Category: Amusing (page 1 of 2)

Not So Serious Takes

How Pittsburgh ‘Saved’ the Whales, For a While

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.


Continue reading

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

You Think You Know Penguin Hockey?

So you think you know all about the Penguins and hockey?

Or maybe, you don’t know anything about sliding a disk on ice and bumping into people. No problem.

This quiz will interest, surprise and amuse you as the Penguins huddle around the Stanley Cup.


1. Hockey was introduced to Pittsburghers in 1895 when they went to see
2. The name ''hockey'' comes from
3. The first pucks were
4. That first hockey exhibition game in Pittsburgh was played where?
5. Duquesne Gardens opened in 1899, joining Forbes Field and Pitt Stadium as an entertainment center in Oakland. That was its second life. Previously, it was
6. The Pittsburgh Yellow Jackets, an amateur club, won national titles in 1924 and 1925. The city's first hockey title generated so much buzz that it ranked slightly below what sport?
7. To keep players, fans, pucks and beers separate, Duquesne Gardens was the first hockey venue in the world to install what?
8. Pittsburgh attracted top Canadian talent to its teams in the early 1900s because
9. Ever the promoter, the owner of the Yellow Jackets hired a beautiful Norwegian Olympic figure skater to entertain the crowd between game periods in 1936. She was enthusiastically received and this led a group of fellow hockey club owners to start
10. The Yellow Jackets team was so good it was divided into two stinging insect teams. The other was

If you got three correct, congratulations! You’ve gotten a hat-trick. That term is applied to anyone scoring three goals in a single game. It’s origins are disputed, but you can read about it here.  Surprisingly, no one claims it originated in Pittsburgh. If you find out otherwise, keep it . . . well, under your hat.

If you got four correct, that’s pretty amazing. But, surprisingly, lots of hockey players have scored four goals in a game. 

You say you got five? Now your in the ranks of people like Wayne Gretzky and someone named Mario Lemieux. Forty different players in the NHL have done that over the past century, some more than once.

Six? Now that’s been done only six times, mostly in the 1920s.

If you got more than six, you have bested everyone who has swung a stick in the NHL, and are hereby inducted into the Hall of Fame.



The Casino at Schenley Park

The Casino at Schenley Park

Ice polo team on “Duck Pond” at Storrs, Connecticut, 1890s.

Ice polo team on “Duck Pond” at Storrs, Connecticut, 1890s. Note ball rather than puck.


These Canadian students inside the Casino at Schenley Park were the first  ice hockey players seen by Pittsburghers. They played with a puck rather than a ball. Local students quickly switched over.

These Canadian students inside the Casino at Schenley Park were the first ice hockey players seen by Pittsburghers. They played with a puck rather than a ball. Local students quickly switched over.







Originally posted 2016-05-31 16:12:16. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Kissing Fish and Pittsburgh

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. 


Originally posted 2016-03-23 15:56:00. 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

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

So Now What Happens?


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.

Continue reading

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

Older posts