Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Posts tagged ‘Pittsburgh’

Down the Ohio River with Charles Dickens

messenger

The steamboat Messenger carried the Dickens party down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati.

A fine broad river always, but in some parts much wider than in others, and then there is usually a green island, covered with trees, dividing it into two streams.”

In 1842 at the age of 30, Charles Dickens made his first visit to America with his wife Kate, her maid Anne Brown, and Charles’ traveling secretary George Putnam. As part of their tour, the group boarded the steamboat Messenger in Pittsburgh to flow down the Ohio River to Cincinnati – a three day tour.

The Messenger held some forty passengers on board, exclusive of the poorer persons on the lower deck. Dickens wondered that its construction would make any journey safe with the great body of fire that rages and roars beneath the frail pile of painted wood.

As expected, he wrote in his journal daily while traveling, giving us a picture now, of what he saw on that trip long ago. Most of the time he wrote on his knee in their small cabin at the back of the boat. He felt lucky to have a cabin in the stern, because it was known that ‘steamboats generally blew up forward’.

ohio-river-diorama

This diorama from the National Road/Zane Grey Museum shows a scene at Wheeling that DIckens described of goods being loaded and unloaded.

Coming from the crowded city of London, this wilderness must have appeared strange with trees everywhere and cabins sparsely populating the banks along the river. For miles and miles the banks were unbroken by any sign of human life or trace of human footsteps.

Meal time was not pleasing for him as lively conversation was lacking. Each ‘creature’ would empty his trough as quickly as possible, then slink away. A jest would have been a crime and a smile would have faded into a grinning horror.

I never in my life did see such listless, heavy dullness as brooded over these meals. And was as glad to escape again as if it had been a penance or a punishment.

charles-and-kate

Charles and Kate Dickens came to America in 1842. This is a pencil sketch by a very dear friend, the late Mary Ruth Duff.

After the meals, men would stand around the stove without saying a word, but spitting, which was a bad manner Dickens deplored. Therefore, Charles and Kate spent much of the time sitting on the gallery outside their cabin. His description of the only disturbance outside was in true Dickens style:

Nor is anything seen to move about them but the blue jay, whose colour is so bright, and yet so delicate, that it looks like a flying flower.

mound-by-henry-howe-001

This sketch by Henry Howe in 1843 shows the mound Dickens described in his journal.

He noted that the steamboat whistle was loud enough to awaken the Indians, who lie buried in a great mound, so old that oaks and other forest trees had stuck their roots into its earth. The Ohio River sparkled as it passed the place these extinct tribes lived hundreds of years ago.

Evening steals slowly upon the landscape, when we stop to set some emigrants ashore, five men, as many women, and a little girl. All their worldly goods are a bag, a large chest and an old chair.

Those emigrants were landed at the foot of a large bank, where several log cabins could be seen on the summit, which could be reached by a long winding path. Charles Dickens watched them until they became specks, lingering on the bank with the old woman sitting in the chair and all the rest about her.

dickens-children

They carried this picture of their children – Katey, Walter, Charlie, and Mamie – when they came to America in 1842. As time passed, they had ten children.

When he reached Cincinnati, a booming frontier river town, Dickens viewed it as a beautiful city: cheerful, thriving and animated. He was quite charmed with the appearance of the town and its free schools, as education of children was always a priority for Charles Dickens. Here he could actually find people to engage in conversation.

While his first trip was a disappointment in many ways,in the 1850s, he was encouraged to make another trip to America to extend his popular England reading tour to audiences there. He was told  would be lots of money to be made in the United States.

But the outbreak of the Civil War, caused him to put those plans on hold. When the war was over, he again received encouragement to visit this New World. Despite his ill health and caution from his closest friends, Charles Dickens wrote a seven point “Case in a Nutshell” describing why he should visit America.

Once decided, he arrived in Boston on November 19, 1867. Even though his health was failing, Dickens never canceled a performance.

No man has a right to break an engagement with the public if he were able to be out of bed.

He stayed for five months and gave 76 performances for which he earned an incredible $228,000, helping to give him a much better view of the United States on his second trip. The country had much improved during those twenty-five years in his estimation.

How astounded I have been by the amazing changes I have seen all around me on every side – changes moral, changes physical, changes in the amount of land subdued and peopled.

fly-ferry

The Ohio River is a peaceful place to let your imagination flow.

The next time you visit the banks of the Ohio River, find a secluded spot and imagine what it must have been like when Charles Dickens viewed it in 1842.

Words in italics are Charles Dickens words from his journal “American Notes”, 1842 with the exception of the last one, which was of course written after his second trip.

 

 

 

Peaceful Hindu Temple near Pittsburgh

Sri Venkateswara Hindu Temple

Sri Venkateswara Hindu Temple

High atop a hill east of Pittsburgh, PA sets a beautiful Hindu temple, Sri Venkateswara. In such a far-off corner, you really wouldn’t expect many people on a winter day, but the temple was crowded with devotees of all ages worshipping God in their own way through prayer and meditation.

Beautiful Child dressed for worship service.

Beautiful Child dressed for worship service.

Sri Venkateswara is one of the earliest traditional Hindu temples built in the United States back in 1976. Their service involves much ceremony with many statues of their different Gods and Goddesses forming visual images of the invisible divine entities. Diwa lamps burning butter, or ghee provided by the sacred cows, passed through the people assembled. All wished to gather the light to be blessed with spiritual energy. Fruit and nuts were given by temple priests to bless and nourish the body, as worship nourished the soul.

In the small sanctuary, people showed humility by prostrating themselves before God as the bells rang out their invitation to join in the ceremony. This vast congregation of worshippers showed extreme dedication to their beliefs. Children also enjoyed the day swirling and dancing with smiles and laughter. One small girl captured my heart as she twirled happily in a beautiful yellow dress with embroidered vest and red scarf. Her smile lit up the room.

Women dressed in the most beautiful saris, and walked with grace and dignity. They attend temple services to give honor to their Hindu traditions, while receiving peace and energy from being there.

Car Puja

Car Puja

This beautiful building had three floors, two used for worship, while one was for social purposes. After the worship service, which was basically a time of honoring the dieties, as well as meditation, most adjourned to the dining hall for a light vegetarian lunch.

As we were leaving, smashed lemons appeared in the parking lot. Why would they be there? This area was designated as Car Puja, where new cars are blessed to rid the car of any bad influences. The tradition claims that if you run over lemons with all four tires, your car will be blessed and safe.

A long flight of steps led to the temple.

A long flight of steps led to the temple.

On the way home, a stop for a friend at India Bazaar completed the day with the purchase of chapati atta (whole wheat flour), jasmine rice, haldi (tumeric), and til (sesame seed) for them to use in future meal preparations. An extremely polite shopkeeper carried the purchases to our car.

India Bazaar was the perfect stop for Indian food.

India Bazaar was the perfect stop for Indian food.

Never say no to an adventure! You might be surprised at the interesting things found along the way. The beautiful day lifted my spirits because those attending were very kind and understanding to visitors, even if I was the only blond in attendance.

Sri Venkateswara Temple can be found on the east side of Pittsburgh, PA from I-376, Exit 80. Head to Route 22, Old William Penn Highway, and drive about three miles to Old Thompson Run Road. From there, follow the blue and white Temple signs as they are clearly marked.

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