OK, we got lucky.
A few weeks ago, The Digs published a post about the May 5, 1950, lightning strike of a trolley in Downtown Pittsburgh.
It ended with a list of 22 people The Pittsburgh Press reported as being injured that day. We asked for any stories readers may have heard — from family members or directly — about the event.
We thought it would be a longshot to hear from any of them, mainly because the trolley incident happened more than six decades ago. Alda Grazer Arnold, however, knew otherwise.
One recent afternoon, after lunch with her daughters and a trip to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, the 86-year-old Baldwin Borough resident was kind enough to share her memories with us.
Then 20 years old, Ms. Arnold was on her way to work as a packer and jack of all trades at Ertl Baking Co. on the morning of 5-5-50, sitting in her preferred spot near the back of the trolley “because I like to read.”
“It was pouring. … It was raining pretty hard, but what the heck?” she said. “It happens all the time.”
Yet, this was no normal commute. A lightning bolt hit the trolley shortly after 5 a.m. in front of the Old Post Office Building at Smithfield Street and Fourth Avenue.
Ms. Arnold said she usually transferred to another trolley at that intersection to continue her trip to work, so she was waiting to exit when the lightning apparently hit. She said she didn’t know the bolt hit right above the door until she saw the Press later that afternoon.
“It was a heck of a bang,” Ms. Arnold said. “Flames were just shooting!”
She gave the man in front of her at the door “a heck of a push” to exit the car as quickly as possible.
The lightning was part of a 15-minute downpour that the Press reported caused $500,000 in damage, hitting communities such as Millvale and Hays the hardest.
One might think that, as she lifted herself from the gutter after tumbling out of the trolley, Ms. Arnold’s biggest concern would be injury, or maybe even another strike following the first.
Her biggest worry in the immediate aftermath? Her hair and eyebrows. They were already prepped to the nines — Ms. Arnold was getting married in a few weeks.
“That’s what was on my mind!” she said in a phone conversation, laughing.
After being “very surprised” to read about the lightning strike more than 65 years later, Ms. Arnold eagerly gave her daughter a call to discuss her “15 minutes of fame.”
“It was interesting to bring it all back again,” Ms. Arnold said.