Last Saturday, January 16, my friend and trusted researcher Paul Korol died at Allegheny General Hospital after being seriously sick for several months. His wife asked me to say a few words at his funeral Mass this past Thursday. This is what I said:
I met Paul Korol 22 years ago. He called me one day at work at WQED.
He’d heard somehow — I think through the amusement-park-aficionados’ grapevine — that I was working on a video documentary about Kennywood Park, and he wanted me to know that he had lots of pictures and postcards that might be helpful.
I actually remember this conversation because I recall him saying that he had some things that even Charlie Jacques, the big Kennywood historian, didn’t have. I was impressed that he knew what Jacques had as well as what he himself had.
Paul had magnificent collections of stuff. Stuff about amusement parks — including his beloved West View Park where he had worked. (I often think of him as a young man driving a little train at West View, a black-and-white picture he’d shown me sometime. Claudia says he worked on the airplanes ride, but I think of him in that train.)
[NOTE: After Mass, Dick Bowker from Forest Hills, one of Paul’s postcard-collecting buddies who has also helped me several times, told me that the picture of Paul in the train is at the old Cascade Park near New Castle, not at West View. My mistake.]
He also had stuff about Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh history. And postcards from every era. (He always thought I was slightly bonkers to love the garish colors of old linen cards
rather than the more modern, cool and crisp, ultra-sharp Chrome cards, but he had both kinds.)
TV producers like me need lots of pictures and Paul Korol offered to share his collections. I learned that he worked at Pittsburgh Plumbing and Heating, but he was a world-class archivist at heart. He was the curator of his own museum and library.
So back then, in 1988, Paul Korol became part of the team that has made our very popular WQED Pittsburgh History Series programs. KENNYWOOD MEMORIES — he has a credit on it, and on all the others. FLYING OFF THE BRIDGE TO NOWHERE! THINGS THAT AREN’T THERE ANYMORE. IT’S THE NEIGHBORHOODS. WHAT MAKES PITTSBURGH PITTSBURGH? I get a lot of credit for making these shows, but they are huge collaborative efforts, involving input and talents and assistance from many people. And these programs couldn’t have been as popular as they are if we didn’t have the cooperation, the wisdom, the generosity and the amazing collections of Paul Korol as part of what we do.
[We used Paul’s postcards on the covers of many DVDs and VHS boxes over the years.]
I know it sounds like I may be exaggerating, but Paul over the years has helped me put together proposals, donating images and information that have helped us get funding. He always stayed with the projects, asking for lists of the stories so he could check his “reserves,” often coming to WQED after he got off work at Pittsburgh Plumbing in North Oakland. He had a hard briefcase with latches, and he’d bring books and photos and archival quality polyethylene sleeves of postcards. I always had to xerox all the images and postcards that I kept, especially back in the days before we scanned all such things into the computer, so that he would have a record of what he gave me, so he’d get everything back. He instinctively knew better than to trust a disorganized soul like me. He often said he did this for his wife Claudia who didn’t want him to lose any treasures to that Rick Sebak. Even she knew me too well.
Sometimes, especially if I was in a hurry or up against a deadline, I’d go and visit him at Pittsburgh Plumbing, in several of its locations over the years. I’d try to warn him that I was coming to visit, but often he’d be busy putting together orders for huge construction jobs. I remember him talking about ordering all the supplies for the restrooms at Heinz Field and just about every other major building built around here in recent years. He was intimately involved in the building history of Pittsburgh.
And he would pull out the pictures and books and artifacts and xeroxed articles that he had brought. And he would often save a surprise for last, a really rare picture — I remember once he had the printed program for the opening night of the very first International at the Carnegie Museum of Art. And I remember him saying, “I don’t think they have this at the Carnegie.”
He and Claudia always came to the premiere parties for our programs. And I’m not sure why I first ended up going to their house here in Crafton, but I loved its Victorian character and I got to see how Paul cared for the house, and how beautifully organized and stored all these collections were that Paul had amassed. Not only did he have tons of stuff, but he knew where it was, and how to put his hands on it.
[Sometimes he made postcards of his own. Usually black-and-white images on simple white cards. Many about Ingram.
And some about odd pieces of Pittsburgh history that he found interesting, including a better rat trap.]
He wrote articles too. He reviewed movies. For many years he had a popular column in the SENIOR NEWS, pointing out fun pieces of local history. He worked with the Crafton Historical Society. He helped organize postcard shows and sales. I remember going to a couple of them in Castle Shannon. And sometimes I’d run into him unexpectedly in used CD stores — CD Warehouse and CD Exchanges — where he was always looking for soundtrack recordings that he also collected.
And I say that Paul gave me pictures, but he also shared information, and he did research for me, and he always did it with amazing speed and efficiency. If I called him, saying, “Hey, Paul, what do you have on the Smithfield Street Bridge?” He’d usually say, “I’ll stop by tomorrow with some stuff.”
As recently as this past November, although he was in and out of the hospital, Paul was still helping. He came by WQED with some photo postcards of 19th century families having picnics because he knew I was putting together a proposal on the American summer.
Obviously I’m gonna miss Paul. But I suspect — and hope — that from some heavenly archive, he’s still gonna be guiding us and helping us uncover pictures and historic facts that we all love learning about. He’ll be guiding us all to work quickly and efficiently, to be well organized and unselfishly helpful. And we’ll remember his wonderful energy, his goofy smile, his skinny frame, the way he’d look over the top of his big glasses, and we’ll remember what a good, smart and wonderful man he was. Not just a collector or an archivist, but a wonderful friend, and a soul whose energy lives on.
I’m sure if it were allowed, we’d all be getting postcards from heaven very soon.