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The Story Behind the Story
by Rick Sebak

It's a silly but strangely satisfying exercise: finding a Pittsburgh topic for every letter of the alphabet. Just try.

"A" could be for the Allegheny River. Also for Aspinwall. The airport. Even artificial organ development. But none of those are a main "A" story in our newest special in the Pittsburgh History Series. Actually, we admire some of the work done by local amateur archeologists (who often hunt for arrowheads and other ancient artifacts!)

The whole project really began at the 2000 Vintage Grand Prix (a vrooming "V" that we covered in Something About Oakland), when I ran into Anne Madarasz from the Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania, and I asked, "What are you working on?"

She explained her idea for a new History Center exhibit called "Pittsburgh A to Z," and I liked it immediately. We figured that maybe we could be partners in a joint project, but we agreed it would be more fun if the History Center did one alphabet and WQED did its own. We would build our projects independently and be surprised and delighted by the overlaps and duplications if any.

I came up with possibilities for all the letters and put together a proposal which the Buhl Foundation beneficently agreed to fund ("Boggs & Buhl" would be a beautiful "B," by the way, but the old department store is already in "North Side Story"), then we started production on the 4th of July, shooting the city's celebration for the last letter's light-filled story.

As usual, we learn things as we work, and stories come from everywhere.

My colleagues at WQED made suggestions, people called and e-mailed ideas. My own love of alliteration gave an added advantage to "double-letters" like "K for Kentuck Knob" and "S for Soldiers & Sailors" and "M for Mancini's in McKees Rocks."

And (zounds!) if the whole thing works, you will stick around to see our "Z" -- which obviously could be a Zebra at the zoo, or Zelionople, or postal Zones (which started in Pittsburgh in 1943 long before zip codes), or even the zestful bar named Zythos on the South Side.

But our final story is about the fabulous family from New Castle whose booming business gives us an explosive zinger of a conclusion.

It'll be an amiably zigzagging portrait of this particular part of Pennsylvania.

The Recap

Here are twenty-six Amazing, Beautiful, Captivating and Delicious pieces of a great medium-sized city! This Unusual Video Work includes Everything from Fish sandwiches to Grant Street, from the History center to our Interesting Islands.

PITTSBURGH A TO Z is a delightful documentary that celebrates (in alphabetical order!) a wide variety of topics from Amateur Archaeologists (looking for arrowheads and other ancient American artifacts) to the Zinging Zaps of the Zambellis.

It's a new view of our Amiably Bedazzling City, the only place on earth where "D" can be for Daguerreotypes in Dormont, where "M" may mean Mancini's in McKees Rocks, and where "W" will be Westinghouse in Wilmerding.

See the surprises of Soldiers & Sailors, find out about the National Negro Opera Company, Jeeps in Butler County, Kentuck Knob, and the Nattering Nabobs of NightTalk. Ride the Rail-trails! Try Tailgaiting!

It's an amusing adventure, a tantalizing tour, a homey history lesson led by popular producer Rick Sebak. All that and much more!

 

Production funding from the Buhl Foundation.
Additional funding from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation
& Friends of the Pittsburgh History Series.

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