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.

Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 9.43.13 PMIt’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.

This version of nippers is called The Hook.

This version of nippers is called The Hook.

Got Off Easily

Frederick Worth, a resident of Brownstown, was ordered to move off the pavement by police yesterday afternoon. He refused, and fought vigorously when the officers tried to arrest him. They put the nippers on him and took him to the Twenty-eighth ward station. At the hearing last night, Deputy Mayor Jarrett fined him $3 and costs.

MODERN CLARIFICATION: Brownstown was a village displaced by the J&L Steel plant on the South Side. Nippers were clamps that tightly clasped a wrist and allowed policemen to roughly guide a lawbreaker in the desired direction. However, they didn’t restrain them as much as two clamps chained together, otherwise known as handcuffs.


Mrs. Anna Welsh Hits Her Daughter-in-Law With a Poker

A big crowd was attracted about 8:30 last night by cries of murder coming from the upper story of a house on Eighteenth street, near the A.V.R.R.

Lieutenant Rosinblatt and two other officers rushed in and found Mrs. Mary Ann Welsh with blood streaming from her head. She stated that she had been hit on the head with an ax by her mother-in-law, Mrs. Anna Welsh.

Both women were taken to Twenty-eighth ward station and Police Surgeon Oldshue summoned. He found the young woman had a light scalp wound, which was not serious.

The women and all the family live in one small, dirty room at the head of three or four dark flights of stairs. The whole family had been drunk, and the young woman was lying on the bed when her mother-in-law struck her.

One of the men came in after the row between the women with a tremendous lump over one of his eyes, he having been out in a saloon and got into a row of his own while the women were fighting in the house.

MODERN CLARIFICATION: This was in the Strip District in the vacant area used for parking, but now slated for riverfront development.

A Rowdy Assisted to Escape

On Saturday evening Officer Kennedy arrested a drunken rowdy on Federal near Robinson street, Allegheny. The prisoner’s friends joined in, blackened the officer’s eyes, stole his hat and mace and rescued the prisoner. A number of well-known citizens encouraged the attack upon the officer.

MODERN CLARIFICATION: Allegheny, which became the North Side, was still a separate city. The mace was a nightstick, not a chemical spray.

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But, enough drunkenness. There are dozens of other brawls and the like reported. We’ll move onto other bits of that day’s newspaper.

A Wrecked Buggy

Last evening, while Dr. Richter of Penn avenue, accompanied by his wife, was driving along Penn avenue, the buggy in which they were seated collided with Car 21 of the Citizens’ line at the corner of Twenty-sixth street. One wheel and the axle of the vehicle were broken, but the occupants escaped uninjured.

The buggy, or horse-drawn carriage, collided with a horse-drawn trolley.

With Dog and Gun 

Alexander McKeefer, a farmer living on the Washington pike, discovered an apple thief in his orchard Saturday morning. He sent a valuable Newfoundland dog after the intruder, who upon being overtaken, attacked the dog with a club and crushed its skull. On seeing this Mr. McKeefer fired three shots at the thief, one of which took effect in his arm. He escaped further injury by running.



A party composed of three young ladies accompanied by their escorts came from the lower part of Allegheny yesterday for the purpose of viewing the city from Herron Hill.

After spending some time there they started for Lawrenceville, but when near the car station were met by a young man named John Chapman, who immediately laid claim to one of the young ladies, Mary Donald.

He based his claim on the fact she was his affianced wife and that she had no right to go around with any one else.

The young lady in question would not acknowledge his claim and the party, after a few hot words, passed on, leaving Chapman in the middle of the road swearing dire vengeance.

No more was said about the matter until near the head of Thirty-third street, when Chapman, who by short cut had headed off the party, confronted Miss Donald and asked for her final decision, which she at once gave adversely to him.

Without a word of warning he struck with his right hand, hitting Miss Donald’s escort between the eyes and knocking him down. The rest of the party, seeing a fight imminent, fled with the exception of Miss Donald. She took sides against Chapman, and was rewarded with a stunning blow in the face.

Her friend by this time recovered, but before he could regain his guard he was felled once more, and then Chapman fled.

Miss Donald on falling cut an ugly wound in her head, which disabled her from walking. A buggy was prepared and she was driven to her home in Allegheny.



–Edward Croye, of this city, and Frank Drace, of Cleveland, were fined $25 for running a shell monte game. That involves conning street gamblers out of their money.

— Charles Hurst was arrested on Saturday and committed for a hearing to-day on the charge of being a policy man. Various schemes got people to buy life insurance on people they didn’t know.

— Mrs. Joseph Goettler, of Sarah street, South Side, had her pocket picked of three dollars at the Twelfth street market Saturday morning. That’s about $90 in today’s money.

— Two well-known married women caused much gossip in the Third ward, Allegheny, on Friday night, by masquerading in men’s clothing on the streets. Halloween was approaching.

— Mr. Kennedy, a boss in Brown’s mill, on Tenth Street, on Saturday put a cartridge in his pipe by mistake. It exploded and the ball almost struck his cheek. The gun cartridge was a paper sleeve with black powder and a lead ball. 

— Frank Anselm was knocked down and had three ribs broken by a runaway horse on Fifth avenue Saturday. He was carried to his home, No. 504 Fifth avenue.

— Kate Mulligan arrived on Saturday from Ireland looking for her sister Marcella, who formerly worked in the St. Clair Hotel. Father Kierney took charge of her until her sister is found. Let’s hope the sister was not the woman claiming to be Mollie Brown at the top of this post.

–Eugene Powell, a coal miner living in Noblestown, while walking along the Panhandle railroad tracks near Mansfield, Saturday afternoon, was run over by a passenger train and instantly killed.  Such rail-related deaths were nearly a daily occurrence. 

— Dora Burkhardt, a young girl living in Lauer street, Clair township, was arrested on Saturday, at the instance of her parents, charged with incorrigibility. Alderman Flach decided to send her to Morganza. Before leaving the Justice’s office she said she made information against a young man named Chas. Path, charging him with ruining her. The girl will be sent to Morganza to-day. It was a notorious reform school near Canonsburg. The girl’s street is now Lauer Way, a set of steps on the South Side Slopes, off Arlington Avenue.

The top local story in the Pittsburgh Commercial Gazette of Monday, Sept. 29, 1884, is about the grisly discovery of dead newborn twins in the outhouse pit of a boarding house. Local news begins on Page 2.

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