thumbnail of OnQ; 3163
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
Again he said on the line why my studio in the consulship tomorrow night at 10:00. All right Pittsburgh T.J. the Bensky here inviting you to join us for a brand new national production the American soundtrack rhythm love and soul. One night only November 26 that the better job center. It's the sequel program to last year's R&B 40. And boy do you hear who's coming to town one night only when you call and pledge $50 for one ticket. Hundred dollars you get a pair. Aretha Franklin the queen of soul r e s p e c t going to sock it to you could be in the audience feel the magic fun people. Fun times fun music. Only in Pittsburgh when you pledge. How about the other great stars Lou Rawls Gloria Gaynor Teddy Pendergrass Peaches and Herb Edwin Starr Dennis Edwards temptations the friends of distinction Broadway Mason Thelma Houston Billy Paul the Manhattans and these are just a few. You have an amazing opportunity to support the station that's keeping the music alive. But the opportunity is right now go to your telephone dial the number on your screen pledge your support.
We will keep the music alive to get right here in it. Next on cue the local tragedy that led to the clean air laws of today. We're talking about the 1948 Dinora Smaug. We'll hear stories from those who lived through it and you'll meet a respected environmentalist who tells the Dinora story all over the world. Also tonight on cue goes behind the music. What a Pittsburgh favorite hometown rockers Shecky. It's all next on queue. Good evening and welcome to On Q magazine. I'm Stacey Smith. Anyone under the age of 35 won't
remember what it was like breathing dirty Pittsburgh air especially in the mill towns of this region. Most people take our fresh air for granted and very few of them know it was a local disaster that put the word pollution in our vocabulary. In tonight's cover story on q contributor Eddie Macey reports on the infamous Dinora Smaug how it changed laws changed lives and why a local woman. All these years later is now telling the Dinora story around the world. It looked like the five day that you could imagine would happen if the smoke couldn't go up it couldn't dissipate they were panting and they were scared to
death. People became aware that there were a lot of people and it was unfortunately a recipe for disaster. Photographed in our Pennsylvania now fear an ammonia epidemic and in our revenue from a modern pot have requited it was the fall of 1948 when that deadly smog descended on Dinora toxic fumes from a zinc plant and other nearby mills hung over the area for five days when rain finally cleared the air. Twenty people have died thousands more are sick. Today most people don't know about that enormous smog. Some know it as a
footnote in history and very few know how the tragedy changed the way we live and breathe. Except for those who lived through it just can't get over the green over there in Webster on top of the hill everything was dark brown. Yeah it was dark yeah. Jean Davis is back home. She hasn't seen Dinora in decades. Jean raised her family there and returned with her daughter Deborah for a look at the old neighborhood. I remember the house was there where your mom lived and she they talk about the Dinora of yesterday and we all grew up there. They remember life in a small town settled on the steep hills above the Monongahela River. You know I used to walk up and down these steps four times a day to go to Kastner school on Tenth Street. How many steps where there are hundreds. The five hundred five. Why do you keep counting them. Oh I guess it helps pass the time for Jeanne. This homecoming is about more than memories. She walks with a sense of pride
because of her daughter all surviving Devra Davis student had to Norah's old Sampson Starr school graduate of the University of Pittsburgh life epidemiologist and one of the leading authorities on environmental dangers. Davis is now telling the Dinora story in her book when smoke Gren like water tales of environmental deception and pollution. We had great hills for sliding down because of course nothing grew on many of them they were just barren dirt kind of steep like like right here. Growing up in Dinora Debra Davis thought the smoky skies and dusty hillsides were normal. Well if you lived here it smelled just foreign. She never noticed the stunted trees or the stink of the mills. People would come to the town and they'd say what's that smell. And people lived here would say What smell. My grandpa would say Well it smells like money. The Dinora zinc works
was making money and like the mills and most steel towns it loomed large in the community physically and economically. The plant pumped out salaries along with smoke and toxins 24 hours a day. The zinc plant actually was over there. Of course now you can't see it because it's so green and it had stacks. There were 110 feet high. Everyone in the valley knew those stacks emitted something unhealthy. And all they had to do was follow the smoke which usually blew across the river to the small community of Webster Webster was right right downwind of the plume from the zinc work that was totally barren treeless Hills soot covered buildings in the shadow of a hulking structure on the riverbank. Ugly by todays standards but the people of Dinora chose to celebrate the beauty of the zinc works and its contribution to the community. When the mills were working people were had jobs and this is a hardworking town.
People lived in the north had to be pretty hardy not hardy enough though to withstand what happened just before Halloween in 1948 when a deadly air inversion settled over the valley. These hills here they're not very high but they're high enough that the cold heavier air rolling off those hills could smack down the hot fumes coming out of those zinc stacks so that you had a static level of air sitting there over those hot fumes for five days. At first nobody noticed. Visibility was just worse than usual. It was around Halloween time and the kids were all excited they were in a parade and you didn't have to make it spoke it was already spooky because you couldn't say very much you had a very eerie feeling. The football game went on that night because nothing ever stopped football and Dinora Foreman on the Hill. Bernie Richardson Joe would assess Mario Perfetto myself
and because Tony Romo you know remembers his high school teammates like it was yesterday. He played right guard for the Dinora dragons in what some call the best football game that was never seen the Dragons against the Monongahela Wildcats. Tony says practice at Legion Field the day before was especially bad. We lined up for kickoff. One team on the 40 the other team on the other four. There's 20 yards that separate us could not see each other could not see each other. Despite the fog the rivals win and fans packed the stadium on city they gave us the worst whipping in three years we were not I mean there were too many things happening word was starting to spread a blanket of fog was making people sick. Still sulfur carbon monoxide and heavy metal dust kept pouring out of the
plant. The nurse at the tin or until Eileen Loftus was a young woman in charge of the nursing staff she was called to duty when gasping mill workers crowded the infirmary and my mother said don't go to where a guy said I have to go. Even at the age of 85 Eileen says she'll never forget walking to the plant to a blinding cloud. Well I walked up to Thompson am inured to 8st and I touched the houses as I went along to make sure I was still on the sidewalk and I just felt my way along the fence I couldn't see. The baby in no time the hospital was jammed. I even put some of them on the floor I had to because there was no place they wanted to know if they were WANT TO LEAVE YOU FOR WHAT And I thought you were going to live if I can help it.
But I I really I talk to them and I sort of ease their minds a little bit. You think this was used as a temporary morgue. Yes. When the funeral homes ran out of space. Bodies were taken to the community center. And emergency workers struggled to keep the death count from rising. The fire bells rang loading asked for more Bill sham no longer answers fire alarms. He spends his days tinkering with the classic 1947 fire truck that he's proudly restored villas serve the Dinora fire department for 56 Chad. That's him 20 years ago when a building caught fire on the key haven't you. Here's Bill on a vintage fire truck in 1988 and I was young and wanting to do all I could. Forty eight was the year Bill Shemp carried oxygen to smog victims door to
door on foot because he couldn't see to drive. I had to feel my way. There was no way that you could you could see where you were going. I had a handkerchief that was wet. I had part of it in my mouth and the rest was over my nose. I get to the point of where I was on the verge of panic myself because once I started I had no idea where I was. The town was shut down and people were not out on the streets they were all in their homes and told to keep their windows closed. You would be amazed at how eerie feeling was it was a sensation. There was no noise no nothing. There were no vehicles operating at all. Funeral her reading national headlines
that's what it took to temporarily shut down the zinc plant and there was no real way of proving cases of long term exposure at that time I was going to junior high school and in our I was in ninth grade. Dimitri Petri was a doctor now. He set up practice in his hometown. Now I'm seeing a lot of people with chronic lung disease who live in this Mon Valley area. As a result of all the meals the Death Certificate said heart attack football player Tony Roman Tino's father worked at the zinc plant and died just weeks after the smog lifted. I can't say for sure that he died because of the smog but it did happen. It slowed him down. A federal team moved in to examine the survivors and test the air. The Dinora sink works finally closed for good. The town gathered to watch its demolition. But there
was no celebration. The smog victims are now faded images in old newspapers names long forgotten by most but their deaths sent the world a message that still lives today. Oh I don't think they died in vain I think in fact we saw the beginnings of a lot of legislation to clean up the air. And in fact the whole Allegheny County Pittsburgh area became a leader in clean air legislation. It brought a lot of things to life. They had the federal government came in with representatives. It made the people begin to realize what they were bringing the nation on quite a bit. That led to the deaths and the nor led to the passage of the Clean Air Act. People understood that they had to do something different to nor with a healthy working class population. And the people here who were steelworkers and football players would die from pollution.
This was a very serious problem. We had a sense of community and they were really not aware of the fact that living here was really treacherous for your health. Have many good friends. Yeah people the careworn community are still surviving while the Dinora Smaug not only lay the groundwork for the Clean Air Act of 1963 it also led to the origins of the Environmental Protection Agency. At the time of the tragedy a federal investigation did not name a culprit. The zinc plant owner denied responsibility but did settle hundreds of claims. And as for Dinora native Deborah Davis she continues to speak all over the world about the dangers of environmental
pollution. Her book when smoke ran like water which tells the Dinora story was recently nominated for a National Book Award in nonfiction. When we come back hometown rocker Joker's Shecky is a local music legend but the man behind the music has another side to him that many people don't know. On Hugo's up close and personal with Joe Grushecky next. You're watching on these local programming to help the Everly foundation the Richard Foundation and the members of
WQED broadcast of on cue is made possible by the West and Allegheny health system among America's best according to U.S. News and World Report magazine and Allegheny is the buyer of choice on the web. Dot org. It's as American a tradition as baseball or apple pie and any diehard fan will tell you rock and roll will never die. Pittsburgh has seen some great rock'n'roll acts come through this town and some of them have stayed. Joe has been playing with the Iron City house rockers for almost 30 years. But what many of us fans don't know is that Joe really leads two lives and one of them he's a hometown rocker and the other he's a teacher making a difference in children's lives. Tonight we go Behind the Music with a local legend. He's released about a dozen CDs.
He's the front man for the Iron City house rockers and he's toured a hair I can endure a little with me. First of all my neighbors just bought a cloth symbol over their heads. Pepe Ching has friends in high places. Plus he's a Pittsburgher. So isn't it about time we got his name right. My name is Joe group shock or U S H U C K Y. While we all know Joe is a rock n roller Joe Grushecky is also with teachers and it's been a long road or other places. Well just set the Beatles there much as I was one of those guys that you know. I had to buy a guitar there after a song. Joe picked up the guitar and he was hooked. The next dream becoming a recording artist.
I moved into pits very 76 and I had been working in a different odd jobs and things and then decided I was going to finance my scheme through teaching. So I took a job at wester center. During this time Joe and his newly formed band The Iron City house rockers were working on their music working there I financed some recording sessions and group was really lucky within a year. We are about a year and a half we got a call from Cleveland entertainment the legendary guy there stewpot of the Choose the one Southside Johnny. It was working. Boss gag Ted Nugent in Chicago with all those guys. And he he was an old Pittsburgher and he he he liked what he heard your music he you heard you heard the city you know our music and the house rockers were all about Pittsburgh. Here they are on a local show hosted by a very young comedian by the name of Dennis Miller.
We can meet up with the leading practitioners of that new car in the field they are the iron lady who had brought him back to live with her recording pumping iron. I think the hard work paid off. They signed a record deal with MCI and they were in a way the house rockers became the unofficial musical Pittsburgh mascot. Such strong images here especially you know when we were growing up with the steel mills and in the coal miners and in the hard working ethnic ethnic communities and it was just all a wealth of material to me you know I used to say I could you know walk down through South Side and come away with a song almost every time I went down and when the steel mills started closing they were
there to help about the American steel industry. In the words of one analyst we are certainly verging on disaster. That Already mean we're notes for jobless steelworkers and now in our global report there are singing for their supper. Dedicated to the town and dedicated to the dream Joe juggled the two worlds of touring and teaching. Originally I got back into teaching. I started working in part time Mr. supplement my income I started I got married and my wife Leanna start having children and it was just a little bit too shaky for the Pandora musician cellar. By the mid 80s the bug would bite Joe again through a chain of friendships. How did you become friends with first Springsteen Stevie isn't working on a record with us and have a good time to get a lot of Silvio. So we had so we had done that and he introduced me to Bruce way back in 1980 and we
just hit it off and you know we were big fans of each other's music and my wife actually suggested we give him a call to see if you'd do a song together. And 93 I think you started working on America about what a couple years you know we just had such a good time working together went from just a one song at the door to a whole record. So Joe went out of the road once again in support of the album here and across the Atlantic it was like a baby God bless your thing. Touring is tough on family life and finances. I was a little bit too difficult being away from home all the time and again it was a little bit too iffy and the band was released from their record deal with MCI and when we got dropped off that was sort of like back you know was back to square one and then the whole situation of you know providing for your family there's no
industry here in Pittsburgh. So that was always tough it was just never been much of a music industry that you stay stayed. My oh so the teacher and the musician were facing each other. Once again you get to get up every day and do the paperwork you know you guys show up on time and that sort of goes against everything I ever did up until this point. So there's there's a little more freedom here to you know the kids the kids are. More challenge and they need more help. Here is the Wesley Institute a school for children with mental health obstacles such as ADHD autism anxiety disorders or schizophrenia. The mutal explains the Wesley Institute is a 5 on C 3 nonprofit that basically centers all its activity around its mission which is
to create an environment for children and youth to build lifelong skills that we know are essential to them becoming independent responsible caring treating members of the community walking through the halls it feels like a mainstream school. However there are indicators inside the classroom that something's different with the makeup of that professional staff would be a special education teacher possibly a master's level therapist. Possibly someone that's responsible for the environment. Once again the whole idea behind the mission is to create the environment first and we use our concept the French word for environment. So we take the establishment that milieu whether TV or out in the hall will be in a classroom wherever it is in part of the team at the school is Joe the reason why I know about the school is because of jokers Shecky. Now do you know when when he was hired did you know it was rock n roll legend in Pittsburgh. No I didn't that's kind of a funny story and when I was I we had the opportunity a board member before I took on the role that I'm currently in now. And we would always have fundraisers
and one of the fundraisers that got talked about the most was jokers benefit concert for Wesley. And so that was my first introduction. So just brings that extra dimension because we also get kids that are interested in his music interest and that's just another way for Joe to be able to relate to the kids. Z ever use the music in the classroom with the kids. Joe will be inclined to at least share stories or talk about those that also have an affinity for music or rock and roll. I have a guitar there just in case just in case this has sort of burst into song and it does take a light attitude sometimes because the stakes are so high. A lot of our staff do hear about Wesley do we hear about its reputation and its ability to make an impact on a child for the rest of their lives and I think that that probably is the fundamental reason that might attract somebody like a Joe or their team members we have here. Or as Joe explains why did you choose something that was special needs because a special guy.
Well his family and his students and his fans would agree. And you just released a solo album recently. It's his most reflective one to date. He was one of those. Those CDs were you know to live a little bit. You know there's a little bit of liver where they have been making notes and a lot of searching for the bad news it was my life and now music is part of my life. Music has to come first know in the family comes first. You can find out more about Joe and the Wesley Institute by going to our website WQED dot org. Just click to on cue. Now here is a look at what we're working on for tomorrow. Pennsylvania's new governor put beer and wine in your grocery store. Well tomorrow on cue the future of Pennsylvania's liquor laws. Right now our state is one of the few that still
keeps liquor behind the doors of state stores. That could change in the near future. We'll have the latest on liquor legislation. Also tomorrow you know that violins making beautiful music. But did you know they also made beautiful works of art will show you how the Pittsburgh Symphony teamed up with the area artist to create these spectacular strings. Thank you. Thank you for watching we hope that you'll join us again live at 7:30 tomorrow night. Good night. Three three
three. You're watching on Q magazine because these foundations are not about local programming to help you during the Howard Hunt him down at the Everly today show the Richard Heene known foundation the Nikitin the foundation the Pittsburgh foundation of the Henry L. Coleman Foundation and we couldn't do it without you.
The members of W..
Episode Number
Contributing Organization
WQED (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/120-73bzksmd).
CS: Donora Smog (Masich + Solomon) promoted long NM: (tape) Joe Grushecky (Carol) -- long--
Broadcast Date
Created Date
Media type
Moving Image
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
AAPB Contributor Holdings
Identifier: 19699 (19699)
Format: Betacam: SP
Generation: Master
Duration: 27:30:00
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “OnQ; 3163,” 2002-11-04, WQED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed October 1, 2023,
MLA: “OnQ; 3163.” 2002-11-04. WQED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. October 1, 2023. <>.
APA: OnQ; 3163. Boston, MA: WQED, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from