Category: Amusing (page 1 of 3)

Not So Serious Takes

1907 Halloween, Illegal Crossdressing, General Mischief

Originally posted 2015-10-21 14:03:14. Republished by Blog Post Promoter


1908 Postcard catches boys stealing a gate as a common Halloween prank.

1908 Postcard catches boys stealing a gate as a common Halloween prank.

Halloween can be a terrible time for defenders of order and morals.

Has it always been so? Let’s pick a  date and go back. How about 1907 in Pittsburgh ?

The Pittsburg Press can take us back.

Oh my! It is much worse then than now.

The newspaper reported scores of men arrested for dressing as women. Similar numbers of women were arrested for donning men’s clothes — some ladies even tried getting into saloons that way.

Okay, so crossdressing doesn’t offend you.

How about hugging strangers?

Police officers dutifully rounded up people, probably drunken, who were caught hugging people they didn’t know.

The biggest problem, though, was when men and boys linked themselves together arm-in-arm and marched wedge-like down the street to plow up or over whomever they encountered.

Many ended up in hospitals.

It is a common practice going back to ancient times. Whenever males sense they have enough numbers to take on a mob, they form a wedge.

It was outlawed by Pittsburg,  Allegheny and many surrounding communities in 1908. (yes, that’s how Pittsburgh was spelled at the time.)

Also banned was the annoying and often dangerous practice of thrusting ticklers (feather dusters) into people’s faces along the Halloween parade route.

 Throwing talcum powder or flour into an unsuspecting face also was popular. Probably the result of watching too much vaudeville.

All of this and much more can be found in a single issue of the Pittsburg Press here.  Samples of the reported Halloween mayhem follow:

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So Now What Happens?

Originally posted 2016-11-09 12:29:50. Republished by Blog Post Promoter


Following Donald Trump’s election to the U.S. Presidency, it may be useful to look into the past to see what may happen. There you will find Joe Barker, the man I have called Pittsburgh’s Trump. ( A spoiler: It doesn’t end well for him.)

Let’s revisit the post written last year:


Pittsburgh’s Trump

Some say Donald Trump is one of a kind. That may be, but he is not the first of his kind.

We had one here in Pittsburgh in the mid 1800s.

His name was Joe Barker. It was an appropriate name. He did a lot of barking.

It got him elected mayor, and it often landed him in jail.

In fact, he was stewing behind bars when voters amused themselves by writing in his name on the ballot. To the shock of political insiders, he was elected to the city’s highest office.

Let’s set the scene. It was 1849. Pittsburgh had a population of 36,000, many of them Irish.  Stylish, bearded young men wore black stovepipe hats when they went clubbing, which was often and late.

Joseph Barker

Joseph Barker

On the street, or more often on  a bridge that crossed the canal that ran through the city, these men frequently encountered Joe Barker. Like them, he was dressed in a black cape and donned a stovepipe hat. Unlike them, and other men of his era, he was clean shaven.

Out of his mouth came sermons on the ills of society. James Owens, a contractor who built many of the structures in the city at that time, included Barker in his memoirs.

“. . . Some said he was crazy, others said he was only a crank who wanted to make a living on the credulous people, and his main point was to escape hard work,” Owens wrote.

 “Joe’s chief hobby was his hatred for the Catholics. Wherever he could draw a crowd he would harangue the people on his favorite topic. “ But,  he had others.

James Owen, who wrote "Recollections of a Runaway Boy: 1827-1903"

James Owen, who wrote “Recollections of a Runaway Boy: 1827-1903.” You will find no better book relating the flavor of a remote era. Some of the facts are off, but let an old man reminisce.

Barker argued that people born in this country  were better and due more consideration than those born outside of it. A large percentage of people in Pittsburgh were born overseas. That included Barker’s parents and his wife. Barker also preached that Pittsburgh police were corrupt stooges. He often was collared by them. 

“When the boys of the town would see Joe . . .coming along Liberty Avenue they would follow, shouting and cheering, and soon Joe would reach the court house or cathedral, and mounting the steps would make a speech,” Owens recalled.

“Joe became more and more of a general nuisance, until finally the Catholics had him arrested for speaking from the cathedral steps. The judge sent him to jail for 30 days. When he got out, he was more reckless than ever, and also more noisy, so he was again arrested . . ..”

You may recall that when Donald Trump was told his Iowa poll numbers were falling, he called Iowa voters stupid. Barker would have approved.

When he was found guilty of blocking streets and using “indecent, lewd, and immoral language calculated to deprave the morals of the community,” Barker turned to the jury and the judge. He told them to go to Hell. (I can see Trump supporters laughing with approval.)

Judge Benjamin Patton then told Barker where to go. And, for how long.

He sentenced Barker to the County Prison for one year. He  fined him $250. After that, it all became a big farce.

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Pittsburgh’s Pot Past

Originally posted 2015-12-23 09:40:38. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

As Pittsburgh makes marijuana possession a little less illegal, it is interesting to note that bales of cannabis once came here by the boatloads. A local businesswoman  ordered the bales and processed them downtown for customers who shipped them around the world.

Perhaps, I should explain. Mary Irwin made rope.

In all likelihood, the hemp that lined the riverbanks would not have been particularly good for smoking. Bummer.

Farmers would have hybridized their cannabis to maximize stalks and stems, giving rope makers lots of fluffy fiber to work with.

Cut-away of cannabis stalk shows fiber that draws rope makers.

Cut-away of cannabis stalk shows fiber that draws rope makers.

Today, law requires hemp growers for such industrial purposes to use plants hybridized to ensure a minimum of THC.

That’s the compound in the leaves and flower tops that expands people’s minds and/or makes them stupid.

Those who grow cannabis for inhaling purposes develop plants with a maximum of leaves,  flowers and, of course,  THC.

Mary Irwin didn’t know about THC. Oxygen hadn’t even been discovered yet.

It was the late 1700s. Her husband, John, a disabled Revolutionary War vet, set up a rope-walk along the Monongahela just before he died. It may be John did so in name only, and that Mary initiated the startup business and did the actual work.

Rope-walks were used to spin fiber into cordage and then twist and wrap that into lengths of rope.

That involved walking backwards while your hands worked. Rope length was determined by how far back you could walk without running into something.

So, river banks were good places to work, particularly in Pittsburgh. It only had about 1,500 people at the time.

Mary set out to meet the increasing demand for rope.

One sailing vessel alone could use more than 20 miles of rigging. Coal mines and wells needed rope, too. Church  bells wouldn’t ring without it.  Canal boats tethered to mules needed the twisted hemp. And, I suppose you couldn’t have hangings without rope.

Rope-walk workers knew how to advance in their jobs. They pulled strings.

Mary had her young son, also named John, to help. They started on the north bank near what is now the Smithfield Street bridge. The quality of Irwin rope combined with the growing need caused her to move repeatedly to larger . . .  er . . .  longer locales.

She moved closer to the Point, first on the Monongahela River and then the Allegheny River. In 1812, a young man with boyish looks showed up at her business. He was about to become the nation’s heroic darling, the object of its patriotic zeal. Continue reading

Want a Job in 1816 Pittsburgh?

Originally posted 2016-04-04 22:03:27. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

We’ve been looking at surprising things you don’t know about 1816. That was the year Pittsburgh got big enough to become a city. So far, we’ve learned:Pittsburgh-Bicentennial-Feature

  • There was no summer that year.
  • The City of Bridges had no bridges yet.
  • Public love-making was quite popular (waltzing).
  • You paid nothing to mail a letter. You paid a lot to get one.

Now, we’ll send you back to 1816 to look for a job. Someone’s written a resume for you. Problem is you probably don’t know half the occupations listed on it. The following test may help.

The  occupations on this test came from a Pittsburgh directory compiled in 1815.

1. You are an experienced skin dresser. That means
2. You say you are a drayman. That means
3. As a milliner, you
4. You say you are a chandler. It's not your name. It means
5. As a longtime glover, you
6. You want to be a white-smith rather than a black-smith because
7. As a nail cutter you have seen a lot of
8. You can't be a carter without
9. You say you are a gentleman. That means
10. As a mantua-maker, you enhance the appearance of
11. Being a morocco dresser, you must know
If you got more than half correct, chances are good you will get hired in 1816. After all, Pittsburgh was booming. The War of 1812 (it lasted into 1815) made it a center of military supplies and reinforced it as the gateway to go after Indian land in the Midwest. Continue reading

How Pittsburgh ‘Saved’ the Whales, For a While

Originally posted 2015-11-24 23:06:29. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Whale oil lamp

[/media-credit] Whale oil lamp

Before Oil Came From the Ground

Most of us are dimly aware (no pun intended) that before electric lights, but after candles, the civilized world got around at night with oil lamps.

Few of us know that initially most of that oil came from harpooned whales whose blubber had been boiled.

So, it was a great relief to the whale population when someone in Pittsburgh turned light-bearing people away from whales, and toward  the foamy sludge bubbling up around salt wells.

It seems incredible now, but then our forefathers and foremothers didn’t see any  value in the petroleum oozing out of the ground.

Samuel M. Kier was different. He was a visionary who historians call the Grandfather of the American Oil industry.

But, hold off, he wasn’t an historic visionary right away.

His  first vision was to use crude oil to cure all health ailments. For a price.


So-called patent medicines (they were neither patented nor regulated in any way) were in their prime in 1848.  That’s when Kier discovered the petroleum that Mother Nature spewed forth onto his shoes could perform amazing wonders.

Just drink it, or apply it to the affected areas, and the lame could walk, the blind could see. It also was a good lubricant.

Suffering from’s the King’s Evil? It’ll take care of that, too.

Oh, you don’t know if you have King’s Evil or not?

Well, it’s tuberculosis. Millions had it then.

Maybe that’s why it had so many names. Consumption was one. People wasted away as it consumed them.

Ignorant, superstitious victims used to think they could be cured by a monarch touching them, or by touching a coin that the monarch touched. It was proof to them that God ordained the king to be king.

Well, they didn’t know about Kier’s Genuine Petroleum.

Actually, Kier’s wife, Nancy, had a lot to do with him bottling the remedy. She was suffering from the King’s Evil, and her doctor prescribed a medicinal oil from Kentucky that looked and smelled familiar.

Kier had it analyzed.  It was identical to the stuff contaminating his salt works.


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