Margaret Bankowski was 15 when she was murdered. (Photo credit: Unknown) The body of Margaret was found in an isolated section of Hopewell Township. (Pittsburgh Press photo) At a preliminary hearing in January 1953, Sophia and Zigmund Bankowski sat behind Katherine Smutko, the woman accused of killing their daughter. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Assistant district attorney displayed shoes of the victim. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Spectators packed the Chippewa Township Municipal Building for a preliminary hearing in the Bankowski case in January 1953. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Katherine Smutko was congratulated after the acquital. (Pittsburgh Press photo)

February 1949: The tragic case of Margaret Bankowski

Sophia Bankowski endured countless cruelties once her 15-year-old daughter Margaret walked out of the family’s Ambridge home to visit friends on a foggy January afternoon in 1949. Margaret wanted to show off her birthday present — a portable radio. She never returned.

The worst of the cruelties began several days later, when a steelworker walking his dogs along an isolated lane in Hopewell Township noticed something odd in a nearby briar patch. It appeared to be an arm sticking out of the snow. As he moved closer, the steelworker discovered the body of a girl. She was lying face up. Her skull was bashed in. One of her ears was nearly severed.

Authorities identified the body as that of Margaret.

News of the murder was devastating for Sophia and proved emotionally trying for many in Ambridge. Margaret was a freshman at Ambridge High School. She wore bobby socks, saddle shoes and what were then called “pedal pushers.” Today we call them blue jeans.

An estimated 20,000 people filed through the funeral home to pay their respects to Margaret and her grieving family. Classmates served as pallbearers. One collapsed as the casket was lowered into a cold grave at Economy Cemetery

Police arrested more than 50 suspects, then released them all. The investigation dragged on and on. It appeared Margaret would have no justice.

Then, four years later, authorities made a shocking announcement — they’d arrested a 41-year-old housewife named Katherine Smutko and charged her with the murder.

Spectators jammed into a Beaver County courtroom for what promised to be a spectacular trial. On the fourth day, Sophia took the stand. Pale and thin, she burst into tears when shown pictures of her daughter’s body.

Margaret bore a close resemblance to her mother. Both were slender and sported the same short haircut. They could even wear each other’s clothes, though Margaret thought her mother’s were too old fashioned. Margaret “even walked pigeon-toed, like I do,” Sophia said.

Such testimony was key for prosecutors, who were making the case that Margaret’s murder was a case of mistaken identity. Smutko, they argued, had intended to kill Sophia.

Why? Because, at the time of the murder, Smutko and Sophia’s husband Zigmund were engaged in an illicit affair. Smutko, prosecutors claimed, wanted Sophia out of the way.

At one point during her testimony, Sophia was asked to try on Margaret’s heavy, blood-stained coat.

“That’s a cruel thing to do,” objected the defense attorney.

“There are a lot more cruel things about this case,” replied the prosecutor.

The jacket fit, and so the cruelties continued.

Sophia listened stoically to details of the affair — on the stand, Zigmund referred to it as “dating.”

(Interestingly, Smutko’s husband Nicholas sat through the proceedings with his hearing aids unplugged.)

After two weeks of testimony, Judge Robert E. McCreary delivered what he called “the most important decision of my life.” He granted a motion clearing Smutko of the slaying.

“This is not a case of circumstantial evidence, but inference upon inference,” he said. The case against Smutko was so flimsy, he ruled, it should not go to a jury. His decision left no room for an appeal.

McCreary ordered Smutko and Zigmund Bankowski held on adultery charges. A grand jury, however, failed to indict the two. The murder, the Post-Gazette predicted accurately, would most likely remain unsolved.

Sophia Bankowski died July 1997 in Ashville, NY, where she resided with her son Phillip and his family. She was 88. Zigmund died in 1996.

 Top photo: Jurors visit an Ambridge embankment prosecutors hinted might be the murder site. (Pittsburgh Press photo)

— Steve Mellon 

Bly, prepared to travel around the world. (Photo credit: Unknown) Bly in an undated picture. (Photo credit: Unknown) Bly in an undated picture. (Photo credit: Unknown) Bly in her later years. (Photo credit: Unknown)

Circa 1889: Nellie Bly, investigative reporter

Relentless. Curious. Direct. Nellie Bly’s character was fitting for a woman who introduced to America the idea of a female reporter. Bly’s life story reads like a novel; at times it’s so good it’s difficult to believe.

Born Elizabeth Cochran in May 1867 in Cochran Mills, Armstrong County, Bly crammed a lot into her short life: She wrote for a Pittsburgh newspaper, became one of the nation’s first female investigative reporters, wrote for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and traveled around the world in record time.

Nellie Bly started as a reporter at the Daily Pittsburgh Dispatch. She was 18 at the time and supporting her mother and two brothers in Pittsburgh. After reading a Dispatch article suggesting women should stay at home and confine themselves to housework, Bly wrote a fiery rebuttal and sent it to the paper. Dispatch managing editor George A. Madden was impressed. He hired the writer and gave her the pen name “Nelly Bly,” from a popular Stephen Foster song. A typesetter misspelled the name and  ’Nellie Bly’ was born.

Frustrated by being assigned to write about fashion and flower shows, Bly moved to New York in 1887 and landed a job at the the New York World. She quickly made a name for herself by pretending to be an insane beggar and being admitted to New York’s Hospital for the Insane. She spent 10 days there, then wrote a story detailing barbaric conditions and care at the facility. Her work triggered the state of New York to spend an additional $1 million for the care of the mentally ill.

Bly’s most famous accomplishment came in 1889. Here’s how Bly told the story to The Pittsburgh Press:

"My editor said, ‘Have you any ideas today?’ ‘One,’ I answered slowly, fearing he would laugh at me. ‘I want to go around the world in 80 days or less!’ I was informed that if there was such a trip I would be the one to go. One stormy evening I was called into the office. ‘Can you start around the world day after tomorrow?’ I was asked. ‘I can start this moment if necessary,’ I answered.”

And so the journey began. Nellie Bly wore a heavy dress “which would stand constant wear for three months” and packed a light gown for the tropics — only those two dresses plus a small bag, no umbrella. She boarded the Augusta Victoria on Nov. 14, 1889. After 72 days, six hours and 11 minutes, Bly returned by train to a cheering crowd of 10,000 in Jersey City.

Nellie Bly left journalism when she was 28 and married wealthy industrialist Robert L. Seaman, who was 72. After Seaman’s death in 1904, Bly ran his estate and unsuccessfully managed his business. Lonely and nearly broke, Bly returned to journalism. Arthur Brisbane gave her a job at the New York Journal and she was at it again — this time on behalf of neglected children, making a difference one story at a time.

While on one of her reporting assignments, Bly caught a cold and died of pneumonia on Jan. 27, 1922. She was 57.

 — Mila Sanina  

Judge Soffel with Skippy. (Photo credit: Unknown) Judge Soffel receives an award from Bishop John J. Wright and Fr. Adam Maida. (Kent Badger/Post-Gazette) Newspaper coverage of the shooting that occurred on the day Judge Soffel was sworn in.

Aug. 29, 1930: Pioneer judge Sara Soffel

Sara Mathilde Soffel was the first woman to be a county judge in Pennsylvania.

The day she was sworn in and donned a black robe — Aug. 27, 1930 — proved to be memorable for two reasons.

While Miss Soffel was making history and greeting well-wishers in the fifth floor assignment room of the Allegheny County Courthouse, shots rang out in the fifth floor probation office, located diagonally opposite from the assignment room.

The shooter was Clara Palschak, a 21-year-old woman who claimed that her 24-year-old husband, Steve, had deserted her for three weeks and refused to return. Using her husband’s gun, she fired three bullets into his abdomen and he died soon afterward. A front page headline in The Pittsburgh Press read, “Gunfire Startles Attendants While Miss Soffel Is Sworn as Judge.”

Judge Soffel’s successful legal career was spurred partly by her German immigrant father, Jacob, a realtor and court tipstaff who expected his children to excel and whose accounts of courtroom dramas fascinated his daughter. Miss Soffel attended Wellesley, where she earned a “W” as left wing on the field hockey team and graduated in 1908.

When she told her father she wanted to study law, he handed her a legal text called Blackstone’s “Commentaries.” She found work teaching at Crafton High School and Schenley High School.

She was the first woman to complete her entire legal education at the University of Pittsburgh. In 1916, Miss Soffel graduated at the top of her law school class, a distinction that normally carried with it a cash prize and a job on the faculty as an assistant instructor. But she only received the cash prize.

Despite her achievements, no local law firm would hire her. In 1917, she set up a law practice and learned how to type and write shorthand so she could do her own clerical work. From 1922 to 1925, she was the first woman to serve as an assistant city solicitor.

Pennsylvania Gov. John Fisher appointed her to the local county court in 1930. A year later, she ran for a 10-year term and was elected. She won re-election again in 1941 and 1951, then retired from the bench in 1962.

Judge Soffel, who died in 1976 at the age of 89, loved the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team, fishing, music and roses. The rambling, Victorian-era home where she grew up still stands at 16 Greenbush Street atop Mount Washington.

Here at The Digs, we think a state historical marker should be installed near that property so more people learn the inspiring story of one of Pennsylvania’s honorable legal pioneers.

Top photo: Judge Sara Soffel in 1939. (Photo by Parry Pgh.)

— Marylynne Pitz

Interior of the Gardens, circa 1900. (Photo credit: Unknown) The ice rink, prepared for hockey in 1901. (Photo credit: Unknown) Demolition was nearly complete in September 1956. (Post-Gazette photo)

1956: Demolition of Duquesne Gardens

In 1910, two boxers — Stanley Ketchel and Frank Klaus — fought a six-round bout in the old Duquesne Gardens on Craig Street in Oakland. Newspapers fairly hyperventilated in anticipation. “Never in the pugilistic history of Pittsburg have fans been worked into such a frenzy of excitement,” wrote The Pittsburg Press. (At the time, Pittsburgh was without its “h.”)

Ketchel was perhaps the nation’s most admired fighter. He was known as the “Michigan Assassin” and motivated himself before each fight by imagining his opponent had insulted his mother. Klaus was a local kid, the “East Pittsburg Bear-Cat.”

One of the city’s largest fight crowds packed into the Gardens, only to witness the “rawest exhibition of stalling and fiddling ever seen in a Pittsburg ring,” declared a Press writer fittingly named Jim Jab.

“This throng deserved fair treatment from the gladiators,” huffed Jab. “Did they get it? No! Ketchel and Klaus pulled off a flagrant frame-up.”

The bout ended in a draw, and the roar of disgust among fight fans filled the converted trolley barn. It was another big night at the Gardens.

There would be many others before the structure became too creaky and old and outdated to be of much use. It was demolished in 1956, the last remnants leveled by a concrete-filled safe that served as a wrecking ball.

Here’s another memorable event at the Gardens: In 1925, a record crowd of 10,000 watched the inaugural game of the Pittsburgh Pirates professional hockey team. “They certainly outplayed the ‘big town’ skaters’ from New York,” tooted the Press. Still, the Pirates lost 2-1. “It was a great game played by great players and left a great impression on the fans,” declared the not-so-great story.

Hockey and boxing were big draws — local fighters Billy Conn and Fritzie Zivic were regulars. And the joint was home to the short-lived Pittsburgh Ironmen of the Basketball Association of America, forerunner of the NBA.

But the Gardens would host just about any event, from private parties to summer operas to major political events to bizarre athletic competitions.

A six-day roller skating race was scheduled at the Gardens in 1911. Surely it was riveting to witness. Contestants were required to skate 10 hours each day. And this was no team event — it was “every man for himself,” promoters promised.

Next came an auto show.  “Every Known Device for Pleasure and Profit in Motoring Will Be on Exhibition at Duquesne Garden,” a headline teased.

Perhaps the show was too successful. Newspapers reported in 1912 that negotiations were underway to convert the Gardens into an “automobile garage.” It never came to pass. Foreclosure threatened the Gardens in 1931. The city’s primary indoor entertainment facility survived that, too.

None of us at the Digs have any memories of the Gardens. To us, it serves simply as a window through which we can view Pittsburgh as it once was — a city in need of a place where residents could cheer athletes, skate to the music of a live orchestra, listen to politicians thunder words of outrage and hope and, in the summer, enjoy operas such as “Robin Hood,” “Girl from Paris” and “Wizard of the Nile.”

— Steve Mellon 

The Exhibition Building at the Point in 1920. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Newspaper coverage of the crash. The Exhibition Building in 1928. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Main Hall at the Exhibition Building was demolished in 1951. (Pittsburgh Press photo)

Nov. 28, 1931: Plane crashes into the doomed Exhibition Building

People walking near the Point around noon on a busy Saturday heard a screeching sound, then looked up into the thick fog covering the city and saw the wispy image of a biplane twirling downward in a death spiral. Pedestrians scattered. Automobiles “darted like water bugs” as drivers sought safety, one newspaper reported. Moments later came a tremendous crash of breaking glass and then the tinkling noise of shards falling to the earth.

Soon another form emerged from the foggy sky. Dangling from a white circle of silk was a 27-year-old pilot wearing fur boots, a leather aviator cap and goggles. His doomed plane had plowed into the aging Exhibition Building.

And that, too, is where the pilot’s journey ended. Melvin Garlow’s parachute became snagged on the cornice of the crumbling structure. He was left hanging a few feet from the street.

After releasing himself from his chute, Garlow dropped to the earth and promptly helped police gather letters and packages from the wreckage of the plane. It was Garlow’s job to deliver the mail, so he then reported to the post office. Clearly this young man possessed an admirable work ethic.

Garlow explained that he’d lost control of the aircraft while searching for a landmark in the heavy fog, which he called “bad stuff.” Before jumping from the cockpit, he aimed his aircraft toward the Allegheny River and away from the crowded business district.

Only one injury was reported. A railroad employee working near the crash site received minor cuts when hit by falling debris.

Nobody lost any sleep over damage to the Exhibition Building. It was just another scar added to a massive, rotting corpse of steel and glass that had become an eyesore along the Allegheny River.

In an earlier time, however, the Exhibition Building was a gem. Tousands of people each year swarmed to the castle-like structure and paid a quarter to attend annual exhibitions. Visitors viewed marvels of the machine age, sampled Heinz pickles, rode roller coasters and listened to the music of world-renowned symphonies. In an age that predated movies, crowds were entertained by “spectacles” in which models, actors and special effects were employed to re-create historic events like the Rough Riders’ charge of San Juan Hill and the sinking of the Titanic.

Attendance dwindled after the beginning of World War I, however, and following the 1916 season, the exhibition closed for good. The City of Pittsburgh took possession of the property in 1919 and once-gleaming jewel of the Point began its inglorious career as a maintenance shed.

Garlow’s misadventure is just another footnote in the story of a fascinating structure whose last remnants were leveled in 1951 to make way for Point State Park.

— Steve Mellon 

Gusky department store once sat on the location. (Photo credit: Unknown) Architect Mike Marcu uses a model to show where a ice skating rink will be installed in 2001. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette) Brian Boitano performs at the opening of the rink on Dec. 18, 2001. (John Beale/Post-Gazette)
A family of skaters in 2009. (John Heller/Post-Gazette)

Dec. 8, 2006: Ice and glass at PPG Place

The towering Christmas tree and ice rink at PPG Place have become so much a part of Downtown Pittsburgh’s  holiday celebration that it’s easy to forget how stark this space was when the complex of six glass buildings opened in 1984.

Anchored by a single rose granite obelisk, the elegant plaza was often empty. Only a few brave souls ate their brown-bag lunches at the base of the obelisk. After the Hillman Company bought PPG Place in 1999, the owners decided to animate the plaza by installing an ice rink and a fountain.

In December of 2001, the ice skating rink was unveiled and opened to the public with great fanfare. Olympic figure skating champion Brian Boitano performed and the day ended with a Zambelli fireworks display.

The rink typically opens in November and closes at the end of February. Designed by IKM, this recreational space measures 104 feet by 104 feet and has an ice surface of 9,586 square feet, larger than the rink in New York City’s Rockefeller Center.

In 2002, a computer-controlled fountain that uses recycled water opened in the plaza. Additional landscaping softened the space. Even Philip Johnson, the famous architect who designed the buildings and plaza with John Burgee, approved of the additions.

In 2005, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette architecture critic Patricia Lowry observed that these additions made PPG Place “a better neighbor, where children in bathing suits flirt with the water columns of the fountain, office workers lunch under broad market umbrellas and skaters take on a warm glow in the lights of a 65-foot Christmas tree ­— and all are reflected in the faceted glass walls of this giant fun-house mirror of a building.’’

Top picture: The rink at PPG in December 2006. (Steve Mellon/Post-Gazette)

— Marylynne Pitz

In 1957, Carey chats with Linda Koelher, 3, and Jerry Coechel, 6. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Carey decorating a Christmas tree in  1959. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Carey on the WQED set in an undated picture. (Photo credit: Unknown) Josie Carey in June 1992. (Post-Gazette photo)

March 17, 1956: Josie Carey and WQED’s Children’s Corner

If you were a child in Pittsburgh during the 1950s and watched Channel 13 on a black-and-white television, you probably got to know Josie Carey, the warm, giggly host of  “The Children’s Corner.”

At ease in front of the camera, she was a multi-talented television pioneer whose accomplishments included author, songwriter and entertainer. Fred Rogers, who later became the star of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” wrote music for her lyrics.

Together, this young duo wrote 68 songs as well as the episodes for the successful show, which aired on public television station WQED from 1954 to 1961. In 1955, “The Children’s Corner” received a national Sylvania Television award that honored its high quality in educational programming for young viewers.

Born in Butler, Pa., Josie Carey began life as Josephine Vicari; her parents ran an Italian restaurant. After learning secretarial skills at Duff’s College in Downtown Pittsburgh, she landed a job at the nation’s first public television station six months before WQED went on the air in 1953. The station offered programs about history, painting, remedial reading and how to write in shorthand.

Josie Carey did not start out in the studio. Instead, she served as secretary to WQED’s first manager, Dorothy Daniels. One of Josie’s tasks was to obtain local funding for the nascent TV station. She went door to door soliciting $2 and giving subscribers a program guide. Then, Dorothy Daniels shortened her name and put her in front of a camera.

In 1961, Josie Carey was hired to create children’s programming for KDKA, a local commercial television station where she wrote “Funsville,” “Josie’s Storyland” and “Mr. Wrinkle.”

A television station in South Carolina lured her from Pittsburgh to produce a children’s program called “Wheee!” One of the most famous interns from that show was a fellow named Rick Sebak, who has produced many successful documentaries for WQED.

After Mrs. Carey returned to Pittsburgh, she lived in Squirrel Hill. During the mid-1990s, she created a Saturday morning show for children called “Josie’s Attic” that aired on WQEX. She died in 2004.

Top image: Josie Carey and Fred Rogers with Easter decorations in 1956. (Pittsburgh Press photo)

— Marylynne Pitz

Nicole Barr, 3, said she wanted a baby want to walk. Bethany, 1, apparently wanted to get off Santa's lap (Dec. 10, 1991). Timmy Betler, 3, fights to keep his Christmas spirit in light of the competition from his 18-month old brother, Michael. (James Klingensmith/Post-Gazette, 1982) Joshua Woods was not too sure about his first visit to Santa (The Pittsburgh Press, Dec. 17, 1989).

1980: "Scared of Santa"

"Who is this man? And what am I doing here? He has a beard, glasses and hair… lots of hair. And he makes weird sounds: Ho-ho-ho. And for some reason, he invites me to sit on his lap: Noooo! What can be scarier than that?! I know I am supposed to snuggle. Or at least be nice and smile… mom is taking a picture. Cheeeeeese! It’s horrifying. Whoa! Wouaaa, wouaaaaa, wu, wu, WHAAAAAHHHHH!"

Many kids are not too sure what to make of their first visit with Santa. So they cry.

But put yourself in Santa’s shoes — or should we say boots? How easy do you think it is to coax a smile from a screaming child?

 — Mila Sanina  

1930: "Czar of Pittsburgh Police"

Pittsburgh police bureau has been dealing with a lot of negative publicity this year. The morale at the bureau is low and its relations with the community leave a lot to be desired. Former Police Chief Nate Harper was indicted by a grand jury in March on charges of conspiracy and tax evasion, a few police officers were disciplined for misconduct and one of them, most recently, was charged with DUI after arriving to work intoxicated. 

But things used to be worse. Much worse. 

In the 1930s, the city’s police bureau under Peter P. Walsh was continually under fire for its “shameless toleration of vice and racketeering.” Peter P. Walsh served as a superintendent of Pittsburgh police and was associated with the police force for 30 years. He became police superintendent under Mayor Charles H. Kline, one of the most corrupt mayors in Pittsburgh’s history.

A native Pittsburgher with some experience working for steel mills, Walsh rapidly advanced in rank once he joined the police force in 1898. In 1903, he was promoted to lieutenant and then to captain, he became an inspector in 1907 and commissioner in 1914. In 1920, he left the police department to serve as superintendent of police for the Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation. But six years later, he was back in the police headquarters, this time as superintendent.

According to The Pittsburgh Press, Walsh was “an important cog in the wrecked political machine of Mayor Charles H. Klein.” They called him “Czar of Pittsburgh Police.” He held the superintendent’s office for eight years.

Walsh began policing in the days when ‘the policeman on the beat’ often upheld the dignity of the law and maintained order by physical force, but Walsh was noted for the fact that he never beat nor cursed a man while arresting him, according to the Post-Gazette. That was his claim to fame… before he became superintendent. As the head of the Pittsburgh police department, he was known to be less humane, he issued a “shoot to kill” order after the deadly North Side gas tank explosion in 1927 to keep the devastated site free from onlookers and looters. He modified his instructions at city officials’ urging. “Give them a good body beating and then call the patrol wagon and send them to a hospital,” was his new order. 

When Walsh was in charge of the police force, Pittsburgh racketeers, bootleggers and other representatives of organized crime prospered. Police prospered, too, by turning a blind eye on illegal activity or being an accomplice. Those were the years of Prohibition, the Volstead Act enacted in 1919 was in force. In 1928, the party seemed to be almost over for Walsh and a number of his lieutenants. They were indicted by a grand jury and charged with conspiracy to violate the Volstead Act. But the shake-up, predicted in the newspapers at that time, never  happened. Walsh and his lieutenants were never convicted. They got off scot-free.

Walsh was dismissed in 1934 after his boss, the last Republican elected to be the mayor of Pittsburgh, Charles Kline was convicted for malfeasance. 

Walsh and his wife, Mary Walsh, had seven sons and two daughters. Walsh died at age 69 in his home in Squirrel Hill.  

 — Mila Sanina  

Cars on the Wharf (1949) A tow truck rescues an auto caught on the Mon Wharf (Dec. 16, 1948) The flooded Wharf (1964)

1939: ”The Mon Wharf”

The Mon Wharf may be the most newsworthy parking spot in America. And not only because it appears in the news every time the Pittsburgh river goes on the rampage. 

Has anyone counted how many cars have been fished out from the Mon after the flooding of the Wharf? Photos from the Post-Gazette archive capture Buicks, Chevrolets, Alpha Romeos and even U-Hauls being pulled out from the river. 

In the early 1900s, before the Mon Wharf became what it is today, the sloping bank along the Monongahela, from the Point eastward to Smithfield Street, was in the news as a center of Pittsburgh’s river traffic and commerce. 

Back then, the cobblestoned Wharf served as a parking spot, but of a different kind. Steamboats docked here to deliver passengers and supplies to Downtown. The riverfront was used also as a temporary docking place for coal barges whose final destinations were the steel mills upstream. Remember, in the beginning of the 20th century Pittsburgh was the largest inland port in the United States. 

As motorized vehicles became more common in Pittsburgh and river traffic tanked, partially due to railroad development, the Wharf became a parking spot for automobiles. In the 1930s, the need to develop the area and accommodate the growing population of vehicle owners Downtown became more obvious.

As the 1930s drew to a close, the city government approved a plan to  build an expressway above the Wharf and transform the Wharf itself into a parking lot. Warehouses were replaced by office buildings, the cobblestone surface was converted to a well-paved road. 

The Pittsburgh Press reported on the construction of the Wharf in February 1939: “It’s been difficult for members of the Association of the Construction Watchers to figure out from their various vantage points along the Monongahela River side of the Golden Triangle — how Pittsburgh’s first elevated river boulevard will look when it is finished.”

The plan was close to being perfect, a reporter wrote. “There is just one drawback: the parking area and the sunken express highway, which will be connected with the higher level by means of three ramps, one at Ferry St. and two at Wood St., will be under water when the river goes on the rampage.” 

"The sunken portion of the highway will be only five feet above normal river stage and will be closed when floods come. The same holds true of the parking area."

The prognosis for the Mon Wharf from 1939 turned out to be true. And here we are today, loving to hate the Wharf when it’s flooded, loving it or not caring at all, when it’s not.  

 — Mila Sanina  

Another view of the newsroom in 1960. (Photo credit: Unknown) The building housed two newspapers when it was completed in 1915. (Photo credit: Unknown) Lighted sign with a Hearst eagle atop the building in 1938. (Sun-Telegraph photo) The Sun-Telly barn in 1950. (Sun-Telegraph photo) Map showing the location of the Sun-Telegraph building. (1929 map from G.M. Hopkins, Map of the Cities of Pittsburgh and Allegheny, and the Adjoining Boroughs, courtesy the Historic Pittsburgh webs) By November 1963, the Sun-Telegraph building was a pile of rubble. (Al Hermann/Post-Gazette)

Nov. 1963: Requiem for a newsroom

For a brief time in the early 1960s, Post-Gazette reporters worked in a cramped newsroom in an eight-story building near Grant Street. It was not a good experience. The building, previously home to the Sun-Telegraph, was unairconditioned and at times became so unbearably hot that staff members would break windows to admit cooler air.

The newsroom itself was a dump with dingy, uneven pine floors and rattling windows, wrote Clarke Thomas in his book, “Front Page Pittsburgh.” Pictures in the Post-Gazette archives show a room crammed with ancient wooden desks, manual typewriters, rotary telephones and office chairs that look like  torture devices. Coffee stains (or ink stains) stream down a steel file cabinet. Paper is strewn everywhere, piled helter-skelter on desks and crammed into overstuffed trash cans. Shards and strips of clipped paper litter the floor.

Newspapers had occupied the building since its completion in 1915. It was home to the Chronicle-Telegraph and the Gazette Times until a series of business deals in 1927 resulted in the creation of the Sun-Telegraph, which remained in the building, and the Post-Gazette.

In 1960, the Post-Gazette bought the Sun-Telegraph and moved from its home at Second and Grant to the “Sun-Telly barn,” as it was known. You may remember the old Post-Gazette building, which was transformed into the city’s Public Safety headquarters. Now the site is home to a small park in front of PNC’s Firstside Center.

By the fall of 1961, the PG and The Pittsburgh Press had agreed to combine their production and advertising departments, and the Post-Gazette newsroom was moved to the Boulevard of the Allies. More than 30 years later, in 1992, the PG purchased The Press.

Newsrooms like the one at the Sun-Telegraph were places of incredible noise — clattering typewriters and wire service machines, ringing telephones, crackling scanners and two-way radios, growling editors, reporters and photographers hollering over the din. We remain amazed that, under these conditions, people toiling to meet impossible deadlines produced work that, at times, contained great beauty and grace.

The Sun-Telegraph building was demolished in the fall of 1963. Today, the U.S. Steel Tower occupies the spot.

— Steve Mellon 

1977: “Beryl Choi, the first woman ordained a priest in Pittsburgh’s Episcopal Diocese”

The year was 1944 when Beryl Choi, an 18-year-old woman living in Chester, England, told her local bishop that she believed she had a vocation to the priesthood.

He replied that Church of England law prohibited the ordination of women but encouraged her to study religious education.

So, the young woman earned degrees in theology and religious education from the University of London. She taught religion for 10 years at a school for girls in Liverpool and also instructed seminarians. In 1962, she married a Korean nuclear scientist and the couple moved to Philadelphia, settling a few years later in Pittsburgh.

In 1973, she made history by becoming the first woman ordained a deacon in Pittsburgh’s Episcopal Diocese. Not everyone was pleased but the Rev. William G. Lewis, archdeacon of the Diocese, remarked that, “anyone who thinks women are inferior has not met Beryl Choi.”

On a Sunday in January 1977, at age 50, she became the first woman to join the ranks of priests in Pittsburgh’s Episcopal Diocese. The Right Rev. Robert Appleyard, the Episcopal bishop of Pittsburgh, officiated at the ordination service in Downtown’s Trinity Cathedral.

Even now, at age 87, Rev. Choi recalled in a recent telephone interview “the absolute wonder of it all. I was accompanied in that ordination by several young men” plus a group of young, supportive deacons.

Her peers told her in advance that if anyone spoke against her ordination during the service, “They were going to throw whistles and stamp and shout. That was the support I got from that group. They were wonderful,” she recalled in that perfectly articulated British accent that makes people who hear it secretly wish they had been born in England. (Rev. Choi was born in the same month and year as Queen Elizabeth II.)

The drive to ordain women had gathered momentum three years earlier. On July 29, 1974, as a deacon, Rev. Choi had watched as three retired Episcopal bishops took the radical step of ordaining 11 women in Philadelphia. But she waited patiently until church leaders approved the ordination of women at a convention in 1976.

Today, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church is the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori.

As for Rev. Choi, after serving at Calvary Episcopal Church in Shadyside, she was in ministry in Long Beach, Calif. for two years, then spent a decade in Buffalo, N.Y.

Now retired, she lives in Richmond, Va., near her daughter, Nan.

“Many parishes these days don’t care if it’s a man or a woman as long as it’s someone they like and will do the job,” Rev. Choi said.

The Rev. Leslie Reimer, interim rector at Calvary, said in a telephone interview that Rev. Choi served as her role model.

“She was very smart and wise and asked challenging questions. She was breaking ground that was very new for everyone.”

Rev. Choi “changed people’s minds because they experienced her as someone with a genuine vocation as a priest, as a pastor, as a teacher. When people encounter someone who is authentic and genuine and forgiving, it tends to melt those barriers,” Rev. Reimer said.

— Marylynne Pitz

Another view of Santo, most likely on the day of the Volpe murders. (Pittsburgh Press photo) Sun-Telegraph picture of Santo pointing out where he hid during the shooting.

July 29, 1932: Whatever happened to Santo Bazzano?

Santo Bazzano came to our attention while we were researching the 1932 murders of the Volpe brothers. Bazzano was identified as a witness. He was in the Wylie Avenue coffee shop where the killings took place and hid behind a counter when bullets started to fly. He was still there when police rushed in several minutes later.

Bazzano was “crouched behind a counter and crying hysterically, ‘I don’t want to be shot, I don’t want to be shot,’ ” read the Sun-Telegraph.

Dead on the floor of the shop were James and Arthur Volpe. John Volpe’s bullet-riddled body was outside, lying a few feet from the shop’s entrance.

(Read a detailed account of the Volpe murders in the PG’s interactive presentation, “Pittsburgh: The Dark Years.”)

The Volpe brothers were well-known racketeers. Their killings at lunchtime on a busy street shocked the city. Police could find only one witness — Santo Bazzano. Our archives contain a picture of two detectives marching a man in handcuffs away from the scene. A handwritten note on the back of the image indicates this is Bazzano. He was taken to headquarters and questioned, but Bazzano couldn’t (or wouldn’t) identify the gunmen. The Volpes were his buddies, he said. So he was released.

A few weeks later, Bazzano was again in the news — his older brother John Bazzano had been stabbed more than 20 times during a visit to Brooklyn, N.Y. John Bazzano, himself a racketeer, was implicated in the Volpe assassinations. Santo followed his brother’s widow as John’s casket was marched to its grave.

Santo Bazzano then disappeared from the news until 1935. In January of that year, police had some questions for him concerning the murder of a Bridgeville gambler, whose body was found face-down in a muddy lane two miles west of Carnegie. We found no evidence Bazzano was arrested or charged. His name failed to turn up in any later news stories.

We wondered, “What happened to this young man who witnessed one of the most brazen murders in the city’s history?”

Census records indicate he was born Oct. 8, 1904, in Reggio Calabria, Italy, and came to the United States in 1921. His brother John had already settled here — he was a rising star in the Pittsburgh-area bootleg business. By 1932, John had teamed up with the Volpe brothers. That’s how Santo ended up in the coffee shop during the murders. Apparently, John had changed his mind about the partnership.

By 1940, Santo Bazzano was living in Arnold, Westmoreland County, with his wife Vera, daughter Emma and son Stephen. Census records list his occupation as proprietor of a pool hall. Over the next several years, he’d own and operate a number of businesses, including the Colfax Inn in Springdale and the Havana Inn in Arnold.

His obituary states Bazzano was famous for his homemade spaghetti sauce. His son, Robert Bazzano of Lower Burrell, remembers him as “a great father. He ruled the roost.

“He was really truthful. He didn’t lie,” Robert said. “And he didn’t like anybody who lied.”

Santo and Vera Bazzano were married 65 years and raised four sons and two daughters. He died at his home in Springdale on Oct. 17, 2002. He was 98.

And what did Santo see in that Wylie Avenue coffee shop more than 80 years ago? Santo never talked about it, Robert said.

— Steve Mellon 

1960: The greenest garden of Pittsburgh”

Last week, it was about gloom, this week it’s all about bloom. Last week, we featured the Thanksgiving snowstorm of 1950, this week we bring to you the black-and-white photographs of the ever-green Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens from our archive. 

We found many photographs of the annual Flower Shows hosted in the “greenest” facilities in the world. In 1966, during the 72nd annual Flower Show the “Alice in Wonderland” display captivated the public’s admiration. “The scene, depicting Alice standing in a  garden of giant toadstools, was done in hundreds of daisy and pom pom chrysanthemums.” The show was considered to be one of the finest floral exhibitions in the United States, according to the Post-Gazette. The centerpiece of the 1968 annual Flower Show was Humpty Dumpty made of chrysanthemums with a giant story book for found visitors. 

In 1964, the Flower Show featured something that looked like an ancestor of the Giant Rubber Duck made of flowers, but then after reading the cutline, we realized that it was a giant dove. 

Phipps Conservatory has been in Pittsburgh for a long time. It was founded in 1893 by steel and real-estate magnate Henry Phipps as a gift to the City of Pittsburgh.

 — Mila Sanina  

Another view of the Gulf station. (Photo credit: Unknown) In 1935 this filling station at Forbes and Murray employed 21 attendants. (Pittsburgh Press photo)

Dec. 1, 1913: Nation’s first drive-in gas station

Here at the Digs we remember a time when gas stations were manned by young men in grease-stained uniforms who filled your tank for about $7, checked your oil and battery and cleaned your windshield. Then you gave him a tip.

Attached to each of these gas station was a garage bay, where a cigarette-smoking mechanic with scarred knuckles scooted under rusty heaps in search of oil leaks and faulty starters. Ah, we fondly remember his curses.

OK, we realize this memory dates us, and perhaps even betrays the fact that a member of the Digs staff was, years ago, one of those grease-stained young men.

But we resurrect this memory for a reason: Yesterday we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the nation’s first drive-in gas station. It was located, of course, in Pittsburgh, at Baum Boulevard and St. Clair Street.

In the Post-Gazette files, we found two pictures of the pagoda-style building. A canopy covered workers and customers as autos were fueled. Signs atop the building announced “Good Gulf Gasoline” and “Superior Auto Oil.” Men in the pictures (yes, they’re all men) wear sporting caps or bowlers.

Before the advent of the drive-in filling station, gasoline was sold at grocery stores, livery stables, hardware stores, even pharmacies. Vehicles pulled next to a curb or sidewalk, where fuel was hand-pumped into a container, then poured into the vehicle’s tank.

Some drive-in filling stations did exist before 1913, but they occupied buildings and structures that had been modified to sell gas. Pittsburgh’s was the first structure designed and built as a drive-in filling station.

On its first day, the Gulf station sold 30 gallons of gasoline at 27 cents per gallon (we found one report that says this amounts to $6.39 in today’s dollars).

Later, Gulf introduced the first free road map and the first restroom opened to customers.

Much has changed in the past century. Today we fuel our own automobiles in massive stations that sell Big Gulp drinks, pizzas, milk, DVDs, lottery tickets — even firewood. Some of us buy gas at big box retailers like Costco or Walmart.

In fact, it’s now difficult to find traditional filling stations that employ attendants and mechanics. And free road maps? We don’t need those much anymore, thanks to GPS devices and Google maps.

We remain grateful, however, for those free public restrooms.

— Steve Mellon