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

Top 10

Top 10

Your 10 best bets for October.
Made in Pittsburgh

Made in Pittsburgh

The city of steel always has been known for its industry – what we make. Today, that defining characteristic expands beyond manufacturing into every aspect of modern life.
Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Comic-book artist Ed Piskor continues to win critical acclaim and international fame with his “Hip Hop Family Tree” series of graphic novels.
Review: Istanbul Sofra

Review: Istanbul Sofra

Head to Istanbul Sofra, one of Regent Square’s new additions, for assorted lamb dishes, vegetarian starters and well-executed desserts.

The 412

Pittsburgh Has 'America's Ugliest Accent'

Pittsburgh Has 'America's Ugliest Accent'

The results of the Gawker poll are in: We’re No. 1.
“Yinzer Goosebumps” Series Parodies the Horrors of 'Burgh Life

“Yinzer Goosebumps” Series Parodies the Horrors of 'Burgh Life

The great Benstonium is at again with this set of faux book covers.
The Great Pittsburgh Protractor Mystery

The Great Pittsburgh Protractor Mystery

Hundreds of protractors have been placed throughout the city. No one seems to know why.
 Newly Opened Battlegrounds Offers More Than Just Airsoft

Newly Opened Battlegrounds Offers More Than Just Airsoft

The Factory Building on Homestead's Eighth Avenue is the site of tournaments and more.

Hot Reads

Top 10

Top 10

Your 10 best bets for October.
Made in Pittsburgh

Made in Pittsburgh

The city of steel always has been known for its industry – what we make. Today, that defining characteristic expands beyond manufacturing into every aspect of modern life.
Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Ed Piskor is Pittsburgh's Hip-Hop Historian

Comic-book artist Ed Piskor continues to win critical acclaim and international fame with his “Hip Hop Family Tree” series of graphic novels.
Review: Istanbul Sofra

Review: Istanbul Sofra

Head to Istanbul Sofra, one of Regent Square’s new additions, for assorted lamb dishes, vegetarian starters and well-executed desserts.
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.