I own a signed copy of Pittsburgh: The Story of An American City, written by Stefan Lorant with several contributors. I purchased it for $5 from a used bookstore. The book came apart in several places at the binding. The book contains almost seven hundred pages of Pittsburgh history and photos.
This book’s Chapter 3 The City Grows by Oscar Handlin includes a sidebar titled Pittsburgh in the News. This sidebar includes the following item:
“Joe Barker, a colorful street preacher, was arrested in 1849 when he was involved in a riot while delivering one of his many tirades against Catholicism. He was thrown into jail and while in prison he was elected as mayor of the city. After serving for one year he was defeated for re-election and sank into obscurity. He died in 1862 when run over by a train.“
(Wikipedia taught me that the train decapitated Mayor Joseph Barker. He is buried in Allegheny Cemetery.)
Pittsburgh had a department store chain called Joseph Horne’s, or Horne’s Department Store, or simply Horne’s.
An electric Christmas tree decorated the building’s corner each holiday shopping season.
Horne’s merged with another chain in 1994. Then, the building which housed Horne’s downtown flagship store became offices for an insurance company (Highmark).
However, this tree still graces the building each year from the week before Thanksgiving until New Year’s.
Here is a photo of the building and its tree.
Everything that I know about Horne’s Department Store came from “American Elegy: A Family Memoir” by Jeffrey Simpson. This particular book detailed the author’s family’s experiences in Parnassus, a sort-of Pittsburgh suburb. In the Chapter titled “Parties (Quint and Ruby),” the author wrote the following about his step-grandmother Ruby’s affinity for shopping at the downtown Pittsburgh Horne’s:
When my mother and Ruby were young women in the late 1920s and 1930s, there was a lounge on Horne’s mezzanine where you could wait for friends. The lounge had a book in which you could leave messages for your chums if you had to leave early or had dashed up to Lingerie for a quick purchase while you were waiting; it was an amenity that seemed to belong to a period of orange minks and nose-tip veils, when girls fresh from college, eager with their first salaries, met “in town” for lunch on Saturday.
Simpson wrote that Ruby grew up “poor” and thus as soon as she received her first very own paycheck, she spent it at Horne’s. Ruby referred to Horne’s as the “good” store. She relished the chance to be seen shopping there. Simpson noted that the Parnassus community and Ruby herself thought that Ruby had married up (to a widower with a good family and a good job). That Ruby’s clothes, purchased from Horne’s, helped her to achieve this marriage.
The Horne’s boxes, cream-colored pasteboard with Jos. Horne Co. in light, bright blue on the lid, represented for Ruby the life she had made for herself.
My own maternal great-grandma worked for Horne’s. However, I don’t have any stories about her retail career.
I myself work directly across the street from the old downtown Horne’s building. I never shopped for clothes there. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania. I started working in Pittsburgh years after Horne’s closed.
When I interviewed for my job, the building housed an Old Navy store.
By the time that I started my job, the Old Navy was a Rite Aid.
I have family who lived in the Greensburg-ish, Pennsylvania, area in the early 1900’s. A bunch of them died young and / or poor, so I can’t tell you much about them. However, because of them, I got stuck on Western PA history.
I read this historical fiction novel titled “Remember the End” by Agnes Sligh Turnbull. Turnbull was a New York Times bestselling writer from New Alexandria, PA. How sad that Turnbull didn’t have a snappier pen name! Like Mark Twain. T’would be easier for me to blog about her.
Turnbull graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). (My sister, a double IUP grad, told me that IUP used to have a Turnbull Hall. This got knocked down and replaced with a parking lot.)
Anyway, Turnbull wrote Remember the End. This novel began in the late 1800’s in Scotland, then moved to the Greensburg area, then ended in Greensburg around 1917.
(The book didn’t actually list dates. I only knew that the book ended around 1917 because at the end of the story, several of the characters talked about fighting in the War (World War I). The War started in 1914. The United States entered the War in 1917. As an FYI, my own great-grandfather did actually fight in this War. He got captured by the Germans and lost the use of his arm in this same War. He returned to his farm in Westmoreland County, and he named one of his mules after the German kaiser.)
At the very beginning of Remember the End, (the very poor) Alex McTay left his home in Scotland. He emigrated to Pennsylvania. He fell in love with Maggie, a (poor, but not quite as poor) Westmoreland County horse trader’s daughter.
Alex married Maggie. He opened coal mines. He became a millionaire before his 35th birthday. He built a fancy home for Maggie in Greensburg.
I think that Turnbull based the protagonist on a hybrid of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. At one point in the story, McTay referred to Andrew Carnegie as his hero or his role model or something.
Unlike Andrew Carnegie, McTay didn’t become a philanthropist.
McTay deliberately ruined his business rival’s life after the rival humiliated him at a fancy Greensburg party.
Remember the End haunts me because my family lived in Western PA during this same time frame. Fictional Alex McTay’s fortune could very well have been built upon my family’s backs.
I posted above a photo of Greensburg’s train station. The Pennsylvania Railroad built this station in 1912. So, if Alex McTay existed in real life, he and his family could have travelled through this station. Did Turnbull visualize Alex McTay in this station?
Turnbull is now buried in New Alexandria. Remember the End is now out of print. I purchased my copy (used) from Amazon this month.
Andrew Carnegie endowed the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, in 1901.
In 1906, the Captain Thomas Espy Post No. 153 of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) established a meeting room on the second floor. The GAR was a fraternal organization open to honorably discharged Union soldiers, sailors, or marines of the American Civil War.
After the final member of this GAR post died in the 1930’s, somebody locked up this room with the GAR’s Civil War collection – its library, flags, etc. – inside the room. The room stayed locked for the next 50 years. The room became a time capsule.
The room suffered water damage and deterioration. Preservationists restored the room into a Civil War museum – the Civil War Room – in 2010.
Volunteers open the museum to the public during limited hours. They opened it for viewing the night of Marie Benedict’s talk on Carnegie’s Maid.
I went to a lecture at a Carnegie Hall last night.
No, I didn’t travel to THE Carnegie Hall in Manhattan.
Jonathan drove me to the Andrew Carnegie Free Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, Pennsylvania. I heard an author speak about her historical fiction novel about the industrialist Andrew Carnegie and his (fictional) Irish maid, Clara Kelley.
I learned that the staff at this library refer to the place as the “Carnegie Carnegie.”
Andrew Carnegie gifted the community of Carnegie with this library since they named their hometown after him. Most of the other libraries named after Andrew Carnegie in Greater Pittsburgh required community contributions to build. Not so with the Carnegie Carnegie. Andrew Carnegie funded this himself.
I came there for the talk by author Marie Benedict about her novel Carnegie’s Maid.
Benedict created the character of Clara Kelley based in part on her own Irish immigrant ancestors who worked as maids during the Industrial Revolution. She cast Clara Kelley as the fictional lady’s maid for Andrew Carnegie’s strong-willed Scottish mother, Margaret Carnegie. The book took place during the years 1863 – 1868. At this point in time, Andrew Carnegie was rich enough to pay for a lady’s maid for his mother. He was rich enough to pay an immigrant to take his place as a Civil War soldier. He was not yet one of the richest men in American history.
I enjoyed reading Carnegie’s Maid. I enjoyed the book talk even more. This was one of the best book talks / author visits that I ever attended. The author brought a slide show with photos of Andrew Carnegie, Margaret Carnegie, and historically significant buildings that figured into the novel. She taught us about her research process.
Here’s something that I noted when I read the book, but that Benedict came out and said: Pittsburgh’s dirty air occupied a role as “its own character” in Carnegie’s Maid. Benedict’s narrator mentioned the dirty air often. Now, the book took place in the 1860’s. However, my own husband’s late Babcia (the Polish word for grandma) worked in downtown Pittsburgh in the late 1940’s / early 1950’s. In that time, the woman wore white gloves as they travelled and worked. Babcia brought TWO pairs of gloves with her each day. She had to change her gloves partway through each day because the original pair became dark with soot. She did this every work day. And she worked in an OFFICE.
Pittsburgh’s air was DIRTY for a century or more. In fact, as I mentioned last week, I wonder often about the role that Pittsburgh’s air played in my own mother’s death from lung cancer.
I was born before Pittsburgh’s steel industry imploded and took a lot of American dreams with it. I visited my grandparents in Pittsburgh (Carrick) during my early years. I remember how the city smelled of sulfur from the mills on a late December night.
Pittsburgh was built on the backs of Americans and future Americans who ingested this filthy air.
Now I work in downtown Pittsburgh. My downtown Pittsburgh is much cleaner than Babcia’s downtown Pittsburgh. I hear the hype about Pittsburgh’s exciting renaissance. I visit some of the trendy, gentrifying “hipster” neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. And I remind myself that people suffered – still suffer – from Pittsburgh’s gritty past.
I brought much of myself and my past into this book as I read it.
I want to attend another talk by this author after she releases her next book.
I started this blog in part to give my fantastic readers a respite. So, I won’t get hurt if you stop reading now.
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month.
My mom, Shirley Gaffron, passed away in October 2018 from lung cancer. She passed away two days after her 64th birthday.
Mom never smoked or used tobacco products. She never lived with a chronic smoker. I don’t want to stigmatize smokers. However, I also don’t want to stigmatize lung cancer as a “smoker’s disease. ” Research into the causes of lung cancer should be pursued further.
We had extended family who smoked. Some of these family members smoked indoors around other family members. To be honest, I wonder if – and to what extent – this contributed to my mom’s illness. I wonder if I’ll eventually receive a lung cancer diagnosis.
Here’s another thing – mom lived in Pittsburgh from her birth in 1954 until her marriage in 1974.
Pittsburgh doesn’t exactly have a reputation for having had clean air in the early 20th century. For instance, my husband’s late babcia worked in an office in downtown Pittsburgh in the late 1940’s / early 1950’s. She told us that back then, the woman wore white gloves as they travelled and worked. She had to bring TWO pairs of gloves with her each day. She had to change her gloves partway through each day because the original pair became dark with soot. She did this every work day. And she worked in an OFFICE.
My mom worked in an office, too. She also worked in a nursing home and a school. She lived in rural Pennsylvania for the last four decades of her life. She never worked inside a mill or a coal mine.
So, did two decades of life in Pittsburgh end up killing my mom?
I blogged today just to address some lung cancer stereotypes. I will return soon with more photos, ghost stories, and book recommendations. Please come back.
What’s it like to be the real-life great-great granddaughter of a famous ghost? A ghost that prime time television featured?
I just learned all about this from reading American Ghost, by Hannah Nordhaus.
This is a non-fiction / travel/ family memoir. Julia Staab, a Jewish German American who died in 1896, allegedly haunts an upscale hotel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The author Nordhaus is Julia’s real-life great-great-granddaughter. (The book referred to her as “Julia” so I will as well.)
Julia died in the Santa Fe mansion that her husband, the merchant Abraham Staab, built for their family. She was 52 years old and the mother of eight children. Her youngest child passed away a few years before Julia’s own death. Julia allegedly spent a significant part of the end of her life shut up in her bedroom. She did not attend her own daughter’s wedding.
Decades later, this mansion became the La Posada de Santa Fe, a hotel and spa.
In the 1970’s, a La Posada hotel employee reported seeing a ghost. More ghost claims followed. Rumors and local folklore spread regarding Julia’s “real” cause of death and her existence in the spirit world.
Nordhaus researched family documents, letters, diaries, immigration records, etc. She interviewed family members who had personally known Julia and her children. Nordhaus is a direct descendent of Julia’s daughter, Bertha. She obtained Bertha’s diary, written during the final years of Julia’s life. She travelled to Santa Fe and to Julia’s childhood home in Germany. She discovered that although Julia died in Santa Fe in 1896, Julia’s younger sister, Emilie, perished (at the age of 81) in a Nazi concentration camp in 1943.
Years ago, I watched the NBC primetime show Unsolved Mysteries each week. This show’s season 7, episode 2 (which aired October 2, 1994) included the story of Julia Staab’s haunting at La Posada. The show included coverage of an actual “scientific” ghost hunt, complete with EVP recordings! (If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can watch this episode on Prime at no additional charge. The episode is SO CHEESY!)
If you listen to the Spooked podcast by Snap Judgment, note that Season 2, Episode 14 (The Intruders) told Julia’s story. The podcast included an interview with Nordhaus and promoted her book. I actually found out about American Ghost from this podcast episode.
Now, to be honest, the “tragic story of Julia Staab,” as the general internet presented it, reminded me very much of the internet rumors about the Lemp family of St. Louis. (Here’s a good podcast about the Lemp family.) The patriarchs of both families were extremely rich self-made German immigrants in the mid 1800’s. Both had matriarchs named Julia. Both families included significant amounts of children. Rumors of unexplained tragic deaths followed both the Staabs and the Lemps. Both families struggled with mental illness. Both families lived (and died) in Victorian mansions that fell into decline, underwent renovations, and then became upscale “haunted” hotels.
Dark tourism industries (including ghost hunts, etc.) sprang up around both the Staab and the Lemp family tragedies.
How refreshing to read about Julia in American Ghost, a family memoir written by her own great-great granddaughter!
Now, on a more personal level, I thought about my own personal travel experience to Santa Fe in 2009 when I read American Ghost.
Jonathan and I rode an Amtrak from Pittsburgh to Chicago, and then in Chicago we switched trains and rode to Lamy, New Mexico. The train didn’t go to Santa Fe. In Lamy, an Amtrak contractor picked us up in a cargo van and drove us 18 miles to a car rental in Santa Fe. We did a reverse of this route for the trip home.
We went to Santa Fe that weekend for a wedding. The other guests from Pittsburgh all flew into Chicago, and then flew from Chicago to Albuquerque, and then rented cars and drove to Santa Fe.
We joked that a city that had a RAILROAD NAMED AFTER IT didn’t actually have direct access to the railroad.
I learned from reading American Ghost that Abraham Staab fought to have the railroad build a spur from Lamy to Santa Fe. American Ghost even remarked on the irony that Santa Fe had a railroad named after it, and yet Staab struggled to have the railroad come to Santa Fe. A few decades later, Santa Fe lost its railroad spur.
Speaking of the reference to “Lamy, New Mexico,” American Ghost devoted over a chapter to that town’s namesake, the Catholic Archbishop Lamy. Abraham and Julia Staab apparently fostered a very close relationship with Archbishop Lamy.
American Ghost explored the claims that Abraham Staab’s money helped to build Santa Fe’s Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi (St. Francis Cathedral).
We actually toured the cathedral when we visited Santa Fe.
American Ghost has a copyright date of 2015. I wish that I could have read this before I toured Santa Fe in 2009.
I took this at the Allegheny Cemetery Soldiers’ Lot, Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh, PA. This headstone marks the grave of a Confederate soldier from the American Civil War. (C.S.A. stands for “Confederate States of America.”)
I visit the Flight 93 National Memorial during some trips to my hometown of Berlin, PA. I travel from Berlin to the memorial on a series of back roads. (These roads are a much more direct way for me than the posted route on U.S. 30 / Lincoln Highway.)
On each trip, I pass signs for the Glessner Bridge. Tobias Glessner built this bridge in 1881. The bridge sits on the National Register of Historic Places.
Only five miles separates the Glessner Bridge from the Flight 93 National Memorial.
I visited the bridge last weekend.
If you visit the bridge, be mindful that you will leave the “main drag” of Route 30. You will travel past working farms. Last week, I had to slow down for chickens on the road. I also saw an Amish buggy. In other words, PAY ATTENTION as you drive. STAY OFF OF YOUR PHONE.
(Sidenote: Both my mother and my mother-in-law lived in rural Pennsylvania at points in their lives. Both women told stories of having to stop their cars for cows sitting in the middle of various farm roads. It happens.)
Also, here’s the barn that sits next to the bridge.