Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Photographs anybody?

All about Clairton
Call for Photos

An introduction: Who is Jim Hartman and why are they all talking about him? Jim is a friend. Not from Clairton, but almost qualifies. He is a retired mail carrier from Mifflin Township. Jim is also an avid historian and author, as well as the president of the Mifflin Township Historical Society. Mifflin Township at one time included a vast area from which several cities were carved, including Clairton. Thus, when he researches the area he researches Clairton as well as other surrounding communities. I consider Jim more of a docent than a figurehead of a historical society. He loves and lives the history of the area. He has documented, scanned, and carefully prepared many photographs and documents from our town, including decades of the Clairton Progress. We often use his material in our Clairton blogs

More specifically: Mifflin Township was one of the seven original townships that made up Allegheny County in 1788. It encompassed the area that would become Clairton, Dravosburg, Duquesne, Hayes, Homestead, Jefferson Hills, Lincoln Place, Munhall, Pleasant Hills, West Elizabeth, West homestead, West Mifflin, and Whittaker. Jim Hartman has diligently documented the early years of those communities that once made up Mifflin Township and assembled many photos, stories, and artifacts into his first book, “Homestead and Mifflin Township.” The book was published by Arcadia Publishing and is available via as well as other booksellers.

Next stop… Clairton: Jim is currently gathering photos, stories, and memorabilia from the early years of Clairton. He plans to assemble another book in an effort to preserve the history of our city. From Civil War days of the mid-1800s when Clairton was a quiet farming community to the dawn of the twentieth century when the park on Clairton’s Monongahela River bank drew thousands of upscale Pittsburghers for weekend picnics, to the industrial steel and coke industry that would bring an influx of immigrants, to the World War II era and the subsequent prosperity it spawned, Clairton has had a unique history. Jim’s efforts include the recording and preservation of that history to keep it alive for your children, grandchildren, and their offspring. It all starts with a community effort. The purpose of this effort will be to preserve our heritage through photographs. The other purpose is to compile a pictorial history of Clairton to be published by Arcadia Publishing. After this pictorial history there are plans to complete a larger scale book of about 300 pages on Clairton area history.

Calling all photos and sources: I am putting out an ALL POINTS BULLETIN for any and all Clairton memorabilia to include; photos, post cards, artifacts, and stories about Clairton’s rich history. Send me an email and I will pass the information on to Jim. If you (or your grandkids) have the wherewithal, scan and email photos. If the photos can be scanned 300 DPI and saved as a TIFF file - that is the best and can be Emailed to me or directly to Jim at 412.600.0229 or email him at

Otherwise they can be mailed to the historical society and they will be returned. Be sure some cardboard is placed among the photos or post cards to keep them from getting folded. Send them to:

Mifflin Township Historical Society
3000 Lebanon Church Rd. #202
West Mifflin, PA 15122

Football; a Clairton tradition: This year’s football team has enjoyed tremendous success through the first three games of the season. The Bears have crushed their opposition in each of the games. They are built on a long and solid tradition. How solid? All Americans Andy Bershock and Jim Kelley lead the way in accolades, but many others have starred on and off the field, including former Bear, Notre Damer, and Clairton Mayor Ken Stilley.

The 2010 team’s seniors look to have a shot at keeping up the high standards set by last year’s team. But this season’s freshmen will have an even more profound sense of history. The class of 2014 will be playing in the one hundredth season of Clairton football. The team that was called the Orange, the Cobras, and now the Bears has had a rich history.

That first team had a 4-4 record in 1914 and was coached by “Tillie” Dewar of Elizabeth. Players included Joe Bereznay, Ralph Altman, “Boney” Wetzel, (missing first name) Stoke, (missing first name) Helzel, Harold Beatty, George Barone, Leonard White, James Morgan, Claude Williams, “Preach” Coulter, Ed Smith, Bradford Coleord, Paul Reed, Paddy Brogan, and manager Dick Reager. The Superintendent of scools was F. N. Fritz.

Sixteen years after that first football squad played, one of its members, Jimmy Morgan was the town’s premier dentist. Also during that 1930 season, sixteen years into the football program, the “Orange Jerseys” as they were known, would have their brand new Clairton football stadium dedicated in festivities held before the game. Bands from CHS as well as Duquesne High School (their rival the night of the dedication) marched from the high school to the stadium in what would become a tradition.

Also that year, profits from the newly-opened Clairton Park Swimming Pool and bathhouse came in at about $8,500; a figure that was more than double what needed to cover the bond payment. That put the naysayers to rest. The pool continued to be a strong revenue source for the City. More than 83,000 swimmers enjoyed the pool that first season.

Finally from the November 13, 1930 Clairton Progress, the prominent Clairton Skapik family, who still own and operate their store on Miller and Waddell Avenues, handed out tickets to every customer who made a purchase of one dollar or more. Each Saturday a drawing was held and the lucky winner got to take home a free live turkey. The winner needed to be present to win and in the event the winner had no use for the turkey, it was donated to a needy family. Now THOSE are the kinds of traditions that made our city great.

A little blogging music Maestro... “There’s No Place Like Home” by the Elvis.

Dr. Forgot

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Clairton Happenings

Clairton Brothers, Good Cops, and Memories

Twins with different talents: The 1930s found Clairtonians as well as other Americans struggling through the Great Depression. However, life still went on. Old people died, folks fell in love and babies were born. Sometimes, as was the case with the Vujevich family, the babies came in pairs. Twin boys, Steve and Ed, grew up in the Croatian American Clairton household, both talented in different fields. Another brother, Marion, would become a doctor and profound leader in his field. Ed became an engineer. Steve’s gift was in music. His voice was something special and even as a youngster it was clear that he had a gift. Steve loved sports and politics as well, but it was clear that his musical talent would bring him and those who would listen to his rich baritone voice, pleasure.

While in high school his good looks and smooth voice earned him the nickname “Clairton’s Perry Como.” Steve’s football prowess earned him a scholarship to Carnegie Mellon University, nee Carnegie Tech, but he transferred across town to Duquesne University where he’d have more opportunity to hone his skills. He graduated with a degree in Music and became a teacher and coach at his alma mater, Clairton High School, and then a music teacher and choir director in West Mifflin. Steve also dabbled in politics, serving as police chief for Clairton and managed the campaign of fellow Clairtonian Sen. Ed Zemperelli as well as other successful candidates.

Steve Vujevich passed away earlier this month at age 80. Another stellar Clairton boy. Rest in peace, Steve.

Things not going smoothly in Clairton: A Clairton spy who wishes to remain anonymous tells me that the potholes in the streets of Clairton are alive and well. Since it will be a few months before the snow fills them in, the powers that be have decided to fill them in the old fashioned way – by paving. Victor Paving will reconstruct Boundary Way between Shaw and Kay Avenues, Crocus Way and Shaw Avenue from Maple Avenue to Miller Avenue. The cost will be a mere $81,000 more or less. Not quite sure how those particular Ways were selected, but somebody must have a way with the repavers.

Dirty politics: That smell that hangs over the heads of many of our national politicians and their wannabe replacements is not only a national stench. It’s tentacles reach far into the Clairton area. Whether it is the former football coach whose financial ethics are being questioned, or the former police chief – the first woman to hold that position, politics can be a filthy game. Take the case of Tracy Vitale. Born in Germany and adopted as an infant by an American military couple stationed there, she came to the U.S. with her parents as a 3-year old.

This sounds like the beginning of a great human interest story. Tracy’s military upbringing was a factor in her desire to pursue a career in law enforcement. She is certified by the Pennsylvania State Municipal Police Officers' Education and Training Commission and during the past 14 years has worked for departments in Brownsville, Carroll, Clairton and Rostraver as well as the Washington County Sheriff's Department. All reports were that this groundbreaking police officer was an excellent cop and administrator.

The problem began when she was named Police Chief in the Washington County college town of California Borough. Former California Borough Police Chief Rick Encapera was demoted to patrolman and Chief Vitale became the first female Chief in the County. Some community members who opposed Encapera’s demotion staged a campaign to find a reason to replace former Clairton Chief Vitale and discovered she’d been born in Germany. They asked her to prove her American citizenship. Vitale’s father is elderly and remembers the adoption and citizenship process. Her mother is deceased. Immigration officials say it could take months to root out the paperwork, so her opponents seized on the doubt and suspended her, while hurriedly hiring a replacement – John Hartman of Monroeville.

When the job as Chief came open, Tracy Vitale beat out four other candidates. But her status remains in limbo until she is able to prove she is a citizen. To be certified as a police officer in Pennsylvania, a person must be a U.S. citizen, according to the law. I think we can safely claim Tracy Vitale as a Clairton gal. We wish her the best of luck.

Heroes of Yore: Many who read this blog can remember several historical components of Clairton in the 1950s. Among them are the Roll of Honor which sat in a park-like setting at the corner of St. Clair and Miller Avenues, caddy corner to the bank. Or perhaps you were one of the lucky ones who took the train from the Clairton Train station to Kennywood for the annual school picnic, or lived on a Clairton city street. All three photos today come from a source that has been extremely helpful. See below.

Thank you Jim Hartman: The Mifflin Township Historical Society houses a vast amount of historical data for many surrounding communities including Clairton. Jim is the president and operates out of an office near the County airport. He has done a Herculean job of gathering and assembling historical information, including decades of copies of the Clairton Progress. Jim has donated a ton of information about Clairton to us via electronic transactions, and continues to regularly forward information about our community. The pictures that grace today’s blog are courtesy of Jim and the MTHS. I encourage every Clairtonian who reads this space to visit his web site listed below or to Google the Mifflin Township Historical Society. But beware! Looking through the files can become addictive.

A little blogging music Maestro... “Bad Boys,” the theme song from the TV show COPS, done by Inner Circle.

Dr. Forgot

Friday, September 17, 2010

Of Reunions and Other Victories

CHS Alumni

Remember the Cobras: Or the Bears depending on when you happened to have the good fortune to attend Clairton High School. We have mentioned the history of the school many times in this space – after the first graduating class in 1907, classes were held in various venues around town until a brand new red brick three story high school opened on Fifth Street (see photo above left). The high school became Fifth Street Grade School when the new (and current) high school was built (photo above right). Fifth Street Grade School was eventually demolished and the portion of Fifth Street that separated the two schools was permanently closed.

Back in the day: Seventy-five years ago 254 bright-faced boys and girls accepted their Clairton High School diploma. They graduated in the midst of the Great Depression and between two World Wars. Some achieved great things, others fought and died for their country, others had marriages, children, and careers. But nearly 20% of members of that class of 1935 took life one day at a time and are still around and in their 90s. Several were among the 600+ who showed up at the multi-year (classes of ’34 through ’70) celebration at Clairton Park recently.

Barb Ceryak was just in the seventh grade when the Class of ’35 graduated but she went to college and spent a career teaching girls physical education at the school. Rose Schepis DaBaldo, a junior when the class of ’35 graduated also became a teacher of shorthand, dictaphone and transcription (try explaining THAT curriculum to your grandkids).

Six members of the class of 1935 who were in attendance for their 75th high school reunion received special recognition. They included Jennie Prince Peterson, Martha Bickerton Shaver, Hilda Moresea Walsh, Andrew Sivak, J. Clark Leis and Peter Gimiliano. The previous class opted to not have a yearbook due to the hard times but Class of ’35 took up a collection to underwrite the project then sold the Annuals for $1.00 each! Ms. Bickerton (Shaver) traveled the farthest to attend – from California (the state, not the city). Andy Sivak will soon celebrate his 69th wedding anniversary, and Ms. Peterson has become a world traveler with her daughter and family members.

Jennie Peterson, along with a little help from daughter Diane arranged to have a tent and special cake, decorated with class photos of attendees. In preparation for the reunion the two women became expert detectives at tracking down class members, often using such tools as the Social Security Death Index. Ms. Jennie Peterson has been keeping track of class members since they graduated, but she has finally replaced her steno notebook with an email account and computer. She continues tracking and logging information in preparation for her 80th class reunion.

Back to the Bears: Clairton has had its problems with the demise of the mills. Of that there is no argument. However, the athletics teams, particularly the football team, have continued to prosper. They barely eked out a win (41-0) in the opener against Little Washington and were actually scored upon in the second game victory (55-6) against Western Beaver. The third game against Carlynton (which to me sounds like an uppity pronunciation of Clairton) was another blowout; 60-6. So far this year it has been Bears 156, Opponents 12.

But the Bears do not have a perfect record. They actually lost a conference game – five years ago. Last year the team won the state championship, won three out of the last four WPIAL crowns, and a total of seven WPIAL championships. The Bears have made 13 WPIAL championship game appearances and have been conference champs four consecutive years. I confess that while back for my 50th high school reunion in June I neglected to go into the school to see if it was tipping toward Fifth Street under the weight of all the trophies.

Sports quiz for the day: Which team has 33 wins since the start of the 2008 season and has more victories than any other school in Pennsylvania? If you guessed Clairton high school, you are correct. Ok, bonus question: Who comes in second in the WPIAL? That would be Clairton-spawned Thomas Jefferson High School which boasts 27 wins. I’m not sure if the band and Honeybears still gather at the high school on Friday night home games, then march to the stadium, as they did in the good old days, but the tradition of winning still wafts through the air on Football Fridays.

One of 16 passes on: Obituaries from Clairton include native daughter Irene Lehner who recently passed away. She was born Irene Randolph, one of 16 children born to steelworker James and his wife Sarah Jane Plaster Randolph. She dropped out of high school to help support her family and married William Lehner in 1941. She did not let a little thing like lack of a high school diploma hold her back. She wrote for the Clairton Progress and conducted metallurgical analysis for a steel mill during World War II. She learned the art of floral arranging and became known as one of the top florists in the area. Mrs. Lehner as active in Girl Scouts, Rainbow Girls, and many other church and service organizations. She was also very active as a member of the Clairton First Presbyterian Church. She went to eternal rest at age 92.

A little blogging music Maestro... “Memories are Made of This” by Dean Martin.

Dr. Forgot

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Departure

Today has been a reflection - of the events of 9/11 nine years ago and of the subsequent deaths of my parents and my daughter. I reflected that I've always been left handed in a right handed world, always been right brain in a left brain society, always been just a bit out of step with the rest of the world, and always been a night person in a daylight world. The reflection put me in a mellow mood so I looked back over my own life and offer you these thoughts:

“There are only two kinds of people in the world – day people and night people. And they always marry each other.” Will Rogers

Music of the Night resonates for me not only because The Phantom of the Opera is one of my favorite musicals – seen it more than a dozen times in London, New York, LA, and Las Vegas - but because I’ve always been a night person trapped in a daylight society.

As far back as I can remember I hated getting up in the morning. I hated breakfast. My mother was always very conscientious to make sure her brood of four always got a good breakfast and dinner (which in those days we called supper). Lunch was taken in school. But my body was not set up for breakfast. Everybody always said it was the most important meal of the day but I just couldn’t eat at that early hour.

As I got into high school I stayed out later on weekend nights and slept late. I felt great but my father told me I was a lazy ne-er do well and a slacker for sleeping until noon. My mother told him that a growing boy needs lots of sleep.

My epiphany came the summer before going to college. I’d graduated high school (barely) and my father, who worked for the city, pulled some strings and got me on as night watchmen at the municipal swimming pool. I loved it! Never felt better. Worked all night and slept until noon. Ate a hearty lunch when I awoke and my paper thin body (5’11” 128) began to get some bulk to it. It was a great summer. In college I took late classes and was up late even though the town rolled up its sidewalks at 10. Every summer I found jobs that allowed me to work nights.

Then I graduated and went into the work force. It did not matter how much sleep I had – 8 hours, 10 hours, I was still dead tired in the morning and my mind did not begin to function until after 10 a.m. I suffered through being a night owl in a daytime world for the next 30 years. Early in my career I was unable to find a job in my chosen field so I took a job teaching elementary school in Pocatello, Idaho. The school was near a freeway off ramp and a 24-hour gas station. My meager salary as a teacher was supplemented by pumping gas from 10 p.m. until 6 a.m. then taking a shower and heading for school. It is amazing what the body can tolerate when you’re young. On slow nights I took to writing short stories for Romance magazines (5-cents a word; that came out to about $ 300 per story) for extra income.

My salvation was when I moved to Las Vegas and took a second job to support my family – driving taxi from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. On nights I did not work I’d write and discovered I was most productive between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. and most creative between 11-2. I also discovered a completely different world that operated at night. The neon shone brightly at night and the drunks, hookers, tourists, dealers, performers and assorted others who took cabs at night were nearly always generous tippers, happy, and talkative. Whether it was a bartender who got off shift and told stories of his day on the way home, or a showgirl who just ended her late show and headed home in the quiet of the back seat, or the hooker who had been called by a bellman to service a well-to-do guest, the people of the night reeked with intrigue and personality.

The smells were different too. Something about the night air is different from day air. It is rich with aromas that simply do not exist in the daylight. Music wafts from showrooms and lounges and even an occasional street musician plies his trade to glassy-eyed tourists. And no sight is more beautiful than a dawn that signals the night is over as it edges out the neon and it is time to put away the dark beauty and go to sleep.

The years can do unkind things to one’s body, mind, energy level and the like. These days I have the energy to focus on only one task at a time, and creativity that used to come almost on instinct sometimes takes many minutes to organize and implement. I still prefer to create at night, but the nights now end far earlier than the dawn. I do try to keep my mind from totally turning to mush by doing daily crossword puzzles and spending some time each day on my computer. But oh, how I miss the Music of the Night.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Another Clairton Blog Post

SHAHEEN FAMILY Shown in this picture taken in front of 633 Third Street sometime between 1910 and 1912.

Park every car in America end to end and you have Labor Day Weekend

Labor Day Weekend: According to the U.S. Department of Labor, “Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” Labor Day was first celebrated in New York, September 5, 1882. By 1884 the first Monday in September became the designated day to honor the workers of our country. Over the next 125+ year’s celebration of the holiday has changed from picnics in inner-city parks to family gatherings and backyard barbecues.

Last holiday of summer: Labor Day is the last long holiday of the summer season and families with children often take advantage of the extra long weekend to visit family. In recent years more than 40 million Americans have taken to the highways, air, rail, and other means of transport – over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house they go. But this year the recession has AAA predicting that a mere 39.1 million will travel more than 50 miles. The Farmer’s Almanac predicts a long cold winter so enjoy the last days of summer and the fall, then batten down your hatches.

How ‘bout them Bears? The Clairton Bear football team travelled south to Little Washington for their first game of the season. We’re not sure why they call it that. It is highly unlikely anybody would get it confused with the other Washington a few hundred miles away. But the CHS defense put a big Bear hug on the Little Prexies while the offense ran wild. Final result? 41-0 Bears, and the Little Guys ran up a total offense of minus 56 yards and no first downs. Thanks to Cal Sabo for the report.

Clip, clip, snip, snip: Remember Clem Azzari? He was one of the icons of Clairton. Clem was born before the Great Depression and worked while in high school (Who didn’t in our hometown?). He worked in a barbershop doing odd jobs and when times were slow the old barber showed Clem how to cut hair. He joined the Air Force after high school. The War had just ended and during his stints in the Philippines and Okinawa he did some hair cutting of his fellow service men. After his discharge he came home, married local gal Cecilia Orsini, and opened a barber shop. It was slow at first so Clem took a job at Irvin works to supplement the family income and worked at his shop in his off hours. But persistence paid off and he became a world renowned sculptor of hair, competing in competitions in New York.

Clem’s little shop became Clement’s International Hair Design. Like so many Clairton natives of the day Clem was a first generation American of immigrant parents. Perhaps that is one reason he moved so comfortably among the international set. His clients included both locals and famous entertainers. Even after he closed his shop Clem often went to the homes of loyal clients to do their hair. He recently passed away at age 81. Clement Azzari, artist, hair sculptor, and Clairton boy.

Lighten things up: Thanks to blog reader and Clairton gal Carol W. for the following observations about mostly rural PA:

1. Let's get this straight: it's called a 'dirt road.' No matter how slow you drive, you're going to get dust on your Lexus. Drive it or get out of the way.

2. They are cattle. They're live steaks or walking milk bottles. That's why they smell funny to you, get over it. Don't like it? I-80 goes east and west, I-81 goes north and south. Pick one.

3. Pull your droopy pants up, you look like an idiot.

4. Turn your cap right, your head isn't crooked.

5. So you have a $60,000 car, we're impressed. We have $150,000 snow removal equipment that are driven only 3 weeks a year.

6. Every person in rural Pennsylvania waves. We think of it as being friendly. Try to understand the concept.

7. If that cell phone rings while an 8-point buck and three does are coming in, we will shoot it out of your hand. You better hope you don't have it up to your ear at the time.

8. Yeah, we eat scrapple, pot pie, funnel cakes, haluskie, pierogies, shoo-fly pie, apple butter, chow-chow, and schnitz un knepp. Don't like the sound of them or the names freak you out because you never saw a "Bon Appetit" article on them? Great, more for us!

9. The 'opener' refers to the first day of deer season. It's a religious holiday held on the Monday after Thanksgiving.

10. We open doors for women. That is applied to all women, regardless of age.

11. No, there's no 'vegetarian special' on the menu. Order steak, or you can order the chef's salad and pick off the 2 pounds of ham & turkey.

12. When we fill out a table, there are three main dishes: meats (includes fish), vegetables, and breads. We use four spices: salt, pepper, hot sauce, and Heinz ketchup. Oh, yeah...we don't care what you folks in Jersey call that stuff you eat. It's not real chili.

13. You bring 'coke' into my house, it better be brown, wet and served over ice.

14. You bring 'Mary Jane' into my house, she better be cute, know how to shoot,and have long hair.

15. College and high school football are as important here as the Steelers and Eagles and a lot more fun to watch.

16. Yeah, we have golf courses. But don't hit the water hazards---it spooks the fish.

17. Colleges? We have them all over. We have state universities, community colleges, and vo-techs. They come outta' there with an education plus a love for God and Country. They still wave at everybody when they come home for the holidays.

18. We have a whole ton of folks who have been in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard - PA has one of the highest percentages of veterans in the entire country. So don't mess with us. If you do, you will get whipped by the best.

19. Turn down that blasted car stereo! That thumpity-thump-thump stuff is not music anyway. We don't want to hear it anymore than we want to see your boxers. Refer back to # 3.

20. Four inches isn't a blizzard--it's a flurry. Drive like you got some sense, and don't take all our bread, milk and toilet paper from the grocery stores. You're not in Alaska. Worst case you may have to live a whole day without your croissants. The pickups with snow plows will have you out the next day.

A true Pennsylvanian will appreciate this. Everyone else can leave town.

ADDENDUM: Was in the Reno airport last week and heard the familiar Pittsburgh area accent. I asked where they were from and Randy Lawson said, "Clairton. Grew up first in Millvue Acres then moved on up to Woodland Terrace." He now lives on the North Side of Phg. Small world.

A little blogging music Maestro... "Chains of this Town" by BR5-49.

Dr. Forgot