The Berlin Wall came tumbling down 30 years ago this week, which means it has been gone longer than it actually existed – it was built in 1961, in the frozen depths of the Cold War. Now that the Berlin Wall, East Germany and the whole dreary, repressive apparatus of communism have been consigned to history’s dustbin, it’s now become the stuff of tourist fascination. A Nov. 3 article in The New York Times detailed how Berlin now boasts a museum in which visitors can experience what it was like to live in East Germany, and it includes an interrogation room. There’s also a bar in Berlin that collects artifacts from the days when the city was split in two, and a “people’s restaurant” that serves up some of the horrid gruel that East Berliners had to eat back then. The Berlin Wall was no laughing matter when it stood, but it’s gratifying to see the people who were hemmed in by it looking back on those times with such good humor.
Turnout was predictably low in Tuesday’s off-year elections, with only 32% of voters turning up in Washington County. It was satisfying, however, to see one Pennsylvania voter took considerable time and effort to cast a ballot despite the fact that he is currently out of town. In fact, he’s floating above the planet. The Associated Press reported that astronaut Andrew Morgan submitted an absentee ballot application in Lawrence County, with his location listed as “International Space Station, low Earth orbit.” Lawrence County officials responded, setting up a secure email, password and PDF file that Morgan could use to vote. He filled it out and sent it back. Rick DiBello, Lawrence County’s IT director, remarked that it was all “pretty cool.” We agree.
In another couple of years, the toll booths that dot the Pennsylvania Turnpike will be relics. The Turnpike Commission has announced that by the end of 2021, the entire 552-mile highway will be cashless. Drivers will either use E-ZPass or a photo of their license plate will be snapped and a bill will be sent in the mail. Turnpike officials say no employees will be laid off before Jan. 1, 2022, and toll collectors will stay at the plazas during a transition period. After that, the plazas will be torn down. While the prospect of people losing their jobs is not something to celebrate, cashless toll roads are something other states have already embraced and drivers seem to prefer – the Turnpike Commission said that more than 80% of drivers who use the Turnpike prefer E-ZPass. The market, in this case, has spoken.
A hand-carved cane passed through the family of Carroll Township resident Walter Seal from generation to generation, and it came with one heck of a story – it was apparently a gift from Thomas Jefferson to Seal’s great-great-great-great-great uncle. Seal believes the cane was made by one of Jefferson’s slaves at the third president’s plantation Monticello, outside Charlottesville, Va. Now, it’s returning to Monticello. Seal donated the cane to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, which owns and operates Monticello. Historians with the foundation will now examine the cane to determine its provenance. Seal should be commended for sharing this family heirloom with the rest of the world.