Next week is the 127th Anniversary of the Great Johnstown Flood. On May 31st, 1889 an incredible storm lead to the failure of the South Fork Dam, and the flooding of the valley below. The flood killed more than 2,200 people and destroyed the town. I’ll write a little more about the flood, the town and the triumph of the human spirit next week. Today I’m posting a picture taken earlier this year at sunset just after it snowed. The picture was taken from the top of the World’s Steepest Vehicular Inclined Plane in the Westmont section of Johnstown.
I am thrilled to tell you I will soon be the new Executive Director for the Community Arts Center of Cambria County! I’m very excited to be part of an organization I’ve admired for years and can’t wait to get started later this month. Most of all, my family and I are thrilled to be coming home to Johnstown, PA and being part of the community in such an amazing way.
Working in small market television is a strange and wonderful experience filled with weird and amazing things that most people may be surprised to hear about. The flutter of phone calls reporting first robin sighting each spring…the UFO sightings around the full moon (I kid you not)…I will gladly be sharing some of these stories as we go along. But first, as promised……Did I ever tell you about the time I was a giant pickle?
I was working at WWCP-FOX 8 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania when I found about the chance to become a pickle mascot. It wasn’t my grand plan or something, the opportunity presented itself and I seized the gherkin. I started full-time in Production Department during my last semester in college and worked my way up from Technical Director to Promotions Producer. It was a fancy way of saying I worked the 4AM to 1 PM (but usually it was when I could finally get out of there for the day) doing morning news cut-ins and any promos (the commercials for TV shows) or promotional videos that needed edited or produced. I took promo feeds and checked faxes for changes to schedules, helped come up with ideas for local campaigns, etc.
It was on one of the national feeds for a Fox Sports Kids’ show we aired called In The Zone (followed by a fax a few days later) that I saw about a marketing campaign they were going to try to create a new mascot call the In the Zone In A Pickle Pickle. They were only going to let 20 or 25 affiliates have the first test mascots so we had to act fast if we were going to get in on the ground floor of this thing. Our Promotions Director wasn’t too sure about it, especially when she realized that the only employee at the station that met the 5′ to 5’4″ requirement was me. Having only one person who fit in the costume could limit the number appearances and would prevent me from getting a break when we were out places. Thankfully I was volunteering with some very willing (i.e. gullible) high school students who just turned 18 and volunteered to be Jr. Pickle People! We faxed off the form and were selected as a test market.
Our Pickle debut was at Mascot Night for the (now defunct) local pro baseball team, the Johnstown Johnnies (whose own mascot was a giant baseball head…thing…think sort of the Headless Horseman only in a baseball uniform and with a giant baseball with a head instead of a pumpkin)***. It was in the 80’s and about 70% humidity. Perfect night to be wearing a felt and foam suit with Lycra pants. I was joined by the star of the evening, the Pittsburgh Pirate Parrot, who turned to be out a really cool guy, as well as the walking teddy from a local hospital and a couple of other regional mascots.
Since our station was one of the sponsors I got to ride around the track in a white convertible driven by Chris, my official “Pickle Wrangler” and body-guard for the night. I thought I might get to cool off, but when I sat down it pushed the air vents over my head and I almost passed out. On the plus side both the Pittsburgh Parrot and I got to throw out the first pitch. Between the giant three finger felt gloves and the fact that I couldn’t move my arms all that well and when I moved my arms past my shoulders I couldn’t see out the eye holes anymore (and lost sight of the catcher) let’s just say the ball did not reach the plate and leave it at that.
We had big introductions of all the mascots between the 1st and 2nd innings so we had to wait under the home dugout for our big moment. The Parrot was on stilts, like you do for special occasions, leaning over the top of the vending machine. I was dressed as a giant pickle and was leaning against the wall. The Giant Baseball Head Guy kept pour drinks down through the gaping hole in his mouth. The life-size Teddy Bear was leaning against the other wall. We were talking about 401(k) versus IRA investments…with the large talking bird giving some really great advice when the “Pickle Wranger” burst out laughing and doubled over. “This is the strangest conversation I have been a part of in my entire life.” The four of us looked around and shrugged. The Parrot saying that this was one of the more normal things he’s done.
I actually had a great time with the Parrot. We got along great and interacted with each other in the stands. He came over to give me a hug at one point and neither one of us realized how top heavy my costume was. Until I lost my balance. I heard him say. “Just relax, I’ll put you down.” I knew I was well padded so I just went with it and the next thing I knew I was looking at the sky. A bunch of kids had surrounded us by that time and started yelling at the poor guy for tackling the green M&M. Then the kids tried to help me up, yeah that didn’t go well. Pickle Wrangler Chris to the rescue.
The big problem with the costume was that it didn’t necessarily look like a pickle. It was big. It was green. It was bumpy. Most the bumps were covered by the baseball jersey. And the stem at the top didn’t look all that stem like. Most people really did think I was a giant green M&M, peanut to be specific. I was also called a jelly bean. And a pepper. No one guessed pickle.
The pickle wasn’t as scary as some of the other mascots (I’m looking at you Big Baseball Head Guy!) and since most people thought he was candy he was pretty well accepted. Well by everyone but my niece who decided The Pickle was the Spawn of Satan. But The Pickle could not be denied and she warmed up to him.
I think I lost close to 10 pounds by the time the night was over. When I finally took a break out of the costume and slipped into the stands somewhere in the 6th or 7th inning the Parrot spotted me and attacked my husband and I with a super soaker. When we were in the dressing room talking I mentioned that I had recently gotten married and he said he wife came with him, so after he soaked us he went and sprayed a woman who looked like she was going to kill him and then pointed at himself. I gave him a thumbs up and told my husband it must be the Parrots wife. Again…strange conversations you don’t expect to have at the ball park.
The Jr Pickles took over most pickle duties and I was the wrangler after that. We did a blood drive or two. But the whole In the Zone In A Pickle test period was really only about six weeks, so we didn’t get to do all that much. By the next summer I wasn’t at the station any more and I never heard another word about The Pickle.
***I’ve searched for a picture of the Johnnies mascot but couldn’t find one. If anyone out there has a picture, or a link to one, I would LOVE to include it. Please share it in the comments section below!! Thanks!
I’d also love to hear from anyone who was ever a Pickle or involved in the project! Leave a message below!
Seeing that this week is San Diego Comic-Con, and I took my girls to their first con a few weeks ago, I’ve got cons on the brain. Did I ever tell you about my con experiences? Tune in next time!
This week is is the 125 anniversary of the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889. For most people that doesn’t mean much. For the people of Johnstown it means a lot. It was the first of three floods that threatened to destroy the town. Generations of my family have lived in the Johnstown area for all of them. I was around for the last flood in 1977. Did I ever tell you about…the time I should have died?
I was only four, so I don’t really remember things well. It’s more like pictures or snippets of memories. But I remember the storm. It rained so hard and the thunder and lightning were so bad I thought I was never going to see my mom again (she’d gone shopping with my grandmother and had trouble getting home because of the storm). By the time it was over nearly 11 inches had fallen in less than a day — a once in a 1000 year storm the weather people called it.
Officially, the rain overwhelmed everything. Johnstown made a number of flood safety improvements over the years. But that much water in such a small amount of time and all bets are off. Several dams eventually broke or spilled over. 85 lives were lost. Thousands of properties were destroyed or damaged. Ten of thousands of lives were turned upside down. I fall into the last two categories.
We lived outside Johnstown and were out of the path of the flooding that hit town. We should have been safe. We weren’t. We should have died that night. Miraculously we didn’t.
Our house was part way down a hill. The water running down the hill and against the foundation wall that, which unbeknownst to us had a structural problem. During the night the wall failed. I remember being woken up by a crashing sound and my dad running past my bedroom door and down the basement steps. I remember racing after him to see what the excitement was. I think he screamed for me to stop. My mom was right behind me and grabbed me. I remember him saying, “Get the kids out! The wall fell in!”
The next few minutes are a series of pictures in my mind. I remember being in the bedroom with the lights on changing out of pajamas. I remember seeing someone coming out of the bathroom (the water was on and working). It was sort of frantic calm. I don’t remember feeling the house shake or that we were in danger. I imagine my mom and dad grabbed some clothes and things, but mostly it was about getting out.
I remember all of us sitting in the car and it raining so hard we could barely see the house. I remember the sound of lightning cutting through the atmosphere and deafening thunder. I remember the car radio wasn’t playing music, just a voice repeating over and over that there was flooding everywhere and people needed to get to higher ground immediately. I remember one of us asking my parents why we were just sitting there and my mom saying, “We’re waiting for the house to fall in.” That must have been when we realized it was bad because that’s when we started to cry.
You see, the wall that collapsed was one of the walls that ran the length of the house. It was the wall where all the water and electricity came in to the house. When my dad ran down the stairs and into the basement the water and muck was already around his ankles, the circuit box and wires were in it too. He probably should have been electrocuted, or gotten a serious shock, but he was fine. Sparks should have been flying as live wires were torn and a fire should have started when paper and insulation fell on the mess. But none of those things happened.
The house was stable the whole time we were in it that night. I don’t remember it shaking or creaking. By morning light only one person could be inside before it would shudder and shake. We had lights and water. By morning there was no power and no water. It was just as dangerous under the house, so bracing it up to stabilize it was a slow process.
The weeks that followed are a blur. We stayed with different relatives. We didn’t see much of our parents while they dug the mud out of the basement and tried to save what they could. I remember drinking water in Pepsi cans because the water wasn’t always safe to drink and the local Pepsi bottling plant jumped in to clean, filtered water. I remember government cheese (it was kind of like Velveeta). I remember a strange fear in the pit of my stomach every time stormed that lasted for years.
My mom said that someone was watching out for us and that she knew that night that her kids were meant for great things because we made it out alive. The house should have collapsed, with us in it, when the wall caved in. It should have caught on fire. We could have been hit by lightning while we sat in the car. We could have been caught in flood water trying to get to my grandparents if a police officer ahead of us on the road hadn’t turned on his lights warning us to turn around. It was one of those nights where if any one thing had been different, a minute one way or the other, could have made all the difference in the five us surviving the night.
I probably should have died that night. Yet, here I am. Sure, like a lot of people I’ve wondered why from time-to-time. Every time I have, I tried to remind myself of that night. I survived on a night when a lot of people didn’t and I really need to make the most of it.
What about you? Do you have a story where a few minutes made all the difference? I’d love to hear it! Share in the comments below or post a link to where we can find the story.
Next week’s story is a lot shorter, a lot more fun, and involves a giant pickle! Don’t miss it!
In keeping with the idea of sharing five things every Friday, this is the second edition of the Friday Five! These are five (probably) random, (rarely) newsworthy and on (nearly every) occasion strange or unique. I hope there’s at least one thing on the list you haven’t already heard about so you have something to share with your grandmother when you call her this weekend (you know you’ve meant to call).
And off we go…
1. Johnstown, Pennsylvania, my hometown, is also home to the world’s steepest vehicular inclined plane. Not to be confused with the world’s longest vehicular inclined plane which is near-by Pittsburgh. If you’re ever in the area check it out, it’s kind of cool.
2. What do you get when an artist mom and her 4-year-old daughter collaborate on a project? Some pretty cool art that what!
3. Small town politics can be dog-eat-dog. Some people are wondering if it wasn’t more of an assassination attempt when the cat mayor of a town in Alaska was attacked by a dog. What do you think?
4. A stork was recently arrested in Egypt on suspicion of spying. There was some concern that it was in cahoots with some GPS sharks that were allegedly swimming off the coast. No word from Dr. Doolittle on his involvement.
5. Would you be willing to wait eight years to get your expensive diamond earring back? A woman in England is! You won’t believe who took it.
That’s this week’s Friday 5! Do you have something you think would be perfect for the list? Drop me a line here:
Have a great weekend!
I thought I would try something new for the blog and share five things every Friday. Five (probably) random, (rarely) newsworthy and on (nearly every) occasion strange or unique. Hopefully it’ll be a chance to see something new and give you something to say when there’s awkward silence on your blind date this weekend.
Off we go…
1. Did you know that the first peacetime relief services of the American Red Cross were in 1889 in Johnstown, PA? Clara Barton and volunteers arrived in town just after the Great Johnstown Flood in May and stayed until October providing services to the devastated city.
2. All you Video Music Award fans out there can own a piece of history. Part the red carpet is up for sale on eBay with a starting bid of $500. You could always choose the buy it now option for $5000. The auction ends Monday so get your bids in before it’s too late!
3. A pot-bellied pig was picked up by the police. The irony was not missed by the officers in Grand Rapids.
4. A shop owner in Japan transforms into a masked hero to aid people on the stairs at a subway station. He’s looking for volunteers to help him, no information in the article on where to do to sign up, or if it’s BYOC (Bring Your Own Costume).
5. Honey Badger don’t care, but he tweets! I’m one of his followers and I have to say he takes some great selfies.
So there you have it, the first five Friday 5! (Try saying that 5 tines fast!) I don’t want to keep all this fun to myself, so if you see something that would be perfect for next week’s Friday 5 tweet me @LorieEGSinger or leave a message below!