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History

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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New Long Stairway in Mill District, 1940

Perched atop a network of stairs, photographer Jack Delano captured this snow-dusted Hazelwood scene in 1940 for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). A Russian native who settled in the Philadelphia area around age 10, Delano studied art and music at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Known primarily for his dramatic images, Delano, who …

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Beechwood School Garden, 1916

Over the past 10 years, school gardens have been cropping up across the Pittsburgh region. Spurred by chef-activist Alice Waters’ 1995 Edible School Yard, the school garden movement has been praised for yielding both a harvest bounty and hearty educational benefits. In these outdoor classrooms, students learn about everything from summer squash to science to …

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The Egg Route

My dad likes to reminisce, and after most of our 22 family members had moved to the living room after a holiday dinner to nap or watch sports, I learned how the desire for farm fresh eggs connected my parents to both the city of Pittsburgh and their rural roots in Tionesta, for their first …

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Sept. 17, 1862—The Day Pittsburgh Exploded

“Tread softly, this is consecrated dust. Forty five pure patriotic victims lie here, a sacrifice to freedom and civil liberty. A horrid memento of a most wicked rebellion. Patriots! These are patriots’ graves.” –Inscription on the memorial at Allegheny Cemetery The only trouble with the inscription is that the people who rest here weren’t “planning …

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Pittsburgh to Gettysburg

During a muggy June in 1863, Civil War-weary Pittsburghers panicked at rumors that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was marching his Army of Northern Virginia toward Pennsylvania. The rumors, as we now know a century and a half later, were indeed true—although Pittsburgh was about 200 miles west of the small farming town of Gettysburg …

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South Park Cascades, Circa 1931

South Park, a 2,013-acre Allegheny County Park in the South Hills has all the features one might expect: trails, picnic groves, ball fields, and even a golf course. In more recent years, modern updates have included a wave pool, ice skating rink, skate park, nature center and a dek hockey rink—expanding the recreational offerings. However, …

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New Housing, 1951

Photographer Clyde “Red” Hare moved to Pittsburgh in 1950 to work on the Pittsburgh Photographic Library, covering the city’s Renaissance I, with noted editor Roy Stryker. Hare had his own car and camera and Stryker offered to pay him $50 a week to photograph the city. During that time, Hare made this photograph of new …

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Christmas in Utopia

It’s early morning on Christmas Eve in the town of Economy, Pennsylvania. The year is 1828. Twenty-seven-year-old Catharina Langenbacher awakens to the five o’clock gong of the grandfather clock in the sitting room downstairs. By the time she clambers down the crude staircase, her widowed mother is preparing breakfast. Catharina’s 35-year-old brother, Romelius, is milking …

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Thanksgiving in Greensburg

Childhood expands and does not measure. Adulthood counts and contracts. To me, as an eight-year-old boy considering the width of Pennsylvania—from my home in York to my grandmother’s house in Greensburg—geography was impressionistic. Somerset County held cold, incalculable risks. The rest of the landscape was relatively flat, passive and non-threatening. As a Thanksgiving trip to …

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Molded Tooth Staggered Gear and Worker, 1913

The Mesta Machine Company churned and smoked on more than 20 acres of land along the Monongahela River. Though its central product was steelmaking equipment—supplying some 500 mills around the globe—Americans had Mesta’s 3,000 employees to thank for their working cars and refrigerators, ship hulls and power plant turbines. During the Depression, then-president Lorenz Iversen …

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Once Upon A Tunnel

The calamity began at the stroke of midnight on May 10, 1924, when Pittsburgh Street Railway Company employees walked off the job. The streetcar strike threw commuters into a tizzy, and the following morning South Hills commuters jumped into their cars and headed for the recently opened Liberty Tunnels. Between 7:30 and 8 a.m., a …

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Oakmont Camping, circa 1910

For Pittsburghers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Oakmont offered the next best thing to paradise. During the summer months, while the city baked in heat and soot, visitors set up camp on the banks of the Allegheny River, relaxing in the fresh air and making merry on the water. Oakmont boasted a …

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What Happened at Thompson’s Island?

Were you to launch a canoe at the U.S. Forest Service Buckaloons boat ramp, where Brokenstraw Creek enters the Allegheny River, then float down toward the borough of Tidioute, the setting would appear much as it must have to a party of Seneca Indians paddling the same route in the late summer of 1779. Carried …

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Elie Wiesel and the One Indestructible Human Quality

In each issue of Pittsburgh Quarterly, I write obituaries of notable Pittsburghers, and over the past 10-plus years, the percentage of those whom I knew in life – some very well – has been growing. Last week came the news of the death of Elie Wiesel, who steadfastly bore witness to the Holocaust for more …

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