Sixty years ago, a 16-year-old high school student named Lucille Keitz got up from bed, carefully combed her hair, slipped into a fine dress, put on her good winter coat, pinned a brooch to the collar, and went on the ultimate field trip.
Within a few hours, the Stowe High School freshman stood at the base of a massive assembly of stoves and valves and pipes, all properly stained and splattered. Behind her, smoke or steam rose into the air. “DANGER WATCH FOR GAS,” read a nearby sign. Lucille was getting a close-up view of that most impressive of industrial facilities: the blast furnace. Envy filled the heart of every kid whose most adventuresome field trip was a tour of the local bread factory.
Lucille’s adventure began with a letter to the Pittsburgh Coke and Chemical Co.
“In Chemistry class we have to build a project,” she wrote. “I would like to build a blast furnace. Could you please send me the necessary materials for building a blast furnace.”
Recognizing what Lucille didn’t — that sending several tons of refractory brick, steel and machinery wasn’t feasible — the company wrote back and suggested Lucille visit a blast furnace and learn first-hand how the facility converted raw material into iron.
Her tour was documented in five photographs and a few paragraphs published in The Pittsburgh Press Sunday Roto Magazine on March 3, 1957. “Ambition pays off,” read the headline.
In the picture showing Lucille at the base of the furnace, the young woman seems like a miniature version of a person who’d gotten lost on the set of the original “Alien” movie. Everything appears too big, too awesome. The image is the most effective we’ve seen at illustrating the scale of and size of the steel- and iron-making machinery that once lined Pittsburgh’s rivers.
In another photograph, Lucille and a guide step along what seems a dainty steel stairway suspended 70 feet above a tangle of pipes. Lucille wears a white safety jacket over her coat. A hard hat sits upon her carefully coiffed hair. Set among this dark industrial backdrop, she stands out like a carnation in a coal cellar.
We’re sure Lucille remembers her fantastic tour, and we’d love to talk to her about it. If you know where she can be found, let us know at email@example.com — we’d love to share her memories of the day.
— Steve Mellon