What a great show in McKeesport this evening at the McKeesport Heritage Center in Renzi Park, 1862 Arboretum Drive. I met a lot of great folks, many of whom worked at the US National Tube Works, once a huge mill on the Monongahela River. It was obvious after my discussions with tonight's patrons that when the tube works closed some twenty odd years ago, it was the town of McKeesport's last gasp. The heritage center houses a huge model of the mill, as well as many artifacts and artwork depicting a busier time in this Mon-Valley community. The former Tube site is pictured here.
Dick Grace, head of the local USWA and employee for forty years after returning from Korea, told stories of the "stockhouse," a huge crane near the Duquesne Bridge, as well as stories of the furnaces at the works. To everyone's amusement, he recalled working those furnaces when he began and the prevailing sentiment was that he had survived the Korean War so he could survive the mill. When it closed down, KDKA's Harold Hayes asked Dick for an interview and he refused, saying that he didn't want to cry on television.
Everyone recommended to me a book by John Hoer called "The Wolf Finally Came," which was inspired by the Tube Works and addressed the plight of the entire Mon-Valley at the demise of the American steel industry. I will look for it tomorrow.
I also met a former history teacher whose first name was Miles who shared a story of the "puddler's union" called Sons of Vulcan, whose job it was to stir by hand impurities out of the molten iron; Jerry and Dotty Kyslinger who were instrumental in founding the Mon-Yough Trail Association; and though a it was a little unnerving at first, I was so happy that my friend Tim Crossen and his daughter Nora were in attendance.
During the show, I mentioned how the glow of the mills in the Ohio Valley at night were images that I carry with me, and several of the audience told me that from McKeesport, they would look across the river at night at the glowing hearths of Duquesne, and in the middle of the night it was so bright that they could count the trees on the hillside. I remember similar images from my late night trips through Mingo Junction, Ohio on Route 7 as a young late-night musician. I'm told that pilots flying into Allegheny County Airport at night would pick up the glow from Duquesne as far away as Johnstown and follow it to the runway.
I also learned that McKeesport was the home of G.C. Murphy's department store and their national headquarters was located there.
My hosts for the evening were Charlie (412.389.3845) and Jo Ellen, head of the local library.