Tag Archives: Pittsburgh

Catching Fire

No, this is not a review of the second book in the Hunger Games series. This is something much closer to home. The place is Pittsburgh. The time is April 10, 1845. Yes. 1845. That was 170 years ago.

Do you know what happened in the Burgh 170 years ago? From the title of this piece you can probably guess. On this date, a fire, hot and horrible, marched through the city. In April, 1845, the city’s population of about 20,000 had seen no rain for several weeks. Black dust and soot from hundreds of coal fires, plus the addition of flour dust and cotton fibers from local industries created an incendiary mix. Add to that a warm wind which gusted out of the west and the stage was set for a disaster.

On April 10th, about noon, a lone fire left unattended sparked and set nearby structures ablaze. The wind carried the flames from one wooden structure to the next and most of the buildings in the city were constructed of wood. Pittsburgh’s ten fire companies were no match for the inferno. Because of the lack of rain, the rivers were low as was the one existing reservoir. The firemen’s leather hoses disintegrated in the heat of the blaze. The wind carried flaming debris up and over the city.

Church bells sounded the alarm as families snatched their valuables and fled to the shoreline of the Monongahela River. But the fire had consumed any boats still moored nearby and escape across the river by that means was now impossible. The only bridge across the water was the covered wooden Monongahela Bridge at Smithfield Street. This served as a conduit to safety until it also caught fire. It burned in fifteen minutes. The residents of Birmingham (now the South Side) fought desperately to keep the flames at bay on their side of the river.

The Monongahela River and what remained of the wooden covered Monongahela Bridge - photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Photographic Library (all rights reserved).

The Monongahela River and what remained of the wooden covered Monongahela Bridge – photo courtesy of the Pittsburgh Photographic Library (all rights reserved).

The huge warehouses along the shore, filled with bales of cotton, barrels of gun powder, and casks of molasses and coffee, caught fire and exploded. People abandoned their property and fled north toward the Allegheny River and safety. Help arrived from Allegheny City (now our North Side) as many volunteers rowed across the Allegheny River to help. One of those volunteers was Stephen Foster.

The fire crawled east along the streets from Ferry (now Stanwix) to just beyond Ross Street and spread from Fourth Avenue to the Mon River, devouring everything in its path. For over nine hours (from noon until 9 PM) the fire feasted as wood burned, glass melted, and brick and stone cracked under the intense heat.

This sketch shows part of the city and the Monongahela Bridge ablaze. Pittsburgh Photographic Library, all rights reserved.

This sketch shows part of the city and the Monongahela Bridge ablaze. Pittsburgh Photographic Library, all rights reserved.

Homes, businesses, banks, churches and the Western University of Pennsylvania (now the University of Pittsburgh) succumbed to the inferno. The flames destroyed about one third of the city and displaced about 12,000 residents. Surprisingly, only two persons died. Afterwards, the mood of the city was one of shock followed by despair. The desolation was overwhelming as buildings continued to smoke and burn and collapse for days.

Painting by William Coventry Wall entitled "View of the Great Fire of Pittsburgh."  Original in color is held by the Carnegie Museum of Art. Pittsburgh Photographic Library, all rights reserved.

Painting by William Coventry Wall entitled “View of the Great Fire of Pittsburgh.” Original in color is held by the Carnegie Museum of Art. Pittsburgh Photographic Library, all rights reserved.

But rebuilding began soon after. Once the ashes cooled, debris was cleared away and new homes and buildings were erected with better materials. The city renewed itself. Life continued at the confluence of the three rivers. For decades, the city remembered the Great Fire annually by the tolling of a bell on April 10th.

Much has happened since then to erase the memory of this event. But take a moment this year, the 170th anniversary, to remember what was once viewed as Pittsburgh’s greatest catastrophe.

Local author, Gary Link, used the great fire as the setting for his compelling novel, The Burnt District (2003).

To learn more about the Great Fire, visit the Pennsylvania Department where you will find books, articles, and photographs related to this and other significant local events. The staff on the third floor of the Main Library in Oakland looks forward to assisting you.

Looking Toward the Point After the Fire,  from a painting by William Coventry Wall. Pittsburgh Photographic Library, all rights reserved.

Looking toward the Point after the fire from a painting by William Coventry Wall. Pittsburgh Photographic Library, all rights reserved.

~ Audrey ~


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Another Trip Through Another Kind of Monday

As per my reading resolutions, I’ve been revisiting books I read in my childhood. My latest trip down memory lane took me back to Another Kind of Monday by William E. Coles, Jr.

anotherkindofmondayThe Pittsburgh-set young adult novel opens at the fictional Moorland High School library.  Our protagonist, Mark, finds three crisp hundred dollar bills in the library’s copy of Great Expectations. Along with the money is a note from a mysterious benefactor inviting Mark on a scavenger hunt that takes him all over the city—a steel mill in Braddock, the observatory on the North Side, an abandoned church in East Liberty.  As the clues become more difficult to solve, the amount of money that Mark is rewarded increases.  Eventually, the clues request that he enlist the help of a “co-quester,” someone of the opposite sex and with whom he is not already friends. I remember the ending confused me when I was a high schooler reading it.  I won’t spoil it, but it still confused me, almost ten years later.

Just the dreamy quality of the title has stuck with me ever since I read it in high school.  It’s possible that part of my enjoyment comes from the fact that I know every location mentioned, from Highland Park to Morningside.  I instantly wanted to go to each place and dig for buried treasure.  Maybe I’ll reread it with a pen and paper handy to map out each site go on my own scavenger hunt. It’s almost like if John Green’s Paper Towns had been set in Pittsburgh.

Reading it now, however, gives me another added delight as CLP – Main is featured heavily as a place Mark goes to research and decipher the clues left behind by the benefactor. The Pennsylvania Department and CLP – South Side make appearances as well.

Aside from the mystery aspect of the book, it also serves as a mini-history lesson; it touches on all aspects of Pittsburgh’s past, from the Homestead Steel Strike to the life of John Brashear to the story of Katherine Soffel and Ed and Jack Biddle, which was popularized in the 1984 movie Mrs. Soffel.

Published in 1996, some of the book is dated (there’s a Michael Jordan reference). If it were published today, Mark could just search Google—or any of our fine databases—to solve the clues.  But I liked the fact that he had to do physical research. He is assisted by a friendly librarian—is there really any other kind?—cleverly named Mrs. Harbinger.

As far as young adult novels set in Pittsburgh, I’d rank it behind The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.  Still, it’s a quick read and it’s the perfect book to elevate a boring Monday to another kind of Monday.

Have you read the book or do you have a favorite Pittsburgh-set young adult novel? Let us know in the comments!



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Au Revoir, Allentown!


Today is the last day that the LYNCS outreach staff of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will be providing library services at 1206 Arlington Avenue. This is a bittersweet transition for our department and our organization, after spending 2.5 years in this location, bringing library programming and services, and forming partnerships in this Hilltop neighborhood.


In what began as the Pop-up Library in Allentown, our initially scheduled eighteen months in this space ended up becoming a year longer, thanks in a large part to a grant from the Birmingham Foundation and our partners at the Brashear Association. The Brashear Association is a non-profit providing services to families and children out of their offices on the South Side of Pittsburgh.  Our relationship with the Brashear Association began with some simple after school programming at the pop-up library on a monthly basis through which we discovered shared goals, especially where children are involved. Their continued partnering and presence in the space soon highlighted the fact that a need on the Hilltop was being met through the activities and programming in this neighborhood storefront by the library staff, and thus encouraged them to continue to do the same through their afterschool program and summer camp.


We had some great moments over the 2.5 years – lots of fun programs, and we met so many great people. We’re so happy that the children and adults will continue to be served by the Brashear Association in their new space just around the corner on Warrington Avenue, and where we will continue to partner with them through occasional children and adult programming. You can follow their wonderful work at their Brashear Kids blog: http://www.brashearkids.com/

In the words of one of our pop-up library users:


Maria J.

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Go West…

As an outreach librarian for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, I find myself in various neighborhoods throughout the city from week to week. In my year-end reflections, I’ve realized that through my job I’ve had the opportunity to discover new (to me) or otherwise unfrequented parts of this exquisite city of ours. Thanks to some programming I’ve been involved in over the past year, I’ve become much more familiar especially with two of our more western neighborhoods – The West End and Sheraden.

The West End branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is one of our 19 locations which has had the benefit of a recent renovation. Now replete with a newly paved parking lot and elevator access, along with a very warm and comforting sitting area, this little branch is managed by colleague Mark Lee. It is a gem in the West End neighborhood both physically and with regard to the multitude of programming that goes on both in and outside of this sweet space, provided to visitors by a very excellent and welcoming staff.


The West End branch of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh

Those of you who only know the West End as that place at the end of the West End bridge as you leave Heinz Field, would be surprised to know of all the library activity that goes on in that neighborhood. Beyond the branch at the corner of Neptune and Wabash are also the offices of the Allegheny County Library Association. Here, county librarians and library advocates work to promote library services around the county. In addition, just next door to the West End branch is the Library Support Center, which houses some great library workers who are responsible for everything from cataloging and labeling the many items that you see on our shelves, to the shipping department responsible for getting those materials out to the city and county libraries.

Here, too, resides the wonderful sorting machine, the staff who attend the machine, and van delivery staff (10 drivers, 1 manager and 8 vans!) – all of which make it possible for your requests to go from one library in the county to another in the matter of just a few days. These special workers are akin to Santa’s elves for the magic they perform in sorting and delivering to your local library that bestseller, DVD or much needed item for your child’s school project. (In 2013 alone, 4,099,800  library items were moved among the 74 libraries served by the shipping center).


A portion of the magical sorting machine which sorts hundreds of thousands of items a month!

Just beyond the West End, over a hill or two and around a couple of bends (through the hamlet of Elliott – which requires some further research on my part), one eventually gets to the neighborhood of Sheraden not even 2 miles from the West End. Here, the Sheraden Carnegie Library branch (headed by Ian Eberhardt, whom you may have seen on your TV as of late) shares a building and hallway with the Sheraden senior center, tucked away on Sherwood Avenue. Although one of our smaller branches, this location lacks for nothing in terms of programming, and has an extremely welcoming and helpful staff too!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this neighborhood, it is home to what I believe to be one of the most beautiful school buildings in the city of Pittsburgh, Langley K-8. Named for the same Langley of Langley Air Force base fame – Samuel Langley, a 19th c.  Western University of Pennsylvania (University of Pittsburgh) astronomy professor. The school sits high atop a hill in Sheraden, but be careful not to attempt to gaze at this school as you’re making your way through the busy intersection that sits just below, as I have a tendency to do when I’m out that way.


Photo courtesy of wikipedia.org

Both of these western neighborhoods, and more specifically, the senior centers that reside nearby to the neighborhood branches welcomed me for some exciting technology programming recently. I’m grateful to the centers, their directors and the fact that these programs opened up new doors and vistas in my daily work. I’m looking to discovering more of our many neighborhoods in the coming year(s) of my outreach and hope to share some more with you in 2015.

Happy New Year!

-Maria J.

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Pittsburgh Historical Collections at CLP

Image taken from Bridging the Urban Landscape online exhibit

Image taken from Bridging the Urban Landscape online exhibit


The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh has long been a repository for Pittsburgh’s rich cultural heritage. We have many historical collections, in many different formats.

Most of these special collections do not appear in our online catalog. The links provide information to access these materials.


Pittsburgh History

Pittsburgh History – many diverse and wide-ranging resources in the Pennsylvania Department at CLP-Main.

Allegheny City Historic Reading Room located at CLP-Allegheny – a special collection of rare materials dedicated to the history of Allegheny City and the North Side.

Pittsburgh Today / Historic Pittsburgh – All things Pittsburgh.


Art and Artists

The Pittsburgh Art Topics File – an extensive clippings collection containing information about art events, art galleries, art festivals, and art organizations.

The Pittsburgh Artists File – index cards containing names of over 4000 visual artists.


Architecture and Architects

The Pittsburgh Architecture File – index cards containing information about specific buildings, architectural styles, areas, building types, houses, and other structures built in the Pittsburgh region during the 20th Century.

The Pittsburgh Architects File – index cards with the names of over 1000 architects and firms.


Music and Musicians

Pittsburgh Music Archives – a group of finding lists that provides access to uncataloged archival materials in a variety of formats.

Pittsburgh Music Special Collections – The Music Department at CLP-Main has an extensive assortment of special collections. See this post for an overview of our major collections.


Oral Histories

Western Pennsylvanians and World War II – a collaboration of Duquesne University & Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Oral Histories  – a cross-section of Western Pennsylvanians: black and white, female and male, ranging in age from their 30s to well-into their 90s.

Oral History of Music in Pittsburgh – over 300 interviews. They currently can only be listened to in the Music Department at CLP-Main.

StoryCorps – more than 150 stories collected in Pittsburgh in 2006.

Oral Histories at CLP-Lawrenceville – collected and donated by the Lawrenceville Historical Society.


Digitized Collections

Pittsburgh Iron & Steel Heritage Collection – a digital collection of books, journals, photographs, trade catalogs, and other items related to the iron and steel industry in Western Pennsylvania.

Bridging the Urban Landscape – online exhibit of some 600 historical photographs and images accompanied by text, of Pittsburgh and its neighborhoods.


Famous Pittsburghers

These pages include links to finding aids for archival material.

Famous Pittsburghers

Pittsburgh Jazz Musicians



Pittsburgh Photographic Library



Pittsburgh Maps



Genealogical research in the Pennsylvania Department

Pennsylvania Department Research Requests


The William R. Oliver Special Collections Room

The William R. Oliver Special Collections Room is the crown jewel of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (in my opinion)! It houses rare and unique materials including books, manuscripts, personal papers and historic photographs, in a climate controlled room. The Oliver Room contains extensive holdings on the history of Western Pennsylvania. One of my favorites includes a collection of letters and papers on the Whiskey Insurrection, 1790-1800.


The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh also has non-local historical collections which I will detail in my next post.


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Pittsburgh Home Movie Day – November 22, 2014

Do you have any old home movies hiding in the closet or the attic?
When was the last time you took a look at them?
Have you ever wondered how to take better care of them?

Home Movie Day

Disinter some of those old 8mm, Super 8mm and/or 16mm reels and drop by Pittsburgh Home Movie Day 2014 on Saturday afternoon, November 22, at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main. Film archivists will be available to give you free advice on the condition of your films and, if possible, we’ll screen them for a local audience interested in YOUR celluloid memories!

If you’re bringing home movies to share, you’re encouraged to drop off your films between  12 PM and 1 PM to have them properly inspected and assessed by our archivists. Or you can drop by any time after 1 PM and have a look at some of the personal treasures other folks in the region have brought to share with you. We’ll be screening continuously until 4:30 PM.

For more on Home Movie Day, visit the Center for Home Movies or contact us directly at homemovieday.pgh@comcast.net.

Saturday, November 22nd
Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh – Main
Director’s Conference Room, First Floor
Film drop off: 12 PM to 1 PM
Screenings: 1 PM to 4:30 PM

Pittsburgh Home Movie Day 2014 is sponsored by Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and by the Film Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh.

– Amy

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If You’ve Got the Gin, We’ve Got the Tonic…

A recent Post-Gazette article by local author Sherrie Flick pondered the phenomenon of reading in bars, which has been Quite A Thing in other parts of the country, and has now made its way to Pittsburgh as a trend. The Eleventh Stackers were, of course, tickled to learn that the zeitgeist has finally arrived on our doorstep, and a few of us wanted to chime in with our own thoughts on the matter (especially since today is National Happy Hour Day). Enjoy our book/beverage pairings, and other boozy — or not-so-much — miscellanea.



One of the nicest bars for reading that I’ve ever encountered was in Toronto, Canada. While looking for a café to read in, I stumbled upon the Tequila Bookworm. The name alone clearly announces that readers are welcome! On a summer day, I imagine I’d be reading a dark mystery on their patio and sipping Sangria. Winter would call for something long or possibly Russian, with a Stout or a warming cocktail at my side.







Leigh Anne

I like the idea of drinking in bars, though I don’t frequent them much anymore. If it’s socially acceptable for me to be seen in one with a book, though, I just might go back and give it a try. Kelly’s is still my favorite Pittsburgh bar, and I would very much like to curl up in one of the booths, reading Mary Daly and drinking  whatever LUPEC (Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails) creation is currently featured on the drinks menu.

Image from Marye Audet at SheKnows

Image from Marye Audet at SheKnows

The most fun I’ve had actually reading a book in a bar was a cold, wintry night at The Squirrel Cage. I was waiting for a friend so I treated myself to a Baileys and coffee and snuggled up with A.S. Byatt’s Possession. I honestly don’t remember how long I had to wait, because the moment was perfect, quiet, and timeless (yes, even surrounded by bar noise — good novels will do that for you).


Evil LibrarianBecause of the book Evil Librarian, I thought the best drink would be the drink that suits that librarian. So a Gin and Tonic to toast all those librarians out there.

If you have to pick just one combination, you couldn’t go wrong with a whiskey at Dee’s Cafe, while reading Bukowski’s You Get So Alone at Times That it Just Makes Sense.



Other resources to consider:

Book Girl’s Guide to Cocktails for Book Lovers, Tessa Smith McGovern

To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion, Philip Greene

Cocktail Therapy, Leanne Shear

And a few fiction picks:

Happy Hour of the Damned, Mark Henry

Killer Cocktail, Sheryl J. Anderson

When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, Lawrence Block

Not much of a drinker? You can still celebrate happy hour – and you could argue that any hour spent with a book and a beverage is a happy one! Observe.

Melissa M.

My preferred drink/book/location combo, if I’m being safe-for-work, would be The poirotandteaMonogram Murders, the new Hercule Poirot novel by Sophie Hannah, and a cup of English Breakfast tea on my front porch. If you’re a big Agatha Christie fan and were concerned about someone else taking Poirot over, rest assured that it’s fine. Ms. Hannah did well, in my opinion, and I’ve spoken to more than a few other rabid Christie fans who agree.  I can’t think of a better way to spend a late summer Sunday morning. The only thing that I needed was a cat on my lap!


The Litigators, with napkin roll bookmark, and lunch bag in the background.

The Litigators, with napkin roll bookmark, and lunch bag in the background.

I like to have an iced tea while I’m reading John Grisham. If that iced tea is being refilled by a waitress, even better. Most of my reading happens in diners or small restaurants. I have a geographic memory, so I can tell you where I was when I read Cross Creek by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (Keystone Café, Monte Cello’s in Shaler). I read The Mysterious Benedict Society at the now closed Downtown location of Franctuary.

Sometimes a waitress or another customer will ask me what I’m reading. Once a mother came up and said she was so jealous that I had the time to read. At the Johnny Rocket’s in the Pittsburgh Mills mall, I wrote down the name of the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith on the back of a business card for a waitress. My bookmarks are always those pieces of paper used to wrap napkins and silverware. Now that I take my lunch to work more often, I’ll have to add “Break Room, CLP — Downtown & Business” to my list of rotating reading spots.

Your turn: what book would you read at the bar? Which bar? What would you drink?  Designated drivers, we’d love to hear your non-alcoholic alternatives, too.


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