Last weekend, my girlfriend and I took a trip to Pittsburgh. She had lived there before and we stayed with her friends “C” and “H”. On Friday I was fortunate to meet one of the Statistics PhD students at Carnegie-Mellon who showed me around the campus. I chatted with the amiable department secretary who explained that Pittsburgh folks are mostly from Eastern Europe, while the Scots-Irish people settled closer to Cumberland, MD. “H” took us to the top of the University of Pittsburgh “Cathedral of Learning”, the second tallest academic building in the world, and explained that peregrine falcons nest on its spires. We saw evidence of this in the form of a bluejay carcass in one of the window sills.
On Saturday, we parked near an imposing, multi-story jail building and walked around the downtown area. We saw the confluence of the three rivers that surround the city, and passed by the famous Heinz Stadium. We ate lunch at former Steelers halfback Jerome Bettis’s “Grille 36” sports bar, which was excellent (if you go, be sure to try the Turkey Burger!). I was impressed by the tall skyscrapers everywhere, and H explained that at one point in history, Pittsburgh was one of the largest and most economically dominant city in the United States due to the importance of coal and the steel industry. Now, however, the health and technology industries dominate, and the former headquarters of US Steel is inhabited by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, which is one of the best places in the country for organ transplants. I rented a bike and rode up and down the Monongahela River, observing giant cauldrons that once poured molten iron, and long barges filled with coal coming down the river from West Virginia. It’s amazing that a barge could navigate all the way from there to New Orleans uninterrupted by whitewater rapids, while merely 20 miles or so from DC, the Potomac is blocked off to river traffic by Great Falls.
Later that night, we took the Duquesne (pronounced “Doo-kayn”) Incline to the top of Mt. Washington to get a night time view of the city. “H” explained to us that the inclines were constructed in the early 1800s and would transport steel workers back to their homes at mid-day for lunch with their families. We were extremely fortunate to meet one of the engineers, “L”, who had spent 40 years working in a gear factory. While gleefully expounding on the relative merits of plastic versus wooden cog teeth, he showed us the underground system of cables and enormous spools that was running the incline car up and down the steep mountain. In one of the rooms, a wide area was fenced off with a “high voltage” sign. He said sometimes the wall of fuses and switches throws off showers of sparks, and to him that is “when the fun starts”.
On our final day, we tossed a frisbee in the vast and verdant Schenley Park and had lunch at the one of the famous Primanti Brothers restaurants. Their sandwiches are notable for having coleslaw and french fries BETWEEN (rather than beside) the bread. We also stopped by the Conflict Kitchen, a stall serving food from different countries in opposition to the US (to raise awareness, I suppose?). On our way back to DC, we took a detour and drove up to Mt. Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania. There was a spectacular view from the observation tower at the summit. On the road down the mountain, we passed by numerous Amish folk driving around in horse-and-buggies. I am continually amazed at the wonderful diversity of the people of the United States. We are truly fortunate to live in a land where one can choose to live with however much technology they wish. Whether I find myself seeking solitude or cheery companionship, I am sure I will find myself drawn again in the future to Pittsburgh and the beautiful Allegheny Mountains.

When I lived in Charlottesville, I used to love exploring around the fringes of the town on the Rivanna Trail. On one occasion I was scouting out my next jogging route and noticed a huge, mysterious house through the woods on top of the hill behind the University of Virginia (UVA) campus. I asked around and no one seemed to know who lived there or whether it had any connection to the rest of the town. Even on Google Maps, it somehow reminded me of the kind of place Scooby Doo and the gang would encounter a spooky monster.


Having moved away from Charlottesville, I forgot about the mysterious house until recently when I had a strange dream about it. This inspired me to do a bit of research. Based on gisweb.albemarle.org, I found out the current owner Lewis Mountain LLC obtained from previous owner Everett Lee Campbell (an MD in TX?) in 2010, who inherited it from Julia Courtenay Campbell. Here is her obituary. It seems their application to have it recognized as a historic landmark was successful. This also shows the house was designed in 1909 and built in 1912. And through that I found a couple of fascinating articles describing the history of the house:

The process of learning more about the idiosyncrasies of our local surroundings is such a delight. It reminds me of William Blake’s poem, “To see a world in a grain of sand…”. I hope the folks living there don’t mind my curiosity. I would not wish for anyone to intrude upon their personal sanctuary. However, such an impressive structure, in such an unusual location, deserves to have its story told.