Everything Else

One Weekend in 1884

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

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.

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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.

A modern clarification follows each item, if needed. The headlines and grammar are those of the newspaper.

By the way, the demeanor of 19th Century reporters may seem jaded and flippant. We are accustomed to modern journalists. They are always serious and very shocked.

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

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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.

MODERN CLARIFICATION: Presumably she was a prostitute drinking on the job. Think she got off easy? $15 was the equivalent of $400 or $500 today. Her name reflected the large number of Irish living in the city. The man with her? Client? Pimp? We’ll never know. The carriage box on which the police officer sat later became known as paddywagons. Paddy is an Irish nickname. The police vans got the name from all the Irish taken to jail in them, or all the Irish cops driving them, or both.


 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.

MODERN CLARIFICATION: Erysipelas is a bacterial infection that can result from alcoholism. It would not likely 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.

MODERN CLARIFICATION: 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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