A few weeks ago we discovered a small envelope, slightly yellowed with age and marked, “Berman 1963 good pix possibilities.”
Inside was a collection of large negatives. We set them on a light table for a closer look. In the reverse light-is-dark world of a negative, we saw what appeared to be some pretty bizarre scenes — cars soaring through the air, people hiding their faces, flames leaping from windows.
The images were made by Morris Berman, who joined the Post-Gazette as a photographer in 1960. Veteran journalists in Pittsburgh remember Berman as a sweet yet extremely competitive guy. Until his retirement in 1979, he produced some of the city’s most memorable pictures, including the famous image of a battered Y.A. Tittle at Pitt Stadium.
Berman developed a habit of collecting his best pictures each year and storing them in envelopes — since our move to the North Shore last fall, we’ve uncovered a few of these collections, from the 1960s and early 1970s. The envelopes contain no information about the pictures, though some negatives are marked with dates.
We were especially intrigued by Berman’s eclectic 1963 collection (actually, the pictures were made between 1962 and mid 1964). The photographs raised a number of questions.
So we researched the images. Each has a story. What emerges is a sort of photographic time capsule of Pittsburgh in the early 1960s. It’s an incomplete view of who we were, and limited in scope, but nonetheless fascinating.
We’re presenting a portion of the collection today, along with the information we’ve discovered about each image:
Downtown fire: The most spectacular image depicts firefighters rushing to battle a blaze engulfing a seven-story building at Third Avenue and Market Street. The date was Friday, April 13 (of course),1962. Spectators gathered along the Boulevard of the Allies could feel the fire’s heat. Thick smoke settled over Downtown.
Falling debris brought down power lines, yet the building’s lights remained oddly illuminated and visible through the smoke. At one point, red-hot sheets of tin were blown from the roof and crashed onto nearby parking lot.
The building housed a religious supply company, an engineering firm, and a barber shop. At least one floor was empty. Firefighters battled for more than five hours to bring the blaze under control. No one was seriously injured.
Auto Daredevil Thrill Show: An aging junk car roared up a ramp at South Park, soared over a parked bus, then crashed onto the roofs of a row of other junkyard vehicles. The trick was part of a thrill show that attracted 15,000 spectators to the Allegheny County Fair on Thursday, Oct. 29, 1963.
The show was staged by Keith “Stoney” Roberts, who told the Post-Gazette no one had ever been killed in his acts. In fact, he said, more danger is found on a highway. That’s where Roberts lost his left arm in a 1947 auto accident.
“Serious situation” involving prostitution: Pittsburgh was home to a number of interesting clubs, taverns and “bawdy houses” in 1963. They had names like Frankie’s Bandbox, The Chi Chi Club, Rosey’s Bar and Club 30. Some of these joints had a reputation for illicit activity, so one October night a force of 150 State Police troopers conducted scores of raids, rounding up 60 men and women.
“We received complaints from private and officials sources that prostitution was running in Pittsburgh, apparently unchecked. We checked out the complaints and it became apparent that a serious situation did exist.” Said State Police Commissioner W. Wilson Purdy.
Sixty men and women were rounded up and taken to the state office building at Gateway Center to be fingerprinted and photographed.
There, Berman found a row of women waiting to be processed. “Camera Dodging Was in order after vice raids on city’s night spots last night,” read a caption under the picture, published Friday, Oct. 25, 1963.
Screaming man: We searched unsuccessfully for information on one strange image of a man who appears to be screaming in anger. The man’s face appears to be cut, his mouth bloody. A hand reaches out to touch the man’s shoulder, either to calm or restrain him.
Does anyone in this picture look familiar to you? If so, please let us know.
Commuters reading news of JFK’s assassination: Berman made a photograph of Pittsburghers standing on a Downtown street corner and reading news of Kennedy’s death in The Pittsburgh Press on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. We can imagine a similar scene today, with commuters reading mobile devices instead of newspapers. We found no evidence this picture was published.
Boxing on the South Side: The Dapper Dan Golden Gloves tournament was big news in the early 1960s. The Post-Gazette devoted the top half of its Feb. 12, 1962 sports section to head shots of participating fighters.
The first few nights of the tournament at the South Side Recreation Center on represented the “fun part of the show,” read a Post-Gazette article. “Youngsters try to make up for lack of experience with sheer exuberance and determination.”
Berman’s picture of two boxers was unpublished and we were unable to identify the fighters.
Pitt football coach ponders season: At the start of spring training drills on March 26, 1963, Panther coach John Michelosen posed on the team’s practice field with 11 empty helmets. Pitt had finished 5-5 the previous season, and the team was “woefully shorthanded” at the quarterback and receiver positions, read a Post-Gazette story.
The coach would eventually figure it out. His team finished 9-1 in 1963.