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Pittsburgh’s Shocking Early Steps

Originally posted 2016-03-16 10:24:50. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

 

Pittsburgh-Bicentennial-FeatureWe’ve been looking at things you don’t know about 1816. That was the year Pittsburgh got big enough to become a city, relying less on the state to run things.

So far, we’ve learned:

  • There was no summer that year.
  • The City of Bridges had no bridges yet.

Now, we find something really unexpected:you're invited

Public Love-Making

Yes, public love-making. The scandalous fad swept across the world from Vienna, Paris, London, and quickly reached even frontier towns like Pittsburgh .

They gave it a name. They called it the Waltz.

The what?

The Waltz.

We could laugh at such silly prudishness. How could the people of 1816 think the Waltz was provocative?

Fact is, we are probably more prudish than they were.

The Waltz we know now was not the same thing then.

It was slow, intimate and sensuous. The dancers gazed continuously into each others eyes, oblivious to others around them. Their hands went where they felt natural.

1810wals

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Dead Two Centuries, Mary Irwin Inspires Today’s Women

Originally posted 2017-02-13 21:55:33. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Are you a feminist? A lover of bodice-ripping romantic novels? Maybe you are a patriot. Or, maybe marijuana turns you on.

Everyone of you should get to know Mary Pattison Irwin.

She’s been dead and forgotten nearly 200 years, but memory of her life is once again flickering  in Pittsburgh.

Mary is to be honored March 2 by civic leaders who are holding her up as an example for aspiring Pittsburgh women to follow.

The short story is that she — a woman — was among the first industrialists in Pittsburgh, manufacturing rope when fewer than 2,000 people lived here.

Oh, and she managed the operation while raising four kids without her husband, a disabled Revolutionary War hero.

The longer story begins at Dublin Castle in Ireland. That’s where Mary met the dashing, if greatly perforated, hero.

The castle had been the center of English rule over Ireland for centuries. The ruling class — royalty and gentry — held lavish state balls there on St. Patrick’s Day.

The first St. Patty’s extravaganza there, and perhaps the most lavish, happens to have been in 1784, the year our future Pittsburghers attended.

It culminated weeks of formal receptions. The elegant festivities kept the working classes employed fashioning gowns and laying out sumptuous dinners. 

It reminded members of the ruling class of their status and ensured continuation through controlled and proper mating. But matters of the heart cannot always be orchestrated.

Etching of a ball at Dublin Castle where Mary Pattison met John Irwin and quickly dumped her fiancé. Unfortunately, this is not them. We don’t know what they looked like.

Already Spoken for, but No One Spoke for Mary

Mary’s descendants say her father was a surgeon in the British Army, and she was already engaged to a doctor when she went to the ball.

It is worth noting something about the British Army. War was considered to be an unfortunate but inconsequential part of army life.

The most important thing about the army, according to 19th century writers, was that it created gentlemen. Not only that, it certified them as such.

That was very important to aristocratic women looking to mate. So, most of the men at the ball would have been wearing military uniforms, gentlemen all.

Even so, John Irwin grabbed Mary’s attention. He likely was the center of everyone’s interest. The 32-year-old had such tales to tell.

First of all, he was a local man who was now an American.  Americans had just managed to do something dear to the hearts of Irishmen — unyoke themselves from English rule.

Journals of the time show the Irish eagerly awaited any news from ships coming from the fledgling United States. All had friends and relatives who had moved there. They particularly wanted to hear about George Washington. Trouble in the states? No problem. George Washington would take care of it.

So here was John Irwin, who knew the general. He was with him at Yorktown, VA, when the English surrendered, essentially ending the war.

Gen. George Washington accepts surrender of British troops at Yorktown by Gen. Charles Cornwallis. The English were outmaneuvered by the Americans (with help from the French Navy) more than they were outfought. It didn’t help that people in England were tired of the war. Washington always maintained his job was not to win the war but to not lose it, meaning he had to outlast English patience. He did.

It was something of a miracle that John stood before people at the ball at all. They knew he bore 32 bayonet scars  under the stiff fabric of his splendid dress uniform. 

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Pittsburgh Got Schenley Wrong

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

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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It Ain’t Easy Saving the Past

Originally posted 2016-05-04 18:39:52. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

So, you want to preserve an old historic building? Of course not. You want someone else do it.Blockhouse1

Let’s look at two examples where people did come forward.

First we’ll detail the effort, setbacks and determination of a group of women who ensured the Fort Pitt Block House was not broken up and dumped into a hole somewhere. They also kept it from being moved out of context to Schenley Park.

Then, we’ll look at a tavern that served drinks for at least 234 years before anyone outside the West End noticed its age. It was 2011-04-30-west-end-old-stone-tavern-02about to bow before a bulldozer when local preservationists stepped up to the bar.

They want it to be preserved and studied. Maybe for a tourist attraction, maybe for a cool professional office. So far, all that’s been delivered to their table is bulldozer protection. They can take heart in knowing it wasn’t easy for the block house saviors, either.

Rich Women vs. Rich Men

The block house saga was a story of rich women donning their hats (striking by today’s standards), meeting rich and powerful men in their corporate and political domains, and not taking “No” for an answer. Well, sometimes they did. Then, they made the most of it.

We are talking about the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

They were actually granddaughters and great-granddaughters of men who fought in the revolution. True, those men helped create a new Democratic nation, but that was not their prime motivation.

They wanted personal wealth.  They got it and gave it to their descendants.

It came from speculating on land, Indian land. There’s a reason why George Washington, a surveyor, died the richest man in the country.

Those who fought in the Revolution, or otherwise advanced the cause, were promised Indian land when it was over.

Land-hungry colonists thought their British overlords were too protective of Indian treaties. The Indians, not surprisingly, didn’t think Britain protected them at all. Americans also did not want to pay taxes to cover the war that had driven the French out of their way in Indian territory.

So, the Revolution flared. It created what was considered “old money” by the time the local DAR chapter formed in 1891.

Appreciating their rich roots, members took on a never-ending project: obtain, restore and display the Fort Pitt Block House.

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Unwelcome Immigrants

Originally posted 2015-12-09 23:55:36. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

 

“Within a few blocks of the skyscrapers of the Point, I have seen a company of Syrians weaving almost unceasingly for four days (doing) a desert dance that celebrated the return of one of them to Jerusalem.”

 

What? Have Syrian refugees arrived in Pittsburgh? Has Mayor Bill Peduto made good on his pledge to welcome them here,  even if fearful Pittsburghers do not.

No, refugees are not dancing at the Point just yet.

The opening quote comes from a comprehensive study of Pittsburgh immigrants and their working conditions, which was done in 1907.

So, what other “foreigners” did the writer see? Let’s look at his complete description. It includes the grandparents or great-grandparents of most Pittsburghers today:

Greek Orthodox Priest

Pittsburgh Greek Orthodox Priest

“You do not know the Pittsburgh district until you have heard the Italians twanging their mandolins around a construction campfire, and seen the mad whirling of a Slovak dance in a mill town lodge hall; until you have watched the mill hands burst out from the gates at closing time; or thrown confetti on Fifth Avenue on a Halloween.

“Within a few blocks of the skyscrapers of the Point, I have seen a company of Syrians weaving almost unceasingly for four days a desert dance that celebrated the return of one of them to Jerusalem. (An Irishman thought it a wake).

“A possum swings by the tail at Christmastide in front of that Negro store on Wylie avenue; long-bearded Old Believers (Russian Orthodox) play bottle pool (a form of billiards) in that Second Avenue barroom; a Yiddish father and five children lie sick on the floor of this tenement; an old Bohemian woman once cleaned molds as a girl in the ironworks of Prague.

“That itinerant cobbler made shoes last winter for the German children of the South Side, who were too poor to pay for them, and stuffed the soles with thick cardboard when he was too poor to buy leather. Here is a Scotch Calvinist, and there a Slavic free thinker; here a peasant, and there a man who works from a blueprint; engineers, drag outs, and furnace-men from the mill district; there a Russian exile with a price on his head.”

Immigrants Not Wanted

But, America has never welcomed  immigrants. They come anyway. They are desperate. and they are needed. They can earn a living.

In 1907, factory owners wanted them in the worst kind of way. They didn’t have enough workers to keep up with demand for steel, glass, tin, bottles, cigars, you name it.

Factory workers already here, they hated immigrants.  They passed it on to their families around the dinner table and their neighbors on the stoops. Why?

According to Alois B. Koukol, secretary of the Slavonic Immigrant Society in 1907, they didn’t like how Slavics acted.

“The bosses know them chiefly as sturdy, patient, and submissive workmen; their fellow workmen hate and despise them largely because of this patience and submissiveness to the bosses and their willingness at the outset to work at any wages and under any conditions,”Koukol explains in the study.

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