Big Events In Our Small Town


60 years ago, on May 1, 1952, the circus came to town. I found the the picture above in The Duquesne News. Can you imagine the thrill in seeing a sight like this on the streets of Duquesne!?! Aside from the obvious pachyderms, I enjoyed seeing the bricked streets and the streetcar tracks. From what I can tell, this parade appeared to be marching across the intersection of North 1st and Grant Avenue, directly in front of the Duquesne City Bank. Although the photo is grainy, notice how well everyone appears to be dressed!

In that same edition of the Times, the following program appeared and outlined the cast of characters and participants in the Senior Class Play, PINK MAGIC.” It took place 60 years ago today, May 2, 1952! It would be great if you can sound in on the production and whether you remember it or even participated in it!

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14 Responses to Big Events In Our Small Town

  1. Bob Chermonitz says:

    The old wooden Kennywood bridge was torn down, I believe, around 1960 and replaced by the new one in 1961 0r ’62. I could have these dates wrong but I’m pretty close. We lived, at the time, in the brown brick apartments right next to the bridge and across fron Schreiber Chevrolet and next to the Dairy Queen. Anyway, so the story goes, when the circus came to town during the last year the old bridge was standing the parade from the train station, as usual, went through the city and wound its way to Duquesne Boulevard on the way to Kennywood. When the lead elephant came to the old bridge he stopped. Trainers prodded him on and slowly he put one giant foot onto the old bridge deck all the time applying more and more weight. Then he raised his foot and stepped back. No, he would not accept that the old bridge was safe for his family, his circus family, to cross. Try as they might there was no changing the old boys mind and in the end they had to take the elephants up Herman Street and across the Kennywood dump. The other animals were led over the bridge and made it safely but it could have been a disaster. The elephant didn’t know that the bridge would soon be torn down, but he was pretty certain it should have been before his family got there. I was there with my Dad. He told the story for years thereafter about how the elephant was smarter than the rest of us. Go figure. 🙂

    • Frank Mullen says:

      Bob, That’s a wonderful story you added to this conversation. I remember those apartments very well, since I walked past them every time I went to Kennywood or snuck down that old staircase and pathway to the left side of the bridge, leading down to the RR yard velow. Also, a very dear lifelong friend and neighbor (105 & 109 Miller Avenue,) Robert Capristo, had relatives living in one of those units, I believe.

      In fact, do you recall a time (not that you should), before 1955, when a boy was injured w/ a deep and very bloody cut to his ankle while playing atop a pile of old RR ties that were kept along the cliff-edge at the Chevy dealership across the boulevard from you? He was brought to the doorstep of the end apartment, right next to the bridge, and some folks residing there ran to get the boy’s father and/or called the police for help. Is it possible we met, then? I was that boy. (I don’t recall your name as being one of my chums, and I would have remembered it if I knew you because I knew every kid, by name, from Commonwealth to Herman.

      • Bob Chermonitz says:

        Hello, Frank. We did not move in there until 1960 and I would have been 4 at the time and we lived with my grandparents at 912 Liberty St. right across from Mr. Capristo whose house was at the corner of Commonwealth and Liberty St. I’m not certain how Robert was related but I assume they were. He had several sons but I only remember Bruce Capristo because he was realy “cool” and my older aunt & all her friends got goofy when he was around. He was on the Clark Race TV dance show and I remember the girls glued to the set. Later, he got a movie credit for hairstyle in The Night of the Living Dead. His dad had the barbershop on 2nd st downtown. Big place with mirrors along the one side and a big stuffed blue swordfish on the wall. four chairs as I recall and Tony hade the shoeshine stand in there, too.
        I climbed those steps up and down to the Union RR car shop, as did all the boys, many times. My grandfather was a carpenter there and went up and down everyday until he retired. Remember being under the bridge when a streetcar went over. If you ran you
        were a chicken LOL.
        No, I can’t place you either Frank, but we must have seen each other around Duquesne Place.

      • Frank Mullen says:

        Hi Bob, Thanks for the reach-back.
        Regarding Bruce Capristo, he was, indeed, the living embodiment of cool, as far as the whole neighborhood was concerned, young and old, if I recall correctly. He was something of a combination of Sal Mineo and Rick Nelson, with a dash of Brad Pitt’s confidence and physical presence in “Thelma & Louise” added to the mix. I had plenty of opportunity to observe that since his father, Frank, was brother to Joseph Capristo, who lived right next door to me on Miller Ave. Bruce was cheerful and pleasant to everybody, as were all the gentlemen of the Capristo family, and were often in our home. Joseph’s youngest son, Robert, was my closest friend my entire childhood in Duquesne Place. My family loved and respected them all as particularly dear and cherished neighbors.

        The “Kennywood Bridge,” as some of us called it, was quite an experience when it was still made of wood. I can remember when several planks of the pedestrian walkway, on your side of the span, were missing, which afforded us kids real terror when we’d cross it. Sometimes, we’d avoid such a journey by walking all the way around the slagdump route to get to Kennywood. By the time you moved to Herman Ave, I believe the present bridge had been installed.

        Diagonally across the bridge from your house, if one had the guts to climb over the far edge/corner of the bridge and carefully mountain-goat a path across the cliffside for several feet, one could sneak into Kennywood Park during the off-months, for a little silent adventure. Did you ever do that?

        However, when the nuns of all the convents/schools of the area had their private picnic in Kennywood, even we Duquesne Place kids couldn’t get close enough for a peek, and lordknows we tried. Remember how the park used to shroud every inch of all the fencing along its perimeter for such a once-a-year occasion? Talk about cool! We loved, while standing along the hillside by Schrieber’s Chevrolet, hearing their cheers and screams as they rode the Jack Rabbit and The Racer roller-coasters, or even swam in the “Sunlight Pool.” I always thought it was cool that the nuns were treated with such deference, like that, in those days.

        There were a lot of cool things about life in Duquesne, in those days, now that I think of it.

    • Gene Sabolcik says:

      Pretty good memory, Bob! The bridge was built in 1960. Here’s a link to BridgeMapper which lists some more detail.

      • Bob Chermonitz says:

        Hi, Geno! Great site! I bookmarked it for future reference. I guess we were 9yrs old when it was built, 4th grade, Mrs Smith, and the Pirates win the world series. I recall the dedication. Gov. Lawrence was there along with county execs like Mr. Stacey A bunch of us were at the ribbon on our bikes waiting for the cutting and the race to the West Mifflin side, maybe you were there, too. Somewhere I have a picture that my father took of the big day. Also, you may recall, when me and Billy Werntges went out on the unfinished bridge and got in BIG trouble. In the middle of the uncompleted bridge was a sign which read “American Bridge Works”. We thought it would be funny to take some of their orange paint and write at the bottom of the sign “Made in Japan”. Well, it wasn’t! The Duquesne Police & Fire Dept showed up at the Duquesne end while the West Mifflin Police and Fire Dept was at the other. They wanted us to stay there, don’t move and they’ll rescue us. When we saw Billy’s Dad (a Duquesne fireman) and the police chief we decided to give ourselves up to the West Mifflin cops, so we walked over while they were trying to get ropes out to us. They put us in a West Mifflin cop car (station wagon I recall) and immediately drove up to the dump over and down Herman St. and gave us over to Bill’s Dad and the cops. Somehow I forget what happened after that, but we never did it again. 🙂

      • Jim says:

        Great story Bob. Oh, the joy of youth!

  2. Frank Mullen says:

    Hi Jim, Seeing that photo of the circus parade exting N. 1st St. reminded me, also, of a tiny detail in the life of this pre-adolescent kid back in the 50’s-era Duquesne. Next to the Plaza Theater, on its left, was a candystore I always visited every time I immersed myself in a full day in The Plaza. My favorite candies available at the store were: Milk Duds; Charms (little square, tart candies individually wrapped in cellophane); Bit-o-Honey; Zero; SkyBar, and, my favorite of all, Charms Suckers/Lollypops. Those suckers were the same flavors as the little squares packed in the black-n-silver rectangular “tubes”, but were about as big as my palm. Every lick was a quality treat. Plus, if I were really in a good, goofy mood during the movie, I usually tried to stick one of those Charms suckers onto my friend David’s cheek, much to his irritation and the squeals-of-glee of my movie-mates (We traveled in mini-packs of 3-5). We were kids, what can I tell you, and I was a nutcase, I admit. Of course, all that candy and messin’ around like that stopped once I entered DHS. Acne pimples made their dreaded first appearance and held on for a couple years, so candy was out. Teasing others stopped, too.

    Just some thoughts.

  3. Jack Schalk says:

    I vividly remember the circus parades on 1st St in the early 50’s including a young boy with a cart, shovel, and broom that followed the elephants. I graduated DHS in ’54 and the early days of high school had a lot of spectacular goings on to a Duquesner. The photo of the parade is exactly how my minds eye recalls the city at that time.

    I missed seeing the school play from ’52 but there are a lot of last names that can be linked to my classmates.

    Speaking of the slag dump. That slag surface would take the hide off a baseball in one game and I remember being told to keep the ball of the ground on throws to the plate so as not to damage the ball. Try sliding into base on that field.

    I have another slag dump story that bears telling.
    Our group of ball players had gathered at the field to start a game but we were told to leave by a group of evangelists who were setting up a tent for a revival that night.
    We were incensed and let them know about it.
    In fact, one of our group said that probably a windstorm would take down their tent. My mind remembers who it was that said it but I will not post his name here. I believe he was a tall, left handed 1st baseman for DHS.
    That night, after the revival, a thunderstorm with wind came through and indeed pulled the stakes out of that hard soil and the tent collapsed.
    Don’t mess with the Dukes.

  4. Rome Sikora says:

    Teddy Bodnar – an understudy to the dancers? Now that is what I call a very rich memory.

  5. Jim, Growing up in Duquesne I really enjoy all the fun and interesting stories you come up with. I wasn’t born until 1958 so a lot of these stories you post I had no idea these events happened in Duquesne, however a lot of post I CAN relate to. My mom grew up in Duquesne/West Mifflin area, had she been alive today I know she would probably would have remembered many of these. So keep all the interesting stories and events coming as long as you can, I am sure not only do I enjoy them but the impact on soooooooooo many Hunky Duquesners you probably have put a smile on their face and jogged a lot of memories..Vickie Brady Little

  6. Frank Mullen says:

    Living in Duquesne Place, my friends and I never missed the circus when it came to town, back in the 50’s, because it often included Miller Avenue in its walk-around. (I had no idea the circus parade journeyed down to N. 1st St and beyond. Did they actually walk from there to Duquesne Place?) Circuses pitched their tents and encamped just off Herman Ave, a little beyond where it intersects with Clonmel Street, extending all the way over to what is now Hoffman Blvd. Before that stripmall was established, including all the soil added under it, the whole area was known as “The (slag) Dump,” which included several wooded areas (which we kids called,”The Woods” ) along the perimeter. The circus had a difficult time driving its spikes that held the tents up into the hardened slag landscape, as I recall, but I don’t honestly know if they liked the resultant tight hold the slag had on those spikes or if the effort to drive the in was a bother.

    My memory is that one of the last circuses to visit Duquesne, during my childhood in the later 50’s, was The Clyde Beatty (sp?) or was it the Ringling Bros. Barnum Bailey?The circus moment which sticks out most clearly in my memory was the time my mother and I went to watch the circus setting everything up. In the midst of our adventure of witnessing everything being moved into place, we stood still for several moments while a couple wagon-cages carrying the big cats were being positioned. One large wagon carrying a tiger had its front axle turned too sharply, so the whole wagon, bearing its cage and startled contents, fell on its side. It either had no roof, or the roof fell off, releasing the dazed tiger onto the The Dump’s hard slag surface. As the cat looked up and began gathering its senses, I quickly moved and stood between it and my mother, not ten feet away. Several men rushed over to separate us from the tiger, gestured for us to escape off to the right, toward home, and proceeded to corral the animal and restore its wagon to an upright position. For years afterward, mother told the story, much to my red-faced chagrin, of when her Frankie stepped between her and that tiger.

    • Jim says:

      Frank, it sounds like you earned the title of “Duquesne’s Mini-Tarzan!” Well played my friend. The circus in the late 50’s sticks in my mind due to the fact that we spent the entire day at the circus and in Kennywood. My parents were having wall to wall carpeting installed and Mom wanted to keep us out of the house that day. – Jim

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