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Resident Historian Documents His Hometown’s – and His Own – Past

June 1, 2021

Concordia Haven Apartments retirement living resident Skip Culleiton was born and raised in Tarentum, PA, an area he would one day write multiple history books about.

Collage Sawdust Carpets“I lived in Tarentum for 68 years,” Skip said. “History was always my one of my favorite subjects in grade school and high school, and I liked learning about local history, too.”

Skip began collecting coins when he was in eighth grade, but it was a burgeoning collection of old Tarentum postcards in the 70s, 80s and 90s that would lead him to writing his first book.

“In 1992, Tarentum was getting ready to celebrate their 150th anniversary,” Skip said. “The historical society wanted to publish a book of their history, and they heard that I had about 100 old postcards from the area. I said they could photograph my postcards to use in the book, and then I also started helping them gather information. In the end I also volunteered to write it. It wasn’t easy, but I enjoyed it.”

Skip went on to write even more books about Tarentum and the surrounding area, many of which were sold as a way to raise funds for various historical societies:

• Another postcard history, this time of the of the entire Allegheny-Kiski Valley area;

• A full history for the 50th anniversary of the Allegheny-Kiski Valley Historical Society;

• A book about Catholic cemeteries in Tarentum;

• A pictorial history of Catholicism in Tarentum;

• A record of Allegheny County communion tokens, unique coins that were issued to congregations and were presented before taking the sacrament;

• Two books about different currencies and bank notes in Allegheny County;

• A history of East Deer Township;

• A detailed account of his family’s genealogy.

One of his books documents an upcoming tradition that his home church, Holy Martyrs Parish in Tarentum, observes for the feast of Corpus Christi: the creation of colorful, artistic sawdust carpets in honor of Christ’s sacrifice.

“The idea of using colored sawdust for carpets originated at the Holy Ghost Seminary located in the Black Forests of Germany,” Skip explains in the opening of his book. “There, the Holy Ghost priests used this form of artistic expression as a way to celebrate the wonder and beauty of God. Eventually, this form of self-expression would make its way to the United States, and while the celebration and the methods would change slightly over the years, the basic idea remains the same.”

Holy Martyrs started the tradition in Tarentum over eighty years ago, and Skip was able to start making his own sawdust carpets in 1957. The temporary works of art were created by pouring the sawdust into shapes and designs, usually of Biblical imagery.

“I made carpets for about 40 or 50 years,” Skip said. “On Tuesday or Wednesday before Corpus Christi Sunday we would go down and dye our sawdust. Families or individuals were in charge of their own carpet, and we usually had about 25 or 30 carpets total. Then we would go to 6 a.m. mass that Sunday, grab a bite to eat and get working on our designs outside. We used stencils, and my dad first thought of drawing our designs on the ground with chalk first to help lay everything out. After the last mass of the day, the priest would lead the procession, and usually only he would actually walk on the carpets. After the procession, we would sweep up the remaining sawdust.”

Skip began writing his book about the church’s long history of sawdust carpets in 2003, and it was published in 2004.

“Most of my books took between one to three years to complete,” Skip said. “I look at a lot of other books to see how they organize their information, but the hardest part is usually just getting everything gathered together.”

Though he hasn’t written any books since moving to Concordia nearly five years ago, Skip still continues his love of history with his collections – he’s now just shy of having 2,000 communion tokens. And while Holy Martyrs Parish had to cancel their sawdust carpets last year due to the pandemic, they plan to continue the tradition on this Corpus Christi, June 6.

“It’s a great tradition to have,” Skip said. “I think it really brings the members of the church closer together.”

Tradition and history have also brought the Concordia Family closer together over our 140 years of history – an anniversary we’re celebrating by having 140 public and private concerts for our residents, patients and the community to enjoy this year. The next Summer Patio Concert at Concordia at Cabot will be held on June 6 when the East Winds Symphonic Band performs at the Haven II retirement living patio. For more information about this concert series, check out our Events and News page!

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