By Sara Payne, Point Park News Service:
Amid the adventures in the Strip District is the Senator John Heinz History Center, a 275,000-square-foot museum housing 250 years of the Pittsburgh region’s history. Anne Madarasz, museum division director and curator by training, has more than 22 years of experience at the History Center, making her the perfect person to walk us through the top five interesting artifacts found in Pennsylvania’s largest history museum.
“Some of these things, I’ve been involved with collecting them or seeing them come into the collection,” she said. “I think one of the neat things about the history museum is we collect everything from steelworkers’ lunch boxes to fine art.”
1864 Rodman Cannon replica
Using an innovative 3-D printing process, the History Center created a 26-foot-long, 9-ton, smooth-bore Rodman Cannon. The original cannon, built in 1864, weighed nearly 90 tons. It was built at the Fort Pitt Foundry, across the street from the History Center’s current location. The cannon, which could shoot a 20-inch cannonball 4.5 miles, was designed and cast using groundbreaking technology developed by Thomas Jackson Rodman.
The cast, in the museum’s Great Hall, provides a life-size example of Pittsburgh’s military production and prowess during the Civil War. Madarasz said the difficulty of this process was deciding how to allow visitors to understand its enormity. Instead of just blowing up a picture, they decided on making a model of the cannon.
“If you think about it today, it’d be like a weapon of mass destruction,” she said.
Immaculate Reception field turf from Three Rivers Stadium
Madarasz was part of the acquisition process of the turf used during the Steelers’ famed Immaculate Reception, considered one of the greatest plays in the NFL history. Retired Steeler Franco Harris, on the committee that helps bring in new items to the Western Pennsylvania Sports Sport Museum, first donated the cleats he wore that day. Years later, he simply asked if the History Center might have any interest in having the turf.
After visiting Three Rivers Stadium on the day they were changing the turf, Harris had the piece where the play happened stowed under his deck for 35 years. A team from the History Center went to Harris’ house and pulled out the rolled-up turf — disturbing a bees’ nest in the process. The men now tell the story of pulling the turf out and being chased by bees while Harris was laughing on his deck.
“It’s such a great piece; it’s such an iconic piece,” Madarasz said. “It’s just almost serendipity that it survived to be in a museum.”
Dagger used in Frick assassination attempt
As revenge for the nine steelworkers killed by the Pinkerton detectives hired by Henry Clay Frick during the Homestead Steel Strike in 1892, anarchist Alexander Berkman planned to assassinate the industrialist. Berman failed in his attempt. But after the doctor who worked on Frick was finished, he kept the dagger (basically a glorified nail file), and it was passed down through the family until the History Center acquired the piece, Madarasz said.
The family’s story, the manufacturer of the piece and the story of the assassination all work together to authenticate the attempted murder weapon. The dagger is on display in the “Pittsburgh: A Tradition of Innovation” exhibition.
Hotel bed that Lincoln slept in during Pittsburgh visit
Traveling from his home in Illinois to the nation’s capital to begin his presidency, Abraham Lincoln stopped in Pittsburgh. Worried crowds waited outside his room to hear remarks from the new president about the stirring of war throughout the country.
The Monongahela House, located near where the Smithfield Street Bridge is today, preserved the material from the 1861 visit — his only trip to Pittsburgh. Until eight or nine years ago, the bed and other items nearly were forgotten when they were discovered in a building at one of the county parks, Madarasz said. The bed is on display in the Sigo Falk Collections Center.
“It’s kind of our, you know people will say, ‘George Washington slept here,'” she said. “Well, Abraham Lincoln slept here, and we have the bed he slept in to prove it.”
Heinz pickle pin
The little pin is one of the oldest surviving pickle pins of its kind from the 1893 Columbian Exposition world’s fair in Chicago. H.J. Heinz used the pins as a giveaway to help promote his pickle products. Madarasz said the pin tells the story of Heinz as a great marketer. He dropped hundreds of tags that told visitors to bring the tag to the Heinz Booth, which was tucked away on a sixth floor, and they would receive a prize. The pin is on display in the Heinz exhibition.
“It was one of the most innovative market tools ever used, ” she said. “It had no real inherit value to it, but people loved them.”