Dr. Bruce Dixon with stack of memos and mail at the Allegheny County Health Dept Dr. Bruce Dixon with AIDS patient, 1987 Dr. Bruce Dixon playing an old church organ at his house Dr. Bruce Dixon and his house in North Braddock, 2007 20th century card depicting the Schwab mansion owned by Dr. Dixon

1987: "Dr. Bruce Dixon: a physical healer, medical teacher and public health protector"

"People will remember Bruce [Dixon] as a dedicated public servant who provided very important medical expertise and never sought any… personal recognition and had no agenda of his own. His dedication combined with his medical knowledge and expertise were used to improve the quality of life and provide increased health safety for all of Allegheny County," Cyril H. Wecht, the former county coroner and renowned forensic pathologist who knew Dr. Dixon for 40 years, said on the day of Dr. Dixon’s death this week.

Bruce W. Dixon died on Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2013. He was 74.

Dr. Dixon made it to the top of two professions: medicine and public health. He was a stellar diagnostician and a gifted professor as well as a dedicated leader and an exemplary manager of the Allegheny County Health Department.

After graduating from Wilkinsburg High School in 1956, Bruce W. Dixon entered Pitt and graduated from medical school in 1965.  He spent two years in the Air Force. And then for almost 10 years he worked and taught at the Duke University School of Medicine. In 1975, he returned home to Pittsburgh. 

In 1979, Dr. Dixon began his career in  public health when Pitt agreed that he could work one day a week at the Health Department’s Sexually Transmitted Disease clinic. His expertise and track record  earned him a title — Pittsburgh’s AIDS doctor; he was one of the few doctors who helped local AIDS-related organizations reach other members of the medical community. He was also a great source of information for the AIDS victims themselves.

Dr. Bruce Dixon’s life was stuffed into his left rear pocket, a Post-Gazette reporter wrote in 1987. “On any given day there will be 30 to 50 yellow phone message slips jammed into it, each one urging his response. In between lectures and patients, he would get in a phone call or two.”

He was quite a character. Notorious for his gray Hush Puppies, sophisticated sense of humor and his monogrammed ties, Dr. Dixon lived in a 22-room former Schwab mansion in North Braddock, which he bought in 1982. The restoration of the more-than-a-hundred-years-old house was somewhat of a hobby for Dr. Dixon. He did nearly all of the stripping, sanding, painting and wallpapering himself.

Dr. Dixon was a man of many talents. Yet most of them were hidden. According to the Post-Gazette, “few of his colleagues knew that he was an accomplished pipe organ player, and fewer still knew he was an avid butterfly collector.”

But hobbies aside, Dr. Dixon’s work was his life. He once said, “My vocation is simply my a-vocation,” and then added, “If you enjoy what you’re doing, I don’t think you have the need to get away.”

— Mila Sanina  

Oakland, circa 1925. Oakland, circa 1930.

April 30, 1949: "Oakland district as viewed from the Post-Gazette helicopter"

Our first reaction upon seeing this image was one of awe. It’s certainly a stunning picture. Then we chuckled as we read the caption: “This unusual view of the Oakland district landmarks was taken from the Post-Gazette helicopter.”

The Post-Gazette helicopter? Hmmm. Earlier generations of photographers had all the fun.

It’s our good fortune the PG took flight on occasion, if only to provide us with this document of life in Oakland in the late 1940s. Automobiles are parked sardine-like in what is now Schenley Plaza,  streetcars mix with automobiles along Forbes Avenue, baseball fans pack Forbes Field and the J&L steel mill roils in the distance. We can’t see the mill because of the smoke, which of course betrays the mill’s presence.

Our files contain several aerial pictures of Oakland. We’re posting three. What struck us about these images is the dramatic change brought about by construction of the 42-story Cathedral of Learning.

In the earliest image, which we suspect was made shortly before Cathedral construction began in 1926, Oakland appears as a collection of stately university buildings encroaching on an area that had only a short time before been mostly rural. The Cathedral would be built on the irregular tract of land in the foreground. In the top left portion of the image, we detect evidence of the construction of Pitt Stadium. 

The third image dates from the late 1920s or early ’30s. The Cathedral is incomplete, but we can begin to see how it will soon come to dominate and define the area. In the distance puff the furnaces of the J&L mill, which straddles the Monongahela River. By 1949, the Cathedral towered in all its gothic glory. Today we view this bold structure as an essential part of our city, but its original design met with great resistance within the community. Many felt it was simply too tall.

Oakland has experienced quite a bit of change since ‘49. Gone are Forbes Field and the mill. The parking lot is a park. Our hope is to some day show you these changes. We’ve requested that the editors of the PG establish a helicopter acquisition fund. We’re awaiting a response.

— Steve Mellon

During the raid, some members hid their faces, others were casual. County employee Howard Wetzal cuts up the club's steel door. For one member, who kept his stogie in hand, the raid seemed like just another social occasion. State police confiscated two slot machines.

April 26, 1941: "Shame at East Liberty’s infamous Bachelors’ Club"

Long before Las Vegas appeared in the Nevada desert or the Rivers Casino opened on the city’s North Side, Pittsburghers flocked to private clubs. That was back in the day when state law required regular bars to close at midnight.

At that hour, the night remained young for politicians, lawyers, doctors and businessmen who gathered at  The Bachelors’ Club, an East Liberty spot in the 6300 block of Penn Avenue. Starting in the 1930s and for roughly 20 years, this smoky, swanky retreat offered choice eats, premium liquor, dancing to the the music of live bands and roulette wheels that ticked faster than department store registers. Dice and poker games continued into the wee hours. Some club rooms were furnished with paneling and decorative objects from the razed East End mansion once occupied by Richard Beatty Mellon. In the 1930s, the club’s annual income was as high as $71,390.

In April of 1941, as a raucous Friday night slid into Saturday morning, the seven-piece orchestra stopped playing. At 1:20 a.m., state police swung sledges and crowbars to batter down the club’s six steel doors at the building’s front and back entrances. 

Inside the club’s second floor rooms, police arrested patrons, including a city police magistrate named Frank T. Halloran, who insisted that he had just dropped in for a cup of coffee and a cheese sandwich. The crowd, newspapers reported, consisted of 40 smartly dressed women and more than 85 well-known men. 

Police took the women’s names, then released them. The men were fingerprinted on site, a process that lasted six hours.

The club had lacked a liquor license since 1939 but that hadn’t stopped the party because booze was given away for free, a violation of state law.  During the 1941 gambling raid, police seized $1,500 worth of choice liquor, bingo equipment, poker chips and two slot machines. 

In February of 1942, the club applied for a new corporate charter, calling itself the EEEE club. That stood for Entertainment, Eating, Ease and Enjoyment. Early in 1943, the German American Musical Club moved from its Jane Street headquarters on the South Side into the Bachelors’ Club spacious club rooms. 

Perhaps there was singing at the bar but gambling, dancing, drinking and smooching continued until some time in the 1950s, when the last call finally came for those wild and crazy bachelors and the club closed.

— Marylynne Pitz 

Cleaning strawberries at the H.J. Heinz Co., 1904. The Heinz baby food filling line, Dec 28, 1956. H.J. Heinz inspects  crops in 1907. The Heinz factory on Aug. 14, 1944. H.J. Heinz Co. in Pittsburgh, 1948.

1904: "Heinz house is brought by boat to Pittsburgh"

What’s the quintessential image of Pittsburgh’s past? Well, for most of the world it’s a picture of massive machinery, angry flames, billowing smoke and, dwarfed by it all, a man — the steelworker.

The news yesterday that Heinz is being sold reminds us, however, that the image could easily be that of a bright and spotless factory, an assembly line of stainless steel and white-capped women — food workers at the H.J. Heinz Co.

Heinz and his company revolutionized the way food was produced and marketed. Heinz gave us “57 varieties” and taught us that food produced in a factory could be not only edible and safe, but tasty. 

The Heinz story begins in the 1850s in Sharpsburg, where H.J. Heinz famously started his career as a boy selling horseradish. After a few decades of success and then a painful bankruptcy, he launched the F. and J. Heinz Co., which was later renamed H.J. Heinz Co.

We found in our files a picture of the house where H.J. Heinz founded his company being floated down the Allegheny River in 1904. The structure was moved from its original location in Sharpsburg to the site of the Heinz factories here in Pittsburgh. Don’t go looking for the house — it’s now at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Mich.

By all accounts, Heinz was a man of great flair and salesmanship. He gave away pickle pins and wore a marvelous set of mutton chops. Folks knew him as the Pickle King, and he was cut from different cloth than other industrial kings of the time, men like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, who often seemed ruthless.

Heinz lobbied for laws to regulate the food industry, and his North Side factory was designed to be a healthy, pleasing place to work. It offered a restaurant, a rooftop garden, a gymnasium, an emergency hospital and self-improvement classes. When it opened in 1898, he offered tours. Thousands visited the facility each year.

The Heinz factory buildings remain, but the company no longer makes products in Pittsburgh. Still, we have the Heinz corporate headquarters, Heinz Field with its ketchup bottle scoreboard, Heinz Hall, Heinz Chapel, the Heinz Endowments and that wonderful old lighted Heinz sign atop the Heinz History Center.

We’re a steel town, certainly, but, man, the pickle is king.

— Steve Mellon

Mary Leonard and her husband Gregg Ramshaw with the Clinton couple Mary Leonard at her Post-Gazette office Mary Leonard and her typewriter

"Mary Leonard retires from the Post-Gazette"

These photographs capture Mary Leonard at three stages of a remarkable career in journalism, from her cub reporter days to her triumphal turn as deputy managing editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mary retires today, but as these pictures show, she has a timeless air to her and the contributions she has made to those she’s covered, edited and mentored have no expiration date. 

Those of a tender age will surely not recognize the implement to Mary’s right in the third photograph. It is an instrument known as a typewriter, and for a century, marvelous stories were produced on it. (Mary will remember that occasionally it was used as a weapon, flung at offending colleagues and occasionally out a newsroom window. There is no evidence Mary did either.)

The main photograph in the center captures Mary in her Boston Globe glory, as deputy bureau chief to a tyrant whose name has thankfully been forgotten by history. He hired Mary to help run the bureau, probably the only achievement to his record. In any case, she won the loyalty and respect of a group of journalists who thought they didn’t need any editing and then came to realize that they couldn’t survive without her light but magical touch.

Finally, she fulfilled her lifetime ambition, gave voice to her inner yinzer and moved to Pittsburgh. The woman who once held the conviction that the computer was the greatest time-waster ever contrived by the human mind became a master and then a missionary for all things digital. Along the way she won the allegiance, friendship and loyalty of scores of colleagues. She will continue serve as a PG consultant. You can still reach her at mleonard@post-gazette.com, but she will not consider it a favor if you call to complain about Cofax.

Mary was one of the early and key advocates for “The Digs,” without her support we wouldn’t be sharing these photographs with our readers.

—Mary’s Fan Club

Steel workers at a Russian boarding house in Homestead. Powerhouse mechanic, location unknown. Breaker boys at a coal mine in South Pittston, PA.

1907: "Women working in a Pittsburgh cigar factory, by Lewis Hine."

We like to think of our city as one of America’s most livable places. It’s clean, it’s safe, and it offers stunning views of itself. The pictures we’re posting today show Pittsburgh and the region when they were something else entirely.  They depict a place that, for many, embodied everything that was wrong with modern industrial society.

The pictures were made by Lewis Hine, who came here in 1907 as part of the Pittsburgh Survey, a massive sociological study of life in a prototypical industrial city. We found these four large Hine prints in a file labeled “Photography.” Years ago the prints were folded so they would fit into an envelope. They bear the scars of this treatment.

Still, the prints speak eloquently of a time when life in industrial towns and cities was difficult and dangerous. Steel workers labored 12 hours a day, seven days a week, with one day off every two weeks. At work, they could be killed or maimed in countless ways. In the Homestead mill, there were no old workers.

Wives of these men raised families in squalid dwellings described in the survey as “unsightly and unsanitary.” The overcrowded wards nearest the mills stunk of industry and outdoor privies. Nearly 40 percent of deaths in Homestead resulted from diseases like pneumonia, tuberculosis, cholera and “convulsions.”

McClure’s Magazine in 1894 described Homestead this way: “Everywhere the yellow mud of the street lay kneaded into a sticky mass, through which groups of pale, lean men slouched in faded garments, grimy with the soot and grease of the mills.”

Hine created photographs that at once documented dehumanizing conditions and preserved his subject’s dignity. Of the four prints we found in our files, two were produced as part of the Pittsburgh Survey. One shows Russian steel workers in Homestead; another depicts women employed in a Pittsburgh cigar factory. An artfully executed photograph of a powerhouse mechanic was made in 1920. The exact site of this picture is unknown, though Hine was working in Pennsylvania at the time, and it’s a scene that could have been found in any large Pittsburgh industrial facility.

Perhaps most moving is the photograph of boys employed at a South Pittston coal mine in 1911. Of the approximately 50 boys in the frame, only three can be described as smiling.

— Steve Mellon

April 26, 1980: Photo by Al Herman, Jr. Jan. 9, 1975: Pittsburgh Press Photo by Michael Chikiris January 10, 1983: Pittsburgh Press Photo by Robert Pavuchak Sept 8, 1980: Pittsburgh Press Photo by Lynn Johnson  Dec. 23 1972: Pittsburgh Press Photo by Michael Chikiris

1970s, 1980s —  ”Steelers Fans high on their football team”

Steelers fans always have been a colorful bunch. 

In 1980, Jerry McNeely, the executive producer of ”Fighting Back,” a made-for-TV movie about Rocky Bleier of the Steelers, admired the passion and zeal of Steelers fans saying, “These people… well, their enthusiasm is something to behold.”  

A Hollywood wardrobe department would have been hard-pressed to recreate the variety of black and gold costumes, tassel caps, scarves, jackets, T-shirts, banners, and the hand-lettered Terrible Towel, as shown in these photographs from the Post-Gazette’s archives from the ’70s and ’80s. 

They wore Franco’s Italian Army helmets, wrote ‘Steelers #1’ on their cars and organized fan clubs: Bradshaw’s Brigade, Lambert’s Lunatics, Gerela’s Gorillas and Shell’s Bombers. They were the first generation of the  Steeler Nation (the name coined in 1975 to refer to the Steelers fan base).

In January 1975, Steelers fan Pat Savage and six of his pals (second photo on the right) followed the team to New Orleans for Super Bowl IX. They didn’t have tickets. Their conveyance was a converted black and gold ‘61 Conestoga. They called themselves ‘The Savage Crew.’

"The van was a moving testament to their heroes. Insignia of helmets, hails and numbers (Bradshaw’s  No. 12 was up front) tattooed the black and gold shell. Inside were curtains, converted seats from a Corvair and Chevy pickup, bedrolls, blankets, mattresses, pretzels, chips and liquid refreshment," The Pittsburgh Press reported. 

In the article Pat Savage confessed: “I’m a fanatic and I admit it. There is no way they’ll lose on Sunday.” And they didn’t. The Steelers won their first Super Bowl defeating the Minnesota Vikings, 16-6.

And although the Steelers didn’t make it to the Super Bowl in 2013, Steelermania lives on. 

— Mila Sanina  

Circa 1930: “Gridlock on the nation’s most expensive road”

Famous American streets include Broadway in New York City, Chicago’s fashionable Michigan Avenue, Nevada’s long strip of casinos on Las Vegas Boulevard and California’s Sunset Boulevard. 

As part of his Pittsburgh Plan of 1911, Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. designed the Boulevard of the Allies. The new roadway linked Downtown with Oakland and was dedicated on Veteran’s Day in 1922. Its name honors the allies who supported the United States in defeating Germany during World War I. 

When it was built during the 1920s, the boulevard was the most expensive road in the history of the world because each mile cost $1.6 million. Pittsburgh Mayor Edward Vose Babcock dismissed warnings about the potential dangers of constructing a highway on a hillside called the Duquesne Bluff.

“It is anchored in the bedrock of the hill and it will be as immutable as the hills themselves, and as permanent,” Mayor Babcock insisted. Time, erosion, weather and progress would conspire to prove him wrong.

At first, Model Ts clogged the boulevard at rush hour. Later, cars with rounder, sleeker bodies flew across Grant Street and up the ramp that still offers a fine view of the Monongahela River and the city’s South Side. 

More than 30 years after Mayor Babcock’s remark, construction of the Parkway East and erosion weakened the road, turning its underbelly into a boulevard of broken rocks. In the mid-1950s, tens of thousands of tons of earth were excavated from the hill’s base so the state could build the Parkway East, located below the boulevard.

On April 27, 1978, an early morning landslide sent 500 cubic yards of shale and sandstone tumbling onto the Parkway East, injuring a motorist. Seven years later, in March of 1985, the state Department of Transportation announced it would spend $2 million to shore up the boulevard’s structural stability. That work was done to prevent more rocks and earth from falling onto the Parkway East. 

Despite the difficulties in maintaining the highway, it still evokes an era suffused with patriotism. Flanking the boulevard at Grant Street are two fluted granite memorial columns topped by American eagles clasping a globe. A figure of Liberty, chiseled into each pedestal, is surrounded by flags, eagle wings, the oak, the laurel and the eternal flame. Frank Vittor, a prolific local sculptor, created the columns.

To see how the boulevard has changed, go to the PG’s Pittsburgh Then and Now page. And you can examine details of the boulevard in its early days at our Zoom page.

— Marylynne Pitz 

Lindbergh was treated to a ticker-tape parade on Smithfield Street. Lindbergh emerges from the William Penn Hotel. A crowd of 900 attended a banquet honoring Lindbergh at the Grand Ballroom. Newspaper clipping from the day after Lindbergh's visit.

Aug. 3, 1927: "City Welcomes ‘Greatest of All Flying Men’"

Quite often we find only fragments of history in the Post-Gazette photo library. Such is the case with the file titled, “Lindbergh, Charles: visit to Pittsburgh, 1927.” The file contains a number of images and clippings, nearly all of which have been cut, folded, broken, heavily airbrushed or damaged by age. What remains are items that read like epic novels with missing chapters.

Both the Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Press gave extensive coverage to the famous pilot’s visit. “Lindy,” as the press called him, was honored before a packed crowd at Pitt Stadium. Prints from that event are missing from our files. A stunning picture of Lindbergh’s plane the “Spirit of St. Louis” surrounded by thousands of people at McKeesport’s Bettis Field was published on the Press front page, but we had no luck finding the original print.

In the surviving photographs, we see glimpses of a city and a man coming of age. During a ticker-tape parade, people stand 12 deep along Smithfield Street. Lindbergh, young and handsome and brimming with calm confidence, emerges from the William Penn Hotel. And 900 of the city’s most important and powerful people gather at the hotel’s Grand  Ballroom for a banquet to honor Lindbergh. We found a yellowed clipping of this event, but only half of the original print survives.

At the time of Lindbergh’s visit, Pittsburgh’s population was approximately 600,000, ranking it as one of America’s 10 largest cities, and its industrial strength was known throughout the world. Certainly it was a place fit for a visit from an aviator who’d emerged from nowhere to become one of the world’s most admired people.

When Lindbergh visited Pittsburgh he was much like the city — full of youth and dreams and potential. He had secured his place in history with a non-stop solo flight across the Atlantic. Tragedy would soon stalk him. On his own, he would find controversy, though he remains an aviation icon. The city he visited would grow in industrial strength, help win wars, then suffer painful decline before embracing a new identity. A lifetime after the man and the city met, we have only fragments to remind us of what both had been on that day.

— Steve Mellon

The Andrews Sisters in the Broadway debut of Maxene Andrews, the middle sister (The Pittsburgh Press) From top: LaVerne, Patty and Maxene in London (UPI photo)

1940s: The Andrews Sisters — America’s favorite singing sisters

The Andrews Sisters were one of the most successful female recording groups in pop music history. To many members of the World War II generation they were the Beatles of their day. 

America loved the Andrews Sisters. The trio topped the box offices and received enthusiastic reviews wherever they went. In early 1940s they became the most profitable entertainers in the U.S., earning $20,000 a week. The Voice of America said that the Andrews Sisters were “the most listened women in history.” 

Their secret? As one music reviewer of that time put it, “The Andrews Sisters have perfectly blended voices for the 1941 pop songs, and are mistresses of rhythm without equal among the gal trios.” 

In July 1941, Pittsburghers were very excited about the female trio performing at Stanley Theatre (now the Benedum Center), according to a book titled “The Andrews Sisters: A Biography and Career Record.” “At Pittsburgh’s Stanley Theatre with Gene Krupa, they scored the second largest box in theatre’s history. The manager announced the theatre was ‘rolling again’ after the sisters’ engagement and was so grateful that he gave then an additional $500 and booked them for a return at $500 more than their usual fee.” In 1941 alone, the famous sisters visited Pittsburgh three times.

For 14 years, starting in 1938, the Andrews Sisters topped the music charts. Patti, Maxene and LaVerne Andrews in the course of their singing career had 19 gold records, appeared in 18 Hollywood films, were regulars on radio and had record sales of nearly $100 million. They worked together with the biggest names of their time: Bing Crosby, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Joe Venuti, Woody Herman, Al Jolson, Nat “King” Cole, Carmen Miranda and Groucho Marx.

Their voices boosted morale in the Army during World War II as the sisters volunteered their time singing and dancing for servicemen overseas. Three generations of GIs listened to the Andrews Sisters as every jukebox in Army base had records of the trio: “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else but Me),” and many others.

The musical style of the trio was diverse and innovative: swing, boogie-woogie, romantic ballads, jazz, western, blues, folk songs, polka and others. (Pennsylvanians may especially appreciate the Andrews Sisters’ rendition of the “Pennsylvania Polka”). 

The Andrews Sisters sang together since childhood. They gained popularity in 1938 and performed until the breakup of the group in 1951. LaVerne, the oldest sister, died of cancer in 1967. Maxene and Patty embarked on solo careers. They reunited in 1974 for a Broadway show “Over Here!” The middle sister Maxene stayed active in the entertainment industry until her death in 1995. The last of Andrews Sisters, Patty, who was the youngest of the three and sang lead, died last week. She was 94.

It’s hard to fully grasp the popularity of the Andrews Sisters unless one lived during that era.  In his book “The Andrews Sisters: A Biography and Career Record” Arlo Nimmo writes: “They began as a singing act but soon became an entertainment and many reviewers noted that if you’d only heard the Andrews Sisters on record, you had no understanding of them as entertainers. They sang, joked, and mugged their way into the hearts of America. The Andrews Sisters were one of America’s images of family, an image that was especially cherished during the dark days of World War II.”

— Mila Sanina

Robert Kramer: I remember they sang at Stanley during the War Bond Drive during the War years.

Dec. 3, 1934: "Helen Richey is the first woman to gain a seat in the cockpit of an airliner."
 

Helen Richey was 20 years old when she learned how to fly an airplane. The McKeesport native finished training in 1929 at the Pittsburgh School of Aeronautics, located at Bettis Field in West Mifflin. Barely 5 feet tall, Ms. Richey had a winning smile and a competitive spirit. She set records for speed and endurance after becoming the first woman in Allegheny County to earn a pilot’s license. 

The youngest of six children, she grew up on Jenny Lind Street in McKeesport, where her father, Joseph B. Richey, served as superintendent of schools. In 1931, he presented her with a four-passenger Bird plane. Her first paying job was working as a stunt pilot at the Johnsonburg Airport.

One of her finest hours came in 1933, when she joined pilot Frances Harrell Marsalis to set a women’s flight endurance record by remaining aloft for nine days, 21 hours and 50 minutes. They took off Dec. 20th and landed on Dec. 30. On the third day of the journey, after a refueling hose ripped a hole in the plane’s fabric, Helen crawled out on the wing with a needle and thread and calmly sewed up the tear. 

In 1934, Ms. Richey won the premier air race at the National Air Meet for women, held in Dayton, Ohio. That same year, she became the first woman commercial pilot when Greensburg-based Central Airlines hired her. She flew the Washington, D.C., to Detroit route, which meant crossing the Allegheny Mountains. 

Her hiring angered the all-male pilots’ union. Because of the controversy, the airline sent her on fewer than a dozen trips in eight months. She was refused membership in the union and resigned from her airline job in 1935. One of the few women in the world to rate an air instructor’s license, she trained U.S. Air Force pilots. In 1939, Ms. Richey joined Amelia Earhart as co-pilot in her Lockheed aircraft for the Bendix cross-country race. The duo finished fifth. To help American allies during World War II, Ms. Richey served with Britain’s Air Transport Auxiliary, a service that ferried Spitfires, Hurricanes and bombers all over Great Britain, from factories to Royal Air Force bases to aerodromes. She achieved the rank of major in the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), where she ferried planes and towed anti-aircraft targets for the U.S. Air Force.

One of her good friends was Ernie Pyle, a famous World War II correspondent who devoted two columns to her. He described her this way: “She loves people, especially screwballs, and has her best time wandering around London, falling in with strangers and winding up in odd eating places with various brands of foreigners who tell wild and mysterious tales. … She loves airplanes and big cities and hates stuffy people. She is gay-hearted and level-headed and I’ve never heard of anybody who didn’t like her.”

After the war, she tried to find a job as a pilot in New York City, but available work was offered to male aviators who had returned home. Ms. Richey took her own life on Jan. 7, 1947, when she swallowed a vial of sleeping pills. She was 37.

To learn more about Helen Richey, visit the McKeesport Heritage Center, 1832 Arboretum Drive, McKeesport. The museum is located next to Renzie Park and is open Tuesdays through Thursdays and Saturdays. Or, visit the organization’s website at www.mckeesportheritage.org.

A B-25 bomber like this made an emergency landing in the Monongahela River in 1956. The Post-Gazette front page on the day after the incident. A boat searches for the bomber one day after the crash. The circle indicates where authorities believed the plane had sunk.

Jan. 31, 1956:  "The Mystery of Pittsburgh’s Missing Bomber"

If you’ve lived in Pittsburgh more than a week, you’ve no doubt heard about the “missing bomber” — the B-25 that crashed into the Monongahela River late on a cold winter afternoon in 1956. When it was suggested to us at the Digs a few months ago that we search our files for pictures from the event, we were intrigued. Perhaps we’d discover some long-forgotten images and uncover clues. Perhaps we would solve Pittsburgh’s most enduring mystery.

Very quickly, we found notes indicating the existence of a photo file called “Monongahela River — B-25 plane crash, January 31, 1956.” We dug into the archive. For days we searched, looking in every conceivable category: Monongahela River, plane crashes, planes, bombers, lost bombers, rivers, aviation. We searched for files containing the names of the crew members and those who helped in the rescue and recovery operations.

We found nothing.

Like the plane itself, the file containing news pictures of the event had disappeared. Those of us on the Digs team looked at each other uneasily. Perhaps the file was clandestinely carried away in the dead of night and is now secured in a locked cabinet at a top-secret military location.

It was a fun thought. Most likely, the file was simply misplaced or lost. Unfortunately, our efforts to shed light on the missing bomber episode resulted only in a deepening of a decades-old mystery.

That’s OK. Like all Pittsburghers, we get a kick out of telling the story and trading theories about what happened to the plane. But we cannot forget the tragedy of the event — two crew members drowned before they could be rescued.

The B-25 was enroute from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada to Olmsted Air Force Base near Harrisburg. Over Western Pennsylvania the plane inexplicably ran out of fuel. Pilot Maj. William Dotson executed an emergency landing in the Monongahela River just past the Homestead High Level Bridge.

All six crew members survived the landing. Four were rescued. The bodies of the other two were found in the days after the crash. For two weeks, authorities tried unsuccessfully to locate the B-25, which had sunk somewhere near Beck’s Run. The bomber seemed to have vanished without a trace.

What could have happened to the aircraft? Several theories are floating around. Some make sense; some are bizarre. If you want to learn more, check out the video we produced. You’ll find it on the blog post above this one. It depicts the crash, using some pretty cool animation.

And as for the picture file, we’ll continue searching — and speculating. Hmmmm. We’re thinking “Area 51.”

— Steve Mellon

The Island Queen ablaze The Pittsburgh Press edition on Sept. 10th, 1947 Explosion flames and smoke drew thousands to Island Queen's Death. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette front-page with a story about the Island Queen tragedy

1947: "Tragic explosion on excursion steamer Island Queen"

It was the first and one of the worst river disasters in the history of the Pittsburgh Port. Nineteen people died and 18 were injured as a result of an explosion aboard a huge and lavish excursion boat — the Island Queen. 

In 1947, the Island Queen was considered one of the largest excursion steamers in the United States and the largest river pleasure boat in the world. It was built at Midland, Pa., in 1924 and completed in Cincinnati in 1925. The estimated half-million-dollar excursion steamer was 286 feet by 45.6 feet and had accommodations for 4,000 passengers. 

On Sept. 9th, 1947, the day of its tragic end, the Island Queen — a luxury boat with a huge dance floor and dazzling interior design — was in Pittsburgh during its 10-day excursion tour. It had a scenic tour scheduled for 9 p.m. Tuesday. There were no passengers aboard that afternoon when the blast shook the boat, but about 40 crew members were aboard preparing for the regularly scheduled trip later that day.

According to the Post-Gazette, the blast occurred at 1:16 p.m. and was followed by a roaring fire with with flames shooting 200 feet or more into the air. Bodies were thrown by the force of the blast, then dropped more than 30 feet away into the Monongahela River. At 1:20 p.m., less than five minutes after the explosion, the structure of the boat began to crumble. The five-deck boat was completely enveloped by flames and smoke; fire was raging inside and all around the boat. Onlookers gathered ashore to witness in horror as the tragedy unfolded. They could see and hear as the boat was being scorched by fire with members of the crew on board. Fifteen of the crew members were believed asleep aboard the vessel during the blast.  

The entire Downtown was shaken by the force of the explosion, which was described by some near the scene as a single blast, by others as two almost simultaneous blasts and by still others as a continuous rumble lasting several seconds and sounding as though it was made up of a series of five or six explosions following each other in quick succession. 

The devastating force of the blast knocked several people to the ground on nearby streets. One of them, the Post-Gazette reported, was Joseph Miller, manager of the Union Bus Terminal, who was standing in the terminal yards when the blast occurred. “I picked myself up and at first I could not figure what happened,” he said. “It was as if an atomic bomb had gone off. Then I saw the boat burning and ran across First Avenue and notified the fire department.”

The big boat “was a blazing inferno within seconds after the explosion.” According to the Post-Gazette, the boat turned into a mass of flames very quickly and it became clear that very few would have a chance to escape. “After burning for two hours, the once charred and blackened hulk of the once proud steamer sank in the Monongahela.”

The explosion created traffic hazards: the blast drew thousands to the scene. People were rushing across the streets toward the river and motorists were driving to get a close-up view. “So great was the crowd on the Smithfield Street Bridge that police were forced to clear it, fearing the additional weight might cause it to collapse, Post-Gazette reported. “As the crowds ran along Smithfield, Wood and Market streets toward the river, they found the sidewalks in many places littered with glass.” Thousands of workers and shoppers hurried toward the Monongahela Wharf in the Golden Triangle to view the wreckage of the excursion boat Island Queen. They waded through water from fire hoses and crowded onto the outer sidewalk of Water Street Boulevard. Many of the spectators had been on the ship during its stay in Pittsburgh, and many others were planning scenic trips on the river in the floating palace.

The blast was so powerful that it shattered windows of store and office buildings in the “concussion-rocked” Monongahela waterfront area; authorities had to establish a strict guard to prevent looting that night. Many automobiles in the city parking lot on the wharf below Smithfield Street were damaged as well, including the eleven that were so badly damaged and scorched that they could not have been driven away and had to be towed to a City of Pittsburgh garage. 

A follow up investigation concluded that the explosion on the Queen Island was caused by sparks from welding work being done that set the boat ablaze. The monetary loss of that tragedy was estimated at $1,000,000.

— Mila Sanina

Dec. 30, 1993: On her last day in office, Mayor Sophie Masloff confers with Mayor-elect Tom Murphy. (Photo by John Beale, Post-Gazette) Murphy served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1979-93. The Post-Gazette announced Murphy's election to mayor. In 1998, Murphy and Bob Cranmer, then county commissioner, discuss legislation to fund stadium construction. (Photo by Steve Mellon) At a rally in 1999, Murphy spoke with Dr. Cyril Wecht, then a candidate for county executive. At left is AFL-CIO President John Sweeney; at right, former U.S. Rep. Ron Klink. (Photo by Bob Donaldson)

1990s: "Former Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy and his accomplishments"

Tom Murphy’s activism on Pittsburgh’s historic North Side propelled him to serve in the state Legislature from 1979 through 1993. On Dec. 30, 1993, he conferred with Mayor Sophie Masloff in City Hall and power transferred quietly. 

A month earlier, the 49-year-old legislator had hoisted his 2-year-old son, T.J., into the air after learning he had won election to the mayor’s office, a post he held for three consecutive four-year terms.  A picture of that scene appeared on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s front page on Nov. 3, 1993. The victory was especially sweet because an earlier campaign in 1989 ended in failure.

As mayor from January 1994 until January 2006, Mr. Murphy was highly visible and hard working. He was often seen running on riverfront trails or in Point State Park. As the city’s 56th mayor, he was passionate about improving neighborhoods and making Downtown more vibrant even if, at times, he could be a bit prickly. 

To a large degree, he succeeded in transforming Pittsburgh. Mr. Murphy’s zeal for improving the city’s rivers led to the creation of more than 25 miles of riverfront trails. Public-private partnerships transformed blighted industrial land into residential or retail spaces. One example is Nine Mile Run, a former slag heap that became Summerset at Frick Park, a residential community. 

Other major achievements during Mr. Murphy’s administration include construction of PNC Park, Heinz Field and the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which was the largest certified green building in the nation when it opened in September 2003. 

Mayor Murphy’s plan to raze Downtown buildings on Forbes and Fifth avenues to attract a Nordstrom department store and Planet Hollywood ran smack into ardent opposition from preservationists. The department store chain, Lazarus, came and went from a Downtown building that is now condominiums. To the horror of preservationists, the Mellon Bank Building became a home for Lord & Taylor. The department store chain had a brief run before leaving town.   

As 2012 drew to a close, the former mayor made a rare appearance in City Council chambers. He told civic leaders that a Strip District project proposed by the Buncher Co. falls well short of Pittsburgh’s world-class standards for riverfront development. Buncher has backed away from seeking tax increment financing from the city.

Since 2006, Mr. Murphy has been a senior fellow with the Urban Land Institute in Washington, D.C.

— Marylynne Pitz

Nathan R. Shrader: "A terrific mayor who refused to wave the white flag of surrender. The efforts he made to revitalize and renew Pittsburgh’s economy for the future have helped make Pittsburgh the livable, increasingly vibrant place that it is today."