A must read
I recently took someone on a tour of Pittsburgh.
I faltered, though, when trying to describe the history of our riverbanks, and how industrialists Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick profoundly influenced the direction of Pittsburgh more than a century ago. Exactly what had happened with the Pinkerton strike? I tried to set a scene of steel mills lining the Rivers Three, but I wasn't confident in my subject area. I changed the subject.
I felt shame. This is one of the most important aspects of this region's history and I couldn't speak confidently about it.
I was given "Out of This Furnace" as a present. Originally published in 1941 and later by the University of Pittsburgh Press, it chronicles the lives of three generations of a Slovak family and how their lives were shaped by the Pittsburgh steel mills. It is historical fiction, but offers more insight into the times that shaped our region than any history book I've ever read. Author Thomas Bell never had a formal education, but wanted to be a writer. He developed a self-taught style that I like. It reminds me of Frank McCourt. Take the following passage...
Hope sustained him, as it sustained them all; hope and the human tendency to feel that, dreadful though one's circumstance's might be at the moment, there were depths of misfortune still unplumbed beneath one, there were people much worse off; in fact, what with a steady job in the blast furnaces, a cozy home on the cinder dump, a friend like Dubik here and a dollar to slap down on Wold's bar of a Saturday night, one was as well-favored a man as could be found in the First Ward. And there was always hope, the hope of saving enough money to go back in triumph to the old country, of buying a farm back in the hills, of going into business for oneself.
For a few, their hopes were not in vain. To others, work and hope alike came to a sudden, unreasonable end when they were carried - if machinery or molten metal had left anything to be carried - out of the mill feet-first.