips to primitive camping sites on rainy weekends and endless sports tournaments in far away cities!

Travel expenses not reimbursed.

Extensive courier duties also required.

The rest of your life.

Must be willing to be hated, at least temporarily, until someone needs $5.

Must be willing to bite tongue repeatedly.

Also, must possess the physical stamina of a pack mule and be able to go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds flat in case, this time, the screams from the backyard are not someone just crying wolf.

Must be willing to face stimulating technical challenges, such as small gadget repair, mysteriously sluggish toilets and stuck zippers.

Must screen phone calls, maintain calendars and coordinate production of multiple homework projects.

Must have ability to plan and organize social gatherings for clients of all ages and mental outlooks.

Must be willing to be indispensable one minute, an embarrassment the next.

Must handle assembly and product safety testing of a half million cheap, plastic toys, and battery operated devices.

Must always hope for the best but be prepared for the worst.

Must assume final, complete accountability for the quality of the end product.

Responsibilities also include floor maintenance and janitorial work throughout the facility.


Your job is to remain in the same position for years, without complaining, constantly retraining and updating your skills, so that those in your charge can ultimately surpass you

None required unfortunately.

On-the-job training offered on a continually exhausting basis.

Get this! You pay them!

Offering frequent raises and bonuses

A balloon payment is due when they turn 18 because of the assumption that college will help them become financially independent.

When you die, you give them whatever is left.

The oddest thing about this reverse-salary scheme is that you actually enjoy it and wish you could only do more.

While no health or dental insurance, no pension, no tuition reimbursement, no paid holidays and no stock options are offered; this job supplies limitless opportunities for personal growth, unconditional love, and free hugs and kisses for life if you play your cards right.


The above job description was written by Annette Clifford a contributor to Florida Today. Her web site is

A little blogging music Maestro: From every ice cream wagon in America, “Turkey in the Straw.”

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, November 22, 2009

More than one Bear

Annabelle Bucar – Clairton’s Mata Hari?
Or “Just another Woman in Love?”
Clairton Bear to Russian Bear

From a CIA memo: A memorandum in the files of the Central Intelligence Agency written by Leslie D. Weir and approved for release September 22, 1993, speaks to the book written by Clairton native Annabelle Bucar. It states in part, “The Soviets see verification of the relationship between diplomacy and espionage in such facts as General Smith's having been posted, after his tenure as Ambassador to the USSR, first to CIA and then to State, in Admiral Kirk's position in Naval Intelligence prior to his assignment as Ambassador to Moscow and his subsequent chairmanship of the American Committee for Liberation, and of course in the teaming of the Dulles brothers at the head of the twin foreign affairs agencies. Over the past eight years Soviet spokesmen have frequently quoted Annabelle Bucar's The Truth about American Diplomats, particularly the examples she gives to show that "intelligence agents are sent to the USSR under various guises: as counselors, second and third secretaries, attachés, and even ordinary clerks." Khrushchev's 9 May 1960 remark at the Czechoslovak Embassy exculpating Ambassador Thompson of complicity in the U-2 incident was a benign exception to the general view that there is no cleavage between U.S. diplomats and U.S. espionage.”

Story of a Clairton girl: Annabelle Bucar was born to Clairton resident Ivan Bucar in 1915. He had more than a dozen children most of whom became educated including Annabelle who graduated from Pitt and went into government service. She was sent to the American Embassy in Moscow in 1947 where she worked as a clerk. During her stint in Moscow she met and fell in love with Konstantin Lapshin, a singer in the Opera. They married and had one son. The son tragically was killed in an auto accident. Annabelle and Konstantin lived in Russia together for more than a half century. According to a Clairton resident who spoke to her by phone a decade ago – shortly before her death, she lived in a nice apartment overlooking Red Square. Annabelle lived to age 83. She lost her son to an auto accident long before her death and her husband predeceased her. According to another Clairton resident who lived near the Bucars, Ivan, the father who had immigrated from Croatia, near the Slovene border, had about 8 children when his wife became ill. He brought a girl to the U.S. from Croatia to nurse Mrs. Bucar, but she did not recover and passed away. Ivan married the nurse who had cared for his wife and had more children before his own death. The second wife still lives on and operates the Bucar farm.

Love is a many splendored thing: Although several Clairton residents remember the Bucar family – some remember Annabelle as well, the common reaction I received was, “What a shame she turned against her country.” Others spoke to Annabelle on her few trips back to the States and Clairton. They paint a picture of a girl who fell in love and perhaps followed her heart instead of her head. The policy in Russia at the time was to grant travel visas to only one family member at a time to insure that one would return, knowing that their family might face harm if they did not. Annabelle reportedly purchased items not available in the Soviet Union when she visited her hometown, particularly blue jeans for her son.

The not-so-liberal media: The press of the day excoriated Annabelle. She was accused of being a communist sympathizer if not a communist herself. Keep in mind that those were the days (late 1940s and early 1950s) of the beginning of the Cold War. McCarthyism ran rampant and anybody with a Slavic sounding name was suspect. To have chosen to live in the USSR was a sin the media and many Clairtonians were unable to forgive. If she had found sympathy among a few for being a foolish girl in love, that sympathy was dashed when her book was released. Although nobody to whom I spoke had actually read the book, all seemed to agree that it was nothing but communist propaganda probably written by the KGB. I was most curious about the book so I located a copy in England. It was a most interesting read.

“The Truth about American Diplomats” by Annabelle Bucar. The book is an easy read, only 174 pages in eight chapters. The last two chapters do read as though they might have been written by somebody on the staff of the Ministry of Propaganda within the USSR, but the rest of the book reads like that of an idealistic but disillusioned American State Department worker who was embarrassed and ashamed of the chicanery she witnessed within the American embassy at Moscow. She names names. Boy, does she name names. Loy Henderson, whom she describes as a WW-I draft dodger, was appointed as head of the Embassy. He was given three trainees, George Kennan, Charles Bohlen, and Edward Page as his anti-Soviet lackeys and underlings. After betting (wrongly) that Germany would overrun the Russian troops, Henderson was banished to Iraq, according to Bucar. She also names the following agents as either anti-Soviet or corrupt: Eldbridge Dubrow, Charles Thayer, Frederick Reinhardt, Francis Stevens, Richard Davis, Llewellyn Thompson and John Davies. They are described as bunglers who knew little and spoke poor Russian, rarely left the Embassy, and enriched themselves by buying rubles, gold, and Russian artifacts on the black market then reselling them at obscene profits.

Annabelle is not so naïve to think the OSS (forerunner to the CIA) did not serve a legitimate purpose. She recognizes the value of intelligence work. Her issue was with the State Department and diplomatic agencies that were supposed to have served as diplomats but who were so top heavy with spies and other intelligence workers that diplomacy became a joke. She claims that a core of anti-Soviet holdovers from WW-II formed a clique that ran the American Embassy in Moscow.

Anabelle also praised the free education system of the Soviet Union that rewarded academically inclined students with free education. She reflects on her struggles working and paying her own way through the University of Pittsburgh. She also lauds the medical care she received before, during and after the birth of her son.

Ms. Bucar is now gone, as is her son and her husband and most of those named in her book as corrupt. We will never know if her assessment was accurate or skewed by her love of her adopted country. One thing is sure, however, Annabelle Bucar is one Clairtonian who left her indelible mark on the world.

Thank you and hvala: Some of the Clairtonians who provided insights for this post include Jennie Peterson, Effie Batenich Liptak, Tom Nixon, and Kathy George. Thank you for your efforts in helping to piece together the story of this fascinating woman.

A little blogging music Maestro… “Back in the U.S.S.R.” by The Beatles.

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Oh, Oh, Olio

Cliché Today

Oleo vs. Olio: Writing is about having fun. This blog is officially entitled Olio, which comes from the Spanish word olla, meaning pot – the kind you cook in, not the kind you light up. The mixture of ingredients in that pot is called olio. But the word also means A collection of various artistic or literary works or musical pieces; a miscellany. Oleo, on the other hand, is a spread made chiefly from vegetable oils and used as a substitute for butter. Writers sometimes resort to (not so) clever terms as well as clichés to describe things. Today’s blog post, taken from an earlier one, will walk you through an olio of clichés. Enjoy.

As American as apple pie: Although cliché is a French word Americans prefer a cliché to a soufflé. Today I’ll go against the grain and although I have no axe to grind, will give you the bottom line while we drill down to get the information that is on the money. Some clichés are as clear as mud and their meanings are rarely as pure as the driven snow. But today I will start at the crack of dawn and write, and though my thoughts may come as slow as molasses in January, I won’t beat around the bush, even if this column leaves me between a rock and a hard place.

Blood is thicker than water: The idea for today’s topic came from a relative whose emails could fill a bottomless pit. Though she sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees, at other times she can be the cat’s meow. Thus I will forget Clairton for today, which is for the birds, and sit back as cool as a cucumber to write today’s column come Hell or high water. Hopefully you’ll find this one funnier than a barrel of monkeys but I won’t count my chickens before they hatch. Compared to my other 400 posts this one is just a drop in the bucket. Oh, you might think that composing this is as easy as falling off a log but it is as hard as a rock to do this. Even a blind squirrel can find an acorn beneath an oak tree, so I’ll just get my feet wet and go with the flow.

A good rule of thumb: Before you leave this site remember the grass is always greener on the other side, so don’t be a stick-in-the-mud. Laugh and the world laughs with you. It can cause a ripple effect. Send this to your friends and give them something to crow about. Soon enough we’ll all be pushing up daisies. If it’s not one thing it’s another. Your sorrows will be just a drop in the bucket, knock on wood. Life is a bowl of cherries. Laugh and the world laughs with you and soon your troubles will be as hard to find as a needle in a haystack. Sorrow is not my cup of tea. There’s no use crying over spilt milk, let yourself go. Be as nutty as a fruitcake. Avoid bummers like the plague.

Wake up and smell the coffee: With the economy in disarray it is well to remember that a penny saved is a penny earned. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Don’t tempt fate, look out for number one. Times might be rough as a corn cob but it ain’t over till the fat lady sings. If you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen. Politicians make me as nervous as a cat on a hot tin roof and the political parties that caused this mess are like two peas in a pod. Birds of a feather flock together. They pulled the wool over our eyes then told us to put that in our pipe and smoke it. The bank CEOs who caused this mess by trying to pull a fast one need to take their attitude and stick it where the sun don’t shine. As voters we need to tell those asking for a handout, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.” As we watched our 401K bite the dust until it bought the farm we needed to bite the bullet. Although there are dark clouds ahead every cloud has a silver lining. Do something to take your mind off your 401K. A watched pot never boils.

Take me out to the ball game: To take your mind off the economy, perhaps an athletic event is in order. Sit back, relax, and see who draws first blood. The game might be nip and tuck or a real barn burner. The teams might go at it like two heavyweights, fighting tooth and nail while the crowd goes wild as players give 110%. They certainly came to play. Yours is a blue collar team that shows flashes of brilliance but they are taking it one game at a time. Pretty soon your team will begin to take it to the next level. They thrive under pressure, rising to the occasion, and perhaps even breaking a record, as records are made to be broken. They control their own destiny. This is a must win situation. Your team was really dialed in. They left it all on the field.

Nothing ventured nothing gained: Now comes the time to wrap it up and put the pedal to the metal. We hope you enjoyed today’s column. Maybe we were pulling your leg a little. Maybe we were jerking your chain but don’t jump to conclusions. Was this satire or philosophy? You can’t judge a book by its cover. It is what it is. As for us, we’ll continue writing this tripe come Hell or high water. Most of what I write is on the tip of my tongue, and you can take that to the bank.

Next week we will get back to Clairton matters. Have a nice day.

A little blogging music Maestro... feel the pain--by my side--set me free--lost without you --broken heart--all we've been through--hold me close--my foolish pride--all night long--give you my heart--want you, need you, love you--all my love--more than friends--never let you go--more than words can say--when you walked into the room--when you came into my life--when I first saw you--dream come true--call on me--our love is forever, and the ever popular--oh baby....

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Four Decades of History

More Snippets of Clairton History

Reflections of the past: Several posts ago we did a segment of snippets of happenings in Clairton’s history. It was not intended to be a complete history by any means but perhaps readers could pick out a memory or two from their youth or see what was happening in Clairton around their birth. We took you up to the 1960s and received several messages asking more. Beyond the 1960s things began to change dramatically, not only in Clairton but in the rest of the world. The 60s closed by putting a man on the moon but the 70s and onward had Viet Nam, hippies, Woodstock, the rise of foreign autos and the fall of the steel industry. Below are a few highlights:

September 1972: A Post Gazette article congratulated the Clairton Works on hammering out a consent decree on “charging” and “Pushing” operations at the coke works. “Charging” refers to loading materials into the coke ovens and “pushing” describes shoving out the finished product. Both phases are done with the doors open and noxious fumes escape. The Decree required an environmental plan to be in place within one year and the plan would clean up the air by 1977. Thirty-two years later they are still waiting.

April 8, 1973: Racial tensions at Clairton High School threaten to close the school down as white parents push for a boycott of the school. Several white and black students identified as “troublemakers” met and together appeared to work things out as the parents insisted on closing down the school. Hundreds of police planned to patrol the school when it opened the following day. By Wednesday the boycott appeared to be waning as 70% of students attended classes.

January 6, 1975: Pennsylvania Industrial Chemical Co. (PICCO) was fined $ 3,000 for violating federal water pollution standards. The plant was cited for failure to report to the U.S. Coast Guard two oil spills that occurred last February. PICCO had also been prosecuted for water standards violations in 1971.

September 9, 1975: Daniel Maurer, 20, of Clairton was charged in the severe beating of 17-year old Richard Heeter. The two carnival workers apparently had a dispute during an evening of drinking. Heeter had returned and was sleeping in his sleeping bag when Maurer apparently accosted him. The victim was hospitalized in critical condition.

April 2, 1979: The Deer Hunter movie put Clairton on the map. In anticipation of being deluged with visitors the downtown area was spruced up with a $500,000 commercial revitalization program initiated by the Allegheny County Planning Department. More than two dozen trees were planted on St. Clair Avenue and a like number on Miller Avenue. Since Clairton did not look decrepit enough for the image the movie makers wanted to portray, many scenes were shot in the Steubenville and Youngstown, Ohio areas.

November 3, 1982: Clairton is broke. Mayor Rose Bush and Councilman Daniel Pastore voted to lay off one Clairton policeman. The action was approved by solicitor Robert Baird. The City will be able to meet Friday’s $60,000 payroll but without a loan of $628,000, Clairton’s 83 employees will not be paid for the rest of the year. Last March the City furloughed 19 employees including 10 police and 4 firefighters.

November 20, 1984: A Lutheran Synod stepped in to take control of the strife-ridden Trinity Lutheran Church in Clairton. Rev. Douglas Roth, a pastor who encourages activism and confrontational tactics against corporate leaders to dramatize the plight of the unemployed, was given a 90-day jail sentence for defying an order to leave the church. The congregation of mostly retirees was sharply divided between support of Roth and opposing him.

September 10, 1985: Clairton laid off all police, firefighters and clerical workers because the City is broke. Mayor Daniel Pastore said the City is $750,000 in debt and bankrupt after teetering on the edge of bankruptcy for 3 years. Police Chief Ken Ujevich and police officer Armand Martin said they would voluntarily stay on if they could be paid retroactively out of next years budget but the offer was rejected. Instead State Police will patrol the community.

May 18, 1994: Clairton School District which is officially depressed, with a deficit of $2.3 million, has been recognized for their special education inclusion program. The state administrator who oversaw the inclusion program implementation remarked that “Clairton School District is rich in human resources.“ Administrator John Ogurchak, a Clairton High School product and former principal was particularly cited as having done an outstanding job.

November 18, 1999: More than half the students in the Clairton Education Center did not report to school after it was learned that school secretary Betty King had been hospitalized with bacterial meningitis. School Board member Andrew Ferraro urged parents to send their children to school, ant that according to County health officials there is no imminent danger to them. An official at the Health Department’s infectious disease unit said the disease is rarely communicable and no other cases have been reported.

January 16, 2002: City Manager Ralph Imbrogno noted that McDonald’s Corporation has announced plans for a McDonald’s restaurant to open in Clairton along Route 837. The proposed restaurant should include a convenience store and gas pumps.

March 6, 2002: Contrary to the declining numbers of ethnic clubs, St. George Lodge 248 of The Croatian Fraternal Union of America in Clairton has doubled its membership in the past 20 years. Part of the attraction are the many youth programs sponsored by the club.

March 27, 2009: Former football star player and favorite coach, the beloved DeMonje Rosser was fatally shot outside his home. No motive was cited and no suspects were identified.

August 6, 2009: Kevin Weatherspoon, Clairton’s outstanding wide receiver who helped the Bears to the WPIAL championship last year, made a verbal commitment to play football at the University of Pittsburgh after high school. The prize recruit was pursued by dozens of other schools but chose to stay near home.

There you have a few more snippets of Clairton happenings, activities, and people from the 1970s through 2009. Not all are pretty, but it gives one a sense of where Clairton has been and the hopes of its return to better days. Our hopes are with the residents of Clairton,

A little blogging music Maestro… “My Hometown” by the Boss, Bruce Springsteen.

Dr. Forgot

Thursday, November 5, 2009

First Presbyterian Centennial Sermon

Centennial Sermon, III

First Presbyterian, Clairton: On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Clairton First Presbyterian Church, Rev. Robert Crilley delivered the sermon. Rev. Crilley was not the pastor of the church but one of Clairton’s sons who had heard the calling of the ministry. His sermon that June 8, 2003 morning was moving, homey, and reflective. We have published it in segments and today we post the third and final segment. Judging from the feedback we’ve received, many Clairtonians of all faiths are able to relate to his words. Read and enjoy:
Centennial Sermon conclusion:

“I’ve talked about a few Pastors who were influential in our lives. All of us, of course, could compile our own list. But how about the people?

We live in a vastly different time than when this church was founded. Back then the titans of American industry were household names----the Mellons, the Carnegies, Kaufmans.

Today we live in a time of no names--certainly not names that stick in our memories.

Who’s the current CEO of U. S. Steel? A fellow by the name of Roy G. Dorrance. Most of us have never heard of him.

But this ignorance of names extends to every area of interest.

For all you jock types, who was last season’s most valuable player in the NFL? Can you name him? Rich Gannon--QB for the Oakland Raiders. I didn’t know that. The Google search instrument told me who it was.

Who was crowned Miss America last year? Katie Harman of Oregon.

But, the point is, I just know if I asked you to name three individuals in the life of this church, who made a mark on your life, who made a difference in who you are today you could do it in a wink.
For me that would mean Mrs. Morgan and Mrs. Licht and Mrs. Wagner---all teachers of the youngest ages.

Captain & Mrs. James Hynde, would be on my list, as would be W.B. Williams, Custodian, Miss Mary Jo Hennig, Secretary, Mary Catherine Smoyer, Organist, Herbert A Wilson, Director of Music---can‘t forget them.

One of the most influential people in my life was Mr. Richard Alcorn. He taught a Sunday School Class for Junior High boys here in the forties. I was a part of his class. He taught us to love the Bible and to think of Jesus as our friend---one who walks with us and talks with us and tells us that we are His own. Mr. Alcorn made for us little leather wallets that contained Scripture passages he had us memorize---”A thousand shall fall at thy side, 10,000 at thy right hand, but it will not come near you“ Psalm 91;

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.” Psalm 103.

In Senior High school, Mr. Robert Baird, an attorney, taught me not be afraid to use my mind. And Mr. Robert Ostermeyer taught me Christian generosity, courage and a quiet humility.

And how could anybody forget Mr. Stokes leading the Sunday School in what we called back then “Opening Exercises?”

My sister Betty wrote me an e-mail about Mr. Stokes. She said, “I remember, coming home from the hospital when Don was dying of cancer. I comforted myself by singing all the songs that Mr. Stokes taught us.

In this long list of treasured people, I’d have to number my own father among the great Christian influences in my life. He was the Secretary of the Sunday School for years and years, and served as Elder for several terms as well. My sisters remember him every Sunday afternoon, sitting at the dining room table, going through the Sunday School attendance records, carefully compiling the statistics.

But can’t you feel the presence of all these saints who from their labors rest, men and women? They’re all here with us now in Jesus Christ. In our remembering, they’re here.

So, as I come to the close, let me offer my services to you. If the committee for the 125th celebration would like me to be the speaker, I volunteer to do it. I’ll do the math for you. I’ll be 93.

But, be assured, one way or another, we’ll be here!
God bless us everyone!”

A little blogging music Maestro… The hymn, “Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott” written by Martin Luther in the year 1528 and translated into English to become, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Hundred Year Sermon - II

100- Year Celebration Sermon, continued

City of Prayer: Clairton calls itself the City of Prayer. There certainly seemed to be more churches per capita in our town than in others. We have spoken in previous blogs about some of the others but today we will continue our comments regarding one in particular. In our previous post we shared part of the sermon that was given by Rev. Robert Crilley, a Clairton lad who had gone into the ministry and was invited to give the sermon on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Clairton’s First Presbyterian church. The sermon continues:

Throughout the Christian world today, the opening verse of Acts 2 will be read. “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all gathered together in one place.”

Now, for me that verse can be taken in two ways; the first way is the obvious one---the early church was gathered together for worship when the power of the Holy Spirit descended with might upon them.

But there’s another sense to these words---“they were all gathered together in one place“---a sense more along the lines of the ending of the movie Places in the Heart. Some of you may have seen that film starring Sally Field, Danny Glover, Malkovich and others.

The closing scene takes place in a church. And as the camera slowly pans the congregation taking communion, the audience is suddenly shocked, actually stunned, because all the characters in the movie---the ones who died as well as the living---are sitting together in church celebrating and sharing Communion.

There’s one particularly poignant camera shot of a black man who was hung by the Ku Klux Klan. He is shown passing a morsel of Christ’s body to one of the men who hanged him, saying, “The peace of Christ.”

And while all this is going on the choir is singing “In the Garden”

And He walks with me,
And He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;

To me, all the people who blessed my life in this place---the living as well as those who have ascended to the heavenly father, are gathered together with us this morning. They’re here.

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all gathered together in one place.”

I think our Lord was trying to say something like that at His Last Supper. He said to his disciples, “When you do this in the future, do it in remembrance of me.”

What did he mean? Surely he wasn’t talking about taking some nostalgic stroll down memory lane. He wasn’t asking them to recall the details of the event itself– Peter, for example, saying to John, “Well, John, I think he broke the bread like this, and I think he held the cup in his left hand.”

No, no----- not that kind of remembering!

In the Greek “to remember” means to bring the past into the present. By “remembering” Him in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup, Christ meant, “I will be with you. I‘ll be in your presence.”

And what’s truly thrilling is how the author of the book of Hebrews takes this thought and pushes it to a staggering conclusion.

He develops a word picture that suggests that not only is Christ present, but all our loved ones in Christ are, in very important ways, alive and witnessing these moments of ours here on earth.
He pictures the Resurrected in heavenly bleachers witnessing our earthly endeavors and urging us on to victory.

“Therefore,” he says, “since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith..”

“When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”

Throughout my years in the ministry, I’ve had dozens of people ask me, “Rev. do you think I’ll see my loved one in heaven and be recognized by them?”

When I was a young Pastor I used to give a long, overly theological answer.

Now, when anybody asks me that, I say, “Will it be heaven if you can’t?”

On an anniversary occasion, surely we think of the Pastors who have served this church.

I think of the Rev. Karl Monroe. I was only six years old when he came to this church and when he left I was a sophomore in High School. I don’t remember a word of a single sermon of his---not one illustration, but I remember him, the man, his smile---his readiness to be helpful, his kindness, his dignity, his graciousness.

He taught our Communicant Class---helped us get ready for our first Communion every week for six weeks after school. I’ve never forgotten my first communion here. Maundy Thursday. We sat in the first row of pews---none of our feet could touch the floor. It was night time. A white, white table cloth glistened---it‘s folds perfectly arranged.. I sat mesmerized by the holy thing I was about to do. I remember the first time I tasted the bread--the body of Christ, and felt that thimble full of grape juice trickle down my throat---the blood of our Lord. Awesome. Awesome. In Seminary I would learn how Martin Luther was struck by the enormity of his first communion and it was my story.

And I remember the Rev. H. D. Hough. He served here from 1951 to 1956. He was something else that man---he was a kind of legend in his own time.

I remember how amazed we all were when, several weeks before the birth of his first child, he stood up in this pulpit and preached on the text, “Absalom, my son, my son,” and then boldly predicted to a stunned congregation that his first born would be a boy child.” This was way before those pictures that tell the gender of a child during pregnancy.

And his first child was a son! Blew us away is what it did.

Rev. Hough had a way of pushing limits. I remember one particular Sunday when he was preaching. I was here. Someone up the street began a carpentry project and soon you could see that the Rev. Hough was becoming increasingly unnerved by the noise of all that hammering and sawing.

Suddenly he stopped his sermon and said, “Would one of the ushers please go and tell that sinner to stop working on the Lord’s Day!” The congregation was stunned.

“I will not preach until he stops!” Rev. Hough said. Time stood still as we all waited. You could hear the movement of a fly’s wing. Suddenly the hammering stopped and the Rev. Hough resumed his sermon. What power. I never forgot it. No one ever pounded while I preached, but I tell you folks I was ready if it ever happened.
The conclusion of the sermon will appear in our next post.

A little blogging music Maestro… The hymn “Morning Has Broken,” written by Eleanor Farjeon.

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Churches of Clairton

100 Years

Time goes by: We spoke earlier of the 50th anniversary of the Clairton First Presbyterian Church. The church originally stood across the street from the high school, on the corner of Fifth Street and Large Avenue. When the parishioners decided to build a new edifice a few blocks away at the corner of Fifth and Mitchell, the old church was sold to the Serbian Orthodox congregation and moved to its current location on Reed Street. The new Presbyterian Church congregation celebrated the 50th anniversary in 1953, as discussed in last week’s blog, and the 100th anniversary celebration in 2003.

The City of Prayer: Clairton’s motto is apt. The Clairton Silver Anniversary book published in 1947 lists, in no particular order, the following houses of worship in a city of some 10,000 souls: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, St. Paulinus Roman Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church, First Methodist Church, United Free Gospel Mission, First African Methodist Episcopal Church, Wilson Presbyterian Church, Clairton Christian Church, St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, Morning Star Baptist Church, Pine Run Methodist Church, The First Slavish Roman Catholic Greek Rite Church, St. Clare's Roman Catholic Church, Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, Christian Missionary Alliance, Mount Oliver Baptist Church, Church of God in Christ, Greek Church, Serbian Orthodox Church, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Many prominent Clairton families attended each of the above churches. The Crilley family was among them. They were all active in the Presbyterian Church and Robert was called to the ministry. It was he who gave the sermon on the occasion of the 100th anniversary. His words have been edited for brevity but I’ve attempted to keep the spirit of Rev. Crilley’s words as originally spoken. The first part of his sermon follows:

“Thank you for inviting me to be your preacher today. It is a great, great honor in my life. This beloved building happened to be located on the route I took home from high school. Many, many afternoons I’d come in here, pause and pray. I felt God’s presence so very powerfully. But sometimes I’d come up to the Pulpit, open the Bible, and pretend I was a minister preaching to a packed Sanctuary. Remember: this was the early fifties. Packed Sanctuaries were the norm! This church back then had a membership of almost a thousand.

And then a time came in my senior year in high school when I wanted to be a minister more than anything in the world. At that time this church had an energetic Youth Minister by the name of the Rev. James D. Cole. We called him “Jimmy“. He was the coolest associate pastor you would ever want to meet. He was the best dresser in Clairton.

This man was truly an exceptional minister. He drove me up to Waynesburg College, introduced me to all the important people there who made the decisions about incoming students.

And then, during my Seminary days at Princeton, he arranged for me a position on the staff of the Westfield Presbyterian church, where he was the minister to youth. He let me stay with him in his apartment on weekends. Free. He woke me up on Sunday mornings with the Mormon Tabernacle choir singing The Hallelujah Chorus!

To kind of get in the mood for our celebration today, I did some research. When this church was organized, the rivets were barely cool on a brand new steel mill that had just been erected on the banks of the Monongahela---just two years earlier.

Where we are today, this building, back then was a part of a cow pasture that belonged to a fellow by the name of Edward Moore. His house was where the Bekavac Funeral home sits today---two blocks to the north of us. But Moore’s place wouldn’t be farm land for very long. Because of the new steel mill, this whole area quickly filled with houses.

1903 was quite a year.

The Wright brothers, over at Kitty Hawk, N.C. managed to get a heavier-than-air machine to achieve flight for the first time ever. It stayed in the air 12 seconds, went 120 feet. But they got better as the day went on. Their third and final flight was 852 feet and it stayed in the air 59 seconds.

1903 was the year Marie Curie and her husband won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work in radiation.

And it was the year that Mr. Henry Ford released to the world the first Model-A automobile.

Not to be outdone, the Harley-Davidson people put a motor on a bicycle and the first hog was born.

A guy by the name of Gillette in 1903 found a way for men to get the whiskers off their faces and a fellow by the name of George Eastman devised a way to put a camera into the hands of the common man.

Crayons were invented in 1903, but the zipper wouldn‘t appear for another ten years. And the world would have to wait twenty-seven years for the first chocolate-chip cookie.

A lot of changes in buying power happened in a hundred years.

That Model A Ford cost $850.00. But the average salary of a steel worker was only $300 a year, so it wasn‘t exactly within easy reach of the common man.

For gentlemen who were looking for something snazzy to wear to church, they could get an all wool blazer suit, complete with matching vest for $2.98. The lady of the house could buy a fine, fine dress for $2.50.

Life expectancy was 47 and the number one cause of death in the country was pneumonia.

Only 14% of homes had a bathtub in 1903. And 96% of all births took place at home.

Finally, I discovered an interesting fact about 1903. The nation’s sixth worst stock market crash began in June of 1901 and ended in December 1903.

In other words, men and women our forebears launched this church at the height of a very dark time in this country’s history.

This church has a hundred year reputation for doing the best of things, the most hopeful of things, in the worst of times.

100 years. Much can happen in a church in that period of time. Think about that as far as this church is concerned.

5,200 Sundays have come and gone; over four hundred communion services. A river of money has flowed through the offering plates---more than a couple of million dollars, according to my calculations.

But think of all the pew battles that have taken place over the years in this place, folks wrestling with temptation or having to make critical decisions in their lives. Think of all the anxious hours spent here waiting for lab reports, or getting spiritually ready for a dreaded operation.

Think how many babies have been baptized here---infants who grew up to confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?

Think how many times the Lord’s body has been broken, his blood shared, as the plates moved up and down these aisles nourishing souls to eternal life.

How many brides and grooms have stood beneath these wooden beams and made life commitments to one another?

How many caskets with their precious cargo have rolled down this aisle as the Pastor intoned, 'I am the Resurrection and the Life. The one who believes in me, even though they die, yet shall they live. And whoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.'

I was a little boy here during World War II. Folks were putting gold stars in their windows for sons, brothers, husbands.”

We will continue the sermon in next week’s post.

A little blogging music Maestro… The Mormon Tabernacle choir singing The Hallelujah Chorus.

Dr. Forgot

Friday, October 16, 2009

Clairton Across the Decades

Snippets of Clairton History

Reflections of the past: Wednesday was a slow day this week. Company is coming and the house was clean and ready for them. Food was all in and ready for cooking. I ran out of things to do. My options were, “Do I poison pigeons in the park, or do a little blog research?” So I did a little joggin’ of the noggin and came up with the following pearls of past and parables of the residents of the City of Clairton. Sit back and see if any stir up YOUR memories. We’ll start long before you were born and offer an incident or two per decade.

May 23, 1902: The Bruce and Clairton Railroad merged to form the West Side Belt Railroad.

July 20, 1902: Vera Daerr was born in Wilson. In 1929 she married schoolteacher Frank Buchanan. Frank became mayor of McKeesport and later was elected to Congress form Pennsylvania’s 33d District in 1946. Upon his death in 1951, Vera was nominated to replace him and won a special election later that year. She won two subsequent elections overwhelmingly. Vera Daerr Buchanan, Clairton native, died in 1955.

October 9, 1912: U.S. Steel Finance Committee resolves to build a 200 oven byproduct plant north of its Clairton Iron and Steel Works.

May 7, 1916: Land sales ad from the Gazette Times, “We have it – right in the heart of town – not an undeveloped spot plotted only for the exploitation of the boomer. Clairton now has complete train service, trolley lines, schools, churches, fine homes and paved streets. 5,000 people live in this flourishing community. HERE IS YOUR CHANCE TO GET IN ON THE PROSPERITY. BUY CLAIRTON REAL ESTATE!” (Perhaps this ad should be rerun today…)

1918: Noble J. Dick Lines begin jitney operations. (NJD bus lines later became Clairton’s primary link to surrounding communities including “Dahntahn Pikksberg)

September 22, 1919: Rioting begins in Clairton steel strike. Pennsylvania State Police and laborers clashed during mass labor meetings. State troopers and mounted police charged a group of laborers and used their clubs vigorously, injuring a number in the crowd.

March 18, 1929: One building was destroyed and several others damaged when an explosion occurred in the business district of Clairton. The building next to the bank was destroyed and windows were blown out but nobody was fatally injured.

August 5, 1929: A plane with a student pilot landed safely in the Monongahela River after its landing gear was damaged.

October 31, 1921: A parade will take place as the new highway opens between Clairton and Pittsburgh. The parade will go from Hayes to Clairton and end with ceremonies held at the Clairton swimming pool. (This must have been Route 837 or “River Road.”)

September 5, 1937: Bishop Hugh C. Boyle blesses the newly opened St. Paulinas Church in Clairton. The church was designed by the parish priest and built by volunteers. (Still standing after all these years)

October 23, 1943: The undefeated, untied Clairton Bears football team won its 20th game in a row, beating Charleroi 18-0 before 5,000 fans. Lenny Kalcevich scored two touchdowns.

February 28, 1948: Ivan Bucar, a Yugoslav immigrant living in Clairton, disowned his 33-year old daughter Annabelle when she announced that she quit her job at the State Department’s United States Embassy in Moscow and married a Russian singer. The couple will reside in Russia where, the bride says she likes it better. The blonde ex-Clairton girl and Pitt grad made her letter of resignation public in the Russian newspapers. Bucar, a wealthy farmer and coal hauler who owns property in Jefferson Township has 12 children. He blames her decision on having too much education. (Fascinating. Had never heard this story. Will do more research expand it in future blogs)

February 1949: Several follow up articles were written about Annabelle Bucar, the Clairton woman and former U.S. Embassy employee in Moscow who married a Russian singer and chose to remain in Russia. According to a book she wrote, she charges that Embassy officials and U.S. Diplomats illegally profited by black market purchases and espionage. Her book was entitled, “The Truth about American Diplomats.” (We have ordered her book and will write more on this person in a future blog.)

February 10, 1951: Clairton resident Frank Orsini. Brother of police Chief Pete Orsini was among four people arrested in a raid on a suspected numbers operation.

August 23, 1952: Former Police Chief Pete Orsini who was demoted to patrolman July 22, asked that his salary be restored. Mayor John Mullen insisted that he had the authority to name his own police chief and Orsini was his man. (Here come da judge!)

March 21, 1953: The First Presbyterian Church marked its 50th anniversary with a week-long celebration. Three former ministers took part, Dr. Murray C. Reiter, Dr. John K. Bibby, and Rev. G. Karl Monroe. The current pastor is Rev. H.D. Hough. Keynote speaker was Dr. Edward Lee Roy Elson, former Clairtonian and current pastor of the Presbyterian church in Washington D.C. attended by President Eisenhower. (Will share excerpts from the 100th anniversary sermon by Clairtonian Rev. Robert Crilley in future blogs)

August 14, 1954: Dr. Karl Bohren, announced an anticipated 1,500 students will attend Clairton High School, the largest number in school history. (The growth continued until TJ was built to take many rural students)

January 21, 1956: Connie Kutsenkow, an architect from Clairton has many talents. She is a mother and an actress as well. This week she is starring in “The Cretan Woman” at the International Theater in Crafton Heights. During her studies at Carnegie Tech she acted at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. She is also working on a book that she calls “Women in Architecture.”

March 17, 1962: The Democratic Party began to track a worrisome trend in Clairton where 1,024 voters changed their registration from Democrat to Republican. Last year Clairton became one of 13 Pennsylvania cities that switched. Clairton voted in Republican mayor Robert Stokes. The Clairton picture will be studied by both parties for a clue to this year’s trend.

August 3, 1963: A freak tornado struck Clairton and Glassport and caused damage to the Irvin Works steel plant. (This writer was working my last shift as a summer worker at Irvin Works before returning for my senior year in college when the tornado hit, destroying the paint job and all the windows in my newly-purchased Rambler American)

June 22, 1968: The fourth annual Congress on Christian Education of the Allegheny Union Baptist Association will be held at the Morning Star Baptist Church on Shaw Avenue in Clairton. (Proving once more Clairton is the City of Prayer)

There you have 21 snippets of Clairton happenings, activities, and people up through the 1960s. Next week we will random items from the 1960s onward. Tune in.
A little blogging music Maestro… “Memories” by Sarah Brightman in The Phantom of the Opera.

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Price of Success is Failure

Victory, Failure and Common Sense

Bears continue to be victorious: From Joanne Panza comes a note about the Bears football team. This season thus far they have defeated the Laurel Spartans, Monessen Greyhounds, Frazier Commodores, Bentworth Bearcats, Fort Cherry Rangers, and the Chartiers-Houston Buccaneers. Total points scored by the Bears: 284. Total points scored by their opponents: 24. Go Bears!

Clairton is a failure as a city: We have written in this space of the glory days of the Mon-Yough Valley, particularly our old hometown of Clairton. Many people point to other communities who were hit hard by the downfall of the steel industry in the Pittsburgh area that have seemingly bounced back better than has Clairton. Despite the fact that the Clairton Works is one of the few operating mills left from the booming days of the post-World II era, Clairton, they say, is a failure. And perhaps this unnamed “they” are right. But let’s take a look at failure and failures.

The dictionary definition of failure is: “…an event that does not accomplish its intended purpose.” Some well known and lesser known failures include Margaret Mitchell whose fiancé was killed in battle, mother died leaving the 19-year old to run the house, entered into an abusive marriage, then broke her ankle. It was during the ankle recovery period that she wrote a book of survival after failure – “Gone With the Wind.”

Bill Gates, Lewis Tappan, and Walt Disney all had business failures. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built a computer they called Apple. They pounded on doors to try to sell it and made presentations to Atari and Hewlett-Packard among others, all of whom rejected it. Harrison Ford was fired from Columbia Pictures and told he had no talent and would never make it as an actor. Abraham Lincoln had a string of business and political failures until he finally won his first election. J.K. Rowling was a divorced single Mom with an infant who did much of her writing in a pub before her Harry Potter books caught on. R.H. Macy went bankrupt seven times before finally building his successful Macy’s chain of stores. Decca Recording Company rejected the music of the young English mopheads because “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” Fortunately the Beatles did not give up.

Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs but struck out 1330 times. Thomas Edison, who invented the light bulb and over 100 other things, once said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Beethoven was deaf and psychologically disabled and his music teacher said he was hopeless at composition. Sir Winston Churchill was bipolar and had a learning disability. He failed to get elected until age 52 when he became the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Fred Astaire’s first audition evaluation card said, “Balding skinny kid who can dance a little.” The Wright Brothers, after several failures, invited a host of people to witness their first flight. Five people showed up.

Smartest man in the twentieth century: Albert E. Einstein was considered slow as a child. He did not walk until age 3 or speak until age 7. He thought in pictures rather than words. He was expelled from one school and the headmaster of another refused to admit him because “…he will never amount to much.” Many scientists believe he was autistic. My belief is that failure is the tuition one pays to learn success.

Among Einstein’s quotations are: "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. The whole of science is nothing more than the refinement of everyday thinking, and my favorite, Common Sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”

It would seem that common sense would be more common – that people would have been able to see the genius in the above failures. But alas, it was not to be. Clairton gal and blog reader Dorothy Lancaster Smoyer sent me the following email obituary that sums it up:

“Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.

He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as: Knowing when to come in out of the rain; Why the early bird gets the worm; Life isn't always fair; and Maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place: Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.

He declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sunscreen or an Aspirin to a student.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense took a beating when a burglar could sue you for assault while defending yourself.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, sued the restaurant, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust; by his wife, Discretion; by his daughter, Responsibility and by his son, Reason.

He is survived by his 4 stepbrothers:
I Know My Rights
I Want It Now
Its Not My Faut
I am a Victim

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.”

Common sense leaves a legacy that is the lifeline of all the fine people who made
Clairton one of America’s most livable cities. Learning from failure can help restore it.

A little blogging music Maestro... “My Little Town” by Simon and Garfunkel.

Dr. Forgot