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Mt. Pleasant festival celebrates glass heritage

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More than 40,000 people attend the annual Mt. Pleasant Glass & Ethnic Festival, an event rich in the history of the glass industry that once thrived in this Western Pennsylvania town.

There will be demonstrations by professional glass cutters as there have been since the festival’s inception. But the glass is the window to so many other activities and happenings at the three-day event Sept. 27-29.

Bringing back the past of glass in the area is one of the focuses of the festival, said Mt. Pleasant borough manager Jeff Landy, who is co-director of the festival with Mayor Jerry Lucia.

“Our goal is to bring new people to Mt. Pleasant and showcase our town,” Landy said. “Our biggest industry was glass, and it became an area of people from diverse backgrounds. This area became a melting pot for all ethnic groups.”

Landy describes the event as a “front-porch festival” because it is held in a park as well as on one street in the neighborhood. It is unlike one held at a fairground because houses in the neighborhood are part of the décor.

It has been voted the No. 1 festival in Westmoreland County by Discover Westmoreland Magazine and has been honored as a permanent addition to the Library of Congress Local Legacies.

The festival was founded on glass and it strives to keep the heritage of the glass industry alive through demonstrations, but it’s that and so much more, Landy said.

Some come to learn about glass, but the festival attracts other people because there’s plenty to eat — 25 ethnic food booths serve up everything from Italian to Greek to Polish to Chinese to American fare. And don’t forget about the desserts of pies and funnel cakes as well as chocolate … lots of chocolate.

The entertainment is a big draw, too, with three stages filled with performers. Strolling musicians also bring the sounds to you. There is a full lineup of acts, including a “Tribute to Johnny Cash,” “Beatlemania Magic” and “Johnny Angel and the Halos.”

“The entertainment is as good as any fair has,” Landy said.

Every night is an illumination launch, when 33 colorful lanterns are sent off into the evening sky (weather permitting).

And who doesn’t like fireworks? Or a parade?

The festival even has a mascot: “Sparky the Sparkle.” A young immigrant glass artist created crystal glass pieces to give men in the area going off to war. The items were for them to have a small piece of their hometown when they got homesick.

The glass smith created an object that had a beautiful and flawless sparkle, according to the festival’s website.

When the young immigrant saw his reflection in the sparkle, he dreamed of a promising future in the small town of Mt. Pleasant. Calling it Sparky, his heart felt proud, the website says.

The soldiers carried Sparky across the ocean.

One of the pieces was found in the glass smith’s workshop. That sparkle of glass became a symbol of hope and inspiration for Mt. Pleasant and the vision became reality through “Sparky.”

The festival is a family-friendly event.

“My goal is to make it not the biggest by area but the best by volume,“ Landy said. “There is always something new to do and see. We work hard on that.”

The glass festival is a way to give back to a community that embraced him when he came to the town.

Peter O’Rourke, a native of Ireland, has fashioned glass bowls as gifts for U.S. presidents. He’s made a glass jelly bean jar for former President Ronald Reagan and a glass bowl for President Donald Trump.

“I enjoy being part of this festival,” said O’Rourke, who has been working with glass for nearly 50 years. “I love to make gifts. I also enjoy cutting glass and repairing pieces. People often think they need to throw away a broken glass but it usually can be repaired.”

O’Rourke said the festival is “a wonderful get-together and one of the best atmospheres.”

He will demonstrate how glass is cut by hand. It’s a tedious process but one he said is unique because not everyone does it anymore.

A big part of the strong history of glass in Mt. Pleasant was being home to Lenox Glass Factory, which has since closed. There is still a Lenox Factory Outlet.

O’Rourke came to the U.S. to work at Lenox and eventually started his own business in the company’s cafeteria when Lenox closed.

“I love being part of this festival and sharing the history of glass in this area,” O’Rourke said. “I look forward to it. There is quite a history here. This festival brings back to life glass.”

Glass artist Dan Sullivan of Original Glass Worx of Moon Township will do what’s called flame working, where he will be demonstrating various techniques for creating glass jewelry.

He make glass jewelry, functional art and hot sculpted glass vessels. He said he uses a torch running on propane and oxygen at 2,500 degrees as he melts clear glass together with different forms of colored glass.

By using a soft flame, he’s able to control the heat and viscosity of the glass to draw an intricate pattern and once the color is melted into the clear glass the design is imploded and magnified, he said.

“The most impressive to watch is when I’m making blown glass ornaments, face cups, and goblets,” said Sullivan, whose introduction into the glass art world began in 2002 at the Pittsburgh Glass Center. “What I like about the show is that it is a small town and brings a lot of people together. They offer festivities for the whole family, a glass artist section, glass demonstrations, other various artist and vendors, food of course, and live music throughout the evening. This is a cool festival.”

Sponsored by the Mt. Pleasant Glass Festival. For a full entertainment schedule, info on shuttles, contests, and more, visit mtpleasantglassandethnicfestival.com.

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