Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
the Nanty Glo in My Mind

Camelot on the Blacklick

Last week someone sent me the following in the form of a scan of a clipping from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I spent several hours combing the P-G archives online in the hopes of finding it in web-page format, hoping to find more information, like a date and possibly an email address. I was unsuccessful, but internal clues in this suggest that it is recent, as by my reckoning Mr. Edelstein's 93rd birthday, which the writer was looking forward to, will be later this month. It's possible I couldn't find it online because it had not been online long enough to have been found by Google or some other indexing service. Please read it; I think anyone with Blacklick Valley roots will find it charming and fetching, even if the writer considers Nanty Glo "a tired, old town."

As a little girl, I loved hearing stories about my parents when they were children. My mother's birth and growing-up years in Pittsburgh, however, interested me less than my dad's birth and summers spent in Nanty Glo. The name Nanty Glo evoked for me a town ruled by a kind old auntie who created a shining shadow wherever she went. When Dad added that Mundy's Corner leads to Nanty Glo, I was hooked. I had to visit this fairy tale place with the magical names.

Thus began our ritual of taking a summer road trip to Nanty Glo.

I quickly learned that this "Valley of Coal" nestled in Cambria County about 12 miles from Johnstown, is more of a tired, old town than an enchanted village. it boasts only one main street. Yet, because Nanty Glo played such a large role in Dad's life—and is the only physical setting I can associate with the grandfather I never met—going to Nanty Glo has become a special part of my life.

Dad spends every trip entertaining me with all kinds of stories from his youth, but once we reach Nanty Glo, he becomes silent for a while, as if he needs to once again come to terms with what he lost there.

On March 29, 1916, my dad was born in the bedroom above the variety store his parents owned; almost three years later, on Dec. 6, 1918, his father, a victim of the flu pandemic, died in that bedroom. Within a few months, my grandmother and father had relocated to New Kensington, the birthplace of my grandmother.

Sometimes when Dad and I stand on the spot that used to house his parents' store and apartment, I try to imagine what life may have been like for my father.

Happily, I know Dad has clear, fond memories of the summers he spent there. Nanty Glo became Dad's summer camp, a place he visited every July and August until he graduated from high school, staying with his mother's sister and her family.

Usually Dad and I just drive through the town. But on his 90th birthday, we parked the car to explore. We discovered an old-fashioned hardware store crammed with every nut, bolt, screw and piece of basic equipment ever invented. From there we walked a few steps to the newspaper office and then crossed the street to the Nanty Glo Library. There, we unearthed a gold mine of information about his family.

While Dad and I look upon our Nanty Glo trips as sacred to us, we did allow my daughter to join us last summer. I smiled as she asked Dad the questions I always ask him and as Dad gave her the same answers he always gives me. I watched as she reveled in walking the same streets that her great-grandmother had once walked and as she rejoiced in having a tangible connection of place with the great-grandfather she never knew. Nanty Glo had enchanted her with its magic.

I am already planning Dad's 93rd birthday celebration around a trip to Nanty Glo.

—Ronna Edelstein

My own childhood impressions of Nanty Glo were not nearly as "glowing," so to speak, as Ronna's. Mine were based on actual visits to the town, the nearest "marketplace" for our family farm at the time, and not only did it look ugly to me, it smelled even uglier, with the savor of burning sulphur permeating everything within a mile of the Heisley Mine rockdump. The railroad crossing just beyond Rinehart's Drugstore (now the Niner Diner) was so rough you might get a broken spring. And the creek under the bridge a block farther on was so polluted with bright red, almost orange, acid mine drainage that it almost glowed itself. But I think my first "defensive" posture toward Nanty Glo was struck when a visitor to our family who was with us when we drove through, complained about how awful it seemed. It's one thing to find a place ugly to yourself, but when someone tells you your place is ugly, your hackles go up. Then in junior high years I started hitch-hiking to Nanty Glo for occasional movies at the Capitol Theater, and some of those experiences were pure joy. Through "the showplace of Cambria County," Nanty Glo became to me the closest the young boy could get to the "bright lights, big city." And by then, the rockdump was getting less and less odiferous year by year.

I started writing for the Mountaineer-Herald in Ebensburg about that time (seventh grade), mainly because it was convenient for me to pop into the M-H office on Center Street and pitch my services as the Blacklick Valley correspondent to Mr. Thompson, the editor, while Mom shopped at the A&P across the street. But a few years later, after he declined my pitch to also do a teen column for the Mountaineer-Herald, and Andrew P. Rogalski, the editor of the Nanty Glo Journal, warmly welcomed it, my loyalty to Nanty Glo was sealed from then on. But even better, the teen column was a great success, so much so that the editors of the other Mainline newspapers at the time were also running it, and it was the most talked about weekly feature in the Journal. From my picture in the paper, people routinely greeted me on the streets of Nanty Glo (and it had more than one main commercial street in those days). Unlike Mr. Thompson who never gave me any advice, Mr. Rogalski undertook to be my mentor, and by the end of my junior year in high school I was doing a considerable amount of reporting in the Journal besides my columns.

Flash forward about seven years, when I had moved away from the Valley to take a managing editor post at an international weekly paper published in South New Jersey. I found my future wife and brought her home to meet the folks and show her around. When I tried to explain my years of being "nearly famous" in Nanty Glo, she burst into the refrain to "Camelot," which we had gone to see on a date in New York City as probably the most memorable day and evening of our courtship. Yes. That was it, exactly. That said it all.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

Here are some earlier articles about Edelsteins and their department store in Nanty Glo:
Forum - George Dilling Remembers 73 Years in Nanty Glo—Part 1
A memoir of Nanty Glo's early years
Postcard - Old News from Journal-NTAMHS

And here's an earlier memoir of my teen column:
Teen Events - A personal memoir

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C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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