The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Bill Eggert

March 3, 2011

BILL EGGERT | Who do you think you are?

— There is a fascinating NBC reality show on Friday nights called “Who Do You Think You Are?” It is sponsored by and focuses on celebrities who track down (with the help of historians and genealogists) their ancestors.

Recently, country singer Tim McGraw (son of the late baseball pitcher Tug McGraw) discovered that an ancestor and his wife housed a teenage surveyor back in the 1700s by the name of George Washington, the future father of our country.

He also found out that another family who came over on the same boat as his family to America had a descendant by the name of Elvis Presley.

Not all searches yield brushes with historical figures, but they are always interesting and poignant in their own unique way.

As my March 4 birthday was approaching, I have been looking back at my own ancestors.

I checked into this world at Magee-Womens Hospital in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh, just down the street from old Forbes Field (1909-71), which was still standing then

My parents were born and raised in Pittsburgh, as were their parents. My father’s side can be traced back at least to my great-grandfather, Bernard von Eggert, who arrived from Germany at Ellis Island when he was just 14, back at the turn of the 20th century.

As was the case for many immigrants, his last name was Anglicized (dropping the “von”) and “old” Grandpap (who outlived “young” Grandpap) lived to be 103.

Old Grandpap was also one of Pittsburgh’s first mounted policemen. Dad said he was a tough guy; tall (over six foot) and large boned. When we kids knew him he was in his 80s and very sweet and kind to us kids.

He had a white walrus mustache and snow white hair shaved close at the sides.

He reminded me of Kaiser Wilhelm in a cardigan sweater.

Another great-grandfather on my mother’s side was known simply as “Pa,” and was a railroad conductor.

Back then, trains were the chief means of travel (as opposed to planes) and a railroad conductor was considered a prestigious occupation back then. Like Old Grandpap Eggert, Pa McCarty was a large, intimidating man.

A favorite story my mom and Aunt Alice used to tell was when Pa supposedly threw Clark Gable (before he became a movie star) off a train for not having a ticket.

Gable did come from Ohio, which would have been on Pa’s train route, so it could have been possible.

My question was always this: How did Pa know that it was really Clark Gable that he threw off the train? Did Gable shake his fist at Pa as the train was pulling away and yell: “See here Pa,  my name is Clark Gable, and someday I will become a famous movie star! You will rue the day you threw me off this train!”

More likely, Pa (who no doubt was good at remembering faces as a train conductor) recognized Gable’s face a few years later when he started appearing in movies.

While brushes with celebrities and historical figures are interesting sidebars, the important issue is who our ancestors were.

Children (and adults) should know about their heritage to understand the fabric of their families; not only for their genetic predispositions (which could be important in a medical context), but also to understand where their parents, grandparents and relatives came from: Figuratively and literally.

Granted, we are all brothers (and sisters) under the skin

– with each of us being six degrees from Kevin Bacon.

Having an informed background on our family tree helps us all to have a crucial understanding our own families, not to mention ourselves as well.

The better we understand our family, the better we understand others and how we relate to them.

Bill Eggert is a Johnstown resident.


Text Only | Photo Reprints
Bill Eggert
  • EGGERT AND CHILLY BILLY Bill Cardille brings back childhood chills

    One of the nice things about moving back to this area was being able to connect with childhood heroes from local television. Some, like Paul Shannon (“Adventure Time”) and Hank Stohl (“Popeye and Kinesh”), unfortunately have passed on. Others, like wrestling champ Bruno Sammartino and Bill Cardille (“Chiller Theatre”) are happily still with us.

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • EGGERT6 Riverboat reverie on ‘uncle time’

    Thoughts of the summer months bring to mind annual weeklong vacations with Granny, Pop-Pop and Uncle Don in Pittsburgh. One memorable summer, “Unck” took me to see the Delta Queen riverboat, sitting majestically in the Monongahela River, moored at the Mon wharf.

    July 5, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bill Eggert Columnist Photo Bill Eggert | ‘Whatever it takes’: remembering Chuck Noll

    Once upon a time there was a colorful yet inept professional football team, owned by an equally colorful Irishman who participated in sports during his younger days. Unlike their crosstown professional baseball and collegiate football team counterparts, the pro football team never tasted the sweet nectar of success for about 40 years. That all changed in 1969, when Steelers owner Art Rooney and his family found a wise, humble and grounded 37-year-old man named Chuck Noll.

    June 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert columnist  photo Life after Dad: A Father’s Day reflection

    One of my dad’s favorite movies was the 1947 classic “Life With Father,” starring the great William Powell (coincidentally also born in Pittsburgh) as the stern but lovable family disciplinarian.

    June 7, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bill Eggert columnist  photo BILL EGGERT | Hollywood’s take on the Great Flood

    About 37 years after the Great Johnstown Flood of 1889, Hollywood decided to make a motion picture of Johnstown’s most catastrophic event.

    May 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • EGGERT4 75 years of Batmania: The Dark Knight’s evolution

    The appeal of Batman is universal. We can identify more with Batman.
    Local resident Wayne Faucher has been a professional artist/inker on the various Batman titles for over 20 years.

    May 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert Columnist Photo Travelogue of terror features Johnstown area

    A historic week will surround the venerable Silver Drive-In come the beginning of May.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • Bill Eggert BILL EGGERT | Captain America: Sentinel of liberty for 70-plus years

    When I was a kid reading comic books, my two favorite superheroes (Batman and Captain America) were not really super; maybe that is why they were my favorites.

    April 5, 2014 1 Photo

  • BILL EGGERT AND FRANK COONELLY BILL EGGERT | Pirates: a rite of spring

    Opening day for the Bucs is March 31. Every year, hope springs eternal for Pittsburgh Pirate fans. Especially for the past two decades, since outfielder Barry Bonds’ errant throw allowed gimpy-kneed Sid Bream to score the come-from-behind winning run for the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 National League Championship Series.

    March 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert BILL EGGERT | Going home can sometimes be only walking distance

    One of the most popular topics during my eight years of writing this column is the one of looking into the past of the Johnstown (and my areas of Moxham and Richland) of my childhood. A lot of baby boomers relate to these time trips with a sense of nostalgia, remembering a kinder, simpler, more innocent era. Or at least that is the way we remember our childhood, looking through those rose-colored glasses.

    March 8, 2014 1 Photo


What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

     View Results
Order Photos

Photo Slideshow

House Ads