I thought I had determined the final count of victims from the Donora Death Fog. I was wrong.
This post was updated Feb. 14, 2020, based on information obtained from Stanley Sawa's son. One of the first stories I heard about the Donora…
Knowing where each victim lived — and died — can be instructive for several reasons. Consider how many of those victims and their families must have known each other.
Stacey is right, race relations in the town were indeed strange, but it didn't seem to bother anyone much, apparently not even black residents.
For decades during the mid-1900s a Chamber of Commerce sign at the Donora town line read, “NEXT TO YOURS THE BEST TOWN IN THE USA.” Donorans found an odd pride in being a second-best town, no matter where a visitor came from. Perhaps that was to be expected. The town didn’t originate naturally, as a place people moved to because they liked the area or as a natural outgrowth of an urban area. No, it originated because industrialists in Pittsburgh thought it would make the best spot to build steel and zinc mills.
He strapped on the oxygen tank he kept at home, the green one, labeled TO BE FILLED WITH COMPRESSED OXYGEN ONLY, and walked out the back door, onto Thompson Avenue, into the dark fog. Bill Schempp at a fire practice Walking had become so difficult by then that he dropped to his hands and knees and crept through the heavy, burning fog, feeling his way from house to house.
Cancer was once a word uttered soto voce, a word so dangerous it would conjure demons and visions of the Spectre of Death. A barely-known radiologist named Marjorie B. Illig helped to change that, and the women of Donora readily jumped aboard her world-changing vision.
It seems that not everyone received a death certificate in 1948, or, if they did, it was lost or never archived. Marriage applications, census data, immigration passenger lists, and so forth, are also often inaccurate or provide inconsistent information.
Most people know Donner, if they know him at all, as the founder of Donora, a town with a name unlike any other in the world. They might know that Donner was connected to the Mellons —Andrew W. and Richard B. — and that he was instrumental in creating the zinc and steel mills in Donora at the turn of the 20th Century. They might not know much else.
Donora, Pennsylvania, would likely not exist today if town founder William H. Donner hadn't finally persuaded Margaret Heslep, a surprisingly crafty negotiator, to sell her land.
If you've ever wanted to start your own town, there may be no better formula for it than the one William H. Donner used to start Donora at the turn of the 20th Century. Donner was a colleague of banking and industrial magnate Andrew Mellon, and they had decided to build a series of steel mills south of Pittsburgh. Donner found in some land along the Monongahela River the perfect spot to create a town. Let's take a look at how he did it.
You can see the gravesite from the Stan "The Man" Musial Bridge, but you would find it unremarkable. It is an odd gravesite, sitting as it does on a patch of grass in the middle of a dirt parking area next to a welding company in an industrial park on the banks of the Monongahela River.
Probably the most famous player to ever sprint down this field was the legendary Joseph "Joe Cool" Montana. Montana was unequivocally one of the greatest quarterbacks in history and a Hall of Fame pick in his first year of eligibility. And he played here, right here in Donora, on Legion Field, where all Ringgold games were played.
On 5th Street now, between Prospect and Murray Avenues, there is a street-wide swath of grass with a set of stairs on either side. The stairs on the right, looking upward, are replacement stairs installed a number of years ago. The stairs on the left, however, are original and tell an interesting story.