Monthly Archives: August 2012

Remembering England’s Rose

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the deaths of Princess Diana, her companion Dodi Al-Fayed, and their driver Henri Paul.  All three tragically perished in an automobile wreck while fleeing paparazzi in Paris.

While her remarkable life was marred by scandal, betrayal, and the strange kind of loneliness that comes from being the object of unimaginable scrutiny, Princess Diana served in her dual capacities as wife to Prince Charles and Princess of Wales with uncommon grace and style.  She used her position to champion important causes like AIDS awareness and the horrors wrought by landmines.  This work has led her to be posthumously named one of the 100 most influential women of all time.

If you find yourself interested in pursuing some books or other materials on Lady Di, you can find them grouped under the Library of Congress subject heading Diana, Princess of Wales, 1961-1997.

I find it hard to think of Diana, and her passing, without also hearing Elton John’s touching rendition of “Candle in the Wind” dedicated to her.  This world has been a dimmer place without Diana in the last fifteen years, but her memory and her countless good deeds make bearing her loss a little easier.



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Readers’ Choice

Recently I was watching the Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa. Ina Garten sent her husband Jeffrey out to shop for French wine to go along with her lovely French dinner: veal chops with Roquefort butter. Jeffrey engaged in a discussion with the wine shop owner/expert about what wine to select. He was shown the pretty labels of three bottles of wine. The potential flavors and aromas were discussed, as was the region where the grape is grown…another indicator of possible quality and taste.

Jeffrey finally chose a bottle because the label’s name included the name of Ina’s favorite open market in Paris. So, to purchase wine, you narrow the field–American, French, Italian, Australian, etc.; do you want red or white, or, to be even more specific, a special grape or growing region? Do you want something that goes well with a certain type of food? Do you want something to savor, or something for fun? Do you want sweet, dry, bubbly, or smooth? Do you want something cheap, reasonably priced, or sinfully expensive? What’s the occasion? So many decision points! But when it comes down to it, buying wine is really just a gamble. When you uncork the wine (or unscrew the lid), it could be just what you had in mind…or it could taste like vinegar.

Then it struck me: buying a wine is like picking out a book to read.

Libraries (and the lamentably endangered bookstore) really offer browsers a chance to survey the offerings. You can search with deliberate intent for something specific or you can look serendipitously to find a book that calls to you. You can see and hold a book and compare it to all the other books around you. Do you want fiction, non-fiction, biography, or some familiar–or esoteric–subject? Is the print size easy on your eyes? Book jackets may set the tone. Are they plain words or stark images, colorful landscapes, line drawings, a still life, persons or objects? The jacket also may provide a blurb or summary of the text and maybe even an expert or celebrity endorsement.

If you are in a library you may have to settle for a plain binding with no jacket information at all, especially for older, well-read books. You may look for genres you like, favorite authors, and sources for great reviews. Among the things you might hope for: quality writing, logical progression, a sense of humor, rigorous research, or an ending that makes sense. You may seek out a book that will evoke an emotion: joy, pathos, humor, peace of mind, seriousness, social conscience, action, curiosity, speculation, or intrigue. A book can make you want to learn more about information, or characters, or places, both near to home, or far, far away (sometimes even beyond reality).

Library and bookstore websites try to emulate the in-person experience. You can browse booklists, find read-alikes, explore book resources and databases like NoveList, and read professional or personal reviews. An online bookstore can track what you have purchased and suggest other titles based on that. And it’s just like selecting the wine–you don’t know what you’ll get until you try it. But here is where the online experience will never beat a library: the personal interaction with a smart, knowledgeable librarian.

A reader’s advisor in action. Original strip from Unshelved

An excellent readers’ advisory librarian can have a conversation with you and discuss your tastes and interests. They will find out what you have really liked in the past, and they will help each reader to hone in on that perfect book for a quiet weeknight or beach vacation (or class/research project!). And maybe you don’t want print, but an audio or e-book will do. Librarians promote a culture of reading, for the very young to the seasoned adult, regardless of the book’s format. If librarians don’t read a particular genre or type of book themselves, they make it their business to read and learn about books of all kinds, from classics to best-sellers. They know the reading tastes and subject interests of their colleagues who can serve as a back-up resource when they are occasionally stumped. Librarians make no value judgments about what you want to read, whether it’s for serious purposes or just for fun. The most important thing is connecting the book to the reader.

So my advice, whether you’re buying wine or just looking for something to read, is to turn to the professionals, so you don’t waste your time or money. If you are in Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh looking for a book, just “Ask A Librarian.”


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Teens (sometimes) Get the Best Books

For the past few summers, the fine folks at NPR have asked their readers to contribute to themed Best 100 book lists. This year they tackled the wide world of YA novels. As one of those grown up types who still loves the heck out of teen literature, I enjoyed poring over (and judging) the list. For the most part, the list is a very fair mix of genres, ranging from classics (A Separate Peace, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Catcher in the Rye are all represented) to some of the best writers working today, with just a few “No, seriously?” entries. (I’m looking at you, Hush, Hush…)

John Green was a name I expected to see on the list a few times, but he might be the only non-series author on the list to have almost every one of his books represented. If anyone is a big deal in the realistic fiction game, it’s this guy. He’s been putting consistently good stuff since his 2005 debut, Looking For Alaska (a Printz winner). Green’s newest book, number four on the list, The Fault in Our Stars is holding strong as one of my favorites from this past year. (Bonus: he signed all 150,000 copies of the first printing.) More to check out: An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

Sarah Dessen – who is coming to the library in January as a speaker in the Black, White, and Read All Over series –  is another realistic fiction writer with a fair bit of real estate on the list. Just Listen, The Truth About Forever, Along for the Ride, and This Lullaby were voted in and are all excellent choices. Like Green, Dessen has cracked the formula for balancing heart-breaking issues with humor and wit. More to check out: Dreamland, Keeping the Moon, Lock and Key, Someone Like You, and That Summer.

I was really excited to see the Anne of Green Gables series present among the selection of classics. Along with Little Women (sadly missing from the list), L.M. Montgomery’s books were a big part of my reading development as a young person. A girl could do a lot worse than to look to smart and independent Anne Shirley as a role model. Also, Gilbert Blythe is totally crush-worthy.

Did some of your favorites make the cut? Any you would add?

– Jess


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If you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can certainly judge a movie by its spine.

Long, long ago, back in the late twentieth century, this library hired me to be a humble audiovisual clerk – but now it’s over a decade later, and I’m a much less humble film librarian. Along the way, I’ve learned a lot about movies and even more about our collection. So if you come in and ask me for a recommendation, don’t be surprised if I start pulling things off the shelves left and right.

How can I choose so accurately? Where do I get my amazing speed?  Do I really have such vast and encyclopedic knowledge of innocuous romantic comedies? (Hell, no.)

Here’s the secret: I don’t even bother to read the titles; I just look at the fonts. You can learn to do it, too!

Let’s start with an easy one. This is obviously a selection of horror films. What do they all have in common? Well, there’s an awful lot of red and black. And dripping blood. And BIG SHAKY SCARED CAPITAL LETTERS. One look at these and you know what you’re gonna get. In the case of Night of the Lepus, it’s killer rabbits and Dr. McCoy. No, really.

Another easy one, to make sure you’re getting the hang of this. Below is a collection of fine westerns. I think you’ll agree that none of these fonts would look out of place on a saloon sign. They’re big, they’re bold, they’re confident, and they’ll take no prisoners – but they’re also quite upright, so you can be sure they’ll have your daughter back before curfew.

Well, maybe not that scoundrel Take a Hard Ride. That title? Combined with the motion in the letters? There’s a suspicious character for you. (Note: further research indicates that it’s about doing right by your employer. Huh.)

This next grouping requires a little more thought. What do these action films have in common? It’s fairly simple once you know what to look for – the action fonts all have action in them. Usually it’s just an application of italics, but sometimes they get clever, like that shattered Shattered font. That’s nice work.

And The Transporter? It’s a bit less action-oriented, but it’s also a very business-like font. Just like Jason Statham is a very business-like fellow. He’s an independent contractor, you know.

Over here we have science fiction films of a certain character (and for the most part, that character would be bad). These are clearly Fonts of the Future – look at the odd angles and shifting colors. When you see these spines, you know that things are gonna blow up.

Though there is one oddball in this group – that would be Pandorum. It’s a nice blend of Font of the Future and horror-film-red, which makes perfect sense, as it’s a horror film set IN SPACE.

Now let’s examine a few of those innocuous romantic comedies that I mentioned earlier. Look at those big, round, open, welcoming letters. They just want to give you a nice warm hug (and then marry you – not like that scoundrel Take a Hard Ride). No jarring angles, psychedelic colors, or dripping blood here. None of these movies would offend your mother. She’d probably ask them when they’re going to start giving her sequels.

To keep things on a lighthearted note (Ha!) we’ll turn our attention to a collection of musicals. These musicals are very…exuberant. Zesty, energetic, full of life and action. The titles bound across the spines like the musical numbers barely contained within. You’re bound to get an annoying upbeat tune stuck in your head for weeks after watching one of these gems.

Let’s bring your hopes crashing down to earth with this next set of DVDs – they’re all Serious Business. The letters are very bold, and there’s not a lot of space between them. The colors are clear and distinct.

Heck, three of these movies are so serious that they don’t even bother to center their titles. They’ve got way more important things on their minds. Just look at Good Night, and Good Luck. The spine’s mostly black! You can’t get much more serious than that.

But since I don’t want to bring you down too much, we’ll end with a collection of comedies. Colors, fonts, spacing, they’re all over the place! You may not think these movies are fun, but they sure think they are.

If these movies were your friends, your parents would let them sleep over but they would refuse to let them come on your family vacation. They’re just exhausting. (And Weird Science would totally trash that beachfront rental home.)

Now that you know what to look for, you too can choose movies like a pro. Have at it!

– Amy


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Pittsburgh Restaurants… In Your Kitchen!

Pittsburghers, you have to admit that our options for dining out have really exploded.  New restaurants are popping up left and right, and we are lucky to have so many great places to eat in our fair city!

But, as much as you might want to, it’s tough to dine out every night.  That’s where the library comes in handy.  Our extensive cookbook collection allows you to try out recipes that replicate the flavors of your favorite restaurants.

I have a group of suggestions below (in no particular order), but feel free to tell me what I might have missed in the comments.

If you like Downtown’s Meat & Potatoes and want to put a low-cal spin on comfort food, then try: Now Eat This! : 150 of America’s Favorite Comfort Foods, All Under 350 Calories by Rocco DiSpirito (also available in ebook).

book jacket

If you like Quiet Storm and want to introduce more meat-free meals into your life, then try How to Eat Like a Vegetarian Even if You Never Want to Be One: More Than 250 Shortcuts, Strategies, and Simple Solutions by Carol J. Adams.

How to Eat Like a Vegetarian Even if You Never Want to Be One: More Than 250 Shortcuts, Strategies, and Simple Solutions

If you like NOLA on the Square, then try: My New Orleans : The Cookbook : 200 of My Favorite Recipes & Stories from My Hometown by John Besh.

book jacket

If you like Osteria 2350 in the Strip District, then try some simple Italian cooking at home with Osteria: Hearty Italian Fare from Rick Tramonto’s Kitchen by Rick Tramonto.

book jacket

If you like Nicky’s Thai Kitchen, then try Easy Thai Cooking: 75 Family-style Dishes You Can Prepare in Minutes by Robert Danhi.

book jacket

If you like the South Side’s Yo Rita’s, then try Just Tacos : 100 Delicious Recipes for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner by Shelley Wiseman.

book jacket

If you like Max’s Allegheny Tavern or the Penn Brewery, then try Black Forest Cuisine: The Classic Blending of European Flavors by Walter Staib.

book jacket

Happy eating!



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My Own Little Myopia

I’m sure all of you are familiar with the parable of the three blind men and the elephant. Asked to describe the animal all three gave widely disparate explanations, informed by the limited sensory exposure they possessed. The first man only felt the trunk and described the pachyderm as twisty and serpent-like; the second man at one of the legs described a rather static and stout animal. The third man feeling the tail felt the elephant to be a small, swift and rat-like creature.

Degradation of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

How often have we, whether by omission or commission, made the same error? If by chance you attended Hebrew School (that’s after “real” school 2x a week,) you likely learned about the Dreyfus Affair and its role in the establishment of the Zionist movement. The narrative went something like this; in 1894 Captain Alfred Dreyfus – a French Jewish officer was accused of treason, court-martialed, found guilty and sentenced to a long prison term on Devil’s Island. During the course of the Affair barefaced Anti-Semitism became the norm in France complete with public demonstrations and shouts of “Death to the Jews”.  An assimilated secular Austrian Jew – Theodore Herzl, was covering the Dreyfus trial as the Paris correspondent for the Viennese newspaper the Neue Freie Presse.

Theodore Herzl
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In the account we learned, Herzl came to the realization that 100 years of emancipation and Jewish assimilation were pointless. In 1897 Herzl initiated the first Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, and presided over the birth of modern political Zionism and the end of the Dreyfus Affair in the Hebrew School curriculum.

On the one hand, it exposed us (at elementary school age I should note) to an event we otherwise might never have learned about. On the other hand, like the blind men and the elephant we didn’t even scratch the surface of an episode that along with the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) traumatized and defined modern France until World War I. For France, the Dreyfus Affair was more involved, gut-wrenching and soul-searching than almost any comparable experience we’ve had in the US.  The Sacco & Vanzetti trial may be the closest we’ve come.

Even having read several works on Dreyfus over the years, the affect of l’affaire Dreyfus wasn’t made clear until I started reading about the political and social changes in Europe (affected and resisted by the inter-related monarchies,) and the emergence of the US as a world power. Two particular works drew me in:

Tuchman in particular does a wonderful job pointing out all the changes emerging at the turn of the century that will ultimately result in the emergence of Germany as a unified, industrial powerhouse, and the eclipse of the European states economic and social influence by the United States.  Both Tuchman and Clay point out how poorly prepared the traditional European monarchies (and their related class structures) were for the new century and the social forces emerging with it (Socialism, Communism, Anarchism, the labor movement, etc.)

So where does Captain Dreyfus fit in?  Dreyfus was framed by a fellow French officer – Ferdinand Esterhazy.  While Esterhazy’s role was brought to light after Dreyfus’s initial conviction and sentencing, the French establishment wouldn’t  acknowledge that “they” -the establishment had erred.  The army and its supporters could not bring themselves to admit that the system had failed.  In 1896 when enough evidence had been assembled to cast doubt on the Dreyfus conviction and pointed towards Esterhazy’s role, a reconvened court-martial acquitted Esterhazy and upheld the original conviction – based entirely on evidence deliberately withheld by the army.  It was not until 1906 that Dreyfus was exonerated and all charges dropped.

Emile Zola’s J’Accuse
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Dreyfus affair was significant because it set France against itself; a painful situation for a country smarting from its defeat 25 years earlier by the Germans, the abolition of the Bonapartist empire, and the resulting loss of honor and territory (Alsace & Lorraine.)  In the French psyche of the time, the army was France and France was the army; it couldn’t be fallible.  Those who were against any questioning of the case or the government’s role saw the army as representing those principles which made France great – academe, honor, justice, liberty, fraternite.  Those who supported Dreyfus (the Dreyfusards) believed in those same principals too, and believed the army’s position contradicted what made France great.  The Dreyfus Affair consumed French life (and was carefully followed overseas too, including the USA) as no other issue would until 1914.  The French judicial system was assumed to be impartial and fair; how could France accuse and convict a man in so unfair a manner?    The Anti-Semitism that so influenced Herzl, was an aside – a shocking one – but nevertheless an aside.  The issue wasn’t jingoistic patriotism or territorial, it was philosophical – “What is France?”

– RK


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Welcome Class of 2016!

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Dear incoming college students:

Hey there –how’s it going? We’re really glad you’re here. We know you’re super busy, what with the moving, unpacking, and starting a whole new chapter of your life thing, but we thought we’d write a quick note welcoming you to the neighborhood and inviting you to come over and check us out (literally and figuratively).  We met some of you at the Pitt new student orientation the other night, so we can already tell you’re just the kind of people we want to hang out with:  fun, smart, classy, and about ten different kinds of literate.

Here’s a few things you might not know about us, and some ways you can get to know us better, online and offline:

  1. Library cards are free!  The carving over the door says “Free to the People,” and that means everybody in Allegheny County, including you.  Getting a card  is a snap, with the right ID and info, You can even start your application online, though we will need you to stop by after that and do a few more things before you can pick up your physical card.
  2. Your library card has special powers.  Think of it as an Easter egg in the game of life: once you have a card, you’ll be able to check out items, search databases, download digital items to your Kindle/Nook/other device, get book recommendations, learn languages, and explore tons of other options.  Did we mention the “for free” part?
  3. We will hide you from your annoying roommate.  If you really need to get some studying done, and you want to get off-campus for a little while, we’re a short walk down Forbes.  Make your way to the second floor and indulge in one of our quiet study areas.  We’ve got wireless. We’ve got long tables where you can spread out undisturbed.  We have comfy chairs. Heaven.
  4. There’s an app for us. Got a smartphone?  Download our free app to have library functions–including catalog searches, account checks, and social media features–at your fingertips 24/7.
  5. We know how to have fun on the weekend. The library’s fun all the time, of course, but we pack our Saturdays and Sundays with free special events like world music concerts, poetry readings, unusual films, and other interesting things as we dream them up. Perfect for dates or just hanging out with friends in air-conditioned comfort.
  6. Coffee:  we have it.  Do you consider caffeine a vitamin? No problem.  The library’s Crazy Mocha coffee shop serves tasty food and beverages from local sources, so you never have to choose between your library books and your latte.
  7. Community service options abound.  Maybe you have to earn a certain number of volunteer hours for a class or service club you belong to.  We can work with you to set up an opportunity that will make both you and us very happy. Visit the library’s volunteer page to learn more and fill out an online application.
  8. Books you don’t have to read for class. Whenever you need a break from the rigors of Advanced Calculus or Extreme Spreadsheets, we’ll be happy to hook you up with reading material that will give your brain a break.  From world fiction to sci-fi, mystery, and romance, we’ve got a little something for everybody. And if we don’t have it on hand, we can usually get it for you in less than a week from anywhere else in the county.
  9. An extra shot of academic support, minus the guilt. Because it’s not all fun and games, you’re eventually going to need journal articles, books and other materials to get those art history, literature, and science research papers written.  To level up from smart to amazing, come visit us after you’re done at your school library.  We’ve got journal databases, research guides, and a virtual library collection you can use long after the physical doors have closed. You can even get a jump on internships, local job searches, and standardized tests (it’s never too early to think about this stuff) via our Job and Career Center. If you want to be excellent (and who doesn’t?), make us part of your game plan for world domination.
  10. Gandalf, Captain America, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer work here. Everybody on staff is a superhero in disguise, just waiting to solve your problems. Think of us as the kindly wise folk who show up when you have no idea what to do next; we can point you in the right direction either in person, over the phone, or via a variety of virtual services like e-mail, chat, and text. The only special power we don’t have is mind-reading (that’s not part of the official library school curriculum yet), so we still need you to let us know how we can help. Rest assured, though, that once we know, we’ll do everything in our power to get you the materials and information you need.

That’s a lot of data to process, and even though it’s just the tip of the iceberg, library-wise, we’re pretty sure you have things to do this weekend, so we’ll sign off for now. Stop by and see us soon, though! We hope your time in Pittsburgh is lovely and amazing, and that by the time you graduate, we’ll be good friends. Or, at least, the people you smile and wave to when you run into us between classes.


–Leigh Anne (but you can call her Buffy)

PS:  Make sure you get out of Oakland once in a while and see our other locations, too.  Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods are unique, and every single one of them is worth a trip. Plus, you’ll have someplace to take your folks when they come to visit.

PPS:  Please don’t lend your fabulous, free library card to that annoying roommate!  Or to anybody else, really.  Pretend it’s a credit card, because, really, it’s the same principle: you’re responsible for whatever goes out on the card, and we’d hate for you to start your brand new collegiate life with bad credit from library debt.


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Literary Lives: Real and Imagined

I once heard the children’s non-fiction author Seymour Simon say that library books shouldn’t be labeled ‘fiction’ and ‘nonfiction’ but, rather, ‘true’ and ‘untrue.’* Indeed, many people get the labels mixed up thinking the ‘non’ in fiction means it’s untrue; well, some of it is!

Writers have always been fascinated by famous literary figures and it sometimes follows that they inspire fictional material written in novel form: a biographical novel. As an avid reader, I am intrigued by the possibilities as it allows me to get closer than I ever would to imagined scenes and emotions. Here are a few (along with a biographical non-fiction counterpart, should you desire truth instead of imagination):


Age of Desire by Jennie Fields


Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee

Victorian writer Edith Wharton wrote novels depicting the strict propriety of appearances, the devastating consequences of scandal, and women whose lives were often an entrapment. Age of Desire chronicles a love affair the author had when she was in her mid-forties, a turning point in her unhappy and loveless marriage.


Gatsby’s Girl by Caroline Preston


The Perfect Hour: the Romance of  F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ginevra King, His First Love by James L.W. West

Before The Great Gatsby and before the colorful and infamous Zelda, Jazz Age author F.Scott Fitzgerald met a beautiful socialite named Ginevra King. This is the story of their ill-fated romance.


The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James


Jane Austen by Carol Shields

 Poor Jane. Everyone always wants to believe there was once a long lost love in her single life. Perhaps there was, but we’ll never really know!


*Kind of how I believe that produce should be labeled, say, ‘strawberries’ and ‘chemically-treated strawberries’ instead of ‘strawberries’ and ‘organic strawberries!’


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Western Pennsylvania Whiskey Connections, Part II

As a follow-up to yesterday’s post on Western PA and the Whiskey Rebellion, let’s look at some more sites with connections to distilled spirits! Here are just a few places of note, in no particular order:

  • Shreve’s Distillery in Perryopolis, near George Washington’s grist mill. Shreve contracted to buy land from Washington, but spent several years haggling over payments and prices. Washington wrote Shreve in 1798 and 1799 asking for payments due, but could not bring himself to sue a fellow army officer. Shreve and Washington both died on the same day–December 14, 1799–although hundreds of miles apart.
  • West Overton is the site of the Overholt homestead and distillery, and boyhood home of their descendant, Henry Clay Frick. A second distillery was at Broadford and is now abandoned.
  • The Schenley name has a long history in distilling, but Schenley PA is no longer a hub of activity. The ruins of the distillery buildings can still be seen there, however.
  • The Dillinger distillery at Ruffsdale was another long-lived enterprise, but the buildings are all abandoned. The Dillingers, like the Overholts, were German Mennonites who relocated from Eastern PA to Westmoreland County.
  • Sam Thompson’s distillery in West Brownsville is also out of business, but his grandson’s imposing home was once a restaurant, and can still be seen.
  • A contemporary whiskey maker is Wigle Whiskey, located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District and named for one of two men sentenced to hang for their part in the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794.

You may also enjoy learning more about the history of Western PA distilleries here and here.

–Marilyn Cocchiola Holt


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Western Pennsylvania Whiskey Connections, Pt I

The most famous connection to whiskey in Western Pennsylvania is undoubtedly the events which led to the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. If you are not familiar with them, there is a brief history at Wikipedia.

You can explore the sites related to those events at many nearby locations, including:

You can also connect to books in our collection on this topic here.

Tomorrow we’ll talk about more connections to sites related to whiskey in Western Pennsylvania.

–Marilyn Cocchiola Holt

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