Category: Time Travel (page 1 of 2)

Vivid accounts of days gone by

Pittsburgh’s Worst Flood Ever? See What That Really Means

The following film clips preserve flickers of a disaster that is fading from memory.

Few of today’s Pittsburghers and Johnstowners were around in 1936 when  much of the Mid Atlantic region flooded like never before or since.

It was March, after a particularly cold and snowy winter.

Heavy rain combined with melting snow and ice to make what became known as the St. Patrick’s Day Flood. It actually occurred over two or three days.

The flood was in the midst of the Great Depression. Petitions for projects to control and slow the amount of water flowing toward Pittsburgh went unheeded by a cash-strapped Congress for years — until after the disaster.

Actually, it wasn’t until after it happened again to a lesser extent in 1937.

Even then, floodgates of money didn’t open wide. Enough funding trickled through in the 1940s and 1950s to build dams, locks and other projects on tributaries to the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers.

Several small upriver towns disappeared from the map after they were sacrificed for Pittsburgh. High water is stored where they once stood.

Extensive river flooding has not occurred since, making these flood films all the more stark to modern Pittsburgh eyes.



Cleaning Up

Flood Control


A few notes:

  • The first 1936 newsreel estimates damage at $25 million in Pittsburgh. It was actually $250 million, or the equivalent of $4.3 billion today. It is said 100,000 structures were destroyed.
  • The danger of typhoid was real, but no cases developed. A boil-water advisory may have prevented an outbreak.
  • The final death figure was estimated at 69 in Pittsburgh. More than 500 were injured.
  • Electricity was out for eight days. It was quite cold, but most homes were heated by coal furnaces that did not use electric blowers, so houses had heat — if they weren’t flooded.

Originally posted 2016-05-18 11:12:57. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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.


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Originally posted 2015-11-24 23:06:29. 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.

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

Exploring the Belly of the Burgh in 1866

Time travel is possible. Come with me and we’ll join James Parton as he takes a train to Pittsburgh 149 years ago.

James Parton

James Parton

You might be surprised.

Proud Pittsburghers will tell us about the health benefits of smoke.  We’ll go deep into a coal mine under Mount Washington and talk to Mr. Gallagher, a contented miner.

We’ll sit with otherwise well-behaved men and boys as they hoot and holler at a show downtown. We’ll go into factories and see Pittsburgh strongmen make window panes, glass bottles and giant cannons.

We also will go up to the Hill District and see what caused our guide to write the most famous line of all about Pittsburgh — You know, the one about looking “into Hell with the lid taken off.”

Now Then, Pittsburgh presents highlights of Parton’s research in a series of posts beginning with this one. You can read his complete article in Atlantic Monthly.  It was published in January 1888, 14 months after his visit. Don’t be thrown by his spelling of the city. He may have put Hell into the city’s description, but he was among many outsiders who insisted on getting the “H” out of it.

Coal for the fires below came from the hill upon which the artist stood above the Monongahela. Coal transport is the main purpose of the train crossing the bridge. Just beyond it is the Smithfield Street Bridge. The large hotel at the downtown end is where Parton stayed.

Coal for the fires below came from the hill upon which the artist stood above the Monongahela. Coal transport is the main purpose of the train crossing the bridge. Just beyond it is the Smithfield Street Bridge. The large hotel at the downtown end is where Parton stayed.

Part One: Hell’s Not So Bad

And Parton begins thusly:

There are three cities readily accessible to the tourist, which are peculiar, — Quebec, New Orleans, and Pittsburg, — and of these Pittsburg is the most interesting by far.

On that low point of land, fringed now with steamboats and covered with grimy houses, scarcely visible in the November fog . . .

It is curiously hemmed in, — that small triangle of low land upon which the city was originally built. A stranger walking about the streets on a summer afternoon is haunted by the idea that a terrific thunderstorm is hanging over the place. Every street appears to end in a huge black cloud, and there is everywhere the ominous darkness that creeps over the scene when a storm is approaching.

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Originally posted 2015-11-04 17:49:27. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Coal: Exploring Belly of the Burgh in 1866


James Parton

James Parton

We are accompanying James Parton, a well-known author in his day, as he explores Pittsburgh in an article he wrote for Atlantic Monthly 149 years ago.

He has already experienced a day with only about 30 minutes of daylight, and a night that inspired him to write of looking “into Hell with the lid taken off.”

Now, he ventures into the darkest dark. He follows a mule and a “black white boy” into a coal mine under what is now Mount Washington.

Let’s join him.

Coal Made It All Possible

The “great fact” of Pittsburg is coal.

Iron and copper can better afford to come to coal to be melted, than send for coal to come and melt them. All those hills that frown down upon Pittsburg, and those that rise from the rivers back of Pittsburg, have a stratum of coal in them from four to twelve feet thick. This stratum is about three hundred feet above the water’s edge, and about one hundred feet from the average summit of the hills. . .

To observe the whole process of getting coal out of the hills, it is only necessary to walk half a mile from the city. Cross one of the bridges over the Monongahela, walk up the hill that rises from the banks of that tranquil stream, and you behold, in the side of the hill, a round hole about large enough for a man to stand upright in.

In "A Family Coal Mine, a Pittsburgh Sketch," children remove coal from an abandoned mine on Coal Hill (Mount Washington). The wood engraving by Harry Fenn appeared in an 1871 issue of Every Saturday magazine.

In “A Family Coal Mine, a Pittsburgh Sketch,” children remove coal from an abandoned mine on Coal Hill (Mount Washington). The wood engraving by Harry Fenn appeared in an 1871 issue of Every Saturday magazine.

This cavity has smooth walls of coal, and there is a narrow railroad track in it. The air within is neither damp nor chilly, and often delicate flowers are blooming about the entrance.

Strangers usually enter this convenient and inviting aperture, which may lead into the hill a mile, or even three miles. (Parton’s GPS unit was off. The transit tunnel through the wider base of the hill, for instance,  is only about two-thirds of a mile.)

After walking a hundred yards or so, strangers usually think it best to go no farther. It is as dark in there as darkness itself, and as silent as a tomb. The entrance shows like a distant point of light. The visitor listens for the sound of the pickaxe, or the rumble of a coal-car; but nothing breaks the horrid silence of the place, and, re-tracing his steps, he sees with pleasure the point of light expanding into a round O.

Reassured, he peers again into the mountain’s heart, and discerns in the far distance, a speck of light. This speck slowly, very slowly, approaches. A low and distant rumble is heard.

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Originally posted 2015-11-17 22:34:24. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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