So it’s been a hot minute since I’ve done one of these posts; I believe that this was the last time I’d done one. The month looks about right, because that’s when I was deep in to one of my “find Leigh a new job” spats. And I totally found a new job within two weeks of sending out my first batches of resumes. Since then it’s been nothing but training and getting acclimated to this new position. Naturally, my hours haven’t allotted me much time or energy for reading. I hope to change this development in the coming weeks with the following titles. And yes, they’re all Pennsylvania or Pittsburgh related. Here are eight books I hope to read this July, 2022.
Three Rivers Rising by Jame Richards
Sixteen-Year-Old Celstia spends every summer with her family at the elite resort at Lake Conemaugh, a shimmering Allegheny Mountain reservoir held in place by an earthen dam. Tired of the society crowd, Celestia prefers to swim and fish with Peter, the hotel’s hired boy. It’s a friendship she must keep secret, and when companionship turns to romance, it’s a love that could get Celestia disowned. These affairs of the heart become all the more wrenching on a single, tragic day in May, 1889. After days of heavy rain, the dam fails, unleashing 20 million tons of water onto Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in the valley below. The town where Peter lives with his father. The town where Celestia has just arrived to join him. This searing novel in poems explores a cross-class romance—and a tragic event in U. S. history.
The Johnstown Girls by Kathleen George
Ellen Emerson may be the last living survivor of the Johnstown flood. She was only four years old on May 31, 1889, when twenty million tons of water decimated her hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Thousands perished in what was the worst natural disaster in U.S. history at the time. As we witness in The Johnstown Girls, the flood not only changed the course of history, but also the individual lives of those who survived it.
A century later, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporters Ben Bragdon and Nina Collins set out to interview 103-year-old Ellen for Ben’s feature article on the flood. When asked the secret to her longevity, Ellen simply attributes it to “restlessness.” As we see, that restlessness is fueled by Ellen’s innate belief that her twin sister Mary, who went missing in the flood, is somehow still alive. Her story intrigues Ben, but it haunts Nina, who is determined to help Ellen find her missing half.
Big Steel by Kenneth Warren
At its formation in 1901, the United States Steel Corporation was the earth’s biggest industrial corporation, a wonder of the manufacturing world. Immediately it produced two thirds of America’s raw steel and thirty percent of the steel made worldwide. The behemoth company would go on to support the manufacturing superstructure of practically every other industry in America. It would create and sustain the economies of many industrial communities, especially Pittsburgh, employing more than a million people over the course of the century.
A hundred years later, the U.S. Steel Group of USX makes scarcely ten percent of the steel in the United States and just over one and a half percent of global output. Far from the biggest, the company is now considered the most efficient steel producer in the world. What happened between then and now, and why, is the subject of Big Steel, the first comprehensive history of the company at the center of America’s twentieth-century industrial life.
The Schenley Experiment by Jake Oresick
The Schenley Experiment is the story of Pittsburgh’s first public high school, a social incubator in a largely segregated city that was highly—even improbably—successful throughout its 156-year existence.
Established in 1855 as Central High School and reorganized in 1916, Schenley High School was a model of innovative public education and an ongoing experiment in diversity. Its graduates include Andy Warhol, actor Bill Nunn, and jazz virtuoso Earl Hines, and its prestigious academic program (and pensions) lured such teachers as future Pulitzer Prize winner Willa Cather. The subject of investment as well as destructive neglect, the school reflects the history of the city of Pittsburgh and provides a study in both the best and worst of urban public education practices there and across the Rust Belt. Integrated decades before Brown v. Board of Education, Schenley succumbed to default segregation during the “white flight” of the 1970s; it rose again to prominence in the late 1980s, when parents camped out in six-day-long lines to enroll their children in visionary superintendent Richard C. Wallace’s reinvigorated school. Although the historic triangular building was a cornerstone of its North Oakland neighborhood and a showpiece for the city of Pittsburgh, officials closed the school in 2008, citing over $50 million in necessary renovations—a controversial event that captured national attention.
Schenley alumnus Jake Oresick tells this story through interviews, historical documents, and hundreds of first-person accounts drawn from a community indelibly tied to the school. A memorable, important work of local and educational history, his book is a case study of desegregation, magnet education, and the changing nature and legacies of America’s oldest public schools.
Eminent Pittsburghers by William S. Dietrich II
These biographical essays, many reprinted from The Pittsburgh Quarterly, describe the men who transformed Pittsburgh into one of the leading industrial cities in the world. Included here are such essays as “The Amazing Career of George Westinghouse,” “The Judge and the Little Boy: The Triumph and the Tragedy of A.W. Mellon,” “Smilin Charlie Schwab: The Joys and Sorrows of Life on a Large Canvas,” and more. The book also includes “A Very Short History of Pittsburgh” that describes how its “geography and geology have been destiny,” where the city “not only faces but opens the great heartland of America.”
Forgotten Tales of Pittsburgh by Thomas White
Local author Thomas White delves into these lost tales, from Lewis and Clark’s inauspicious start involving an intoxicated boat builder to the death ray of inventor Nikola Tesla. A 1907 lion attack at Luna Park, death by spontaneous combustion, Jack the Ripper’s rumored visit to the city and an umpire who was rescued from an angry crowd by Pirates players are all part of the forgotten history of the Steel City.
Founding Families of Pittsburgh by Joseph F. Rishel
As Pittsburgh and its surrounding area grew into an important commercial and industrial center, a group of families emerged who were distinguished by their wealth and social position. Joseph Rishel studies twenty of these families to determine the degree to which they formed a coherent upper class and the extent to which they were able to maintain their status over time. His analysis shows that Pittsburgh’s elite upper class succeeded in creating the institutions needed to sustain a local aristocracy and possessed the ability to adapt its accumulated advantages to social and economic changes.
The Demon of Brownsville Road by Bob Cranmer
The Cranmers seemed fated to own the house at 3406 Brownsville Road. As a young boy, Bob had been drawn to the property, and, just when the family decided to move back to Brentwood, it went up for sale. Without a second thought, they purchased the house that Bob had always dreamed of owning.
But soon, the family began experiencing strange phenomena—objects moving on their own, ghostly footsteps, unsettling moaning sounds—that gradually increased in violence, escalating to physical assaults and, most disturbingly, bleeding walls. Bob, Lesa, and their four children were under attack from a malicious demon that was conjuring up terrifying manifestations to destroy their tight-knit household. They had two choices: leave or draw on their unwavering faith to exorcise the malicious fiend who haunted their home.
Now, Bob Cranmer recounts the harrowing true story of the evil presence that tormented his family and the epic spiritual war he fought to save everything he held dear…
From fiction to nonfiction, these are the eight books currently on my Libby app that I’m looking forward to reading through throughout the month of July. Some, about the Johnstown Flood, have been on my list since 2019. Others, like THE DEMON OF BROWNSVILLE ROAD and FOUNDING FAMILIES OF PITTSBURGH, are newer additions. There’s gotta be some awesome blog post material in those pages, right? Whether or not info from these books makes its way onto this site, I’m definitely going to take some time out of my new, very busy days to read again. Balancing life with time is no easy task, but I hope to make some sense of it this year. Happy reading.