History

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.

Meadowcroft—Western Pennsylvania’s time machine

Most people are aware of western Pennsylvania’s rich history, but few know just how far back that history reaches. A trip to Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village in Avella in Washington County indicates how significant our region is. Meadowcroft comprises 275 acres on part of the former Miller farm, and is celebrating its 50th season …

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A Day of Reflection

It was a warm, clear, sunny, wonderful day with a deep blue sky, so untypical for Pittsburgh. I remember it like it was yesterday, although some three-plus decades have since passed. The city is noted for being one of the cloudiest in the US, ranking up there with Seattle and Portland. So, I was enjoying …

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The Great Banishment of 1923

Robert Young was one of the bad characters in Rosedale, a black neighborhood of Johnstown, after he arrived in 1923. Rumors swirled that he had committed murder in his native state of Alabama. And he had been having troubles with his significant other, Rose Young, since they arrived for him to work in the mills …

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The Man Who Took Away Snakes

No, he wasn’t always a plumber for the City of Pittsburgh, and he wasn’t always called Pupi either. His wife called him Andy. Pupi told me this story one day when we were hunting at “The Farm.” I was his hunting dog that day. My job was to kick brush piles so that rabbits jumped …

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Kennywood at 120

Everyone has at least one, and probably way more memories of Kennywood: Finally getting behind the wheel of the blue car on the Turnpike. Stealing a kiss on the Old Mill. Begging Mom for another hour at the park. Putting up with your own whining kids when you say it’s time to leave. The taste …

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August Wilson and the Joe Louis-Billy Conn Title Rematch

Pulitzer prize-winning dramatist and Pittsburgh native August Wilson dramatized the modern history of African-Americans in 10 plays, often called the Pittsburgh cycle, for each decade of the 20th century. In “Seven Guitars,” set in the Hill District in the 1940s, the key historical moment comes when his characters gather to listen on the radio to …

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Make No Little Plans

World’s fairs seem a quaint remnant of generations past, or perhaps a childhood memory of visiting New York in 1939 or 1964. In a world where news is literally at one’s fingertips, traveling hundreds of miles to marvel at the latest food production techniques seems unnecessary. And yet, world’s fairs live on. Though the U.S. …

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Buying a Company Town

Joseph Meyer lives in the former manager’s home of an abandoned company town, where there is no running water, no cell service, and until recently, there was not a single resident. On this cold Saturday in December, 63-year-old Meyer splits wood to heat his three-story home. The scene would be a common one in rural …

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