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History

Pittsburgher’s Report

The sun burned brightly on june 17, 1876, promising a hot day in southwestern Montana. Gen. George Crook’s column of about 1,300 soldiers, friendly Indians and civilians relaxed while their horses chomped prairie grass and quenched their thirst in Rosebud Creek. At about 8:30 a.m., as Crook played whist with fellow officers, Crow and Shoshone …

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The $3,000 Hippopotamus

“Lucy is dead” was the headline of the March 17, 1902 Pittsburgh Press article that announced the passing of Lucy Juba-Nile, the popular hippopotamus that had been dwelling at the Highland Park Zoological Garden (now called the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium) for the previous three years. Lucy had been ill for about a week. …

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Remembering Our Ethnic Heritage

I was born in Pittsburgh in April 1939, less than five months before Hitler began World War II by invading Poland.  I entered first grade in September 1945, a month after the end of the war.  I was a member of the war-babies generation, the pre-baby boomers, who would grow up searching for an identity …

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Torpedoes to Aquaponics

They called Rhonda Jordan’s dad lucky lee because he caught shrapnel just hairs away from his carotid artery over in Europe. While he was fighting the Germans, his wife was one of thousands of women who put away their heels and aprons for work in the massive Westinghouse factory in Sharon, Pennsylvania. You could say …

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Continuing to Evolve

Whatever contributions Isaac Morley and J.B. Stilley made as mid-19th century municipal engineers have been lost in the mists of time. But we do know they made history. In April 1846, the pair received the first two engineering degrees from the Western University of Pennsylvania, later the University of Pittsburgh. In 2021, the Swanson School …

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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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