The Story Behind One of Pittsburgh's Greatest Romances

For most of its history, Pittsburgh wasn’t exactly a wellspring of grand romances. But it forged a tale of love and adventure that ultimately endowed the city with one of its greatest green spaces: Schenley Park.

We break down the life of Pittsburgh benefactress Mary Schenley and her whirlwind, scandalous love affair.


The age at which Mary Croghan — an only child and the heir to her grandfather James O’Hara’s vast Pittsburgh land holdings — was sent away to boarding school on Staten Island. Pittsburgh’s air aggravated her asthma. 

Tall, Decorated, Handsome

Captain Edward W.H. Schenley was the brother-in-law of that boarding school’s proprietor. He came for an extended visit around 1840, taking an unauthorized break from his military service. A decorated veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, Schenley caused quite a stir among the ordered world of the adolescent students. 

1 Year

The length of time young Mary Croghan, then 13, and Captain Schenley, then about 41, courted. 

Jan. 22, 1842

The Captain and Mary (now 14 — still quite young, but not unheard-of in the mid-1800s) were married in secret by a police magistrate who had been impeached the year before for bribery. When questioned, the magistrate said he had no suspicion of anything improper.


​The fictitious name under which the newlyweds sailed, so as to avoid being stopped by the authorities. They set out for the Captain’s native England on Feb. 1.

Rumor Mill

Popular falsehoods about the couple: Mary’s father, William Croghan, sent the U.S. Navy after them; Queen Victoria refused to welcome them to court; and Mary Schenley couldn’t stand Pittsburgh.

Swamps, Disease, Manure

The honeymoon period was no walk in the park. Captain Schenley was a judge commissioner in the mixed court for the suppression of the slave trade in Suriname, then a Dutch plantation colony. If the natural surroundings were harsh, the neighbors were more so: The couple wasn’t well liked by the plantation owners. And yet …
“…the greatest romance in Pittsburg’s early history” … is how The New York Times described Mary E. Schenley’s elopement in her obituary on Nov. 6, 1903.


The number of acres initially donated by Mary Schenley for the purpose of a park, with the caveat that the land never could be sold. The city eventually purchased
120 additional acres. 

Special thanks to Jake Oresick for his assistance.


photo via flickr creative commons


#‘Burgh Brew Brackets – Round Two

What do readers say about the best brew in the ‘Burgh? Pittsburgh Magazine invited local and regional breweries to submit a beer of their choice to compete in a bracket-style, readers’ poll tournament. Last week, 16 locally brewed beers went head-to-head. Seeds for the tournament of 16 were randomly selected. 

Round two voting begins today.

To see which eight beers advanced and to cast your vote in round two, click here. We’ll let you know when subsequent round voting begins. The winner will be announced in our March issue.

––by PM Staff


Categories: The 412