Pittsburgh: It's OK to be awesome

Written by Kim Lyons on .

Since Pittsburgh's football team has won the trophy named for Vince Lombardi six times, many who live here are probably familiar with one of the great coach's most famous quotes:

"When you get to the end zone, act like you've been there before." 

I would like to encourage my fellow Pittsburghers to follow that advice, especially when it comes to this meaningless "best of" lists, the most recent of which circulated over the weekend, courtesy of Buzzfeed: 16 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Greatest City on the Planet.

I didn't have to read the list to know it would mention the skyline, Primanti's sandwiches, and our sports teams (for the record, yes, I have read it). I also knew I would not have to wait long before the list was being circulated all over social media as "Hey! Look! Pittsburgh is the best, someone else said so!"
In the past few years, Pittsburgh has been on an endless number of lists that apparently span the life cycle: Most livable city. Best places to raise a family. Best places to retire (I didn't come across any "best places to die" lists, but I'm sure we'd be on that, too).

Since I am not a native Pittsburgher (but married one, and am raising my family here), this reaction to lists praising Pittsburgh puzzles me. Is it an inferiority complex? The writer of the Buzzfeed list makes reference to the famous 1868 quote by writer James Parton, who said Pittsburgh was "hell with the lid off." Not a nice image, but far from true any more. Does Pittsburgh still think it needs to prove Parton wrong, nearly 150 years later? 

Or, is it still getting used to the idea of being a world-class city, as a colleague suggested: It's not comfortable in its own identity as a place with a lot to offer. Like an overachieving college kid, who's trying to get as many references on his resume as possible, maybe Pittsburgh is still not convinced of its own awesomeness. 

So, let's return to our football comparison, and assume when it comes to shedding its collective insecurity, Pittsburgh is still making its way down the field, past Atlanta and Boston (New England, for the sake of our metaphor), but hasn't quite reached the end zone.

Hurry up and finish the run, though, Pittsburgh. Get used to the idea that you don't need anyone else to tell you how fantastic you are. Then we can act like we've been here before, and that we're not going anywhere. 




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Pennsylvania police chief, who makes viral gun videos, gets suspended

Written by Heather Schmelzlen & Mila Sanina on .

Remember Mark Kessler, the online-famous police chief with anger issues and gun fetish from the town of Gilberton? He was the protagonist of Tony Norman's column last week titled, "Police chief exploding with hate for liberals."

He produced a series of profanity-laced YouTube videos in which he brandishes guns, speaks openly about shooting an elected official (Nancy Pelosi) and expresses his rage toward "libtards." When the videos went viral, the town's mayor, Mary Lou Hannon, responded with this official statement:

Anyone asking the borough to take action against the chief, when he has commited no illegal act, no violation of policy and no misuse of borough times, is asking that we establish an official political view of the borough and impose it upon one or more of our employees, which would obviously be unconstitutional.

Well, it looks as though Ms. Hannon has changed her tune, as the police chief has been suspended for 30 days without pay. But it's not for the reasons you might think. According to a CNN article, his suspension resulted from using "borough property for non-borough purposes without prior borough permission" for one of his videos.

For his part, Mr. Kessler has expressed no regrets, and has taken to Facebook (on both his personal page and a fan page, which has almost 8,000 likes) to plead his case.

I'm scorned & Hated, politicians from both sides of political parties, main stream media, liberals, are doing everything they can to destroy my life, family country, I have to give credit where credit is due, for once democrats & republicans showed their true colors, if you stand up for your country, constitution ( THEY WILL DESTROY EVERYTHING ABOUT THE PERSON WHO DOES SO) I WILL NEVER BACK DOWN. I rather die defending freedom then kneel to TYRANTS!

He also claims on his Facebook page that borough officials are trying to have him terminated during his 30-day suspension.

And on his website, he links to a fundraising campaign apparently started by a local pastor to support the police chief during his suspension. So far, $1,230 of the $10,000 goal has been raised.

What do you think? Should the borough have suspended the police chief? Should he be terminated?


Photo from Mark Kessler's Facebook fan page

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Happy Birthday, Geno, or S Dnem Rozhdeniya!

Written by Mila Sanina on .

One of many cool things about twitter is that you can send birthday wishes to your favorite sports personalities, singers, authors, politicians... given they are on twitter, of course.

Today,  Penguins' Evgeni Malkin is celebrating his 27th birthday and since he is on twitter (@malkin71_) , Geno's fans have been tweeting him birthday wishes


In the best of Russian traditions, here is the 'Happy Birthday' song that each and every Russian knows and sings on a birthday. It's a classic... The central character is a crocodile and his (meaning 'crocodile's') name is Geno, too!

How to say Happy Birthday in Russian? 'S Dnem Rozhdeniya!'

So, s dnem rozhdeniya, Geno!  Or better yet... С днем рождения!


Have you ever wished a happy birthday  to your idol on twitter?



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Pittsburgh, told via body 'art'

Written by Kim Lyons on .


Not sure who the young lady carrying the football is supposed to represent, but the bridge inked around the guy's navel is clearly a metaphor about what it's like to commute in Pittsburgh, right?
Oh and he's a fan of Pittsburgh's sports teams, too, apparently...

 Pittsburgh takes the lead in the race for worst sports tattoos:

He remained anonymous, sadly. Read the full story at (where it's listed under the category "Yinzers.")

Is baring your chest to show dedication a Pittsburgh thing? The Pirates' winning ways inspired at least one fan to use his body as a canvas to demonstrate his fandom (although obviously a razor and a tattoo needle show different levels of commitment): 

 Hard to tell if this gentleman is the same one who professed his devotion to the Penguins back in May, but the resemblance is striking: 

 Does your body art rival these for dedication to Pittsburgh? We kinda doubt it, but if so, send us a picture: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . We may post it online (with the obvious reminder to keep it family-friendly).



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Tomlin tweets

Written by Kim Lyons on .

The Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette today broke the news on Twitter that almost broke Twitter (at least in Pittsburgh):



Coach Tomlin's first tweet came a short time later:

As of 2:30 p.m., Tomlin had more than 25,000 followers. He has some catching up to do if he wants to surpass the Twitter accounts of some of the more popular current and former Steelers: Troy Polamalu (@tpolamalu) has over 500,000 Twitter followers, and James Harrison (@jharrison9292) has almost 300,000 followers.

Even Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) is ahead of Tomlin at this point, as the Post-Gazette's most-followed account, with almost 37,000 followers.

Plenty of other Pittsburgh athletes are on Twitter; Pirates pitcher A.J. Burnett (@wudeydo34) has nearly 38,000 followers, and the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (@malkin71_), who tweets in both English and Russian, has over 320,000 followers.

Professional athletes are of course known for the occasional goof on social media. After a   photo surfaced of the Steelers' Maurkice Pouncey (@MaurkicePouncey) wearing a "Free Hernandez" hat (in support of former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez, who stands accused of murder), Pouncey used his Twitter account to apologize for his actions. 

It's probably unlikely the straight-talking Tomlin will get himself into any Twitter trouble. But now that he's following some of his players on Twitter, it might be interesting to see if they choose their 140 characters a little more carefully.

Do you follow any professional athletes on Twitter? Which ones do you like best... and which non-tweeters do you wish would get on board?

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Mr. Rogers sweater gets a warm reception... AGAIN!

Written by Heather Schmelzlen on .

Mr. Rogers was an icon before sites like Twitter and Reddit came about, but he has become a beloved figure on social media nonetheless. So when a Reddit post surfaced last week about a friendly neighbor making a sweater for the statue on Pittsburgh's North Shore, the response was great:

If you've ever seen the show, you probably remember the famous cardigans -- reportedly hand-knit by his mother. The Internet seemed to think the 'yarn bombing' was a fitting tribute:

With some digging, I found out that the person behind this cardigan was Pittsburgh artist Alicia Kachmar. She wrote about the project on her blog. The bad news? Those photos were from 2011, and the sweater is no longer on the statue. But Alicia, 31, of Morningside, did take the time to answer my questions on what has come to be a revived sensation and what she calls "the strangest thing I've ever done."
When was the sweater on the statue?
July 2011, for a couple weeks. We could have left it up longer, but it took a beating with the rain. It wasn't really meant to last forever.
How did you get the idea for the project?
It wasn't really my idea. Outpost Journal is a publication that was starting around that time, and each issue focuses on one city, looking at the underground arts scene. Pittsburgh was the debut issue, and one of the things they wanted to do for each city is have an artsy interaction with some sort of landmark, like a statue. A couple of my friends had heard about them wanting someone to make the sweater for Mr. Rogers. I have a crochet business, so my friends told me to apply. I did, and they chose me.
I had never made a sweater in general -- crochet-wise. I have an Etsy shop, and the things I make for my crochet business are very small. I don't do a lot of garments, other than scarves. I've never made a sweater other than for the Mr. Rogers statue.
Did you have to get permission from the city or anyone for the project?
We got permission from The Colcom Foundation, which funded the statue. It's not like a typical yarn bombing -- we asked and got permission and they were really excited about it.
What were the measurements for the sweater?
- right wrist is connected to his leg, but the length of the exposed wrist is 22 inches.  
- left wrist is 27.75 inches.  
- right bicep is 46.5 inches.  
- left bicep is 48.75 inches.  
- belly is 108 inches.  
- shoulder to shoulder: he's a little bit hunched forward, so, we measured from shoulder to shoulder at the most rounded part and it's 69.5 inches.  
How long did it take you to make the sweater?
I think I got chosen around February or March of that year, then there were some weeks spent talking on the phone and over email about logistics. (Outpost Journal is based in Providence.) I think I only worked on it for maybe two months. And then in April or May, the photographer and editor of the magazine came and we did a test run.
What were the logistics involved in making the sweater?
If you've ever seen the statue, the arms touch the legs. So you couldn't put it on like a regular sweater. I made a lot of rectangles. I didn't make it the way you'd normally make a sweater, it was very piecemeal. I used the largest crochet hook you can buy, a Q hook, and several different types of thread to make it thicker. The zipper on the cardigan is a functional zipper! I bought it from a sewing notions site, it was made to be a sleeping bag zipper, so it's something like 108 inches long, all one piece.
When I was doing it, I never really knew, "Is this going to work?"
When we went for the test run, it took forever. It took hours to piece it together, because there was a lot of sewing we had to do once we got there. You're hand-sewing with the needle to get the pieces together. I didn't have enough panels! So I had to take more measurements, and then I went back home and had a couple more weeks to finish it.
What was the response like in 2011?
It was really good. There was press then, but it wasn't national press. There was a response while I was down there, putting it on the statue. Everyone loved it.
What has the response been like since the photos were posted on Reddit last week?
The guy who posted it on Reddit, he just posted it. I don't know him. It was on the front page, there were like a thousand comments, and it kind of just took off from there. I was in the hospital at the time, so I wasn't really aware of what was going on, but I was getting all these emails. I had people say, "Come to DC! We'll do some yarn bombing!" I think some people don't really realize it's not on now.
Where is the sweater now? Any plans to put it back on the statue?
It's together-ish. It's in my parents' house here in Pittsburgh, in garbage bags. I haven't looked at it for a while, I can't remember what state it's in.
Because of all the press, I've thought about maybe asking if we could do it again, maybe at the same time Knit the Bridge goes up.
Alicia, who said she is "mildly involved" in Knit the Bridge, also shared her thoughts on that project. "I love it. I think it's great." Because of a recent hospitalization for a chronic illness, which she has spoken about in interviews and on her blog, she hasn't been able to be directly involved in Knit the Bridge, but she has organized a meetup to crochet one of the panels.
After our phone call, Alicia emailed me to offer one final thought on the Mr. Rogers project.
"Lastly, I should have mentioned how much of a 'connector' this sweater has been, in a way that Mister Rogers himself would have appreciated. 
Through it, I became email buddies with his wife, Joanne [Sara Joanne Byrd], (she makes me call her 'Joanne'), and I also became friends with Ben Wagner (and his family!), MTV producer and director of the documentary Mister Rogers and Me. So many people, especially in my generation, have memories of Mister Rogers and stories about particular episodes, or meeting him in real life, (I met him once at the Children's Museum b/c I grew up in Pgh!). All of these connections have continued to make it such a special creative endeavor. I never could have predicted the reaction/outcome of undertaking such a crochet project."
Alicia with the statue


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Seven decades of visits to Kennywood

Written by Julia Rendleman on .


Eugene and Martha Williams marked their 70th wedding anniversary in March. To celebrate, the couple made their annual visit to Kennywood today.

Their daughter, Gretchen Arrant, said her father grew up in Fayette City, and would come to the park as a kid, eventually bringing his own children.

Even after the family moved to Texas, the yearly visits continued. Eugene, now 94, was a chaplain in the Air Force, which meant the family moved around a lot, Arrant said. But they kept making their annual pilgrimage to western Pennsylvania.

"It's a family tradition," Eugene said.

Arrant said her family now lives in Denton, Texas, not far from the Six Flags Over Texas amusement park, but Kennywood remains the family favorite.

Kennywood spokesman Jeff Filicko said the couple's nephew, Michael McCormick, of Bethesda, Ohio, sent an email to the park's management earlier this year. They wanted to wait until the whole family could be together, but planned a big outing to celebrate the Williams' anniversary.

"There were about 20 of them, with grandchildren, great-grandchildren and even great great-grandchildren," Filicko said. Kennywood management provided a golf cart, to make getting around a little easier, and presented the couple with a special certificate of recognition.

"They seemed really delighted," Filicko said.

Martha, 90, recalled the first time they brought Gretchen to Kennywood as a child, and she rode the carousel 27 times without getting off.

"That's something you never forget," Martha said, "As long as we have breath, we'll be here."

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