"Remembering Pittsburgh"

“Remembering Pittsburgh” author Len Barcousky of Ben Avon. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

Newspaper reports described streets clogged with fans trying to catch a glimpse of the singer as she approached the theater where she was scheduled to perform. The venue was “Standing Room Only” long before her arrival, with tickets selling for the equivalence in today’s money of nearly $200. Thousands unable to get tickets gathered beneath the windows of her dressing room, hoping to hear the distant sound of her voice.

It sounds like Lady Gaga-mania, but it was actually Lind-o-mania, the Pittsburgh performance of the Swedish singer, Jenny Lind, as reported in the “Morning Post" on April 18, 1851.

Description of that incident represents the typical historical highlights brought back to life in “Remembering Pittsburgh: An ‘Eyewitness’ History of the Steel City” by Ben Avon resident Len Barcousky.

The book digs into the Post-Gazette archives of the past 250 years, selecting 44 stories covering Pittsburgh politics, history, personalities and entertainment and encapsulating them into 10-15 minutes reads in Barcousky’s style as “…one of Pittsburgh’s great storytellers,” as “Post-Gazette” editor David Shribman describes him.

Growing up in a small town in Lehigh County, Barcousky moved to Ben Avon in 1986, beginning his career at the Post-Gazette as a copy editor on the business desk and working in various editorial positions before his assignment as a suburban reporter and a county government reporter for the past seven years.

“It was during this time that I launched my ‘Eyewitness’ series of stories based primarily on material in the archives of the ‘Post-Gazette’,” Barcousky said.

The series has run in the paper every two weeks since November 2007, beginning as a feature to coincide with the celebration of Pittsburgh’s 250th anniversary.

“It is the story of Pittsburgh -- the events big and small -- as told the next day in the pages of the Post-Gazette and its predecessor newspapers,” Barcousky said.

Because the Post-Gazette began publishing in 1786, making it the oldest newspaper west of the Alleghenies, Barcousky has had no problem unearthing stories. Finding the time to complete the project was another matter, however. Barcousky took a little over six months to research and the write the book that has been published by the History Press of South Carolina. “The editors gave me the time to research and write the book. Of course, I had to squeeze it in while working on my regular assignments. ”

Photographs and portraits appear in most chapters, providing a total package that gives new life to stories originally printed many years ago, and then in the “Eyewitness” columns, and now in the book.

He has dedicated the book “For my wife Barbara, who keeps me on an even keel.” Their family includes daughter Sarah, a Penn State graduate, and Peter, a junior at Avonworth High School.

For every book purchased, the Post Gazette will donate $2 to the Allegheny County Library Association’s bookmobile service.

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