Electing Leonard C. Staisey

Leonard C. Staisey served in public office for over 40 years.

Leonard C. Staisey served in public office for over 40 years.

Leonard Staisey in 1967 was no stranger to election campaigns. Prior to that year Staisey had been elected to the City of Duquesne Board of Education in 1949, served 2-terms in the Pennsylvania State Senate between 1960 and 1966, and had competed in a tightly contested, yet ultimately unsuccessfully, race for Lieutenant Governor in 1966. Candidates for Allegheny County Commissioners in 1967, Staisey and fellow democrat Tom Foerster campaigned for progressive initiatives amidst growing social tensions that would explode in 1968.

Staisey met and married Emilie Consuelo Sylvester in 1946. The couple had two daughters, Consuelo and Nancy Staisey, pictured here.

Staisey met and married Emilie Consuelo Sylvester in 1946. The couple had two daughters, Consuelo and Nancy Staisey, pictured here.

Leonard Clifton Staisey, born in 1920 in Duquesne, Pa., suffered a brain tumor when he was seven years old and was left permanently visually impaired following removal surgery. Never one to use his impairment as an excuse, Staisey attended and graduated valedictorian from the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children in 1940, earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University in 1944, and a juris doctorate three years later. Following his admission to the Bar of Allegheny County in 1948-becoming the first blind lawyer ever admitted-he was appointed assistant district attorney two years later, again earning the distinction of being the first blind lawyer in the United States to serve in such a position.

Perhaps it was the political tendencies of the Pittsburgh region in the 1960s, the public mood of discontent with the political discourse, or a combination of both that secured Staisey and Foerster an overwhelming victory in the November 1967 general election.  Of the 1,061,488 votes cast for the six candidates, Staisey won 269, 530 and Foerster garnered 245,548, respectively, with Republican William Hunt receiving just under 200,000.

Staisey was reelected to a second term as Allegheny County Commissioner in 1971.

Staisey and Foerster were reelected as Allegheny County Commissioners in 1971.

Inaugurated in January of 1968, Staisey began his first term as social, political, cultural, and economic unrest swept across the United States, including throughout Pittsburgh. Labor and union strikes, race riots, unemployment and housing issues, and aging public infrastructure all generated a bevy of problems for the commissioners to tackle in their first term.

Staisey and his fellow commissioners worked to improve the lives of those living in Allegheny County. They initiated job training through the expansion of the Allegheny County Community College system and the establishment of both a police and fire training academy, and spurred job creation via the Industrial Development Authority and Department of Manpower. The commissioners invested in modernizing the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport and upgrading public transit systems, commenced the first program of county aid to municipalities involving roads, parks, water, and sewers, and strengthened county welfare, mental health, and rehabilitation programs. Additionally, ground was broken for Three Rivers Stadium in April 1968, a venue that would be a symbol of Pittsburgh for 30 years.

Commissioners Foerster, Staisey, and Hunt preside over the Authority for Improvement of Municipalities, May 1968.

Commissioners Foerster, Staisey, and Hunt preside over the Authority for Improvement of Municipalities, May 1968.

Leonard Staisey served as an Allegheny County Commissioners until 1976. Three years later he became the first blind lawyer in Pennsylvania to be elected Judge for the Court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County, serving on the bench until his sudden death in 1990. Throughout his distinguished 40 year career, Staisey never let his lack of sight impede his personal vision. While he received numerous awards and recognitions for his outstanding efforts towards the betterment of the lives of all citizens of Pennsylvania, his accomplishments while in public office speak for themselves.

Visit the Heinz History Center’s new exhibit, 1968: The Year that Rocked America, to learn more about the events that shaped Pittsburgh and the country in 1968.

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The Pittsburgh Pipers

With the enthusiastic support given to the Steelers and Penguins, Pittsburgh is often described as a football and hockey town.  Judging from the crowds that flock to PNC Park when the Pirates have flirted with success during the past couple of seasons, it might even still be considered a baseball town. Rarely, though, is it described as a basketball town. True, the city does support its collegiate teams, but a stable, professional franchise has been elusive.

In 1946, the Pittsburgh Ironmen played hoops for just one season at the Duquesne Gardens in the Basketball Association of America, the precursor to NBA.  And in the early 1960s, the Pittsburgh Renaissance, quite possibly the only sports franchise named after a large scale urban renewal project, played ball at the Civic Arena (appropriately enough) in the short-lived American Basketball League.

The most successful pro basketball team to call Pittsburgh home was the Pittsburgh Pipers, who won the championship in the inaugural season of the American Basketball Association.  Connie Hawkins, the team’s star player, led the league in scoring and captured the MVP award. Good enough to play in the NBA, Hawkins had been relegated to the ABA after being blacklisted by the more established league for suspected involvement in a point-shaving scandal.

1967/1968 Pittsburgh Pipers team photograph (acc. 2004.0111)

1967/1968 Pittsburgh Pipers team photograph (acc. 2004.0111)

Though the team drew considerable crowds to its games at the Civic Arena, the franchise relocated to Minnesota following the 1967-1968 season.  After failing to catch on in the Twin Cities, the team returned to Pittsburgh for the 1969-1970 season.  Fresh from being spurned by the team after their first season, Pittsburghers greeted the returning squad with lukewarm support.    It didn’t help that, by this time, Hawkins had disproved the allegations against him and was playing for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, on his way to a Hall-of-Fame career.

Pittsburgh Pipers pamphlet, Michael Reiser sports collection, acc.2003.0015

Pittsburgh Pipers pamphlet, Michael Reiser sports collection, acc.2003.0015

After rebranding themselves the Pittsburgh Condors, the team hung around for a couple of more seasons before the ABA folded the franchise in 1973.  Despite the name change, the team failed to catch on as they had in 1968.

To learn more about what was happening in Pittsburgh and beyond during 1968, head to the Heinz History Center’s new exhibit, 1968: The Year that Rocked America.

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A. Sanford Levy and Gertrude Deutsch Perles Papers

“My husband and I are both Jews,” a Viennese dressmaker named Gertrude Perles confessed in an October 23, 1938, letter to Pittsburgh. “I am sure you know what is going on here and I need not give you a more precise explanation. It is growing worse every day. Our only hope is to emigrate to the U.S.A. Please, if you are able to send affidavits for me and my husband, for Heaven’s sake, do it, before it will be too late for us.”

After Germany annexed Austria in March 1938, the Nazis pressured the 200,000 Jews in the country to leave as soon as possible. Eager to alleviate any “undesirable interruptions and delays” impeding this forced exodus, Adolf Eichmann established the Central Office for Jewish Emigration, where representatives from all relevant agencies would maintain offices. While the office may have eased the German bureaucracy, Jewish emigrants faced obstacles entering the United States. In addition to immigration quotas, families such as the Perleses needed affidavits from someone in the United States willing to provide room and board — to avoid becoming a “public charge” to their new country.

The A. Sanford Levy and Gertrude Deutsch Perles Papers, a collection in the Rauh Jewish Archives of the Detre Library and Archives at the Heinz History Center, documents the harried attempts of two families, one in Vienna and one in Pittsburgh, to navigate this bureaucratic process.

With nearly half of Austria’s Jews seeking refuge, many in the United States, the Perleses faced a challenge finding a willing family. Gertrude learned about Hasele Deutsch from an issue of Women’s Wear Daily. The women shared a profession and a maiden name. Considering the circumstances, Perles found this to be enough of a pretense to write to Pittsburgh. She sent her letter, without a street address, to Deutsch “c/o Mr. Meyer Jonnassons,” mistaking the Meyer Jonasson & Co. downtown clothing store for a person.

Perles explained the urgency of her situation. She and her husband, Dr. Erwin Perles, had secured spots on the waiting list for exit visas issued by the U.S. Consulate, but they would lose “this only advantage” if they failed to get affidavits by the end of the year. If forced to start over, they would have to use the money they had saved for travel on living expenses. As it was illegal to hire Jews, saving more would be difficult. “We would be no burden to anybody as especially I am clever and competent in my profession,” she wrote.

The Women’s Wear Daily must have been an old issue, because by late 1938 Hasele Deutsch had been Mrs. A. Sanford Levy for more than four years. But the letter reached its intended destination. On November 10, Sanford Levy sent two affidavits. To prove he could support the Perles, the forms required him to detail his financial condition. As a lawyer, Levy earned $3,000 a year, around $50,000 today, in addition to savings and investments.

Gertrude Perles sent this photograph of herself to A. Sanford Levy, of Pittsburgh, during their nine-month correspondence in 1938 and 1939.

Gertrude Perles sent this photograph of herself to A. Sanford Levy, of Pittsburgh, during their nine-month correspondence in 1938 and 1939.

With the important issue apparently resolved, the families tried to pinpoint mutual relatives. The Pittsburgh Deutsches came from Hungary. The Austrian Deutsches came from Nikolsburg. If they were related it would have been distant and undocumented.

On December 14, Perles cabled Levy. “Consulate wants legalized documentary proof of paid income taxes further manner of boardresidence (sic) amount pocketmoney (sic) certain time if workless.” Three days later, Levy sent the additional information to Vienna. “I hope this will be the necessary documentary evidence you need,” he wrote. “We are people of moderate circumstances who would like very much to help you, if possible.”

As they waited for the consulate to decide, both families faced added hardships. Without explaining his departure, Perles wrote, mysteriously, that her husband was “not yet at home, but now I hope to get him back very soon.” The letter, dated January 2, 1939, included photographs of the couple. In them, Gertrude has a long face, high cheekbones and a short, stylish hairdo. Erwin is slightly pudgy, with a receding hairline and round glasses the size of half dollars. “There were and are still sad sad hard days for us, and your action is rather a miracle for me in this passed year of disappointment,” she wrote.

MFF4883_I02

Writing from Nazi-occupied Vienna, Gertrude also sent this photograph of her husband, Dr. Erwin Perles. “I send you the snapshots of my husband and me and I dare to hope that you will not be too disappointed,” she wrote.

Across the Atlantic, “misfortune has struck us in the past few weeks,” Levy wrote on January 19. “My wife’s father suffered a severe heart attack last Saturday, and we nearly lost him. His condition is at the moment very critical, but as long [as] he is living there is still hope.” Still, “…We are looking forward to your coming to Pittsburgh,” he added.

The bureaucratic problems continued, though. “I am so sorry that I was forced to trouble you again,” Perles wrote on January 23. The consulate wanted details: How exactly would Levys feed and shelter the Perles? And how much disposable income could the Levys spare for the couple? “I hope you will not be angry with me, but I cant (sic) help otherwise,” Perles apologized. “I beg your pardon again and again, but it is not my fault.”

When Levy responded, almost three weeks later, he called the request “a most difficult one.” While still willing to house the couple in one of his investment properties, and “try our best to help you with food when you arrive,” the spending money proved difficult.

“Unfortunately we are not people having additional income other than our weekly earnings, which are not very much. We have great responsibilities here since Mrs. Levy’s father has been confined to bed with a heart attack, and needs constant professional nursing care,” Levy wrote. In addition to lodging, he offered the Perles $5 per week, around $80 today. “I am very, very sorry that we are not financially able to do more.

At the end of his letter, Levy also mentioned being contacted by “several local agencies” looking to secure affidavits for Dr. and Mrs. Perles. In early March, Perles thanked Levy, and apologized again. “Our intention was not and is still not to be a burden to you; what we want is to work and to earn our living there, as we have done it here since many years.” In her frantic search for affidavits, she explained, she had contacted the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the National Council of Jewish Women. “I did not dream of that they would come to you to trouble you,” she wrote. In a bit of good news, her husband had returned home. He attached a note, thanking the Levys for their generosity.

On April 15, Perles wrote again. “This is to advise you that we got our immigration visas on April 11,” she wrote. But the Perles wouldn’t be coming to Pittsburgh. “In the meantime we got another affidavit from Virginia, where we also intend to locate, so that we don’t take your support.” They would set out for New York in May, on the M.V. Georgic. She thanked Levy again. “What you have done for us was very great and your affidavit was for me the only hope I had, when my husband was separated from me.”

For more than two months, the Levys heard nothing. They worried Dr. and Mrs. Perles might be “one of those unfortunate souls on the ships recently returned to Europe.”

But on June 27, Perles wrote from Richmond to detail her final months in Europe. When she had initially contacted the Levys, Erwin was in a concentration camp. He returned home with broken teeth, a busted lip and a “heavy hemorrhage” on his back, plus a warning to leave Germany within 45 days or “return to the camp for a indeterminate time.” The frantic effort to get valid paperwork was merely to distinguish their affidavits from the “thousands” flooding the consulate. “It was never in our intention to take up your affidavit for support,” she wrote. “That was what I still wanted to explain to you.”

MFF4883_letter062739-1

In her final letter to the Levys, written from Virginia, Gertrude detailed her final frantic months in Austria before securing safe passage to the United States.

Once they were “safe and in freedom” in the United States, the couple had rested and found work. “Perhaps, there will come the day, we will have our opportunity to drive to Pittsburgh and see you or perhaps you will come some day to Richmond,” she added.

Levy sent a final note in early July. “United States of America is a wonderful place to live in, and as time goes on you will appreciate living here more and more,” he wrote.

Posted in Rauh Jewish Archives, World War II | 1 Comment

The Evans Family: A Pittsburgh Social Set

Evelyn F. Evans, pictured with fellow “society girls” at Fox Chapel Country Club in 1929.

Before paparazzi, People magazine, and the Internet, Pittsburghers still got their fix of celebrity news. Miss Evelyn F. Evans, granddaughter of the co-founder of the Macbeth-Evans Glass Company, and other “society girls” were often featured in publications like the Bulletin Index and the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph’s Society, Stage and Screen, which provided glimpses into the affairs of the city’s affluent residents. Such public and journalistic attention was a byproduct of her family’s success in the glass industry.

The Howard S. Evans family, pictured here without daughter Laura S. Evans.

Evelyn was the daughter of Howard S. Evans, whose family resided on Beechwood Boulevard in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. Evan’s father, Thomas Evans, established in 1869 one-half of what would become the Macbeth-Evans Glass Company. The dawn of the 20th century saw Macbeth-Evans as the country’s largest producer of glass lamp chimneys, shades, and globes, stemming from operations in Indiana, Ohio, Charleroi, Pa., and Pittsburgh. Building on this success in 1910, Howard and his brother, Thomas R. Evans, co-founded the Diamond Alkali Company, which manufactured soda ash used in glass production. The industriousness and success of Evelyn’s grandfather, father, and uncle positioned the family within a prominent element of Pittsburgh’s social set during the first half of the 20th century.

The Evans family was often featured in the society pages.

Devoid of instantaneous media coverage, citizens were periodically updated  on such topics as Evelyn Evan’s debut as a young woman, her athletic endeavors and contributions to fundraising events, educational developments, participation in weddings, as well as family vacations (even if only a weekend getaway to the Atlantic coast).

Appearances in magazine features and newspaper commentaries were far from all Evelyn Evans was recognized for. Indeed, throughout the 20th century, Evans was engaged in philanthropic and civic endeavors. She served in several positions with the Pittsburgh Chapter of the American Red Cross (ultimately as vice chairwoman) from the 1940s through the 1960s; volunteered in the maternity ward at Allegheny General Hospital; was the director of the Garden Club of Allegheny County; served as a board member of the Federation of Girls Schools of Pittsburgh; and was active within the Calvary Episcopal Church.

News of Mrs. Howard S. Evans hosting a tea hour, and image of her with her children, from Pittsburgh’s Bulletin Index.

Discover more about Evelyn Evans and her family, as well as the Macbeth-Evans Glass Company in the Evans Family Papers and Photographs at the Detre Library and Archives. Afterwards, visit the Evans House Collection, featuring pieces of furniture, clothing, and decorative items donated from the Evan’s household on display in the Heinz History Center’s special collections

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A Red, White and Green Gridiron Legend: Superstition and the Immaculate Reception

December 23, 1972. Raiders: 7, Steelers: 6. Twenty-two seconds to play. Fourth and ten. The AFC Division championship on the line.

Sports aficionados know well this moment in NFL history. Suspended in time, this final play held captive the city of Pittsburgh, its hope in Steel City football on the line.  Over the 40 years that have passed since the Immaculate Reception’s completion, countless replays have been shown and news stories told.  Many, however, have overlooked a small army of Steeler fans bedecked in red, white, and green that deployed an Old World tactic to propel the Black and Gold to victory.

Franco’s Italian Army “generals” donning personalized helmet liners and red, white, and green scarves.

Franco’s Italian Army “generals” donning personalized helmet liners and red, white, and green scarves.

As Terry Bradshaw’s pass sailed through the air, caroming off of Raiders’ safety, Jack Tatum, and into the hands of Steelers’ Franco Harris, this army of Italian American Steeler fans knew what was behind the Immaculate Reception they had just witnessed.

Established in the fall of 1972, Franco’s Italian Army was the brainchild of East Liberty bakery owner Tony Stagno and his friend and fellow businessman,Al Vento. As devout Steeler fans throughout the early 1970s, Stagno and Vento decided to recruit an Italian “army of support” to enliven Three Rivers Stadium on game day.  Once formed, this cohort of fans rallied support behind Franco Harris, the rookie fullback who shared their Italian heritage.

FrancosItalianArmy_1999.0195Throughout Harris’ breakout season, Franco’s Italian Army became infamous for its antics in the stands and on the field.  Stationed at the 40 yard-line, the army brandished Italian flags, enjoyed wine and homemade Italian food, and successfully deployed military maneuvers to intimidate the Steelers’ foes.  While on active duty, the army’s generals even went as far as to parade around the field in a military Jeep and a truck with a 105 mm howitzer in tow, all in support of their generalissimo, Franco Harris.

Aside from these customary tactics, Franco’s Italian Army armed itself with one final secret weapon, the malocchio (evil eye). According to Italian American culture, the malocchio was a curse that cast bad luck and misfortune on its recipient. Having grown up entrenched in the Italian American community of East Liberty, General Stagno equipped his army with a corno (an Italian horn) meant to protect the Steelers by thwarting the curse of the malocchio. Hidden inside this corno was a small ivory hunchback figurine that, according to legend, held the power to cast the malocchio on the Steelers’ foes.

An image of Franco’s Italian Army at the AFC Division playoff game versus the Oakland Raiders, where Franco Harris completed the Immaculate Reception. December 1972.

An image of Franco’s Italian Army at the AFC Division playoff game versus the Oakland Raiders, where Franco Harris completed the Immaculate Reception. December 1972.

Franco’s Italian Army was armed with this protective corno at the fateful game in late December 1972. In the seconds before Bradshaw queued up for the final play, the generals of Franco’s Italian Army brandished their weapon. However, just as they went to extract the hunchback to cast the malocchio on the Raiders, it fell to the ground.  The generals  scrambled to recover the figurine before all was lost. According to the generals’ recounting of the tale, just as Vento rescued the hunchback from the ground and handed it to Stagno, the ball fatefully bounced off of Tatum and into the hands of their commander-in-chief, Franco Harris.  In the words of Al Vento,

We got the hunchback Italian that lives in that little horn, cornito.  We had it the day that Franco Harris made the Immaculate Reception.  Right when he caught the ball, right in front of the Italian Army.  The Immaculate Reception, it was consummated there.

Whether the stuff of legend or something more, the tale of Franco’s Italian Army and the Immaculate Reception superstition live on today. The generals’ passionate support for and investment in the players of their era provides a glimpse into the devotion that typifies the Pittsburgh Steelers fan base today.

Al Vento and unidentified fan waiving Franco's Italian Army banner.  Photo credit: Pittsburgh Steelers.

Al Vento and unidentified fan waiving Franco’s Italian Army banner.
Photo credit: Pittsburgh Steelers.

A piece of Franco’s Italian Army history has a permanent home at the Heinz History Center. In addition to the images highlighted here, the History Center has also collected oral history interviews and artifacts that preserve the story of Franco’s Italian Army.  In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Immaculate Reception, both the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum and the Thomas and Katherine Detre Library & Archives of the Heinz History Center have materials related to Franco’s Italian Army and the Immaculate Reception on display. In addition, the Detre Library & Archives has created an online exhibit that further highlights the history of Franco’s Italian Army.

Those interested in sharing in the legacy of the Immaculate Reception are welcome to join in the History Center’s 40th anniversary celebration of this infamous play! For more information on this special public event, click here.  Also, there’s still time to enter the History Center’s #Francoing contest for a chance to win tickets to see the Steelers play the Bengals on December 23rd.

Posted in Italian American Collection, Sports, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Heinz History Center on Historypin

Earlier this year, the Heinz History Center’s Detre Library and Archives launched a page on Historypin, a website that allows users to upload historic images and place them in Google Maps.  Images taken at the street level can also be layered on top of Google Streetview, as in the image below of the Smithfield Street Bridge.

A view of the Smithfield Street Bridge on HistoryPin

Created by We Are What We Do, nonprofit organization that describes itself as a “behavior change company,” Historypin can also be accessed through a free mobile app, available for both the Iphone and Android-powered phones. This foray into Historypin marks the first time that digitized content from the Heinz History Center’s Library and Archives can be accessed through mobile devices.

So far, over 50 images have been posted (or “pinned,” in Historypin parlance) to the site. The images document Pittsburgh’s stadiums, bridges, stores, and schools, many of which have long since been demolished.  In some cases, even the streets on which the photographs were taken are no longer on the map (as in the case of the Hancock School, which was on a section of Webster Avenue in the Hill District that was later replaced by a parking lot for the Civic Arena).

A view of the Boulevard of the Allies during the 1936 flood , layered on a Google Streetview image in HistoryPin.

Along with images from the Heinz History Center, Historypin also features content from the Smithsonian and the Museum of the City of New York.  But it’s not just cultural institutions that can participate – anyone can create a free account and begin uploading scans from their photo collection.

To learn more about Historypin, watch this short video.

Posted in Digital Collections, Maps | 1 Comment

American Archives Month Celebration: a Duet of Family Archives Workshops

Your great-grandmother’s wedding portrait.  Your grandfather’s first-grade report card.  Your great-uncle’s war journal.  Your grandmother’s scrapbook.  Your first home movie.  All of these treasured family items are pieces of your family’s mosaic.  Built piece by piece, year after year, these family treasures capture glimpses into who we are and those who came before us.

Daschbach Family, Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation Collection Photographs, MSP33.
Just one of the many family photographs that exists in the Detre Library & Archives collection.

As a celebration of American Archives Month, the staff of the Thomas and Katherine Detre Library & Archives is excited to offer a pair of workshops, centered on personal family archives.

American Archives Month is a time when archivists across the country make concerted efforts to raise awareness of the archival mission and its value to society.  At its core, our professional mission is to collect, preserve, arrange and describe materials of enduring research value so that they may be made accessible to the public.  With this year’s theme of “Archives and Lifelong Learning” in mind, the Detre Library & Archives staff has developed two workshops open to the public on caring for and organizing your family papers and photographs, and telling your family’s story.

Love letter from Pvt. Vincent Sirianni to his future wife, Mary Menniti.
Vincent Sirianni Papers and Photographs, MSS 610

In the first of these workshops, Preserving Your Past: Creating a Personal Family Archives, workshop participants will discover how to begin organizing and preserving the materials in their personal family collections.  Drawing upon the knowledge that the Detre Library & Archives staff uses to care for the History Center’s archival collections, the workshop director will share easy-to-implement, step-by-step measures on how to better care for your family treasures.  It is our hope that workshop participants will be inspired to embark on the rewarding journey of caring for a personal family archives!  The workshop will be offered October 27, 2012 from 10am-12pm.

The second workshop, Digital Storytelling: Your Family History in Words and Pixels, workshop participants will delve into the art of storytelling using both words and images. Throughout the course of the workshop, participants will learn how to best construct a family story.  Furthermore, participants will also discover how to deploy memory triggers in order to resurrect pieces of their family’s story. One crucial trigger is the family photograph.  Participants are invited to bring their own photos for the hands-on scanning session in order to learn how to integrate them into their family stories.  This workshop will also be offered October 27, 2012 from 1pm-4pm.

H. J. Heinz and grandchildren, H. J. Heinz Company Photographs, MSP 57.

 

Admission to each workshop is $20 for individuals and free for members.  This rate includes admittance to all History Center exhibits, including Gridiron Glory: The Best of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Please RSVP at sgreen@heinzhistorycenter.org or 412-454-6364.

For more information, please contact Sierra Green at sgreen@heinzhistorycenter.org.

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