October 16, 2011

'Continuous Smoke' and 'Unpleasant Features': E.H.W.'s 2nd Letter from Pittsburg

"Post Office" by David Glimore Blythe, c. 1862-1864 (Carnegie Museum of Art via www.metmuseum.com)
Set in Pittsburgh, the painting satirically depicts urban ills, as described on its CMOA page: "The Neoclassical bust over the delivery window alludes to the idealism and dignity of the American past, while the indifferent newsboy on the steps symbolizes the squalor of contemporary urban life. In pairing these figures, Blythe contrasts the noble ideals of the nation's founding fathers with the greed, self-interest, and venality he sensed in his own times."

On October 16, 1861, Elias H. Witmer penned his second letter from Pittsburgh for publication in Lancaster's Daily Evening Express after having a little bit of time to explore the city with the regiment.  You can read his impressions in his letter that appeared in the October 17, 1861, Express, which is re-printed below. (alternate link)

Here are a couple other samples of opinions about the Steel City:
  • From William T. Clark diary: "We leave Pittsburgh Pa. at 5:45 p.m....We gladly leave this black greasy, smoky city."
  • From William G. Kendrick: "I am rather glad we are going to leave this place for all the mud and filth that we got collected in one place. I think we have got the filthiest." (WGK, 10/17/1861)
  • From an April 5, 1868, Columbia Spy account entitled, "A Western Editor's Description of Pittsburgh": "It is now seventy-two years since Pittsburgh has been warmed or reached by the sun's rays...The ladies use smoke and coal dust to protect their complexion...Men kiss each others' wives in Pittsburgh, unable to tell which is their own only by the taste. Women send children on errands, first writing on their faces with a thumb nail or wet stick."

No comments:

Post a Comment