Gracious and Genteel. Those are the two words that I could best use to describe not only Dr. Bernadette DeCaria, but also her three young children: Alicia, Muriel and baby Antonio. They live in a beautiful mansion home on Coraopolis Heights, which once housed the only orphanage in Moon Township (and a SERBIAN orphanage to boot!) only a few miles from my home, not far from the Montour Country Club. How I cherished visiting with them the afternoon of April 8, 2016, at their lovely residence. Let me back up a little to fill you in on a great mystery, now partially solved.
Four years ago (2013), ninety+ members of the Moon Township Historical Society, Sewickley Valley Historical Society and the Ben Avon Area Historical Association all came together to learn more about the sixteen mansions located in Moon Township, built during the early years of 20th century, America’s Golden Era. This joint historical society meeting was at the famous landmark in Moon, the Hyeholde Restaurant, which also previously had been one of the sixteen mansions.
Deborah Kennedy, a retired teacher from Moon Township, was the speaker that evening, and took us along with her as she gave a PowerPoint presentation featuring several homes. Near the middle, she mentioned how one of those homes, according to the late +Dr. Robert Jockers, in his book, FORGOTTEN PAST, once housed Serbian orphans. ???? (What did she just say???)
You know my ears picked up and from then on, my antenna radar was ever alert. Always I was seeking more information. And over the years, bits and pieces came in that rewet my detective-researcher’s bloodhound nose, but in a way, I was almost hesitant to find out more, because of the nagging thought of “Why did that Serbian orphanage only last two years?” Where did they get the money in the first place? How? No American Serbs I knew of could have afforded to buy a mansion at that time. Was it donated? A mystery.
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough came on April 1, 2016, after Earl Edwards (President of the MTHS, and Amy Ottavieri (Director of Moon Parks) and I left the Moon Community Access TV studios after speaking about our historical society for Public Awareness Week. The next day, I had arranged for Earl to join Carl Walpusk (one of the U.S. airmen rescued by General Draza Mihailovich and his Chetniks and the OSS) and me to speak about the upcoming 100th Anniversary celebration of Serbian Day at Kennywood Park in Duquesne, PA. I had already asked Earl, as President of the Moon Township Historical Society (MTHS), to mention the Serbian orphanage in Moon, as the funds raised at the FIRST Serbian Day at Kennywood went to help Serbian orphans, and there was “almost” a connection. He had with him the Dr. Jockers’ book FORGOTTEN PAST, and had shown me a picture of the Langhurst mansion, THE Serbian orphanage from 1918-1920. (I had purchased the e-book version a year or so earlier, and it didn’t have a photo of that mansion!) “Oh my gosh! Let’s go find it, Earl!” Amy was leaving for home as she was tired from a long day. “Let me know if you have any luck,” she said getting into her car seat.
Earl had to be back in an hour for another taping on MCA-TV, but Moon Township is not THAT big, we thought. But after 45 minutes, looking for a home with a distinctive “M” (twin peaks), we were just about to give up. “I have to get back, Mim.”
“I understand, Earl, maybe some other day.”
And then, suddenly, THERE it was!
(a meeting of all Clergy), taking place on Mary 29-30, 1927.
“There it is! There it is!” my leg almost halfway out the door as Earl slowed to a stop with much traffic behind. “I have to take a picture!” Cars whizzed by a justifiably nervous Earl, but I was joyous that we had at last found it! And I had the photo AND an address! Earl dropped me off at the TV station to pick up my own car, and he then went on to record another session on the Senior Men’s Club of Sewickley. I drove home pondering, “What’s next?”
I thought about how lucky I was to live in Moon Township. (1) I had a living witness, U.S. airmen (Lt. Col. Carl Walpusk), from WWII that escaped the Ploesti Oil runs, only to be shot down later and rescued by the Serbs from behind German occupied lines in Yugoslavia who lived only a few miles from me. (2) Moon Township had issued a Proclamation recognizing the 130 years of Diplomatic History between America / Serbia, when I was interviewed by Jugoslav Cosić from Belgrade for Serbian TV (with the consent of the U.S. State Department), here at my home on August 25, 2011. And now, (3) the SERBIAN ORPHANAGE! What was I going to do about it?
Librarians are pretty good researchers, and from looking up the address at the Allegheny County Courts Records site online, I soon found out the names of the owners, AND a phone number! I remember staring at the information I wrote down for several minutes before acting. Wow… would the owners feel like talking with someone they didn’t know calling? I could only try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Well, Dr. Bernadette DeCaria is one special person. The Physician Assistant from UPMC Passavant Hospital, was as lovely as could be on the phone, and we arranged for a meeting at her home. So many times in the last weeks or so I thought of Bernadette being like a Southern belle, as her mannerisms were just so perfect, so very gracious, but I’m happy to report she’s a native Moon Township resident! And she has already passed these lovely mannerisms onto her adorable children.
She and little dark-haired, smiling eyes and winning smile Murial greeted me warmly at the door and welcomed me into the open hallway, then into the large kitchen, and then out into the dining room with soaring windows, where I sat at the long craftsman table, facing the huge fireplace, having fresh coffee and cookies. (Baby Antonio had been napping upstairs.)
I shared the few facts I had on the first Serbian day at Kennywood in the Pittsburgh Press and also, one of our recent American SRBOBRANS with Bella Westling and my Jocelyn Bizic in a Kennywood WHIP car on the cover, with earlier tales from past 3-Day weekends. Then Bernadette showed me her huge stack of papers, documenting the history of the home! Yes, indeed, this had been a Serbian orphanage from 1918-1920. It had been purchased under the auspices of the Slavonian Evangelical Union for a Serbian orphanage.
After America’s Revolutionary War, soldiers were paid in script and a land promise which was how far a man could “walk and stake” in one day. George Mack walked 440 acres for his share, the MOST in our area! Over the years the property had been subdivided with a remaining 38 acres and a two story white farmhouse, where in 1909, C. J. Lang, Sr., and his wife Hilda and nine children moved into their new home located at 1327 Coraopolis Heights Road. Mr. Lang was a titan of Pittsburgh industry, who owned the prosperous Russell Machinery Company.
It wasn’t long before Mr. Lang commissioned architect John Born to design a new home for his large family and “Langhurst” (hurst means home in German) was built DIRECTLY in front of the white house, completed in 1910. Then the white farmhouse was jacked up onto a flat bed wagon and pulled by horses 150 feet to its present location. Interestingly enough, the youngest Lang resident recorded remembering when one of the workmen lifted her “onto the porch of the farm house as it was being moved and riding the house to the field.”
She also recalled that although her father owned one of the first cars in the area, the Lang handyman took her and other brothers and sisters to the Lincoln school in Coraopolis by horse and wagon in good weather and by sleigh in the snow “with the sleigh bells on horses jingling all the way.”
At the time Langhurst was built in 1910, there were only 1, 526 residents in all of Moon Township. Although described as being of English Tutor style, the home is really a fine example of a turn of the century American Foursquare, with 4 large corner rooms with a very spacious center hall on each of the three floors.
When we toured the third floor, I couldn’t help but think that this is where the orphans slept and how they must have thought they must be dreaming to see such grandeur! There were two beautiful crystal chandeliers in the huge hallway separating the four super-sized bedrooms. I remarked, “It’s amazing to me that this doesn’t look like an attic floor.” No wonder, there was ALSO an attic above, and large bathrooms too, on that third floor! How I enjoyed looking at the long chalkboard that still remains in the far right room, with right-facing windows overlooking the vast front yard of lovely trees, bushes and daffodils planted to bespeak a double heart on the grass! This home was made for LOVE, including the present owners.
For the Moon Township Bicentennial, a history was written June, 1988, about the home from the recollections of all previous owners (Joan James, Shelby Jennings, Hilda Lang Polizoto, William Metcalf III, Raymond Suckling, and Edward Eaton, all of Sewickley) which was then given over to our Bernadette and her family.
It says that in 1918, Mr. Lang sold the entire 38 acres to the Slavonic Evangelical Union (the “Serbian Church” is written in parenthesis.) who used the new house, Langhurst, as the only known orphanage ever in Moon Township. The caretaker of the orphanage property lived in the white farmhouse (One Ewing Road) and farmed the land raising farm animals, fruits and vegetables to feed the children and workers of the orphanage.
And here is where our tale ends in one location, and takes up in another. “In 1920, the report goes, the new orphanage was complete in Libertyville, Illinois and the children were moved to that facility.”
AHA! Mystery complete!
Here we have Archimadrite Mardarije in 1913, in Libertyville, IL with his flock of faithful followers who were intent on building a monastery on the site, with an orphanage and children’s camp. The Glorification of St. Mardarije took place in Libertyville, IL from July 15-17, 2017 with 4-5,000 people in attendance!
Serbian St. Sava’s Orphanage in Libertyville, IL, for a “Sabor,”
(a meeting of all Clergy), taking place on Mary 29-30, 1927.
July 14-16, 2017. Over 4-5,000 people participated in this wondrous occasion in Illinois!
Now, MORE ABOUT LANGHURST!
But before we leave, there are a few more juicy tidbits to include.
“At that time, 1920, Mr. William Metcalf, Jr. purchased all 38 acres. The Metcalfs and their three children summered here at Langhurst and spent winters in their home in Vanderbilt Forest, Asheville, North Carolina. Mr. William Metcalf II recalls as a young boy waking to a red glow in his bedroom and his parents explaining that the Ku Klux Klan was burning a pavilion at the present entrance of Oakhaven Drive. The picnic area was a popular meeting place for the Klan in Moon Township.”
What? In Moon Township? It was hard to believe, but unfortunately true!
Also it should be noted that the Metcalfs made many changes to the property. They extended the front porch half way around each side of the house and added a porte-cochere on the driveway side and a larger dormer bathroom to the third floor and beautiful trees, including Southern Magnolias from their Asheville home.
In 1928, Mr. Metcalf sold five acres including Langhurst to Mr. Raymond Suckling and his wife Martha, and he retained the remaining 22 acres now known as Pine Acres.
Following the kidnapping and murder of the Lindberg baby, Mr. Suckling had steel bars installed on the windows of the nursery room where his small daughter Mary Martha slept. What a history this house has!
The property was kept in the family until 1953 when the five acres were sold to A.A. and Clara Archibald, who moved into the home with their three sons. Mrs. Archibald’s grandfather, although born in Boston, had very strong ties to the Pittsburgh area. Sam Diescher designed and built many famous inclines worldwide, including both the Monongahela and Duquesne inclines in Pittsburgh and the Cambria County incline in Johnstown, PA. I was thrilled when Bernadette showed me the room which had copies of those blueprint plans of the inclines wallpapered onto the left front third floor bedroom of her home that were placed there on the walls to inspire the young boys who had lived there before her own children! This room was directly across from the third floor right front room that still had the green “blackboards” the Serbian orphans used in their schooling! I imagined myself as one of those Serbian orphans, looking straight ahead onto the blackboards as any dutiful scholar, but then, couldn’t help but turn my head to the right, to see the massive windows and the incredibly beautiful landscaping outside as far as the eye could see. The home is a stunning masterpiece aglow with the current owners.
The reports say that anyone who has ever lived there expressed their pride in the heritage they shared as residents of the Langhurst Estate, and rightly so. But let me end with this beautiful moment. Bernadette asked if I would excuse her as her oldest daughter’s school bus would be coming soon and she and the two younger children always went out to greet Daughter #1. “Of course,” I said. And I hope I never, ever forget the image I saw before me….
The long yellow “Moon Township School District” bus stopped out on the street at least a block-long distance from the home. A little munchkin with a backpack emerged and looked carefully each way for traffic before crossing the busy street. In the meantime, Bernadette and the young ones were now half way down the long driveway. Suddenly, from both sides, I saw them all run towards each other in the most magnificent show of love imaginable, all four meeting in the middle, hugging, and sharing events of the day. I was so happy I was there to meet Alicia, too, who proved just as captivating as the other two and their beautiful mother, Dr. Bernadette DeCaria.
Before I left, I shared with them the funny story written in the American SRBOBRAN from decades ago of my cousin Cheri Bobik’s and my last trip on the Thunderbolt, when we almost died because of the stuck car ahead of us as we barreled along, coming out of the tunnel at the top at breakneck speed. The children’s eyes were as wide as could be and they begged me for some more stories. It was a visit I’ll never forget. I keep promising myself to meet Mr. DeCaria at Porter’s Drugstore, located at 935 Beaver Grade Road in Moon Township. From the reviews I’ve read, he has many longtime, happy customers. And one great family!
Post Script: Although we don’t have further information about the transfer of the children to Libertyville, IL, etc., there was an article in the 1916 edition of Boy’s Life Magazine about Professor Michael Pupin, and how his Slavonic Immigrant Society and a house presented by Mrs. Helen Hartley Jenkins, helped thousands, finding them employment and in many other ways. It also said that although “99% of the contributors were born in Austria, (Serbians from the Krajina Area of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) yet their sympathy is entirely with the Serbs in Serbia.” And though “Pupin is a Serb by birth, and is proud of it, he is nonetheless American. President Wilson appointed him a member of the National Advisory Committee. I’m pretty sure Mr. Pupin had a hand in helping in Moon Tszp. too!
Here’s an account of the plight of the Serbian Orphans written in 1914
A WWI first-hand account of the plight of the Orphans in Serbia by St. Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich!
“He doesn’t belong to anybody now! One of Serbia’s 10,000 war orphans who wander aimlessly about their country in search of food and shelter. The boy is huddled against the wall in the sunshine trying to keep warm. Notice that the toes of his shoes are out and the bottoms of his trousers frayed and torn by the brambles in the fields he had trudged through.”
BY HARRY PAYNE BURTON
New York, Nov. 27, 1914
Indescribably moving first-hand stories of the amazing misery of the 10,000 wandering orphans of Serbia have been given me by Father Nikolai Velimirovich.
This famous priest, the greatest preacher the Slavs have ever had, has just reached New York from Serbia. He looks an old man. He is only 34. But three wars have each added ten years to his life –
His simply-told, yet heartrending stories of the almost unbelievable sufferings of Serbia’s lost children need no embellishing. They hit home by themselves. Here they are:
Tale No. 1
“One day I was standing outside the Town hall in Nish. A little girl was in the bread line, and when it came to her turn she asked for two loaves. “Oh, please give me one more,” she cried. “I am not alone. We live six together.””I made them give her two loaves,and went with her. We walked for half an hour, and at last came to a field. But I saw no house. There was a little heap of straw, and in it six little children were playing.”When they saw Yela coming their faces lit up, and they ran toward us with little shouts of joy. This was the only food they got each day. They lived in the straw, and Yela was their only protector!”
Tale No. 2
“In Lazzaravitch I saw a boy holding a dog by a chain. He was crying, and a few ‘soldiers were gathered around him.”
‘What is the matter, my little man?’ I asked.”
‘My dog is hungry.'”
He was Marko Markovitch. When the enemy came his mother told him to flee, while she remained to look after the house.”I did not want to go,” he told me.”I got my dog and we ran away. We walked for days and days, and we slept in the fields. Once it snowed. I have walked half over Serbia, ‘and I am now going back to look for my mother. We have stopped here for a rest” ‘Yes, I am hungry. ‘But give my dog something first.’ “
Tale No. 3
“Kossera Petrovitch was the mother of four. She fled from Resnik to Belgrade and tried to get a train to take them south, The train station had 20,000 others waiting there. In the terrible struggle for trains, Kosserawas was left waiting for four days.”
Then one of the children strayed. Where? Who knows? It was lost.
“On the fifth day she and the other three got aboard a train. After 50 miles the second child was crushed to death on the train. Two days later, another child died.”
Then I saw her with her one remaining child and no home. She said to me:” ‘I will go home. What does it matter if I and this one are killed, too?'”
Tale No. 4
“A father is fighting at the front The mother has died of typhus. The children are left without anybody. Kosta is a boy of 12, and his sister Vera is 9. They start off to find their father. After many days of wandering, by chance they meet him.
‘Mother is dead. What shall we do with the house?’ they ask.”
The poor father, fighting for his country! What answer could he make them?”
There are ten thousand children looking for their parents like this. They are known as the “wandering children”
Serbia’s babes in the woods. (And this was only 1914!)