Pittsburgh ca. 1907

Fourteen thousand tall chimneys are silhouetted against the sky, along the valley extending from McKeesport to Pittsburg; and these fourteen thousand chimneys discharge their burning sparks and smoke incessantly. The realms of Vulcan could not be more somber or filthy than this valley of the Monongahela.

The foundries and smelting-works are up-reared in serried ranks farther than eye can reach over the surrounding countryside. On every hand are seen burning fires and spurting flames. Look where one will, nothing is visible save the forging of iron and the smelting of metal. From thousands upon thousands of these plants the thud of steam-hammers and the hissing of escaping steam smite aggressively on our ears. One can hardly imagine it to be the conscious labor of human beings; the thundering tumult, blinding flame, and choking steam which surround us, rather suggest a horrible calamity fallen upon the land. From above, soot, ashes, and glowing embers rain in a steady shower, as though from some volcanic crater; indeed it is difficult to believe all this chaos to be wrought by human hands. It is like the nether world of Pluto, the valley of Hades– of eternal night. Only the imagination of a Dante could depict the horrors of a hell so dreadful as that to be found on the Monongahela, and well might every newcomer be addressed in the words of the Divine Comedy: “Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate!” (“All hope abandon ye who enter here!”)

In this mephitic atmosphere, mist-laden, the tolling bell performs its solemn function in a manner suggestive of some tired and struggling creature, while the funeral cortege wends its sorrowful way slowly towards the distant churchyard.

Along the valley below, the workmen’s colony and the mighty conglomeration of forges and factories unfold themselves to our view. Pittsburg, Homestead, Braddock, Duquesne, McKeesport, follow on each other like links in an interminable chain. The impression given by the sight of this series of gigantic industrial hives is indescribable and horrible in the extreme. It may best, perhaps, be characterised in the language of the Americans themselves: “Pittsburg is Hell with the lid off.”

The Inner Life of the United States (1907) by Monsignor Count Vay de Vaya and Luskod, Apostolic Proto-notary, P.D.HH., KC.I.C.


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