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History

Considering the Record of Mayor Pete Flaherty

As Pittsburgh prepares to elect a new Mayor and embark on all that a new administration represents, it may be worthwhile to consider the tenure of another Democrat mayor who held the office 50 years ago. On January 5, 1970, Democrat Peter F. Flaherty was sworn in as mayor of Pittsburgh and, as promised, focused …

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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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‘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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Finding Jakie Lerner

“805 was a burner. where the hell is Jakie Lerner?” That was former racketeer Sam Solomon’s recollection of Aug. 5, 1930, the day when seemingly all of Pittsburgh bet on a single number: 805. When 805 hit, the city’s numbers bankers scrambled to pay the winnings. Many simply didn’t, and some skipped town to avoid …

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The Day Pohla Smith Voted

Daniel Webster, the statesman, lawyer and orator, was one of early America’s fiercest advocates for democracy, and he knew full well the importance of voting. He called it “a social duty of as solemn a nature as man can be called to perform…” I had occasion to think of Webster that October 2012 morning when …

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Monumental Decisions

After 500 years in the grave, Christopher Columbus continues to be controversial. Statues and monuments are coming down across the country. And the latest may be the statue of Columbus in Schenley Park, if Mayor Peduto agrees with his Art Commission. Five members of the 7-member Commission (two seats remain unfilled) decided the monument should …

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What’s in a Name?

For as long as I can remember, my family has lamented the misspelling and mispronunciation of our last name, Macpherson. When I see relatives I’ve not seen for a long time, we tell stories of gross misspelling or mispronunciation. The appended poem, written by my sister, provides clear instruction on pronunciation. My parents and siblings …

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The Day Women Took Over

Editor’s note: This year, as the nation celebrates the centennial of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution—ushering in women’s suffrage—Pittsburgh is claiming its own piece of the story through the Pittsburgh Suffrage Centennial. Learn more at www.pghsuffrage100.com. It was a hundred years ago this year that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution became …

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My Date with Destiny

The late Elsie Hillman, Grande Dame of the GOP and former National Republican Committee Woman, called me early one summer morning, a few weeks before the republican national committee convention in 1988. Vice President George H.W. Bush was the presumptive nominee and a close personal friend of Henry and Elsie Hillman. Elsie explained that she …

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When the Spanish Flu Swept In, Pittsburgh Failed the Test

Within days of Allegheny County’s first confirmed case of coronavirus in March, city and county officials moved to shutter nonessential businesses, with their efforts buttressed by stay at home orders from Harrisburg shortly thereafter. This was not the case in 1918, when the Spanish flu ravaged the region, state, nation and world. And Pittsburghers paid …

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When Irish Was Spoken in Pittsburgh

Irish language scholar Douglas Hyde described Pittsburgh as “the dirtiest and blackest city in America” during his January 1906 visit. “Hell uncovered,” he jotted in his journal, paraphrasing the Atlantic Monthly’s 1868 coinage. Hyde also complained “the wind would cut your nose off.” But the 45-year-old Irishman hadn’t sailed across the Atlantic for mild weather …

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It’s This Rain

Looking out the window of my sixth-grade classroom following noon recess, it seemed as if the entire St. Michael’s School playground was going to float away in the chill, driving rain that had been falling steadily in Indianapolis since early morning. It was a slow Friday in late November, the week before Thanksgiving vacation, and …

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Finding Solitude in Westinghouse Park

Its pastoral charms are pleasant but unremarkable: 10 acres of well-tended lawn sprinkled with mature trees, a children’s play area and a utilitarian cement block park building. Other than the name, there is no reason to suspect that Westinghouse Park in the city’s Point Breeze North neighborhood was once the beating heart of a web …

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Exploring Andy Warhol’s Ancestral Home

Andy Warhol once said that he came “from nowhere.” And if ever you find yourself exploring the Lower Beskid mountains along the Polish-Slovak border, you might think he was right. At first glance, it appears there are no signs human beings were ever there. But if you look closer, you’ll realize that the holes and …

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George Washington DID Sleep Here

Forbes. Grant. Braddock. Duquesne. Washington. While these read like a list of Pittsburgh streets, they have immense significance to both Pittsburgh and its place in American and world history. But that history began around 50 miles away in Westmoreland County, in what is now the borough of Ligonier. It’s been kept alive and can be …

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50 Years Ago at Woodstock

I was a skinny 20-year-old in August of 1969. My Woodstock Fever started on Monday of that week in Rochester, N.Y. I was working at St. Joe Paper Company, catching future cardboard boxes as they rolled off the corrugator. On the way home, I heard a radio ad for a three-day music festival. The ad …

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Remembering the Summer of ’69

In the summer of 1969, my best friend was my transistor radio. With the radio glued to my ear, I spent hours daydreaming in the backyard, grooving to soulful sounds like Sly and the Family Stone singing “Hot Fun in the Summertime.” My humdrum neighborhood of Brookline was as far away from places like Martha’s …

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What Will Millennials Tell Their Grandchildren?

Coming out of the restaurant we nearly collided with him—a compact, bearded man in a wheelchair, oxygen delivered to his nose from the tank tucked beside him. His scraggly gray-black beard rested against his chest; the liveliest part of his face was the bright blue of his eyes. When I apologized for almost bumping into …

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Strolling the Streets of Classic Pittsburgh

Take a walk around the Pittsburgh of yesteryear in this photo collection by David Aschkenas. Although the photographs were taken between 1978 and 1982, some look like they could fit into the 1940s with old neighborhood storefronts and hints of the city’s ethic roots. View more of David Aschkenas’s work at www.daschkenasphoto.com.
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