The Steel City, legends and folklore, and recent tragic history
by Jesse Neve
Before we visited Pittsburgh, we had never heard of an Incline. But, I saw a picture of the neat little train car going up the side of a mountain and I knew our kids would love to be a part of that action. I was right. From the moment we parked at the bottom of the Duquesne Incline, the whole thing intrigued the kids. “Why doesn’t it tip over?” “Why don’t they take that thing underneath off so people can ride at more of an angle?” “What happens if we get stuck halfway up it?” Our crew is never want for questions in a new situation.
We purchased our tickets at the bottom and started the ride, which took us 400 feet up the mountain at a 30-degree angle. The Duquesne Incline was completed in 1877 and was originally built to carry cargo up and down the mountain, but soon people got the idea it could carry passengers, too, and the trek up and down the hill became a lot easier. It has been used as a tourist attraction since 1963.
The traincar-esque box we rode in could hold 18 people, and much to 10-year-old Jonathan’s disappointment, they did NOT take the equalizing boards out and let us do the ride at a severe angle. The view of “the Steel City” from the top is incredible. The intersection of the three rivers (Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio) with all of the bridges and the Pittsburgh skyline is postcard-perfect.
The kids were also very interested in the inner workings of the machines at the top. There is a museum-like area that showed the cables and wheels and gears and “stuff” that was loud and constantly running. Five-year-old Ben summed it all up with, “The ‘inclimbs’ was cool. It’s good that it went straight and not tilty. I wouldn’t have liked it if it was tilty or fast. It’s not. It’s peaceful.”
The Steel City has a whole host of activities for families. Just a few of these are:
Just Ducky Tours: Amphibious tour of city and river. 125 W Station Square Drive. 412-402-3825. www.justduckytours.com.
Pittsburgh Tour Company’s Double Decker Hop On/ Hop Off Tour: entertaining, guided historic tour with 21 stops to get off and explore the area on your own, and then catch the next bus that comes by. 445 S 27th Street. 412-381-8687. www.pghtours.com.
Carrie Blast Furnace Tours: Visitors learn about the iron-making process at the former U.S. Steel Homestead Works. Hours vary with the season. Tickets available online. Carrie Furnace Blvd., Swissvale, PA. 412-464-4020. www.riversofsteel.com.
Gateway Clipper Fleet River Cruises. Various sightseeing and dinner cruise tours along the three rivers in Pittsburgh. Fully narrated. Many kid-specific cruises available (Princess, Santa, Halloween, Galactic Battle, Superhero, Under the Sea, Enchanted Rivers, Pirate). 350 W Station Square Drive. 412-355-7980. www.gatewayclipper.com.
Duquesne Incline: 1197 West Carson Street. 412-381-1665. www.duquesneincline.org.
Our family has an abnormal obsession with Groundhog Day. We celebrate the lesser-known holiday every February 2nd. Who doesn’t love a large rodent meteorologist?! So, when we had the opportunity to head to Punxsutawney, Pa., we were all psyched.
Our first stop was Gobbler’s Knob, which is on the outskirts of town. There we got to see the famed tree stump from which the groundhog makes his yearly prediction. We all took turns up on the stage chatting with the ”groundhogs” that we had brought along with us (aka stuffed monkey, koala bear, bird and penguin).
We drove into town and visited the “Groundhog Zoo” where Phil rests up for his big yearly forecasting extravaganza. The zoo is actually a terrarium at the local library that has glass walls, so groundhog enthusiasts passing by can keep tabs on the local talent. Our kids tried their luck at waking up Phil and Phyllis, who were both sleeping at the time of our visit. They were pretty deep into naptime. It’s a lot of work to predict the weather.
All around town, you will find the “Phantastic Phils” of Punxsutawney. A collection of 32 statues, each six feet tall portraying the famous weatherman in creative ways by local artists. We had a fun time searching around town to find them. Our kids’ favorites were : “Freedom Phil” (dressed like the Statue of Liberty) and “It’s a WonderPhil World.” You just can’t have enough Phun with Phil the Groundhog in Punxsutawney.
Since our adventure in Punxy took place in the summer, we were mostly on our own to explore. But, if you arrive around the big day, there is a plethora of other activities to keep your family busy. Although activities may change from year to year, Groundhog Day festivities may include:
Chain Saw Carving
Groundhog Story Time for kids
Phantastic Phil Walking tour
Free showings of the Groundhog Day movie
Corn Hole Tournaments
Phil’s Birthday Party
Gobbler’s Knob is located at 1548 Woodland Avenue.
The Groundhog Zoo is at 124 West Mahoning Street.
Maps to the Phantastic Phils and Groundhog Day festivities and schedules can be found online at www.groundhog.org.
Flight 93 Museum and Memorial
We had visited Ground Zero in New York awhile back, and we decided we should learn about the rest of the story from that tragic day, September 11, 2001. The Flight 93 National Memorial and Museum are just north of Shanksville, Pa.
From the moment we parked the van, we were in a somber, reverent mood. And so was everyone else. It’s like everyone there understands the seriousness of the situation, and they are there to pay homage to those tragically lost.
The complex is divided into two sections, the Visitor Center and Museum, and the Memorial Plaza. We started out walking through the Visitor Center. They do an incredible job depicting the events leading up to the crash. We heard voice clips from inside the plane and we saw diagrams and models of the plane. There were pieces of the plane and luggage that had been found scattered around for miles. We learned what was happening inside the plane and around the country as that September morning unfolded.
The weather on the day we visited was pleasant, so we took the long walk down to the Memorial Plaza (but, we could have driven the one-mile from Visitor Center parking lot to the Memorial Plaza parking lot). There is a quarter mile long walkway adjacent to the crash site and debris field. It’s hard to wrap one’s mind around it all after just having had the story re-told to us in the Visitor Center and then to see the field and imagine the crash.
The whole experience was overwhelming for all of us. The Museum and Memorial are very well done and they do a wonderfully in-depth job explaining the awful events and honoring the heroes who were on Flight 93.
Flight 93 National Memorial: 6424 Lincoln Highway,
Stoystown, Pa. 15563. www.nps.gov/flni.
JESSE NEVE is a freelance writer from Minnesota and regular writer of this feature for Valley Living.
Family Friendly Places to Stay
Monroeville, Pa. (14 miles east of Pittsburgh)
Hampton Inn Pittsburgh/Monroeville. Indoor pool, free hot breakfast or a Hampton On the Run Breakfast Bag, fitness room, free wifi. 3000 Mosside Blvd. 412-380-4000. www.hamptoninn.com.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Pittsburgh-Monroeville. Indoor pool, free Express Start breakfast, fitness center, free wifi. 3936 Monroeville Blvd. 412-376-4900. www.holidayinn.com
SpringHill Suites Pittsburgh Monroeville. Indoor pool, free breakfast, fitness center, free wifi. 122 Daugherty Drive. 412-380-9100. www.springhillsuites.com.
Cobblestone Hotel & Suites. Indoor pool and whirlpool, free breakfast buffet, free wifi, onsite exercise facility. 188 Alliance Drive. 814-938-5144. www.staycobblestone.com.
Indiana, Pa. (28 miles south of Punxsutawney)
Days Inn Indiana. Family/Oversized rooms available, free Daybreak breakfast, fitness center, free breakfast, free wifi. 1350 Indian Springs Road. 724-465-7000. www.daysinn.com.
Park Inn by Radisson. Indoor pool, game room, fitness facilities, free wifi, “Happiness Guarantee” (if you’re not 100 percent happy with something, they’ll make it right or you won’t pay.) 1395 Wayne Avenue. 724-463-3561. www.parkinn.com.
Ebensburg, Pa. (44 miles north of Flight 93 Memorial)
Quality Inn. Indoor pool and spa, free hot breakfast, free wifi, fitness center. 111 Cook Road, Routes 22 and 219. 814-472-6100. www.choicehotels.com.
Cresson, Pa. (a little ways off the beaten path, 8 miles east of Ebensburg, but worthwhile for a unique lodging experience)
Station Inn. Bed and Breakfast that accommodates families with children age 8 and above, as well as college students, bikers, train lovers. Their website says it all: “We is what we is.” They are right next to the railroad tracks, and they don’t claim peace and quiet beyond their control. They do claim great breakfasts and pleasant rooms. They provide a 50 percent rebate on the room charge if there is less than one train per hour average during your total stay. Watch trains from the front porch. 827 Front St. 814-886-4757. www.stationinnpa.com.
Johnstown, Pa. (32 miles north of Flight 93 Memorial)
Holiday Inn Johnstown-Downtown. Indoor pool and whirlpool, exercise facility, $5 parking fee, free wifi. 250 Market St. 814-535-7777. www.holidayinn.com.
Heritage House Inn. Family friendly Bed and Breakfast. Suites available that can sleep up to 7. Free wifi. Includes full breakfast, ice tea and coffee during the day and freshly baked cookies. 916 Broad St. 814-254-4319. www.heritagehouseinnbnb.com.