Kissing Fish and Pittsburgh

Originally posted 2016-03-23 15:56:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Let’s splash cold Monongahela River water on romantically inclined Pittsburghers.

Traditionally, they see the Smithfield Street bridge as a symbol of long-lasting love, the Kissing Fish Bridge.

That’s because the profile of the city’s oldest span looks like two osculating fish. Many photographers take loving couples out to the bridge to join in and record the moment forever.

The Smithfield fish started kissing 133 years ago. Another pair joined them a few years, making the bridge wider. In this 1882 photo, the bridge it is replacing remains in operation under the fish.

The Smithfield fish started kissing 133 years ago. Another pair joined them several years later, making the bridge wider. In this 1882 photo, the bridge is under construction directly over the old bridge, which remained in use.


"Why don't you close your eyes when you kiss me?" Kissing Gouramis from Southeast Asia are popular aquarium fish. People like them because they seem so affectionate. People are wrong.

“Why don’t you close your eyes when you kiss me?”
Kissing Gouramis from Southeast Asia are popular aquarium fish. People like them because they seem so affectionate. People are wrong.


Why would two fish kiss?

Well, they wouldn’t.  At least not in any affectionate way. It is more in a mobster way. A demonstration of dominance.

The Kissing Gouramis from Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia are freshwater fish with big, toothy lips. They bully each other by locking lips and pushing each other around. Sorry, no romance there.

By the way, neither the bridge nor the street are named after someone named Smithfield. It conjures up someone classy who smoked a pipe and had an English accent.

They are named after a field, which was owned by man named Smith.

Neither the field nor the man were around longer than a springtime dalliance, but the name ineffectively commemorating both has been around 233 years.

The following plan from 1784 divides what had been Fort Pitt, the adjacent King’s Garden and  surrounding fields  into 490 lots. 


A Desire to Keep The Streetcars Rolling

Originally posted 2015-10-28 14:08:10. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

There are hundreds of places throughout the region with ongoing connections to the past. Chances are you have not gotten around to visiting them. Maybe you just need a scouting report. Here’s one to check out:

All photos by Leon J. Pollom/

Scott Becker hops aboard a 1911 double-end trolley used in Rio DeJaneiro, Brazil.

Scott Becker hops aboard a 1911 double-end trolley used in Rio DeJaneiro, Brazil.

You Can Still Ride Them Here

A streetcar named Washington regularly rolled 25 miles through the woods south of Pittsburgh. Then, one day it stopped.

Weeds rose above the steel tracks and leaned with the winds of change. Suburban buildings, parking lots and other things of the Automobile Age ripped up the tracks.

Surprisingly, that last trolley to run between Pittsburgh and Little Washington, PA, is not history. It still operates near the southern end of its former route. So do many of its relatives.

There you’ll find the final vintage streetcar to roll over a Pittsburgh street (1999). Its folding doors still clap shut. Steel on steel, its wheels still squeak around curves. Up from New Orleans, is a famous cousin. The one named Desire.

More than 50 such conveyances are available to ride, get married in, celebrate birthdays in, get photographed in, or just nostalgically reflect in — all at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.

Continue reading


Originally posted 2016-01-13 11:12:43. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

David Bowie died as an old man earlier this week.  Reports indicate it was because he lived beyond his youth and middle age.

Let that be a lesson to us all.

Bowie was 24 when he came to Pittsburgh in 1972.

 . . . And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations. . .

The poster below was taped to shop windows to announce Bowie’s concert.

It goes way back . . . back before cellphones and the Internet, McMansions and SUVs, before the War on Drugs and even before President Ronald Reagan.

It recalls a freer time for Baby Boomers, the ones often described as “disaffected.” According to the Webster-Meriam dictionary, that means they were dissatisfied with the people in authority and no longer willing to support them.

According to me, they aspired to be creative, but not necessarily productive. They saw value in getting wasted.

The pervasiveness of the drug culture is evident in the poster. The main ticket outlets were headshops/record stores.


Ziggy Stardust in the Burgh

Bowie came as Ziggy Stardust. He would remain so only for another year. Bowie retired his Stardust persona to get away from cocaine and —  to extend his life.

The $5 ticket price may seem ridiculously inexpensive, but that was back when performers made their money on record sales not concerts. Concert tours were just a way of selling albums.

That changed in the 1990s as music became downloadable. Bowe’s last concert here in 2004 would have cost you 10 times as much as the first. Tickets prices doubled and tripled again over the next decade.

More interesting is where you took your $5 in 1972 to buy a ticket.

Continue reading

It Ain’t Easy Saving the Past

Originally posted 2016-05-04 18:39:52. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

So, you want to preserve an old historic building? Of course not. You want someone else do it.Blockhouse1

Let’s look at two examples where people did come forward.

First we’ll detail the effort, setbacks and determination of a group of women who ensured the Fort Pitt Block House was not broken up and dumped into a hole somewhere. They also kept it from being moved out of context to Schenley Park.

Then, we’ll look at a tavern that served drinks for at least 234 years before anyone outside the West End noticed its age. It was 2011-04-30-west-end-old-stone-tavern-02about to bow before a bulldozer when local preservationists stepped up to the bar.

They want it to be preserved and studied. Maybe for a tourist attraction, maybe for a cool professional office. So far, all that’s been delivered to their table is bulldozer protection. They can take heart in knowing it wasn’t easy for the block house saviors, either.

Rich Women vs. Rich Men

The block house saga was a story of rich women donning their hats (striking by today’s standards), meeting rich and powerful men in their corporate and political domains, and not taking “No” for an answer. Well, sometimes they did. Then, they made the most of it.

We are talking about the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

They were actually granddaughters and great-granddaughters of men who fought in the revolution. True, those men helped create a new Democratic nation, but that was not their prime motivation.

They wanted personal wealth.  They got it and gave it to their descendants.

It came from speculating on land, Indian land. There’s a reason why George Washington, a surveyor, died the richest man in the country.

Those who fought in the Revolution, or otherwise advanced the cause, were promised Indian land when it was over.

Land-hungry colonists thought their British overlords were too protective of Indian treaties. The Indians, not surprisingly, didn’t think Britain protected them at all. Americans also did not want to pay taxes to cover the war that had driven the French out of their way in Indian territory.

So, the Revolution flared. It created what was considered “old money” by the time the local DAR chapter formed in 1891.

Appreciating their rich roots, members took on a never-ending project: obtain, restore and display the Fort Pitt Block House.

Continue reading

We’ll Go Under That Bridge When We Get to It

Originally posted 2015-12-30 17:15:18. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Far more people traveled under the Greenfield Bridge before it disappeared Monday than ever traveled over it. That isn’t what was envisioned when it opened 92 years ago.

It was supposed to be part of a landscaped thoroughfare making travel through the city a leisurely experience in the wondrous age of automobiles.  Therein is the story of Beechwood Boulevard, the longest convoluted street in a city of many, and a romantic vision that ultimately made Pittsburgh more livable.

If you drive through Squirrel Hill, you may wonder why the boulevard meanders so much without changing names. It is because a century ago, Beechwood went on a growth spree, trying to sidle up to every recently created park it could reach.

Many cities developed similar park-oriented roads at that time. Some called them, get this . .  parkways. We’ll get back to that.

An art commission reviewed the design for the Beechwood Boulevard bridge at Greenfield.  The commission wanted to ensure it would appeal to what were called Sunday drivers, those out for recreational cruises.

It approved a graceful arching concrete expanse. Drivers would be culturally elevated by beauty, and relieved not to crash into the valley below. That came close to happening.

The wood structure it replaced, sometimes called the Schenley Park Bridge, was falling down, falling down. City Photographer pictures dated  1909 show a major effort underway to jack the bridge up and get its sliding feet firmly replanted on the hillsides.

Photos dated 1921 show a splintered debris field across the valley. A “Closed Bridge Sign” teetering over one edge indicated the span had already been closed when it fell.

Not that it would have hit much.  Down below,  you would not see cars sitting six abreast and motoring impatience rising with the fumes. There was just unpaved Forward Avenue and Four Mile Run lazily tracing the bottom of the ravine.

Continue reading

« Older posts