OMG! Txtng in 1800s PGH

Originally posted 2016-07-13 20:26:39. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Currier&Ives print is an imaginary scene showing technological advances of the 19th Century, but for all intents and purposes, it could be Pittsburgh. The telegraph figures prominenty. Steam, as manifested in trains, river boats, and even a printing press, powered Western nations into the 20th Century.

Currier&Ives print is an invented scene showing technological advances of the 19th Century, but it could well be Pittsburgh. The telegraph figures prominenty. Steam, as manifested in trains, river boats, and even a printing press, powered Western nations into the 20th Century.

Securing the Steam-Age Internet

Back before most people had indoor toilets, Pittsburghers were texting and encrypting business emails.

Here’s a sample: Maudlin bigamy angel cart.

That’s a secret text message to sell 50,000 gallons of oil in the speculative futures market, and do it fast.

Electronic messages back then were called telegraphs.

It was the start of the telecommunications industry, the Internet, the information age.

Before the telegraph, messages could travel no faster than people — unless you had a really loud voice and a really big megaphone. Or, a reliable pigeon to tie notes to.

Then, as now, some people argued that we didn’t need to communicate any faster. If we did, it would change the world we live in. And so it did.

A portrait painter saw the need.

Death Motivates Invention

He received a week-old letter in Washington, D.C., saying that his wife was ill back home in Connecticut. A day later, a second letter came saying she was dead.

He immediately suspended his painting of the Marquis de Lafayette, a French hero of the American revolution, and rushed home.

“Rush” back then was limited to how fast a horse could gallop and pull a carriage. When he got there, his wife was already buried. He never got over it. It shifted his vocation from painter to communications pioneer.

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Dead Two Centuries, Mary Irwin Inspires Today’s Women

Originally posted 2017-02-13 21:55:33. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Are you a feminist? A lover of bodice-ripping romantic novels? Maybe you are a patriot. Or, maybe marijuana turns you on.

Everyone of you should get to know Mary Pattison Irwin.

She’s been dead and forgotten nearly 200 years, but memory of her life is once again flickering  in Pittsburgh.

Mary is to be honored March 2 by civic leaders who are holding her up as an example for aspiring Pittsburgh women to follow.

The short story is that she — a woman — was among the first industrialists in Pittsburgh, manufacturing rope when fewer than 2,000 people lived here.

Oh, and she managed the operation while raising four kids without her husband, a disabled Revolutionary War hero.

The longer story begins at Dublin Castle in Ireland. That’s where Mary met the dashing, if greatly perforated, hero.

The castle had been the center of English rule over Ireland for centuries. The ruling class — royalty and gentry — held lavish state balls there on St. Patrick’s Day.

The first St. Patty’s extravaganza there, and perhaps the most lavish, happens to have been in 1784, the year our future Pittsburghers attended.

It culminated weeks of formal receptions. The elegant festivities kept the working classes employed fashioning gowns and laying out sumptuous dinners. 

It reminded members of the ruling class of their status and ensured continuation through controlled and proper mating. But matters of the heart cannot always be orchestrated.

Etching of a ball at Dublin Castle where Mary Pattison met John Irwin and quickly dumped her fiancé. Unfortunately, this is not them. We don’t know what they looked like.

Already Spoken for, but No One Spoke for Mary

Mary’s descendants say her father was a surgeon in the British Army, and she was already engaged to a doctor when she went to the ball.

It is worth noting something about the British Army. War was considered to be an unfortunate but inconsequential part of army life.

The most important thing about the army, according to 19th century writers, was that it created gentlemen. Not only that, it certified them as such.

That was very important to aristocratic women looking to mate. So, most of the men at the ball would have been wearing military uniforms, gentlemen all.

Even so, John Irwin grabbed Mary’s attention. He likely was the center of everyone’s interest. The 32-year-old had such tales to tell.

First of all, he was a local man who was now an American.  Americans had just managed to do something dear to the hearts of Irishmen — unyoke themselves from English rule.

Journals of the time show the Irish eagerly awaited any news from ships coming from the fledgling United States. All had friends and relatives who had moved there. They particularly wanted to hear about George Washington. Trouble in the states? No problem. George Washington would take care of it.

So here was John Irwin, who knew the general. He was with him at Yorktown, VA, when the English surrendered, essentially ending the war.

Gen. George Washington accepts surrender of British troops at Yorktown by Gen. Charles Cornwallis. The English were outmaneuvered by the Americans (with help from the French Navy) more than they were outfought. It didn’t help that people in England were tired of the war. Washington always maintained his job was not to win the war but to not lose it, meaning he had to outlast English patience. He did.

It was something of a miracle that John stood before people at the ball at all. They knew he bore 32 bayonet scars  under the stiff fabric of his splendid dress uniform. 

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Pittsburgh’s Shocking Early Steps

Originally posted 2016-03-16 10:24:50. Republished by Blog Post Promoter


Pittsburgh-Bicentennial-FeatureWe’ve been looking at things you don’t know about 1816. That was the year Pittsburgh got big enough to become a city, relying less on the state to run things.

So far, we’ve learned:

  • There was no summer that year.
  • The City of Bridges had no bridges yet.

Now, we find something really unexpected:you're invited

Public Love-Making

Yes, public love-making. The scandalous fad swept across the world from Vienna, Paris, London, and quickly reached even frontier towns like Pittsburgh .

They gave it a name. They called it the Waltz.

The what?

The Waltz.

We could laugh at such silly prudishness. How could the people of 1816 think the Waltz was provocative?

Fact is, we are probably more prudish than they were.

The Waltz we know now was not the same thing then.

It was slow, intimate and sensuous. The dancers gazed continuously into each others eyes, oblivious to others around them. Their hands went where they felt natural.


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Odd Bits

Originally posted 2016-07-20 21:19:43. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Sorcerer’s Gun Control


Don’t Be Evil-Eying My Guns!

Many Americans see government regulation of guns as a curse, but there was a time when they thought curses controlled their weapons.

Thomas Mellon, father of Andrew Mellon, explains such peculiar habits of German farmers  in his 1885 memoirs, “Thomas Mellon and His Times”:

9780822955726_lLore to Live By

“The old and wise men among our Dutch (Deutsch) neighbors possessed abiding confidence in the folk-lore of their ancestors. They would admit that the active practice of witchcraft had generally ceased, but most of them claimed having had, at one time or another, personal experience of its effects.

Many of them in their youth had been great hunters; even in our day, Peter Hill and other old Germans were accustomed to make their annual winter excursion into the then wilderness of Clarion and Forest counties, and would each bring home a sled load of venison. And they all expressed undoubting belief that no matter how unerring the aim, if some one with an evil eye or possessed of the power of sorcery should happen to put a spell on their gun, no game could be killed until the spell is taken off. This was done by marking a human figure on a tree to represent the witch, and shooting a silver bullet into it with the gun supposed to be affected. The bullet was usually the smallest silver coin battered into the proper shape. Old Philip Drum and our neighbor Peter, who were great hunters, usually took the precaution of ridding their guns of these sorceries before setting out on the hunt; taking it for granted that if the gun was not affected the purification would do no harm.

Hex sign to ward off  "evil eye."

Hex sign to ward off “evil eye.”

“. . . The signs of the Zodiac in the Dutch (Deutsch) almanac afforded an indispensable guide for farm work . . . Our neighbors generally entertained these beliefs and only pitied the presumptuous ignorance of such as ourselves who disregarded them. Science had not as yet greatly disturbed their thoughts . . .”


Zoom In, Zoom Back

This week we stroll down the alley of Pittsburgh's past, picking up a few odd bits. This is Banner Way in Lawrenceville in 1908 as it gets paved in brick. Asphalt covers it now, but the buildings remain. See photo below.

Click on this 1907 photo to zoom into the past of Banner Way in Lawrenceville. My money says the man under the derby in foreground is a salesman. Note the bi-racial crew paving the alley in brick. Also check out the flame in the gas street light, the lack of telephone lines and poles, and the girl in the window with the best view.  Asphalt covers over their work now,  but the buildings remain largely intact 110 years later. Google provides a modern view of Banner Way below. This old photo and thousands of others can be seen at:

Historic Pittsburgh Images Collection


Screen Shot 2016-07-20 at 12.13.05 PM

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Unwelcome Immigrants

Originally posted 2015-12-09 23:55:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter


“Within a few blocks of the skyscrapers of the Point, I have seen a company of Syrians weaving almost unceasingly for four days (doing) a desert dance that celebrated the return of one of them to Jerusalem.”


What? Have Syrian refugees arrived in Pittsburgh? Has Mayor Bill Peduto made good on his pledge to welcome them here,  even if fearful Pittsburghers do not.

No, refugees are not dancing at the Point just yet.

The opening quote comes from a comprehensive study of Pittsburgh immigrants and their working conditions, which was done in 1907.

So, what other “foreigners” did the writer see? Let’s look at his complete description. It includes the grandparents or great-grandparents of most Pittsburghers today:

Greek Orthodox Priest

Pittsburgh Greek Orthodox Priest

“You do not know the Pittsburgh district until you have heard the Italians twanging their mandolins around a construction campfire, and seen the mad whirling of a Slovak dance in a mill town lodge hall; until you have watched the mill hands burst out from the gates at closing time; or thrown confetti on Fifth Avenue on a Halloween.

“Within a few blocks of the skyscrapers of the Point, I have seen a company of Syrians weaving almost unceasingly for four days a desert dance that celebrated the return of one of them to Jerusalem. (An Irishman thought it a wake).

“A possum swings by the tail at Christmastide in front of that Negro store on Wylie avenue; long-bearded Old Believers (Russian Orthodox) play bottle pool (a form of billiards) in that Second Avenue barroom; a Yiddish father and five children lie sick on the floor of this tenement; an old Bohemian woman once cleaned molds as a girl in the ironworks of Prague.

“That itinerant cobbler made shoes last winter for the German children of the South Side, who were too poor to pay for them, and stuffed the soles with thick cardboard when he was too poor to buy leather. Here is a Scotch Calvinist, and there a Slavic free thinker; here a peasant, and there a man who works from a blueprint; engineers, drag outs, and furnace-men from the mill district; there a Russian exile with a price on his head.”

Immigrants Not Wanted

But, America has never welcomed  immigrants. They come anyway. They are desperate. and they are needed. They can earn a living.

In 1907, factory owners wanted them in the worst kind of way. They didn’t have enough workers to keep up with demand for steel, glass, tin, bottles, cigars, you name it.

Factory workers already here, they hated immigrants.  They passed it on to their families around the dinner table and their neighbors on the stoops. Why?

According to Alois B. Koukol, secretary of the Slavonic Immigrant Society in 1907, they didn’t like how Slavics acted.

“The bosses know them chiefly as sturdy, patient, and submissive workmen; their fellow workmen hate and despise them largely because of this patience and submissiveness to the bosses and their willingness at the outset to work at any wages and under any conditions,”Koukol explains in the study.

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