Native Connellsville author drew on hometown, murders
Growing up, Karen Dietrich thought she would always be safe in her hometown of Connellsville, Fayette County. That illusion was shattered in March of 1985, when a disgruntled employee at Anchor Glass in Connellsville — where both of Dietrich's parents worked — killed four supervisors, then turned his gun on himself.
Dietrich was 8 years old. Until then, she was convinced that tragedies occurred elsewhere.
“From a child's eye, nothing bad ever happens,” says Dietrich, author of the memoir “The Girl Factory” (skirt!/Pequot Globe Press, $26.95). “But once we grow older and look back, we can see that the bad things were probably always there. We just didn't see them.”
Dietrich, who lives in Greensburg and is an adjunct English instructor at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg and Westmoreland Community College, was a loner for long stretches of her childhood. She found solace in books and took a perverse interest in serial killers at an early age, spurred in part by a librarian who let her check out Truman Capote's “In Cold Blood” when she was 10. She endured entering a beauty pageant at the behest of her mother, who wanted her to grow up and marry one of Donald Trump's sons.
Dietrich's parents worked different shifts at Anchor Glass. While one of them slept, Dietrich often went through her parents' belongings. That innate curiosity served her well when she decided to pursue writing as a career.
“I always felt like I was here to observe and to catalog and to report back for some reason,” Dietrich says. “I thought, maybe that's my place.”
Dietrich admits she was an “over-thinker” as a child, with a tendency to “dwell and ruminate” on events because she often lacked a friend she could talk to or share things. Big questions — whether it was the meaning of life or what motivated Ted Bundy — intrigued her. And she was constantly reading the family's Encyclopedia Britannica for answers.
“If I had the Internet when I was young, I would have had a very different experience growing up,” Dietrich says. “I think of how my son is 12 and how he has this portal and can find whatever he wants. He can connect with people. In my experience, I had to look things up in the encyclopedia or at the library. That was it. You had a lot of time to wonder and think and make up your own ideas.”
Throughout “The Girl Factory,” Dietrich inserts information about serial killers and mass murderers who piqued her interest as a child. She knew her “fascination with that darkness” was going to be a part of the memoir, with the fateful Anchor Glass shooting denoting the figurative end of what outwardly seemed like an idyllic childhood.
“Connellsville treats (the shooting) very differently than other towns might,” Dietrich says, “because, very early on, there wasn't a lot of discussion about it. There wasn't a lot of memorializing, there wasn't a lot of remembrance. I write about how the factory handled the event; it was life goes on, work goes on.
“... A reporter went back a few years later and had a hard time getting people to talk about it. I thought that was really fitting ,because people from Connellsville are very much stoic and are about not showing emotions, just working and keeping your head down and not talking about those dark things and feelings.”
Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- In ‘The Peripheral,’ Gibson travels back to the future
- Baldacci’s ‘Escape’ brings fast, furious twists and turns
- ‘Gutenberg’s Apprentice’ tells how the printed Bible came to be
- Find a good book, learn to write your own at Allegheny Valley forum