Tuesday, January 31, 2012

City League Champs. 1895

Mayor Loth's Champion Football Team
I was rummaging around in a box of my dad's old photos when I came upon the image at right. It's a photo of Loth's (the mayor's) team, Pittsburgh champions in 1895.  This is the earliest known extant picture of my grandfather (first row left), and it includes my grandmother's brother, Jesse Edwards (front, third from right), and (my dad thought) Grandpap's brother Will (top row, far right).
     What's interesting to me is the scruffiness of the players (no uniforms, little padding, no helmets) and the debris on the field where they took the picture. Note that no player has a beard and only one guy has a mustache. Everyone and everything looks completely beat to hell.
      I know that long exposures made for stiff expressions on subjects, but even so, this team seems pretty bummed for just having whupped Duquesne University 0-66 for the city title.  Could it be that they were only reflecting the malaise of the times--the dangerous working conditions, the deep economic depression following the Panic.
      What's amazing is that in the note on the back, my father writes that this photo was taken on his parents' wedding day, November 26th.  Dad says that after the wedding, Grandpap played in this game.  I assume that Grandma was there, cheering him and her brother on. * Still, it's strange to think that the only photo of Grandpap on his wedding day is of him with his football team--and this would not exist had they not won the championship.  No pictures were taken of the wedding.  My grandparents were too poor to afford such a luxury.  It was Grandpap's third year of working in the Homestead Machine Shop (for pitifully small wages), and Grandma, having finally graduated from the orphanage where she landed at age 8, had been working as a waitress for a couple of years. (Apparently that's how they met, at the restaurant.)
     One can only imagine what it was like to be in the places shown in these old photos.  What strikes me about this and most of the other images of 1890s Homestead and environs is how down-and-out the place looks. 
      Hamlin Garland's 1893 description reinforces this impression: "The streets of the town were horrible; the buildings were poor; the sidewalks were sunken, swaying, and full of holes, and the crossings were sharp-edged stones set like rocks in a river bed. Everywhere the yellow mud of the street lay kneaded into a sticky mass, through which groups of pale, lean men slouched in faded garments, grimy with the soot and grease of the mills. . . .Such towns are sown thickly over the hill-lands of Pennsylvania, but this was my first descent into one of them. They are American only in the sense in which they represent the American idea of business."
       Garland's last sentence is informative.  His description of the town and the steelworks reveals an ugly, dreary, hellish place where "the people were mainly of the discouraged and sullen type to be found everywhere where labor passes into the brutalizing stage of severity."
A street in Braddock, across the river from Homestead, 1983. (Photo by T.B.)
  Yes, this is the kind of world where industrial workers lived during the so-called "Gay 'Nineties."  What's more appalling is that wages and working conditions did not improve appreciably until after the New Deal.  Tom Brokaw has called the children of these people, those who lived through the Depression and fought in WWII, the "Greatest Generation"; however,  I don't think it's fair to single out one generation.  This late-19th-century generation who endured poverty and backbreaking labor to provide for their families is just as "great."     

I wonder what future generations will say about us.

*Correction: The program for George and Annie's 60th wedding anniversary banquet confirms that they were married on November 26, 1895. However, they were married at 5 p.m., which had to be after the game. "Annie Edwards and George W. Busch were married on November 26th 1895 at 5 p.m. by the Rev. John Weidley D.D., pastor of the Bethany Lutheran Church, East Liberty, Pittsburgh, Pa. They moved to Homestead in October 1898. . . ." 

                                    George and Annie, 1955 Anniversary banquet

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