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Culture

A Lifelong Friend

I’ve been lucky to have many close friends. But as I look back, it’s clear to me that, of all of them, my life has been most closely intertwined with that of my friend Chris Bentley. Chris and I were born less than two months apart, in early 1962, and we met before either of …

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Your 8th Birthday

To Lucas I forget the comet’s name I looked for all night but never found. You slept in the tent while I kept the fire going, hoping an arrow of light and dust might pierce the air so I could stir you from your coma and show you. We could’ve seen crumbs of ice dissolving …

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Norris Beach: “Swim Where You Will Be Welcomed”

Ninety years ago, on August 14, 1931, the city of Pittsburgh opened its largest and most luxurious public swimming pool in Highland Park. Opening day was one of great fanfare and pride. However, it was also a day that saw African Americans who tried to enter the pool turned away. When Black citizens returned the …

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Flight 93 National Memorial

“Are you guys ready? Okay! Let’s roll!” This is what telephone operator Lisa Jefferson, who’d been on the phone with United Air Lines Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer, says she heard at 9:55 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Four minutes later, as unarmed passengers and crew charged with a food cart and broke into …

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Remembering 9/11: A Portrait of Shanksville

On Sept. 11, 2001, Judi Baeckel was working at the Shanksville Post Office and talking with a customer about news reports that hijackers had flown jetliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. “At least we know we’re safe in Shanksville,” Baeckel recalls the customer saying. Within minutes, the roof and windows of the …

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Loaves and Fishes

In April 1966, the Pittsburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment held a routine hearing to consider a plan from four East End churches (Calvary Episcopal, First Methodist, Third Presbyterian and Shadyside Presbyterian) to open a coffee shop for young people at 709 Bellefonte Street in Shadyside. Unlike some board hearings where neighboring property owners angrily opposed …

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Finding Boba Fett

Looking across the detritus left to us by 2020, we understand that we have lost a great deal: people we knew and loved, people we did not know but admired, our personal mobility, social spontaneity and, perhaps, our confidence about what will come next. But we also found inspirations. We discovered abilities we never knew, …

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Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Myth?

In all the productions I’ve attended over the past several decades, I’ve never seen a playwright attack the play he was adapting in the program notes. Jay Ball writes that when director Jed Allen Harris asked him to collaborate on a production of Homer’s eighth century BCE epic poem “The Odyssey” for Quantum Theatre, he …

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This Johnstown Mob Story Is Business and Personal

The gangster has long stood as an outsized figure in America’s 20th-century mythology, ranging from the brutal Al Capone to the fictitious Tony Soprano. “The Godfather Part I” and “Part II,” as well as “Goodfellas,” rank in the American Film Institute’s Top 100 American Movies of all time, while several others deal in mob tropes. …

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You in the Mountains

We ate thick waffles glazed with sugar, our tongues tasting the last of it from our lips, and the sky ran a pink river through its middle behind the trees growing black with each new firefly. Now, the plants in their clay pots disappeared into dusk. The red ashtray left with its pile of Marlboro …

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Living the Wright Way

Fallingwater is arguably Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous design and was named the “best all-time work of American architecture” by the American Institute of Architecture. With 160,000 visitors annually, it commands awe and reverence — no touching, and stay behind the velvet ropes. But drive about 23 miles from Fallingwater to Polymath Park in Acme, …

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Pittsburgh Philanthropy

Ask a person from Pittsburgh to define philanthropy and they’ll most likely mention an industrialist such as Andrew Carnegie, or a patriarch named Heinz or Mellon. These economic titans loom large in Pittsburgh. The word “Pittsburgh” and its Gilded Age bequests are so intertwined that some think these industrialists invented philanthropy here. Experiences at Carnegie’s …

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Confessions of an Introvert in Pandemic Times

Most people who know me would be surprised to hear that I’m an introvert. Sure, I can be social when I have to. But honestly, social situations drain me. I recharge by coming home and crawling into a dark corner all by myself, much to my wife’s chagrin. You see, I’m an INFJ. In the …

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The Triumph of “The Current War”

Since the emergence of drama two-and-a-half-millennia ago, the theater’s greatest enemy has always been the plague. It is no coincidence that during the fifth century BCE, as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides were writing the first great tragedies, Hippocrates was writing the first great medical treatise, called the Epidemics. Theater, unlike virtually any other art form, …

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A Different View of the Neighborhood

In 1968, when Fred Rogers pushed through his famous front door for the first time, he brought with him more than kindness, compassion and a cardigan sweater. He brought more than Daniel Tiger, more than X the Owl, more than all the puppets who lived in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe. What Rogers brought was less …

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Looking at the Block Family’s Record on Race

Book reviews traditionally talk about what’s in a book, but almost never about how a particular book came to be. This one has an interesting and unusual beginning. Nearly three years ago, following a controversy over an editorial called “Reason as Racism,” Allan Block, the chair of Block Communications, Inc., the parent company today of …

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‘I Am What You Make Me’

The American flag has flown on the moon proclaiming the nation that dared to walk on its surface. It was cheered in European cities and towns liberated from Nazi occupation by American soldiers during World War II. And it has been burned in protests against U.S. policy at home and abroad. It’s draped on the …

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June 15, 2017

I imagine you feeling the heat on your shoulder as you leave your apartment. Maybe you touch the spot where the sun warms you: two inches above and to the left of your clavicle. My neighbors planted their tulips in March—I don’t know why I didn’t tell you—and this week the buds opened wide, became …

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On a Pedestal, Summer 2021

Raising a racquet and more Armed with six years of success helping African American students prepare for the future through the game of squash, Steel City Squash (SCS) is preparing to build a new facility in the Larimer neighborhood that will dramatically transform its offerings. Built on a successful model, the athletic and academic program …

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Short Takes: “To Risk It All,” “Franco, Rocky & Friends”

In his book, “To Risk It All: General Forbes, The Capture of Fort Duquesne, and the Course of Empire in the Ohio Country,” historian and war scholar Michael N. McConnell sets his sights on the French and Indian War, and more specifically General John Forbes’s campaign against Fort Duquesne, the largest overland expedition during the …

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The Year of Fear

The first time the phrase “stay safe” stuck in my memory, I was watching a TV news broadcast. After the correspondent gave his report, the anchor thanked him and then with a concerned look said, “Stay safe out there.” It was actually jarring to me because I’d been a reporter and editor for decades and, …

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A Well-Deserved Drue Heinz Prize-Winner

In The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories, winner of the 2020 Drue Heinz Literature Prize, Caroline Kim offers an expansive debut collection of stories that transports the reader across continents and centuries. Kim is a gifted writer of tremendous range—each story conjures a world unto itself. Throughout the collection, settings shift from the …

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