(Photo by Morris Berman/Post-Gazette) (Photo by Morris Berman/Post-Gazette) Oct. 24, 1975: Pittsburgh Symphony chief flutist Bernard Goldberg plays on the picket line outside Heinz Hall. (Morris Berman/Post-Gazette) (Photo by Morris Berman/Post-Gazette) (Photo by Morris Berman/Post-Gazette)

September 1975: Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra strike

Labor strife has plagued orchestras and opera companies across the country in recent years, but a Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians’ strike in 1975 illustrates that such issues have long affected classical music organizations.

On Sept. 29, 1975, the 104 orchestra members went on strike for 46 days after an extension on their contract had expired.

They’d passed on a proposed $90 weekly salary increase over three years, claiming that additional work would account for almost half of that raise.

Local 60-471 of the American Federation of Musicians picketed outside Heinz Hall. The work stoppage affected not only PSO concerts, but also Pittsburgh Ballet Theater shows and Pittsburgh Opera performances in which the musicians also performed. The negotiations required the intervention of a state mediator, The Pittsburgh Press reported.

“It’s too bad we had to go out (and strike),” said union president Herbert Osgood, “but we want to make Pittsburgh the absolute tops in the symphony world.”

Eventually, the musicians and the Pittsburgh Symphony Society agreed to a new contract, which included a gradual, three-year increase in weekly base salary, from $305 to $400 (between $1,350 and $1,800 in 2014 dollars).

It remains the only strike in PSO history.

Liz Bloom

Anonymous asked: How can we get in contact with you?

You may email socialmedia@post-gazette.com with questions about “The Digs.”

Undated photo: A first aid class at the Pittsburgh Experiment Station training for mine rescue operations. (Handout/U.S. Bureau of Mines) February 1948: An overhead view of the $3.5 million Bureau of Mines plant that attempted to turn coal into synthetic gasoline. (The Pittsburgh Press) 1924: A Bureau of Mines rescue team prepares to drive 60 miles to Bellaire, Ohio, to assist in a mine disaster that killed 119. (The Pittsburgh Press) Undated: A gallery assembles to watch explosives testing. The Bureau of Mines wanted to determine safe usage for explosives in mines. (Handout/Bureau of Mines) Oct. 10, 1954: Mine safety inspectors enter the experimental facility at the Bureau of Mines. (The Pittsburgh Press) Undated: And on another occasion, a training group exits the experimental mine. (Handout/U.S. Bureau of Mines) 1985: At the 75-year anniversary of the Bureau of Mines, employees Kenneth Sacks and Nick Melucci talk about its progress in national mine safety. (Ross Catanza/The Pittsburgh Press) 1987: Bureau of Mines employees Jack Shubilla and Wayne Duerr model new and old (left to right) mine respirators. Shubilla's model held an hour of oxygen. (Robert J. Pavuchak/The Pittsburgh Press)

Glimpses from the Bureau of Mines’ history

Western Pennsylvania and surrounding Appalachia will forever be linked with a legacy of mining.

It has historically been one of the region’s most dangerous occupations, and also one of the most necessary to modern society.

Coal made industrial development possible, and it also likely powers the computer on which you’re reading this story. Today, mining tragedies have decreased from the period in the early 1900s when nine men per day were dying in mines.

That improvement is due to technological advances, some of which were developed at a facility in Bruceton, Pa., just outside Pittsburgh.

The Bureau of Mines made the suburb and a 38-acre site its headquarters in 1910, and it built an experimental underground facility to try to learn more about the science of mining. Ultimately, the employees there needed to devise new ways to stop mining deaths.

"The Experimental Mine was designed to serve the combined purposes of real world field test station, and theoretical science laboratory," wrote Tom Imerito, president of Science Communications.

There was also a Pittsburgh Experiment Station of the Bureau of Mines on Forbes Avenue. That’s the setting for the first aid drill in the first image.

As for why that gentleman is on a stationary bike, your guess is as good as ours.

Ethan Magoc

February 8, 1978: A 1978 map shows corridors in North Hills where UFO sightings are most frequent. October 11, 1980: Jane Allyson - the woman who claims to have had communication with a man from the sun - at a UFO Convention at the YMCA in Downtown Pittsburgh. October 7, 1980: Elgar Brom shows scroll and blue dust she claims she received during a close encounter with aliens from outer space. June 30, 1987: Paul Johnson, the director of the PA Center for UFO Research, holds solution used in machine to test soil from UFO landing site.

1978: UFO sightings

Photographs aren’t the only items enclosed in the Post-Gazette’s archived folder labeled “Unidentified Flying Objects.”

Hundreds of tiny rocks lay at the bottom of this manilla folder, their origins unknown.

Maybe they’re space rocks. After all, Pittsburgh has a history of supposed “out of this world” encounters.

While all of the encounters produced different descriptions of aliens, spacecrafts, and even kidnappings, each reporter had one thing in common: all were positive that what they saw was real and (truly) out of this world.

Some reports remain more believable than others. Take Jane Allyson - a visiting New York UFO lecturer - for example, who claimed that she kept in contact with Cytron, a leather-skinned man who lives on the sun. Cytron, she reported in the 1980, could predict future events for planet earth such as global warming and warned about the dangers of nuclear devices. Allyson claimed that Cytron was right in his predictions “about 90 percent of the time.”

And then there were those with tangible proof of outer space visits. Elgar Brom of McKeesport reported in 1980 that “very tall, cinnamon-skinned humanoids from beyond Jupiter” made contact with her 42 times in the span of six years and left behind “blue dust” and undecipherable scroll.

Even “down-to-earth” types were questioned and absolutely swore by their stories. In 1968 a World War II veteran described a spacecraft swooping over a parking area in the middle of the night near his home in Carnegie. In response, he was mocked with questions such as, “Did the little green men wave back at you?” and “Where can I get some of that LSD?”

Both Allyson and Brom shared their stories at the First North American UFO & Space Expo at the Downtown YMCA. Pittsburgh was host to several major UFO conferences, lectures, and organizations in the 1970s and 1980s aimed at better understanding outer space encounters happening in both in the area and throughout the country.

Local scientist Stanton T. Friedman founded the downtown-based UFO Research Institute of Pittsburgh in 1968. The institute, which had more than 120 members in its inaugural year, served the purpose of researching any UFO sightings in the area, and challenged claims against studies that questioned the reality of UFOs.

Another Pittsburgh-based organization was the Westmoreland UFO Study Group, founded in 1970. It later expanded to the Pennsylvania Center for UFO Research, but was best known in the Pittsburgh area for its investigation surrounding both UFO and Bigfoot sightings around 1973.

Looking at the National UFO Reporting Center index (http://bit.ly/Xlis9h), UFOs continue to be reported on a daily basis in and around Pittsburgh to this day. In fact, there have been 65 reported UFO sightings in July 2014 in Western Pennsylvania.

However, just as reporting remains constant, speculation does as well.

—Emily Kaplan

Post-Gazette photo Mary Pat Donegan, president of Wild Sisters, a bar and bistro on the South Side, does some carpentry for the stage in July of 1982. (Mark Murphy/Post-Gazette) Lee Grice, left and Eileen Hall talked while plastering the ceiling at Wild Sisters, a bar and restaurant that opened on the South Side in 1982. (Mark Murphy/Post-Gazette) On Nov. 17, 1985, women gathered for a meeting at Wild Sisters, where they learned that a decision had been made to close the bar and restaurant. (Darrell Sapp/Post-Gazette) Cindi Carbine, treasurer of a South Side bar and bistro called Wild Sisters, outside the building located at 27th and Jane streets. (Post-Gazette photo)

1982: Pittsburgh’s first feminist bar, bistro and cabaret

Pittsburgh residents have always had a thirst for ale, good coffee and strong spirits.

James O’Hara, one of the city’s early settlers, was a successful businessman and real estate investor who, by 1803, was operating the Point Brewery on land now occupied by Point State Park.

In 1969, gay men and lesbians rioted outside the Stonewall inn in New York’s Greenwich Village. The women’s rights movement was in full flower and by the spring of 1975, local feminists wanted a place where women’s art could be seen and their voices heard.

So, they organized the Wild Sisters Coffeehouse to provide a performance venue that would showcase women artists, poets and musicians. Among the 15 founders were Dana Ventriglia, a trained carpenter, local lawyer Ann Begler and Felice Newman, then a University of Pittsburgh student and published poet. The coffeehouses were staged in various locations, including the Chatham College Chapel.

By July of 1982, the dedicated, determined women had raised nearly $55,000, enough to buy a liquor license and a South Side building located at 2700 Jane Street. The women invested lots of sweat equity by painting, sanding and plastering their new property.  Interior designer Janice Lott did the floor plan for the new establishment. Wild Sisters,  the first feminist bar, cabaret and restaurant in Pittsburgh, opened in 1982 .

Mary Pat Donegan, a psychotherapist, was president.

"When we first started, we put one ad in the newspapers — ‘Women Artists Wanted’ — and since that time we’ve been flooded by requests," Ms. Donegan told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in a 1982 interview.

Wild Sisters welcomed women and men. Patrons could get a drink, a bowl of soup, a piece of quiche or a sandwich and listen to music. The venue opened long before the letters LGBT entered the daily vernacular of American language.

John G. Craig Jr., the late editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, mentioned Wild Sisters in a column he wrote on July 27, 1985.

He called it “a South Side bistro with a sympathy for a liberated clientele.”

Wild Sisters closed in 1985 and became Bloomer’s, a bar, music venue and space for women’s art.  Next, the building hosted two Italian restaurants and a Mexican taqueria. Today, it is home to the Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community.

— Marylynne Pitz

Top picture: Interior of Wild Sisters, a restaurant and bar for women located on the South Side at 27th and Jane streets. (Post-Gazette photo)

The victim: Julia Fesko, 22. (Photo credit unknown) Relatives of Julia Fesko wept after identifying the body. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Mary Yocobet was stunned to learn her daughter was still alive. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Murder suspect Frank Ringler in a police mug shot. Frank Ringler recreated the murder for a police camera, then recanted his confession (Pittsburgh Press photo) Betty Jane Yocobet. She was alive, after all. (Photo credit unknown)

August 1947: One murder, one body, two identities

Family members were attending a wake for 14-year-old Betty Jane Yokobet when reporters burst in and told them there had been a terrible mistake. The body lying on a cold slab at the Allegheny County Morgue was not their beloved Betty Jane, but a 22-year-old woman named Julia Fesko.

Mr. and Mrs. Yocobet immediately rejoiced and offered prayers of thanks. Suddenly there was hope for their daughter, missing 10 days.

Meanwhile, the Fesko family huddled together in mourning at the morgue and wondered how poor Julia, who went to church every Sunday and “didn’t go out much with boys” ended up with a .32 caliber bullet in her head. Her nude, battered body had been found five feet from a lonely “Lover’s Lane” in Versailles Township.

Julia was a factory girl who lived in McKeesport. After her shift at the Westinghouse Airbrake on Friday night, Aug. 29, 1947, she bought a train ticket to Johnstown so she could visit her sister the next day.

She never showed up in Johnstown and her family became concerned — especially after reading newspaper descriptions of the body found in Versailles Township. It was that of a “chunky” young lady with dark hair, weighing 160 pounds.

Julia’s family arrived at the morgue minutes before the body was to be removed for burial. Members of the Yocobet family had earlier signed statements swearing that the corpse belonged to their daughter, but authorities figured it wouldn’t hurt to allow Julia’s family to take a peek.

Recognizing the disfigured face proved difficult. Then the coroner displayed rings found on the body’s fingers and the family members burst into tears. To make certain of the identity, investigators summoned Julia’s dentist, who recognized his dental work.

Julia’s murder and the subsequent mix-up were front-page news. Detectives scrambled to solve the now high-profile case and, in the next several months, interviewed more than 150 people. They investigated Julia’s private life and were surprised to learn of her “amazing trail of romantic interludes,” reported The Pittsburgh Press. Shockingly, the newspaper wrote in gasping tones, Julia had “at least 10 male friends. Several were married.”

Police questioned several suspects: a truck driver, a Westmoreland County farmer, a few of her co-workers at Westinghouse. Nothing panned out.

In June 1948, detectives got a big break. An Army deserter and car thief named Frank Ringler confessed to the killing.

Ringler agreed to travel to the crime scene and recreate the murder for a police photographer’s movie camera. A secretary from the district attorney’s office played the role of Julia.

Police gave Ringler a .32 revolver. The suspect then mugged for the camera and put his arm around the secretary. “Apparently enjoying his antics,” a newspaper reported, Ringler then climbed into the back seat with the secretary and described how he pawed his victim, shot her behind the left ear, stripped her and dumped the body.

Near the bizarre re-creation’s end, however, Ringler suddenly recanted. He didn’t kill Julia after all.

Why’d you confess, then? police asked.

“Because I wanted to,” Ringler replied.

He was promptly sent to Western Penitentiary to serve time for armed robbery, auto theft and morals violations.

Months passed, then years. Each Labor Day, Pittsburgh newspapers published short stories reminding readers that the case remained unsolved. Those stories disappeared in the early 1950s.

And what happened to Betty Jane Yocobet? In early October, more than a month after the murder, she wrote to her family that she was alive and happy and living in Hood River, Ore. She planned to marry a merchant seaman named Al — as soon as he returned from a voyage to Rio.

“Mom, I seen all the clippings about me,” she wrote. “I think it is silly of them to think of me as shot.”

Steve Mellon

Top photo: Family members identify the body of Julia Fesko. (Pittsburgh Press photo)

Feb. 1, 1971: Susan OLeary and Charlie the swan went dancing at the Pittsburgh Zoo when it was four below zero. Why? Your guess is as good as ours. (Edwin Morgan/The Pittsburgh Press) Sept. 12, 1976: Alexander Filipov and Kaleria Fedicheva preparing for Maria Sabinaon on a Downtown street. (Kent Badger/The Pittsburgh Press) Aug. 23, 1977: Jo Ann McCarthy and Dennis Poole as Romeo and Juliet on a balcony in Downtown Pittsburgh. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) Aug. 23, 1990: PBT members were invited to Three Rivers Stadium for batting practice. While there, they worked on an unorthodox pitching leg kick delivery. (Melissa Farlow/The Pittsburgh Press) July 31, 1985: PBT performing Raymonda Variations in PPG Place. (Dave Breen/The Pittsburgh Press)

1970s: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre takes to the streets

Not much to say about these photos, except that we’re glad they exist.

The first — Andy Starnes’ 1975 Pittsburgh Press capture of a Grandview Park performance against the skyline — is simply magnificent.

In digitizing the Post-Gazette’s photo library, we came across the massive (nearly a foot thick) file of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre images. A majority are all too bland and similar: indoor theater performances or rehearsals in studios lined with railings.

Not all that exciting when you realize there are upwards of 500 of these.

But these six stood out because of the settings.

Unfortunately, the outdoor ventures seemed to tail off after the 1970s.

Ethan Magoc

(Editor’s note: The goose in the second image was enhanced during a time when photojournalists did not have as strong a code of ethics as today. Charlie’s feathers were painted on a little too thick.)

1974: Many moons later, Harris’ autograph remains in tact

At age 7, Mike Thuransky had the pleasure of meeting and getting the signature of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris. 

“I still have the autograph,” he said.

The picture was taken 40 years ago. Plenty has changed since Harris propped his brief case up on his knee and took a pen to paper for a young fan back in December 1974.

The 1970s Steelers, the NFL’s powerhouse team of that decade, were on their way back to the Steel City after claiming their second AFC Central Division title in three years. They downed the New England Patriots, 21-17, and Harris scored the game’s first touchdown en route to running for 136 yards.

“I knew the Steelers were going to be there [in the airport],” he said. “I was also there because my mother was getting off a flight, so our grandmother had us there.”

Thuransky is a life-long Steelers’ fan. His birthday, Jan. 21, arrived each year just as the dominant ’70s Steelers seemed to be contending for a Super Bowl. In fact, the franchise claimed its third Super Bowl on Jan. 21, 1979, Thuransky’s 12th birthday.

With an image of a helmeted Harris catching the Immaculate Reception in most fans’ minds, seeing him in street clothes seemed so bizarre to a young Thuransky.

“You know I always saw him as a football player,” he said. “I saw him with a brief case and I was awe struck, I was like, ‘What’s he doing in those clothes?”

Thuransky said Harris was more than willing to sign an autograph for him and his brother. Mike, however, was the one captured by Pittsburgh Press photographer Anthony Kaminski.
He still has that autograph, but he’s been trying for several years to get another from Harris.
“I have multiple pictures of the picture from the article,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get Franco to sign the picture of him signing the autograph for me.”
— Ryan Petrovich

1974: Many moons later, Harris’ autograph remains in tact

At age 7, Mike Thuransky had the pleasure of meeting and getting the signature of Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris. 

“I still have the autograph,” he said.

The picture was taken 40 years ago. Plenty has changed since Harris propped his brief case up on his knee and took a pen to paper for a young fan back in December 1974.

The 1970s Steelers, the NFL’s powerhouse team of that decade, were on their way back to the Steel City after claiming their second AFC Central Division title in three years. They downed the New England Patriots, 21-17, and Harris scored the game’s first touchdown en route to running for 136 yards.

“I knew the Steelers were going to be there [in the airport],” he said. “I was also there because my mother was getting off a flight, so our grandmother had us there.”

Thuransky is a life-long Steelers’ fan. His birthday, Jan. 21, arrived each year just as the dominant ’70s Steelers seemed to be contending for a Super Bowl. In fact, the franchise claimed its third Super Bowl on Jan. 21, 1979, Thuransky’s 12th birthday.

With an image of a helmeted Harris catching the Immaculate Reception in most fans’ minds, seeing him in street clothes seemed so bizarre to a young Thuransky.

“You know I always saw him as a football player,” he said. “I saw him with a brief case and I was awe struck, I was like, ‘What’s he doing in those clothes?”

Thuransky said Harris was more than willing to sign an autograph for him and his brother. Mike, however, was the one captured by Pittsburgh Press photographer Anthony Kaminski.

He still has that autograph, but he’s been trying for several years to get another from Harris.

“I have multiple pictures of the picture from the article,” he said. “I’ve been trying to get Franco to sign the picture of him signing the autograph for me.

Ryan Petrovich

July 14, 1940: A Public Works Administration project in the Lincoln Ave. District. (The Pittsburgh Press) Sept. 12, 1953: A new water tank in West Mifflin, filled with 7.5 million gallons. (The Pittsburgh Press) Sept. 26, 1962: This Florence, Ky., tower was fabricated and erected by Pittsburgh-Des Moines Steel Co. and was the first of its kind — a 100-foot-high Hydro Pillar. (The Pittsburgh Press) Aug. 31, 1969: A 20-story water tower used to serve a Westinghouse nuclear reactor in Westmoreland County became expendable after just 11 years. (The Pittsburgh Press) And so... ...it came... ...down. (The Pittsburgh Press) Jan. 27, 1966: Industrial designers Peter Muller-Munk Associates drew this concept of the elevated steel water tank of the future. (Credit: Handout)

1940: Water towers of all shapes and sizes

After our unexpected and tedious aquatic encounter last week at “The Digs,” you might think we would never want to write about water again.

You would be wrong.

We stumbled across a folder in the archive labeled “Water tanks & towers,” which contains about a century of Pittsburgh water storage history.

Not interesting on its face, perhaps, but the variations do tell a few stories.

There was, for example, the Public Works Administration storage tank in the Lincoln Avenue District — near Bellevue — that The Pittsburgh Press featured in 1940. The newspaper decided to check in that year on PWA projects in Pennsylvania, which totaled $309 million — $61.6 of which were in Allegheny County.

That shiny tank, which looks something like a kitchen flour container, cost $3 million to build in the 1930s.

A similar-looking tank was built in West Mifflin on Session Street. The view captured by an uncredited newspaper photographer is not dissimilar to one seen today in Google Street View. It would give residents there, The Pittsburgh Press wrote, “stronger pressure and a steadier flow from their taps.” Such infrastructure improvements were key to that era’s postwar growth.

And in addition to the tumbling sequence of a Westinghouse tower tank that was just 11 years old at the time of its demise, another picture that ran in The Press was perhaps most striking.

In the 1960s, a Pittsburgh-based industrial design firm created the water tower of the future. It looks straight out of “The Jetsons.”

Take an elevator up above the water and enjoy the view, those tiny people would seem to be saying.

For some reason, the idea never caught on.

Ethan Magoc

October 15, 1969: Student David Wald in march on Pitt campus (Edward A. Frank/Pittsburgh Press) March 27, 1966: Peace pickets chant, sing folk songs at Pittsburgh's Federal Building (Pittsburgh Press Photo) October 19, 1969: War protesters stream down the Boulevard of the Allies. ((Donald J. Stetzer/Pittsburgh Press) November 23, 1969: Ted Johnson, left, of Bellevue, and Bill Archer of Mt. Lebanon stand at the corner of Fifth and Smithfield to speak out for the boys in Vietnam. (Ross A. Catanza/Pittsburgh Press) November 15,1969: Laurie Rotman of Squirrel Hill and Steve McCarthy of Mt. Lebanon, supporters of the Vietnam Moratorium demonstration downtown. (Edward A. Frank/Pittsburgh Press) July 10, 1969: Members of the Peace and Freedom Center launch floats on the Allegheny River. (Ross A. Catanza) December 29, 1966: A noon standoff near Liberty Ave between members of The Disabled American Veterans Chapter 76 and those in opposition to the war. (Pittsburgh Press photo) November 14, 1969: Peace marchers gear up for a trip to Washington. (Michael Chikiris/Pittsburgh Press)

1969: Vietnam protests in Pittsburgh

A quiet September day in 1969 at South Hills High School turned chaotic when roughly 100 out-of-state “hippie type” girls, as described by the Pittsburgh Press, rolled up in cars to stage a Vietnam War protest.

“Jail break! Shut down the school!” they urged in an attempt to get students to leave class and join the anti-war movement.   

The girls, waving Viet Cong flags, went as far as to punch teachers and run around half naked before fleeing the school grounds.

Twenty teens were arrested, though officials remained unsure why South Hills was targeted for the demonstration.

Pittsburgh’s anti-war demonstrations did not garner the same numbers as those in Washington, New York, or San Francisco, but that doesn’t mean Steel City residents were silent about their thoughts on the war in Vietnam.

Thousands of Pittsburghers spoke out in various ways throughout the 1960s and early ‘70s, organizing marches and protests in downtown Pittsburgh and local college campuses. 

As reflected in letters to the editor printed in The Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh natives serving in Vietnam had mixed reactions to the demonstrations taking place both here and throughout America.

“What has irritated me and many others are Americans protesting against our being here and publicly demonstrating,” PFC Chester Austin Jr. wrote from Vietnam.  He, like other soldiers, commended Pittsburgh for not speaking out against the war as actively as other American cities, but he was still disturbed by American anti-war sentiment.

Not all demonstrators took an anti-war stand. Protesters often found themselves in standoffs with those determined to express their admiration and support for troops abroad.

The largest rallies took place in 1969, where thousands took to the streets Downtown during the evening rush hour with hopes of attracting much attention.

Professors, housewives, students without beards, and veterans made appearances at all of these rallies, showing that young “hippie types” — like those at South Hills High School — were not the only ones spearheading anti-war protests in and around Pittsburgh.

Emily Kaplan

One of the many photo bricks that a broken pipe created in the Post-Gazette photo library. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette) Newspapers were used in an ill-fated attempt at damming the water inside the room where the pipe burst. (Molly Born/Post-Gazette) The future of the computer equipment used to digitize the photo archive was in doubt Wednesday. (Ethan Magoc/Post-Gazette) A photo washing station was set up in the platemaking department. From left, assistant managing editor Mila Sanina, head librarian Angelika Kane, photo editor Kurt Weber. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette) Two rows of tables became the heart of the assembly line for drying photos. (Ethan Magoc/Post-Gazette) Two clothes lines were hung to keep photos from sticking together. (Mila Sanina/Post-Gazette) From Wednesday night to Thursday morning, only two images among the hundreds that had not been dried developed mold. (Ethan Magoc/Post-Gazette) One of our more sarcastic colleagues pointed out the need — for now — to relocate our scanning operation. (Ethan Magoc/Post-Gazette)

July 16, 2014:  After a near disaster, saving pieces of history

We faced a crisis Wednesday morning.

A water pipe burst above a small office that is effectively headquarters for “The Digs.” Water poured down on our computers, scanners and hard drives.

Most alarming, however, was the condition of several files of pictures set aside to be digitized. They were soaking in a pool of yellow, brackish liquid.

Immediate panic required action. We sloshed through the flooded room, lifted the files and carried them to safety, leaving a stream of water in our wake.

Then we examined the pictures. About 2,000 were damaged — a small fraction of the estimated 1.5 million images in the Post-Gazette archive that represent more than a century of Pittsburgh newspaper photojournalism.

But, oh, those damaged files. It was heartbreaking to see physical evidence of our city’s history so nearly ruined.

We tried opening a folder labeled “Bradshaw, Terry.” Images documenting the very public life of the former Steelers quarterback had fused into what can only be described as a photo brick. Bradshaw, it seemed, would be forever stuck to all three of his wives.

Dozens of images showing the construction of the Civic Arena were discolored and covered with grit. Among the carnage were pictures of Braddock, Pirates great Max Carey, the Pittsburgh Steel Co., and jazz legends Billy Strayhorn, Lena Horne and George Benson. About 75 file folders had taken a direct hit.

Each picture in the damaged files told a story — a unique Pittsburgh story. Saving them, we realized, would be a difficult and time-consuming task, and it had to begin immediately.

With the help of managing editor Susan Smith, picture editor Kurt Weber and the company’s director of operations Lisa Hurm, we quickly set up a washing station in the newspaper’s platemaking department. We soaked damaged prints, then set them onto tables to dry.

It was a tedious process. Many of the prints were fragile and required great care. But our hearts were lifted by help and support from throughout the newspaper. Editors and managers stopped in periodically to ensure adequate supplies (even a squeegee had materialized by mid-afternoon), as well as to offer advice, memories and documentation of our history-saving assembly line. Several reporters and photographers stopped by between their daily duties to help.

Twenty-eight hours after the office monsoon, we dried and refiled our final cleaned and restored picture: a group shot of a softball team from the 1983 Dapper Dan Slickest Infield Contest. We passed the image around in celebration and examined it closely.

Alas, we thought, too bad nothing can be done to salvage those ’80s hairstyles.

The Digs staff

Top photo: Picture files were soaked and covered with grime on Wednesday morning. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

The 333-foot crane, called largest in the world, at work on the Point. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Kelly makes his way up. (Eddie Frank/The Pittsburgh Press) Kelly pauses for a smoke. (Eddie Frank/The Pittsburgh Press) Kelly was happy to be back on solid ground. (Eddie Frank/The Pittsburgh Press)

April 6, 1958: Climbing the ‘world’s largest crane’

Dave Kelly had been working as a reporter at the Pittsburgh Press for only a few months when he got the assignment.

At the time, Pittsburgh was in the midst of a renaissance. Change was everywhere. Acres of the Lower Hill District had been razed to make way for the Civic Arena. Pieces of the Fort Pitt Bridge were being put into place. Three new stainless steel  buildings dominated the Point. And just a few blocks from the newspaper building, workers were busy digging the foundation for a Hilton Hotel. A massive, 333-foot crane had been brought in to assist with the construction.

Newspapers called the crane the world’s largest. It had been delivered in March of 1958, its sections arriving in eight Pennsylvania Railroad cars. Once assembled, the crane’s enormous weight was supported by special tracks laid down around the hotel site.

One sunny day in early April, Kelly was approached by his boss.

“You know that crane at the Hilton Hotel site?” the boss asked. “Well, you go over there and climb it.”

Kelly didn’t warm to the idea. In fact, he wrote that he’d “rather play Russian roulette with a submachine gun” than climb a crane. He expressed his reservations to his boss, but got no sympathy.

“Git,” said the boss. “And take a photographer with you.”

The photographer in this case was Eddie Frank, who faced the awkward and harrowing task of climbing a narrow structure with cameras strung around his neck.

The two walked to the Hilton and signed papers saying that if they fell to their deaths it was nobody’s fault but their own. Then, up they went.

The crane’s steel ladder shot straight into the sky. Once Kelly and Frank reached the first platform, Kelly asked, “Is this thing swaying?”

“No,” said Frank, “but your knees are, and it’s spoiling my focus.”

Pictures of Kelly climbing show him at first wearing a jacket, white shirt and tie. As he neared the top, however, he apparently ditched his jacket, loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves.

At 145 feet, Kelly and Frank reached the crane’s control shack, which Kelly described as a “panel with four little steering wheels and a pedal of the floor.”

Kelly stepped on a pedal and grabbed one of the wheels. “The thing moved a little and wheezed. Then it stopped.”

“I hope I didn’t break it,” he said to Frank.

At this point, Kelly later wrote, a Capital Airlines Viscount flew by. A lady sitting near a window in the cabin smiled and waved at him. You never know when to take Kelly seriously.

Poor Frank. He needed pictures. So, cameras dangling, he leaned out from the ladder, wrapped one knee around a girder and prepared to take a shot. “Stop squinting,” he told Kelly.

“It’s the sun,” Kelly responded. “It’s in my eyes.”

After a while Kelly had enough — he reported that the “shakes overtook me.” The two headed down.

Halfway to the ground, a gust of wind lifted Kelly’s hard hat from his head. It fell, hit a cement truck and nearly clobbered a construction foreman.

The last picture made that day shows Kelly kissing the ground.

Kelly toiled at the Press for only a few years, then became a news broadcaster. He worked for both KDKA and WPXI.

“He was a pioneer of newspaper men who went into broadcasting,” says Bill Moushey, himself a former reporter at WPXI and the Post-Gazette. Moushey worked with Kelly at WPXI from 1979 to 1984.

Moushey remembers Kelly as a master of the Irish brogue and a supreme jokester and storyteller. He came, Moushey recalls, from a family of funeral directors.

Steve Mellon

Jack Dutch relied on old customers for the loans he made at a pawn shop on Federal Street on the North Side. (The Pittsburgh Press) Jack Miller was ready to buy, sell or trade anything at his Pittsburgh pawn shop. (Lynn Johnson/The Pittsburgh Press) This 1983 image shows Jack Dutch in front of a North Side pawn shop. (The Pittsburgh Press) Joseph G. Lazear was 70 in this 1970 photograph made in his pawn shop. (Robert J. Pavuchak/The Pittsburgh Press) A bird's eye view of Harry Pepper in a Pittsburgh pawn shop. (Lynn Johnson/The Pittsburgh Press)

Late 1960s: Pittsburgh’s pawn shops 

The television show called “Pawn Stars” is filmed in Las Vegas.

Think of it as an Antiques Road Show for the Desperate, Down and Tapped Out.

Long before Pittsburgh residents sold their gold jewelry at Treasure Hunt or sought loans in advance of pay day, people who needed cash wandered into their neighborhood pawn shop.

During the first half of the 20th century, many Pittsburgh neighborhoods included this type of business. In the Hill District, there was Joe’s Pawn Shop on Wylie Avenue. On the North Side, there was Security Loan Co. at 15. Federal Street.

Guy Mitchell, a successful, popular vocalist during the 1950s and 1960s, even recorded a tune with this opening line:  “There’s a Pawnshop On a Corner in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.”

The song (heard above) is about a guy who meets a beautiful woman he wants to impress. After entertaining her with dining and dancing, he runs out of things to hock. 

During the heyday of pawn shops, people could sell cameras, fur coats, jewelry, guns, watches, typewriters, television sets, radios and musical instruments.

To get a feel for that era, check out "The Pawnbroker," a memorable movie made in the 1960s that starred Rod Steiger as a Holocaust survivor who ran a pawn shop in Harlem.

— Marylynne Pitz

Oct. 3, 1969: A view of the Brady Street Bridge looking toward the South Side. (E. Frank/The Pittsburgh Press) Jan. 27, 1974: Construction of the Birmingham Bridge had begun next to the Brady Street Bridge. The South Side and its steel mills can be seen in the background. (Harry Coughanour/Post-Gazette) Sept. 5, 1976: The Brady Street Bridge featured a maze of steel first built in the early 1900s. (The Pittsburgh Press) May 29, 1978: South Side residents brought out lawn chairs to watch the Brady Street Bridge drop into the Mon. (Morris Berman/Post-Gazette) May 29, 1978: A demolition crew imploded the Brady Street Bridge, which stood no more than 20 feet from its $30 million replacement. (Bill Levis/Post-Gazette) May 29, 1978: Demolition of the bridge with the Pittsburgh skyline in the background. (Morris Berman/Post-Gazette) May 31, 1978: River traffic stopped on the Mon after demolition of the bridge. (Harry Coughanour/Post-Gazette) June 5, 1978: Photographers capture the clearing away of the bridge structure. (Morris Berman/Post-Gazette) June 5, 1978: The easy part was blowing up the bridge, but fully clearing away the structure took many weeks. (Morris Berman/Post-Gazette)

1978: Brady Street Bridge blowup

As the Brady Street Bridge approached its 82nd birthday — two years after traffic ceased traversing it — its demolition took a turn for the worse.

Worker Ralph Winner became trapped on May 23, 1978, while cutting steel, forcing a doctor to amputate his leg to free him.

The bridge between the South Side and Uptown was first declared unsafe for heavy loads more than 15 years earlier.

In 1963, PennDOT announced plans for a replacement. And by 1968, it was briefly closed because of growing deficiencies.

So what happened during the next 10 years? Bureaucracy.

The new six-lane bridge (eventually known as the Birmingham) was first targeted to open in 1973.

River piers were driven into the Monongahela that year and land piers built in 1972. Two years passed without work because PennDOT initially marked too many homes and businesses for demolition.

The cost went from $10 million to $30 million between 1967 and 1977.

"All of which illustrates the kind of slap-dash planning that robs Pittsburgh motorists of necessary facilities and wastes the money available for such projects," The Pittsburgh Press editorial board wrote in the early 1970s. The paper made an apt comparison of the project to the Fort Duquesne “bridge to nowhere” of the previous decade.

Winner’s 1978 amputation spooked demolition crews to the point they did not want to announce when the full implosion would take place. They hoped to discourage curiosity seekers.

"The accident was tragic enough," PennDOT engineer David Spagnolli told The Pittsburgh Press. "This is a dangerous job, and we don’t want gawkers in the area."

They also had to make sure it didn’t topple the wrong way — into the $30 million Birmingham Bridge.

After Winner’s accident, a crew used a cherry picker to lower down a man who would cut the steel with an acetylene torch and plant explosives.

It was a delicate process, bringing down an 1895 bridge.

“If she goes, we’re risking the life of only (one) man,” an ironworker told the Press on May 27, 1978.

The bridge came down the next day, ultimately without any damage to the Birmingham, and sunk partially into the Mon. It took about a week, but the river was reopened for barge traffic by June 5.

Ethan Magoc

Dec. 7, 1952: A caption with this photo said LIKE SARDINES and noted the male ward inmates had to enter bed in shifts to fit everyone in. (Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph) Shuffleboard in the recreation hall at Woodville State Hospital in an undated photo. (Credit: Unknown) The County Poorhouse, built in the early 1900s, was demolished in 1971. They became unoccupied in 1958 when county indigent were moved to Kane Hospital. (Donald J. Stetzer/The Pittsburgh Press) Aug. 15, 1973: The painting, under examination by a Woodville nurse and patients, was donated to Woodville State Hospital. (Albert M. Herrmann/The Pittsburgh Press) Feb. 10, 1983: Entrance to Woodville State Hospital. (Mark Murphy/Post-Gazette) Feb. 10, 1983: Woodville State Hospital sign and driveway, with a plea for its continued existence. The facility would not close for another eight years after this image. (Mark Murphy/Post-Gazette) Feb. 22, 1991: After Gov. Casey announced his intention to close Woodville, hospital clerk/typist Vevette McCaskey and many others rallied against the idea. (Tony Tye/Post-Gazette) 2014: A sign for The Villages at Neville Park exists at the former entrance to Woodville. (Ethan Magoc/Post-Gazette)

1952: Woodville State Hospital’s rise and fall

In the middle of the 20th century, Woodville State Hospital faced a problem.

It was really, really crowded.

The Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph ran a photo in 1952 showing the men’s ward dormitory so full that men had to go to bed in shifts so that staff could squeeze beds together once their occupants settled in for the night.

By the early 1990s, it was an issue the hospital’s management wouldn’t have minded to encounter again. In 1991, Gov. Robert P. Casey announced his plan to close the facility. A year later, it was empty.

There was frequent jockeying in the 1930s and ‘40s over how much state funding the hospital and others like it received. In those days, it — like the County Poorhouse and nearby Mayview — was county owned. Newspaper accounts often referred to its successful management on a “shoestring budget.”

Many of the Woodville staff in that era had long careers. In the late 1940s, when Woodville and Mayview were sold by Allegheny County to the state for $2.5 million, more than 30 employees had been there for 20-plus years, The Pittsburgh Press wrote.

Who was treated there? The aged and mentally ill, as well as stroke victims and those in need of physical rehabilitation from accidents, including paralyzed patients. People entered Woodville in the 1950s with the expectation that they would recover to the point of being able to manage for themselves or with the assistance of family or an aide. In other words, because of the crowding issues, there was an expiration date on their stay at Woodville State.

For many years — until funding priorities shifted in the 1990s and everyone had to move out — it remained a sound strategy.

Today, it’s a redeveloped area. PennDOT built a large office there. The Villages at Neville Park subdivision dominates the former property along I-79 — with placid street names like Juniper Lane and Marigold Court.

And none of it feels at all crowded.

Ethan Magoc