Archive for the ‘history’ Category

12 Years Later

CBS News (and The Good Men Project) cover The Lost Boys of Sudan, 12 years later.

When I was in college at Saint Vincent, we did a year-long project with some of the Lost Boys who were staying with the parish of St. Benedict the Moor in the Hill District.

We went down to visit them twice, spending Mass and an afternoon with them, learning about their stories, their culture and what it had been like since they came to the United States.

The third session, they came to visit us.  We had a huge cook-out and a great game of soccer on the Steeler Fields, and I really, really enjoyed the time I spent with them.  Check out the story and the video clip from CBS at the link above.

The passing of William S. Dietrich II

We just learned here at work that Bill Dietrich passed away last night.  Mr. Dietrich was a former steel executive, and major philantropist to the Pittsburgh region, including large gifts to CMU and Pitt.  He was a member of our board and also a major donor. In fact, our board room was just renamed in his honor, and will feature a newly commissioned work of art featuring Mr. Dietrich and his passions: higher education, Scouting, The Marines (I think that’s the flag), the Pittsburgh Ballet and the PSO.

The flags Council Flag at Flag Plaza is at half staff today in his memory.

The Post-Gazette has a small write-up, with a follow up coming tomorrow.

Happy Independence Day from Penn Station

From steel mills to scalpels

I’ve been working to cut back on my driving, which has meant that when I do drive, I’ve been paying more attention to the scenery. Lately, whenever pointed in the direction of Dahntahn, I can’t help but notice a certain towering monolith gazing in my direction and reminding me of my semi-employer’s success at global domination. Thinking about the “rebranding” of the old USX Tower made me realize that in a way, it’s pretty appropriate. Next time you’re down in South Oakland or the South Side Works, take a look at what’s sitting there on the old brownfields where we once had steel mills. When I was working down there, my daily drive took me past the Pittsburgh Technology Center, the UPMC Sports Medicine complex, and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. Even the former South Side Hospital is now mostly taken up by orthopedic surgery and rehabilitation. UPMC’s spent the past decade building a new biotech/medical economy on the same sites where Pittsburgh’s last economic engine stood. Is it any wonder that they’ve decided to proclaim their fame with that same industry’s skyscraper?

Of course, it does raise the question of how long we have before all the hospitals get outsourced to India the same way the mills were…

Wilmerding, PA 1904

Thanks to the Pittsburgh Elder’s Guild, I found this great little film from Wilmerding in 1904. I always take the train when I travel to New York, and the view from the train seems very much the same today.

“In 1904, filmmaker G.W. “Billy” Bitzer of the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company came to Westinghouse Works to document the innovators of the day (and be one himself with his camera). My great-grandfather worked at Westinghouse Air Brake in Wilmerding at the time. Wilmerding had a population of 5,000 back then. In the 2000 census there were just over 2,000 residents.”

Find out more about it here.

The Pittsburgh Myth By The Numbers

Chris Briem over at Null Space did a post on unemployment, which included this tool to look at areas unemployment numbers since 1970. To me they help confirm the fact that the cause of the city’s financial troubles and population loss goes deeper and started sooner than believed. The fact that the Pittsburgh’s peak population number was hit in the early 1960’s and this report help confirm my theory.

If you carefully move along the graph, you get a month by month account of the Metropolitan Statistical Area’s unemployment rate. These are some random sample’s.

Jan 1970 3.2%
June 1971 4.9%
July 1972 5.8%
August 1975 8.3%
November 1976 6.8%
December 1977 7.0%
April 1979 6.1%
January 1980 6.8%
June 1980 7.9%
November 1981 9.5%
July 1982 13.3%
January 1983 17.1% The absolute recorded peak

What I find interesting is that huge amounts of urban population had been lost long before 1983 and the report with numbers from 1980, shows the very shaky ground the city of Pittsburgh was on in 1980. The report’s title talks to the unsustainable position as a “non profit” provider of jobs to people who lived out of town.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Plan For Downtown Pittsburgh

One of the more obscure plans of Frank Lloyd Wright was for downtown Pittsburgh. It never got very far, but had it been built it likely would have been one of the most remarkable buildings on the planet and also one of the most impractical. I did a post about it in my other blog.

Dodged Another Bullet

Pittsburgh dodged another bullet with the end of Morgan’s Calvary raid on July 19th 1863. The net effect of the raid seems small now and history has shown it to have not been planned to coordinate with Lee’s invasion. But it was plenty scary at the time.

“For 46 days as they rode over 1,000 miles (1,600 km), Morgan’s Confederates covered a region from Tennessee to northern Ohio. The raid coincided with the Vicksburg Campaign and the Gettysburg Campaign, although it was not directly related to either campaign. However, it served to draw the attention of tens of thousands of Federal troops away from their normal duties and strike fear in the civilian population of several Northern states. Repeatedly thwarted in his attempts to return to the South by hastily positioned Union forces and state militia, Morgan eventually surrendered what was left of his command in northeastern Ohio.”

It seems like the raiders counted on finding a lot of support along the ride from a region known for Copperheads.

“The Copperheads had numerous important newspapers, but the editors never formed any sort of informal alliance. In Chicago, Wilbur F. Storey made the Chicago Times into Lincoln’s most vituperative enemy. The New York Journal of Commerce, originally abolitionist, was sold to owners who became Copperheads, giving them an important voice in the largest city. A typical editor was Edward G. Roddy, owner of the Uniontown, Pennsylvania Genius of Liberty. He was an intensely partisan Democrat who saw blacks as an inferior race and Abraham Lincoln as a despot and dunce. Although he supported the war effort in 1861, he blamed abolitionists for prolonging the war and denounced the government as increasingly despotic. By 1864 he was calling for peace at any price.”

Happy Birthday, Elk Cloner!

Though the name sounds like any one of an assortment of characters you might find at your local Pittsburgh VFW, it’s actually the name of the world’s first computer virus.

Though it certainly wasn’t the first bit of malicious code (that title belongs to Creeper, which infected the Internet’s predecessor, ARPANET, and was never released into the wild), it was the first to be discovered in the wilderness of home computing, 25 years ago this month.

It didn’t do much damage to your Apple II. After 50 reboots, it displayed the following message:

Elk Cloner: The program with a personality

It will get on all your disks
It will infiltrate your chips
Yes it’s Cloner!

It will stick to you like glue
It will modify RAM too
Send in the Cloner!

Also, it only spread through disk-to-disk contact – you had to insert a floppy into a computer already infected with it. It almost seems kind of quaint.

Oh, and what connection does this have to Pittsburgh? The author of the virus, Rich Skrenta, was a student at Mt. Lebanon High School when he created Elk Cloner. He has gone on to success in the computer industry, and even maintains a blog of his own.

Some Thoughts On July 4TH

I’ve been reading a great book called Rough Crossings, which is really a kick in the head. It sort of helps explain for me, why I somehow never have been too interested in the American Revolution or at least the myth of it that is currently known. What was born in 1776 was the possibility of a great free country but one that so deeply flawed and corrupt that it took a much more terrible war to start to set it right.

One little fact that tells the story is that If you were a black American, you would have gained your freedom faster if England had won the Revolution!! In fact thousands of American slaves fought for England with the hopes of being free– including many owned by the founding fathers.

“Lord Mansfield, Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench, had to judge whether the abduction was legal or not under English Common Law as there was no legislation for slavery in England. In his judgement of 22 June 1772 he declared: “Whatever inconveniences, therefore, may follow from a decision, I cannot say this case is allowed or approved by the law of England; and therefore the black must be discharged.” It was thus declared that the condition of slavery did not exist under English law. This judgement emancipated the 10 to 14 thousand slaves in England and also laid down that slavery contracted in other jurisdictions (such as the American colonies) could not be enforced in England.[1]”

England was in fact the birthplace of the serious abolitionist movement which by 1807 had outlawed the slave trade in the British Empire and unleashed the power of the Royal Navy to stop it. In 1834 all slavery was ended in all of England’s colonies.

These are the words of Frederick Douglass.

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”

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