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Kissing Fish and Pittsburgh

Originally posted 2016-03-23 15:56:00. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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. 


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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A Desire to Keep The Streetcars Rolling

Originally posted 2015-10-28 14:08:10. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

There are hundreds of places throughout the region with ongoing connections to the past. Chances are you have not gotten around to visiting them. Maybe you just need a scouting report. Here’s one to check out:

All photos by Leon J. Pollom/

Scott Becker hops aboard a 1911 double-end trolley used in Rio DeJaneiro, Brazil.

Scott Becker hops aboard a 1911 double-end trolley used in Rio DeJaneiro, Brazil.

You Can Still Ride Them Here

A streetcar named Washington regularly rolled 25 miles through the woods south of Pittsburgh. Then, one day it stopped.

Weeds rose above the steel tracks and leaned with the winds of change. Suburban buildings, parking lots and other things of the Automobile Age ripped up the tracks.

Surprisingly, that last trolley to run between Pittsburgh and Little Washington, PA, is not history. It still operates near the southern end of its former route. So do many of its relatives.

There you’ll find the final vintage streetcar to roll over a Pittsburgh street (1999). Its folding doors still clap shut. Steel on steel, its wheels still squeak around curves. Up from New Orleans, is a famous cousin. The one named Desire.

More than 50 such conveyances are available to ride, get married in, celebrate birthdays in, get photographed in, or just nostalgically reflect in — all at the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum.

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

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

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.
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