The Town the Owl Killed


Subject:  Thank You for the walk
Date: Mon, 15 Jan 2001 15:34:00 EST

 I must be feeling nostalgic. I was raised in Bethlehem and I think I walked
those paths you took. Thank you for taking me for a walk.

 Below is a letter I wrote to myself last August. Hope you enjoy it.

The Town the Owl Killed

  Last August I left my sister's place in New Jersey on my way back to San
Antonio I exited route 78 at Easton and entered Bethlehem on Third Street
past the empty, silent, decaying structures of the Bethlehem Steel plant and
on past the empty store fronts of the south side. As I drove down the
littered street and the old timers sitting in lawn chairs on the porches of
the homes they were once so proud to own, now with broken siding and missing
shingles, I wondered what happened to my hometown. As I drove on, and the
once proud community of neighbors and friends disappeared slowly in my
rearview mirror, I remembered.

 Over 250 years ago, that quiet valley along the banks of the Lehigh, once
the home of the Minsi, Unami and the Unalachtgo, welcomed a small band of
Moravians. Eventually the Bethlehem Iron Works drew the Irish, Germans and
central Europeans to the area. The iron works, predecessor to Bethlehem
Steel, spawned the birth of the town I knew and grew up in.

 Over time, Bethlehem Steel built the town. They provided the jobs and
underwrote civic institutions. They built parks, playgrounds and recreational
areas. They produced the iron and steel that built the nation. This was the
town that began producing iron rails before the Civil War to build the
railroads that united the nation. It is the town that made the steel that
supports 80% of New York's skyscrapers and major bridges across the
continent, including the Golden Gate. Bethlehem Steel built the USS
Lexington, the first aircraft carrier and fully one fifth of the entire US
fleet. This is the company that retooled and produced much of the armament
during WW II. It was a proud little town; my little town.

 Over the recent years US foreign trade policies took their toll. Imported
steel bit into the market and the dwindling market nibbled away at the
profits. Shrinking markets reduced production, in turn, reducing the work
force and Bethlehem Steel began the slide into obscurity greased by economic
policy. Then, with the company in weakened condition, the environmentalists
administered the coup-de-grace. Without the profit base to maintain
facilities and upgrade systems they found themselves in violation of,
evermore, restrictive EPA standards. Fines bit further into the profits and
the ability to pay for needed upgrades. Finally, in November of 1995, the
once proud Bethlehem Steel Company, maker of rails, armorer of our country
and builder of Navies, succumbed to political expediency and the advocates
Spotted Owl.

 As I drove away I recalled what had brought my grandparents there. I
remembered the streets I had walked as a child. I recalled the sights and
sounds of childhood; the flaming stacks of the furnaces on a starry night,
the roar of the furnaces and the clanging thud of metal striking metal as I
walked past the plant, the eerie glow of molten steel through the open doors
as they "poured the sun",the hot smell of the stoked furnaces on the wind and
the workers that built my town crowding the streets at shift change. Gone
now, a part of history, unmissed, unappreciated and unmourned by all but a
few, residents of a small town in the land of the Minsi in the valley of the
Lehigh.  So, I drove on, leaving behind the broken glass and the piles of
broken brick and metal that was once the soul of my home and remembered.

 Thanks again, for the walk.

Contents by Vitas Povilaitis
email to