Explore a site of post-industrial isolation, this old blast furnace and National Historic Landmark remains a portal into Pittsburgh’s labored past.
Hours: Open for guided tours May through October. For private group tours (10 or more) or photographic opportunities contact Stacy Drane: email@example.com
Outdoor Site: Heels and/or open-toed shoes are not permitted. At this time the site is not wheelchair accessible. All guests will be asked to sign a liability waiver.
Admission Price: Free, Ages 8+
Transportation: The entrance is located at Carrie Furnace Boulevard, Rankin, Pa 15104 and is easily accessible using the 61B bus route.
Site Information: www.riversofsteel.com
For every ton of iron that Carrie Blast Furnaces produced, a four ton combination of iron ore, coke and limestone was melted down. To cool down the molten iron, up to five million gallons of water was used every day. It was a tough job. It required being hot and filthy all day and was extremely dangerous. With little safety regulations, injury and death was a common event at Carrie Blast Furnace. Production ceased in 1978 with the decline of steel. The furnaces, Carrie 6 and 7, are the remaining few non-operative blast furnace in the Pittsburgh District and the country.
In 2006, the Carrie Blast Furnaces became a National Historic Landmark, and with the help of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, the site now conducts public tours of the historic grounds as well as concerts and events that show off the space.
On the journey in you’ll surely notice the towering, 92-foot tall stacks and long warehouses. Be prepared for an exciting tour that includes climbing a series of walkways around the industrial ghosts and learning about the harsh conditions a steelworker encountered daily and the power behind these behemoths. As you make your way through the site be sure to pay attention to the things that may seem out of place in a space known for its great industrial achievements. Art installations at the furnace have become one of the focal points for the future of the furnace and of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area restoration and preservation endeavors as a way to reuse and re-energize the site.
The Perpetual Pride
By: Amanda Gomez
More than a century ago lived an incredible beast with fire spouting out of its heart, roasting and melting everything inside of it. The creature roared its deafening sounds until the day it was put to rest in 1978. Carrie Furnaces was a part of the U.S Steel’s Homestead Works stretched over four hundred acres on both sides of the Monongahela River, employing thousands with the enticement of a steady paycheck. Generations of immigrants and their children plummeted into the heart of the steel industry(Bell). The labor instilled by these blast furnaces physically converted iron oxides to liquid steel, but the real conversion was what this work did for its workers, then and now.
While touring Carrie Furnaces, it may be hard to grasp the real impact of the space. The rusty skeleton felt more like a wonder of the world than a once bustling workplace. Bridging that feeling is a walking personality of the furnace, and former millworker, our tour-guide, Tom. Touring the silent, cold metal beast with someone who experienced the heat and humming first-hand created a connection that needed to be explored further. The space is colossal and staggering; the dangerous work it once demanded shaped the men who worked here. And it was those who had invested themselves day in and day out that helped shape the Carrie Furnace’s personality, history, and the impact it still has today.
“My Dad was a foreman at US Steel’s “Carrie” Furnace. He worked there from the mid 30’s to his retirement in the late 60’s… It seemed like he worked all the time, especially when a steelworker strike was taking place. On more than one occasion he was locked in the mill for weeks on end to keep the steel flowing until the labor situation could be resolved. I never heard him complain. It was his job and livelihood and I believe he loved it. He was very proud of US Steel and it showed.” (Hawkins)
As Tom guided us through the furnaces, I could see this pride. Leading us through dilapidated stairs and ducking under corroded beams, he led us with the excitement and enthusiasm of a young child. The facts he spout forth were instilled with this pride, “The iron made here in Carrie Furnaces went into the steel that constructed the great Golden Gate Bridge, the Battleship Missouri, and the Empire State Building!”(Tom) I half expected those who had worked in the mills to speak of their time there in a negative light. Even with minimal knowledge, the surface facts of steel working include long and grueling hours while being overworked and underpaid in a hazardous environment. However, these previous conditions did not seem to overshadow the entirety of the experiences of these workers. Though excerpts from other former workers do not romanticize their experiences, there is a hint of gratification.
“I thought quickly over my summer in the mills, and it looked rather pleasurable in retrospect. Things do. I thought of sizzling nights; of bosses, friendly and unfriendly; of hot back-walls, and a good first-helper; of fighting twenty-four hour turns; of interesting days as hot blast man; of dreaded five o’clock risings, and quiet satisfying suppers; of what men thought, and didn’t think…”
An insightful reflection of the work performed by undercover blast furnace worker Charles Rumford Walker portrays the smallest satisfactions of his work in 1922. Walker wanted to experience what it was like to be an outsider starting at the bottom of the steel industry, recording his experiences in a diary like data for research. As a researcher, Walker typically maintained an unbiased view of his work, but for many, steel work was not just work, it was their life and livelihood. Such as the case of the Kracha family from the novel Out of this Furnace, steel work ran through the blood of many families. It is not only the small gratifications in this monotonous work that inspire pride, but the familial foundation that engenders it.
“The mill was always in my life, even as a baby.” That statement is true for Ken Kobus as it is true for his father and his father’s father who started his career in steel in 1906. The three generations of Kobus men grew up in a working-class neighborhood on the south side of Pittsburgh just eight blocks from the steel mill. These men lived and breathed the black soot that rocketed Pittsburgh as the steel making capital of the world, an era the city still prides itself on to this day. The Kobus’ lives were shaped by this industry and it is that impact that extends to the pride and preservation of the Carrie Furnaces.
The Kobus family and the legacy of workers alike are now shared through a project designed to uphold the history of the steel mill. Like many others, the Kobus’ are part of the commitment to preserving, interpreting, and managing the cultural and historic resources related to Big Steel. This project is a part of a multi-layered program by The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area designed to engage the community to explore its industrial history and post-industrial experience. Former steel and furnace workers are eager to bring in visitors and proud to share their experiences about the structures of Carrie Furnaces and the history they represent.
By the end of the tour, the pride revealed by our guide was no longer just observed, but felt. The evolution of how I perceived furnace work started with not being able to even fathom enduring the work of Carrie Furnaces, which shifted to not understanding why anyone would work in the steel industry at all, and finally to an understanding of the underlying and everlasting pride held by those who did endure. The pride reaped by those who endured the long and dangerous labor planted the seeds that brought life back to Carrie Furnaces. “The city hitherto notorious as being devoted to naked industry was now featured on all American tours for its beauty,” (Long, 717). The everlasting pride upholds the antiquity that keeps this relic of Pittsburgh’s steel industry thriving and an absolute ‘must-sense.’
Bell, Thomas. Out of This Furnace. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976.
Fig. 1- Gaughan, William J. Evening Steel Work. 1941. William J. Gaughan Collection, Rankin. Historic. Pittsburgh. Web. 26 Oct. 2016.
Fig. 2 – Gaughan, William J. 8-4 Carrie Crew. 1941. William J. Gaughan Collection, Rankin. Historic Pittsburgh. Web. 27 Oct. 2016.
Harkins, Regis. “Growing up in Swissvale.” Rivers of Steel. Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. Web.01 Dec. 2016.
Long, Haniel. “How Pittsburgh Returned to the Jungle.” The Nation, edited by unknown, 1923, pp. 717.
Walker, Charles. “Charles Walker, “Blast Furnace,” 1922.” Explore PA History. Carnegie Library. Web.10 Nov. 2016.
The Rusted Monument
By: Jacob Trettel
The road that takes you down to the Carrie Furnaces is newly built, slipping quietly off of South Braddock Avenue before you get on the Rankin Bridge. This almost mile stretch to the site offers pristine views of the Monongahela River and has been reclaimed by the earth. As you reach the site and park in the lot made out front by chain link fence there’s a silence about the place. The tall red buildings loom over you, a piece of history frozen and decaying. Everywhere that rust has taken apart new plants grow through it. It is hard to imagine now the chaos of being in this exact spot a century ago or even forty years ago as countless steel workers continued to make take in train cars of ore and coke and return them full of the liquid steel. The Carrie Furnaces are a place for reverie, one of the last portals into such a past that we have left in the country. Yet this place feels like something more than that, this place is a monument to the people of Pittsburgh, an icon of the Monongahela Valley.
This idea stems from Pittsburgh’s pride for its work in the industrial era. As one of the largest steel producers during the height of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, it is not hard to see how much the mills would have impacted the lives of those who worked there. In the Monongahela Valley especially the shells of former and still active mills rise high over the rows of houses and small businesses that scatter the hillside, they are visible from almost everywhere in these neighborhoods. Even the Waterfront complex across the river cannot detract from the sheer size of these old remnants of industry far off in the distance.
Besides the physical presence of these places there is a certain attitude of the people of Pittsburgh, a deep pride in this kind of work despite its danger. In my own visit to the Carrie Furnaces I was lucky enough to be guided by a man named Tom. As an educator and former blast furnace worker he knew the place well and had great insight in both the way a place like this runs as well as what life is like for those that work there. His stories were grandiose, telling of immense struggle and grueling work as well as camaraderie between the workers. Despite all this, there was laughter in his voice and light in his eyes. But this is not new, generations before Tom men were working at the Homestead Steel Mill and even during the time of the infamous Homestead Strike there was a pride in the work being done there. In the telling novel Out of This Furnace by Thomas Bell, second generation mill worker Mike Dobrjcak is quoted saying “If they’d let me I could love that mill like something of my own. It’s a terrible and beautiful thing to make iron. It’s honest work, too, work the world needs (Bell, 195-196).” Making steel is exhausting and often times life threatening, but these men were carrying the world on their shoulders and proudly propelled us into a new age.
After the furnaces shut down in 1978, however, Pittsburgh was shifting away from this industrial work with the decline of the steel industry. As the facility lay empty there was much dispute about what to do with the acres of property that the Homestead Mill occupied. In his book Twentieth-Century Pittsburgh, Roy Lubove discusses the problems of re-development after the Park Corporation had bought the land in 1988. “The overwhelming emphasis on jobs (and the remaining legacy of coke and steel in Braddock, West Mifflin, and Clairton) has discouraged alternative developments of community development (39).” A team of architects had proposed that the land be turned into a community space, including an outdoor space for garden festivals, a flea market, and a racetrack. These ideas were not received well by those in the area, both out of work and struggling to support themselves. This put the Carrie Furnaces in a gridlock, stuck between its grand past and the fast approaching future (Lubove, 38-40).
In 2005 the land was bought again by Allegheny County and with efforts from the Steel Industry Heritage Council and other organizations the place was deemed a National Historic Landmark. With the dispute between what to do with the mill compromised, the people of Pittsburgh had a place to reflect on their past.
This notion of reflection can be seen throughout the Carrie Furnaces. On the guided tours you are taken to all parts of the facility to see how the ores were brought and melted in order to create the liquid steel sent to the Homestead Mill. But even in the modern era people have found use for this place. Since it’s re-opening to the public the Carrie Furnaces have put on tons of events and concerts as well as hosted art classes of all kinds. Graffiti and sculpture can be found throughout the grounds hidden in plain sight. This kind of creativity is helping bring more attention to the blast furnaces, and in turn helping people understand their past better. In Thomas Sweterlitch’s novel Tomorrow and Tomorrow Pittsburgh is a wasteland. People use virtual reality to re-visit their lives and study the catastrophe through archived footage and pictures of the area. In one of our first encounters with the Archive the main character John Blaxton says “There are others on this bus, others visiting the Archive – we’re different from the illusions, somehow lighter. We all look at one another, wondering what we’ve lost (Sweterlitsch, 25).”
While the ideas in Sweterlitch’s novel are dreary this is a good way to understand what being at the Carrie Furnaces are like. Whether you are there to get in touch with your past or to connect with the space through art and entertainment there is a sense of stillness from those early industrial days. Here we can learn about histories danger and beauty through what is remembered. The Carrie Furnaces have become a place to reflect on our past while engaging with the modern day. This silence and beauty has great importance and allows the Carrie Furnaces to become a true monument to the Monongahela Valley and the City of Pittsburgh.
Bell, Thomas. Out of This Furnace. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976.
Figure 1:Paul Slantis; “Girls in Ethnic Outfits”; Historic Pittsburgh; http://www.historicpittsburgh.org, 28 Oct. 2016
Figures 2-3: Photos taken by author. 2016
Lubove, Roy. Twentieth Century Pittsburgh: The Post-Steel Era. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995.
Sweterlitsch, Thomas. Tomorrow and Tomorrow. Berkley Books, 2014
An Igneous Workplace
By: Hunter D’Anieri
In its early years, Carrie Blast Furnace, along with other mills, was home to some of the harshest and most dangerous working conditions, with risk of injury or death everyday due to the lack of safety equipment and laws. Of course in its later years, the safety regulations were stricter after the founding of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 1971. Before that, the safety of employees was not of much concern to employers, especially in industrial fields. It was just a generally accepted fact that when working at a mill, accidents would happen and people would get hurt. It was just another day at the mill and you had to get over it or find another job.
There was no shortage of ways to get injured while working at Carrie Blast Furnace. A mill worker could get anything from small cuts and burns to losing an extremity or getting black lung. Nobody ever wanted to get injured, not because it would hurt, but because it could have ended in a more serious, long-term consequence. If you got injured while working in the early 1900’s, that was on you. There was no workers’ compensation or disability leave. You got hurt; you missed work and did not get paid. Subsequently, if you missed work, you were terminated. Then you are injured and do not have a job to go back to. It was a dreadful chain reaction. According to Les Standiford’s story of Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick titled Meet You in Hell, two very rich and powerful people from the late 1800’s, steel workers were treated and paid so horribly that in 1892 they went on strike (95-105).
If you take a look at the pictures above, you can see the extent of the safety protocol Carrie Blast Furnace had. No more than a few signs with very simple rules watched out for the well being of the furnace employees. Some signs aimed to prevent accidents such as figures 1 and 2 where it reminds people not to stand where they can be crushed (even though that seems like common sense). Figure 1 is set in the front of the entire furnace. It is where the most vehicular activity would occur, with people and equipment coming and going. Figure 2 is placed where the train cars would arrive full of iron ore. With clearance on only one side, standing on the other would have you get crushed between the train car and wall. Other signs were in case something already went wrong and were used to avoid a worse situation. Figure 3 was a sign pointing out the location of an alarm that could alert people of and emergency so they can remedy the situation or leave. It was painted on a wall in the room where multiple stove were burning at up to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. A gas leak it a room with active stoves could end detrimentally. Figure 4 was not so much a safety precaution but more of a label showing where something was. However it could be considered a safety sign because it can be used to find the shut off valve when there is an emergency. Other than these signs and common sense, nothing was protecting these employees.
Unfortunately, the man in Figure 5, taken in 1952, seems to not have had much common sense. As you look at the picture notice all of the dangers that the man faces. He is working with flowing molten metal and is wearing almost zero protective clothing. He is wearing regular clothing and shoes along with an overcoat, which appears to be open, providing even less protection. If you look closely, he is not even wearing fire gloves to protect his hands, which are most likely to be burned from stray sparks. He stands mere feet away from a river of iron with nothing preventing him from falling in, had he tripped. At least he was smart enough to wear eye protection in the form of goggles though. However, he does not have anything over the rest of his face. This may not do anything to protect his face in the short term but not wearing any sort of breathing apparatus can have very bad health effects over time. It can cause various lung diseases and breathing complications such as black lung, a disease caused by prolonged inhalation of fumes and particles, later on in life. Black lung is more common among coal miners, but is still very possible when inhaling dust particles from raw materials and other fumes. It would also be useful in the event of a gas leak. They can sometime goes unnoticed until it is too late and somebody is already affected by it. In a 1902 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Pittsburgh newspaper, there is a story very similar to that and shows the end result of a major gas leak. On January third, 1902, three men were over-exposed to gases and taken to Mercy Hospital. Unfortunately, just one day later, the three men had passed away (2). There are other events that can also cause multiple people to lose their lives as well. In Thomas Bell’s novel Out of the Furnace, he describes a very possible event that could happen at a steel mill. One of the furnaces had an internal explosion, blowing the top off of it and burning many employees. In the story eleven people were injured and three had died from severe burns. Bell described one man’s condition in particular, explaining how to man’s face was burned so badly that he was blinded for his last few days in the hospital before he eventually past away (50-54).
Other than the lack of protective clothing and signs, Carrie Blast Furnace also had less technologically advanced equipment and machines. It was not like today’s mills and factories where, in an emergency, you hit a button and shut everything down. Today everything its controlled electronically by just a few computers. You need to move a giant vessel of molten steel; you sit in a control room and control a machine that will do it. You need to a furnace on or off; you go to the computer and push a few buttons. It is much simpler and safer. At Carrie Blast Furnace, they did not have such luxuries. When transporting liquid steel, there were employees on the floor, helping guide it risking severe burns like the man in Figure 5. He is there to help keep the metal flowing from one area to another while skimming any impurities off of the top. If a furnace needed to be fired up or shut down there would be somebody that went down and physically turned a valve.
Even though all these pictures provide a window through time into the sweaty, grimy and dangerous workplace known as Carrie Blast Furnace and show us how unsafe it was, you can see in Figure 6 that Carrie Blast Furnace received a safety award for their excellence in workplace safety. The fact that they received a safety award with little protocol shows just how low safety standards were during 1953 in industrial jobs.
The space that is The Carrie Blast Furnace is one that was dark, hot and grimy but is now dark, cool and eerie. Even today without any iron being produced or even machinery running, to take a tour you must sign a waiver acknowledging the risk of injury or death from various hazards. To some it is full of painful memories and lost souls. To others it is a look into the harsh steel industry of Pittsburgh. Either way, Carrie Blast Furnace was with out doubt one of the most dangerous place to work in Pittsburgh and took the lives of many.
Bell, Thomas. Out of This Furnace. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh, 1976. Print.
“Carrie Furnaces.” Rivers of Steel. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2015.
Fig. 1-4, Personal photos taken on site. 2015
Fig. 5, Carrie Furnace Tapping. 1952. William J. Gaughan Collection, Rankin. Historic Pittsburgh. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.
Fig. 6, Saftey Award. 1953. William J. Gaughan Collection, Rankin. Historic Pittsburgh. Web. 3 Nov. 2015.
Pittburgh Post-Gazette 20 Jan. 1902: 2. Google News Archive. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.
Standiford, Les. Meet You in Hell: Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick, and the Bitter Partnership That Transformed America. New York: Crown, 2005. Print.
Reinventing a Derelict Space
By: Katee Coleman
Almost weekly, I can be found driving across the Homestead Grays Bridge on my way to the Waterfront, in Homestead, PA (waterfrontpgh.com). The Waterfront has a plethora of stores for general shopping, high-end eateries and fast-food favorites, as well as general-needs stores for groceries and home repair; in a sense, it has it all. It’s no wonder I find myself there too often. As I make my familiar journey across the river, I never used to give much thought to what I was traveling over, or where exactly I was going. The bridge gives me access to Homestead, separated from Squirrel Hill by the Monongahela River, and I am going to pick up necessary supplies (or maybe just to spend a few extra dollars). End of story, right? Not quite. Through my tour of the Carrie Blast Furnace and further research, I have come to discover that this routine of mine is not the end of the story, in fact, it is just a random sentence, paragraph maybe, in the grand story of Pittsburgh, its people, and its history. After visiting the furnace and realizing just how close I was to raw history (the Waterfront sits on land formally known as the Homestead Steel works, Homestead Steel Works), I looked for her one day on my way over the bridge, and I saw Carrie, clear as day. How had I missed this incredible sight in the past when it was so obvious now? Sounds like a no-brainer of course, that I am but a small part in the big picture, but I attempt to use this common idea to tell a new story of Pittsburgh’s important industrial history, of how it is living on today through the artwork and support of its people, and how the work of those supporters is promoting and refining the true beauty that is held within the confines of the Carrie Blast Furnace.
Theorist Edward Soja gives insight to a discussion of space, space that is real and inhabited (the Waterfront stores), and space that is imagined or filling the air essentially (the history of Homestead and surrounding areas). Soja presents two trialectics to explain the conjunction of these two states of space, a “thirdspace,” the Trialectic of Being and the Trialectic of Spatiality (Soja). The Trialectic of Being depicts how humans are or “how we humans ‘be’,” and contains three categories: Historicality, Sociality, and Spatiality (Soja). Historicality explains the idea of progress and repetition, Sociality considers emotions and mental states or “societal aspects,” and Spatiality represents the space of these instances, but as more than the physicality of the space. The Trialectic of Spatiality is an expansion of this last theory from trialectic #1, and it includes three more categories that interact with each other: Perceived, Conceived, and Lived (Soja). These categories of space each have a separate meaning, but they exist within each other, helping Soja explain his position on “thirdspace.” “Firstspace” is the perceived space, the physical and measureable object, “secondspace” is the conceived space that depicts the imagined and ideational projections in the perceived space, and lastly, his “thirdspace” is the lived space that essentially combines the previous categories in an attempt to explain how we use this space and how it affects us (Soja). Using Soja’s theory, I present a story about the use of space at the furnaces, both in its historicality and its spatiality.
When describing Manhattan, Michel de Certeau details the space of the big picture of the city, the “urban island’ of skyscrapers, and the feeling of seeing this grand space from above, on the top floor of one of those skyscrapers. He also lends information about the true feel of the city, and how visuals of those grand buildings can blur the perceptions of what is actually happening: “The gigantic mass is immobilized before the eyes. It is transformed into a texturology in which extremes coincide – extremes of ambition and degradation, brutal oppositions of races and styles, contrasts between yesterday’s buildings, already transformed into trash cans, and today’s urban irruptions that block out its space” (Certeau). It is easy to draw a connection between his explanation of space and Soja’s terms of space; the perception of the city is in its impressive architecture, and the conceived space explains how the mind can be swept up in the aroma of this majestic city, but the lived space, the “thirdspace,” provides the elucidation of how this skewed reality affects everyday life, with the degradation of historical space. My story paints a similar picture, one that explains how the space of the Carrie Blast Furnace is being shaped by the perceived and conceived spaces, therefore creating a new lived space. The relics of the past, those towering blast furnaces, are no longer mentally covered in dust, as present-day people are working toward the preservation and restoration of the historical site.
The Carrie Blast Furnace officially closed in 1982, and went largely untouched until 2006 when it became a National Historic Landmark and restoration work commenced. Before this new attention came to the furnaces, a small group of guerilla artists found a space rich with history and potential. In 1997, this group of Pittsburgh artists went to great lengths to create a piece of art that has since become one of the main points in the drive for revitalization. The impressive structure that remains from these artists has been dubbed the “Carrie Deer” (The Carrie Deer), and stands as the first work of “industrial salvage” at the furnace (Baraff). Rising 40 feet above the deteriorating structures of the furnace, and created from site ruins, the Carrie Deer is a pivotal entity of the revitalization of the furnace. The Deer’s artists mimicked the hard, grueling work that was featured at the site more than a decade before their arrival, taking this place of the past and making it their own. Their nod to the historical use of the site was the use of the Blast Furnace’s own raw material in the making of the deer, and their own interpretation of the degradation of the site, that of wild nature taking it back, was the deer. The Deer sparked the revolution of art that is now an integrated part of the Carrie restoration. For several years now, the site has been a desired setting for “independent and mainline movie production as well as performance, art, music, and photography groups” (Baraff). Many different types of art can be found at the site, and upon visiting the actual grounds, one can be swept up in the aura that Carrie now creates. Once a site known for its exhausting and dangerous work, is now a site of adventure and excitement as well as raw history. The perceived space is most certainly that of post-industrial remains and the overgrowth of nature, but the work of present artists and preservationists are creating a conceived space of opportunity and light, in the face of the isolated uninhabited, and a new lived space that allows the site to inspire the visitor to commemorate its historical significance and view how present restoration efforts both preserve and transform the space.
In 2012, after more than 30 years of darkness, the Carrie Blast Furnace was re-lit for a special event that gathered locals and those from afar to tour the grounds of past familiar operations and witness iron flowing for one last time (The Iron Garden Walk) (Erdley). Directors of this event sought to create a connection with the past, while facilitating growth in the future, by conducting an iron pour to commemorate the past. This effort by the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area attempted to garner public support of their restoration and preservation work at the site. In attendance were artists, former blast furnace workers, families of former workers, and those who had personal connections with the site from its heyday. The event allowed for master gardeners and artists to work alongside steel sculptors and students, those professions that would otherwise not be seen together, all working toward the same ultimate goal (Leeman). This gathering continues to keep the fire ablaze, one that was ignited from the original spark of the Carrie Deer. This assemblence of the public was not the last of its kind, as the Rivers of Steel and those backing the Carrie Blast Furnace host many performances and other gatherings at the site. One such event was the daylong performance by “The Pillow Project,” a dance company that performed at the furnace in 2013. The performance included “improvisational jazz dance, along with live music, video projection, art installations, and more” presented as “The Jazz Furnace” (Bauknecht). Pearlann Porter, director of the dance company, was excited about the opportunity to perform at a site so packed with history, mentioning that while she did not have any ties to the furnace or steelwork, she wanted to “connect to it somehow” (Bauknecht). During the performance, former steelworkers and caretakers of the site were available to answer questions about the Carrie’s history, making that connection to the past ever present. Porter also said she wants people to “reconsider these leftover relics of Pittsburgh’s past,” which I imagine is exactly the kind of attention that those who support restoration of the furnace are striving to obtain (Bauknecht).
Other performance art or art installations featured at the site include work by Alloy Pittsburgh (Alloy Pittsburgh), a visual and performing arts project founded by Pittsburgh artists and developed in collaboration with the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area (Leeman). This organization has sought to use the site as a way to further understand Pittsburgh and the history of the city. The artists are there to spend time creating and investing in what the place is and was; in this way they have the ability to internalize the space more than a regular tour. The founders, Sean Derry and Chris McGinnis, hope that by looking at the site through an art practice, they are providing a unique way to think about the future and an element that can tie the community to the site outside of iron-making (Leeman). Less of a production, and more of a staple piece of the site, are the numerous splashes of graffiti found around the walls of the site. While not all of those marks were personally invited by Rivers of Steel to express creation and breathe new life into the site, they still stand as a significant piece in the transformation of the furnace. Featured along with the guerilla graffiti are the wildflowers and fields of grass. In a place that used to carry “deafening sounds of rail cars booming and banging and sirens and whistles blowing,” there are now the peaceful noises of nature, birds and crickets (Erdley).
Charles Rumford Walker, a graduate of Yale College who resigned a commission as first lieutenant in the U.S. Army in order to go work in the brute-force end of the steel industry, kept a personal diary during his days as a steelworker and eventually published his collection of thoughts in his book, “Steel, The Diary of a Furnace Worker.” In the foreword of his narrative, he describes steel as a basic industry of America, the industry that “props our complex industrial civilization” (Walker). He went on to explain that he believed the steel industry, along with coal, was specifically “cast for leading roles either in the breaking-up or the making-over of society” (Walker). I clung to this particular passage because I believe it was telltale of his future, our past, of the city of Pittsburgh, that of how the steel industry propped up the city and brought thousands of foreigners seeking work, as well as how when it ended it left Pittsburgh cut open. This one sentence presented by Walker brings history full circle, as shown by the breaking of families through hard conditions in the furnaces, the breaking of city morale through labor strikes and battles, and the decline of the workforce at the end of the steel era. The city’s history was then brought back up by the efforts of local artists and preservationists seeking to create a make-over of society, maybe not in its entirety, but at least in its perception of the space at the Carrie Blast Furnace. The Carrie Blast Furnace was born with a certain perceived space, and continues into the future with the same genetic make-up of an industrial structure, but energy felt now at the furnace, through the help of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area and eager artists, ensures that the conceived space allows for peace, reflection, and wonder, and the lived space, the “thirdspace,” will positively influence Pittsburgh for generations to come.
Baraff, Ron. “The Carrie Deer Story.” The Carrie Deer. Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, n.d. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.
Bauknecht, Sara. “Preview: Pillow Project to Fire up Carrie Furnaces with Jazz Dance.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. PG Publishing Co, 10 Oct. 2013. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.
Certeau, Michel De., and Steven Rendall. “Walking in the City.” The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: U of California, 1984. 91-110. Print.
Erdley, Debra. “Carrie Blast Furnace along Monongahela River Fired up after 30 Years.” TribLIVE.com. Trib Total Media, 15 Sept. 2012. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.
Figures 1-3, 5. Author’s personal collection, 2015.
Figure 4: “Paul Slantis Photograph Collection.” Historic Pittsburgh Image Collections. Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.
Leeman, Peter. “From the Carrie Furnace: Art in Steel Valley.” Online video clip. SproutFund. SproutFund, n.d. Web. 4 Nov. 2015.
Soja, Edward. Thirdspace: Journeys to Lost Angeles and Ither Real-and- Imagined Places. Cambridge MA: Blackwell Publishing Inc., 1996. 53-70.
Walker, Charles R. “Foreword.” Foreword. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. The Project Gutenberg. The Project Gutenberg, 19 Feb. 2012. Web. 17 Dec. 2015.