Please help save McKeesport’s historic 1908 roundhouse!

Courtesy of Jenni Dangel, WIP Arts

Courtesy of Jenni Dangel, WIP Arts

UPDATES: Please join the “Save the McKeesport Roundhouse” open Facebook group here! Please sign our Change.org petition asking Mayor Mike Cherepko to help stop the demolition by clicking here!

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News broke last Saturday that the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County intends to demolish a historic building located near the Fifteenth Avenue Bridge in McKeesport, PA – a century-old roundhouse that was originally part of the Municipal Water Softening and Filtration Plant. The demolition was originally scheduled for June 10 – only days after the news was announced.  So far, the building has been spared, but for how long? We are trying to spread the word about this and encourage people in the community to help us convince the MAWC to save this landmark.

The roundhouse has been an important and iconic structure in McKeesport for more than 100 years. As the first facility in the region to provide safe drinking water, the Municipal Water Softening and Filtration Plant significantly impacted the health and welfare of local residents. The building has been designated a local historic landmark by Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and Matt Bauman, a Liberty Borough native and a teacher in the McKeesport Area School District, has been hoping to nominate the 1908 building to the National Register of Historic Places.

 Yet, the MAWC wants to tear the roundhouse down to build a storage shed!  A cheap, run-of-the-mill storage shed with no intrinsic historic value, no aesthetic worth whatsoever.  I understand it costs money to restore the building to useable condition. But it’s also going to cost money to build the storage shed, which definitely won’t last as long as the current 106-year-old building.  As a municipal water authority this historic water softening plant is the MAWC’s HISTORY.  And they want to destroy a landmark rather than learn from it. Shameful.

I am a local writer and historian who grew up in McKeesport and White Oak.  I am a proud graduate of the McKeesport Area School District.  My family grew up, lived and worked in McKeesport and look back on its prosperous years fondly. It saddens me that the MAWC is going to destroy another piece of this city’s history instead of helping in one way to revitalize it. The city can rally and this is a way to help it do so.

I’m not alone. Many people in the McKeesport community and beyond are trying to save this important structure from oblivion.  Jenni Dangel, of WIP Arts, has been valiantly rallying the troops via social media (Thank you Jenni, for some great thoughts).  Jason Togyer wrote two powerful editorials this week in Tube City Almanac that I think beautifully sum up why we should not only care about saving the roundhouse but also why it’s important to preserve our local history overall. I encourage you to read them by clicking here and here.  You can read more about the history of the roundhouse here.

I implore the MAWC to stop the demolition plans. I implore them to work with local historical organizations and community members to come up with a feasible way to reuse this wonderful landmark.  If you feel the same way, please contact the MAWC immediately at 800-442-6829 or mawc@mawc.org to tell them not to demolish the 1908 roundhouse.

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Joint Issue of The Civil War in Pennsylvania Available Now!

The Civil War in PennsylvaniaThe special joint Civil War issue of PA Heritage, Western PA, and PA Legacies is now available online at http://emag.heinzhistorycenter.org/ or you can purchase a print copy of the magazine here: http://ow.ly/mkTlW. Pennsylvania played a significant role in the Civil War and many soldiers from the state participated in battles. Over 1,100 (and counting!) of those Civil War soldiers were from the Ligonier Valley and are documented in the Ligonier Valley Library.

Following the Drumbeats of the Yankee Drummer

I love to spend time in the library doing traditional research and interviewing people for my history stories, but it’s really cool to get to experience history as it’s happening in person.  That’s why I had embark on a mini-quest to find the Yankee Drummer today.

I previously wrote about the parallel journeys of two pairs of American military veterans separated by a century but connected by a passion for music.  Civil War drummer Peter Guibert and Comanche Indian War veteran John Conroy walked from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg in the spring of 1913 to join Union and Confederate veterans at the 50th Anniversary Reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg.  A hundred years later, their modern counterparts – Yankee Drummer Jim Smith and friend and fellow veteran Ray Zimmerman – are replicating the 1913 trek in order to educate the public about military musicians and commemorate the Battle of Gettysburg sesquicentennial.  The pair are joined on their journey by the brass-shelled snare drum that Peter Guibert played at the Battle of Gettysburg, now owned and restored by Jim.

The modern-day Peter Guibert and John Conroy marching along the Lincoln Highway. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

Jim and Ray have been making their way through Western Pennsylvania this week and I really wanted to try and meet up with them before they got too far east.  Just before lunchtime I found the duo marching along the Lincoln Highway in the sweltering heat right outside of Jennerstown on their way to Stoystown!   In tow were trek coordinator Len DeCarlo and friend and retired teacher Greg Sweeney.  As I gained on the convoy slowing moving down the road and pulled over at a local watering hole I could hear the drumbeats from the antique drum that not only survived a brutal war but also the passage of time.

It was so cool to meet Jim Smith (left), Ray Zimmerman (right), and the awesome 19th century drum.

It was so cool to meet Jim Smith (left), Ray Zimmerman (right), and the awesome 19th century drum. (Photo by Leonard DeCarlo)

I’ve really enjoyed corresponding with Jim and Len over the phone and through email and it was a pleasure to meet them in person, along with Ray and Greg.  I was afraid bad timing might cause me to miss them as I drove through the area, but lo and behold I spotted them! I couldn’t believe it! The group pulled over into the same little parking lot I was in to rest in the shade and grab a well-deserved drink of water.  The sweaty, dusty and sun-baked journeymen  shared stories about their amazing but difficult journey since setting out from Pittsburgh’s Northside on May 26.

When I met up with the Peter Guibert Trek, they had finally overcome a difficult walk up the Laurel Summit, just east of Laughlintown, which Jim said he could not have done with his friend Ray to motivate him.  According to the Len, the group is trying to average about ten miles per day in order to keep on schedule. Jim told me that yesterday they stayed overnight with the Metz Family, a local Jennerstown family who learned about the trek and offered the travelers their home as accommodations.  I imagine that Peter and John would have received the same hospitality along the Lincoln Highway on their way to Gettysburg, back in 1913.   In today’s world, it’s very touching to find that there still are kind and generous people out there willing to extend a helping hand and excited about historical projects like these.

Peter Guibert played this lovely instrument during the Civil War, even on the battlefield at Gettysburg.

Peter Guibert played this lovely instrument during the Civil War, even on the battlefield at Gettysburg. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

It was so awesome to see Peter Guibert’s drum in person.  What an amazing historic artifact from an incredibly important time in our nation’s history.  It’s incredible that this instrument has survived all this time. Until I spoke to Jim, I never knew that the role that military musicians (drummers, fifers and buglers) played during times of war was so important.

After a short break from the heat, the group set out again towards Stoystown.  Tomorrow they plan to perform at the 1806 Old Log Church in Schellsburg at 10:30 a.m. with Professor Guibert’s Blue and Gray 1913 Reunion Band.  Afterwards they will provide campfire entertainment at the Bedford Historical Society in Bedford at 2:30 p.m.

The Peter Guibert Trek resumed from this spot just east of Ligonier Township this morning.

The Peter Guibert Trek resumed from this spot just east of Ligonier Township this morning. (Photo by Jennifer Sopko)

After I parted ways with the Peter Guibert Trek and headed back west I stopped at Walat’s, just outside of Ligonier Township on the Lincoln Highway (Route 30), to take a picture of the marker that Jim and Ray left there yesterday. Throughout the journey to Gettysburg, they plan to mark every spot where they decide to stop for the night, along with the date.  The next day, when they resume their journey, they will mark the same point with the day’s date.

If you see the Yankee Drummer, his drum and his fellow musician marching down your way, stop and say hi or give them a wave to encourage them along their trek! If you miss seeing them in your town, you can follow their progress at www.peterguiberttrek.com.

Yankee Drummer Repeats Civil War Veteran’s 1913 Trek from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg

 My story below comes at a poignant time, on the cusp of Memorial Day, a holiday originally established to commemorate the Union and Confederate soldiers who died during the American Civil War (1861-1865). I had the extreme pleasure of talking to a musician and military veteran from Greensburg, Pennsylvania who will soon embark on a historic trek to Gettysburg. Accompanied by a friend and fellow veteran on his trek, Jim Smith hopes to not only acknowledge the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) but also honor the memory of a Civil War drummer and highlight the significant role that musicians played in military history.

The Original 1913 Trek

 At 9:00 a.m. on May 26, 1913, 70-year old Peter Guibert, a Civil War drummer boy who saw war on the battlefields of Gettysburg with the Union Army, left what was then known as Allegheny City Hall, located on Pittsburgh’s Northside. He was accompanied by  62-year old John Conroy, a friend and veteran of the Comanche Indian Wars in Texas, and several instruments including a brass-shelled snare drum.

19 days and almost 200 miles later, the two men arrived in Gettysburg on June 13, joining other Union and Confederate soldiers to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. Although they hitched a ride on a Bell Telephone wagon to finish off the last few miles to their destination, Smith and Conroy primarily walked the entire distance, stopping in towns along the way to entertain and educate crowds with their music.

The Yankee Drummer: Jim Smith, of Greensburg, PA

The Yankee Drummer: Jim Smith, of Greensburg, PA (courtesy of Leonard DeCarlo)

A hundred years later, Guibert and Conroy’s modern counterparts – Jim Smith of Greensburg and Ray Zimmerman of Acme – plan to repeat that 1913 journey with the purpose of honoring the role that military musicians played in war and educating the public of their importance. Peter Guibert’s snare drum will accompany them.

Smith and Zimmerman plans to step off from the former site of the city hall, now West Park, at 9:00 a.m. on May 26, 2013 and cover the 200 miles that their early 20th century counterparts did a century ago, also arriving in Gettysburg on June 13 to take part in the Battle of Gettysburg Sesquicentennial events.

Ray Zimmerman, of Acme, will portray veteran John Conroy (courtesy of Leonard DeCarlo)

Before embarking on the journey, they will perform at a ceremony at Peter Guibert’s grave in Highwood Cemetery in Pittsburgh on May 24. During the 18-day trek, Smith and Zimmerman will also stop in various Pennsylvania towns and participate in educational events and “campfire entertainment,” featuring Guibert’s drum. Places they are scheduled to appear include: Pittsburgh’s Soldiers and Sailor’s Memorial Hall and Museum on May 27 for Memorial Day; Greensburg and Latrobe on May 29; in Ligonier on May 30; the 1806 Old Log Church in Schellsburg and the Bedford Historical Society on June 2; Chambersburg on June 8; and the James Gettys Hotel in Gettysburg on June 13. Although subject to change as more dates are added, the current schedule can be found by clicking here.

Joining them at several stops along the way will be Professor Guibert’s Blue and Gray 1913 Reunion Band, established by Smith, after learning that Peter Guibert had performed with a band comprised of Union and Confederate soldiers at the Gettysburg 50th Anniversary reunion, thanks to a picture found at the National Archives.

Between Greensburg and Gettysburg, Smith and Zimmerman plan to follow the original 1913 route of the Lincoln Highway as it was most likely the route that Guibert and Conroy followed a hundred years ago, based on newspaper account that placed the pair in towns that were located along the road.

Officially established in 1913 from already existing roads, the Lincoln Highway is also celebrating its centennial this year. The route is considered America’s first transcontinental highway and served as the main thoroughfare through major cities and towns across the country.

The Yankee Drummer: Jim Smith

 Known professionally as the “Yankee Drummer,” Smith has been passionate about drumming ever since was he was young boy growing up in Palmyra, New York. It’s an avocation that has stayed with him almost seven decades. His maternal grandfather, C.F. Palmer, was a draftsman and “quite a musician” who played both drums and piano and established a Boy Scouts drums and bugle corps in the 1920s. After World War II, the corps was reorganized into American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars drum corps.

“I can remember walking along my grandfather’s side with the drum corps,” said Smith, via phone interview.

Although he didn’t immediately take to the instrument, he began taking drum lessons in elementary school, after his grandfather passed away, and joined a drum and bugle corps.

“My two loves have always been the drums and the fifes, the military kind of music,” said Smith.

Smith’s passion for military drumming specifically was sparked by a record he purchased, Civil War – Its Music and Its Sounds by famed conductor Frederick Fennell at the Eastman School of Music, which was based on Fennell’s experienced growing up in New York with Civil War encampments.

“I was blown away by the record,” Smith said, later getting in touch with Fennell, who subsequently connected him with Bill Street, the head of the percussion department at Eastman, who worked with him on drumming fundamentals.

At age 17, Smith started his own drum and fife corps with best friend Craig and Craig’s father, who was a fifer. He named the C,A. Palmer Fife and Drum Corps after his late grandfather.  The band recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

“There are hundreds of kids who have since gone through and been members of the C.A. Palmer Fife and Drums Corps” and started corps of their own, according to Smith.

Smith attended Purdue University and studied engineering, which would be his chosen industry throughout his life. Yet he chose the school because of the opportunity to play in the band and continue his avocation in music, and was selected for the New York All State Band and Rochester Junior Philharmonic Orchestra. By the time he finished college, Smith was teaching a full schedule of drum students and leading several drums lines at local high schools in New York.

In 1965 Smith was drafted and joined the United States Navy Reserve, later attending the Officer Candidate School. He became the drum section leader in the boot camp drum corps and a band master.

Since college, Smith has been instrumental in establishing multiple drum and fife corps throughout the United States and internationally, several of which remain active today or have inspired spin-off groups. In 1968 he founded the Tippecanoe Ancient Drum and Fife Corps, the only French-style drum corps in the United States.

After serving as an engineering officer in the South China Sea and Vietnam, where he saw 18 months of combat and operations, Smith was home ported in Japan, where he married and raised a daughter until returning to the United States in the early 1980s. During his stint in Japan with the navy reserves, he organized the Ancient Mariners of Japan, who performed during the 1976 Bicentennial celebration. The 13-member group developed a strong repertoire of drum and fife music and was renowned all over Japan.

Smith settled in western Pennsylvania and now lives in Greensburg. His intermittent engineering work allows him to travel and continue to perform with various music groups throughout the country, as well as teach his drumming skills.

“Drumming has been a part of my life for a long, long time,” said Smith.

Reprising the Journey

A serendipitous chain of events set this project into motion 30 years ago, according to Smith. Guibert’s drum, inherited by his niece Betty Mower, sat dirty and damaged in her attic for years 1982, when she saw a newspaper article touting Smith’s drum and fife corps background and experience in drum restoration and contacted him about restoring the drum.

Smith ended up purchasing Guibert’s drum, later deciding to restore the “old rusty relic” to its former glory. Likely made in France or Germany, the brass-shelled snare drum measures just under 16 inches in diameter and is decorated with red-stained counter hoops. During his restoration of the drum, he found a silver-tipped drum stick inside the head, which matched drumsticks pictured in a 1910 carte de visite taken of Guibert performing with another drum, authenticating the original ownership of the Civil War instrument.

Prompted to investigate Guibert’s life after performing with the drum at the request of the former director of Pittsburgh’s Soldiers and Sailors when the museum was threatened with closure, he discovered that the drummer boy had embarked on this epic march to Gettysburg.

Over the years, Smith has connected with relatives and descendants of Guibert and conducted research at local historical organizations between Pittsburgh and Gettysburg to piece together the drummer’s background. He credits researchers like Joyce Hernacane of Schellsburg for helping dig up valuable information about the Civil War musician

Two years ago, a discussion about Guibert’s drums and trek during an open house in a Gettysburg antique about Guibert’s drums, his journey, and the upcoming Gettysburg sesquicentennial prompted the idea for a reprise. Soon, friends, family, peers, Civil War buffs and Guibert’s descendants were encouraging him to undertake the journey.

The tour is being coordinated by Leonard DeCarlo, an Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam and longtime friend of Smith’s. Ray Zimmerman, a fellow member of the Armbrust Veterans Association, was recruited to fill the role of John Conroy and play the bass drum along the way.

 The Master of Military Militia Music: Peter Guibert

Over the years after purchasing Peter Guibert’s drum, Smith started researching the drum and the life of the German Pittsburgher who formerly owned it, thanks to descendants he tracked down and information he found in local archives and historical organizations.

Born on January 4, 1844 in Germany, Guibert enlisted with the Union Army in Pittsburgh and began his military career as a drummer boy in Company F of the 74th Pennsylvania Infantry, a German-speaking regiment mainly comprised of recent German immigrants like Guibert’s family. Later, he served with the 77th Pennsylvania Volunteers and may have also been part of Company D of the 79th Pennsylvania Infantry. He participated in several engagements during the Civil War, including the Battle of Gettysburg.

For many years Guibert’s descendants had a difficult time tracing the drummer as his name was misspelled  on 74th Pennsylvania Infantry monument in Gettysburg (a mistake later corrected with help from Smith).

A Pittsburgh Press article from May 23, 1932, published a year and a half before his death, described Guibert’s stint as a drummer boy and related a “stirring tale” in which the drummer was involved during the Civil War.

Thanks to childhood experiences in Pittsburgh, he was one of only three Yankee soldiers encamped on an island in South Carolina who knew how to row a boat and subsequently selected to transport men and ammunition under cover of darkness to a Confederate encampment across the way.

The newspaper quoted the 88-year old Guibert’s recollection of his experience: “Our officers were anxious to send a few men and ammunition to the other side, under cover of darkness, believing if they could get a stronghold there, they would be able to route the ‘Rebs’ and thereby chalk up one more step toward ultimate victory.”

After arriving in Gettysburg on June 13, 1913, Guibert and Conroy performed a free concert with The Blue and Gray Reunion Band of 1913. Guibert, billed as “Wizard of the Drums” and “Master of Military Martial Music” performed as the featured artist at the Walter’s Theater for three weeks. He was also featured as the opening act for The Battle of Gettysburg, an epic silent film.

“He was busy. He was very busy there during the three weeks between his arrival on the 13th and the actual commemoration of the battle and the reunion itself,” said Smith, surmising that these performance earned Guibert enough money for his stay in Gettysburg.

Guibert continued in music as a one man band and well-known entertainer, and knew how to play the fife, harmonica and slide whistle, in addition to his trademark drums. He passed away at age 89 on December 7, 1933.

The striking parallels between the two drummer boys, born almost an exact century apart, led Smith to believe that a guide hand has been involved in his endeavor. Not only did the pair share a mutual love of drumming and participated in multiple bands throughout their careers, but they were born almost 100 years apart, Guibert on January 4, 1844 and Smith on February 2, 1944. Both men served their country in the armed forces, Guibert in the army, and Smith in the navy reserves. Both men planned a 200-mile trip at age 70.

Throughout their military careers and their civilian work (Peter as a barber and Smith as an engineer), both men remained passionately involved in music and continued to play the drums. The Pittsburgh Press article notes that “Although [Guibert] was a barber for many years, his drums were never still for long.” Smith’s research corroborated this assessment by revealing that Guibert was a member of multiple Pittsburgh-area bands.

Unfortunately, John Conroy’s life is still somewhat shrouded in mystery. Smith hopes that the trek will spur relatives and descendants of Conroy to turn up information about the veteran, who served in Texas during the Comanche Indian Wars, from 1870-1872. Although Smith is unsure if Conroy was originally a musician like Guibert, he assumed that if Conroy wasn’t a musician, he would have been by the time the pair arrived in the Gettysburg.

 Drummer Boys

 According to Smith, the purpose for this trip is to educate the public about the important role that military musicians, particularly drummers, played on the battlefield before and during the Civil War.

“There’s a very strong tradition for military drumming that has been lost,” explained Smith.

Although soldiers had to be 18 to join the Union army, many of them were actually teenagers and these young boys served as drummers. It’s possible that Guibert may have fudged his own age, as he would have been 17 years old in October 1861 when mustered into service, but a Civil War Veterans Card found at the Pennsylvania State Archives lists his age at enrollment as 21.

However, this information is questionable; although the card refers to Company F and the 74th Infantry, it enlists Guibert’s enrollment at Hunters Chapel, Virginia instead of Pittsburgh. If any readers can shed some light on this, it would be much appreciated.

Each company, comprised of about 60-100 men,  typically had a pair of drummers or one drummer paired with a fifer or bugler that played very specific signals in order to direct the soldiers on the field at a moment’s notice. It would have been impossible to hear the commander’s spoken (shouted) orders on the field, over the noise of marching soldiers, horses and gunfire, so the drumbeats were a critical means of communication.

“You had to have at least one strong drummer to serve as the voice of the commander and to help coordinate the movements of the troops,” explained Smith, who knows about a half dozen of the approximately thirty commands a drummer needed to know.

“There were very specific signals that the drummers had to known and be able to execute and the troops had to be well practiced to they would respond in the heat of battles and in the chaos and confusion,” he added.

Off the battlefield, a drummer was also responsible for camp duty – a series of signals that marked the soldiers’ daily events and tasks, from sunrise to sunset. Camp duty began with a wake-up call (reveille), and progressed through the day to included morning assembly, breakfast, sick call, guard duty, various drills and a clean-up alert, among other signs, finishing the day with an evening parade (tattoo) and a lights out call (taps).

Another of the musicians’ jobs was to provide ceremonial music for marches, parades and other events, sometimes combining to form regimental or brigade bands.  Smith says this is the only aspect of the military drummer culture that has survived today.

“Drummers and fifers would adapt the folk tunes of the day and turn them into marching airs,” said Smith, and that’s how well-known marches like “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” originated.

Since they usually had a strong right arm, developed by leading the troops on the battlefield, drummers could also be called upon to administer punishment with a multi-tailed whip called a cat o’ nine tails that they carried around with them, Smith said.

However, by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, the role of the drummer began to decline, with the advancement of rapid-fire weapons that afforded smaller contingents of troops better range and accuracy from anywhere on the battlefield.

“The fact of the matter is that technology of weaponry that had changed so dramatically in the 1850s that the use of a drummer and the use of standard Napoleonic tactics were just made obsolete,” explained Smith.

Missing Memorial

 The ultimate goal of this project is to raise awareness and funds to build a memorial to all of the military musicians that served on the battlefield. The Peter Guibert Trek is currently funded by the Northside Leadership Conference but Smith is working to establish a non-profit organization for the proposed memorial.

 “Nowhere in the country is there a memorial to the world of the drummers, the fifers and the buglers, who served with the infantry on the field of battle,” lamented Smith.

One way the Yankee Drummer hopes to raise funds for the memorial is by selling pairs drumsticks patterned after sticks used during the Civil War and made from the wood of trees that were actually on the Gettysburg battlefield in 1863. Collaboration between Civil War period drumstick maker George Carroll in Alexandria, VA, a wood turner in Lancaster, PA and an engraver in Danville, PA made this fundraiser possible.

Smith will play all 250 pairs of drumsticks during his trek and keep of log of where they are played. The drumsticks will be made out of either White Oak or Pin Oak that stood on the “Bloody Wheatfield,” at the Coaster Avenue brickyard or at James Longstreet’s headquarters.

Each pair of drumsticks will be signed and certified, noting the location where they were played, as well as the source and grade of the wood. The sticks will be made in three different grades of wood with three different price points and will be available for purchase after the trek ends. Proceeds will go to the military musician memorial fund and a portion of the cost will be tax-deductible

Union and Confederate veterans could ride the Pennsylvania Railroad to Gettysburg for free for the Gettysburg 50th Anniversary Reunion, so why would Peter Guibert and John Conroy decide to walk the almost 200 miles instead? That’s the underlying question a hundred years later. Smith admits that, although he’s pondered that question for months, he has yet to shed some insight on Guibert’s motives and thinking. Neither a diary nor a journal from either Guibert or Conroy has yet emerged.

“The only think we can conclude is that Peter for most of his life walked everywhere,” said Smith.

 Follow Jim Smith and Ray Zimmerman as they set out to trace Civil War drummer Peter Guibert’s 1913 trek from Pittsburgh to Gettysburg through their website and Facebook page

Sources Consulted:

Ayers, Ruth. “Drummer Lad Faces Death in Foe’s Camp.” The Pittsburgh Press. 23 May 1932.

Burger, T.W. “Gettysburg’s 150th: Man to retrace Civil War drummer boy’s steps.” PublicOpinionOnline.com.

DeCarlo, Leonard. “Backgrounder.” May 13, 2013. Peter Guibert Trek. Print.

DeCarlo, Leonard. “Yankee Drummer to duplicate 1913 Pittsburgh-Gettysburg trek.” May 13, 2013. Peter Guibert Trek. Print.

“Drummers of the Civil War.” http://www.civilwar.com/overview/soldier-life/148548-drummers-of-the-civil-war.html

Guibert, Peter. “Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866.” digital images. Pennsylvania State Archives. http://www.digitalarchives.state.pa.us.

Guibert, Peter. “Pennsylvania Veterans Burial Cards, 1777-1999.” digital images. Ancestry.com. http://www.ancestry.com

Reeder, Carolyn. “Drummer boys played important roles in the Civil War, and some became soldiers.” The Washington Post. 21 Feb 2012. Web. 16 May 2013.

Smith, Jim. Phone interview with author. 16 May 2013.

Smith, Jim. Phone interview with author. 20 May 2013.

“Veterans Start on March to Gettysburg Battlefield.” The Pittsburgh Press. 26 May 1913.

Birmingham: The Pittsburgh of the South

One of my new Twitter friends, the Birmingham Public Library, tweeted me a fun fact about the city of Birmingham, Alabama.

Page 1446

Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

A century ago, one of Birmingham’s nicknames was “The Pittsburgh of the South.” The nickname is fitting given the two cities’ similar urban developments. Like “The Steel City,” the city of Birmingham saw an industrial boom after the Civil War in the late 19th century into the early 20th century. Birmingham’s iron and steel industries developed thanks to plentiful deposits of coal, iron ore and limestone found around the area. In addition, the city was also known within the railroading industry as a manufacturing center for rails and railroad cars.

Cover

Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

As part of The Survey, a weekly journal of constructive philanthropy, the 1912 publication Birmingham smelting iron ore and civics touts Birmingham as an “industrial city in the making” and generally describes the “new industrial frontier of the South” as on the brink of distinguishing itself as a modern community. The rise of its iron and steel industries and development of Birmingham’s downtown area at the turn of the century parallel Pittsburgh’s own growth.

A page in the publication mentions that the publication follows in the footsteps of The Pittsburgh Survey (1907-1908) – a landmark sociological study of Pittsburgh conducted from 1907-1908 that reflected the urban conditions in the United States. The research collected from the survey was published in six volumes, copies of which can be found at the Senator John Heinz History Center Library and Archives. I had no idea that this study even existed, let alone its cultural and sociological significance, until I started browsing sources within the Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections in search of references to Birmingham’s nickname in historical documents (no success yet).

Page 1448

Source: Birmingham Public Library Digital Collections

  • Volume 1 Butler, Elizabeth Beardsley (1909, 1984). Women and the Trades.
  • Volume 2 Eastman, Crystal (1910). Work-Accidents and the Law.
  • Volume 3 Fitch, John A. (1910, 1989). The Steel Workers.
  • Volume 4 Byington, Margaret (1911, 1969). Homestead: The Households of a Mill Town.
  • Volume 5 Kellogg, Paul U., editor (1914). The Pittsburgh District: Civic Frontage.
  • Volume 6 Kellogg, Paul U., editor (1914). Wage-Earning Pittsburgh.

I am very Pittsburgh proud and always enjoy discovering unfamiliar research sources and learning new things about my city and its connections with and influences on people, places and things outside of the region.

Pittsburgh’s Gone Batty!

The Dark Knight RisesI have to admit, I’m not being very productive at work today.  From across the street on the 25th floor, I’ve been preoccupied with watching the Gotham City police cars and SWAT trucks lined up along the East Busway and equipment and various crew members clustered around the old rail road tracks behind the post office in downtown Pittsburgh.

The city has been pretty excited about welcoming Batman to the ‘Burgh this summer, with the cast and crew in town to film parts of The Dark Knight Rises, which comes out in summer 2012.  The cast and crew started filming in Lawrenceville and Oakland at the end of July, before moving to downtown yesterday.

Commutes to and from work have been a little hectic due to street closures but all-in-all I don’t think too many people mind the inconvenience when Batman’s in town.  In fact, the entire city is embracing the invasion.  Various local businesses have stocked up on Batman-themed merchandise and decorated their displays accordingly.  Alluding to the film’s code name Magnus Rex, the Tyrannosaurus Rex statue near the Art Institute is cleverly disguised as the Caped Crusader.  Local vendors with their finger on the pop culture pulse have already created Batburgh-themed t-shirts.  The Batburgh Facebook page has been keeping tabs on the filming.

Although quite a few movies have been shot in Pittsburgh over the years, this is the first major film I’ve experienced and it’s been really neat.  Some of my male coworkers who belong to the health club in our neighboring hotel were thrilled to find out that Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) was staying there.  Last weekend, a stadium full of extras were held hostage and entertained by explosions and Tumblers when crews shot scenes at Heinz Field.   Yesterday, it was 80 degrees and sunny in the city, but Oliver Avenue was covered in snow while a camouflaged Tumbler rolled down the street.  Today, I watched the Gotham City police from my office and later walked past crews preparing to shoot an upcoming scene at Trinity Cathedral by dousing the front facade with water (or maybe just washing off snow?).  Who knows what Batman will be up to tomorrow?

Pittsburgh: City of Bridges

Let’s Learn From The Past: City of Bridges
-Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
, March 24, 2011

This is a neat little article that was published by the staff at the Senator John Heinz History Center, located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District.  Some facts mentioned in the article: Pittsburgh has 446 bridges (more than any other city in the WORLD); the Smithfield Street Bridge is the oldest steel bridge in the United States; the city has the only trio of identical bridges in the WORLD (Roberto Clemente, Andy Warhol and Rachel Carson bridges).

I am so proud to be a Pittsburgh native.  It’s a wonderful city that boasts an incredibly rich history and unique innovations.