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PostPosted: May 8 19, 2:30 pm 
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Luke, you really have a way with words. That was a great read. Have you ever thought about writing more? (Or maybe you do and I just hadn't caught on?)


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PostPosted: May 9 19, 11:34 am 
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lukethedrifter wrote:
I made a pilgrimage to Donora, Pa last week. An industrial town on a bend in the Monongahela River that had a brief heyday and has been in decline since the mills shut down in the ‘60s, Donora- and really much of industrial western PA- is a fascinating piece of the American puzzle.
Only 25 miles or so south of Pittsburgh, it’s about a 45 min drive- longer, if you’re like me and prefer to take the long cut which took me through Monongahela, Joe Montana’s hometown, just downriver from Donora.
Not much announces you are entering Donora unless you count the cardinal that flew out of the bushes, briefly alighting on the road ahead of me before flying off. Not much, except the red bird and the subsequent chills I felt. I suppose it’s possible that I hallucinated that avian specter, but i didn’t.
Rolling into town, the river and adjacent industry and industrial skeletons are on the left. No sign announcing you have entered the birthplace of 2 of the greatest baseball players of all time greets you, just the decay of a former steel town. The business district is lined with storefronts that appear to have been shuttered decades ago with the occasional restaurant or junk store or insurance agency holding out.
I wandered about looking for some sign that Stan The Man grew up here, finally doing a quick internet search to locate the ballfield named after the greatest Cardinal. It took me back to where the red bird greeted me then up to a large park at the top of the hill on the rural edge of town. The park was mown and there were large picnic gatherings, the first sign of a pulse I’d seen. Sadly, the Stan Musial baseball field was not mown and didn’t appear that it had been played on in quite some time.
I headed back to town to find the Ken Griffey ball field and whatever else I could find that commemorated Stan’s youth here as well as the history of Donora. Fortunately, I happened across the Donora Historical Society and Smog Museum with doors open during a talk on Cement City. The gentleman at the door showed me around their exhibits and apologized that he couldn’t take me on a driving tour but directed me to a few of the Stan related sites, as well as other places of interest.
I took a walk up the steep hill toward the former Donora HS, stopping at Stan’s birth home on the way. I asked a neighbor, woman in her late 40s or so, if I was at the right place; she, of course, had no idea who Musial was. Across from Stan’s birth home, was a run down place with a Confederate flag with a black AR 15 running the length of it.
In the late 60s, Donora HS and Monongahela HS merged into Ringgold HS (where Joe Montana went to school) but, further up the hill, the school was still standing, possibly still used as an elementary school though that’s not clear. The football field behind, still used in Montana’s playing days, was growing feral, trees growing through the bleachers. I asked a local where the baseball field was and he directed me down a footpath to a field where little leaguers were practicing at Ken Griffey field. I’ve got to get one of those black “D” baseball caps.
The top of the hill was where the newer homes were; where whatever money Donora had, it was invested it seemed. Just like (most) of the rest of America, a microcosm of urban sprawl.
I headed back for the walk down hill to my car. I had a long drive ahead of me and had already pushed back my arrival home to midnight or later but i had a few last things i needed to see while there. The LaBash store owned by Stan’s wife Lil’s family, where he worked off seasons early in his career; the fairly recently renamed Stan Musial Bridge over the Monongahela River; Cement City, middle management homes built in 1916 using poured concrete for single family dwellings (a trend that didn’t take); a sign that welcomed you to Donora, home of Jr (lived here until age 5) and The Man (i didn’t find it)
Grabbed a hoagie at Anthony’s Italiano which operates out of one of the few functional store fronts on McKean Ave. Shoulda got the Red Top Pizza.
Heading home, I took the Stan Musial bridge toward I-70 just a couple miles south. As the interstate comes into view, so do the big box and chain stores where I imagine the remaining Donorans with disposable income spend it.

Truly a fascinating place with a place in American history much larger than its size.

Fascinating indeed. Great piece.

/unbackpage


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