Monday, September 23, 2013

Western Pennsylvania

Everyone associates this state with all those crazy Pennsylvania Dutch classics, like Intercourse and Blue Ball and Lititz.  But who says the easterners get all the fun?  Heck, the Keystone State’s got enough crazy stuff to spread over multiple posts.  And those westerners are certainly no slouches, let me tell you.  Here, let me demonstrate …

10. Pleasant Union / Pleasant Unity

Is this one of those slightly off-color Amish deals?

Well, it may be for the first one.  Pleasant Union is just over the MD state line, in the center of the state (i.e., prime PA Dutch country).  It looks like its got about half a dozen houses.
Pleasant Unity is a little southeast of Pittsburgh – so, probably not prime Amish territory.  It looks surprisingly developed.  Be sure to check out this YouTube video of the town, basically stills set to Bach’s Air on the G String (without a doubt the funniest title for a piece of music ever).

BTW, there is also a Pleasant Mount out there as well.

9. Slippery Rock

What’s funny about this one is that there is a major state university associated with the town, Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania.  In fact, the author knows several alumni (I went to high school and grad school in Pittsburgh).  Pretty much everyone in western Pennsylvanian refers to the school as Slimy Pebble though.

The town of Slippery Rock is named after nearby Slippery Rock Creek.  Google says that “the rocks are indeed deceptively slippery, and throughout the year, there are numerous reports of drowning incidents.”  The creek feeds into the wonderfully named Conoquenessing (see below), which itself feeds into the Beaver [snicker, snicker].
Apart from the university, this town of 3,000 between Erie and Pittsburgh doesn’t feature much else.  Nonetheless, they do like to call their little burg “the town known ‘round the world” (and without giving any explanation whatsoever).

BTW, western Pennsylvania also includes a California Univ. of Pennsylvania and an Indiana Univ. of Pennsylvania.  Sounds like some seriously confused people.
Former minor league baseball team

8. Scalp Level

Scalp:  n. the skin covering the head, excluding the face.  v. to take the scalp of (an enemy).

Level:  n. a height or distance from the ground or another stated or understood base.  adj. having a flat and even surface without slopes or bumps.  v. give a flat and even surface to.
Scalp level: ???

Actually, this one may simply refer to a piece of level ground (prime real estate in these parts) that was denuded by the local lumber industry.
SL is a classic “patch town,” built purposely by a coal company for its miners.  It’s close to Johnstown, and is in the wonderfully named Paint Township.  We’re talking about 850 people or so.
Interestingly, the town is also behind the name of a school of American landscape painters from the 19th Century.  As the Hudson River school painters left New York City to discover and capture the wonders of nature in the Hudson River Valley, the painters of the Scalp Level school left Pittsburgh to record the wilds of Western Pennsylvania.  Honest to God, I am not making this up:

There is also a Level Green, by the way. 
I don’t know – looks like something you might find
at the local Salvation Army store

7. Panic

Now, what’s great about this one is that Panic is right next to Desire and also Paradise.  Talk about mixed messages, huh?  Just blame it on those crazy Amish.

Where did the name come from?  Well, as you can imagine, there are no shortage of theories.  The best one I heard was from Passing Gas, which posits that it was named after a 19-Century recession, or “panic,” that was taking place during the time the town was founded.
This crossroads of maybe a dozen houses is just north of Punxsatawney (see below).

I guess I could just go to Dubois instead

6. Wilmerding *

If you’ve ever heard of the phrase, “There’s no Winky’s in Wilmerding,” you can consider yourself a true Pittsburgher (and kind of old, to boot).  Winky’s was a Pittsburgh-area burger chain in the 60s and 70s.  One of their commercials featured a Cookie-Monster-like puppet who read a list of signs with the names of towns where Winky’s were located.  When the monster came to the sign for Wilmerding, he ate it, exclaiming, ‘There's no Winky's in Wilmerding!’"  Great stuff when you’re 12. 

Wilmerding is basically a suburb of Pittsburgh (and just a couple of miles from where I once lived).  It was the site of a huge plant and the castle-like headquarters of the Westinghouse Air Brake Company. 
The town was named after Joanna Wilmerding Negley, the wife of William B. Negley, a local squire.  The Wilmerding surname is probably German.  I have no idea what it could possibly mean.
The Castle

5. Zelienople

Putting my extensive knowledge of classical Greek to use, I can safely inform you that Zelienople means “city of the Zeliens.” 

Well, that’s actually not too far off the mark.  Turns out Z-town was name by one Baron Dettmar Basse for his daughter Zelie.  The Baron bought 10,000 acres just north of Pittsburgh and settled there in the early 19th Century.  Now, what I want to know is, who calls their daughter “Zelie”?
This city of 4,100 is right next to the wonderfully named Harmony (see below) and lies along tongue-twisting Conoquennessing Creek (see below again).

By the way, there is also a Coraopolis in western Pennsylvania.  That, of course, means “city of the Coras” (actually, it’s Greek for “city of maidens”).
Yup, this scary guy is based outta Z-town
4. Turnip Hole

Fittingly, this is a minor crossroads in the middle of nowhere with – oh, I don’t know – two houses within a mile or so of it.  I guess it’s seen better times.   It does have its own Facebook page though.

TH is just down the road from Turkey City.  Now, if there were only a Dressingtown, Gravyville, and Cranberry Junction ,,, 

3. Punxsatawney

Sure, everybody knows Punxsatawney Phil.  But have you ever heard of his brother Pete, or his cousin Pat, or niece Pauline?  Yup, there’s a whole family of these meteorological marmots.  Pete’s in charge of whether it rains on July 4th, Pat takes care of how many snow days school kids get, and so on and so on.

Where is Punxsatawney located?

                Northeast of Pittsburgh, in the middle of pretty much nowhere

How many people live there?
6000 Punxsatawneans
Where did it get that crazy-ass name?

It’s a Native American term meaning “town of the sand-flies”
Why would anyone want to name their place that?

I haven’t a clue
How did all that groundhog stuff get started?

It all dates back to the pagan Imbolc festival

Don’t worry about it
Does anything else happen in this place?


P-Phil’s Revenge
2. Nanty Glo

Would you believe it’s Welsh?  Yup, it’s from nant y glo, which translates as the very poetic “ravine of coal.”  There’s a Nantyglo, Wales as well.

Our town was originally known as Glenglade.  That’s a bit of a tongue-twister, but it did have the added advantage of keeping you off the funny town name lists.  Hey, if it ain’t broke …
Population: 2,700.  Location: east of Pittsburgh, about a third of the way to Harrisburg.  Welsh for “My hovercraft is full of eels”: Mae fy hofrenfad yn llawn llyswennod.

Nanty Glo Bikini Contest
(video right here)

1. Foot of Ten

Painting by Salvador Dali?  Obscure indie rock band?  Kind of measurement used by poorly educated early settlers?

It’s kind of hard to believe, but there actually is a legitimate explanation for this.  At one time, this part of Pennsylvania was home to a fascinating experiment to get canal barges over the local mountains.  This involved inclined planes where the barges were put on railroad tracks and then pulled up the planes by horsepower.  There were ten of these planes, and F of T just so happened to take root at the foot of plane #10.  
This tiny town of 670 is just south of Altoona …  You know, northwest of Johnstown?  Er, straight up 99 from Bedford?  Wait a minute – I know, I know.  It’s just to the east of Nanty Glo.  There you go!

Foot of Ten, shown in inches of feet

Honorable Mention:

  • B-o-r-i-n-g – Wood, Wall*, North East, State Line, State College, Center Road, Centerville, Central City, Midway, Townville, Home Camp, Home
  • Short and sweet – Odin, Enid, Mina, Dora, Cito, Cloe, Nolo, Van, Day, Dott, Todd, Rew, Rea, Ohl, Boltz
  • Just a little out of place – Moon*, Halfmoon, Mars, Venus
  • Just a little off color – Keisters, Climax, Hooker, Blue Knob
  • Beaver patrol – Beaver, Big Beaver, Shy Beaver, Beaver Center, Beavertown (Monkee Davy Jones museum), Beaver Falls, Beaver Dam, Beaverdale.
  • Orthographically challenged – Boquet, Chrystal, Starr, Tyre, Erly, Erie
  • Numerically oriented – Twin Rocks, Three Springs, Five Points, Seven Springs*, Ten Mile, Eleven Mile, Eighty Four
  • Native American mouthfuls – Loyalhanna, Tidioute, Nemacolin*, Aliquippa*, Shelocta, Wapwallopen ("where wild hemp grows"), Monongahela, Sinnemahoning, Daguncahonda, Conoquenessing
  • Atypical adjectives – Windward, Sandy, Metal, Mammoth, Universal, United, Brave, Lovely, Tidal, Distant, Gayly
  • Abnormal nouns – Candor, Amity, Harmony, Prosperity, Industry, Energy, Economy, Emporium, Wampum, Bullion, Dime, Time, Sergeant, Surveyor, Sturgeon, Pigeon, Pansy, Plum*, Nectarine, Newcomer, Bitumen, Tuna, Torpedo, Roulette, Cyclone, Confluence*, Congruity, Crucible, Coupon, Crates, Custards, Mustard, Smock, Snow Shoe, Laboratory, Library, Lover, Cypher
  • Unconventional verbs – Transfer, Force, Drifting, Muse, Paint, Point, Echo, Desire, Hunker, Ogle, Ache
  • Fun to say – Frink, Skelp, Sewickley*, Sabula, Saluvia, Lycippus, Petrolia, Revloc, Fertigs, Fombell, Munderf, Dunkard, Blawnox*, Arbuckle, Acmetonia, Hepburnia, Sterrettania, Orbisonia, Ohiopyle* (Indian for "white, frothy water"), Langeloth, Bunola, Vowinckel* (the author camped here), Holsopple
  • Just plain weird – Stone House, Fallen Timber, Burnt Cabins, Warriors Mark, Water Street, Black Lick, Dry Tavern, Trade City, Turkey City, Sportsburg, Star Line, Starbrick, Breezewood*, Shinglehouse, Karthaus, Grassflat, Gibbon Glade, Carter Camp, Centre Hall, Whig Hill, Tire Hill, Bully Hill, Spankle Mills, Guys Mills, Manns Choice, Andrews Settlement, Martha Furnace, Burning Well (oil well, that is), Chest Springs, Smoke Run, Dry Run, Nu Mine, Purchase Line, Spaces Corners, Little Corners, Little Hope, Fair Chance, Good Intent, Cornplanter (an Indian chief), Coon Hunter, Panic Plug
  • Too many towns – Daisytown, Barneytown, Gastown, Gabtown, Shimpstown, Stifflertown, Frogtown, Jollytown, Puzzletown, Stonerstown
  • Too many villes – Burtville, Coneville, Lowville, Lickingville, Mingoville, Tusseyville, Teepleville, Normalville, Slickville, Whiskerville, Weedville
  • Too many burgs – Shirleysburg, Marklesburg, Fryburg, Steamburg, Blandburg, Riddleburg
  • I’d like to introduce you to – Pocahontas, Casanova, Raymilton, Sandy Lake, Lawrence Park, Glen Savage, Glen Campbell
  • Ghost towns – Dravo*, Zanmore, Stringtown, Pithole City (check out the visitors center), Windy City, Crumb

* - author has visited

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