Camp Martin Travels

These entries will be a combination of historical day trips, graduate level travel courses, and just little stops along the way. I have been teaching 8th grade American History for over 25 years. I am also a Civil War Reenactor and have traveled to Germany and Austria with several groups of exchange students and written about our adventures. Please check all my posts by using the monthly Blog Archive tabs shown below. I have posted over 150 Blog Episodes since 2009... Please explore them all!

Monday, January 31, 2011

PA Military Flag Preservation Facility

Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee
State Civil War Flag Facility

As part of a group tour sponsored by the Pennsylvania State Museum Commission, we were studying primary sources in the form of historical artifacts.  In this segment of our journey through Civil War history, we were on our way to see the Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee's state military flag restoration and storage facility in Harrisburg.  Wow, that's a mouthful!  It was located a few blocks from the Capitol Building but our bus seemed to be lost as we drove though an old section of the city that seemed "old school" industrial.  We pulled up to an aging large brick building that looked like it was formerly used as some kind of a factory or warehouse.  It reminded me of one of the old red brick tobacco warehouses that still exist in Lancaster City. There was no parking lot so we unloaded from the bus on the street and walked up the cracked side walk to the aging front door.

Pennsylvania Cavalry Flag
We were met by a friendly young man dressed in a shirt and tie named Jason Wilson who worked for the PA Capitol Preservation Committee as a research historian.  Apparently, the flags are available for the public to view but you must make an appointment in advance and meet a state representative at this location for a tour.  All visitors must be supervised during their visit.  Upon entry, we scaled some metal steps and entered a room on the second floor.  When the lights came on, I was amazed at the contrast of the building's modern interior compared with the aged exterior.  The room was bright white and climate controlled with special lighting designed to prevent damage to the light sensitive contents of the room, which were hidden from view.  Scott began his tour explaining the high tech facility which seemed like a top secret laboratory hidden within the city.
Various Stages of Decay
Pennsylvania was the only northern state that furnished flags for their Union regiments during the Civil War.  Following the war, the state government asked for the flags to be returned to the capitol so they could be stored as historical artifacts.  This request was not welcomed by all veterans who considered the colors of their units sacred and not all who had them were willing to give them back.  It was decided the flags could be returned in a ceremony on Independence Day in Philadelphia at Independence Hall with former generals George Meade and Winfield Scott Hancock officiating the event as the former heroes of the victory at Gettysburg.  Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin praised the veterans in attendance and by the end of the event, the state's flag collection now totaled 270 colors and continued to slowly grow as new flags were donated over the years.

 Bullet Hole Through Flag
Within a few years the flags were put on display in the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building for the public to view within the newly added Battle Flag Room on the second floor.  Following the completion of the new State Capitol Building in 1906, it was decided the flags should be placed on display in specially designed glass cases that would be housed within the rotunda area. On Flag Day in 1914, veterans returned to Harrisburg to ceremoniously parade the flags to their new home in the recently completed Capitol Building.  Each flag was rolled shut on their staffs and covered with a silk stocking to help protect the fragile silk fabric of the aging flags.  However, as the flags were marched through the streets, a light rain began to fall making the fragile flags damp.  They were entombed within six glass airtight decorative cases especially designed for the flags, where they rested inside in an upright position. 

Veteran Flag Parade 1914 
(Photo Credit / PA State Archives)
The flags sat as a silent vigil to the state's Civil War veterans and their effort to preserve the Union.  Flags from the Spanish American War were also included in the cases where they all remained undisturbed for over seventy-five years.  Upon visual inspection in 1929, the flags seemed to be continuing to deteriorate over time and it was discovered that the cases may not have been as air tight as first thought.  However, state officials did not take action and the flags continued to sit within the cases until a reenactment group requested their regiment's flag be removed for preservation in 1981.  The 87th PA Vol. Co. A's request was granted and the flag went through restoration work at the reenactment group's expense on the 75th anniversary of the flags original resting date within the display cases.  This story helped gain attention and raise funding for the preservation of all the flags while they could still be saved.  The following year, the Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee was formed to remove, restore, preserve, and relocate the flags to a safer location.  

Private David Lichty / Capitol Rotunda Flag Case
Inside the old / new storage facility, Jason showed us how the flags had been unfurled and detached from their staffs, were opened and laid out on large flat trays for safe storage.  Some of the flags were in very bad shape and had partially disintegrated.  The original flags were made of silk fabric and hand painted by flag artisans.  The fragile material became victims to their previous storage in unfavorable conditions.  A preservation laboratory in a nearby room works to prevent further decay.  The flag staffs are stored separately and can be as unique as the flags themselves.  Many showed battle damage of various nicks and gouges in the wood.  One particular staff of interest contained a bullet hole through the middle.  Other staffs consisted of a polished tree limb that had replaced the issued staff pole when it broke on the field of battle.  The staffs were neatly arranged in numbered slots within tall narrow container drawers for their protection.  Today almost 400 flags are contained in the collection.

 122nd PA Vol. Co. C Flag
Jason pulled any flag you requested to see and many visitors come to see a single flag or two they have some personal connection with through their own family's heritage.  I asked him to pull the flag of my great-grandfather, David Lichty's regiment, the 122nd PA Vol. Co. C from Lancaster County.  At age 18 my great grandfather left his rural Terre Hill community to sign up for a nine month enlistment.  He reported for basic training at Camp Curtain in Harrisburg and was soon sent south to defend the nation's capital.  He saw action at the battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville before mustering out with his company on May 15, 1863.  He reenlisted as a member of the 2nd PA Cavalry and served for the remainder of the war.  During his service with the cavalry, he contracted an intestinal disease described as "camp fever" that plagued him the rest of his life and earned him a small medical pension until his death in 1910.  His old unit's flag was riddled with several bullet holes, evidence of the action it experienced. Some of the flags like the 122nd, had neat square patches cut from the flags center.  These may have been cut out by soldiers at the conclusion of the war to take home as souvenirs of their beloved regimental colors.  Maybe my grandfather had a cherished patch of blue silk in his possession at one time?

- Flag One -
 30th PA 1st Vol. Flag Preserved
(Image Credit / PA State Archives)
Next, I asked Jason to pull the flag of the 30th PA from Lancaster County, the unit in which I participate as a Civil War reenactor.  He soon pulled another flag from the collection, which showed the vast difference between one that had been saved and another that had been almost lost.  The second flag was barely a flag at all, as there was little left remaining of the once proud symbol that men gave their lives to defend.  It was sad to see but at least they were able to preserve some evidence of the remnants of the colors that once led men across the open fields of battle to face the enemy.  It was very clear, if the Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee had never formed thirty years ago to take action to save the historic flags, they may all have been lost to decay.  A special thank you must go out to the members of the 87th PA Vol. Co. A for sounding the alarm and bringing needed attention and financial support to the flag collection's  desperate plight.
- Flag Two -
30th PA 1st Vol. Flag Remains
(Image Credit / PA State Archives)
Our unit just replaced our replica flag that began to fray and fall apart from the multiple reenactments it served in over many years.  We raised funding over a period of years to purchase a new one from an artisan in New England.  The new flag is very authentic, made of silk and hand painted just like the originals.  The high end crafted replicas cost over $1,200 and the one we purchased took a lot of fund raising by our 30th PA family.  We added a polished tree limb for a staff to add character to our regimental colors.  We recently used it in several local Memorial Day parades we marched in including Rothsville, Lititz, and Maytown. 

30th PA Memorial Day Color Guard
The Civil War and Spanish American War flags at the Pennsylvania Capitol Preservation Committee were a true privilege to see and appreciate.  The facility is off the beaten path and doesn't get a whole lot of visitors but word is spreading and the flags are being shown to more people each year.  Please check out their website at...
Call to Schedule a Tour (717) 783-6484


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Times Square / The Lion King

Broadway Theater District
Times Square / New York City

Taxi Cab Assault / Times Square
My daughter Katelyn's senior year was coming to an end.  The highlight of her high school experience was being involved with the highly acclaimed chorus program at Warwick High School where she participated in many play productions and concerts. She met a lot of people and made some really good friends who were now off on a field trip to the Big Apple to see a Broadway play.  I was invited to come along as a chaperone and was about to see my first professional theater performance.  Katelyn and I have been to New York City many times but have never made it to Times Square and the Theater District so we were both looking forward to a new experience at one of our favorite destinations.  I love traveling by tour bus and leaving the stress to a paid professional.  The ride up was fun and I made some new friends who were fellow chaperones, while Katelyn sat in the back with her "peeps"!
Bubba Gump Shrimp Company
We had our choice of two shows when we signed up for the trip. Half the group would be going to see Phantom of the Opera and the other half the Lion King.  Katelyn and I had always wanted to see the Lion King since we saw a small production down at Animal Kingdom in Florida while visiting Disney World many years ago.  Upon arrival, we had time for lunch and the group decided to try the Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant right on Times Square.  When Katelyn heard it was a fish restaurant, she wasn't exactly thrilled!  I ensured her there were other things on the menu and she would find something to her liking.  She decided to be daring and try something new by ordering the fish and chips platter.  I also decided to be brave and went with a spicy shrimp gumbo over rice.  I found my meal delicious but very spicy, Katelyn was trying to figure out what she had actually ordered, and concluded she wasn't happy with our choice of eateries.  The restaurant was themed with movie references and memorabilia from the film Forest Gump.  Katelyn recently watched and enjoyed the movie in school but was so stressed out over her lack luster lunch that she never made the connection.  She confessed she had been preoccupied with visions of McDonald's!

Toys R Us / Times Square
After lunch we had a little free time and crossed the street to visit the huge Toys R Us store to see the life-size fun inside.  We only had a few minutes before we needed to make our way to the Minskoff Theater so we had to make a light-speed tour of three floors of dream-like toys.  First, was the ferris wheel that you could ride with famous toys for ride cars.  Next, we encountered Lego Land with large plastic brick sculptures of the Empire State Building, complete with King Kong, the Statue of Liberty, and other famous buildings of the New York City skyline.  A few steps away we were suddenly in Jurassic Park looking up at a life-size tyrannosaurus rex towering over us.  It moved as if the intimidating creature were alive, as its mouth opened wide to expose rows of razor sharp teeth.  The yellow eyes darted around as if the prehistoric carnivore was searching for its next meal.  We escaped up the escalator to safety and took refuge in the life-size Barbie doll house.  Soon our free time minutes were up and after checking out the Toy Story 3 display, we made our way out of the giant toy chest in search of the grown-up world outside.

Minskoff Theater / Times Square
 We made our way to the Minskoff theater and met up with the rest of the kids and chaperones in our group.  Everything was close by and easy to get to, especially when guided by someone who knew the area well and had been to the Theater District many times before. We entered and were processed through quickly without having to wait.  We went up a series of escalators and visited a small souvenir stand to pick up one of the pins Katelyn and I collect from all the places we visit, plus a key chain, and t-shirt.  Then, up steps we went to the next level where there was an incredible view of Times Square.  The entire wall of the theater lobby facing the famous square was all glass giving a city pigeon's view of the bustle and congestion far below.  It was an amazing view of the square and I was able to get a series of really good pictures.  You can check out the entire Times Square album at my Flicker photo sets page at... 

Minskoff Theater / View of Times Square
We got in line and slowly entered the interior of the theater and found our seats, which were all located together in the center of the upper level called the Mezzanine, which had a great view of the stage.  I was given a quick education from one of the more experienced theater veterans of the location of the pit, orchestra, and conductor.  The playbill outlined details concerning the cast and an insert showed a few roles played by substitute actors known as understudies.  Everyone needs a day off every now and again. I thought I could get a quick picture of the interior of the theater but was quickly busted by the ever watchful eyes of one of the ushers.  Soon the lights began to dim and the capacity crowd let out a cheer of excitement as everyone looked toward the stage with anticipation. 

The Lion King Cast
(Photo Credit / Disney Presents)
As in the animated film, the introductory music score was powerful and pulled the audience into the full scene from the very start.  In fact, I am humming the song Circle of Life as I write this posting and probably will continue to do so for at least a few days.  The actors played out the story with a combination of people acting in symbolic decorative masks while others used physical props that moved to mimic the movement of live animals. Several of the main actors wore masks but others worked with life size puppets where the audience needed to focus on some parts of the actors and ignore others.  My favorite character was the colorful bird Zazu who was the official assistant to the Royal Court of Mufasa.  He was represented by a puppet worked by actor Jeff Binder who was dressed in a colorful suit costume that mimicked the blue, white, and orange colors of Zazu.  Soon the two physical parts playing Zazu merged and became a seamless, single character.

Scar Challenges Mufasa
(Photo Credit / Disney Presents)
The actors were very physical and athletic in their performances, which included dance and climbing the ever changing stage.  It was amazing how many of the actors ran from one spot to another as the stage revolved to new positions in perfect sequence.  The stage floor was full of hydraulic movement that included the rise and fall of Pride Rock. Actors appeared periodically within the audience area with tall poles swinging birds in flight.  Act One had a total of thirteen scenes followed by a fifteen minute intermission.  It was nice to get a break, to stretch our legs and take a little walk back to the spectacular view of Times Square.  A warning bell sounded to signal the conclusion of the intermission and we scrambled back to our seats.  The lights dimmed once again and Act Two began, which would include the final seven scenes of the performance.

Actor Jeff Binder as Zazu
(Photo Credit / Disney Presents)
The music was outstanding and the familiar songs from the movie would be stuck in my head for more than a week.  The Lion King musical premiered on Broadway on October 15, 1997 at the Amsterdam Theater and has been going strong for more than thirteen years.  It has changed locations several times and had only been at the Minskoff theater for a short time.  The top show at the New Amsterdam Theater right now is the musical theatrical production of Mary Poppins, which debuted in 2006.  There has also been Broadway productions of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.  The stage company of Disney Theatrical has become a major presence in New York's Theater District.  Maybe Pixar will get into the game with Toy Story.  I can see Buzz and Woody singing a duet together with Mr. Potato Head supporting as a baritone!

Minskoff Theater / View of Times Square
After the play, we went as a group across the street to the Marriot for an Italian buffet.  We met up with the other half of our group who had seen Phantom of the Opera at the Majestic Theater. who also had rave reviews of the performance they witnessed.  We enjoyed a meal at the beautiful hotel and even Katelyn found a few dishes that met her approval in the buffet format!  She was really hungry by this point!  Following the excellent meal at the Marriot we had a little more time to explore the Broadway area before our bus was scheduled to pick us up.  We checked out some more souvenir shops and took in the sights.  I thought I saw Johnny Depp surrounded by a crowd of people who were taking turns getting their pictures taken with him.  I snapped several pictures myself until I realized I was standing in front of Madame Tussuad's Wax Museum.  It was a clever way to drum of interest and new business.  Maybe next time! 

Johnny Depp in Life-like Wax
What a fun day and a great experience for both Katelyn and I.  The play was great and at least I... thought both meals were excellent.  Katelyn enjoyed the time with her friends as I tried to keep my distance as Dad and tried to play the role of chaperone in the shadows.  Katelyn and I plan to come back soon with the rest of our family to explore more of our favorite city to visit.  Thanks to the Music Department at Warwick High School for organizing such a great trip to compliment their orchestra and chorus curriculums.
Katelyn and Melissa on Broadway


Monday, January 17, 2011

Hike to Chickie's Rock

Chickie's Rock / Columbia, PA
The View from Above and Below

Trail Entrance / Chickie's Rock
Let's take a little hike to check out one of the best views of the Susquehanna River just above the city of Columbia, Pennsylvania.  Before the bustling city of Columbia became a major transportation hub on the east coast, the area was inhabited by the local Susquehannock Indians.  The rock outcropping just north of the city was a great vantage point for the Native Americans to observe activity along the local river basin.  Chickie's Rock gets its name from from the Lenape word of Chiquesalunga, which translates to Place of Crayfish. The crayfish were caught in a nearby stream that is now known as Chickie's Creek, which runs along the ridge.  From a geological standpoint, it is one of the highest places above sea level on the East Coast of the United States at over 520 feet. I wanted my son Tyler to join me on this journey, so I entered his bedroom, pried his cold fingers away from the ever-present X-box controller, and dragged him out of his boy cave into the blinding light of the outside world.  All aboard...

View West / Chickie's Rock
The best part of hiking to the observation area on the rock outcropping is that you can drive most of the way up Chickie's Ridge on Route 441 just north of Columbia toward Marietta.  There is a parking area on the downward slope of the first hill, where you start the trail.  The path starts out steep but quickly levels out and follows along the power-cut access roadway that cuts through the ridge toward the river. Soon you have the option to stay on the dirt road or take a trail cut-off to the right that climbs up into the tree line.  I wasn't sure how long the alternative trail would take or how well it would be marked, so Tyler and I decided to ignore poet Robert Frost's advice and took the one more traveled by.  We wanted to avoid taking a wrong turn and accidentally winding up on the Appalachian Trail and on our way to Georgia by mistake.  The trail was only about a half of a mile in length and an easy journey by trail standards.  We took notice of the posted warning signs concerning the upcoming ledge and were soon standing on top of the river with an incredible view laid out before us. 

View of Breezy View Lookout
Tyler and I had previously attempted to walk to Chickie's Rock last summer but started at Breezy View Overlook Park nearby and wound up descending to the river bank, rather than climbing to the top of Chickie's Rock like we intended.  It turned out to be a good mistake and led to some interesting discoveries.  The climb down is really steep but short as you snake your way between rock formations cropping out of the side of the ridge. You soon come to a wide smooth trail running in both directions that was shaded and resembled a tunnel of green foliage.  We had no idea where we were or which way to go, so we just decided to turn right, in the direction of Chickie's Rock. The trail was straight as an arrow and reminded me of a well traveled colonial era turnpike.  I later discovered the trail is part of the Susquehanna Heritage Trail that runs along the eastern bank of the Susquehanna River.  The trail is an easy walk, running along the remains of the old Pennsylvania Rail-bed and Canal that once supported the local iron industry.    

Susquehanna Heritage Trail
This section of the Susquehanna River has a rich history that helped the local economies thrive during the peak years of Pennsylvania's iron industry. During the 1890's, there were a total of thirteen iron coke furnaces producing pig iron along this stretch of the river. The furnaces were fed by anthracite delivered from the coal mines in the north-central part of the state by the Pennsylvania Canal and later, the Pennsylvania Railroad. The glory days of the iron industry came to an abrupt end when new technology outdated the anthracite fired furnaces.  The industrial iron sites along the river bank were abandoned and slowly reclaimed by nature over time. With the frequent flooding of the river, the remains of the long dormant industrial sites have mostly vanished with the past. However, we found a surprising historical marker along the trail that pointed out the stone remains of one of the ghost furnaces that once dominated the area.

Coke Iron Foundry Remains
It was hard to see at first because of the dense overgrown greenery covering the stone remains of the foundry.  Without the sign, we would have missed it all-together.  We took a quick pit-stop to check it out and explore what remained of the furnace buildings.  Soon, we continued on with our journey through the tree covered canopy of the trail toward the north that paralleled the river and modern rail-lines.  Eventually the trees gave way to an open area that exposed the face of Chickie's Rock.  We had arrived at our goal but were at the bottom rather than at the preferred top. It was an impressive sight to look up at such an imposing tower of natural stone, which I later found out was mostly chert and schist.  My old eighth grade science teacher Mr. DeRemer would (might) be impressed!

 Railroad Tunnel / Chickie's Ridge
After a short while, we did an about-face and headed back the way we came, passed our entry point onto the trail, and continued on toward Columbia.  It was a short walk before the trail came upon an impressive tunnel that had been carved out of solid rock from the old abandoned railway.  This was Tyler's favorite part of the trail.  Columbia Park lay just beyond and we had now completed this mile and a half section of the Susquehanna Heritage Trail.  We made our way back to our entry point and scaled the incredibly steep ridge back up to the Breezy View Overlook Park, where our car was parked.  It took a lot longer going back up than it did going down.  Tyler had to take several breaks, unable to keep up with his old man!  He was learning the hard way that scaling simulated mountains in the video game world does not equate at all to real life.  We made plans to return to find the way to the top of Chickie's Rock but ran out of summer!  I hate when that happens!

Tyler Taking in the View
Now that we had finally made it to the top of Chickie's Rock the view was incredible!  There are several vantage points to take in the view in both directions.  It was quiet and peaceful and we just relaxed and absorbed the view for about an hour, rotating periodically to take in the different perspectives.  There are sturdy stone and wood barriers to protect you from the edge and even small children were there, safely enjoying the sights.  Rail-lines still run along the river bank between the Susquehanna Heritage Trail and the river itself.  While we were there, a long empty coal train rolled by far below us, heading north to refill its empty coal cars.  It took several minutes for the train to pass and must have contained well over 100 rail-cars. The coal that once supplied the iron furnaces is now delivered to coal-fired power plants that produce electricity for the east coast.  The more things change the more they stay the same!

View of Wrightsville / Chickie's Rock
Chickie's Rock played a role in the Civil War as a Union observation point when the Confederate Army, under the command of General Richard Ewell, made its way north across the Mason-Dixon Line into Pennsylvania.  Ewell's mission was to continue to make his way north and guide his army east across the Susquehanna River to attempt an attack on the capital city of Harrisburg.  In late June 1863, General Ewell entered the town of Wrightsville on the western shore of the Susquehanna River, hoping to gain access across the only bridge in the area.  The key cities of Columbia and Lancaster lay just beyond the far eastern end of the bridge, which could provide needed supplies for the Confederate army on their journey north toward Harrisburg.  Chickie's Rock provided an ideal vantage point for the Union to observe enemy movements in and around the Wrightsville Bridge.     

 Burning of the Wrightsville Bridge
(Painting Credit / Bradley Schmehl)
Ewell's troops met little resistance from the local militia, who had orders to blow up a section of the bridge if necessary to stop the Confederate advance.  The militia was quickly overwhelmed and soon fell back to set explosives to blow one section of the bridge making it impassible.  However, the charge failed to do enough damage and the decision was made to set a fire to burn down a section of the bridge.  Unfortunately, it became windy and the fire quickly raged out of control, spreading across the entire wooden bridge.  The bridge became engulfed in flames, which threw hot embers into the night air, starting several fires within the town of Wrightsville.  In the end, the entire bridge was destroyed and the Confederate plan to attack Harrisburg failed.  Ewell then returned his army back east through York to meet General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg.  We all know what happened next...

Sun Set / Breezy View Lookout
Chickie's Rock State Park closes at sunset so we decided to head back to the car and find something to eat.  We descended the hill into the edge of Columbia and hit the drive-thru at Burger King.  Next, we decided to head back up the hill to Breezy View Overlook Park to watch the sunset over the Susquehanna, while enjoying a whopper with cheese and a large fry.  It doesn't get much better than that!  The sun slowly fell from the sky and became hidden by the hillside on the western shore, illuminating the river below in a bright glow of orange.  It was a beautiful ending to a really fun adventure and we stayed to watch the whole show until the sun completely disappeared from view.  On the way home we talked about returning to explore the trail below again, which was one of Tyler's favorite trails of all time.  Maybe we would get lucky and a long freight train would pass by us at ground level on the trail!  Maybe next summer!

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Primanti Brothers / Pittsburgh

The Strip District / Primanti Bros.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

The Strip District / Penn Avenue
For years my childhood friend Brian and I had discussed a road trip back to his hometown of Pittsburgh to see the sights and experience the culture of the Iron City.  We can both still remember the first day we met when his family moved into the the house next door to mine on Fairview Drive.  My brother and I had climbed our fence to get a good look at the new family that had just pulled into the driveway.  We were very curious about these newcomers and were pleasantly surprised to see a boy my age get out of the car.  We were instantly fascinated with the strange exotic accent that they had when they introduced themselves.  We had never had foreigners in our neighborhood before!  Where was the city of Pittsburgh anyway?  Probably somewhere near France I guessed?  The fence my brother and I used as our observation point is long gone but our close friendship has stayed intact for over 35 years.

Warehouse Strip / Smallman Street
We finally got our chance to make the sacred pilgrimage to the city of his birth a few days after Christmas in the final days of 2010.  Brian had not been back to his hometown in quite a long time and had never explored the city before.  Time to make a memory and have an adventure!  Brian's whole extended family was making the trip for a once in a lifetime family reunion dinner and I was tagging along.  However, we would have some freedom to go our own way and do our own thing most of the time.  I had two key goals on this trip... To get to the site of Fort Pitt to complete my French and Indian War journey along the Forbes Road... And to go to Primanti Brothers to get one of their famous sandwiches.  Ever since I read the article in National Geographic (Aug. 2003) about Primanti Brothers' signature mountain high sandwich, it was on my bucket list.  Any sandwich that makes National Geographic magazine truly must be a cultural event!

Robert Wholey Fish Market / Penn Ave.
Upon arrival at our hotel in Cranberry Township outside Pittsburgh, we instantly did a virtual search for the location of Primanti Brothers and were surprised that a satellite location was less than a mile from our hotel room.  We had to leave for the huge family reunion dinner in less than an hour but hey, there's nothing wrong with a little appetizer before the main course... right?  With the help of GPS, we were in the parking lot within five minutes to commit the ultimate pre-dinner sin of putting our appetites in jeopardy before the main event!  But since our mothers were no where to be found to remind us, we were seated and scanning the menu within seconds.  Ironically, a framed picture of the article from National Geographic was on the wall right above our table.

Jo-Mar Wholesale Meats Sign
Since we were newbies in this realm of the food pyramid and pressed for time, we got some assistance from our helpful waiter  We ordered one of the Pitts-burger versions of their signature sandwiches and had it cut in half to save room for the main course (Italian) about ten miles down the road.  What makes Primanti Brothers eating experience unique is that the sandwich is an all inclusive meal.  You start with about a dozen choices of different kids of meat but all are topped with a fist full of fresh cut fries and a pile of sweet and sour coleslaw contained by two thick pieces of soft Italian bread.  The mammoth sandwich can be further complimented by a variety of toppings including a local favorite, a fried egg!   The sandwich was amazing and exceeded our expectations and made us hungry for more! 

 Original Primanti Brothers Location
The next day we were off to one of the famous sections of the city known as The Strip, and the birthplace of Primanti Bothers.  The Strip is the Pittsburgh warehouse district where a lot of Italian immigrants who moved to the city earned a living.  Many were material handlers, truck drivers, or started small businesses along The Strip back in the day.  Many of those shops are still in operation and run by the descendants of the original families.  We passed by butchers, fish markets, and a multitude of ethnic restaurants.  We turned down a small side street and came upon an eatery with a line out the door of at least thirty people deep.  It was 2:30 in the afternoon and Primanti Brothers' original sandwich shop was completely swamped with impatient hungry customers.  Other members in our party saw the line and decided to opt-out of line for a fried fish sandwich at Robert Wholey Company's fish market.  It looked appetizing but Brian and I were determined to see the the interior of a sandwich shrine. 

National Geographic Article Photo
The line was long, the air was raw, the wind was brisk, and the sky filled with snow flakes.  It felt like Pittsburgh in late December.  The glow of the neon signs inside visible through the window, gave a warm inviting feeling to help the freezing endure the wait.  We slowly inched forward, encouraged by the intoxicating smell that was released every time a satisfied customer exited through the door.  This  powerful teaser prevented anyone from having second thoughts and retreating to the bottom-feeder fast food being served at the McDonald's down the street.  Within fifteen excruciating minutes in line, we had made it to the threshold of culinary genius.  We were within full view of the stainless steel lunch counter shrine where it had all started.  The grill was filled with sizzling meats, wire baskets full of hot fresh-cut fries, and plastic containers brimming with sweet and sour coleslaw.  Your mouth is watering... Isn't it?     

The Busy Lunch Counter
The long lunch counter was filled with every variation of their signature sandwich, with hungry customers enthusiastically devouring sandwiches as if they hadn't eaten in days!  In retrospect, it kind of resembled a bunch of piglets jockeying for position for a spot at mama sow.  Come on... it's my turn... I think we can squeeze in there somewhere!  The restaurant also had a dining room that may have continued on the second floor but it remained hidden from view as we were determined to have the lunch counter experience.  Soon a gap in the line appeared and an overwhelmed and slightly exasperated employee waved us in to occupy two side-by-side stools that has just become available. Raise the flag, we had reached the summit!

Primanti Brothers Sandwich Artisans
The history of Primanti Brothers started in 1933, as an eatery for the workers of the Strip District.  Busy truck drivers always on the move did not have time to sit at a lunch counter for a meal.  So Primanti Brothers came up with their version of fast food, where the entire meal was stacked between two pieces of fresh bread.  The sandwich was designed to fit in one hand so the drivers could eat lunch and steer their trucks on the go at the same time.  I wouldn't try this today, as the large sandwich can be very messy and a challenge to eat just sitting at a counter!  We ordered another Pitts-burger and one of the original pastrami versions and split them between us again.  The guy next to me finished his first sandwich and then ordered a kielbasi sandwich topping the come-standard slaw and fries with sauteed onions and a fried egg.  Wow!  We were both big eaters but each had trouble finishing our single unadorned sandwiches.  We were lightweights?    

Primanti Brothers / Cranberry Twp.
After lunch we went out to explore more of The Strip to walk off some of the 10,000 calories we had just consumed.  A short distance away, we came upon several sidewalk vendors and corner shops selling every kind of Pittsburgh Steelers gear.  This city identifies itself with their beloved football team and you are constantly reminded of this success everywhere you go.  Everyone on the streets were wearing some badge of honor, touting the Steelers.  As a devoted Philadelphia Eagles fan, I was feeling more than a little awkward in enemy territory.  I got up the courage to ask one of Brian's relatives where I could find the Philadelphia Eagles store?  He replied with good humor... two hundred miles east of here!  On our final day in town, Brian and I were still the only people in our group who had the pleasure of experiencing Primanti Bothers... twice and with our descriptions of high praise, everyone wanted to try it for our final lunch before departure!  Well ok, stop twisting my arm... if you insist, I guess I could eat just one more!

Local Police to the Rescue
We hit the Primanti Brothers restaurant a mile from our hotel after we had checked out for a farewell luncheon.  Since Brian and I were now experienced pros, we didn't need help from the wait staff and navigated our fellow newbies through the complex menu of Italian delights.  It was delicious and Brian's dad got a second sandwich (with a different meat choice) to go, to enjoy later.  Several family members were staying a few more days but several others hitched a ride back home with us.  During the luggage transfer into our ride, the keys got locked inside with the motor running.  Frantic calls were made to the local police, AAA, and Governor Ed Rendell's office for help.  Soon, a less than thrilled, police officer showed up and after some mandatory paperwork and title checking, popped the lock open with an old-school Jimmy Stick.  We were saved!  Nothing like a little drama to end your stay!

Jimmying the Lock Open
 What a great trip!  A big thank you to Brian and his family for allowing me to tag along!  I was treated as a member of the family and we all had a great time that will always be remembered.  So in retrospect, we ate our way through Pittsburgh via Primanti Brothers.... But... Hey, that's what New Year's resolutions are for!  Right?

For some reason, I am suddenly really, really hungry!  Who's up for a nine hour round-trip drive and thirty-five dollars worth of tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for a run to Primanti Brothers?  I'm game, who's driving?  And... bring an extra set of keys!

Primanti Brothers
46 18th Street, 
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Open 24 Hours 

 Brian and I... Back in the Day

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