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Black Baseball Has Strong Connection to Region

February 10, 2021 |

By Jason A. Mignanelli | Posted in: History, Sports

The 1930-31 Homestead Grays, considered by baseball experts the best Negro Leagues team of all time. Five of the people in this photo — owner Cumberland Posey, pitcher “Smokey” Joe Williams, catcher Josh Gibson, center fielder Oscar Charleston and infielder Jud Wilson — are in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Hank Aaron’s death on Feb. 5, during Black History Month, resonated with many baseball fans — especially those who remember the Negro major leagues, where Aaron began his professional career in 1951.

Other than Kansas City, perhaps no city has a stronger connection than Pittsburgh to baseball’s Negro major leagues, where Black athletes competed in the days before Major League Baseball was integrated.

The Homestead Grays and the Pittsburgh Crawfords — named after the Crawford Bath House in Pittsburgh’s Hill District — were cornerstones of the Negro National League, which was created in 1933 and lasted until 1948.

“Some of the greatest players to ever play in the Negro Leagues and the Major Leagues once played right here in Pittsburgh,” said Dave Moore, museum director at the McKeesport Regional History and Heritage Center.

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Worst Christmas Movie Ever? Filmed in McKeesport

December 24, 2020 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: History

(This article originally appeared in Tube City Almanac on Dec. 22, 2008.)

Longtime friend, mentor and Alert Reader Clarke Ingram emailed me over the weekend. He's addicted to Turner Classic Movies --- and when it comes to addictions, that’s not a bad one to have.

If you ever watch TCM, you know that between the features, the network fills time with “short subjects” such as newsreels, “trailers,” and advertising and public domain films.

“So I’m sitting here watching a short film on TCM, entitled ‘A Visit to Santa (1963),’” Clarke writes. “I wasn’t paying much attention until I noticed Santa was on the Gateway Clipper. A few minutes later, he's on a Christmas float going past the Penn-McKee.”

A quick dash around the Internet tubes turned up a copy at the Internet Archive, where you can download your very own copy of “A Visit to Santa.” Some Internet critics call it, unkindly, “the worst Christmas film ever produced.”

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What Would Have Been On Your Gift List?

December 08, 2020 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: History

What would have been on your Christmas or Hanukkah gift list in 1978?

This week 42 years ago, McKeesport-based G.C. Murphy Co. was offering a Radio Flyer wagon for $7.77, a Polaroid “One-Step” Instant Camera for $29.94, and boys’ jeans — in Murphy’s own “Big Murph” brand name — for $5.97.

The five-and-10 chain had more than 500 stores that year, including locations at 315 Fifth Ave. in Downtown, Olympia Shopping Center in Versailles, 559 Miller Ave. in Clairton, 108 South Second St. in Elizabeth and 129-131 East Main St. in West Newton.

More than 1,000 people worked at Murphy’s corporate headquarters, or “home office” on Fifth Avenue—part of the 500 block now targeted for demolition and redevelopment—and hundreds more were employed at Murphy’s giant distribution center, which stretched from 28th Avenue to 35th Avenue in Christy Park.

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Radio Was Born in Mon Valley 100 Years Ago

November 02, 2020 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: Editorial Cartoons, History

The Mon Valley — at least the Turtle Creek Valley portion of it — has a very real claim to being the “birthplace of commercial broadcasting.”

One hundred years ago tonight, on the roof of the Westinghouse Electric factory in East Pittsburgh (above), KDKA began operations as the world’s first commercially licensed radio station, broadcasting to the general public.

(That facility — visible from the George Westinghouse Bridge, which carries Route 30 from North Versailles Twp. to East Pittsburgh — is now RIDC’s Keystone Commons.)

KDKA (also, apparently, known for a short time as “8ZZ”) signed on Nov. 2, 1920, as part of an experimental nationwide hookup of radio stations that broadcast the returns of the presidential election between Republican Warren G. Harding and Democrat James Cox.

Radio stations had been licensed before 1920. But those stations were operated for limited audiences. Some, for instance, were operated by the military, or by companies sending and receiving messages between ships and shore. Others were operated by hobbyists — “amateurs,” or “hams.”

KDKA was the first station that was intended to be used by the general public to receive entertainment and news.  But it had its roots in one of those “hams” — an engineer from Wilkinsburg, Pa., named Frank Conrad, who worked in the Westinghouse factory in East Pittsburgh ... read on ...

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‘Murf the Surf,’ One-Time City Resident
Turned Celebrity Thief, is Dead

September 15, 2020 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: History, McKeesport and Region News

Jack Roland Murphy, better known as “Murf the Surf,” is shown here during a 2016 interview on the Christian Television Network program, “Homekeepers.” Murphy died Saturday in Florida at age 83. (Screenshot via YouTube)

One of McKeesport’s most notorious former residents — Jack Roland Murphy — has died in Florida at age 83.

Known as “Murf the Surf,” Murphy was born in California but lived in the city as a teen-ager and was a stand-out athlete and musician at McKeesport High School.

But it was after leaving Western Pennsylvania that Murphy achieved international infamy as a jewel thief — and murderer.

After spending 19 years in a Florida prison, Murphy was paroled and launched a ministry to jails and prisoners, becoming a frequent guest on Christian radio and television shows. He was the subject of a lengthy profile in Sports Illustrated this past May.

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In McKeesport, 1920 Was a Gas

January 01, 2020 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: History

The last time McKeesport entered the “twenties,” the boom was on — the gas boom, that is.

In August 1919, two men, Samuel J. Brendel of West Newton and David Foster of McKeesport, began drilling a well near present-day Renziehausen Park on what Brendel later called “a hunch.”

Their well, in what was then called “Snake Hollow,” struck natural gas. A lot of it — 40 million to 60 million cubic feet of natural gas per day, at first.

By the end of 1919, the famous “McKeesport Gas Boom” had begun. From across the United States, people moved to McKeesport to get jobs drilling wells. Many more people bought shares of stock in hundreds of drilling companies — most of which would turn out to be worthless.

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Throwback Thursday: That Good Gulf Gasoline

October 17, 2019 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: History, White Oak News

(* — CORRECTION, NOT PERFECTION: This story was corrected after publication.)

This 90-year-old photo shows Allen Evans' Gulf gasoline station at the corner of Long Run Road and what was then known as "White Oak Level Road" — now Lincoln Way.

Although almost everything around the intersection has changed, the same curve is still present in Lincoln Way (below, in an image from Google Maps).

Scanned from the Allegheny County archives by the University of Pittsburgh Libraries for its "Historic Pittsburgh" archive, the image touches on a lot of the history of the McKeesport and White Oak areas.

The Evans family — for whom Evans Avenue is named — was prominent in the history of the McKeesport area.

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How Mayor Lysle Became McKeesport’s Nine-Million-Dollar Man

August 19, 2019 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: History

© Tube City Community Media Inc., except where noted.

McKeesport Mayor George H. Lysle (left) in the Pittsburgh Bulletin-Index, Jerome Boulevard sign in 1949 (right) in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

What’s in a name?

For McKeesport, 80 years ago this week, it was nine million Depression-era dollars.

In August 1939, the federal government gave Allegheny County and McKeesport officials an ultimatum — either remove the name of Mayor George H. Lysle from Lysle Boulevard, or repay $9 million in infrastructure loans and grants.

Not surprisingly, the money won out, and McKeesport City Council voted on Aug. 16, 1939, to rename “Lysle Boulevard” as “Jerome Boulevard.”

It remained that way until Lysle died in 1947 — though it was a few years before the “Lysle Boulevard” signs went back up.

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'Moon Day' in McKeesport, 1969

July 20, 2019 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: History

(This article originally appeared at Tube City Almanac on June 21, 2009.)

(Click to see the full page)

From the tattered, dusty archives of Tube City Almanac, here's what the front page of the Daily News looked like 40 years ago this afternoon.

According to the News, a ceremony was held the previous night at Kennedy Memorial Park on Lysle Boulevard to mark the moon landing.

Speakers included the Rev. David Blattner of McKeesport Assembly of God Church, Mayor Albert Elko, Msgr. Michael Dravecky of Holy Trinity Church, Rev. Stephen Wood of Central Presbyterian Church, Rabbi Milton Turner of Tree of Life Synagogue and Rev. Frank Waters of Christ A.M.E. Church, who delivered the invocation.

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#TBT: 10 Years Ago in Tube City Almanac

May 03, 2018 |

By Staff Reports | Posted in: History

This week in 2008, from our files:

McKeesport Mayor Jim Brewster declared his intention to "fire Blue Cross-Blue Shield" as the city's health insurance carrier. The pledge came after Highmark, the Pittsburgh region's Blue Cross licensee and its dominant health care provider, raised the rate on one city plan by $620,000 --- nearly 84 percent.

Brewster scheduled a meeting with another health insurance carrier, saying: "We'll give them a little taste of McKeesport competitiveness."

The new executive director of McKeesport's YMCA said that "failure is not an option," but admitted the 120-year-old institution was struggling with an aging building, a declining number of members and serious debts. The McKeesport Y was considering a merger with the larger YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh and the possibility of selling its building on Sinclair Street.

The American Lung Association named Pittsburgh the "sootiest city" in the United States, surpassing Southern California. The dubious distinction was mainly due to high levels of particulates in the air near U.S. Steel's Clairton Works. The facility produces coke, a fuel created by superheating coal in ovens.

An Almanac editorial noted that many chemicals and medicines are made from the byproducts of coke, and that the Mon Valley needs "the high-paying, blue-collar jobs that Clairton Works and coal-mining provide, (but) we also need clean air."


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