More old Pittsburgh stuff!

I really can’t explain my obsession with old things. I don’t just look at a sword from the Civil War; I stare deep into its eyes and try to imagine it being wielded by a young soldier. I wonder if he had a love. If he was scared. I wonder what he ate for breakfast the day he used it. How he liked his coffee.  I wonder what his handwriting was like. If his hair was long. If he was handsome. I wonder if he died tragically. I wonder if he told good stories. If he was soft-spoken or brash. If he had a favorite book.

Crazy, right? But history really is very very alive for me. It’s not artifacts or words on paper or grainy black and white images. It’s life that was lived in color.

All that, just to say, MORE OLD STUFF!

1. Thanks to the Senator John Heinz History Center, I’ve got my hands on an image of the 45-room William Larimer Mellon Ben Elm mansion at 5340 Forbes Avenue, that you recall I was desperately trying to hunt down ever since I learned of its existence prior to being razed at the ripe age of 30.


And here’s another look at the R.B. Mellon estate:

It doesn’t look as big there. Hmm.

2. The History Center also provided me with this article about the R.B. Mellon Mansion’s razing. Read about the Mellon family generosity during the great depression:

So it was the taxes, after all. Sad panda.

3. While researching the Mellon homes, I discovered something I should have probably known. That Andrew Carnegie retired to Scotland, his birthplace, where he bought and lived in Skibo Castle, which makes the R.B. Mellon estate look like a shanty in comparison:


Here he is at Skibo in 1914, five years before his death:

Fun fact! Guy Ritchie and Madonna were married at Skibo Castle!

Fun fact! Skibo Castle is 60,000 square feet!

Fun fact! Andrew Carnegie was only five feet tall!

Fun fact! Andrew Carnegie’s worth in today’s dollah-dollah bills? ALMOST THREE HUNDRED BILLION. Bah-bah-BILLION.

P.S. I’m now obsessed with learning about Andrew Carnegie. God help you all. And just from Twitter, I can tell you that like Frick, there are some people with strong hate for Andrew Carnegie.

P.P.S. In next week’s history post, I’m going to show you old PAT street cars and an image from Forbes Field that will just knock your socks off, if your socks are easily knocked off by history.


  1. hello haha narf
    March 9, 2012 3:12 pm

    these kinds of posts make me pretty dern happy. thanks, pretty lady!

  2. spoon
    March 9, 2012 3:12 pm

    Can you imagine if Council today said to UPMC “We won’t waive taxes”.

    Lukey would have claimed that house in name of the city with eminent domain and then moved in. Him and Snoop Dogg could have parties with the girls from Cheerleaders

  3. Ex-Pat Pittsburgh Girl
    March 9, 2012 3:35 pm

    Get David Nasaw’s biography on Andrew Carnegie! It is extremely interesting and one of the best bio’s I’ve read. It doesn’t paint him as a saint or the devil, but in my opinion, it’s a pretty well-balanced view of Carnegie. I’m a huge fan of biographies — another great one is Branch Rickey’s — and this one ranks right up there. It is a long read, but honestly, I was so capitvated that I pretty much gave up all of my free time to get it read. It’s a perfect airplane book.

  4. Elle C.
    March 9, 2012 3:43 pm

    I love this stuff. You are far from crazy on your history obsession! Please keep posting. And for your next trick? Can you please research and post on this lavish Mellon/Magee Scaife wedding mentioned above?

  5. Butcher's Dog
    March 9, 2012 3:48 pm

    You should have been a history teacher, Ginny. Seriously. Far too few of our young ‘uns ever get anyone who sees these events in terms of real life. You could be terrific at it (written in the present because, you know, it’s never too late).

    Without throwing cold water on the party, though, does anyone else besides me wonder how many strikers died so Andrew Carnegie could accumulate that wealth?

    • Dr Kevlar
      March 11, 2012 4:35 pm

      Too many died. I think it is a shame that people here know so little about these wonderful Captains of Industry and their callous disregard for the lives of others. That so many of them maintained their Christian piety by faithfully attending services makes me ill.

      Many Pittsburghers know nothing about the Homestead Steel Strike, or even that many of the strikers are buried in the cemetary that overlooks the old mill site, now the Waterfront shopping complex.

      • Pensgirl
        March 12, 2012 12:49 pm

        Not to mention the rougly 2200 people who died in the 1889 Johnstown flood because ol’ Andy and his pals decided to penny-pinch on the critical upkeep of the dam at their South Fork vacation spot.

  6. Noelle
    March 9, 2012 5:44 pm

    If you need an appointment in CMU’s archives or a copy of the biographies of Carnegie or Mellon let me know. I have many at the office, I can drop them at Las Velas.

  7. gunnlino
    March 9, 2012 6:29 pm

    My bride and I own a house built in 1903 by Carnegie for the Superintendent of the Clairton steel works, we have been for many years working to restore it to it’s original grace . From documents we’ve found we know Mr Carnegie and several of the Heinz family were here for many occasions . Also some other well known Pittsburgh people we know of but cannot confirm . History in the ‘Burgh is truly a part of us .

  8. Cassie
    March 9, 2012 9:09 pm

    I love history lessons, keep ’em coming!!

  9. Shibori
    March 9, 2012 10:13 pm

    I highly recommend Les Standiford’s Meet You in Hell, which is about both Carnegie and Frick. Great details on what Pittsburgh was like at the time and the Battle of Homestead while still being a good read.

  10. don
    March 10, 2012 7:35 am

    Does anyone wonder how many jobs died because of unions in western PA and the US?

    • Butcher's Dog
      March 10, 2012 11:58 am

      That question is the other side of the outsourcing coin. There wouldn’t be a middle class to shrink right now if there had never been unions.

    • Dr Kevlar
      March 11, 2012 4:40 pm

      I would highly recommend that you read a book called “And the Wolf Finally Came.” It is the story of big steel in this area. To blame the unions, as so many do, leaves out Big Steel’s genius for doing dumb things. There was plenty of greed and blame to go around when determining who caused the demise of manufacturing here.

      For example, after WWII, Philip Murray met with the Big Seven steel companies and asked to continue the labor/management productivity committees that had been so successful in increasing production during the war. Their answer? “The war is over.” Brilliant.

  11. bucdaddy
    March 10, 2012 11:18 am

    “I really can’t explain my obsession with old things.”

    Sorry, honey, I’m married.

    But I still hope you don’t get therapy for that.

  12. Jim W.
    March 10, 2012 11:32 am

    There’s a half decent book about Frick and Carnegie called, “Meet You in Hell”. It’s about how much they hated each other even while they were making each other rich. If your obsession fuels reading that sort of thing, it’s a decent read.

    • Noelle
      March 10, 2012 12:52 pm

      Yes, that book is fun! I glazed over the financial history of the companies, but the social history was well told.

  13. Alexis Macklin
    March 12, 2012 1:40 pm

    Hi Virginia – thanks for the shout out to the History Center. We aim to keep people connected to the Burgh’s amazing history. And – I got tons of stuff on Andrew . . . and Frick . . . yinz guys come dahn an ‘nat!

  14. unsatisfied
    March 12, 2012 2:43 pm

    all about the history stuff here.

    I had no idea that carnegie was so short.

    but, damn, could he grow a power beard! awesome.

    looking foward to the street cars and forbes field pix. keep them coming!