Frank Lenz: Local Adventurer, Avid Photographer, Big-Wheeled Bike Enthusiast

Last Friday evening, I went searching for Frank Lenz, one of Pittsburgh’s most notable cyclists. To be fair, Lenz went missing almost 120 years ago, in Erzurum, Turkey, so I really didn’t have much hope of finding anything, but I figured I’d give it a shot.

I headed over to the Brew House Art Gallery on the South Side, where David Herlihy, the author of The Lost Cyclist: The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance, was slated to give a talk about Lenz’s journey by bicycle around the world, his disappearance, and the adventures of William Sachtleben, another cyclist who had ridden around the world, and who was sent to find Lenz. Prior to Herlihy’s talk, I had not heard of Lenz or Sachtleben, but a worldwide cycling tour intrigued me, and plus, who doesn’t liked those old-timey, big-wheeled bikes?

Lenz and his companions, rocking the big-wheelers

Lenz and his companions, rocking the big-wheelers

Lenz was apparently a big fan. Born in Philadelphia, he moved to Pittsburgh and became an accountant by day, and a weekend warrior who captained the Allegheny Cycle Club. He organized and competed in his fair share of big-wheeled bike races, and pioneered the burgeoning field of cycle photography—an impressive feat, considering that cameras were just as cumbersome as bicycles at the time. Lenz developed a way to transport camera equipment on his back while riding, as well as a method of taking pictures of himself on his bicycle, by placing a trigger on the road, which would activate a camera on a leading car when his front tire (the big one) rolled over it.

Lenz used his growing portfolio to convince a magazine called Outing to fund his trip around the world. Outing agreed, on the condition that he give up the big-wheeler for the newer version, called a “safety bicycle,” which is similar to our modern one. Lenz reluctantly agreed, and, in May of 1892, he set off. Beginning at the Smithfield Street Bridge, Lenz rode for Washington, D.C. to pick up a passport, and then to New York City. He then crossed the U.S. in about five months, then sailed to Japan, and braved tough conditions in China and India before heading to Turkey. In May of 1894, almost two years after his departure, Lenz disappeared. Hoping to find him, Outing sent William Sachtleben, who had completed a similar journey, to Turkey. Sachtleben discovered that Lenz had apparently insulted a chief in nearby Kurdistan, who had ordered him murdered and his body buried by a riverbed. After some wrangling, the Turkish government paid Lenz’s mother $7,500 as a reparation for her lost son

Today, Lenz is commemorated with a sign on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, the final leg of the Great Allegheny Passage, which connects Pittsburgh with Cumberland, Maryland, and which mirrors the path that Lenz took on the first leg of his now legendary trip around the world.

This sign can be found on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail

This sign can be found on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail

Happening This Week

American Idiot
Tuesday – Sunday
Heinz Hall, Cultural District

An all-new musical based on Green Day’s Grammy Award-winning multi-platinum album.
More info/tickets:


Night Of The Living Dead
Friday 5p
Senator John Heinz History Center, Strip District

This classic, locally-made 1968 horror movie is the terrifying take of a group of people trapped in a rural farmhouse who are attacked by unnamed “living dead” monsters. Ghostly attire is encouraged but not required.
More info: (412) 454-6000 


Manor At Midnight Oscar Classics: Chinatown
Saturday Midnight
Manor Theatre, Squirrel Hill

The Manor Theatre ends their midnight Oscar run with 1974’s Chinatown, a searing murder mystery directed by Roman Polanski, starring Jack Nicholson as an LA private eye on the trail of some very unsavory characters.
More info:


Some information provided by The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Building Your Family Tree – History Center to offer FREE Workshops in on Researching African American and Jewish Family Histories

Nowadays we can log on to ye olde Facebooks and keep tabs on our cousin and in many families Grandma and Grandpa are using the Facebooks to keep in touch.  But if you want to find out about previous generations – Facebook doesn’t offer much.  Just the word Family Tree brings back memories of my mom helping me we a 2nd grad project.  She was determined to fill that piece of posterboard out correctly – probably because there was no other written location of the family history.

The Heinz History center is kicking off a new series of events this weekend to help you learn about your family tree before the Facebook era.  The workshops this weekend are focused on researching African American and Jewish family histories.  It looks like they will be hosting additional workshops in the future.

Saturday, February 25, 2012 – African American Family Histories

On Sat., Feb. 25, from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m., noted genealogist Dr. Deborah Abbott will trace the ancestry of an African American family and provide insight to visitors on the best genealogical methods. Dr. Abbott will demonstrate how visitors can trace their family roots with limited facts and information, particularly those with ancestors who were enslaved and emancipated.

This History Center workshop is co-sponsored by the Afro-American Genealogical Society of Pittsburgh and supported by the Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural Program.

Sunday, February 26, 2012 – Jewish Family Histories

On Sun., Feb. 26, from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m., the Rauh Jewish Archives at the Detre Library & Archives will offer special demonstrations of,, and a presentation on Jewish family research methods called “Finding Family in the Old Country.”

Following the demonstrations, the presenters and Detre Library & Archives staff will be available for genealogy-related questions during an open house session.

This Rauh Jewish Archives workshop was underwritten with the generous support of the William M. Lowenstein Genealogical Research Endowment Fund at the Jewish Community Foundation of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

ADMISSION: Admission is FREE for Genealogy Weekend participants and registration is encouraged. To pre-register, call Natalie DeRiso at 412-454-6373or e-mail

Ghost N’At & Haunted Pittsburgh Tours


Image by zyphbear via Flickr

Jim Krenn RAW is a video podcast by Jim Krenn.  In this video series is a kind of behind the scenes look at what happens in Pittsburgh when Jim isn’t on the radio.  If you are new to Pittsburgh – these videos are a great way to learn about some of the things that are staples here in Pittsburgh.  Start with this episode on the Primanti Brother’s sandwich.  Just in time for Halloween  Jim Krenn checks out one of the Haunted Pittsburgh Tours.

Sean Collier has been running Haunted Pittsburgh Tours since 2008.  Tours run April through October each year.  You can read more about Haunted Tours in the Post-Gazette here.

This is the last week for the Haunted Tours for the 2011 season.  Tours are almost sold out! you can buy tickets for the Haunted Pittsburgh Tours online here.  As on Monday am there is still space left on the following tours:

  • Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011 @ 7pm – Haunted Oakland Tour
  • Thursday, Oct. 26, 2011 @ 7pm – Station Sq./Mt. Washington Tour
  • Friday, Oct. 28, 2011 @ 7pm – Station Sq./Mt. Washington Tour
  • Friday, Oct. 28, 2011 @ 7:30pm – Ghost Ride
  • Saturday, Oct. 29 2011@ 7pm – Station Sq./Mt. Washington Tour
  • Saturday, Oct. 29 2011 @ 7:30pm – Ghost Ride
  • Saturday, Oct. 29 2011@ 9pm – Station Sq./Mt. Washington Tour
  • Sunday, Oct. 30 @ 6pm – Haunted Oakland Walking Tour

We have tours in Oakland on Wednesday at 7:00 pm and Sunday at 6 pm; our Ghost Ride launches Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30; our Station Square/Mt. Washington tour runs Thursday at 7 pm, Friday at 7 pm, and Saturday at 7 pm and 9 pm.

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Scottish and Scutching in the Laurel Highlands This Weekend

Highland Dancing

Image by AlxTheRed via Flickr

History lovers, hold on to your hats and pack up your wagons (station wagons) and head out route 30 east to the laurel highlands this weekend – it is a double header of cultural festivals.  We are often asked about what are the must-do events around Pittsburgh.  Both of these festivals are on our list of favorites.  And they happen to be on the same weekend so you can catch a double header of history celebration just outside of Pittsburgh this weekend.

First stop – break out your bag pipes and kilt for the Ligonier Highland Games – a day long celebration of Scottish hertiage.  There will be athletic events such as tossing the caber (throwing a big tree trunk) and the Scottish hammer throw.

Then  steer your wagon (or mini van) down 711 south to Stahlstown – time to celebrate the important fiber of flax.  Flax is what linen fabric is made out of.  The Stahlstown Flax Scutching Festival is the 2nd oldest Scutching festival in the United States.  They have been celebrating the scutching every year since 1907.  Yep, 1907 – so join them for the 105th annual Flax Scutching festival to learn about how the flax plant is turned into linen cloth and snack on some buckweat pancakes too.

Ligonier Highland GamesSaturday, September 10, 2011 @ Idelwild Park

Flax Scutching Festival – Saturday & Sunday, September 10 & 11, 2011 @ Stahlstown Flax Scutching Festival Fairgrounds

Here is a map that includes both festivals and 2 other places that you should consider stopping – Joe’s Bar in Ligonier has the largest collection of taxidermy in North America and the Pie Shoppe in Laughlintown has good sandwiches and pumpkin cookies. The Google location for the Pie Shoppe is not correct – the Pie Shoppe is right on Route 30 – directly across from the Ligonier Country Inn.