What Pegman Saw: Calamity Hollow

Alis stared out across the Monongahela River.

Wherever she looked was billowing smoke, from the steelworks to the tug boats and paddle steamers, to the shanty town with its huddle of shacks and stove pipes.

On laundry days her sheets came in dotted with smuts. Every sip of water and bite of bread was gritted, speckled black.

‘Not so different from Merthyr after all,’ Evan had said, wrapping oily arms about her waist.

In a way he was right. Half of Glamorgan seemed to have followed them across the ocean to Pennsylvania and seeing the men trudge home, black faced and bowed was so familiar, she had to nip her arms to remind herself she wasn’t home.

She was lucky to have a life, to have breath and water and food, no matter how tainted.

To have a husband, not a ragged corpse swinging from the gallows back in Wales.

***

Written for What Pegman Saw, the writing prompt that gallops across the world using Google Street View. This week we visit Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

On reading about Pittsburgh, I found an interesting snippet. It seems that in the 1830s many Welsh coal miners and steel workers immigrated to the city after the Merthyr Rising, a protest against working conditions and unemployment. The unrest only lasted a week but during that time several locals and soldiers died. One man was hanged as an example to others.

It’s said that the Merthyr Rising was the first time the red flag was used as a symbol of revolution.

I found Calamity Hollow on the map, on the banks of the Monongahela River.

I imagined Alis being the wife of one of the men who had taken part in the rising. The house pictured is probably too fancy to be that of a coal miner or steel worker, but I imagined Alis standing at that balcony, staring out across the polluted river.

11 thoughts on “What Pegman Saw: Calamity Hollow

    1. Thanks Josh. Yes, it sounds as if it’s struggled with the loss of the coal mining and steel industries just as parts of the UK have. Industry has all but gone and all we have left are services like call centres. An interesting place indeed

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Such a cool episode that ties the two places together. And great location choice: what a name!

    Pennsylvania was about coal even back when steel was king.

    My son, more recently, went to visit a coal mine in Eastern PA, that does tours now. There was one place in the road, where a crack constantly spit fire into the air, from an underground inferno, that had been burning beneath the town for years.

    I also remember tiny pebbles of iron ore, collecting near the railroad tracks, jostled off the heaping open hopper cars as the train went by.

    And oh, the rivers were pretty polluted in those days, too, before the Environmental Protection Agency and other attempts to rein in commerce. Attempts, which were despised nearly as much, by those regulated, and thus, inconvenienced, as was your uprising long ago, in Wales.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That was one of the aspects I found interesting because Wales was all about coal too, for a couple of hundred years at least until the Miners’ Strike and the wholesale closure of the UK pits in the 1980s. So many communities destroyed, whole generations of men thrown out of work in places where the mine was the main employer. Devastating. And many of the pits were still – are still – full of coal.
      That crack in the road sounds terrifying! All the houses where we live are built over old coal mines (no eternal fires, though!) and when digging the garden I find a lot of metal working slag, lumps of worked iron that were dumped here.
      History under our feet, eh? Thanks for the fascinating comment, Andrea

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Well evoked, Lynn, and great title. I don’t know Pennsylvania, obviously, but I’m a bit more familiar with South Wales. I recently visited the museum in Cyfarthfa Castle in Merthyr, which in fact includes exhibitions about the coal industry, its history and of course the Merthyr Rising. Worth a visit if you’re ever in the area (though you may already know it).

    And again, fantastic scene-setting and twist.

    Like

  3. An excellent story, Lynn. I very much liked the character of Alis, undaunted and with gratitude in her heart.
    I went to Pittsburgh in the seventies, when it was still a steel town. It was, indeed, grimy, gritty, smoky and not a very pleasant place to be.

    Like

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