Category: Time Travel (page 1 of 2)

Vivid accounts of days gone by

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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Exploring the Belly of the Burgh in 1866

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

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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Exploring the Belly of the Burgh in 1866, Part 2

Originally posted 2015-11-09 21:49:37. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

James Parton

James Parton

We are accompanying James Parton, a well-known author in his day, as he explores Pittsburgh 149 years ago.

He has already experienced a day with only about 30 minutes of daylight. Parton’s fame as a biographer would fade with time, but he is about to go to the Hill District where he will be inspired to write one line remembered to this day.

Let’s join him.

Parton continues:

There is one evening scene in Pittsburg which no visitor should miss. Owing to the abruptness of the hill behind the town, there is a street along the edge of a bluff, from which you can look directly down upon all that part of the city which lies low, near the level of the rivers.

On the evening of this dark day, we were conducted to the edge of the abyss, and looked over the iron railing upon the most striking spectacle we ever beheld.

The entire space lying between the hills was filled with blackest smoke, from out of which the hidden chimneys sent forth tongues of flame, while from the depths of the abyss came up the noise of hundreds of steam-hammers.

There would be moments when no flames were visible; but soon the wind would force the smoky curtains aside, and the whole black expanse would be dimly lighted with dull wreaths of fire.

Two boys enjoy the view of the Strip District from the North Side in 1925, 59 years after Parton viewed it from the Hill. That's a lot of carbon wafting into the atmosphere.

[/media-credit] Two boys enjoy the view of the Strip District from the North Side in 1925, 59 years after Parton viewed it from the Hill. That’s a lot of carbon wafting into the atmosphere.

It is an unprofitable business, view-hunting; but if any one would enjoy a spectacle as striking as Niagara, he may do so by simply walking up a long hill to Cliff Street in Pittsburg, and looking over into — Hell with the lid taken off.

Okay, that’s the line. Hell with the lid taken off.

It’s particularly loved by those marketing or otherwise emphasizing the city’s transformation. A headline in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette two years ago is typical:

‘Hell With the Lid Off to Most Livable’ — How Pittsburgh Became Cool.

The story notes that today it’s almost commonplace for sources that bestow best-of titles to home in on Pittsburgh’s finer qualities, giving high marks on everything from bars and ballparks to fun places and real estate prices. It adds that the region repeatedly rates among the best places for brains, roller coasters and robotics, starting a business, buying a house, raising a family, retiring and more.

But, some around the country are tired of hearing Pittsburgh gloat about its transformation. They no longer question  it’s livability, so they question if it was really all that bad to begin with.  They just want to respond to the city’s marketers, so they say Parton’s nighttime description is a love letter to the city — not a criticism.

While it is certainly more positive than one might expect, those seeing it as a compliment must not have read much of Parton’s travelogue. If they had, they may have gotten attuned to the subtleties of Victorian sarcasm.

But, let’s rejoin the author:

Pittsburgers Shrug at the Smoke

Such is the kind of day of which Pittsburg boasts. The first feeling of the stranger is one of compassion for the people who are compelled to live in such an atmosphere.

When hard pressed, a son of Pittsburg will not deny that the smoke has its inconveniences.

He admits that it does prevent some inconsiderate people from living there, who, but for the prejudice against smoke in which they have been educated, would become residents of the place.

He insists, however, that the smoke of bituminous coal kills malaria, and saves the eyesight.

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One Weekend in 1884

Originally posted 2016-07-06 22:07:56. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Monday, Sept. 29, 1884, was an ordinary day in Pittsburgh. It followed an ordinary wild weekend.

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 9.43.13 PM

True, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show happened to be in town, but a glance at the newspaper shows the performers were hard-pressed to be any wilder than the people already living here.

It’s all too evident in that Monday edition of the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette. 

Looking for information on the Wild West show, I was obliged to scan all the news. In the process, I found numerous briefs that, taken together, paint a clearer picture of Pittsburgh’s past than I have yet seen.

I offer them to you now.

By the way, if the professional demeanor of 19th Century reporters seems overly jaded and flippant, it may only be that we are accustomed to the overly serious, shocked tone of modern journalists.

Let’s begin with the most common stories: drunkenness. It’ll be easy for you to see what led to the temperance movement and Prohibition.

copHUNTING A MANprositute2

A Commotion Raised by a Woman’s Leap from a Carriage

Quite a commotion was raised on Sixth street Saturday night by the dash a woman made for liberty. A carriage came along Sixth street with a policeman on the box and a man with a well-dressed woman inside. Midway between Penn and Liberty avenues the door of the carriage opened and the woman sprang out. She struck on her head and rolled over and over through the mud until stopped by the curb stone.

The street was crowded and there was a rush of people for the prostrate woman. The carriage kept on up the street until the officer on the box had his attention attracted by the rush down the street. He glanced down, saw the open door and was off the box without waiting to stop the horses. When he got back the woman had disappeared in a store, but she was recaptured and taken to the Central Station. There she registered as Mollie Brown. The charge against her was drunkenness, and she was allowed to put up $15 and go.

Miss Brown, as she chose to call herself, is well known in the city. She was hunting a man and making herself conspicuous on Penn avenue and this led to her arrest. She was only slightly bruised by her jump from the carriage.

Think she got off easy? $15 was the equivalent of $400 or $500 today. Presumably she was a prostitute drinking on the job. Her name reflected the large number of Irish living in the city. Immigration from eastern Europe was only beginning. The man with her? Client? Pimp? We’ll never know.

 He Will Probably Die

Mr. McKee, of Liberty street, was arrested on Saturday night for drunkenness. He had fallen on the pavement and received a severe cut. He was taken home yesterday and erysipelas has set in and his death will probably result.

Erysipelas is a bacterial infection that can result from alcoholism, but would not kill him before something else did.

Two Houses Raided

The police made a raid on Dave Holmes’ place, corner of Fourth avenue and Liberty street, last night, and captured five women and three men. An information has been made.

A fight started in Dickenbach’s saloon, on Diamond street, last night. Chief Braun sent the proprietor word to shut up, and he refused. The place was raided and four men captured.

The first raid, of course, would have been at a house of prostitution on what is now Liberty Avenue. Diamond street, where the second occurred, is now Forbes Avenue. When the chief told Dickenbach to shut up, he was telling him to shut down — not to be quiet.

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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.

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