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The Arabia: Pittsburgh's Lost Steamboat

on Wed, 12/17/2014 - 00:00

As a young boy, Greg Hawley and his father would explore abandoned gold mines in the hopes of finding buried treasure. Those dreams of adventure faded, however, as Hawley reached adulthood and went to work for the family’s air conditioning and refrigeration business in Independence, Missouri. Then in 1985, at the age of 27, Greg Hawley, his father and brothers discovered the legend of sunken steamboats on the Missouri River that contained hidden treasures of their own. Three years later, their search for those lost artifacts came to fruition when they uncovered the remains of the Arabia, a steamship from the Pittsburgh region that capsized after hitting an underwater tree branch on September 5, 1856, sinking to the bottom of the Missouri River shortly thereafter.

During late 1988 and early 1989, Greg Hawley and his family excavated the vast majority of the 200 tons of tools, housewares, shoes, boots, lumber, food and other supplies that the Arabia was carrying during its final voyage. Despite investing over $700,000 of their own money into the effort with the intentions of reaping the bounty for profit, the Hawleys later decided to preserve their findings and open the Arabia Steamboat Museum in Kansas City instead. The Museum not only tells the story of the Arabia but also offers a snapshot into the past and the thousands of Americans who risked everything to populate the open frontier of the Midwest United States. On April 26, 2014, the Senator John Heinz History Center unveiled many of the Arabia’s relics as part of its Pittsburgh’s Lost Steamboat exhibit—which runs through January 5, 2015—enabling residents of the Steel City to witness that important part of American history for themselves.

Back to the Future: Steel City Time Machine

on Mon, 12/15/2014 - 00:00

The 1980s were the decade of Ronald Reagan, Duran Duran and Miami Vice. Bruce Springsteen recorded Born in the USA, and the likes of Prince and U2 became musical superstars. Eddie Murphy and Sylvester Stallone ruled the box office, while Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Super Mario Brothers were kings of the arcade. Big hair, aviator jackets and Ray-Ban sunglasses were the latest fashion, and Michael Jackson learned to moonwalk. While many of the aforementioned are long gone and others now mere nostalgia, however, two film franchises of the 1980s continue to be part of the Pittsburgh landscape in the Twenty First Century—Ghostbusters and Back to the Future. The region has its own Steel City Ghostbusters, for instance, a group of fans who attend local events dressed in the same attire as Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler. Then there’s Rick Neuman and his Steel City Time Machine, an exact replica of the DeLorean automobile from Back to the Future.

“I had always thought that the car from Back to the Future was the coolest car on the planet,” Neuman explains. “I never gave it a thought to own one until a few years ago I met a DeLorean owner that had turned his into a time machine, and pretty much right then and there I had set in my mind that I would find a DeLorean and do the same thing.” The DeLorean Motor Company only produced approximately 9,000 of the gull-wing-door sports coupes in the early 1980s, but Rick Neuman was able to find one nonetheless. “My car is a 1982 with 31K miles on it,” he says. “I found it in Richmond, Virginia. My original plan for who I was going to have convert it kind of fell through, so I drove it around stock for two years, until I found Coulombe Enterprises out of Orlando, Florida. Bruce Coulombe and his team did the excellent job of transforming my car.”

Dippy, the World's Most Famous Dinosaur

on Tue, 12/09/2014 - 00:00

In July 1999, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History unveiled a life-size statue of the Diplodocus dinosaur that has been the centerpiece of the museum’s paleontology department since the turn of the previous century. The fossilized remains of “Dippy,” as the creature is affectionately known, was initially discovered in Wyoming exactly 100 years earlier, on July 4, 1899, by bone hunters employed by the Carnegie Museum. While Dippy has been an icon in Pittsburgh for well over a century, however, the Steel City is not alone in its adulation of the prehistoric dinosaur. An exact replica of Dippy’s fossilized skeleton, for instance, greets visitors at the Natural History Museum in London, and additional replicas can be found in other museums across the globe, including those in Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Moscow, Madrid and Mexico City—making Dippy arguably the most famous dinosaur in the world.

The first remains of a Diplodocus were discovered in Canon City, Colorado, in 1877 by bone hunters under the employment of Othniel C. Marsh, one of the two most infamous dinosaur experts in the United States during the time period. Marsh and his rival Edward D. Cope organized dozens of expeditions to the American Midwest, fertile ground for fossilized bones of numerous species. At one point, Marsh hired a Union Pacific Railroad foreman named William Reed to hunt for dinosaur bones in Wyoming, and while Reed made many discovers for Marsh, he also changed employers on numerous occasions as well. It was while working for the University of Wyoming in 1898 that Reed unearthed a collection of bones that were dubbed the “most colossal animal ever on Earth” by the media. Steel magnet Andrew Carnegie read an article about the discovery in the New York Journal and immediately decided that he wanted the remains for the museum he had recently founded in Pittsburgh.