One Woman’s Story of the Deadly Smog

One Woman’s Story of the Deadly Smog

When you write a true story of an event, you always gather information you’d like to include in the final version but just can’t. Such was the case with one of my interview subjects for my book, Donora Death Fog: Clean Air and the Tragedy of a Pennsylvania Mill Town. I interviewed Donora native Edie Jericho (above) about her recollections of the smog. I included information she provided about her neighbor Emma Hobbs (chapter 24), but couldn’t fit other recollections into the text.

Let’s look at what else she told me about that fatal Halloween weekend in 1948.

I got up Friday morning. It was the first day of the smog [it was officially the fourth day] and it was foggy out, but in October and November it usually is foggy along the river. My mother got us ready, and we walked to school. My oldest sister was going to tenth grade and she was going to Rostraver, which meant she had to catch a bus, and she went down to the bus stop, but the bus never came.

I would have been in seventh grade, eighth grade. We walked down to the school in Webster, which is no longer there. And [when we] walked home for lunch at 12 o’clock, it was still foggy because usually by then the fog would have burnt off.

We got our Halloween costumes on, went back to the school, and we had a Halloween parade. I mean, they did that every year, that was part of it. Kids walked around with their Halloween costumes on, and you got voted on by the teachers. Then [the fog] was getting really bad, and they noticed you couldn’t see each other. It was hard to see, so it was an early dismissal, and I went home.

When you were twelve years old back then, your mother would never worry if you and maybe three or four other girls would walk across the [Donora-Webster] bridge to go see a parade, because nobody ever bothered you. It was the kind of a town where you never locked your doors. It was just like everybody trusted everybody.

We walked the bridge and watched the Halloween parade, what we could see of it. You could see the ones that were closest to you, but you couldn’t really see across the street and tell who was on the other side of the street.

When we went home I told my mother that I was going to go off for a while trick-or-treating. And my mother said to me, “Oh, no you’re not.” She says, “it’s bad outside.” And I said to her, “Oh no, I have to go trick-or-treating.” There was this one lady in Webster, her name was Olive Lorenzo, and she made the most delicious candy apples you ate in your life. I said, “I’m going to Olive’s because Olive made candy apples.”

We went out Halloweening for a while and then we went back home. I don’t remember too much about the next day, but I know my dad went to work. He had a wet handkerchief pad across his face.

“Well, Sunday, my mother’s next-door neighbor come running over to the house and he hollered, “Miss Annie! Miss Annie!” My mother says, “What’s the matter?” He says, “Hurry up, something’s really wrong with my Emma.”

Edie Jericho, May 15, 2019

Edie’s mother was too late. Her dear friend, Emma Hobbs, had become the smog’s eighth victim.

Purchase the book at UPitt Press, Amazon, or Barnes & Noble.

Leave a Reply