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There are just a few days remaining before Christmas Day arrives. As usual, I have no hopes of seeing a White Christmas here on the shore, with temperatures expected to be in the mid-70’s. It will be far from the crisp, cold days that I remember as a boy. With such a consistent absence of Christmas-like weather each year, I’ve had to rely on “artificial inspiration” to get that heartfelt holiday mood as Christmas comes closer and closer.
I remember how my mother and/or my Aunt Mary and I, would spend evenings leading toward Christmas in front of a black and white TV watching some of the classic Christmas movies. The networks would air movies such as “It’s A Wonderful Life” or “White Christmas” in lieu of their regular programming, and each time, I would be glued to the set. We would always enjoy goodies while watching the movies. The movie was enough incentive for me to ask for a few slices of poppyseed roll and not be afraid that I’d be turned down with the “Not until Christmas” answer!
I have managed to gather a wonderful assortment of holiday DVDs that I resurrect each year to once again harness those wonderful Christmas feelings. Unfortunately, it has been quite a number of years since I last enjoyed some good old HUNKY poppyseed roll. I’ve learned to substitute just about every other Christmas treat in the house that isn’t nailed down for the poppyseed roll instead.
With today’s technology, being able to enjoy your favorite Christmas movie or Christmas Special is just a click away on your computer. I used to think that watching movies or shows on a computer screen was absurd, considering that we’ve all grown very accustomed to big screen TVs. Although, if you think about it, many of the televisions when we were young, had screens even smaller than some computer monitors! I remember watching TV at my Uncle Mike and Aunt Kay’s house on Archer Street in Port Vue on a tiny black and white screen and was perfectly content to do so. My cousins Michelle, Arlene and Michael Stepetic, and my brother and I would enjoy any show just as much as watching it on today’s big screen TVs…. well, sorta!
The following are clips from my three favorite Christmas movies; White Christmas, Its A Wonderful Life, and Miracle on 34th Street. They’re not very long, and they may be preceded by a short commercial, but they are still worth watching once again.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (The little girl, Susie, is played by Natalie Wood!)
AND AS AN ADDITIONAL CHRISTMAS TREAT…..
FRANK SINATRA AND NAT KING COLE
Christmas VILIJA! What In The Hunky World Is That??
My mother was Croatian, my father was Slovak. As a result, I was immersed in two different Eastern European cultures, each with their own set of traditions. It seems that these traditions came to the forefront during the holiday season.
As a Slovak, I was fortunate to be able experience one of the most beloved Christmas traditions, theVilija (pronounced vă – lē´ -yă.) Vilija is the traditional Christmas eve gathering and dinner that is rich with traditional foods, religious symbolism and family.
The vilija continues to this day in my family, and although the venue may have changed, the traditions and symbolism remains intact. What an incredible testimony and homage to the parents, grandparents and hunky culture that helped to set our moral compass.
As part of this posting, I have included a 2005 article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review by Karin Welzel. The author does an outstanding job of explaining the tradition, the content and the meaning behind the celebration. Rather than be redundant, allow me to give you my impressions and memories of the event as I experienced it in the 50’s.
The vilija always took place at my Uncle Gary and Aunt Helen’s home in West Mifflin. Just like a scene from “A Big Fat Greek Wedding,” I remember entering their house and immediately getting drawn into the crowd of family that were already preparing the feast.
Their home was always decked out with Christmas decorations galore and every light in the house seemed to be burning. Usually, by Christmas eve in Western Pennsylvania, the weather had usually taken a definite turn and it was normally either snowing or on the verge of doing so. For that reason, whenever I entered their home, it felt so toasty warm compared to the outdoors. Their windows were usually steamed up from all of the cooking that was occurring and from the cranked-up thermostat (Grandma was always cold you know). And then there were the smells! The freshly cut Christmas tree scent hit me as soon as I entered the house. (It must have been the magic aspirins!) Combined with the smell of fresh pine was the amazing aroma emanating from the kitchen and dining room.
All of my aunts were buzzing around a rather cramped kitchen preparing all of the traditional foods. Somehow, all of the foods which were part of our every day lives growing up as a hunky smelled so much better on Christmas Eve! Stuffed cabbages, pirogies, kielbasa and poppy seed rolls smelled like food for the gods! I was a very picky eater in those days, but somehow, a became a modern day foodie during the vilija.
My uncles had the responsibility of creating a dining surface large enough to accommodate our ever growing family. Since my dad was one of 8 children, the number of people attending was quite large. There was no such thing as a “kids table” in those days, so the eating surface had to accommodate approximately 25 people PLUS the feast itself. The table was usually assembled using two tables which supported large sheets of plywood. It was at least 16 feet long, extended from the dining room into the living room and was always covered with crisp white linens. There were never any decorations on the table, only food, lots and lots of food! The chairs that surrounded the table were a potpourri of chairs from around the house, the out-of-town neighbors and often times from St. Michael’s Church hall. Your seat may not have matched with the neighboring chair, but every family member had their place.
The timing of the dinner was very strategic. It was essential that we ate and were finished with dinner by 6 p.m. In those days, it was important that we allowed for the correct about of time before receiving communion at midnight mass. The Roman Catholic Church has very specific rules governing communion.
Grandpa would always begin the vilija with a blessing. This would be followed by the passing of oplatky (non-blessed communion bread). We would pass a large square piece of oplatky and each person would break a small piece off to be consumed in unison at the end of Grandpa’s blessing. I remember tha the oplatky would always come to the table in an envelop that was decorated with a colorful representation of the birth of Christ.
Once we had taken our oplatky, the feast began. With amazing speed and dexterity, plates and bowls of food were passed around the table and plates were loaded up to the max. Jokes, teasing, memories, and plans for the holidays were just some of the discussions that occurred during the meal. My dad would always be yelled at by my mom and my Aunt Helen for something he might have said to instigate some trouble, but that was expected, and welcome. After the main courses were completed, out came platters and platters of goodies. Poppyseed, apricots and walnuts seemed to be part of every creation. Each would probably be capable of clogging any artery in the room, but somehow, it either didn’t happen or didn’t matter in those days. Naivety was bliss in those days.
Once the dinner was over, my aunts would begin clean-up. Sexist or not, that was the way it was in those days. The men would gather and have some celebratory “shots” and beers, the kids would share their wish lists with each other and the ladies would clean-up the remnants of the feast. There seemed to be an unspoken exception to the communion rule in our family that shots and beers didn’t count when it came to abstaining before communion. Go figure.
After everything was in order, each family departed to get ready for midnight mass at their own parish church. Fully stuffed and raring to go, the remainder of the Christmas Eve activities still laid ahead.
Celebrate Slovak Style
By Karin Welzel
Sunday, December 11, 2005
From the straw scattered under the dining table to the honey that is spread onto thin oplatky to share among diners, the Slovak Christmas Eve meal — called the Vilija table — abounds with religious symbolism.
Christmas Eve is the most awaited day of the Christmas holiday season, according to Albina and Joseph Senko of Mt. Lebanon, members of Western Pennsylvania’s Slovak community.
“The big day is Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day,” says Albina Senko, a native of Spis in Slovakia. She is a director of the Western Pennsylvania Slovak Cultural Association, founded by her husband in 1997.
A certified public accountant with McKeever Varga & Senko and a certified financial planner, Joseph Senko also is honorary consul to the Slovak Republic.
The Senkos continue to observe the customs and traditions of their ancestry — Joseph Senko was born in Pittsburgh to Slovakian immigrants — and have made it a personal mission to educate Slovak-Americans and the general public about their culture. They are Roman Catholic, as are most of the inhabitants, but they say Byzantine and Orthodox Rite worshipers might follow similar traditions. Slovakia features a wide variety of dialects and customs, varying from region to region, village to village, family to family.
Albina Senko has her home decorated Slovak-style, including a table-size tree festooned with edible ornaments, such as whole walnuts and wrapped candy. There are intricate ornaments made from straw. On larger trees many years ago, family members used apples, paper roses and candles for decorations, too. The top of the tree often was a star made from straw.
Slovak cooks are busy on Christmas Eve, Albina Senko says. Sauerkraut-mushroom or pea soup, bobalky (sweet dough dumplings) and a variety of fish are a must, as well as meatless pirohy, to maintain the fast observed by the faithful during Advent, which begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas.
In anticipation of the celebration, hay or straw is placed under the tablecloth or under the table — or both places — to symbolize the poverty of Christ in a humble manger. Some families place straw in the center of the Advent candle wreath, Albina Senko says, and a figure of the baby Jesus is placed on top.
The table is covered with a white cloth as a symbol of the swaddling clothes of the Christ child. Another tradition is to set an extra place setting to receive a stranger or in honor of a deceased loved one.
The dinner starts at the sighting of the first star of the evening.
“You tell the youngest child to look for it — it may be that it’s just to keep them occupied, because there is a lot of expectation,” says Albina, adding that there is just as much merriment at her house for Christmas Eve now as when her six children were small. She has grandchildren who are excited about the lights, the dinner and gifts.
After the house and table are blessed using a pine bough and holy water, a mulled red wine steeped with cinnamon sticks or herbs and honey is served to diners. Albina Senko sweetens her wine with cranberry juice, cinnamon-sugar and a dash of nutmeg.
The ceremony then focuses on a waferlike “bread” called oplatky (altar bread) that is broken, dipped in honey and distributed to each family member, starting with the husband to his wife. The head of the household dips his thumb in honey and makes the sign of the cross on the foreheads of each member of the household so they will be reminded to keep Christ foremost in their thoughts and praying that harmony will sweeten their lives.
Part of this ceremony focuses on daughters who are eligible for marriage.
Says Albina Senko: “The mother takes honey on her finger, makes a cross on their heads and says, ‘May you be sweet and find a husband soon!’ I did it with my own daughters.”
The next course usually is a tart soup — sauerkraut and mushroom is a popular choice — to represent the bitter destiny of Christ and his suffering for humanity. The family then loads up their plates with bobalky, sweet dough balls baked and mixed with sauerkraut or poppy seeds, symbolic of a plentiful crop. Joseph Senko likes a topping of cottage cheese on them, too.
Platters display a variety of fish that has been floured and quickly sauteed in oil. Because Slovakia is land-locked, carp and trout are common, but Albina Senko likes white fish such as tilapia to grace her table.
Also served are pirohy stuffed with fillings ranging from sauerkraut to cheese and potato; and English peas, which represent a bountiful growing season. Albina Senko folds peas into a mayonnaise-rich potato salad; other families fold peas into hot mashed potatoes. Holubky are cabbage rolls stuffed with ground mushrooms and rice.
The Vilija ends on a sweet note, with nut and poppy seed rolls. Walnuts in the shell and apples also are placed on the table.
None of the foods contain meat, still keeping with the Advent fast.
To wrap up the meal sweetly, Slovaks traditionally serve kolaci, pastry rolls made with sweet dough filled with poppy seeds, dried fruit or nuts.
In recognition of the empty seat at the table, none of the food is removed from the table after the diners are finished. “It’s for the people who couldn’t be there,” Albina Senko says. Before midnight in Slovakia, the animals in the barns are given remnants of the meal — the food from the table is supposed to make them healthy and productive for the coming year.
The Senkos host tours regularly to Slovakia to acquaint Americans with their culture. Albina Senko is a retired travel tour operator, as well as a frequent translator for Slovakian visitors and officials who visit Pittsburgh. It is their wish to improve the lives of their countrymen across the sea and bring Slovakian culture into the homes of the general public.
These traditional dishes of a Slovak Christmas Eve table feature simple, earthy ingredients — plus a bevy of sweets.
Slovak Christmas Eve Soup
This recipe is adapted from one by Albina Senko, a native Slovakian who lives in Mt. Lebanon. Senko is from Spis in the northeast region of the Carpathian Mountains. Although Slovakia is only about the size of West Virginia , with 5.5 million people, Senko says, there is a lot of variety in customs among the towns and villages.
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped
- 1 cup sliced mushrooms
- 1 can (16 ounces) sauerkraut, drained but rinsed only lightly
- Paprika, to taste
- Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 vegetable bouillon cube, optional
- 1 carrot, sliced
- 1 potato, peeled and diced
Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the onions and mushrooms and saute until translucent. Add the drained sauerkraut, water to cover the sauerkraut, paprika, salt, black pepper and the bouillon cube, if desired. Let simmer — do not boil — adding more water so you still have broth.
Add the carrot and potato and simmer until tender, for about 15 to 20 minutes, adding more water as needed to keep a souplike consistency.
These bite-sized dumplings can be made from frozen and thawed sweet bread dough to save time. Form portions of the dough into 1-inch rolls, then cut small pieces and bake. The National Slovak Society offers this recipe.
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1/2 cup lukewarm water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
- 6 cups all-purpose flour, more for dusting board
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil, more for greasing baking sheet
- About 2 cups tap water
- Boiling water
Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water. Add the salt and 1 tablespoon sugar. Let set to proof, for about 10 minutes.
Sift together the flour and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Add the yeast mixture, 1/4 cup oil and enough of the 2 cups tap water to make a workable dough. Knead well. Let the dough rise until doubled.
Meanwhile, grease a cookie sheet with oil.
Punch down the dough. Cut off portions of the dough about the size of an egg. Roll each out on a floured board by hand to make rolls about 1 inch in diameter. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Place the pieces on the prepared cookie sheet and let rise for about 20 minutes.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Bake the dumplings for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool, then separate. Place in a colander and pour boiling water over them. Drain quickly to prevent sogginess.
Combine these mixtures with half of the bobalky.
Sauerkraut: Saute 1 small onion, chopped, in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Add 1 pound drained sauerkraut. Cook for about 15 minutes. Add to half of the bobalky.
Poppy seeds: Combine 1 cup ground poppy seeds, 2 tablespoons honey and 1/4 cup water. Add to the remaining bobalky.
Commercially prepared Oplatky — the thin wafers coated with honey and then broken at dinner on Christmas Eve and shared among diners — is available from specialty food markets, Slovak and Polish churches and can be purchased through the Internet. Or, you can make your own, using a hot iron form or mold. This recipe is from the National Slovak Society.
- 5 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 5 teaspoons butter, melted
- 2 cups cold milk
- 3 3/4 cups cold water
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl until the mixture has a “pancake” batter texture — smooth and thin. Pour small portions — about a heaping tablespoon — onto a very hot iron form or mold.
Makes 98 oplatky, about 5 inches in size.
The Slovak Christmas Eve dinner does not contain dairy or animal products because the day before the Feast of the Nativity is one of strict fast and spiritual preparation. Here are some foods likely to be served. Their appearance depends upon whether the family is Roman Catholic, Byzantine or Orthodox.
Bandurky — Potatoes, usually boiled, to which onions sauteed in oil have been added. Many families prepare potatoes that are mashed and mixed with peas or prunes.
Bobalky — Small balls of dough prepared with honey and poppy seeds or sauerkraut
Borscht — Beet soup sometimes prepared with cabbage
Fasolji — Prepared brown bean paste spread onto bread
Garlic — Eaten raw on the Christmas bread dipped in honey, intended to keep away the evil spirits
Holuby — Cabbage rolls stuffed with ground mushrooms and rice
Hribi — Mushrooms sauteed with onions in oil
Kapusta i bandurky — Sauerkraut mixed with grated potatoes
Kasa — Rice, sometimes served as a separate dish with zapraska or macanka over it as a gravy
Kvasna Kapusta — Sauerkraut
Loksa (Loksha) — Unraised biscuits
Med — Honey, symbolic of the sweetness of being with the Lord.
Mezanec — An unleavened Christmas bread usually dipped in honey and eaten with a slice of raw garlic
Orehi — Nuts
Pagac — Two layers of dough between which cabbage or potatoes have been spread, then baked
Pirohy (often spelled pierogies) — Dough packets filled with sauerkraut, potatoes, sweet cabbage or prunes
Riba — Fish, usually a white fish baked or smoked, which is symbolic of the Christian faith because Christ was the fisher of men
Sol — Salt
Suseni slivki — Stewed prunes
Zapraska — A thick brown sauce used to prepare various soups and gravies. Among the soups prepared with Zapraska base:
Macanka (Machanka)— A thick mushroom soup
Sauerkraut Soup, with sauerkraut juice added. Usually single ingredients such as green beans, peas, lima beans, mushrooms or butter beans can be added.
Lima Bean Soup
Green Split Pea Soup
Green Bean Soup
Rice and Mushroom Soup
— National Slovak Society, Canonsburg
There is no Christmas song that immediately takes me back to Christmas in Duquesne as instantly as the carol “In a Manger Lowly.” I posted a video on this blog as well as YouTube, that I put together a few years ago. Yesterday, I received a comment from someone who viewed the video. They are the great great niece of the song’s composer! How wonderful is that?!
This recording of In a Manger Lowly is a selection from an album recorded by the Sisters of Saint Joseph at their mother house in Baden. They were sold at Holy Name School and my mother cherished every song. Enjoy!
A few nights ago, I sat and watched the perennial Christmas TV Special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Not an unusual thing for one to do, except if you consider that I’m 64 years old, and I was alone! However, I was not about to break my viewing streak of 50 years! Since Rudolph was first aired on December 6, 1964, I have watched it every single year. This year marked the 51st consecutive year for me. Some people take on the Boston Marathon or Tour de France, but this little hunky tackled Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!!
I believe my real reason for watching the show year after year is a simple one. I recall watching the program with my mom in 1964. We watched it on our black and white Zenith TV set. There was a light snowfall that evening, and the temperature was in the lower 20’s making for perfect Christmas special viewing weather. I remembered the details so vividly, as that was the one and only time I was able to enjoy the show with my mother. She passed away the following August at 45 years of age. Each year since ’64, that memory returns, and an emptiness is filled in my heart.
When you get right down to it, the holidays are all about those very unique and very personal snippets of memories that occurred throughout your life at Christmastime. There were the traditions which families had continued for decades on end; such as the cutting down the family Christmas tree, making holiday cookies together, the Christmas Eve Valeija or perhaps attending Midnight Mass together.
Our family’s tradition could be easily described as the cadence of Christmas visits that began on Christmas Eve and culminated on The Feast of the Epiphany. Every evening between the two days meant a visit to an aunt for uncle or a visit FROM the entire gang. Considering that I had a total of 21 aunts and uncles living in the immediate area then add in about 30 cousins, and each night was one crazy Hunky Hullabaloo!
When I think of MY Christmas memories, I certainly remember the visits and parties, but I also recall tidbits of memories that come together to mentally form my own sensory patchwork Christmas quilt.
- Among the multitude of the patches that are part of MY quilt, there would be one patch that helps me to remember the very distinctive aroma of yeast cubes being dissolved in milk on the stove. It seems that every home in the neighborhood began preparing their poppy seed and nut rolls during the same week. If I happened to be visiting a friend or a relative, I was also quick to pick out that aroma and knew that before the visit was over, I’d be enjoying a freshly baked slice of poppy seed roll.
- Another patch would represent another distinctive holiday smell. My parents purchased their first artificial Christmas tree in 1963. With that tree’s arrival, several sets of new multicolored mini-lights arrived as well. Sadly, that meant that the blue C7 lights we used on the live trees in years prior were retired and eventually discarded. Although we were all excited about the new tree and lights, it took years before I realized how the new tree impacted a piece of my memory.
Like most families in Duquesne, we chose our live Christmas tree from one of the many lots that would spring up throughout the area. Each one looked the same with strings of white lightbulbs illuminating the huge assortments of fresh pines, and an old oil drum with a toasty fire to stand next to and keep warm. Dad would pick out the best tree, get an ok from my brother and me, gather up a bundle of extra branches, tie the tree in the trunk and then head up Kennedy Avenue towards home.
Once we arrived at home, Dad would immediately show the tree to Mom and try to convince her that it would fit in the house AND he can add branches to make it the perfect shape. Once he had moved the tree into our garage, he’d begin to drill holes into the trunk and insert the extra branches around the tree until he created the “perfect tree.” As he drilled the holes into the fresh pine tree trunk, the garage was filled with the scent of pine from the sap that was released and the heat that was generated from the drill bit as it was doing its job.
After Dad had finished shaping the tree, he would move it into the house and the next step took place. Dad was in charge of stringing the blue Christmas lights onto the tree. He would meticulously clip each light onto the tree in a precise location. He said he wanted to be sure it looked nice and full, and bright. What followed the satisfactory blue light placement was yet another very distinctive smell that to me, only meant that it was Christmas. Each year, my father would flock the tree with can after can of spray snow. Aside from the toxic fumes that were released when he was spraying (he made us leave the room and go up to our rooms,) however, it was the smell of the spray snow as it dried on the hot C7 bulbs that I recall. The fact that my dad never tried to remove the snow from the bulbs resulted in years of residue on the bulbs, however it never caused an issue.
- A piece of my memory quilt would be reserved for Christmas cards. My recollection isn’t anything unusual except when compared to what occurs now. I remember the hours and hours Mom would spend at the dining room table addressing all of the cards. Typically, she would send out 100 or more cards as a result of our large family, my parent’s many friends, and my dad’s customers from his auto repair business. There were piles and piles of outgoing cards stacked on the table, each appropriately stamped with their 4 cent stamp, neatly addressed and bundled with twine according to where they were being sent. Approximately 2 weeks before Christmas, my dad would drop the bundles of cards off at the Duquesne Post Office on Second Street.
I always looked forward to the reciprocal nature of sending cards back then. In the weeks before Christmas, our mailbox would be overflowing with incoming holiday greetings. My job was to open them up with my mom. She in turn would check off the sender’s name in her red Christmas card ledger book and make sure the return address on the envelope was the same as the address she had sent hers to. We would stack all of the cards that we received into a small wooden sleigh that sat on our buffet during the Christmas season. By Christmas Day, it was overflowing!
What a contrast to today’s society, myself included. I probably send out a sum total of 20 cards. One box of cards is always enough. Of course, the cost of the postage for the 20 cards alone is more than double the cost of sending out 245 cards in the 50’s. I certainly miss receiving the cards. Opening an email with a Christmas greeting is great, but it isn’t the same as opening an envelope and getting a cascade of glitter in your lap!
There are so many other bits of sights, sounds and smells that add more and more substance to my quilt of Christmas memories including:
- The sound that the foil Christmas bell decorations made each time they hit the window when the wind blew.
- The whistling sound of the wind through our windows on snowy nights in spite of the storm windows that were hung each year.
- Watching my mom make some of the traditional food that we had for our visitors each year. Grinding beets, making stuffed cabbage, cooking and slicing a huge ham, peeling green onions and so on. Mom always found a way to allow me to help and always made me part of the fun, although I doubt she would have called it that!
- Driving past Holy Name School and seeing all of the classroom windows that had been decorated with poster paints in an array of Christmas themes.
- Attending children’s Christmas parties at the Duquesne Annex, the Slovak Club, the Croatian Club or the Moose and coming back with a bag of goodies.
- Listening intently to the radio each day for an occasional Christmas song to validate that the holiday was really coming.
- Watching Christmas cartoons while lying on the living room floor with my feet propped up on the wall over the heating vent. (This always irritated Mom.)
- The beautiful amber glow of snowfall when looking out our windows at night on Thomas Street.
What a wonderful time to think back to all of the special memories that make up your own Christmas Quilt. Share with us if you would like by commenting on this post. Perhaps the mention of your own special memory will trigger warm memories for someone else. Let’s keep the spirit of community alive!
I never get enough of this story. I only wish I would have had the chance to be there. I was just born to late! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!
The following article appeared in The Duquesne Times on November 30, 1950. There was no Times published on November 23, 1950 due to the snowfall. Unfortunately, there were no photos in the Times published on November 30th, so a photojournalistic account of the snowfall does not exist.
I wasn’t witness to what eventually became known as “The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950” in the history books. I was born in 1951, and began to hear all of the local legends about the snowstorm at a very early age. The storm was an issue far beyond the boundaries of Duquesne and there are several recollections from people from the surrounding areas.
I have assembled some of those stories, some photos that I posted last year, plus a few new ones from other nearby communities. I hope you enjoy the recaps and that they conjure up some of your own memories. If they do, be sure to tell us about them in the comment section. If you are like me and were born after the event, tell us about stories your parents or relatives may have told you about the storm!
DUQUESNE DIGS OUT
The Duquesne Times – November 30, 1950.
Through the cooperation of the city, Carnegie-Illinois and the Rogan Trucking Co, all of the city’s main arteries were open for limited emergency travel within 24 hours.
By today, a large section of West Grant Avenue and the business district of First Street were free of snow.
With the exception of a few minor accidents Duquesne weathered the storm without a serious mishap.
Councilman Walter V. Babic who supervised “Operation Cleanup” is to be congratulated for coordinating the snow clearance program as are Mayor Frank Kopriver, Jr., his fellow councilmen and the other employees who worked around the clock to prevent any serious tragedy from occurring here.
Duquesne’s fire department spent a relatively quiet weekend, answering 5 calls none of which resulted in very much damage.
We believe Mr. Babic used exceptionally good judgment in opening all arteries as a fire precautionary measure before attempting to remove the snow from any street. Had the occasion demanded, firemen would have been able to reach any point in the city on Monday.
City facilities were accorded persons stranded in Duquesne by the snow. Three college students spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the fire station leaving Monday morning to return to their classes at Penn State.
Two families, one from Norfolk and the other from Wilkinsburg were also given shelter at the Municipal building.
The greatest hazard today is that of overburdened roofs. Mayor Kopriver called on owners of flat roofed buildings to take every precaution by removing the snow at the earliest possible opportunity. The roof of a garage at the rear of 74 N First Street owned by Escovitz Furniture caved in causing extensive damage to a truck and several automobiles.
Duquesne Motor Coach Lines resumed operations on a limited schedule Wednesday afternoon after being idle for several days.
Postmaster Phillip McDermott reported that mail was being delivered as usual with exception of the department’s new mobile unit.
Streetcar traffic, disrupted Friday night bud not resumed operations at press time today.
Garbage collections on streets already cleared were resumed today. Officer William Raible requested that an effort be made to have all garbage in containers. Regular collection schedules will be resumed as soon as possible.
Taxi cabs are back in service offering transportation to any point where travel can be made.
They Still Talk About the Ferocious Snowstorm of 1950
By Debra Erdley, TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, November 23, 2008
On Nov. 23, 1950, Thanksgiving Day, the temperature dropped to a record five above. Then the snow began blowing.
By Friday morning, traffic was paralyzed by a coating of ice and 5 to 7 inches of snow.
The storm continued all day.
By Saturday morning, a dozen heart attack deaths were attributed to the storm.
By early Sunday morning, the city was buried under 2 feet of snow, with another 5 to 10 inches expected.
By Monday, the local death toll had reached 27, and the Allegheny County Coroner cautioned “oldsters” — those 45 and older — against shoveling snow.
Some 25 miles east of the city, Irwin residents opened their homes to travelers. Motorists were stranded there when they exited the Pennsylvania Turnpike at what was then its western terminus and found Route 30 impassable.
Mayor David Lawrence called upon 200 National Guardsmen to enforce a city-ordered blockade of Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle.
By the time it was over, the death toll from the storm would reach 278 in the Ohio Valley. Even icicles were deadly. A North Braddock man died after one at U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works broke loose and struck him.
But it wasn’t all death and disaster. There were 225 births in 15 Pittsburgh area hospitals during the storm.
“Many of them arrived ‘special delivery,’ their Mama got to the hospital via police car,” the Pittsburgh Sun Telegraph reported.
Storytelling: 1950 Snowstorm Paralyzed the City But Not This Dad
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
By Ed Borrebach
The day after Thanksgiving 1950, on Nov. 24, I was at work as an electrical engineer in Building L of the East Pittsburgh plant of Westinghouse Electric Corp.
Five months before I had accepted a job there after graduating from Tufts College in Massachusetts and had migrated in our new Plymouth, with our even newer, 6-week-old baby boy.
There had been some snow on the ground that morning, but who’s afraid of a little snow? So like one of the seven dwarfs (not naming which one), off to work I went, only thinking that it was the thing to do.
Really, though, not one of us knew that a major storm was on the way. We had only radio. No TV, no cell phones, no BlackBerrys. So there we were at work while the snow kept a-falling.
Finally, around noon, we were told by management that we could leave. I took the trolley car up Ardmore Boulevard, close to Rebecca Avenue in Wilkinsburg, where I’d parked my car. The snow was building up, with lots of big flat white snowflakes that had no thought of melting.
I cleaned off the car and drove off to Squirrel Hill, where we had a small basement apartment (the only type of residence we could afford on $315 a month salary) on Woodmont Street. I was not alone on the road; there were other drivers trying to get home before the storm worsened. It was a long, slow trip, but there wasn’t a Squirrel Hill Tunnel at the time, so it could have been worse!
I made it home, finally, and parked out front at the curb. The snowfall was intense. We soon found ourselves in a beautiful white world. The snow built up to more than 30 inches deep.
My car was just one of many cars completely hidden under snow. Each was just a lump in a world of white lumps. I put on overshoes, but the snow was too deep for them, so I shoveled my way to the street and scraped off the car top — I feared of a cave-in. Driving anywhere was out of the question.
Back in the basement we talked about our son and his diet of whole milk. Where could we buy some? It was necessary for me to venture out in search of some milk. I walked up to the corner of Murray and Forbes avenues looking for signs of life. I found no open stores.
You can see from the picture I took that the old Route 22-30 through Pittsburgh at the time was still completely impassable.
Finally, well down a road running parallel to Forbes, I found a milk truck (one that delivered pre-ordered quart bottles of milk daily to residences) and there I was able to plead for and buy a bottle. I still think of and give thanks to that dear man for daring to be out in such weather — even with chains on the wheels and the weight of the truck, it was no picnic — and for selling me a bottle of this life-giving nectar for my son.
I had just come from the Boston area, where people at that time seemed less friendly, to use a kind euphemism. I learned then and many times afterward that people in Pittsburgh are a friendly bunch. I loved it then and love it now
1950 Storm: Snowed-In and Happy
December 4, 2009
By BOB WHITED
On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23, 1950, I was nine years old in my little hometown village of Bridgeburg, Pa. Again, Thanksgiving was a great day for me and my family, which included my mother, father and brother. It was a pleasant day with a fine feast and many reasons to give thanks. We had no television at the time, but I listened to “Dragnet” on the radio that evening. During the late evening or early morning snow started to fall.
It was Friday morning, and we didn’t have school, thank goodness, due to the holiday. My father worked night shift at the local brickyard, and on Fridays we all went to Kittanning for groceries. My brother and I were hoping to take in a matinee at the movies. Before we piled into our 1946 maroon Plymouth, I had an early snowball fight with one of the neighbor kids. I just loved to see the snow come down, and by then, snow started to accumulate. We rushed to Kittanning quickly, which was a five-mile trip, and my parents purchased their weekly supply of groceries and hurried back home due to the weather and no tire chains on our car. There was no time for a movie matinee.
The snow kept pelting down with no end in sight. We arrived home safely, and my dad walked to work, since the brickyard was close by. What weather news we received was from the radio in between “The Lone Ranger” and other favorite radio programs. It was not great, and the snow continued to tumble down. On awakening Saturday, Nov. 25, 1950, we couldn’t believe our eyes. It was still snowing, and snow blanketed everywhere we looked. My dad returned home from work and measured 23 inches of snow at that time. He was called out later to shovel the roofs over the brick ware due to fear of weight and collapse of those roofs. By Sunday, the snow stopped completely, but school was canceled on Monday and all the rest of the week. This was truly the best part of the snowstorm. Everything was shut down.
Since then it has been called the Great Appalachian Storm of 1950 and the 1950 Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm. Nearly 30 inches of snow covered Pittsburgh, and 2 feet or more blanketed Cleveland. West Virginia, western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio saw snowfall totals greater than 30 inches. Power was out to more than 1 million customers during this storm. It actually affected 22 states, killing 353 people and creating $66.7 million in damage. This, of course, was in 1950 dollars. U.S. insurance companies paid more money out to their policyholders for damage from this storm than for any other previous storm.
Steubenville’s snowfall exceeded 44 inches with snowdrifts up to 25 feet. The classic Ohio State-Michigan football game was scheduled on Saturday, Nov. 25, and was luckily played in Columbus where it was not quite as bad, but still is described as “The Blizzard Bowl.” The Big Ten Championship was on the line and a trip to the Rose Bowl. Michigan won 9-3 on 27 total yards gained without achieving one first down! Youngstown achieved 29 inches of snow. Many buildings collapsed under the weight of 2 to 3 feet of snow. The Ohio National Guard used Jeeps to transport people to hospitals and to deliver food to those in the rural areas. Ohio Gov. Frank Lausche declared a state of emergency in Cleveland, and the Youngstown-Warren area as drifts grew to 30 feet. Roads were closed; trains and buses canceled. People could not leave their homes for days. Milk and bread and other delivery trucks could not get through. School buses were halted, and it was a joyous occasions for all students. Snow clearing was much different in those days also, and, of course, they used no salt way back then.
So, here I sit on Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009, writing this piece some 59 years later with no snow but memories of the Great Thanksgiving Snowstorm of 1950.
Post Thanksgiving Snowfall Left Mid-Mon Valley Paralyzed In 1950
By Ron Paglia, FOR THE TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Read more: Post Thanksgiving snowfall left mid-Mon Valley paralyzed in 1950 – Pittsburgh Tribune-
Unless you owned a pack of Iditarod sled dogs, chances were you weren’t going too far in the mid-Monongahela Valley when one of the heaviest snowfalls on record brought the area to a virtual standstill two days after Thanksgiving on Nov. 23, 1950.
The subject brought a flurry of inquiries in the wake of the recent rash of bitter winter weather, which paled in comparison to Mother Nature’s knockout punch a little more than 59 years ago.
The Charleroi Mail and The Monessen Daily Independent reported on Nov. 25, 1950, that the district was “paralyzed” by the storm. The Mail said there was an official reading of 18 inches at 7 a.m. that day. The storm had a serious impact on businesses, mills and factories as transportation was, for the most part stopped.
“With no streetcar and only limited bus service, some employees made it to their businesses the hard way — by walking,” The Mail reported. “Some trudged into Charleroi through the deep snow from outlying districts in Belle Vernon, Dunlevy, Long Branch, Twilight, Fallowfield Township, Fisher Heights, North Charleroi, Mapleview and even Elco.”
Similar accounts of the aftermath appeared in The Daily Independent, which said the people in the Monongahela Valley area were “trying to dig out from under nearly two feet of snow … which began yesterday morning and was still falling at noon today.”
The newspaper noted that Blue Ridge Bus Lines, the Valley’s only public transportion link to the “outside world,” had stopped service as most district highways were almost entirely blocked. Other bus lines “threw their schedules away,” but Westside Motor Transit, which connected many Valley towns, and Hilltop Line, which served Monessen locally, “were sending occasional runs through,” The Independent reported.
The storm disrupted operations at the Allenport and Monessen plants of Pittsburgh Steel Company, but Page Steel and Wire Division, Monessen’s other large industry, continued to operate without a hitch, officials told the newspaper.
“Our biggest job right now is trying to keep coal moving for the steam plant,” Nick Polkabla, superintendent of industrial relations at Pittsburgh Steel in Monessen, said. “The coke works is only working 40 percent of capacity and shutting down this plant requires considerable work.”
At Allenport, General Works Manager Joseph Simonin said operations were near-normal, although some employees were unable to make it to the plant.
“We plan to adhere to the regular work week schedule,” Simonin told The Charleroi Mail. “If a department is unable to operate at full capacity, there will be other work for the men who are able to come to the plant. We do not plan to alter the work week schedule in any way.”
Polkabla said hundreds of men were unable to leave the mill Friday night and continued to work in their departments on overtime. Those who reported to work Saturday morning and whose departments were not working were put to work clearing ice and snow.
Municipal street crews throughout the Mon Valley were working extended schedules in an effort to clear the snow for vehicular and pedestrian traffic.
Pictures on the front page of The Daily Independent showed snow cleared from Donner Avenue and sidewalks piled nearly to the top of the parking meters. The large parking lot at Pittsburgh Steel was closed and many vehicles there were completely covered, and virtually hidden, by snow.
Telephone service was operating on an emergency basis as a result of many Bell Telephone Company employees being snowbound in their homes. J.L. Buchanan, manager of Bell operations in Charleroi, said some night employees were held over Saturday morning and operators were straggling in a few at a time. Bell officials in Monessen offered similar comments.
Other notes of interest, as reported in the newspapers, included:
• Richard Lawson, Donora funeral director who operates an ambulance service, spent Friday night and early Saturday morning driving his ambulance between Donora and Charleroi-Monessen Hospital. He made three trips during the night, carrying three mothers-to-be to the hospital. But on his third trip, Mr. Lawson had to ask for treatment for himself. His exertions in driving over the snow-covered roads had exhausted him and he had to be admitted for treatment at the hospital.
• The Pitt-Penn State football game scheduled for Saturday at Pitt Stadium was delayed until Monday.
• A banquet honoring the Monongahela American Legion Junior baseball team which won the 25th District and state championships earlier in the year went on as scheduled. Pennsylvania American Legion commander Joseph McCracken was the featured speaker.
• Radio Station WESA in Charleroi was praised by civic, government, industrial and religious leaders throughout the area for performing “an unprecedented public service” during the emergency. Granted permission by the FCC to continue operations around the clock, WESA operated on a 24-hour schedule throughout the crisis. The station broadcast bulletins and appeals from stricken residents at regular intervals, keeping listeners updated on developments.
• Milk trucks were making deliveries as rapidly as possible to all points — commercial and residential — where access was possible.
• Attendants at the Jones and McDonough Funeral Home in Bentleyville endured 13 hours of treacherous conditions on six miles of blocked highway in responding to a death at a home in Ginger Hill. The men left the funeral home at 11 a.m. Sunday and were preceded by a large bulldozer to fight mountainous snow drifts. The hearse finally got back to Bentleyville with the body at 2 a.m. Monday.
• An engine and caboose were placed in emergency use by Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad to convey a patient from Newell to Charleroi-Monessen Hospital. Arrangements were made for a Jeep to meet the rail cars at Belle Vernon station. Albert Manfield, who had been operating the Jeep to take doctors and nurses to and from the hospital, was called into service. A nurse also was waiting at Belle Vernon to assist the patient.
The storm, which dumped anywhere from two to three feet of snow in the area, had subsided by Nov. 27 and area residents were returning to “normal lives,” newspapers in the Mon Valley reported.
Public transportation remained curtailed in some areas and schools were to be closed Monday and Tuesday. Food supplies were “adequate” at district stores, milk and bread being the exceptions.
By Dec. 1, the Mon Valley was “almost dug out” of the record snowfall. Stores were operating on regular business hours, highways and streets were open, and public transportation was available. Schools were scheduled to open the following Monday.
The weather forecast called for some cloudiness and colder temperatures that night, followed by cloudy skies and rather cold conditions on Saturday, “probably followed by snow.”
Two additional articles from the Duquesne Times – 11-30-1950 –
It’s been a while since I last posted anything new to our blog. I seem to having longer and longer dry spells between posts, and I apologize for that. I would love to be able to post more and more, but unfortunately, sometimes topics that haven’t been covered are hard to come by.
I am sure that there are topics that I haven’t written about that you would like to see covered. If that’s the case, PLEASE, email me your ideas. I would REALLY appreciate hearing from you. In the meantime, I am posting some recent emails that you’ll enjoy AND that might provoke thoughts of subjects that I need to discuss.
Please feel free to comment on this post, or email directly at email@example.com. I can’t wait to hear from you!
I grew up in the Riverview housing Project in Duquesne Annex and graduated from Duquesne High in 1959. I recently went back to the project and found it to be just as nice as it was forty years ago.
I can’t say the same for Duquesne itself. I was active in the Duquesne Works Local 1256 until the day it shut down, and was active in trying to save the plant. My experience with some city officials left me with bad feelings about Duquesne.
In 1982 I was quoted by local news media, that Duquesne would turn into a slum if the mill shut down. Duquesne’s Mayor responded by saying he was going to sue me for false statements. He claimed that the Duquesne Works was lined up to create 2500 new jobs with a new ethanol plant as soon as the mill was demolished. He said that the town was better off without the mill. He claimed that few Duquesne steelworkers lived in Duquesne and all they did was throw trash on the street when they came back and forth to work.
I understand why USS wanted to shut down the plant. They wanted to slim their steel-making capacity to 65% of the market, which reduced their capital costs. What I can’t understand is why some City officials took the company’s side in the struggle to save the mill. Duquesne is the only company town I know of that remained a company town after the company left.
When the mill shut down completely, I was invited to be on a committee that would decide how federal redevelopment money would be spent. When Duquesne officials found out, I was excluded. My mantra then was that Duquesne should concentrate on being a place people wanted to live. If redevelopment money was spent on good schools and living amenities like restoring the water plant (remember when Duquesne had the best drinking water in the country?) it would become a desirable place to live.
In 1982 the CBS Sunday Morning program came to Duquesne for a week, filming a story about the mill. I drove the story’s director around Duquesne to film the neighborhoods. She commented to me that Duquesne was the only blighted city she experienced where everything was clean. No garbage in the yards and street, and the old houses were well kept. I’m so sorry that Duquesne missed its chance to become a great place to live. I left Duquesne to live in Munhall. It was a wise move. I love Munhall, but I miss the people of Duquesne.
On another subject; does anyone remember the man who lived in a shack near the VFW, and stood on the corner of Grant and First, bumming cigarette butts from motorists stopped for the traffic light? Was it Sava Iccotch?
I am facing a serious operation April 28. Before then, or after, if lucky, I would like to buy a large quantity of nut rolls to freeze. I bought some in Cokeburg last summer while attending a town event. I was reared in Point Marion, and now reside in Berkeley Springs WV. My father was a coal miner 48 years. Price is no object, but they must be real hunky. My grandmother was a terrific baker of them. Any sources, private or business?
-Many regards, John Gabor
Hello cousin Jim,
Was putzing on the computer and read your blog about Babba’s pocketbook. OMG. I can see the list of items as if I were in the same room. Like mother, like daughter, I can picture over half if not all of those same items in my Mom’s “ pocketbook “
I enjoy looking at all the blogs from time to time. Great memories. Thank you.
Somehow I think tonight’s dinner is kielbasa, sauerkraut, and mashed potatoes.
Hi, my name is Nancy Butler. My husband’s family owned Butler Brothers Drugs in Duquesne many years ago. Recently my daughter said that she really wanted a photo of the “friendly store at the top of the hill” for her nursery but we do not have one. Do you have any suggestions who might own such a photo and be willing to lend it to me. Any help you can give me would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks in advance.
-Nancy Butler (married to David C. Butler since 1969)
We are hoping you or your readers can help us remember this card game we played many a night at the long kitchen table when visiting our grandparents on Wilmot Street in the 50s and 60s. We remember that each person had three pennies; you were dealt some cards and kept passing some on until you won and hollered, “Dipsy Doodle!” It was great fun for kids and adults, but now none of us remembers more about how to play. For us, it is a strong link back to our long gone grandparents, Wilhelmina and Ludwig Schorr. Help!
-Mary Ossi and brother John Ossi
My name is Aashti Miller; I study architecture at Cornell University in Ithaca, USA. I came across your amazing website and you make a reference to 248 photographs that Barry Long had sent you. I was wondering if there was any way I could access these. I only plan to use them for my academic research! Let me know if this is possible!
I appreciate any help/resouces you could provide me with!
September 23, 2015
My name is Dave Adam and I came across your blog from a friend in Jefferson Borough who posted you on her FB page. I myself am not a Duquesne Hunky, but I can identify with so much of what I have read on your blog. A little about me. I grew up in West Mifflin just across the bridge from Duquesne Place. I lived at the corner of Outlook Drive and Glencairn, and my bedroom window overlooked Kennywood. Graduated from West Mifflin North in 1972 (when we still had two high schools). I was a member of BS Troop 302 at First Presbyterian Church on Duquesne Blvd. My family attended church at Christ Lutheran Church at Kennedy and S. Fourth streets. Dad worked as a payroll accountant at the Duquesne mill until he was transferred to Monroeville. I didn’t have a full time job at Kennywood, but for a number of years I was one of the locals who signed up to be in the parades as sign carriers or characters, or if you were really lucky a spot on a float! My aunt worked for years, at the round refreshment stand next to the carousel, making candy apples and French waffles. My brother was a maintenance man for a good number of years, and his main priority each morning was inspecting the Jack Rabbit. And my mother worked at the restaurant near the offices.
When I graduated High School, I thought I would end up being a “mill hunky” pushing ingots or something. Instead , about a year later, I got a job offer in Houston, Texas and have been here ever since. I still call Pittsburgh home, more specifically the Steel Valley area. I love to come home and visit when I can, but I have fewer and fewer relatives there. Mom and Dad are gone but my brother and his family still live near Homeville.
Like I said, so many of the items on your blog take me back because even though I was from WM, I spent a lot of my time in Duquesne. I even lived there for a while in the apartments on Commonwealth behind WMHS. In fact, when my first wife and I moved in there, they were brand new and we were the first to set up housekeeping in our apartment!
Well, I have to go and read some more of your blog , and I hope we can share other memories in the future.
From Tim Weaver :
Searching online I found this post:
The Slovak Civic Federation of Duquesne, PA was founded by Duquesne resident, George L. Vesonder of Duquesne. With the encouragement and help of two other friends, many Slovaks of Duquesne were soon contacted to meet at Mr. Vesonder’s home on Patterson Avenue on December 12, 1937.
At the meeting, Mr. Vesonder presented the need to form an identifying organization as follows:
“since other nationalists of Duquesne had organizations functioning and what an advantage such an organization would be to the Slovak people of Duquesne in the City’s civic life, there certainly wasn’t any reason why the Duquesne Slovaks could not form an organization.”
A second meeting was held on December 23, 1937, in the Duquesne City Council Chambers. Twenty-six (26) Slovaks assembled to listen to Mr. Vesonder present the purposes of the assembly and lobby for located club room facilities and a membership drive. Slovaks attending registered as follows:
- George Michalo,
- Michael Fedor,
- George Sabol,
- John Durkaj,
- John Kaus,
- John Cvejkus,
- John Zahorchak,
- Mike Dobrancin,
- John Rimsky,
- Joseph Mihal,
- John Hoblack,
- Andrew Cmar,
- John Liska,
- Michael Kushmir,
- John M. Kulha,
- Paul Kulha,
- Frank Vamos,
- Paul Hrubej,
- Michael Hudak,
- Michael Sabol,
- John Lenhart,
- George Benedict,
- Andrew P. Durik,
- George L. Vesonder
Temporary officers appointed were: George L. Vesonder, President; Frank Vamos, Vice-President; Andrew P. Durik, Secretary; Michael G. Phillips, Financial Secretary; George Benedict, Treasurer.
A membership committee consisting of Paul Hrubej, Michael Hudak, Michael Sabol, and John Lenhart was also appointed.
In 1938, the first duly elected Officials of the Slovak Civic Federation were: President, George L. Vesonder; Vice-President, Frank Vamos; Secretary, Andrew P. Durik ; Assistant Secretary, Michael Fedor; Financial Secretary, M.J. Phillips; Treasurer, George Benedict; Sergeant-at-Arms, George Ambro.
They also formed a Board of Directors (John M. Kulha, Michael Benedict, George Ruby, Michael Kushnir, Frank Watral, Jr., Paul Hrubej, Michael Horgas, Jr., Gabriel V. Kushner, Andrew Cmar, John Adams, John Bibza, John Hoblack). By-Law Committee (All Officers, George Pollock, John M. Kulha, John Bibza, Gabriel Kushner, Michael Benedict, Michael Krucik); House Committee (Gabriel V. Kushner, Joseph Jubak, Joseph Obsincs, Michael Chonko, Jr., Joseph Repko, George Pollock), and Membership Campaign Committee (Paul Hrubej, Michael Hudak, John Lenhart, Michael Sabol), and two Federation Stewards (Joseph F. Repko and Joseph Jubak).
The group’s federation club rooms were in Green’s Building Second & Third Floors on Grant Avenue in Duquesne. On January 11, 1939, the name of “Slovak Civic Federation of Duquesne, Pennsylvania” was registered with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of State Secretary and on February 21, 1939 the application for charter filed. The charter was obtained on March 6, 1939 thanks to Attorney H.M. Kowallis and subsequently recorded in Recorder Office of Deeds. Then later that year, the clubrooms were relocated to Fey’s Building on Duquesne Avenue.
In 1946 a building on the Corner of Fourth and Priscilla in Duquesne was purchased with $11 in the checking account and a generous loan from Mr. Meighen of the Duquesne City Bank. The first meeting in the new location was held on February 9, 1947. That year, a club liquor license was obtained. A few years later, a new addition building plan was started and finance committee appointed. On August 28, 1949, the first club picnic was held at “Huba Huba Park.”
The New Building addition was completed on December 10, 1953, and the first Children’s Christmas and New Year’s Eve party were held later that month. On May 6, 1954 a Grand Opening Banquet was held in the New Dining Hall.
On May 16, 1965, a Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Celebration Banquet was held with many local businesses and other organizations offering their congratulations. With its outstanding catering facilities and full course menus, the club was “the place” for “Hunky” (Slovak) weddings, anniversary parties, banquets and other large gatherings.
Sadly, with the closing of the Duquesne Mill, the deaths of long-time patrons and mass exodus of the younger generation of Slovaks, the club’s membership steadily declined. Still, many of the faithful (including my father) used to meet at the club on Sundays after church and occasionally during the week. In the mid-1990s after my dad had a stroke and gave up driving, I would give him a ride to the club on Sunday afternoons. Although he no longer ordered his double header special (opting for orange juice due to medical restrictions from alcohol), he still enjoyed visiting the club to socialize with his buddies. Eventually, circumstances made it so my dad could no longer visit.
But today, even if he were physically able, there is no longer a Slovak Club to visit. Sadly, like many other familiar venues in Duquesne and surrounding areas, the Slovak Civic Federation has closed its doors. The building on the corner of Fourth and Priscilla sits boarded up and still and the small parking area where you once could not get a space is empty. While inside, the echoes of polka music, the laughter of children waiting to see Santa, and the celebratory cheers for the 70s Steelers’ Super Bowl Dynasty team haunt the once crowded bar area and banquet hall. These are the voices of the past and the Duquesne that used to be.
My name is Pete Marovich and I am a documentary photojournalist based in Washington, D.C. I also work as a freelancer for media outlets such as Bloomberg News, Getty Images and European PressPhoto Agency.
My family is originally from Aliquippa where my grandfather and father worked in the J&L mill. My parents now live in Beaver Falls.
I came across your website “the Duquesne Hunky” while researching a still photography project I am working on about the steel towns around Pittsburgh.
I am very interested in photographing some of the people who grew up in these towns such as yourself as well as some of the landmarks in the area that are fading away.
I noticed that the Holy Trinity church there has fallen into disrepair and I was wondering if it is still standing.
I would be very interested in any help and guidance you may be able to provide for me in Duquesne.
Thank you in advance for any help you can give.
To see some of Pete’s OUTSTANDING work, click on the link below tovisit his website:
My mother, Patsy Boronkay, graduated from Duquesne High school in 1953, and I spent a great portion of my childhood in and around Duquesne, McKeesport, Homestead and West Mifflin. A few years ago, a friend and I drove around Duquesne to take photos of the old historic churches, one on every corner, each ethnicity to its own, some in use, others in disrepair.
I am a songwriter currently working on a song-cycle called RED BEETS AND HORSERADISH.
I hope to perform the songs with a small ensemble in little community theaters while a photographic slide-show is displayed. I don’t have a producer or backer or anything, just an independent labor of love.
I was looking for some photos on the internet that I might be able to use in the slide show and found your website. Obviously, I’m thrilled and inspired.
I just kind of thought we should know each other, and maybe our two projects will intersect at some point. Given that there is no money involved, would you consider allowing me to use some of the photos from your website in my slide show? All I can offer is to give credit where it is due and to potentially direct more people to your site.
I look forward to hearing from you.
During my recent four month hiatus, I, no, WE lost a friend, mentor, neighbor and a true curator of all things Duquesne and Mifflin Township.
I began writing The Duquesne Hunky almost 5 years ago. Shortly after I began writing the blog, which by the way, I never suspected anyone would ever read, I received an email from Jim Hartman. The email was in response to a “roll call” I was trying to conduct to ascertain who was actually reading the blog. Being a very proud resident of the area, Jim was one of the first to raise his hand, along with his brother Alan, to say “I’m here!” His February 2011 response to the roll call read as follows:
Years_in_Duquesne = 1945 – 1960 Mother’s side arrived in 1908 (Slovak)
Where_do_you_live_now? = West Mifflin (near the airport)
comments = Enjoy the blog and brings back many early memories of my growing up in Duquesne. Presently I am the founder and president of the Mifflin Township Historical Society. We currently have all the Duquesne, Clairton, Cloverleaf Bulletins and working on finishing the Homestead newspapers at our reference room in the West Mifflin Borough building. If you should need any information, pictures, etc. please feel free to contact me.
Jim and I became fast friends during the months that followed, corresponding by email and exchanging photos, stories and information. In April of 2011, I made a trip to Duquesne to visit family and to finally meet Jim and explore his memories and his “baby,” The Mifflin Township Historical Society.
Our first meeting took place at the McDonalds on Lebanon Church Rd. near the Century III Mall. We sat drinking our “senior citizen” cups of coffee and prattled on for hours about my blog, the connections he and I shared, the Historical Society, and our childhoods until Jim finally decided it was time to visit the Society office. As the day progressed, I did find out that Jim was very familiar with my own family, having been our mailman for a number of years on Thomas Street and working at Duquesne’s Post Office!
I followed Jim to the West Mifflin Borough building which is now located on the corner of Lebanon Church Road and Camp Hollow Rd. When Jim opened the door to the Historical Society’s office, I stood there in awe, surveying the enormous amount of materials that had been collected and constituted the Society’s data base. Historical maps, newspapers, yearbooks, magazines, government documents and banks of computers, printers and scanners lined every shelf and desktop in the office. What Jim and the society’s volunteers had been able to collect was truly overwhelming.
Jim was always ready and willing to share information about the area. It was during that visit in July that I was given what I consider the “keys to the kingdom.” Prior to my departure, Jim shared the data base for past issues of The Duquesne Times, The Duquesne Star and The Observer as well as a library of archival photographs. I will always be grateful to Jim for providing such an incredible information source for The Duquesne Hunky.
Thank you Jim, you’ll be remembered forever!
In final tribute, I am posting Jim’s birth announcement from the October 12, 1945 issue of The Duquesne Times. That announcement was the start of something big!! The birth announce is followed by a post that I posted in July of 2011 referencing much deserved recognition that Jim had received.
Posted on July 11, 2011 by Jim
CONGRATULATIONS! I was alerted to the fact that there was an article published in
the IN West Mifflin Community Magazine that paid homage to someone who has been both a friend and an advisor. Jim Hartman, President of the Mifflin Township Historical Society, received some much deserved praise with a full-page spread about his activities and that of the Historical Society.
The work that not only Jim, but the dozens of volunteers do is something for which we all should be very grateful for. If you haven’t had the opportunity to visit the Historical Society’s webpage, I have included a link below. I have also included a link so that you can view the entire “IN West Mifflin” Magazine.
Congratulations Jim, you certainly deserve the high praise!
The Mifﬂin Township Historical Society’s goal is to document, chronicle and preserve artifacts and sites of the historical significance from the original Mifflin Township of 1788. What was Mifﬂin Township is today Baldwin (part), Clairton, Duquesne, Dravosburg, Hays, Homestead, Jefferson Hills, Lincoln Place, Munhall, Pleasant Hills, West Elizabeth, West Homestead, West Mifﬂin and Whitaker.
While the website, http://www.mifflintownship.org, is still a work-in-progress, because the content is updated by volunteers, it is beginning to take shape as an excellent historic resource for the Monongahela communities it represents, the group also maintains a reference room in Suite 202 of the municipal building which contains various newsletters and other printed information, old yearbooks, historical maps, family photos and histories, and CDs of old newspapers from Clairton, Duquesne, Homestead and other communities. Donations of documents and other historical items also are welcome (in original or copy form).
The Mifflin Township Historical Society is run entirely by volunteers and its office and reference room is only open on Fridays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The office is located at 3000 Lebanon Church Road, Suite 202, West Mifﬂin, PA 15122. Other hours are available by appointment which can be made by contacting President Jim Hartman at 412.600.0229 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To say that Jim Hartman has been keeping busy since he retired over a decade ago is an understatement.
The 65-year-old formal postal worker has always kept a busy schedule. When his daughters were younger, he coached their softball teams and was president of the band boosters.
Today, he keeps busy building and designing websites, acting as president of the Mifflin Township Historical Society, and volunteering with the West Mifflin Lions Club. “lt’s easy to sit around and complain about how bad things are,” he said. “l would rather get involved and make the bad things better.”
Hartman taught himself how to design and update websites using various software programs and now responsible for maintaining several dozen for local non-proﬁt groups and businesses, including the site for the Mifﬂin Township Historical Society.
“I’ve always like history, even when I was back in grade school,” Hartman said. “lt’s the story of what we are and why we are.” When his father died in 1996, Hartman said he started researching that side of his family’s genealogy and initially had a difficult time ﬁnding any information. A mixed religion marriage in his family history alienated other members of the family and ties were broken.
Today, he’s the keeper of a family tree with over 5,000 names. Every time there’s a birth, marriage or death, his extended family calls him so that he can add the information to the database and expand the tree, and how relatives use the tree to explain their own roots to others.
“My cousin’s granddaughter took a three foot by nine foot copy of the family tree to school for show-and-tell,” Hartman said. “The kids in her class were very impressed. They got to see how all of us are related to each other in some way.”
From that point, his interest in history kept growing. Shortly before retirement he started the Mifﬂin Township Historical Society and approached the Homestead Historical Society into a merger.
“Mifﬂin Township at one time included Homestead, West Mifflin and a dozen other communities, so it made sense for us to combine our resources and form one organization,” he said. ”
As president, Hartman speaks to groups, maintains the website, and continuously adds materials to the organization’s reference room. He received some funding from the slate to transfer decades of out-of-print local newspapers from microﬁlm to CDs. Some of the old papers now on CD include the Clairton Crucible (last published in 1906) and the Duquesne Times. “What most people ﬁnd interesting are the death notices and obituaries,” Hartman said. “|t’s a great way for them to research their own family trees.”
When he’s not building websites or gathering information for the historical society, Hartman can be found volunteering his time with the West Mifﬂin Lions Club. The Lions Club is an International public service organization probably best known for recycling used eyeglasses and paying for other vision services for the visually-impaired in the community.
In addition to the vision services, the 53-member West Mifﬂin chapter has helped the local food banks, purchased emergency services equipment for local EMS providers, and holds fundraisers throughout the year for different causes.
Hartman now serves as the district governor for several years and he traveled all over the state of Pennsylvania. He will finish the year as the immediate past district governor but said he plans to stay very active in the organization even though plans to stay very active in the organization in the years to come.
“I don’t plan on being a Lion in name only,” he said.
I have so much to share with you now and I cannot wait to take you on the journey back to our youth. I would be remise if I didn’t put in a plug for Jim and the Historical Society. Without question, every penny contributed to the Society by becoming a member is worth it. It pays for the equipment, the materials, the website and everything that is needed to maintain this wonderful “memory bank.”