Leslie Przybylek, Senior Curator, #Pixburgh, Heinz History Center
Of course at the History Center, we do as much as possible to try and preserve the stories with the photos that we have in our collection. But sometimes – maybe it’s a part of a much larger collection or someone donates a fascinating image – they don’t always come with enough information for us to give the full story. I’ll call those mystery images.
Certainly #Pixburgh has featured a few of those, and this is one of the best examples. This marvelously evocative image of a group of workers standing on a wood retaining wall. They’ve clearly posed – this didn’t happen by accident.
They’re pictured with the tools of their trade. Most of them hold shovels, a few hold other tools. The men at the very bottom probably are foremen. If you actually look closely you’ll see that they hold no tools. That’s a little bit of a key.
So this is one of those images where there’s enough information for us to pinpoint certain things. For example, the posters on here, they’re advertising a Swissvale athletic carnival that opened on June 27, 1904 and closed July 2, 1904. So we know, based on the fact that they’re in there and the fact that they’re still relatively good condition, that this image was probably taken sometime during the summer of 1904.
It’s probably from the East End of Pittsburgh – that’s the most logical location at the time for Swissvale to be advertising for a carnival. It probably wasn’t, for example, on the South Side. But other details remain just out of reach.
So here’s an example of a wonderful photo with the hills and the stairs that speaks of Pittsburgh and the nature of the resolute people who lived here, but we don’t yet have enough to figure out the full story. Maybe we’ll find it in the future.