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Director’s Cut: 7 Things You Might Not Know About Pittsburgh

Think you’re an expert on all things 'Burgh? Take PittGirl’s final exam.


If you haven't read my column 7 Things You Might Not Know About Pittsburgh, get on it, son! Seriously, take a look at it before reading this blog. My goal was to find facts that most ’Burghers weren't aware of, and I have yet to hear from any reader who knew all seven. Five is the highest score so far, which is still pretty respectable.

Now, I don't want you to just take my word for it that all of those facts are ... well ... facts. I mean, this is the Internet, and it was on this very Internet that Jose "Chico" Lind's Wikipedia page once stated that he won a 2009 Latin Grammy for a bachata song about cod and onions.

I swear I didn't just make that up.

So here's my proof of the 7 Facts. Below you'll find pictures, articles and links. This is everything I found under the virtual stones I turned over in search of seven new things you probably didn't know about Pittsburgh.

Point Roller Coaster
Let's start with the roller coaster at the Point. No need for me to rehash all of that proof when you can just click here and see pictures of it.



On a scale of one to Potato Patch fries, how awesome would it be to have a roller coaster at the Point today?

Mmmm. Potato Patch fries. Smothered in cheese and bacon. With ketchup on the side.


And we're back!

Chico Marx
Moving on to the first listed fact: Chico Marx of the famous Marx Brothers lived in Pittsburgh for a year. He also met his wife here and had his first song published here, "Mandy in the Pale Moonlight."

This is another historical fact I wrote about extensively on my blog, so you can just click here to go see pictures, maps and lots more.



So if you read my blog, you would have at least gotten a score of one. Good for you!

The Clock
The Kaufmann's clock is not the original one that served as our centrally located meeting spot. Here's the first clock working its corner in 1912, not too long before it was torn down:



Not only that, but our current clock was taken away for repairs in 1987, and ’Burghers were lost, roaming the streets like free-range zombies. This is my favorite snippet from the newspaper articles at the time — a quote from a Kaufmann's employee as told to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

In the early 20th century, Pittsburgh had a Chinatown full of bustling shops and restaurants. There are so many news stories about it that I simply can't list them all, but here are a few notable ones worth a read:

The earliest mention I could find was in 1908, when it appeared the local Chinese immigrants had plans to build a huge skyscraper for housing that would be much improved over their "squalid" quarters.

In 1927, tensions were rising as the city looked to prevent a war between rival sects in Chinatown.

In 1933, Pittsburgh's Chinatown was in the news for beating the Great Depression by taking care of its own needy.

The Chinese Room in the Cathedral of Learning
was made possible by pennies Chinatown residents donated and a gift from the Chinese government way back in 1937.

In 1970, Pittsburgh’s Chinatown had dwindled to just three families.

Rosmarie von Trapp
I feel pretty confident that no one knew this one, and if you claim you did, I'm likely to inform you that your pantaloons are en fuego. One of Captain and Maria von Trapp's children lived in Pittsburgh for eight years. Here's the interview with Rosmarie von Trapp (who was not portrayed in The Sound of Music), where she reveals that she came to Pittsburgh to join a religious community.

I honestly can't remember how I stumbled on that one. Let's just say I'M SUPER AMAZING.

The Fourth River
I first learned about the Fourth River — aka "Wisconsin Glacial Flow," which is like the worst rapper name ever — on a Just Ducky tour (quack quack!). You can learn more about the Fourth River at River Quest or the Carnegie Library.

Maybe we can get the Monday Night Football announcers to stop obsessing about our "confluence" and start commenting on our "aquifer."

Of course, that could really mess with our drinking game.

Squirrel Hill Tunnel Nightmare
This one sounds too hellacious to be true. However, in the 1950s, the Squirrel Hill Tunnels were indeed closed to all traffic thousands of times per month to allow tankers carrying hazardous material through.

I can't even imagine how many new swear words were invented on the Parkway East in the '50s.

The Lost Island
And finally, in 1753, good ole' George Washington accidentally took an icy late-night dip in the Allegheny River off the shore of modern day Lawrenceville. Washington would have died if he and his companion hadn't crawled up onto the banks of an island. But the island was not Washington's Landing, as you might think.

This Civil War map
from 1863 clearly shows a second island not far from Washington's Landing, and it's on this little island, which is sometimes referred to as Wainwright's or McCullogh's Island, that young George spent a frigid, dreadful night.

Here's the area of concern:



Where's that island today? Some believe it eroded away, but reader Derrick Brashear found this article from 1904 that proves once and for all that the channel was gradually filled in. Wainwright's Island is now part of Lawrenceville. Wild!



So there's my proof. And you thought I was just pulling cod and onion stories out of my pantaloons.

There are so many other things I want to tell you and teach you. About our first movie theaters. About how our rivers got their names. About the beautiful stories I've found of people meeting "under the clock."

But I think I've given you enough homework.

Class dismissed. 

For now.

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