What the Dickens?

The great English novelist Charles Dickens came to the very young city of Pittsburgh 170 years ago.



One-hundred-and-seventy years ago, the great English novelist Charles Dickens was just 30 years old — but already internationally famous — when he, his wife, Kate, and her maid came to town in March 1842, surprising many locals. They were in the middle of a five-month visit, traveling around America via train, stagecoach, steamboat and whatever means necessary. After a night in a tavern in Torrance, Pa., the trio arrived here on a canal boat, entering the city via the unusual suspended aqueduct over the Allegheny River.

The Dickens spent three days in this young city (with a population of 21,000) that he spelled “Pittsburg” (although the “h” didn’t officially go away until 1890). Dickens’ travel memoir, American Notes: For General Circulation, was candid and often snide: “Pittsburg is like Birmingham in England; at least its townspeople say so. Setting aside the streets, the shops, the houses, wagons, factories, public buildings and population, perhaps it may be.” Ouch.

He didn’t seem to mind the accommodations, however, stating, “We lodged at a most excellent hotel and were admirably served.” Although he didn’t identify it, that was the Exchange Hotel at the corner of Penn Avenue and Sixth Street downtown (at or near where Heinz Hall is now). Rooms were a steep $1.50 per night. The couple stayed in Room 12, where fans and prominent citizens came to call after the Morning Chronicle reported that Dickens was in town. Among the visitors was William Foster, mayor of Allegheny City (not yet absorbed as the North Side), and his 16-year-old son Stephen — as in the future “father of American music,” Stephen Foster.

While he was here, Dickens visited the Western Pennsylvania Penitentiary and the Arsenal, and saw enough of the town to remark that “It is very beautifully situated on the Alleghany River, over which there are two bridges.” On all three evenings, Dickens and his wife dined with portrait painter George D’Almaine, an old friend from London who relocated to Pittsburgh.

They left Pittsburgh on Friday, April 1 on the recommended steamboat “Messenger” and headed to Cincinnati.

Charles and Kate left New York for England on June 7, 1842. Before December of the following year, Dickens would write A Christmas Carol, establishing many Victorian customs that are still followed today.  Who knows if three days in Pittsburgh may have influenced or inspired any of that classic tale. God bless us, every one.
 

Hot Reads

Review: Sienna Mercato

Review: Sienna Mercato

Matthew Porco, one of our Chefs of the Year, designs the menus at Sienna Mercato's downtown establishments.
An Open Letter to Local Sports Reporters

An Open Letter to Local Sports Reporters

PittGirl has had enough of the criticism of fanatics and asks the media to stop labeling everyone.
Film Noir Fall Fashion

Film Noir Fall Fashion

Fall into autumn with a fashion landscape awash in black, white and nifty shades of gray.
8 Foodie Day Trips (and a Few Weekends, Too)

8 Foodie Day Trips (and a Few Weekends, Too)

Hoping to take a leaf-peeping road trip? Keep food at the top of your priority list and consult our lineup of eight destinations, most within 150 miles of the city.

The 412

Celebrate Our 'Up-and-Coming Nightlife City' Status With Pittsburgh Cocktail Week

Celebrate Our 'Up-and-Coming Nightlife City' Status With Pittsburgh Cocktail Week

Raise a glass to another 'Burgh superlative at these awesome cocktail parties.
Pittsburgh is One of the Most Cycling-Friendly U.S. Cities

Pittsburgh is One of the Most Cycling-Friendly U.S. Cities

Bicycling mag ranks the Steel City at No. 21 on its list of 50 metropolises.
Thrival Festival Rocked Bakery Square 2.0

Thrival Festival Rocked Bakery Square 2.0

Relive the two-day event that was part innovation and part musical brilliance.
Cameras Roll for ‘The Last Witch Hunter’

Cameras Roll for ‘The Last Witch Hunter’

Although shooting has begun for this flick, plan to catch Vin Diesel and Elijah Wood while they’re out on the town, not during film production.

Hot Reads

Review: Sienna Mercato

Review: Sienna Mercato

Matthew Porco, one of our Chefs of the Year, designs the menus at Sienna Mercato's downtown establishments.
Film Noir Fall Fashion

Film Noir Fall Fashion

Fall into autumn with a fashion landscape awash in black, white and nifty shades of gray.
An Open Letter to Local Sports Reporters

An Open Letter to Local Sports Reporters

PittGirl has had enough of the criticism of fanatics and asks the media to stop labeling everyone.
8 Foodie Day Trips (and a Few Weekends, Too)

8 Foodie Day Trips (and a Few Weekends, Too)

Hoping to take a leaf-peeping road trip? Keep food at the top of your priority list and consult our lineup of eight destinations, most within 150 miles of the city.
From Field to Fork

From Field to Fork

We put together this dynamic guide to help you find and engage with the region’s sustainable producers of meat, honey, alcohol, fruits and vegetables.
Sometimes Your Best Friends in Life Aren't on Facebook

Sometimes Your Best Friends in Life Aren't on Facebook

PittGirl wonders if it's still possible to raise kids to be big-hearted people in an age of self-obsession.