Category: Myths

Pittsburgh’s Forgotten Tunnel

Present day bus and light rail vehicle on south side of transit tunnel.

Present day bus and light rail vehicle on south side of transit tunnel.

Pittsburgh’s most persistent myth may be that the transit tunnel under Mount Washington was once a coal mine. It never was.

That errant community memory stems from an otherwise long-forgotten tunnel nearby.

It doesn’t help when people who should know better repeat the transit tunnel legend as fact. Pittsburgh Magazine just did it in a piece on Pittsburgh tunnels:

 “The one-time coal-mine-turned-tunnel was upgraded in 1904 and used by as many as 600 streetcars a day at its peak”

Sorry,  as much as we all like the idea of repurposing old things, the transit tunnel started out as a tunnel. It never has been anything else.

How We Forgot

Perhaps, we should explain the origins of the myth.

Back when Mount Washington was just a hill, it had a less marketable name, Coal Hill.

It got the name soon after Fort Pitt was built at the Point. Fort dwellers and those living in shanties around the fort dug coal out of the hillside for subsistence heating.

The trees were already gone, stripped away and burned. Coal was carried across the Monongahela River in canoes and later ferried in flat boats.

But, they didn’t just walk to the base of the hill and start digging. That would have been too convenient.

They had to climb three-quarters of the way up the steep hillside to find and excavate coal. Then, they slid it down.

The coal — compressed remains of ancient swamps — was in a layer that was very large, but not particularly thick. It ranged from a few feet to not much more than the height of a miner.

But the Pittsburgh Coal Seam, as it came to be known, enabled a community to grow around the fort, and then flame into an industrial power.

It lay about 100 feet down from the top of Coal Hill. There was no coal at the level of today’s transit tunnel.

That tunnel, now used by the “T” light rail system and buses, was dug to replace a train tunnel that indeed had been a coal mine.

That mine was far up the northern slope, or downtown side, of the hill. On the southern side, the valley floor is much higher. So, the mine was only about half way up that side.

Now let’s explore the business of carrying coal and people through or over Mount Washington. It required so many contraptions to operate, and so much patience to use, that it is hard for modern minds to fathom.

This is why we went to a lot of trouble to ride through or over Mount Washington. Many workers walked this every day. It is a 1910 view of Indian Trail Steps, named after a path that followed the same route. Believe it or not, people took horses and wagons on the trail before these steps stopped them.

This is why we went to a lot of trouble to ride through or over Mount Washington. Many workers walked this every day. It is a 1910 view of Indian Trail Steps, named after a path that followed the same route. Believe it or not, people took horses and wagons on the trail before these steps stopped them.

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Originally posted 2016-01-27 13:03:52. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Be QWERTY

Next generation keyboard, as in the next human generation. This child's model has the same letter arrangement as first created six generations ago.

Next generation keyboard, as in the next human generation. This child’s model has the same letter arrangement as first created six generations ago.

The Striking Story of a Keyboard Design

Look down at your keyboard. See it? The first six letters spell QWERTY.

That’s what they call the keyboard layout we’ve been using for 140 years: the QWERTY layout.

It looks very much like an emphatic adjective: QWERTY! I propose we start using it that way.

Well, that’s very QWERTY! . . . She’s had a lot of trouble, but she is so QWERTY!

It would certainly be easy to type. Just slide a single finger across that row of keys. I’ll let you decide which finger. It may depend on your mood.

It would mean enduring.

Not only that. It would mean many good stories are told about the subject. Not all are true.

That certainly is the case with the QWERTY  layout.

Early "literary piano." It's resulting typewritten sheets were hidden inside until you brought them out.

Early “literary piano.” It’s resulting typewritten sheets were hidden inside until you brought them out.

It appears QWERTY may have been conceived in the mind of an investor from Meadville, 90 miles to the north of Pittsburgh. It was then born in Milwaukee, WI.,  and grew up in Kittanning and Pittsburgh.

We’re talking about the late 1800s. There seems to have been a lot of tinkerers looking to get rich, at least in the just-victorious North. They often put their heads together, and their money, to come up with things that would sell.

Christopher Latham Sholes wanted to make a typesetting machine for his Milwaukee print shop after his typesetters went on strike. That idea failed. So he used it to make a machine for print shops that could be used to number pages, tickets, etc.

Christopher Sholes

Christopher Sholes

He and a fellow inventive printer patented a prototype . The patent attorney they went to also was an inventor. I told you, everybody was.

“Couldn’t this print letters and words, too?” he asked. That, of course, was Sholes original idea.

The attorney joined the partnership, providing development money.

The trio came up with the “literary piano.”

Seriously. It looked like a small piano. It was wooden. The keys were ebony and ivory. The alphabet ran the way it’s supposed to: ABCD. . . They got a patent in 1868 and typed hundreds of letters on the machine seeking investors.

One letter went to James Densmore who lived in Meadville at the time. He was so taken with the typed solicitation, that he bought a quarter of the patent without seeing the device.

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Originally posted 2016-02-24 18:20:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Dress All 1816 in 2016

Pittsburgh-Bicentennial-FeatureIt wasn’t a very big city, to be sure; less than 6,000 residents, but still there were balls and plenty of coming-out parties to attend. Then, there was church. What would you wear?

We’ve been looking at 1816, the year Pittsburgh got big enough to become a city

Thanks to the Internet and the popularity of Regency Era romantic books and movies, 1816 fashions are at least as available now as they were then.

Ready-made clothing only started to appear just before 1816. Sorry ladies that was just for men.

Most everyone knew how to sew,  but they got a tailor or seamstress to make the best outfits. You can still get those patterns on the Internet.

If you’re a man, you can do it the modern way —  buy ready-made. Like the outfit below.

 

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DO YOU WANT TO BE HIM? The coat will cost you about $300, the hat about $100. All told, you’re looking at about $900 to become a Regency Period count complete with pocket watch and cane. Just click on photo for details and other outfits.

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Originally posted 2016-04-20 09:41:31. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Pittsburgh Got Schenley Wrong

Sleazy Seducer or Slave Savior?

Mary Croghan

Mary Croghan

Pittsburgh likes to tell a romantic, shocking tale about one of its wealthy young heiresses. It’s been telling the story for 174 years. The story is mostly wrong.

Lurid speculation in newspaper accounts of 1842 get passed off as accurate history.

I refer to the elopement of Mary Croghan and Edward W.H. Schenley.

You know the name from Schenley Park, the former Schenley High School, etc.

In the story,  Mary is only 14 years old at a Staten Island boarding school. Sometimes she is 13 or perhaps 15. What happens?

Edward W.H. Schenley, an image printed many times in Pittsburgh where he was perceived as a sleazy gold digger.

Edward W.H. Schenley, an image printed many times in Pittsburgh where he was perceived as a sleazy gold digger.

Schenley, a dashing English captain, a hero of the Napoleonic Wars, a relative of the school owners, lurks about because he is AWOL.

Despite being called dashing, he is 43 years old. So that makes him creepy.  He preys on innocent rich girls.

Mary agrees to secretly marry him and run off to England.

Wealthy dad in Pittsburgh gets upset and local reporters cover it.

In reality, Mary was nearly 16. She was known throughout her adult life as a clear-minded woman of good judgment. It seems, even at 16 she knew what she was doing.

How so?

 Schenley was not a cad. Anything but.

In fact,  British  documents now online reveal a different Schenley. He was a tireless hero to thousands of kidnapped Africans enslaved in the Caribbean. His voice comes through in hundreds of dispatches:

” With reference to the barbarous state of the criminal law in Surinam, alluded to in my Despatch of June 13, 1843, I beg leave to state, that at this moment there is passing my windows a most frightful spectacle, confirmatory of its severity. Seven negroes, who were detected in some paltry theft of sugar from on board a punt (boat), have been taken, by sentence of the Court, to the public gallows, and there “Spanish bucked,” or flogged on their naked posteriors and thighs, with freshly cut tamarind rods, until not a vestige of whole flesh can be discovered; one mass of clotted blood presenting itself to view, as they lie chained in a mule cart upon their faces, and proceeding to the prison in the fort, for the purpose of being heavily ironed, as soon as they revive from the inanition (exhaustion) caused by the severity of the flogging.”

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Originally posted 2016-02-17 15:34:46. Republished by Blog Post Promoter