First it was Brooklyn. Now it is Pittsburgh.

The grannynanny gig takes us to cool places.

I’m trying to learn all I can about Pittsburgh. I ask all my new friends for help.

Women of a Certain Age (WOCA), Pittsburgh Mennonite Church

Women of a Certain Age (WOCA), Pittsburgh Mennonite Church. On retreat two weeks ago.

Let’s start with geography. This is a city of three rivers and 466 bridges. In the U. S., only New York City has more.

It also boasts #2 and #8 in the steepest streets in America contest. Both of these are steeper than any street in San Fransisco!

As a result of all the rivers, hills, ravines, and bridges, (and also no subway system), residents develop great attachment to their neighborhoods.

The many neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. We live in Garfield. Can you find it? Hint: that means we are East Enders.

The many neighborhoods of Pittsburgh. We live in Garfield. Can you find it? Hint: we are East Enders.

Numerous feature stories about Pittsburgh have landed on The New York Times.

Here’s one about the magnet of Carnegie Mellon University to the tech industry.

And another about books to read before heading to Pittsburgh. Right up my alley! August Wilson is one of Pittsburgh’s chroniclers.

For me, it’s exciting to reread works of Willa Cather, who lived here 1896-1906 and to see how much new research on her Pittsburgh years is now available. I’ll devote a whole post to this topic after I give a talk about this subject in December.

This fabulous walking tour will be my guide.

How about the legacy of Mr. Rogers? This was his neighborhood.

And the legacy of both Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick?

Finally, there’s the classic 36 Hours in Pittsburgh.  

And Anthony Bourdain’s idea of the perfect day in Pittsburgh.

This photo was taken from our car window the day we moved here as we got close to the skyline.

This photo was taken from our car window the day we moved here.

The city went through huge shock waves in the 1980s and ’90s as steel mills closed and Pittsburgh lost population, moving from #16 to #63 in size nationally. The people who stayed are now old. Pittsburgh has a high percentage of elders as a result.

The low cost of living, and a funky art history has attracted many artists and millennial “bohemians”

City of murals! This one is a literal stone's throw from the building we moved into.

City of murals! This one is a literal stone’s throw from the building we moved into.

Young geeks and techies who work for Uber, Google, DuoLingo, the Robotics Institute and other tech companies clustered close by Carnegie Mellon University, are pouring into the East Liberty area close to us. The city is rumored to be in the top five of Amazon’s search for a new city headquarters. Every day on the streets and in coffee shops one can eavesdrop on conversations about how the city is changing and who is benefitting, or not benefitting.

Meanwhile, our perfect days come from lots of walking, cooking, cleaning, and playing with Lydia. Here’s her latest milestone:

The month of October ends tonight as we sit on the porch of the house that Kate and Nik and Joel and Derek are slowly and lovingly transforming from abandoned building to new home. We’ll be decked out in some kind of “costume,” and we’ll have lots of candy and admiration for the neighborhood children.

We only have seven more months to live here, but as long as we are here, we want to be good neighbors. This is, after all, Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

We rode the bus to Market Square soon after the tragedy in Charlottesville. The "we're glad you're our neighbor" sign, which originated in Harrisonburg, and can be seen all over the city, gives us hope.

We rode the bus to Market Square to join with others in protesting the tragedy in Charlottesville. The “we’re glad you’re our neighbor” sign, which originated in Harrisonburg, and can be seen all over the city, gives us hope.

What advice do you have for what not to miss in Pittsburgh? What Pittsburgh topics would you like to have me write about? Did any of the above discoveries surprise you?

Shirley Showalter

35 Comments

  1. Melodie Davis on October 31, 2017 at 9:16 am

    Love Lydia’s rollover! She’s too young to enjoy my only recommendation about a lovely old timey amusement park found on the edge of Pittsburgh, Kennywood. Good friends of ours, now elderly, lived in Pittsburgh as kids and in early marriage, and told us we had to go to Kennywood sometime. We got to go with them right before the MCUSA Pittsburgh Assembly in 2011, and so glad we took the opportunity, because neither would be able to do that anymore. The coolest thing was that you are allowed to bring food on the grounds and store it in a protected picnic area where you could avoid the typical pricey (and not very wholesome) food of amusement parks. Lydia’s older cousins might enjoy it though. I figure you gravitate more towards concerts and museums though. FWIW. 🙂

    • Shirley Showalter on October 31, 2017 at 10:51 am

      Thanks, Melodie, for the Kennywood recommendation. When I rode with two other WOCA women to our retreat in West Virginia, we drove right past the amusement park. Did you see the movie Adventureland which was filmed there? It’s a pretty good movie. And it’s always fun to see familiar places in a film. Here’s a comprehensive list! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_films_shot_in_Pittsburgh

      Thanks for prompting me to look. We can do concerts and museums too!

  2. Marian Beaman on October 31, 2017 at 9:31 am

    One of the blessings of giving hearts (yours and Stuart’s) is living in a culturally rich city. I knew that Pittsburgh had long ago left its rusty steel mill image, but this post told me much, much more.

    Jacksonville has more than doubled in size since we moved here 50+ years ago. Like in Pittsburgh we enjoy the symphony, museums and lots of walking trails. We have 7 bridges and a restaurant with that name. Unfortunately, our NFL Jaguars football team doesn’t quite measure up to the Steelers.

    I enjoy posts that both entertain and enlighten. Yours always do both. Thanks, Shirley! And yay for Lydia’s roll-over. 🙂

    • Shirley Showalter on October 31, 2017 at 10:57 am

      Thanks, Marian. Now I know more about Jacksonville also. Sounds like a great city — especially in winter! We aren’t looking forward to hills + ice + baby carriage!

      And we won’t be watching the Steelers anywhere except our own living room!

      Glad you enjoyed some of the links. I always learn from your posts too.

  3. JOYCE WOLFGANG on October 31, 2017 at 10:39 am

    A trip to Phipps Conservatory is a must for us when we visit. A beautiful place anytime of the year and a great cafe.

    • Shirley Showalter on October 31, 2017 at 11:00 am

      I love this suggestion, Joyce. Thank you. The Phipps will become one of our winter walking spots. I hear they have great Christmas decorations also.

  4. Laurie Buchanan on October 31, 2017 at 11:00 am

    Move over Beethoven, Lydia’s the one who’s on a roll!

    I learned so, so much about Pittsburgh reading this post. I can well imagine that you and Stuart are going to invest some of your time diving into the multitude of cultural offerings that your new town has to offer. On the flips side, the East Liberty area is all the richer for your arrival.

    • Shirley Showalter on October 31, 2017 at 8:28 pm

      You never miss a beat, Laurie. On the flip side. Thanks for the smile.

      We enjoyed our first Moth Grand Slam event in a downtown theatre two weeks ago and hope to get to most of the museums and the symphony. So yes, we will enjoy a multitude of cultural offerings. I’m sure you do the same in your chosen home of Boise!

  5. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on October 31, 2017 at 11:45 am

    I’m so happy to hear and see how it’s going with you and your family and to see some of Pittsburgh through your eyes…your first picture in P’burgh included a sign to Oakland…and I was hooked. What about the rivers? Names? Ecology? Does anybody live on Brunot Island? Any urban agriculture?

  6. Carolyn Yoder on October 31, 2017 at 12:17 pm

    Pittsburgh, where we both attended U of Pitt, became engaged, lived as a newly married couple, and had our first daughter, holds so many great memories for us. Have you visited the Cathedral of Learning on the Pitt campus, with the beautiful nationality rooms on the main floor and the splendid views of the city from the top floor? Both are worth seeing. I think the nationality rooms how are for viewing only. I had a teaching fellowship and taught TESOL classes in some of them in the 1970’s. I wanted to say, go to _____ Park, but I find all these years later, I can’t remember the name of the park!!

    • Shirley Showalter on October 31, 2017 at 9:19 pm

      Carolyn, I wasn’t aware that you were here in such a foundational period of your lives. You must come back and revisit your special places!

      Stuart has been to the Cathedral of Learning, but I haven’t yet. It’s definitely on my list.

      Here are the parks. https://www.pittsburghparks.org/ So many beautiful ones. We walk Lydia around Highland Park and visit Frick Park occasionally. Annie Dillard writes about several parks in An American Childhood. Do you know that memoir?

  7. Shirley Showalter on October 31, 2017 at 8:24 pm

    From Elfrieda Schroeder:

    In 1999, Hardy and I went to Pittsburgh where I presented a paper as part of a minority literature session with Susan Schurer. My paper was a comparison of the poetry of Barbara Honigmann/ Sarah Klassen at the NEMLA (North East Modern Language Association) Conference. This research later became a part of my PhD thesis (Fragmented Identity: A Comparison of German Jewish and Canadian Mennonite Literature). Hardy and I decided to go “Mennonite Your Way” and stayed with Julia Swarzentruber, a teacher/librarian. We had a wonderful time, but wished we could have had more time to explore Pittsburgh. So now you have done it for us, and jogged my memory of a very significant time in my life! Thank you. And what a privilege to be a grandma and observe the monumental things that happen in a baby’s life!

    • Shirley Showalter on October 31, 2017 at 9:47 pm

      Elfrieda, Julia Swartzentruber is pictured in the WOCA group above, top row. Small world!

      Have you read Ben Goossen’s book Chosen Nation? Sounds like your research and his dovetail to at least some degree.

      Yes, the milestones come so quickly in the first year. Lydia makes us breathless sometimes. Thanks for offering comments even when the website refuses them!!

  8. Gillian on October 31, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    Hey Shirley, it is only an hour and a half east to Johnstown, Brian’s hometown. If you haven’t been there, it’s definitely worth the trip. You can learn about the historic Johnstown flood (terrific museum) and ride the incline plane. Something tells me you e been there but maybe not!

    • Shirley Showalter on November 1, 2017 at 8:21 am

      Good to know this again, Gillian. We’ll try to visit Johnstown in Brian’s honor — someday. In the meantime, sending you love every time we pass the signs.

  9. June Alspaugh on October 31, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    Although I have been to Pennsylvania, I have never been to Pittsburgh. If you like hockey, you could always catch a game. I thing being a tourist in your own town, is a good way to discover your new city.
    I enjoyed seeing Lydia’s latest milestone. They grow and change so quickly.

    • Shirley Showalter on November 1, 2017 at 8:22 am

      June, thanks for the tourist analogy. I think it is a good one. Glad to share the joys of the amazing first year with Lydia.

  10. Janet Givens on October 31, 2017 at 9:37 pm

    Shirley
    How lucky you are. Blessed.
    So much to see and do each day. One thing I try and to whenever I’m in a new city is to check out the mass transit. In London it was truly the best way to see the city. In Pittsburgh too, I imagine. Metro busses have taken a huge hit from white middle classes who tend to stay away. Yet riding a public bus is, for me, a thrill.

    • Shirley Showalter on November 1, 2017 at 8:26 am

      Janet, we get to ride city buses free! All we need to do is show our Medicare card. There is a bus stop just down the hill from here and buses go by every 20-30 minutes. I agree that the public transportation system is a great way to see the city. Like your gravatar pic. 🙂

  11. Jeffrey Imm on November 1, 2017 at 1:15 am

    You need to learn some local language like, “Yinz,” “Red up the room,” “gum bands,” etc., and the historical sandwich of the working class is Isaly’s chipped/chopped ham sandwich.

    • Shirley Showalter on November 1, 2017 at 10:17 am

      Thanks, Jeffrey. My daughter introduced me to these localisms. She actually did a Pittsburg interview blog called Yinzpiration for many years. http://www.yinzpiration.com/

      I guess Isaly’s is not a restaurant? Do they sell chipped/chopped ham at Primanti’s?

  12. Jeffrey Imm on November 1, 2017 at 1:19 am

    There is great value in learning the downtown techno-centric millenial community, which is similar to other cities. But the real cultural value of the time there is to get to know the working class public in the small town suburbs of Pittsburgh, 20-30 miles outside of town. You will learn lessons about the “rest of the nation” that will stay with you your entire life.

    • Shirley Showalter on November 1, 2017 at 10:20 am

      Great advice, Jeffrey. You have named part of my “good neighbor” goal. If you have not seen the Anthony Bourdain show about Pittsburgh, you can purchase it on iTunes. He took the same approach you have, even to Pittsburgh food. He loves “down home” people and atmosphere.

  13. Eileen Kinch on November 1, 2017 at 8:17 am

    Be sure to visit Chatham University (or Chatham College, as it was called when I was there). The campus is a national arboretum, and some of the residence halls are old mansions on the former “millionaire’s row.” Mellon House, for example, is attached to the cafeteria. Laughlin Hall, the Intercultural Residence Hall, is where I stayed all four years. If you venture into the Jennie King Mellon Library, there are some great views of Pittsburgh from the second and third floors.

    • Shirley Showalter on November 1, 2017 at 10:22 am

      Eileen, this glimpse into a campus I pass but have never visited is wonderful. Thank you! What is the connection of the Mellon family to Chatham? Did they donate land, buildings?

      • Eileen Kinch on November 1, 2017 at 7:33 pm

        According to my understanding and recollection, the Mellon family donated the Mellon home and the accompanying Carriage House in the 1940s. Mellon now houses administrative offices on the upper floors. If, when you pass through Chatham, Mellon’s front door is unlocked, you can simply walk in and look around the first floor. My favorite room is the sunroom, just off the dining room. I used read there quite often.

  14. Susan on November 1, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    It sounds rather idyllic Shirely! I was struck at the transformation and other things such as the number of bridges. People are looking for places to live and/or set up headoffices away from the big cities and it is so wonderful and interesting that this is happening. A win win situation – an injection of vibrancy into a once dormant area – it’s happening here in South Africa as week. Transforming abandoned areas and barns into something wonderful and useful benefiting all –
    I think I remember the tragedy of Pittsburgh shutting down – a terrible tragedy in many ways. The oldies must be pleased at this new injection. Hopefully the younger ones will aid the oldies in some way ..
    Have novels or movies been set in Pittsburgh?
    Too dear of Lydia rolling over! maybe play her The Beatles: Roll over Beethoven ..
    Thank you for this lovely post Shirley!

  15. Clay Showalter on November 1, 2017 at 3:46 pm

    Thanks for this update on your time in PGH!

    • Shirley Showalter on November 1, 2017 at 8:23 pm

      Thank YOU, Clay for continuing to troubleshoot the comments issues. Obviously, most people get through.

  16. Eileen Kinch on November 1, 2017 at 7:34 pm

    According to my understanding and recollection, the Mellon family donated the Mellon home and the accompanying Carriage House in the 1940s. Mellon now houses administrative offices on the upper floors. If, when you pass through Chatham, Mellon’s front door is unlocked, you can simply walk in and look around the first floor. My favorite room is the sunroom, just off the dining room. I used read there quite often.

    • Shirley Showalter on November 1, 2017 at 8:23 pm

      Thanks, Eileen. I can picture you sitting in a stream of sunshine in the Mellon house!

  17. Sherrey Meyer on November 10, 2017 at 8:51 pm

    Having finally surfaced and begun some catching up via reading blogs, I enjoyed your overview of Pittsburgh. Although nicknamed “The Bridge City,” Portland cannot compete with the number of rivers or bridges mentioned above. Loved the image of the Mennonite women you’ve met and Lydia’s rollover! Enjoy this time and continue to share with us.

    • Shirley Showalter on November 10, 2017 at 10:31 pm

      Thanks, Sherrey. Welcome back to the blogosphere. I’m only doing one per month these days, so it doesn’t take long to catch up. Hope to check in with you too soon. I’m on the road now and eager to see what Lydia has learned while I’ve been gone.

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