Stephen Foster Window, Allegheny Cemetery Mausoleum

The Allegheny Cemetery Mausoleum, or “Temple of Memories” (as the cemetery calls it now), was built in 1960. It is filled with stained glass by the Willet studio of Philadelphia and the Hunt studio of Pittsburgh. The two distinct styles are very different, but Father Pitt does not know which is which.

This Stephen Foster window is the centerpiece of the whole first floor of the mausoleum, which is appropriate. Thousands of rich and important people—politicians, robber barons, and even a few honest philanthropists—are buried in Allegheny Cemetery. But the only resident anyone really cares about is Stephen Foster, who made us dance and sing and weep, and died in poverty. (There is also a small cult of Lillian Russell, and Father Pitt would be delighted to see a Lillian Russell window in some future expansion of the mausoleum.)

This window includes something that delighted old Pa Pitt beyond all reason: the only stained-glass representation he has ever seen of a parlor organ.

Camera: Kodak EasyShare Z1485 IS.

The Ancient Pronunciation of “Pittsburgh”

Many historians speculate that the name “Pittsburgh” was originally pronounced “PITTS-burrah,” the way Edinburgh is pronounced “ED-in-burrah.” After all, General Forbes, who gave the place its name, was a Scotsman: it would seem odd that he would not pronounce the “burgh” as in “Edinburgh.”

Today Father Pitt presents a tiny piece of evidence suggesting that the old pronunciation may have endured into the early 1800s. The evidence is only suggestive, not conclusive; but he thinks you will agree that it is at least very interesting.

Union Cemetery in Robinson Township is an old graveyard with a number of Revolutionary War veterans in it. Here we find, side by side, two early settlers’ tombstones.

First is Thomas Thornberry, a Revolutionary War veteran. His stone is regrettably so badly damaged that we can read nothing on it. But a plaque in front of the stone identifies it as belonging to Thomas Thornberry, a Revolutionary War veteran. Presumably the name comes from the church records, but Father Pitt is not sure of that. Perhaps someone from the church could enlighten us more.

Beside his stone is a legible stone for a woman who is obviously his wife.

DINAH Wife of
Thomas Thornburgh

who departed this life
July 26th, 1830,
aged 70 years.

And here is our evidence. Inscriptions on tombstones of the early 1800s around here are commonly semi-literate; it is common to find variant spellings of the same name. Here we have the same name spelled “Thornburgh” and “Thornberry.” Now, it is not possible to imagine the name “Thornberry” being pronounced “THORN-burg,” but it is quite possible to imagine both “Thornburgh” and “Thornberry” being pronounced “THORN-burrah.” And if that is the case, then we have evidence that, in western Pennsylvania, the spelling “burgh” indicated the sound “burrah” at least to some residents as late as 1830.

Old Pa Pitt repeats that this is not evidence of very high quality. But it is some evidence.

Union Church, Robinson Township

Formerly Union Presbyterian Church, this congregation has been here more than two centuries. In the adjacent burying ground are several Revolutionary War veterans, and the hilltop church with the cemetery below is irresistibly picturesque.

Old Pa Pitt, however, could not get a good picture of the church today, because he was there in the afternoon when the sun was shining in the wrong direction. So instead he gives you the next best thing, which is an atmospheric picture. You can always compensate for a picture’s defects by turning it black and white and calling it art.

Camera: Canon PowerShot A590 IS (hacked).

Frederick Osterling’s Grave

Sometimes one finds things one didn’t know one was looking for. Father Pitt had decided to visit Rosedale Cemetery in Ross Township, a small German cemetery that does not show up on many maps, and here it was: the Osterling family monument, with “Fred J. Osterling” inscribed on it. By the dates we know that this is Frederick Osterling, the great architect, and the monument itself is so strikingly tasteful that one suspects Mr. Osterling designed it himself for his parents.

Frederick Osterling is responsible for some of the most important buildings in Pittsburgh:

The Union Trust Building
The Armstrong Cork Factory
The Westinghouse “Castle”
The Arrott Building
The morgue
The Times Building

—among many others. His career pretty much ended with the Union Trust Building, however; the client, Henry Frick, refused to pay Osterling’s fee when the construction ran late, and Osterling sued. After a decade in various courts, the case of Osterling v. Frick ended in victory for Osterling; but meanwhile it seems that Frick, who was good at holding grudges, had made sure Osterling would never work again. On the other hand, it seems he didn’t really need to work: when he died in 1934, Osterling left an estate valued at a million dollars, which was a good bit of money in those days.

The Bertha Osterling whose name appears below Fred’s name is one of Frederick’s sisters, who apparently never married. Frederick never married, either; but, when he died with a million dollars in his estate, he left $10,000 of it to a certain Martha O. Aber in a handwritten codicil to his will (the rest went to his sisters Bertha and Anna). This woman then claimed to be his secret wife, and demanded a much larger share of the estate. Old Pa Pitt does not know what happened after that.

Camera: Canon PowerShot A540 (hacked).

Minersville Cemetery Comes Back from the Dead

Father Pitt wrote this article for the Pittsburgh Cemeteries site, but he thought his readers here might be interested as well.

For literally decades it has been a small local scandal: the once-beautiful Minersville Cemetery, a German Lutheran burying ground in the Hill District, was overgrown with weeds and vandalized, and no one would step forward to take care of it.

Now, at last, a group of Lutheran volunteers has taken on the cemetery. With the help of a bit of money from the cemetery’s upkeep fund and some more from Pittsburgh Area Lutheran Ministries, they have cleared the weeds, righted as many of the monuments as possible, and built a fine new iron gate to keep contractors with pickups from driving in to dump their garbage. (Pedestrians without garbage are still welcome.) The cemetery is beautiful again, an oasis of quiet repose in the middle of Herron Hill.

Some work still to be done: toppled and broken monuments gathered on one of the cemetery drives.

Young Stag, Allegheny Cemetery

A young stag, his antlers still covered in velvet, rests in Allegheny Cemetery.

Camera: Konica Minolta DiMAGE Z3.

Old Rugged Cross

The Tortorelli family monument in Calvary Cemetery is a huge rustic stone cross. This afternoon storm clouds were approaching behind it, and Father Pitt had to take pictures. Then he almost, but not quite, outran the rain.

Camera: Canon PowerShot S45.