Who are we? Looking at Pittsburgh through public art

The murals in the United States Post Office and Courthouse on Grant Street are pretty hard to get to. There’s security, now, unlike when the Department of Treasury’s Section of Painting and Sculpture commissioned the three works in 1934. [More...]

How Nate Smith forced Pittsburgh to confront discrimination

At the Carpenter’s Training Center just outside the City of Pittsburgh on the Parkway West, a class of nine learns how to build a level floor. Forty years ago, getting into the center’s apprenticeship program would have been a feat for a person of color or a woman. [More...]

Latinos have a rich history in the Pittsburgh region

From one of the file folders arrayed on her kitchen table, retired Spanish professor María de los Ángeles Stiteler pulls out a lyrics sheet. Lupe Martínez and Pedro Rocha wrote the song “Corrído de Pennsylvania,” or “The Ballad of Pennsylvania” in 1928.  [More...Y en español]. 

Kaufmann's aimed to provide a home away from home for immigrants

“There’s Florence and London and Paris and Prague and Brussels.” Lina Insana, chair of the department of French and Italian at the University of Pittsburgh, points to a spread from the Kaufmann's department store’s in-house magazine, Storagram, which proclaims the 30th anniversary of the “Foreign Office.” [More...]

Still Working: Why Pittsburgh is really the 'Glass City'

Walking down Penn Avenue in Garfield, people likely don’t see Jason Forck through the window two stories up as he balances a near-molten glass tumbler at the end of a steel rod. [More...]

Still Working: What comes next? Remaking a life in the Mon Valley

The main building on Carrie Furnace’s 80-acre site in Braddock looks like a giant has just scattered its playthings and stomped off, not too far away, to eat a few goats. Inside the blowing engine house a 48-inch universal plate mill lies in 40- and 50-ton pieces on the concrete floor. A sign hanging at the south end lists the safety guidelines (“6. Be aware of crane movements”). Bill Sharkey sits on a few benches meant for visitors. [More...]

Still Working: What it takes to keep the lights on in western PA

A black and yellow helmet sits on the floor of Janet Hoover’s kitchen. It’s perched on top of a pair of boots and an old miner’s lamp. The helmet label reads, “Fasloc: Keeps the Roof Over Your Head.” [More...]

Still Working: How a 100-year-old navigation system keeps Pittsburgh running

Don Zeiler stands on a wall in the middle of the Monongahela River. In work boots and a bright orange jacket, the lockmaster at Braddock Locks & Dam is dressed for dance. [More...]

Hey, Steelers, where'd you get that logo? 

The love Steelers fans have for their team is the stuff of legend: hordes of faithful waving Terrible Towels, wearing logo-emblazoned pajama pants, cheering in one of the nation’s more than 700 Steelers bars. So I figured the best way to learn the back-story of the logo was to go right to the source: Heinz Field, on a Sunday, an hour before kickoff. [More...]

They don't just sell medicine here, they make it

Anchored at the corner of Fifth Avenue and McKee Place in Oakland, Hieber’s Pharmacy sports a glass block window that reads, “We Create Medicine For Your Family.” Inside, white cabinets hold powdered chemicals and a rainbow assortment of empty capsules waiting to be filled. [More...]

A very quiet menagerie: Taxidermy at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History

It would be easy to breeze past the mountain goats on their sliver of vertical cliff in the Hall of North American Wildlife or to step around the black rhino milling about in the hallway. But these are not just any animals: they’re animals remade by humans. [More...]

'Poison Death' in the Liberty Tubes: How the South Hills commute could be worse

It’s hard to miss the four brick stacks of the Liberty Tunnel Fan House towering over the houses on Secane Avenue in Mount Washington. “There are two exhaust shafts,” said Bill Lester, Assistant Director of Construction for PennDOT’s District 11, pointing them out. [More...]

A state mandate and a larger-than-life raccoon: Recycling in Pittsburgh

Let’s get this out of the way: The stuff you put in the recycling bin does get recycled. “Yes, we do. We recycle. That’s the name of the game,” said Robert Johns, plant manager of a single-stream material recovery facility, MRF, owned by Waste Management. [More...]

An industrial ecosystem: How leather and wool fueled Pittsburgh's early growth

Georgie Kovacosky leaned on the fence surrounding a sunny enclosure on her 230-acre farm in New Bethlehem, about 60 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. [More...]

Voting has always been a beginning, not an end

It was October 1916. The Brooklyn Robins, later the Dodgers, played the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, making it possible to forget, for a little while, that summer was over and Europe was at war. [More...]

Caretakers still view Pittsburgh's earliest cemeteries as 'respites for the living'

Michael Joyce started working at Homewood Cemetery in 1978, cutting grass. “I live real close to here so it was just a summer job,” said Joyce, now the tie-wearing superintendent of the more than 200-acre spread. He’s responsible for everything that happens outside. [More...]

Why city farming brings Pittsburgh full circle

After a long day of moving goats around the city, Doug Placais stood – sweaty, covered in dirt – a mile from Downtown Pittsburgh at Arlington Acres, the one-tenth of an acre urban farm he owns and operates with Carrie Pavlik. [More...]

A place where stories live forever: The Department of Real Estate

Richard Williams glances at the request sheet from behind a chest-high counter and gives the book in front of him a quarter turn. With a pair of pliers, he latches onto a metal wire and pulls, flopping open its spine stacked high with crinkly, worn pages. [More...]

Pittsburgh jazz ain't what it used to be: It's...something else

Stephanie Wellons sings as easily as most people talk. As though it were a parenthetical statement, Wellons changes from speech to song, climbing the first hill of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” [More...]

Cycling in the city: A brief history of bikes in Pittsburgh

More than 3,000 bikes line the floors and walls at Bicycle Heaven in Chateau. Just inside the entrance hangs a bike made entirely of wood. [More...]

'Since your Dad was a lad': What a snack cart means to a neighborhood

Gus Kalaris is an economy of motion. Shaded by a rainbow umbrella and unconcerned by the flock of dozy bees hovering around the 12 flavor bottles, he stands in the cockpit of a small cart. [More...]

Why Panther Hollow has its own dialect

Boundary Street runs through Panther Hollow in the shape of an inverted L. The houses cluster on the northern and western sides of the street and all face inward toward a stretch of grass and trees. They aren’t numbered chronologically, though the first few homes begin ordinarily enough: 1, then 1 ½, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9. Then 523, 525, 12, 14, 17 and 40. [More...]

How Pittsburgh's ancient aquifer busts the 'Fourth River' myth

From the highest elevations of Mt. Washington — about 1,200 feet — you can take in the whole sweep of the river valleys, each about twice as wide as the rivers running through them, said Charlie Jones, lecturer in the University of Pittsburgh’s department of geology and planetary science. [More...]

‘God gives nothing in vain,’ and other gems of beard advocacy

The years between 1860 and 1910 were among the beardiest in recorded history. No one escaped bare-chinned: not Uncle Sam, not Jesus, and certainly not Pittsburgh’s mayors. [More...]

On the road again: What Pittsburgh has to do with cars

On a side street in Bloomfield, not far from Pittsburgh’s “automobile row,” on Baum Boulevard, Tom Lynn points out the cars and parts of cars that make up his business, Flop Custom. [More...]

Looking back (and looking up) at that essential July 4th element: fireworks

In a chemical engineering lab at Carnegie Mellon University, Matt Cline and William Alba stand in front of three rectangular packets made of tinfoil. An arm’s length away from the range hood, they use their thumbs to eclipse the flash they know is coming. [More...]

Anarchist who shot Henry Clay Frick was aiming for revolution

Most days, Henry Clay Frick liked to take a late lunch with friends at the Duquesne Club, just a short distance from his Fifth Avenue office at the Chronicle-Telegraph building. He’d just returned to his desk on Saturday, July 23 1892, when anarchist Alexander Berkman, wearing a brand new black suit, pushed the door open. [More...]

Triple Six Fix: How rigging the PA lottery inadvertently contributed to its success

Each night at 6:59 p.m., the state-run lottery conducts a live drawing at the studios of WITF in Harrisburg. From behind the three cameras that face a Pennsylvania-festooned background and drawing machines, it’s possible to hear the control booth. [More...]

How weakened infrastructure led to the Johnstown flood

After a month of rain, a particularly heavy storm hit Johnstown on May 30, filling the streets with a couple feet of water by noon the next day. Flooding was nothing new, though: The city was built on a floodplain, at the base of mountains denuded by industry, at the confluence of three rivers. So people moved to their upper floors to wait. [More...]

Surviving on charm: Pittsburgh's last wooden street

A joke made its way around the Internet this winter that time-travel is possible in Pittsburgh — if you look into a pothole, where layers of cobblestone and brick snuggle under asphalt blankets. But on Roslyn Place in Shadyside, the past doesn’t hide. [More...]

How the ancients honored the dead: the McKees Rocks burial mound

Humans have lived in the region for close to 16,000 years. One of the few remaining vestiges of those early residents can be sought in McKees Rocks. [More...]

Bringing life to Art: Maxo Vanka's Millvale murals

To see some of Pittsburgh's most stunning artwork doesn't require a trip downtown but up a hill, to Millvale's Saint Nicholas Catholic Church. In two eight-week periods, one in 1937 and one in 1941, Croatian artist Maxo Vanka painted 25 murals that fuse faith and protest. [More...]

How Kennywood and a culture of amusement were born

This year, six-year-old Sean Stanley was finally tall enough to ride Phantom’s Revenge, a roller coaster at the 117-year-old Kennywood Park in West Mifflin. Standing outside the coaster’s gate, Sean sported the preoccupied look of the newly infatuated. [More...]

In 1940, these Pittsburghers offered a million dollar reward for Hitler's capture

The letter appeared in The New York Times on April 29, 1940. It was brief — a couple of column inches — mixed in with opinions on higher subway fares, workers’ rights and risky mortgages. But the headline was hard to miss: “Reward for Hitler Capture.” [More...]

In Allegheny County, a place where the North American megafauna still roam

Don’t be fooled by Buffalo Drive just outside South Park; there are no buffalo there. Instead, you’ll find the park’s 11 resident bison on a small turnoff marked “Game Preserve.” [More...]

How a Pittsburgh-made polio vaccine helped beat a disease that terrified a nation

When Dr. Julius Youngner moved to Pittsburgh in 1949, he thought he’d be in the city for two years. Though a commissioned officer in the Public Health Service at the Cancer Institute, he wanted to work on viruses and took a position in a University of Pittsburgh lab directed by Dr. Jonas E. Salk, developing a vaccine for polio, said Youngner. [More...]

City of (divided) champions: Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays

The baseball season that opened on Monday is radically different from 80 years ago, when the nation’s pastime was segregated and the best team in baseball could be found in Pittsburgh, on the Hill. [More...]

Romeo, Juliet, and Jack: The love affair that led to a jailbreak

The old Allegheny County Jail towers over Ross Street. Built of foot-thick blocks of pink Worcester marble, the complex hasn’t held a prisoner since July 27, 1995, but it still manages to impart a chill. Inside, visitors can tour an old cellblock: small and bleak. [More...]

Westylvania: The state the whiskey tax almost made

Just 10 years after the Revolutionary War, sparked in part by a tax on tea, Western Pennsylvanians nearly seceded over a liquor tax. The Whiskey Rebellion wasn’t really about hooch but federal power, said Ron Schuler, a lawyer and author who has studied the Whiskey Rebellion. In July of 1794, the protests came to a head. [More...]

Private clubs, a liquor code loophole, and Lucky: How gay life came of age in Pittsburgh

Doug Rehrer started graduate school at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in 1978. “It was a fun time but you always had to be aware of your surroundings because you could end up in a very bad situation,” he said. Rehrer is not talking about his religion classes. [More...]

How Pittsburgh spells existential crisis: Without an "h"

Once a month, seated at a long table in a conference room, the members of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names (USGN) decide what to call things. The board was created in 1890 during a period of persistent exploration. Maps and reports were coming back from the west and Alaska with different names for the same feature. The USGN formed to standardize names across the federal government. In 1891 the USGN ordered all cities ending in “burgh” to drop the "h." [More...]

Explosion rocks the Strip District: Thousands of bananas injured

At 2 A.M. on December 17, 1936, Pittsburgh Banana Company employee Peter Auletta reported for work. He flipped on the lights in the banana ripening room and then turned on an electric fan to circulate the air. Reports said a spark from the fan ignited what must have been a gas leak. [More...]

For Pittsburgh native Mr. Yuk, there's still more work to do

The Pittsburgh Poison Center is located about halfway up “Cardiac Hill” within the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center complex. It’s an unassuming place: a reception desk, a few offices, a conference room and a call center. [More...]

The runaway romance of Mary Schenley

Though Pittsburgh is just now beginning to appear on lists of “most-romantic cities” and “romantic weekend destinations,” its soil has long fostered fiery and impetuous love. [More...]

Venturing inside Oakland's 'Cloud Factory'

Nestled into a hillside not far from the Schenley Bridge, the Bellefield Boiler Plant provides steam heat to most of Oakland’s major institutions. [More...]

How Pittsburgh's oldest building was saved by fearless women

Squirrels now present the Block House’s only threat of attack: they often lean into the building to snack in peace. [More...]

In Sewickley, George Washington's favorite sport is alive and well

John Tabatchka affectionately pats his horse, Will, and flips the switch on the Electro-Groom. He begins to methodically vacuum Will’s flanks. “It’s designed to groom show cattle, horses, etc,” Tabatchka said over the roar of the machine. Will shudders his flesh as if shooing a fly. “He’s a little ticklish.” [More...]

How a rug contributed to the downfall of a Pittsburgh mayor

The last time Pittsburgh elected a Republican mayor, Charles H. Kline, the World War had yet to be distinguished by a I or II, the stock market had yet to crash and machine politics remained the modus operandi of most large cities. [More...]