Monthly Archives: March 2013

Pittsburgh History with Ginny: WHO lived here?!


(A young Harpo, Zeppo, Chico and Groucho Marx)

You can blame this whole thing on Randy Baumann.

I can’t even remember, honestly, how DVE’s Randy Baumann and I got on the topic of our mutual love for Barry Manilow.

Wait. That’s not right.

I mean our mutual love for The Marx Brothers.

My adoration of those geniuses stems from my father, who would spend each New Year’s Eve putting on a Marx Brothers Movie Marathon in the basement for me and my sisters. No, we weren’t going out to party until midnight. No, we weren’t dealing with the drunks on the road. Instead, we five girls were safely tucked on the couch, wrapped in blankets, eating popcorn he popped on the stove, and we were watching Duck Soup (I think I saw that one a dozen times), A Day at the Races, or, my favorite, The Big Store.

And we would laugh. Uproariously. My father would do that silent, wheezing, red-faced laugh.

Harpo continuously handing his leg to unsuspecting people who would look down to find themselves holding it at the knee.

Groucho’s low-walk and eye-rolling.

Chico’s pointing and shooting of the high notes on the piano.


So yeah, we were dorks who never partied on New Year’s Eve, but I guarantee those evenings spent with my father, my sisters, and The Marx Brothers were just as memorable as anything you’ve done on January 31 of any year.

Randy sort of reignited the Marx Brothers spark in me. Suddenly I was watching Marx Brothers movies again, except instead of viewing them on a VHS tape played on a rented Giant Eagle VCR, I was streaming them from Amazon. And I’m reading about these guys too. Three books right now. Two about Harpo, and one about Groucho.

My point is … my latest obsession is my renewed love for the Marx Brothers.

So for some reason today, a reason I will never know, I Googled “Marx Brothers Pittsburgh.”


In 1907 Chico Marx at the age of 20 was transferred to Pittsburgh by the Shapiro and Bernstein Company to manage their music store at 302 Fifth Avenue near the corner of Wood Street. In the days before radio and phonographs popular songs were sold in the form of sheet music. To promote sheet music sales “song pluggers” sang the tunes for customers. Chico hired the song pluggers and accompanied them on piano. Downtown Pittsburgh music shopper were treated daily to the crazy piano antics of Chico Marx. — From Pittsburgh Music History.

Are you even kidding me?! Any shopper in 1907 could have wandered up Fifth and found themselves listening to 20-year-old Chico Marx pounding away at the piano?!

I sob for the lack of a time machine.

I was determined to find a picture of the music store via my usual history sleuthing methods, but I came up empty. This is where the store would have been:

302 fifth avenue  pittsburgh   Google Maps


Update! It looks the this would have been the storefront in this photo taken between 1900 and 1915 and found by @lls_1219 on Twitter:

OLD_PGH_RT26.jpg  4617×3183

Click here to go to the original photo and be sure to embiggen it for LOTS of awesome stuff to see.

This is from Chico’s 1961 obituary:


Lodi News Sentinel   Google News Archive Search

This this from a 1949 Post-Gazette story:

Pittsburgh Post Gazette   Google News Archive Search

2Pittsburgh Post Gazette   Google News Archive Search


Not only all of that, but Chico’s wife was from Pittsburgh, and he met her here.

Chico joined the Marx Brothers in 1912. They toured the country in a play written by their uncle Al Shean entitled “Home Again.”  Appearing in Pittsburgh in 1914 Chico was visited back stage by singer Sophie Miller who had worked for him as a song plugger at Shapiro and Bernstein’s music store. Sophie brought along her 16 year old friend Betty Karp. Chico flirted with the attractive young Betty until she agreed to go out with him that evening. Leary of the older musician, Chico was 27, she stood him up. 

Three years later the Marx Brothers were playing a show in Brooklyn. Betty Karp, now 19, made her way back stage to visit her one time acquaintance Chico. On seeing Betty Chico said “You’re the little girl who stood me up in Pittsburgh”. Their romance blossomed quicky and they married on March 17, 1917. 

Now, I get that some of you out there might not know much, or anything about the Marx Brothers.

So here is a classic:

YouTube Preview Image

And here is Chico’s unique style of playing the piano:

YouTube Preview Image

History. It’s so easy to put it to the side — to look at it as if it’s all marble statues and black and white photographs, or simply words that died on a page.

These are flesh and blood people who lived life in color and if you start looking at it that way, you too will want nothing more than a chance to stroll down Fifth Avenue in 1907 to happen upon a young Chico Marx entertaining a lunchtime crowd with “The Entertainer.”


Anyway, point of this post — Chico Marx was a Burgher.


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Random n’at


1. First, a giant thank you to every single one of you who donated, tweeted, retweeted, Facebooked, or in any way helped with the Make Room for Kids fundraising effort this year.

The Amazon wish list is empty, which helped close the funding gap we were dealing with. The kids at The Children’s Home will get their computers and XBOXes and movies and games and printers and TVs, while the kids in the units we’ve already outfitted at Children’s Hospital will get the extra games they requested as well as the extra XBOX controllers.

Everyone will be happy!

Look for the install day post in late April and you’ll be able to see exactly what your donated dollars were spent on, and you’ll see the smiles they will bring to the sick kids.

2. The next mayor of Pittsburgh is not Bill Peduto or Michael Lamb … It’s Rebecca De Mornay.

Rebecca De Mornay and Nick Westrate have been cast as leads in NBC’s hourlong pilot Hatfields & McCoys, a take on the infamous feud set in present-day Pittsburgh. The startling death of the McCoy patriarch re-ignites the feud between the two legendary families, unleashing decades of resentment. De Mornay will play the central character of Mary Hatfield, the Mayor of Pittsburgh and matriarch of the powerful Hatfields, who basically run the city through their development company and political connections.

I like it.

Also, I’d like to volunteer my services to the writers to help them instill some true Pittsburgh flavor into the dialogue.

Mayor De Mornay: [slams hands on desk] If this gets out, things get ugly. Put a lid on it. I don’t need every yinzer from here to Aliquippa showing up and demanding we [finger quotes] “warsh the corruption out, n’at.” 

Email me, yo.

3. Pittsburgh Minecraft map.  There should be a Flyers skin for all the creepers.

I know way too much about Minecraft thanks to my kids.

4. This picture. Pittsburgh at dusk. MAN.

From wmellott on Reddit.

5. The Steelers have lost James Harrison, Mike Wallace, Willie Colon, Rashard Mendenhall.

They signed Matt Spaeth and William Gay, both former Steelers.

So basically our new strategy is “out with the old; in with the old.”


6. Pittsburgh’s Miss Smiling Irish Eyes 2013 is deaf. 

7. The teenaged founder and CEO of local company Simple Sugars will appear on Shark Tank on March 29. Set your DVRs.

8. The Knitting Lady sent me this pic of Geno holding her sock.



His face confuses me so much. For instance, here he is so attractive. Other times, it’s like WHOA, UGLY STICK!


9. “A very important in-depth analysis of early-90s style, featuring Jaromir Swagr” is the best thing you’ll read today.

I especially appreciate the scientific analysis of the ratio of the torso region to the leg region while he is wearing mom-jeans.

(h/t J)

10. Amazing pictures of Pittsburgh’s skyline taken this winter by Matt Robinson.

Couldn’t pick my favorite if there was an angry pigeon to my eyeball.

(h/t my dad)

11. Chatham University is holding a FREE fun-filled family-friendly Spring carnival complete with egg hunts, Easter Bunny photos, raffles, Haitian snacks, and more! And any proceeds or donations made are going to Haitian Families First!


See you there? I’ll be the one with the little girl who is begging the balloon artist to make her a pigeon.


[awkward kung fu moves]

12. And let’s end this post with some of my favorite tweets from awesome Burghers:

I don’t understand how I am the only person who starred that tweet. COME ON.

Thai McBistro would also be a great rapper name.

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… and hell froze over.

It used to be there was only one thing in the world that would drive me to shoot tequila at noon on a weekday — being ten or more days past my column due date for Pittsburgh Magazine. I write better when I’ve got a bit of tequila in me.

Today, I learned there is one other thing that will have me frantically opening the liquor cabinet and taking a swig straight from the tequila bottle: Luke Ravenstahl announcing he’s formally and legally challenging UPMC’s questionable non-profit status.


That’s right. Today at a press conference, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced that the city would be mounting a legal challenge to UPMC’s claim that they are operating as a non-profit, exempt from taxes, including millions of dollars in property taxes that they should have started paying years ago when it became very clear they were as close to a nonprofit as Enron ever was.

From Chris Potter’s tweets, you can get an idea of what Luke said:

Chris Potter  CPotterPgh  on Twitter


Now, I really want you to understand, Pittsburgh, why I believe this matters. Why it’s important. What doesn’t matter and why. And why the hell Luke suddenly found his inner Chuck Norris and went [roundhouse kick] on the most powerful entity in all of Pittsburgh.

1. Since a few months after he took the mayorship, Luke Ravenstahl has hung his legacy hat on the coatrack of The Pittsburgh Promise. Sure the pieces of that machine were moving long before Luke ever took office, but he got the credit for a landmark program that was designed to bring more families to the city. Luke’s partner in that legacy-building program has long been UPMC — the largest donor to the fund. Luke and UPMC have been like THIS since then. We cannot know what arrangements were in place. We cannot know if UPMC bought Luke in the vein of, “We’ll fund the Promise if you leave us alone on the tax issue.” We can have our suspicions, as I have mine, but what matters is Luke and UPMC were definitely french-kissing and heavy-petting if they weren’t fully in bed together. And that meant UPMC was protected, despite it being very very obvious to every person in the city that UPMC was no longer a nonprofit. What nonprofit do you know of in America that spent $800,000 to put their name on the side of a skyscraper? What nonprofit do you know of that earned annually half a billion dollars in “excess margin” or … well … PROFIT?

2. It matters that UPMC hasn’t been paying property taxes and has been permitted to take advantage of hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks, because by not doing so, they’ve been robbing the city and the Pittsburgh Public Schools of precious, greatly needed income.

3. It matters that UPMC, despite incredible revenues and the claim of being a charity, has only given 2% of revenues to helping the poor and has been notoriously stingy in paying employees. In fact, instead of increasing wages, they had the nerve to open a FOOD BANK for employees.

4. It matters that Luke Ravenstahl has, for all intents and purposes, stopped giving a single shit. Out from under the oppressive thumb of the powers that held his reelection chances in their hands, out from under UPMC and the unions and the good ole boys, Lukey has decided to finally be a real mayor. He has decided that The Pittsburgh Promise won’t be his legacy; taking on King Kong will. Going down in a blaze of glory and not caring one flip who he takes with him. This is a man who has been joined at the hip to UPMC for years and now he’s gone Brutus on them in spectacular, mouth-gaping “Et tu?” fashion. He’s biting the hand that probably fed him caviar, and shooting the engine of the jet that probably flew him privately to New Orleans. I can honestly say that if you told me last month he would do this, I would have laughed in your face and then told you to shut your whore mouth.  It is stunning.

5. It doesn’t matter what his motive is. It really honestly doesn’t. Is he doing it to grasp at the fleeting thread of a lasting legacy other than “questionable ethics?” Possibly. Is he doing it to drag our attention away from the FBI investigation into the slush fund? Maybe. Is he doing too little, too late? Probably. Has he been promised a high-paying job at Highmark? We’ll find out soon enough.

But it doesn’t matter. The WHY of it doesn’t matter. What matters is he has legally set in motion something that should have been done long ago. He manned up and formally brought to the forefront what has been merely talked about casually before. He has shined a light on the elephant in the previously dark room, acknowledged it, pointed right at it and said, “I’m not going to pretend it’s not there anymore. It’s a freaking elephant. It’s there. Look at it. It stinks.” He has started something big.

6. It doesn’t matter if you’re a UPMC employee who loves your job. Good! It doesn’t matter if I’ve spent three years raising money for the sick kids at Children’s Hospital, a UPMC hospital. Those kids still need those games and those distractions. Your job is important to you. UPMC is made up of people. It’s not all evil. But their insistence on maintaining nonprofit status when they clearly are not a nonprofit is HURTING the city. It’s hurting the schools. It’s got to be fixed.

7. It matters how UPMC will retaliate. Keep an eye on it. Will they threaten layoffs or wage freezes? Will they threaten to pull their funding from The Pittsburgh Promise? Will they take a look at their billions of dollars in revenue and hundreds of millions of dollars in profits and take their lumps knowing they got away with it for a long time? Let’s see if pettiness rears its ugly head here. Let’s see how they interpret the word “charity.”

8. It matters what happens now. Luke has until the end of his term to see this thing through, at which time it becomes the responsibility of the new mayor. Now is the time for the candidates to let us know where they stand on this. Do they agree? Can they be bought? Will they be bought? Will they stand up and say, “I WILL NOT BE BOUGHT BY UPMC. I will see this thing through. I will make it right, because it’s not about what’s best for me and my political aspirations; it’s about what’s best for Pittsburgh’s bottom line?” Make a note as to which candidates make that promise, and then hold them to it.

Because when it all is said and done, that’s what’s going to matter the most — not that it started, but that it was finished.

Buckle up, Pittsburgh.

It’s about to get good.

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Two stories, an appeal, and a pizza place.

Without the pizza place.

1. Story

Yesterday I took my kids to the Science Center and then on to Las Velas for dinner. While sitting near the windows above Market Square, my six-year-old daughter looked down to the sidewalk below and saw two pigeons pecking at probable puke.

Me: “Look at those pigeons! They’re fat as cats!”

Her: “Mom. [folds her hands in the begging gesture] Can I PLEEEEEEEZE have a pet pigeon? Please? [doe eyes]”

Satan in Hell: [falls down laughing]

For weeks now, every time she sees a pigeon, my daughter insists she’d like one for a pet. A pigeon.

I say “kick it!” and she hears “love it!”

She yearns for a pet parrot, but I’ve told her no in the most honest way I could … “No. They poop, they’re loud, and they live forever.”

That’s right. I don’t permit non-canine pets in my house that I’ll still have to take care of after my children go to college. This is why I said no to the bearded dragon. Because with my luck, it would be as big as a baby alligator the day I sent my boy off to school. I’m hopeful Dennis the tarantula’s funeral will happen sometime before 2021.

Also, have you ever seen a tarantula’s molt?


Now you have. You’re so very welcome.

Since I’ve told her she can’t have a parrot, she thinks a pigeon is the next best thing. That’s like thinking, “Well, if I can’t have a steak, I’ll have tuberculosis.”

I think I’ve come up with a way to put the whole matter to rest. I told her she can have a pet pigeon if she can catch one.

This oughta be good.

2. Story

Also yesterday at Las Velas, my son and I were talking about Minecraft because that’s what ten-year-old boys like to talk about. He was explaining to me a problem he was having, but that he found a forum that helped him solve it.

Him: “And some guy I know commented on that forum too. Guess who it was!”

Me: “Who?”

Him: “Psy!”

Me: [spews margarita all over the place]

Guess I should have that “not everything on the Internet is true” talk with him.

3. An appeal  Virginia Montanez  MR4K Wish List

The Make Room for Kids Amazon wish list is up! You’ll notice this list is heavy in DVD movies and that’s because The Children’s Home doesn’t have many at all. In fact, most of their movies are on VHS. Titles start at less than $5.

Also on the list, you’ll see we’re asking for donations of XBOX Live points, as this is how we’ll be purchasing the games for The Children’s Home, rather than using physical disk copies. We’d appreciate if you could help us out with that.

And finally, you’ll see a few actual hard copies of XBOX games on the list. Those are games requested by the kids at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh who are patients in the units we’ve outfitted in years past. It’s important that we maintain an updated supply of games to keep the kids there occupied. The extra controllers are for Children’s Hospital too.

Shipping defaults to go directly to The Lemieux Foundation.

If you haven’t chipped in yet — maybe PayPal isn’t your thing — this is a great way to do it. Takes just a few minutes of your time and scores you major good karma points. Plus, Mario will walk into the office, see all the piles of boxes of stuff you donated and he’ll be all [THUMBS UP!].

FOR OUR SICK KIDS, you guys!

If you donate, I promise to never post another picture of a tarantula molt again.

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Girl on fie-ah.

There are some things on earth that really put the fire in my belly.

Is that the right phrase?

Does it mean it germinates in my guts a great gush of heated, boiling rage? Yes? Then, yes, FIRE IN MY BELLY.

This girl is on fie-ah.

Here are a list of those belly-flaming hates:

— pigeons. ‘natch.

— Ray Lewis

— Tom Brady

— The Flyers

— the Turnpike Commission [punch]

— The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board

Oh, I have waxed PISSED many, many times at the PLCB and its defiant existence in this the year of our Lord two thousand thirteen.

You don’t need me to go on again about why it needs to be privatized, why it needs to be dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-tens and then lit on fire, do you?

Good. Because I don’t much feel like breathing fire today.

But take a look at this video from yesterday in which a union agent Wendell Young, representing the state store employees, decided to act like a petulant child, a bully of the worst sort, an ogre. Watch as he shouts down the speaker at this press conference with a smirk smuggier than any smirk ever smugged.

YouTube Preview Image

This is what the Commonwealth is up against in trying to do what almost every other state has done … get out of the liquor business.

Talk about an uphill climb just to reach the top of the mountain to find a volcanic crater belching angry hot lava.

To Mr. Wendell Young I say, you may think you look like this:


But you really look like this:


Grow up.

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