Monday, September 29, 2014

Ambridge Golden Jubilee: the human pirohy

I've been doing research on Ambridge's 1955 Golden Jubilee, the 50th Anniversary of the borough's incorporation in 1905.

The big celebration, with a huge parade seen by an estimated 50,000 people and fireworks, was on July 4, but there were plenty of shenanigans and hoopla leading up to the big day. I thought some of the pre-July 4 goings-on were amusing, others bemusing, while a few made me cringe, given changes in society's values and concerns since the mid-50s.

Of all the photos and articles I've found so far, this one amuses me the most because of its sheer silliness and Ambridgeness:

Cooking of the human pirohy,
Daily Citizen,
June 24, 1955

Text of original caption:
COOK HUMAN PIROHY--A "human pirohy" was "cooked" last evening at the Ukrainian Workingmen's Association Branch 5 lodge, Melrose Ave., following sentencing at Kangaroo Kourt by the Brothers of the Brush. Held inside a six foot replica of a rolling pin, and a four by six flour sack was used in making the human pirohy. The victim is pictured in the center, shortly before the "cooking" job.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Gun Crazy

Microsoft Word 
by Robert Giles

When a bullet, for the second time, went right through the garage door, the boys decided to take the gun down to the river for further testing.

Chuck had built a successful crossbow and decided to convert it into a gun. I won’t give you a blueprint. All he needed was a bow string, a piece of spring steel, the end of a two-by-four, a narrow gauge iron pipe, and a short steel rod. And bullets. They were easy to get from one of our friends. There were a lot of sportsmen in our neighborhood.

Soon we were on the wall overlooking the Ohio River. It was about a third of a mile wide. On the other side was the Jones & Laughlin Steel Works.

Chuck held the gun “stock” to his shoulder, pulled back the bow string, secured it, and pressed the trigger. There was a tiny splash where the bullet struck the water, about a hundred yards off.

We took turns, everyone achieving the same result. It was pretty slick.

“Why don’t we find a target to shoot at?” someone asked. “It doesn’t take much skill to hit the river”.

We looked about for something to shoot at. Behind us was a railroad embankment. Across the tracks was the Ohio River Boulevard. There were no trees suitable for hanging a target.

“We better not risk it. We came down here to keep out of trouble.”

“Let’s just shoot up the rest of the bullets and go home. We can always go target shooting in Legionville Hollow.”

The box held about two dozen more bullets. We aimed a little higher to make it more interesting. What harm would it do to shoot up the Ohio River?

A booming voice came across the water –

“Please. Hold your fire. Do you want to kill someone?”

Evidently someone at Jones & Laughlin was using a bullhorn.

We didn’t have to be coaxed. We dropped the gun and the bullets in the weeds and lit out for home. Just as we got to the top of the stairs where the locktender’s quarters once were, we heard a police siren.

It was time to go underground. We went down into the basement of the ruined building and crouched out of sight.

We heard several sets of footsteps overhead. They trailed away in the direction of the river. About ten minutes later they were again overhead.

“You don’t think they’re hiding in these ruins, do you?”

“You want to go down there and find out?” One of the policemen was standing over the entrance hole. It looked like he would find it a tight fit. He didn’t want to risk it.

“They’re probably in the woods by now. Let’s head back.”

We tried to figure out what had gone wrong. “Do you think those bullets were skipping all the way across the water like a pebble on a pond?”

Some years later I was working at the J&L steel plant. An older worker and I were on the river bank. I pointed across to the old lock on the Legionville side. “That’s where we fished and played when we were kids – right over there.”

“Some knuckle-heads were shooting a gun from over there once. They probably didn’t know it but the bullets were flying all around here. We took cover. We were afraid to lift our heads. The shooting didn’t stop until the foreman got on his bullhorn. Crazy.”

He turned to me as though struck by a sudden insight. “That wasn’t you, was it?”

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ambridge... From Above

Look how good the current Ambridge looks in this video from videographer Alan Freed and Ambridge Connection--so bright and optimistic.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Dead-End Pool

In the summer of 1938, this was the Ambridge swimming pool:

Dead-End Pool
Photographer: Arthur Rothstein *
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
July 1938

Dead-End Pool
Beaver County Times,
June 22, 2011

The Dead-End Pool, reportedly named for the 1937 movie Dead End, was built by the depression era children of the First Street neighborhood by damming the Bank Street Creek, the local name for the section of Big Sewickley Creek that flowed past Bank Street**, and is a testimony to their ingenuity, resourcefulness, and work ethic. My aunt Helen(Sokolosky) Gause, then 11 years-old, says she was one of the neighborhood children who helped fill 100 sandbags with sand to make the pool.

Note the Life Guard Station on the upper left side of the top photo.

But then came those darn grownups and their concerns about things like safety.

A brief mention in The Daily Times of August 1, 1938, said the authorities were testing the pool's water, and the pool's fate rested in the test results.

On August 3, the same paper announced that the test results were in and showed that the pool was "grossly polluted with intestinal bacteria and wholly unfit for bathing purposes." The chemist from the Board of Health was quoted as saying, "It is a public health menace and should be destroyed." And so, the Dead-End Pool was condemned.

However, the children of First Street were determined, tenacious, assertive--and angry. And perhaps they had learned some strategies from the union organizers in the community.

The August 6, 1938, Pittsburgh Press reported that the borough had drained the Dead-End Pool the day before, although it had left the dam walls to provide ice skating in colder weather. The article also reported that the borough boys had circulated petitions demanding a municipal pool and had planned a parade for that afternoon to march to the borough building to demand a pool.

In news that may shock people used to dealing more recently with Ambridge authorities, the August 9 Press reported that "between 50 and 60 Dead-End Kids deprived of their swimming hole in Big Sewickley Creek when it was drained last week, took their complaint before Borough Council last night and came away from the meeting cheering." The Council agreed to put a bond proposal on the November ballot that would pay for the construction of a $110,000 swimming pool. And until a pool was constructed, the fire department would provide sprinklers for the kids to splash in. Wow.

So the end of the Dead-End Pool led to the birth of the borough pool so many of us enjoyed from the 1940s through the early 1990s.

The borough pool was built ***  on top of a steep hill on borough property currently called Walter Panek Park, about as far away from First Street as you could get and still be in Ambridge. But kids didn't seem to care. For generations, kids in Ambridge and beyond made the trek to the pool. It was where many of us spent long summer days providing wonderful memories.

*Arthur Rothstein was an acclaimed American photojournalist. He was one of the photographers employed by the Farm Service Administration to document the hardship of people's lives during the Great Depression. You can learn more about him and his work at the Arthur Rothstein Archive. Rothstein took a series of photographs in the First Street neighborhood that were published in July 1938.

** I'm not sure where Bank Street Creek was/is. I haven't found it yet on a map. I'm going to take a wild guess that it was near Bank Street in southwest Ambridge off First Street. Perhaps it was the name given to Big Sewickley Creek as it flowed through the Bank Street area. I'm not sure what bridge that is painted with the Dead-End Pool sign, but it looks like it may have been the railroad bridge that I'm told was once west of the bridge over Big Sewickley Creek that connects Merchant Street in Beaver County with Beaver Street in Allegheny County. If anyone can provide more information, please leave a comment.

Update: I have been assured by residents of the First Street neighborhood that "Bank Street Creek" was the name that locals gave to the section of Big Sewickley Creek that flowed past Bank Street. And that the bridge shown in the photo is the railroad bridge that once crossed Big Sewickley Creek west of the stone Big Sewickley Creek Bridge.

*** I have been hunting for a long time for information on the construction and opening of the borough pool, but rather than delay the post about the Dead-End Pool further, I've decided I'll post the information on the construction and opening if and when I find it. If you have any information, please leave a comment.

Update: the Ambridge Borough Pool opened on Memorial Day, 1942 and was formally dedicated on July 12, 1942. You can see photos of its construction in the September 15, 2017, Ambridge Memories blog post "Ambridge Borough Swimming Pool construction, 1939--and Ambridge's earlier playground pool." In that post, I discuss the Ambridge playground pool that once was in the 800 block of Duss Ave. and pre-dated the Dead-End pool. I learned about the short-lived playground pool only after I wrote this blog post.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


by Robert Giles

Chuck practiced his new pitch for hours. He was always inventing something.

He called it the “Dying Swan”. My other brother called it the “Butterfly”. I remember it as the “Flutterball”.

It had a high arc like in slo-pitch softball. It was agonizingly slow. It did a little dance or jig as it descended chest high at the upper limit of the strike zone.

I may be entering deep water here, but there was something geekish about the way Chuck delivered a flutterball. He sort of tip-toed forward on the mound and held the ball in a loose slack-armed way and released it with just his fingertips. He turned his face skyward as the ball inched toward the plate.

I have to say that is the proper way to deliver a flutterball, maybe the only way. After all, Chuck invented the pitch.

I still remember the unveiling of Chuck’s new pitch in an actual game. By chance my brothers and I all were on the same team. We usually played six to a side. We only needed two neighborhood kids to round out our squad. I forget who had the honor.

The other side had the Stolar brothers, Dicky and Bobby, and Art & Bobby Floro. Rick Supak and maybe Tommy Pappas completed the opposing six.

That day it was pretty much the Giles Brothers versus the neighborhood – an alignment that may have occurred only on that one fateful day.

Six-sided baseball requires modification of the usual rules. The batting team provides the catcher – in this case someone unprotected who functions only to return the ball to the pitcher. The “no right field hitting” rule is invoked to eliminate the need for a second baseman and right fielder. (In the rare instance of a left-handed batter, the fielders shifted rightward and a “no left-field hitting” rule applied.)

Contravention of the “no right-field hitting rule” or its corollary resulted in an automatic out.

Back to the game. We were in the ninth inning and the Giles Brothers had a one or two run lead. So far Chuck had not employed the flutterball.

Just when we thought we had the game on ice, the neighborhood boys began to make a little noise. There were runners on first and second, and Dicky Stolar was coming to the plate.

Some of you may remember that Dicky lettered in three sports at Ambridge High School – baseball, basketball, and golf (I may be wrong about golf – maybe that was his younger brother, Bobby).

Anyway, to my memory Dicky Stolar (or “Rich” or “Fuzzy”) was the finest athlete to ascend from the ash of Byers Field. Art “The Hammer” Floro trails in second place (sorry, Art).

So there we were on the diamond in Byers Field, the batting team threatening, and Byersdale’s home run king at the plate. Even before high school, Dicky was an imposing figure (he was in seventh or eighth grade at the time of our game).

All of a sudden Chuck changed his delivery and threw a flutterball. Dicky swung way out in front of the pitch. Strike one.

Dicky recovered his composure by striking home plate several times with his bat.

He may have anticipated that Chuck would change up on him by showing some speed on that second pitch. If so, he miscalculated. Along came another flutterball. Another mighty swing. A second strike.

Dicky pulled his cap down on his forehead and rummaged in his pocket for a handkerchief. He stepped from the batter’s box to blow his nose.

This time he would wait as though set in concrete for that pathetic pitch to arrive in his power zone. “Patience, Strength, Discipline,” Dicky prayed silently.

In floated the pitch, fluttering softly although the air was still and breathless. A dust devil ascended as Dicky swung his bat.

The ball made a tiny “plop” somewhere behind home plate. Dicky had struck out.