Sunday, July 21, 2019

Morgan Park, Minnesota: A United States Steel Town


USS Plant, Morgan Park, c.1925, courtesy of the Northeast Minnesota Historical Center, Duluth

Recently on a very warm Thursday evening, I went on a tour of Morgan Park, a part of Duluth, Minnesota, led by local historian Bob Berg. The similarities between historic Morgan Park and historic Homestead struck me, as both were one-company towns for the same company. Both towns were built around the United States Steel mill, although the Homestead Works was much larger (15,000 workers vs.3,000), and Homestead is older and had a larger population. The significant difference is that Morgan Park was completely planned and built by the company.

U. S. Steel Company. Map of Duluth: Morgan Park, Duluth Minnesota. 1918

Even today, visitors come to Morgan Park to see what a planned company town looks like. The streets are laid out along the river flats, like the lower part of Homestead. Railroad tracks run along the St. Louis River in Morgan Park, just as they follow the Monongahela in Homestead. Homestead is older than Morgan Park, having grown significantly during the 1890s when Carnegie modernized and expanded the mill. Morgan Park is post-Carnegie, a town built and named after the man who bought Carnegie Steel in 1901 and renamed it United States Steel, J.P.Morgan.
Neighborhoods of Duluth: Morgan Park, Lake View Building, Duluth, Minnesota. c.1916

To take advantage of Duluth's proximity to the Mesabi Iron Range, USS started planning and building the town in 1913, and by 1915, the Duluth Works of USS was fully operational. The company handled the trash pickup, lawn care and snow removal, health care, and police and fire protection. When it was built, Morgan Park had the most up-to-date school, hospital, and community center in the nation. The company also built two churches, one Roman Catholic and one generic Protestant--deciding that the members of the various denominations needed to share. In its early years Black people were not allowed to live in the Park, so they, the Serbs, and other Eastern Europeans immigrants lived in nearby Gary-Duluth. In a way, Morgan Park was like Munhall during early USS days, the place for management and skilled workers to live, and also other workers, but in the lower-rent units. In Morgan Park's case, many of the original residents were Scandinavians; in Munhall's, WASP, including Welsh, and German. 

As with Homestead, the age of steel came to an end with the conversion of USS to USX. The works, then owned by the City of Duluth, closed in the 1970s and almost all of the public buildings built by the company, including the mill itself, were demolished. (The Homestead Works, still owned by USS, was closed in 1983.)

The most striking aspect of Morgan Park is that all of the residential buildings were built of concrete block, produced at the company's own cement plant in town. Bob Berg said that he remembered the fallout of white grit from the cement plant to be worse than the smoke from the steel mill. It stuck to everything. (I remember the black flecks and grit from Homestead mill smoke coating window curtains and laundry hung outside. The Morgan Park steel mill undoubtedly produced some of this as well. The air pollution must have been significant.)
Neighborhoods of Duluth: Morgan Park, view of neighborhood, Duluth, Minnesota. c.1916

Photos of the new Morgan Park show mostly treeless streetscapes with concrete-block houses of several different styles. There were single-family houses as well as duplexes and four-plexes. The latter were comprised of four units in a row, with the taller, larger units in the middle. Residents called these four-plexes "sheep sheds" because of their resemblance to barns for sheep. Window mullions on all residences were arranged in the then-fashionable "tick-tack-toe" Prairie School /Art and Crafts design. All the trim was painted USS green.

Today, trees have grown up, the homes are privately owned, and only the Protestant church and Lake View Building remain of the large public buildings.
The Lake View Building today houses the Iron Mug Coffee and Ale Shop and other businesses.
The portico of the Lake View Building, showing the glacial escarpment in the distance. This steep hill runs along the shore of Lake Superior all the way to the Canadian border. The shape of the city of Duluth has been described by Duluth native Anders Christensen as "a long wienie stretched along the lake." The city is 27 miles long and only a few miles wide, with Morgan Park on its southwestern end.
The interior of the Protestant church, currently belonging to a United Church of Christ congregation. The building is not concrete block, but stone.
The site of the demolished Catholic church, with school at left, former priest's residence in the trees at right.
The entrance to the now-demolished steel works, across the street from the church site.

The site (next to the mill entrance) of the company's General Office Building, now demolished.

Looking toward the former mill entrance on 88th Avenue West. The semicircle in the pavement is a holdover from the days when the street was a boulevard. In the next block was the school and across from it, the workers' club house, now a community center and park. Morgan Park had "clubs" for both workers and top management. Homestead's workers' club is of course the Carnegie Library, still very much in use.

Front of an unpainted "sheep shed" four-plex. The units have been altered to the tastes of the various owners.
Rear of a "sheep shed" four-plex
The small end unit of a "sheep shed", for sale for $52,900. The listing says it's 840 square feet with two bedrooms. The difference in the condition of this unit's roof and that of the one next door shows a potential problem of individual ownership of parts of what is basically one building.
A true duplex, up/down
Four styles of single-family houses. The layout was either foursquare or saltbox, and the exteriors were all concrete block, but the different roof styles provided variety: hip, gable, shed, etc. These houses are on the west side of the town, closer to the steel mill. Only one retains the original concrete block exterior. I think (because of the island) that this photo is shot toward the left of the old photo of a street above.
The alley behind the houses shown above.
Morgan Park saltboxes have layouts similar to Homestead workers' houses, but they're detached and somewhat larger.
A row of garages built when workers in the more modest houses began to acquire cars. Many of the houses built for management have their original garages.
A single-family house built for management on the east side of town, away from the steel mill. This house has its original Arts and Crafts-style mullioned windows.
A large house built for management, beautifully restored. Large management houses often had six bedrooms, four on the second floor and two on the top floor.
This handsome bungalow is a couple of doors down from the house shown above, at the end of a cul-de-sac. Some people think that these houses were built for the mill superintendents. It's quite possible, as these houses are on the edge of town, overlooking the St. Louis River, as far from the mill as one can get.
A large single-family home in near-original appearance with its green trim, unpainted concrete block exterior, and Art and Crafts-style window mullions. Obviously, the satellite dish isn't original.
Even though the steel mill and cement plant are long gone, Morgan Park, a close-knit community, is holding its own.  The lawns are mowed, the alleys are tidy, and the streets are clear of trash. The people who live there care about their town. The population remains steady at around 5,800.

Older, urban Homestead's population, including Munhall, is around 13,000, quite a drop from the population during the heyday of the Works. But although Homestead has fallen on hard times, a group of dedicated residents and business people are slowly turning it around.

These two old steel towns--Morgan Park and Homestead--show how Rust Belt towns can survive and be remade into vital new communities.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Excerpt: The Death of John Morris, July 6, 1892

9 A.M.  Wednesday, July 6, 1892

(Emlyn, Gywn and other striking workers behind ramparts on the roof of the Pump House overlooking the barges the Pinkertons were fighting from. The scene, including some of the dialogue, is based on eyewitness accounts.)

Contemporary illustration of the battle.

"Go ahead, be a pig-head,"  Duncan told Emlyn. "Just stay out of the way." He held out a pair of field glasses. "Here. If you're not going to stop the Pinkertons, you can at least keep an eye on them for us."

[Union leader] O'Donnell and some other men had finally persuaded the women in the open mill yard to leave. Now men only were positioned on the bank overlooking the river, waiting and watching. A supply of ammunition had been brought to the men on the ramparts from a hardware store on the Avenue. They were stocked up, ready to fight.

With Gwyn beside him, Emlyn trained the binoculars on the Iron Mountain. He had been watching for over an hour, but there had been no movement. He was beginning to hope that the violence had ended. Suddenly, at the bow of the Iron Mountain, armed men emerged.

"Gwyn," Emlyn said, his heart sinking. "I think they're coming off the barge."

"They're disembarking!" Smith exclaimed.

Through the glasses, Emlyn saw the Pinkertons start down the gangplank. A second later, someone fired a round at the Iron Mountain. Return rifle fire erupted from the barge.

"Get them!" screamed Duncan. "Get those scoundrels!"

The strikers pointed their rifles through openings in the breastworks. Gunfire from the barges was answered by volleys from the strikers. Taking fire all around them, the Pinkertons scrambled to get back inside the barge. The tattoo of gunshots rippled back and forth across the bank accompanied by the metallic thudding of bullets striking the ramparts.

Emlyn ducked down behind the rampart, where he watched the other men shooting through it. Bullets whizzed overhead. The air was thick with smoke and the acrid smell of gunpowder.

"I think I got one!" yelled Morris. "I'm going to sneak a look." Emlyn watched him ease up to peek through an opening.

No sooner had he gotten into place than Morris grunted and collapsed. Horror-struck, Emlyn watched as Morris rolled down the slope of the roof and out of view.

"My God!" shouted Gwyn, scrambling to where Morris had gone over.

Emlyn crawled to the edge and looked over. In a ditch at the bottom of the embankment about 60 feet below lay the inert form of John Morris.

Workers firing at the barges. Contemporary illustration.
The Pump House today, part of Rivers of Steel National Historic Site.


Sunday, December 23, 2018

More Creepy Christmas Cards: Bizarro Victorian Greetings


In my first foray into Victorian holiday greeting cards, Creepy Christmas Cards: Bizarro Victorian Holiday Greetings, I found a strange world of violence and creepiness.  Animals killed each other with glee, or were gleeful about being eaten for dinner, children were terrorized or abused. Yep, pretty dang merry.

But apparently in the sensibilities of the late 19th century, these cards were funny. They were cheap and popular. I'm not about to try to explain why these weird images evoked holiday laughs among some Victorians. Instead, let's look at some more images that just might be even weirder than some in the 2014 post.

What could be more festive to bring Christmas Blessings than a large, venomous jellyfish?

In this card from the Nova Scotia Archives, colorful and weird sea creatures (starfish are also venomous) bring "Best Wishes for Christmas."
Red ants (Christmas color, with hats and musical instruments) attack and overcome black ants (bah humbug color) to bring you "Compliments of the Season."


A gigantic two-horned beetle dances with a frog as a green insect plays the tambourine. Although beetles are herbivorous, it's not too much of a stretch imagining the frog having his head accidentally pinched off. In these cards frogs were subject to all kinds of violence from mishaps to murder.

"Hearty wishes" to you as one frog stabs another through the heart and a third leaps into the water.
Yep, don't be an ass and overdo the booze at the holiday office party.
 "Loving friends" owls and rabbits dance by the light of the moon. Well, what could possibly go wrong here?
It's not going to be a joyful Christmas for one of these creatures if the androgynous kid with the big fork spears accurately.  
Rabbit contemplating suicide in a snare. So happy. So content.
Elves riding rats run down a rabbit for Christmas dinner.
Beside using rats as hunting steeds, elves ( trolls?) enjoy a good dinner of roasted rat, cooked whole.

A Happy Christmas! This time it looks like the human is the entree for the feast.
                   
Androgynous pothead weirdo brings compliments of the season standing before a blazing oven full of strange foods.
Drunken rosy-cheeked Nordic folks primed with "akevit" are pulled in a sleigh boat by a presumably similarly inebriated hog.
St. Nick rams junior into a sack, to take as a present to . . .? 'Better watch out! 

He didn't watch out, and now he's stewing in a teapot, sending "A Christmas Greeting with Love."
World War I Santa with crying child and deer wearing gas masks. They don't even bother to caption this dreary image.
Cat thugs lie in wait to bring greetings via beatings with fists and clubs. 
The tables turned: rats about to tuck into a cat roasted with potatoes. What a feast!



This is only a sampling of the dozens of strange and creepy Victorian Christmas cards. Want to see more roasted rats and cats, dead birds, and accident-prone frogs wishing you compliments of the season? Check out these sites:

Undine@Horrible Sanity
 Bored Panda
Kellen Perry
Susan Kulhman on Pinterest
 The Daily Mail

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Hurrah for the Fun! Is the Pudding Done? Here's a Punch in the Face!

Yesterday I read the newspaper for sight-impaired people over Lighthouse for the Blind Minnesota Radio. What struck me was the number of articles on how to survive Thanksgiving with your dysfunctional family, crazy ex, rude in-laws, bratty children, people angry about political issues, clueless cousins, etc. We may hope for a happy Thanksgiving devoted to being grateful for our blessings, but apparently some people wind up wanting to punch out the other people at the table instead.



Admittedly, my family never came close to fisticuffs, but I remember the two topics that predictably often spurred arguments at the holiday table, no matter what holiday it was: politics and religion. My mother was usually the instigator. She and her sister Helen sparred over the Catholic Church. One Christmas--when I was blissfully not in attendance-- Mum and Helen wound up in a bitter dispute about some of the Pope's pronouncements (Mum, anti; Helen, pro). It was reportedly so bad that Helen's husband Joe blew up and stalked away from the table. Mum and some of my dad's relatives sparred over the Clintons and sundry other liberal-conservative bones of contention. One time when we were visiting the anti-Clinton relatives, I said to Mum, "Whatever you do, don't bring up Hillary." We weren't in the house five minutes when Mum brought up Hillary. You couldn't stop her from enjoying a good fight.

Mum and Helen, partying. They loved each other--and a good dinner dispute.

When I look back on Thanksgivings past, I recall a number of different kinds of gatherings. Fortunately, I can't recall one brouhaha that took place at these.

In my youth I remember the big turkey feast at Uncle Eddie's house just around the bend on Watchill Road in Munhall. The adults sat at the formal dining table, while the kids ate at card tables in the living room. Because I was the eldest cousin, when I reached high school age, I was invited to sit at the big table. Used to growing up over the store and having to return to work in a hurry after dinner, the Katiliuses ate fast. My dad and I would be only halfway through the stuffing when Mum's relatives would be tucking into pumpkin pie. One dinner stands out, the one when Uncle Eddie cooked the turkey in their new microwave oven. Eddie, always the innovator, couldn't resist a new invention. I can't say that the turkey was a total culinary success, but you can't blame him for trying.

Pumpkin pie from a family recipe.

In college days the McConnell family invited the out-of-state students who sang in the choir at St. Stephen's Lutheran Church to their beautiful home for dinner. It was always a wonderful, southern-style meal with cornbread stuffing and pecan pie. One of these students was Robert Gates, of Secretary of Defense fame, who in those days was just Bob, baritone. There were always a lot of hi-jinx, especially puns. One time I remember being tipped backwards and carried around the house in a ladder-back chair as punishment (reward?) for a particularly bad (good?) pun. The good-natured McConnells not only put up with it, but invited us back the next year.

Thanksgiving at the Weldon-Wynnes in Montclair, NJ, 2015. That year was memorable because my daughter and I, stuck in traffic anarchy in the South Bronx, almost didn't make it. Dave and Danny got delayed in gridlock traffic on Canal Street coming from Brooklyn and had to reroute over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Just another NYC style Thanksgiving.

The most unique Thanksgiving was the one some English grad students organized in Athens, Ohio. I'm not sure how many people were there, but the fog of time makes it seem like there were scores crammed in the downstairs rental unit of a big old house. Half were couples, some were singles, and several couples had young children. It was a very robust, very literary feast. The variety and quantity of food brought by the celebrants was impressive. So many family and ethnic traditions came together to make this a remarkable meal. We took turns eating because there weren't enough tables for all to sit down together. It was warm enough outside that the little kids ran in and out of house laughing and squealing and some of the adults stood outside talking. It was undoubtedly the most energetic holiday gathering I've ever been a part of.
Ex-pat Thanksgiving, Toronto 2017

During the years when my kids were growing up, we would sometimes be at the house in Minneapolis, with U of Minnesota students often added as guests, or we would be at one of the grandma's houses, either in Duluth or Pittsburgh. When my daughter Ceridwen and her husband acquired a house, the Thanksgiving meal shifted to their place. Friends who stayed in town, students from the U, family members--these were the guests. I ironed my Grandma Busch's linen tablecloth for the occasion. No football. No politics--unless we were agreeing with each other.

Thanksgiving at Ceridwen's house 2010
Since we built our cabin in Grand Marais, Thanksgiving dinners have been moved up to the North Woods. With a wood stove heating the place, we gather around the old table from my parents' house in Pittsburgh and give thanks for the our many blessings--not the least of which is the cabin itself, our getaway from the routine of city living. Our dogs--Viggo and Vera--may be the ones that enjoy it most, the day they may get some really, really good table scraps.

Vera and Viggo snoozing at the cabin.

So, while I read the articles about coping with holiday tension and squabbles, I gave thanks that they did not apply to my family--not that there isn't stress involved in any holiday gathering. However, whenever I see these annual articles about coping and hear horror stories from friends about nightmare holiday experiences, my thoughts always go back to a book I read long ago, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. For me, the scene at the Christmas dinner with guests battling over politics is the ultimate holiday clash. It's 1916 Ireland, and Mr Casey, a supporter of the late nationalist leader Charles Stewart Parnell, and the protagonist Stephen's governess, Dante Riordan, a devout Catholic, in the course of the meal slowly work up to the conclusion of a no-holds-barred battle of invective.

--Blasphemer! Devil!! screamed Dante, starting to her feet and almost spitting in his face.
  Uncle Charles and Mr Dedalus pulled Mr Casey back into his chair again, talking to him from both sides reasonably. He stared before him out of his dark, flaming eyes, repeating:
--Away with God, I say!
   Dante shoved her chair violently aside and left the table, upsetting her napkinring which rolled slowly along the carpet. . .At the door Dante turned round violently and shouted down the room, her cheeks flushed and quivering with rage:
--Devil out of hell! We won! We crushed him to death! Fiend!
   The door slammed behind her.
   Mr Casey, freeing his arms from his holders, suddenly bowed his head on his hands with a sob of pain.
--Poor Parnell! he cried loudly. My dead king!
   He sobbed loudly and bitterly.
  Stephen, raising his terrorstricken face, saw that his father's eyes were full of tears.


May your holiday be happy, may the feast be wonderful, and may all present enjoy each other's company in peace and love. And may you never, ever be part of a holiday dinner like the one Stephen experienced.

                                                            Happy Thanksgiving