Sunday, October 25, 2009

Churches of Clairton

100 Years

Time goes by: We spoke earlier of the 50th anniversary of the Clairton First Presbyterian Church. The church originally stood across the street from the high school, on the corner of Fifth Street and Large Avenue. When the parishioners decided to build a new edifice a few blocks away at the corner of Fifth and Mitchell, the old church was sold to the Serbian Orthodox congregation and moved to its current location on Reed Street. The new Presbyterian Church congregation celebrated the 50th anniversary in 1953, as discussed in last week’s blog, and the 100th anniversary celebration in 2003.

The City of Prayer: Clairton’s motto is apt. The Clairton Silver Anniversary book published in 1947 lists, in no particular order, the following houses of worship in a city of some 10,000 souls: Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, St. Paulinus Roman Catholic Church, First Presbyterian Church, First Methodist Church, United Free Gospel Mission, First African Methodist Episcopal Church, Wilson Presbyterian Church, Clairton Christian Church, St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church, Morning Star Baptist Church, Pine Run Methodist Church, The First Slavish Roman Catholic Greek Rite Church, St. Clare's Roman Catholic Church, Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, Christian Missionary Alliance, Mount Oliver Baptist Church, Church of God in Christ, Greek Church, Serbian Orthodox Church, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Many prominent Clairton families attended each of the above churches. The Crilley family was among them. They were all active in the Presbyterian Church and Robert was called to the ministry. It was he who gave the sermon on the occasion of the 100th anniversary. His words have been edited for brevity but I’ve attempted to keep the spirit of Rev. Crilley’s words as originally spoken. The first part of his sermon follows:

“Thank you for inviting me to be your preacher today. It is a great, great honor in my life. This beloved building happened to be located on the route I took home from high school. Many, many afternoons I’d come in here, pause and pray. I felt God’s presence so very powerfully. But sometimes I’d come up to the Pulpit, open the Bible, and pretend I was a minister preaching to a packed Sanctuary. Remember: this was the early fifties. Packed Sanctuaries were the norm! This church back then had a membership of almost a thousand.

And then a time came in my senior year in high school when I wanted to be a minister more than anything in the world. At that time this church had an energetic Youth Minister by the name of the Rev. James D. Cole. We called him “Jimmy“. He was the coolest associate pastor you would ever want to meet. He was the best dresser in Clairton.

This man was truly an exceptional minister. He drove me up to Waynesburg College, introduced me to all the important people there who made the decisions about incoming students.

And then, during my Seminary days at Princeton, he arranged for me a position on the staff of the Westfield Presbyterian church, where he was the minister to youth. He let me stay with him in his apartment on weekends. Free. He woke me up on Sunday mornings with the Mormon Tabernacle choir singing The Hallelujah Chorus!

To kind of get in the mood for our celebration today, I did some research. When this church was organized, the rivets were barely cool on a brand new steel mill that had just been erected on the banks of the Monongahela---just two years earlier.

Where we are today, this building, back then was a part of a cow pasture that belonged to a fellow by the name of Edward Moore. His house was where the Bekavac Funeral home sits today---two blocks to the north of us. But Moore’s place wouldn’t be farm land for very long. Because of the new steel mill, this whole area quickly filled with houses.

1903 was quite a year.

The Wright brothers, over at Kitty Hawk, N.C. managed to get a heavier-than-air machine to achieve flight for the first time ever. It stayed in the air 12 seconds, went 120 feet. But they got better as the day went on. Their third and final flight was 852 feet and it stayed in the air 59 seconds.

1903 was the year Marie Curie and her husband won the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work in radiation.

And it was the year that Mr. Henry Ford released to the world the first Model-A automobile.

Not to be outdone, the Harley-Davidson people put a motor on a bicycle and the first hog was born.

A guy by the name of Gillette in 1903 found a way for men to get the whiskers off their faces and a fellow by the name of George Eastman devised a way to put a camera into the hands of the common man.

Crayons were invented in 1903, but the zipper wouldn‘t appear for another ten years. And the world would have to wait twenty-seven years for the first chocolate-chip cookie.

A lot of changes in buying power happened in a hundred years.

That Model A Ford cost $850.00. But the average salary of a steel worker was only $300 a year, so it wasn‘t exactly within easy reach of the common man.

For gentlemen who were looking for something snazzy to wear to church, they could get an all wool blazer suit, complete with matching vest for $2.98. The lady of the house could buy a fine, fine dress for $2.50.

Life expectancy was 47 and the number one cause of death in the country was pneumonia.

Only 14% of homes had a bathtub in 1903. And 96% of all births took place at home.

Finally, I discovered an interesting fact about 1903. The nation’s sixth worst stock market crash began in June of 1901 and ended in December 1903.

In other words, men and women our forebears launched this church at the height of a very dark time in this country’s history.

This church has a hundred year reputation for doing the best of things, the most hopeful of things, in the worst of times.

100 years. Much can happen in a church in that period of time. Think about that as far as this church is concerned.

5,200 Sundays have come and gone; over four hundred communion services. A river of money has flowed through the offering plates---more than a couple of million dollars, according to my calculations.

But think of all the pew battles that have taken place over the years in this place, folks wrestling with temptation or having to make critical decisions in their lives. Think of all the anxious hours spent here waiting for lab reports, or getting spiritually ready for a dreaded operation.

Think how many babies have been baptized here---infants who grew up to confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?

Think how many times the Lord’s body has been broken, his blood shared, as the plates moved up and down these aisles nourishing souls to eternal life.

How many brides and grooms have stood beneath these wooden beams and made life commitments to one another?

How many caskets with their precious cargo have rolled down this aisle as the Pastor intoned, 'I am the Resurrection and the Life. The one who believes in me, even though they die, yet shall they live. And whoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.'

I was a little boy here during World War II. Folks were putting gold stars in their windows for sons, brothers, husbands.”

We will continue the sermon in next week’s post.

A little blogging music Maestro… The Mormon Tabernacle choir singing The Hallelujah Chorus.

Dr. Forgot

Friday, October 16, 2009

Clairton Across the Decades

Snippets of Clairton History

Reflections of the past: Wednesday was a slow day this week. Company is coming and the house was clean and ready for them. Food was all in and ready for cooking. I ran out of things to do. My options were, “Do I poison pigeons in the park, or do a little blog research?” So I did a little joggin’ of the noggin and came up with the following pearls of past and parables of the residents of the City of Clairton. Sit back and see if any stir up YOUR memories. We’ll start long before you were born and offer an incident or two per decade.

May 23, 1902: The Bruce and Clairton Railroad merged to form the West Side Belt Railroad.

July 20, 1902: Vera Daerr was born in Wilson. In 1929 she married schoolteacher Frank Buchanan. Frank became mayor of McKeesport and later was elected to Congress form Pennsylvania’s 33d District in 1946. Upon his death in 1951, Vera was nominated to replace him and won a special election later that year. She won two subsequent elections overwhelmingly. Vera Daerr Buchanan, Clairton native, died in 1955.

October 9, 1912: U.S. Steel Finance Committee resolves to build a 200 oven byproduct plant north of its Clairton Iron and Steel Works.

May 7, 1916: Land sales ad from the Gazette Times, “We have it – right in the heart of town – not an undeveloped spot plotted only for the exploitation of the boomer. Clairton now has complete train service, trolley lines, schools, churches, fine homes and paved streets. 5,000 people live in this flourishing community. HERE IS YOUR CHANCE TO GET IN ON THE PROSPERITY. BUY CLAIRTON REAL ESTATE!” (Perhaps this ad should be rerun today…)

1918: Noble J. Dick Lines begin jitney operations. (NJD bus lines later became Clairton’s primary link to surrounding communities including “Dahntahn Pikksberg)

September 22, 1919: Rioting begins in Clairton steel strike. Pennsylvania State Police and laborers clashed during mass labor meetings. State troopers and mounted police charged a group of laborers and used their clubs vigorously, injuring a number in the crowd.

March 18, 1929: One building was destroyed and several others damaged when an explosion occurred in the business district of Clairton. The building next to the bank was destroyed and windows were blown out but nobody was fatally injured.

August 5, 1929: A plane with a student pilot landed safely in the Monongahela River after its landing gear was damaged.

October 31, 1921: A parade will take place as the new highway opens between Clairton and Pittsburgh. The parade will go from Hayes to Clairton and end with ceremonies held at the Clairton swimming pool. (This must have been Route 837 or “River Road.”)

September 5, 1937: Bishop Hugh C. Boyle blesses the newly opened St. Paulinas Church in Clairton. The church was designed by the parish priest and built by volunteers. (Still standing after all these years)

October 23, 1943: The undefeated, untied Clairton Bears football team won its 20th game in a row, beating Charleroi 18-0 before 5,000 fans. Lenny Kalcevich scored two touchdowns.

February 28, 1948: Ivan Bucar, a Yugoslav immigrant living in Clairton, disowned his 33-year old daughter Annabelle when she announced that she quit her job at the State Department’s United States Embassy in Moscow and married a Russian singer. The couple will reside in Russia where, the bride says she likes it better. The blonde ex-Clairton girl and Pitt grad made her letter of resignation public in the Russian newspapers. Bucar, a wealthy farmer and coal hauler who owns property in Jefferson Township has 12 children. He blames her decision on having too much education. (Fascinating. Had never heard this story. Will do more research expand it in future blogs)

February 1949: Several follow up articles were written about Annabelle Bucar, the Clairton woman and former U.S. Embassy employee in Moscow who married a Russian singer and chose to remain in Russia. According to a book she wrote, she charges that Embassy officials and U.S. Diplomats illegally profited by black market purchases and espionage. Her book was entitled, “The Truth about American Diplomats.” (We have ordered her book and will write more on this person in a future blog.)

February 10, 1951: Clairton resident Frank Orsini. Brother of police Chief Pete Orsini was among four people arrested in a raid on a suspected numbers operation.

August 23, 1952: Former Police Chief Pete Orsini who was demoted to patrolman July 22, asked that his salary be restored. Mayor John Mullen insisted that he had the authority to name his own police chief and Orsini was his man. (Here come da judge!)

March 21, 1953: The First Presbyterian Church marked its 50th anniversary with a week-long celebration. Three former ministers took part, Dr. Murray C. Reiter, Dr. John K. Bibby, and Rev. G. Karl Monroe. The current pastor is Rev. H.D. Hough. Keynote speaker was Dr. Edward Lee Roy Elson, former Clairtonian and current pastor of the Presbyterian church in Washington D.C. attended by President Eisenhower. (Will share excerpts from the 100th anniversary sermon by Clairtonian Rev. Robert Crilley in future blogs)

August 14, 1954: Dr. Karl Bohren, announced an anticipated 1,500 students will attend Clairton High School, the largest number in school history. (The growth continued until TJ was built to take many rural students)

January 21, 1956: Connie Kutsenkow, an architect from Clairton has many talents. She is a mother and an actress as well. This week she is starring in “The Cretan Woman” at the International Theater in Crafton Heights. During her studies at Carnegie Tech she acted at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. She is also working on a book that she calls “Women in Architecture.”

March 17, 1962: The Democratic Party began to track a worrisome trend in Clairton where 1,024 voters changed their registration from Democrat to Republican. Last year Clairton became one of 13 Pennsylvania cities that switched. Clairton voted in Republican mayor Robert Stokes. The Clairton picture will be studied by both parties for a clue to this year’s trend.

August 3, 1963: A freak tornado struck Clairton and Glassport and caused damage to the Irvin Works steel plant. (This writer was working my last shift as a summer worker at Irvin Works before returning for my senior year in college when the tornado hit, destroying the paint job and all the windows in my newly-purchased Rambler American)

June 22, 1968: The fourth annual Congress on Christian Education of the Allegheny Union Baptist Association will be held at the Morning Star Baptist Church on Shaw Avenue in Clairton. (Proving once more Clairton is the City of Prayer)

There you have 21 snippets of Clairton happenings, activities, and people up through the 1960s. Next week we will random items from the 1960s onward. Tune in.
A little blogging music Maestro… “Memories” by Sarah Brightman in The Phantom of the Opera.

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Price of Success is Failure

Victory, Failure and Common Sense

Bears continue to be victorious: From Joanne Panza comes a note about the Bears football team. This season thus far they have defeated the Laurel Spartans, Monessen Greyhounds, Frazier Commodores, Bentworth Bearcats, Fort Cherry Rangers, and the Chartiers-Houston Buccaneers. Total points scored by the Bears: 284. Total points scored by their opponents: 24. Go Bears!

Clairton is a failure as a city: We have written in this space of the glory days of the Mon-Yough Valley, particularly our old hometown of Clairton. Many people point to other communities who were hit hard by the downfall of the steel industry in the Pittsburgh area that have seemingly bounced back better than has Clairton. Despite the fact that the Clairton Works is one of the few operating mills left from the booming days of the post-World II era, Clairton, they say, is a failure. And perhaps this unnamed “they” are right. But let’s take a look at failure and failures.

The dictionary definition of failure is: “…an event that does not accomplish its intended purpose.” Some well known and lesser known failures include Margaret Mitchell whose fiancĂ© was killed in battle, mother died leaving the 19-year old to run the house, entered into an abusive marriage, then broke her ankle. It was during the ankle recovery period that she wrote a book of survival after failure – “Gone With the Wind.”

Bill Gates, Lewis Tappan, and Walt Disney all had business failures. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built a computer they called Apple. They pounded on doors to try to sell it and made presentations to Atari and Hewlett-Packard among others, all of whom rejected it. Harrison Ford was fired from Columbia Pictures and told he had no talent and would never make it as an actor. Abraham Lincoln had a string of business and political failures until he finally won his first election. J.K. Rowling was a divorced single Mom with an infant who did much of her writing in a pub before her Harry Potter books caught on. R.H. Macy went bankrupt seven times before finally building his successful Macy’s chain of stores. Decca Recording Company rejected the music of the young English mopheads because “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.” Fortunately the Beatles did not give up.

Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs but struck out 1330 times. Thomas Edison, who invented the light bulb and over 100 other things, once said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Beethoven was deaf and psychologically disabled and his music teacher said he was hopeless at composition. Sir Winston Churchill was bipolar and had a learning disability. He failed to get elected until age 52 when he became the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Fred Astaire’s first audition evaluation card said, “Balding skinny kid who can dance a little.” The Wright Brothers, after several failures, invited a host of people to witness their first flight. Five people showed up.

Smartest man in the twentieth century: Albert E. Einstein was considered slow as a child. He did not walk until age 3 or speak until age 7. He thought in pictures rather than words. He was expelled from one school and the headmaster of another refused to admit him because “…he will never amount to much.” Many scientists believe he was autistic. My belief is that failure is the tuition one pays to learn success.

Among Einstein’s quotations are: "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. The whole of science is nothing more than the refinement of everyday thinking, and my favorite, Common Sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age eighteen.”

It would seem that common sense would be more common – that people would have been able to see the genius in the above failures. But alas, it was not to be. Clairton gal and blog reader Dorothy Lancaster Smoyer sent me the following email obituary that sums it up:

“Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend, Common Sense, who has been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was, since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.

He will be remembered as having cultivated such valuable lessons as: Knowing when to come in out of the rain; Why the early bird gets the worm; Life isn't always fair; and Maybe it was my fault.

Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you can earn) and reliable strategies (adults, not children, are in charge).

His health began to deteriorate rapidly when well-intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place: Reports of a 6-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition.

Common Sense lost ground when parents attacked teachers for doing the job that they themselves had failed to do in disciplining their unruly children.

He declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer sunscreen or an Aspirin to a student.

Common Sense lost the will to live as the churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims.

Common Sense took a beating when a burglar could sue you for assault while defending yourself.

Common Sense finally gave up the will to live after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot. She spilled a little in her lap, sued the restaurant, and was promptly awarded a huge settlement.

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust; by his wife, Discretion; by his daughter, Responsibility and by his son, Reason.

He is survived by his 4 stepbrothers:
I Know My Rights
I Want It Now
Its Not My Faut
I am a Victim

Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.”

Common sense leaves a legacy that is the lifeline of all the fine people who made
Clairton one of America’s most livable cities. Learning from failure can help restore it.

A little blogging music Maestro... “My Little Town” by Simon and Garfunkel.

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, October 3, 2009

An Epicurian Delight

Over my shoulder a backward glance…
Pictured above left: Isaly’s storefront circa 1950s; right; The Clairton location today.

Clairton past and present: We did our weekly blog last week on the Clairton City School District and the plans it the administrators and school board have put in place to upgrade the system and continue to meet No Child Left Behind required annual standards. The week prior we talked about the Clairton Bears, past and present. Those two posts resulted in more feedback than we’ve gotten in the past three years of writing this blog so we decided to do another Clairton post. This time we will start by discussing an icon of the Pittsburgh area that was also an icon of Clairton. These days nearly every chain grocery store carries Klondike® ice cream bars, but back in the day when men were men and women were glad of it, they were available only at Isaly’s. The Clairton store at 564 Miller Avenue (photo above right) was centrally located in what used to be called the “Clairton Business District.” Across the street stood G.C. Murphy 5 and 10 cent store, the bank, and other thriving businesses. Up the block was Livingston’s Drug Store, Clairton Hardware and Skapik’s Department store, all still serving the residents of Clairton. Caddy Corner to Skapik’s was Goldsthrom’s Market and a large clock in front that graced the corner of Waddell and Miller. At the corner of St. Clair Ave. was a market that housed the Clairton City Jail in its basement. But Isaly’s was in the center of the surrounding commerce.

Cheesemaker and dairyman Christian Isaly left his home in Switzerland (yes, I guess that means he made Swiss cheese) in 1833 to join his family in Monroe County, Ohio. The family built a reputation as purveyors of the finest dairy products and meats to the better markets in the Ohio and Western Pennsylvania area. They eventually opened their own chain of stores. For the next hundred years or so the family-owned Isaly’s stores served the area. In the 1980s they were sold to their longtime friends and provisioners, the Deily family who have carried on the Isaly brand name to this day.

Skyscrapers, Klondikes, and Chipped chopped ham: Let’s first talk about the skyscraper ice cream cones. Isaly’s used a unique scoop called a “rainbow scoop.” It was patented in 1929 and sold to Isaly’s. It wrapped ice cream in an inverted cone shape and placed it on top of the cone, giving it the illusion of being huge. No doubt the skyscraper cone was larger than the traditional scoop but perception is everything. The ice cream actually appeared to be larger than it was. Why? Traditional ice cream scoops require ice cream to be dragged out of the tub, thereby crushing some of the air out of the ice cream. Further, traditional round scoops of ice cream are forced down into the cone which places some of the product into the cone. The Isaly’s “Rainbow Scoop” did not crush the ice cream like the round scoop and more air remained in the product giving it a fluffier preferred taste. Also, the skyscraper was placed on top of the cone, not down inside it, so it appeared that customers got more ice cream when in fact they were getting more air. The process allowed more cones per tub creating tastier ice cream for less money – a win-win. Another dairy product was Isaly’s buttermilk, but it was of such high quality that it undid itself. Isaly’s buttermilk was unusually rich and thick and flecks of butter were visible in the buttermilk. Although purists appreciated the rich buttermilk most people did not and it was not a big seller.

Oh, those Klondike bars: Silver polar bears lived in Clairton. In typical trend-setting fashion Clairton residents and those in surrounding communities with Isaly’s stores enjoyed the local favorite of Klondike® bars. As stated above, their origins can also be traced to Switzerland and the Isaly Family, known for fine dairy products. William Isaly and family members founded the Isaly Dairy Company in the early 20th century. The original Klondike® bar was handmade by dipping square slices of ice cream in pans of rich, Swiss milk chocolate. Some say the bars were discovered when some ice cream accidently fell into a vat of chocolate. The family realized they had hit the Mother Lode with their Klondike® bars and produced them in Youngstown and in Pittsburgh. By the 1940s, the Isaly family had several dairy plants that supplied more than 300 Isaly Dairy stores. Klondike® bars were sold in all the stores.

Tourists and locals who moved from Western PA to New York, Florida and beyond would often stock up on the bars and smuggle them to their home states packed with dry ice in coolers. But in 1978, Klondike® distribution finally officially expanded into Florida, then New York and New England. In 1982, a nationwide advertising and publicity campaign was launched with the tag, "What would you do for a Klondike bar?" Soon Klondike® bars were available in most U.S. supermarkets.

In 1993, Unilever acquired the Isaly Klondike Company and the Klondike® brand became part of Good Humor-Breyers™. What was once the secret of the Three River area is now a well-known treat. The product, once made exclusively with vanilla ice cream has expanded to include flavors such as Heath, Reeses, Crunch, Oreo, Dark, Double, and Triple Chocolate, Neapolitan, Whitehouse Cherry, and Carmel Pretzel.

Chipped chopped ham: It has been a half century or more since many Clairtonians were served by Mr. Grocott and his employees. The Isaly’s store in Clairton was long and narrow and had typical 1950s style tables and chairs. Teens of all ages would sit and enjoy a skyscraper cone or a Klondike® or other fountain treat decades before It was a place for teens to meet, flirt, and enjoy treats. Many marriages started over a single straw in a chocolate shake. But many is the parent who stopped on his way home from work to pick up some Isaly’s chipped chopped ham. It was a staple for every dinner table. (note to non-Clairtonians reading this; the three meals to a Clairton resident were breakfast, dinner, and supper, not breakfast, lunch and dinner). When people moved away they were able to get fountain treats and sliced meats anywhere, but nobody was able to replicate Isaly’s chipped chopped ham. Steeler’s Nation ex-patriots living away from the ‘Burg were not too proud to have a glob of the stuff shipped out to them. Trying to get the local butcher to do it right was nigh impossible unless you happened to be fortunate to live in a community that had an ex-homie working as a butcher in your town. The closest we have been able to come to replicate the feel, but not the taste, is to go to our butcher, select our favorite ham, and have the butcher set the slicer to the narrowest possible setting. The result is something that looks like chipped chopped ham, but it just isn’t the original.

A little blogging music Maestro... “Nights I Can’t Remember, Friends I’ll Never Forget,” by Toby Keith.

Dr. Forgot