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.

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