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Pennsylvania phone calls to the afterlife

Plus, Sheetz July 4 gas chaos, as seen from a Tesla.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

July 7, 2023
Inside this edition: Firefly finders, drag family, 24/7 shoppe, international foods, turkey talkers, and normalizing grief with a Philadelphia wind phone. 
🏆 HEADS UP: It was a busy week in Pennsylvania news. Were you paying attention? Prove it with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: Budget impasse and a local sci-fi legend.
A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

The iconic Unisphere found in New York City's Flushing Meadows Corona Park was made in which of the following Pennsylvania towns?


A. Pittsburgh and Coraopolis

B. Johnstown and Bethlehem

C. Ambridge and Harrisburg

D. Erie and Aliquippa

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)

Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One thing worth reading: Owl City was right: you would not believe your eyes if 10 million fireflies lit up the world ... mostly because they’re disappearing in states like Pennsylvania, via The Inquirer (paywall). Views like this one, from Diana Lehr, are what's at stake.

» One family worth knowing: These Pennsylvania drag queens are loud, proud, and making a statement in coal country. The AP reports the Daniels drag family is very busy in its Trump-won district.

» One craving worth satisfying: There’s a quick (and convenient) way to satisfy your late night sweet tooth in Erie. After closing its doors, the Icing On The Lake bakery has opened a 24/7 gourmet vending machine.

» One store worth watching: PennsylvAsia reupped a March news release that says Asian grocery chain Fresh International Market is set to open a 23,000 square foot store in North Point Breeze, Pittsburgh, in 2024.

» One survey worth supporting: Gobble Gobble. The annual Pennsylvania Wild Turkey Sighting Survey is underway and the Pennsylvania Game Commission needs your help this summer.

Support vital journalism for Pennsylvania. The future of local news is in your hands. Donate now.
» COVID-19 UPDATE: Your guide to finding resources on cases, vaccines, and tests

» Shapiro reverses voucher position, Senate cries foul

» School vouchers and the budget debate, explained

» Troubles persist in boro that hired Tamir Rice's killer

» Pa. fireworks probably here to stay despite complaints
A person is seen using an old rotatory phone in a wooden structure, part of an art exhibit meant to normalize grief in contemporary society.
The Thread installation in Philadelphia's Rail Park is pictured. (Courtesy of The Thread)

The phone sat in Ravina Daphtary’s home for some time before she ever picked it up. When she finally did, Daphtary, now 39, spoke to the mother she lost at age 7.

“I didn’t know what I would say, and I’m somebody who has been thinking about this for a long time,” Daphtary recalled to PA Local. “But once I actually did get the courage to pick it up and use it, it created so much lightness in me.”

That same phone, an old rotary model purchased on eBay, is now at the center of a free art installation called The Thread that was co-created by Daphtary and tucked under a row of sumac trees in a busy park atop a converted railroad viaduct near Center City, Philadelphia. 

Parkgoers are encouraged to use the phone, which is connected to nothing, to speak with people they normally can’t. Deceased relatives. Loved ones with dementia. Loved ones in prison. 

The exhibit is up through Sept. 23. If you can’t make it in person, there is a number you can use (267-314-7161) to similar ends or to record a testimonial from anywhere.

(Editor’s Note: This is not a helpline, but you can find those here.)

WHYY reported on the exhibit late last month and spoke to a grief therapist, Beth Jellinek, who worked on the project with Daphtary and two others. Jellinek said vocalizing your relationship and loss, even through an imaginary phone call, can be transformative.

“I used the phone to call my dad who died 17 years ago,” Jellinek told WHYY. “I introduced him to my husband for the first time.”

The concept, often referred to as a wind phone, first appeared in Japan and grew in notoriety after the 2011 tsunami there that killed nearly 20,000 people. It has since been emulated worldwide, with installations popping up in secluded areas across the U.S., including forests and cemeteries.

The Thread’s location and timing — in the middle of a large Pennsylvania city wracked by gun violence and an overdose epidemic, all while coping with thousands of deaths from the COVID-19 pandemic — isn’t coincidental. 

“We felt like as a city we had been hit pretty hard over the last couple of years and wanted to create a space to witness our community’s collective grief together,” Daphtary, a Philadelphia resident, said. “It’s really used as a tool to kind of normalize grief.” 

So, how should one start a conversation at The Thread? 

Daphtary said: “I think the easiest thing is to start by saying ‘Hi.’”

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

Our favorite quote about Pennsylvania — or from a Pennsylvanian — this week.

"They won't ever run out of electricity. I mean, not as often as they run out of gas."

— Matthew Grab, who watched the parking lot chaos wrought by Sheetz's July 4 gasoline deal from the relative comfort of an EV charging station

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.

A backyard turtle, as seen by Spotlight PA Executive Director Chris Baxter. Have a photo you'd like to share with the whole state? Send it to us , use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

An orange-tinged turtle on black mulch.
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

C. Ambridge and Harrisburg.

A Redditor in the Pittsburgh subreddit recently noticed the U.S. Steel logo on the Unisphere, which was unveiled in New York City during the 1964 World's Fair and remains a Queens icon today. 

According to this 1995 news release from NYC's Landmarks Preservation Commission: Designed by Gilmore D. Clarke, the Unisphere was engineered, fabricated, and donated to the fair by the United States Steel Corporation (USS). Its components were manufactured by the company's American Bridge Division at Ambridge and Harrisburg, and assembled at the World's Fair site.

Thanks for reading PA Local. We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? 

Support vital journalism for Pennsylvania. The future of local news is in your hands. Donate now.
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