Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Historically, Ripping the Rich Is Fun

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Historically, Ripping the Rich Is Fun

Article excerpt

Newspaper columnists, like Blanche DuBois, depend on the kindness of strangers.

About two-thirds of the way through a workday that had other column ideas dying quiet deaths, I was blessed with an email from Linda Ludwig of Bellevue. She asked if I wanted a 123-year-old book called "All Sorts of Pittsburgers," written by a guy who had to meet daily deadlines for the Pittsburg Leader.

Who wouldn't want a book about the men who moved and shook Pittsburg back when it muddled along without its silent "h"?

Forty-five minutes later I was walking in Ms. Ludwig's front door. I met her husband, Willie Kuhn, and their 39-year-old parrot, Glory, the latter of whom withheld comment. Then I walked out the door with the prize.

The book was published in 1892, the same year its author, Arthur G. Burgoyne, would cover the bloody Homestead strike against Carnegie Steel. I'd read Mr. Burgoyne's book on the strike, but until I held this book I hadn't realized he'd ground out daily poems - and caricatures - on the leading figures of his day.

Take this opening stanza on Andrew Carnegie:

Bow down, ye folks, whose worldly store is miserably slim/In abject reverence before this dignitary grim/That plenipotential beard of his, And Stony British stare/Betoken clearly that he is a multi-millionaire.

Or this couplet on Mr. Carnegie's partner, Henry Phipps Jr.: Thus he's put up a plant house, which cost like the deuce/And gave it away for the popular use.

Most of the poems in the 299 pages of verse and prose are six stanzas. Taken together, they provide a long, leisurely look at a time when a Republican political machine and a Scots-Irish business aristocracy held sway, tribal and religious loyalties were in the forefront, service on the winning side in the Civil War still meant something and the occasional ethnic slur could be casually tossed into the journalistic stew.

Then, as now, Pittsburgh was a one-party town, though there didn't seem to be as many intraparty schisms then. Republican bosses William Flinn and Christopher Magee ruled with iron-city fists. Take this description of Henry Ford - not the auto industrialist, the flunky who was presiding officer of the city council as then constituted:

A mortgage is held on the gavel he wields/By Billy and Chris, it is said/And he's bound to respond when these two pull the strings/ Or else he'll be knocked in the head. …

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