“Caliguiri Favored As New Council Head,” David Warner, The Pittsburgh Press, February 17, 1977

I suppose, before I start this particular entry, I should mention that I am, wholeheartedly, a nerd. And furthermore, I am a nerd with a tendency to fall down the rabbit-hole of the Internet, often following my curiosity, instead of completing whatever task it was that I went online to deal with in the first place. That is how I found myself reading a 1977 Pittsburgh Press article on Richard Caliguiri and his likely new role as City Council President, rather than signing up for the Richard S. Caliguiri Great Race 10K—it was a quick enough jump from the race website, to a Google search on the man (whose statue I’ve passed many times entering the City-County Building), to his Wikipedia page, to the sources from his Wikipedia, where this article was referenced. In any case.

In 1977, Pittsburgh City Council President Louis Mason resigned, after months of illness, with Warner’s Press article noting that he had only attended one council meeting since May of the previous year. His resignation would leave his seat open, for a term running until the end of 1979, as well as his position as City Council President, which would run through the end of the year.

Though the headline focuses on Caliguiri, the focus of the article is what will happen next for the soon-to-be open Council seat. There is an almost oddly detailed outline of procedure here, describing the process for the choice of the new Councilmember. Committees for each party will select nominees, who will then be voted upon in a special election on the ballot in May. Given the dominance of the Democratic Party in Pittsburgh, both then and now, whoever the Democrats select will likely (and, in retrospect, did) be the new Councilmember.

Again, this article is interesting in retrospect. It is more significant than the author realizes that Caliguiri will be City Council President beginning March 14th, 1977, because it means that when then-Mayor Pete Flaherty is tapped to be U. S. Deputy Attorney General under President Jimmy Carter less than a month later, it is Caliguiri who takes over the mayorship. Caliguiri, of course, was mayor until his death in 1988—while he would win a special election later in 1977 to confirm his new role, his election to the Council President seat and subsequent appointment would begin his lengthy career as Pitstburgh mayor. In an offhand remark, Warner mentions that Sophie Masloff was elected they year before in the same type of special election that will select Mason’s replacement: Masloff would, upon Caliguiri’s death in office in 1988, become the first (and at this point only) woman to be Pittsburgh mayor.

There are, too, the quaint and offensive archaisms that are a part of reading anything more than about ten years old. Mason, as it turns out, was the only black member of Council at the time. This is a fair enough thing to mentioned. However, Mayor Pete Flaherty “said that he thought the seat should be filled by a black.” Which, I’ll be honest, is a phrase I don’t quite know how to talk about. At most I have this to say: of course, that is not a phrase that would be either printed in a newspaper or said by a politician (except, of course, Donald Trump, an exception I anticipate making many, many times over the next several years).

There is an aphorism, of somewhat debated origins, that “journalism is the first draft of history.” Perhaps that is true; newspapers record history as it’s happening. Except that it doesn’t quite: it records everything with the idea that some of it, eventually, will be important enough to be called history. It is the source of history, if nothing else.

 

Read the original Pittsburgh Press article

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Department of City Planning, “A Community Profile of Bedford Dwellings,” 1974

In 1974, the Pittsburgh Department of City Planning published community profiles of the City’s neighborhoods, working mostly from 1960 and 1970 census data. As a preface attached to each profiles notes, “One thing that citizens need if they are to take part in planning for their neighborhoods is up-to-date information about their neighborhoods. This booklet is an attempt by the Pittsburgh Department of City Planning to present information, primarily from the United States Census of Population and Housing, for use by citizens and community groups.” To plan a neighborhood, to diagnose a problem, to form a community, you’ll need accurate information. True enough at the time, but some information and some presentations of information seem more interesting or useful or clear in retrospect.

The Community Profile of Bedford Dwellings, when you read it in a scanned digital format, looks a bit like any old document. There are three lines on the cover page, presumably staples. There is the occasional oddness of spacing or alignment or an off angle of a word, all the typical typewriter issues. A star on a sketchy map of Pittsburgh marks the neighborhood for this community profile, Bedford Dwelllings, which the report places in the broader area of the Hill District, Pittsburgh’s historically (and currently) most African-American neighborhood.

The neighborhood was once a thriving and lively cultural and community center in Pittsburgh, but by the 1950s, was beginning to fray and decay a bit at the edges—at which point the City slated it for “urban renewal,” which amounted to the wholesale demolition of the Lower Hill, displacing more than 8,000 residents and 400 businesses. The City erected a new arena. In 1968, riots between April 5th and 12th, sparked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., caused fires, destroyed yet more property, and brought about many arrests.

Perhaps a bit euphemistically, the report describes a section of the Lower Hill called Crawford-Roberts as a place “where extensive residential abandonment has taken place.” I suppose that if you demolish much of an area, people won’t live there anymore. They mix a bit of searching for a silver lining with a dose of understated realism: “However, the Cliff Street area (part of Crawford· Roberts) has had some new housing construction and rehabilitation. The lower Hill redevelopment project (now part of the Golden Triangle) remains incomplete, with the controversial Melody Tent site still a temporary parking lot.” It is nice, at least, to see a nod toward the community

It is with this past that the Department of City Planning must survey the area in 1974. There is a variety of demographic and socioeconomic data in the report, in an attempt to broadly sketch the community. The median age of the neighborhood is 23.9, nearly ten years younger than the citywide average of 33.6. 94.4% of the population of the neighborhood is black in 1970, compared with 20.2% in the city. Nearly 40% of the population has at most an eighth grade education. The median income for the neighborhood was barely more than half the median income of the city in 1970.

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(Graph showing income growth, Bedford-Dwellings vs. Pittsburgh at large)

It is an odd experience to read this looking back. Was this the best knowledge we had to offer on this community? Is this the most truthful? I am intrigued by this not just for the numbers themselves, though that is something to see. (Median rent was $75 in 1970.) Why, in a report following a decade of deep unrest, do we not have some mention? The report opens with a qualitative overview of the neighborhood; where is the context for the Hill? But I suppose that’s part of why we keep these: the data is helpful, sure, but so is seeing the history of thought.

Community Profile, via Pitt University Center for Social & Urban Research

Helpful history of the Hill District

The Owl, 1907, Yearbook of the Western University of Pennsylvania (University of Pittsburgh)

On the first printed page, the book announces itself as “The Owl: Published annually by the Junior Class of the Western University of Pennsylvania.” This is not exactly wrong, but arguably it’s filled with the idealism that college students are supposed to embody. The Owl, renamed Panther Prints in 1981, will be published annually, but in this 1907 edition, it hasn’t yet. This is the first year that the yearbook is printed. They can only plan to publish annually.

It is a basic yearbook. There’s a dedication (to Thomas Mellon, founder of Mellon Bank, “the oldest living alumnus…and one who has ever had its best interest at heart”). There’s a printing of the alma mater (different than the current version, which will be adopted later, after the university changes its name). There are photographs of faculty (some with delightfully outdated specialties: one medical school professor is a professor of “Therapeutics and Diseases of the Sleus,” which I haven’t been able to figure out) and students, with short biographies (the students are a bit mocking, an inside joke here and there: one senior is said to have “the fastest liver of the class”—something may be lost in translation here, but I’m hoping this means he could drink the most). It looks, for the most part, the same as my high school yearbook or my mother’s college yearbooks—just a higher proportion of men.

There were, at this point, women, as indicated by the horrifying-in-retrospect “Co’Eds” section. It opens with a drawing of a woman, bordered by a stack of books and a diploma, but also by a hair brush, hair ribbons, and a half-complete work of embroidery, still on the hoop. Below the drawing is a bit of hand-lettered verse:

“Some Sing of the Daughters of Vassar,

                        And Some of Old Wellesey’s Fair Girls,

            Some Sigh for the Sweet Classic Maidens—

                        Where the Banner of Wilson unfurls;

            But the Best of Them All without Question

                        The Critics United Agree,

            Are the Maidens enrolled ‘neath the Blue and the Gold,

                        The Coeds of W. U. P.”

A list of all the women studying that year follows, with all the names fitting comfortably onto one page, 25 women total. Then there is a longer poem, in which “a sweet co’ed” returns home, full of knowledge and wisdom (“she talked just like a book!”). She is so smart, everyone agrees, but she always acts so haughtily when asked if she had learned to cook. In the end, of course, she marries a young man:

“No more she mends the Universe,

            (She’s busy mending hose),

For her many household duties

            She all things then forsook,

And ‘twas thus, O gentle reader,

            That she HAD to learn to cook”

I try not to be bothered by this. I try not to be bothered by the words of men over a hundred years ago, over women who would, in all likelihood, stop working and start cooking when they were married. And yet, I find myself bothered, both on my behalf and theirs. I am, at best, a sufficient cook, but my older brother had to ask me how to use a can opener last Christmas. And these were brilliant women, on the leading edge, fighting for their right to education, etc., etc. It annoys me to see them belittled. But anger for women long-dead is futile at best.

Yearbooks are, of course, meant to be saved, to be returned to years later. I am meant to flip through my mother’s college yearbooks, to see the year when her name changed from Dunham to Garis and remember the Christmas wedding. I am meant, as a Pitt student, to look through these old Pitt yearbooks and feel some kinship. So, what did they felt needed to be recorded? The names and faces of the faculty and students, the history of the University and of the clubs. It’s odd looking at the names that are, in my present, just buildings. It reminds me, in a way I think the best archives and history and archaeology do, that everything that is history to me had all the present-ness of my world.

 

Digital Copy of the 1907 Yearbook, and an archive of all Pitt yearbooks 1907-2011