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Tarentum mural highlights memorable moments, personalities

Wally Sommer is a man on a mission, but only he really knows when that mission will end.

The mission, relating the history of Tarentum through a mural on the 180-foot long wall behind The Tarentum Station, began last summer. Sommer, 61, a Fawn resident and Tarentum businessman, thinks he’ll probably finish it in the spring.

“I don’t think it will be too much more,” Sommer said Monday.

Borough Manager Bill Rossey isn’t so sure. Rossey hatched the idea for the mural and put the primer coat on the wall with the help of resident Bob White in July.

“I don’t know if he’ll ever finish it,” a grinning Rossey said of Sommer. “I think a year from now he’s going to look at it and say, ‘I want to add this and I want to add that.'”

Nobody knows for sure because any sketch of the mural does not exist on paper. It is locked away in Sommer’s mind.

Right now, the mural seems to be close to completion. It chronicles Tarentum’s rise from its first inhabitants, Native Americans, through the Civil War, World War I, World War II to the modern day conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is done using a Pennsylvania Railroad train as the painting’s story-telling device. It shows troops along the station platform, boarding or leaving the train with loved ones nearby, cars holding weaponry such as cannons and tanks, and cheering fans of the Tarentum High School Redcats celebrating that school’s football team.

The mural begins at the far right toward Corbet Street showing the Native Americans, then the historical panorama proceeds from right to left toward Lock Street and where the train’s locomotive is.

“The neat thing about it, is if you look at it, somebody in each of the panels is pointing to the next panel,” Rossey said.

“It has a nice story to it,” Sommer said. “It’s cohesive in its design.”

“I love the history of Tarentum, that’s what I like about it,” he said. “I have all kinds of plans, all kinds of stuff to add, I want to celebrate the Tarentum High School basketball championship in ’68 and the Highlands basketball championship in ’95.”

Sommer said while there are some Tarentum natives on the mural such as the late Bill Larkin, a well-known Valley News Dispatch photographer and former Eureka Hose fire chief, there are other to add such as turn-of the-century model and chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit.

Nesbit, a Tarentum native, became well-known as the catalyst in the 1906 murder of New York architect Stanford White, with whom Nesbit previously had an affair. He was shot to death in a jealous rage by Pittsburgh industrialist Harry K. Thaw, whom Nesbit married in 1905.

“Every day somebody comes and tells me ‘How can you put this on?'” Sommer said. “They keep giving me ideas. But I think now I want to finish what I have.”

He also has to add, in some fashion, the names of about 21 borough businesses that have donated $100 each to become sponsors of the mural and have it include their names.

Rossey said while two paint stores, Verner’s and Van Sciver’s, have donated a lot of paint for the project, the money has been placed in a special mural fund to cover any other expenses such as brushes or special colors of paint that Sommer may need. He said about $200 has been spent on that so far. Rossey said any money left over will be used for a “christening party” once the mural is completed.

Overall, Sommer estimates he’s put about 500 hours of work in the project, which he is doing as an unpaid volunteer. Rossey said most of the materials have been donated by local businesses.

Sommer, who runs a family-owned auto repair shop, said he has enjoyed painting out in public instead of in a studio, and interacting with passers-by.

“It’s great. I understand that is my job, I’m more of a PR guy for Tarentum,” he said. “They just pull up behind me roll the window down and they’ll say, ‘Hey, you’re doing a great job. Thanks a lot.'”

“That’s like dangling a carrot in front of a donkey,” Sommer said.


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