Points in Pittsburgh
Prohibition, Ayn Rand and Roberto Clemente
This is the first article in a new series about America’s steel city. Pittsburgh hosts the baseball club with one of the world’s greatest athletes on its roster for 18 years. Pittsburgh’s where this native Pittsburgher learned in earnest about Prohibition’s horrors. Pittsburgh’s where my parents were born, met, married and attended university, including classes in this tower. They worked at various industrial companies—in skyscrapers and steel mills—and started a family here. The city links to native St. Petersburger Ayn Rand. I’m visiting Pittsburgh for research as I write this.
Pittsburgh hosted a Smithsonian Institution exhibition about Prohibition several years ago, which I attended at the riverside Heinz History Center in the Strip District. The chilling display and tutorial, which was partly based on Last Call by Daniel Okrent, moved and inspired me. This monstrous law, which triggered the income tax, propelled matriarchalism and feminism and subjugated Americans for 13 years, is barely remembered today. But it serves as a turning point when Puritanical nihilists and social justice destroyers, including socialists and feminists, lorded over the American people. The exhibit was both imperfect and utterly absorbing.
I continue to learn at Heinz History Center, where I’m conducting archival research for new works in progress, including my upcoming article on Roberto Clemente for a local publication. This amazing Puerto Rican native became number 21 on the Pittsburgh Pirates (he was previously number 13) and triumphed in his 18th season with a World Series championship 50 years ago this fall. He died in a foreseeable plane crash as he sought to help others. I read and reviewed his biography, studied his life and death and visited the Clemente Museum in Lawrenceville here in Pittsburgh. I had never written about Clemente—one of my first heroes, who met, greeted and posed on the baseball field with my late brother for a photograph, which Clemente signed—before this year. His death, which my family learned about via radio reporting on New Year’s Eve in 1972, haunts me. My article is scheduled to be published this fall.
Frankly, whether it’s Clemente, Andrew Carnegie or Fred Rogers, all Pittsburghers I’ve chronicled, the city of ability and industry, bridges and skyscrapers and capitalism and champions continues to stir my imagination. I attended a conference here when a friend lectured on a supersonic passenger jet company he’d created after studying at Carnegie Mellon University. Another friend studied infectious diseases at Pitt. Later, I was happy to discover Pittsburgh’s connection to Ayn Rand, which I wrote about in this article for Pittsburgh Quarterly.
Pittsburgh and its Western Pennsylvania environs, including Fallingwater in Bear Run by Frank Lloyd Wright, has become a staging ground for Joe Biden, who exploits the city to propagate anti-capitalist crusades. The central idea of my new series, which I’ve named Points in Pittsburgh, is to inform, enlighten and enrich the reader with the truth about what I regard as America’s foremost city of the Industrial Revolution. I hope you come to know, appreciate and visit this great, American city as it was and as it is—and let yourself imagine and forecast how a city of industry ought to be.