09 May 2014

Pittsburgh Remembers Andrew Carnegie, The Great Showman

Andrew Carnegie, c 1868

Art, accessibility, and Andra.

Whose art is it, anyway? 
Internet parlor games are usually annoying, but there's one called Occupy Facebook With Art that caught my eye. By registering a 'like' to a lead post, you get assigned an artist and must share an art by that artist on your own Timeline, along with some variation of a caption.

Seems like a harmless enough diversion, right? But haters gonna hate, and so there were all sorts of criticisms of this game. Participants were either snobbing up Facebook (seeing as how it is the rightful repository of cat-memes and stories about the Kardashians); showing favoritism to certain artists while denigrating others; or disrespecting artists and their works by reducing them to social media meme-bait.

I've never occupied FB with art. But I'm not going to hate on it, either. To criticize this game hearkens back to a time when the only people who were patrons of art were the elite, upper strata of society (the 1%, in today's vernacular). It was considered laughably futile to promote culture to a wider public beyond the educated bourgeoisie to whom it was naturally presumed to belong. Their privilege reinforced their sense of superiority (and vice versa). The fact that the appreciation of a work of art is as singular and unique as the person experiencing it didn't signify, because the prevailing idea was that the hoi polloi couldn't possibly be intellectually or emotionally equipped to understand art in all its complexity.

Making culture accessible
In reality, the "common" people never had much chance to learn to appreciate art through the ages. Prior to the 19th century, works of art were not created to be viewed in museums; they were designed for specific patrons to display in private homes and in esteemed public places.

Museums mostly started out as private collections belonging to the wealthiest members of society. Objects were displayed at their owners' whims in what were called "wonder rooms" or "cabinets of curiousities" which lumped together works of art with specimens from the natural world. Although these morphed into public museums, social status still ruled, for one generally had to be of a certain accepted level of respectability and means to gain access. Pittsburgh had a museum like this from 1828 until 1832 called the Pittsburgh Museum of Natural History and Gallery of Fine Art, better known as the Lambdin Museum. The cost of admission would get you in, if you looked the decent sort.

For the wealthiest of Americans, a Grand Tour of Europe beckoned for cultural edification and privileged rite-of-passage.

Phineas.T. Barnum gets the credit for adding a large-scale populist aspect to museum-going. With his unerring instinct for showmanship, Barnum purchased an existing collection of natural objects from Scudder's American Museum and a diverse collection of similar botanical, biological and archaeological specimens from American painter Charles Willson Peale's defunct museum in Philadelphia. To these artifacts Barnum added freakish curiosities, animals, and live acts to draw people in who might not otherwise be attracted to scholarly collections. Voilà, the modern museum was born!

PT. Barnum's crew, circa 1860. Mathew Brady Studio.

I'll grant you that "freakish" is a harsh descriptor. But we're talking about exhibits like Mother Carey's Trained Chickens, a fake taxidermied mermaid, an "industrious" flea circus, and a loom run by a dog. The animal world was represented with myriad species and there was an ever-revolving population of "human oddities" to serve as living attractions: serpent charmers; phrenologists and fortune tellers; rope-dancers; jugglers and acrobats; a Bearded Lady and an Albino Lady and a succession of Fat Women and Men and Children; a giant and giantess couple; and of course General Tom Thumb.

On the tamer side, patrons could also view the original Scudder taxidermy collection, a camera obscura, and a scale model of the city of Paris.

Barnum described his museum as "...a vast National Gallery, a million things in every branch of Nature and Art, comprehending a Cyclopaedical Synopsis of everything worth seeing and knowing in this curious world's curious economy."

Barnum's Great American Museum, circa 1858

Barnum's Great American Museum was located at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street in New York City. Its location at what was essentially the physical junction of upper and working class neighborhoods allowed Barnum to capture patrons from all walks of life drawn in by his innovative advertising efforts. His Great American Museum flourished from 1841 until it (and the many caged animals that lived within it) was ravaged by fire, first in 1865 and again in 1868. At that point Barnum took General Tom and the Bearded Lady on the road and became the traveling carnival showman and promoter par excellence that we know him as today.

(Feejee the fake mermaid met a far sadder fate. I'm not sure what happened to the weaving dog or industrious fleas).

P.T. Barnum, 1860, Mathew Brady Studio
Barnum forever changed the nature of the museum-going experience. It was scholarship, not showmanship, that had been the guiding principle for Scudder's original American Museum, Peale's Philadelphia establishment, and Pittsburgh's Lambdin Museum. But those collectors were crippled with fundraising issues, and none had Barnum's promotional savvy, so their establishments didn't last. Of course, the Smithsonian Institution established in 1848 wasn't about the business of displaying fake mermaids or flea circuses, either -- although it might do so today as artifacts of Americana.

P.T. Barnum knew how to create a sensation and get people inside the doors of his museum. He may have been scorned by the high culture set for turning rarefied wonder rooms into glorified low-brow carnies, but he had some lessons to teach about marketing the arts.

Those lessons about blending interests and promoting with dignity in order to ease the tension between showmanship and scholarship remain challenges for museums even today.

Where art, promotion, philanthropy and self-interest intersect: Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie and Laddie, Skibo Castle, c. 1914
Here in Pittsburgh, Andrew Carnegie mastered that challenge.

Yes, Andrew Carnegie, the elfin Scottish multi-millionaire.

When I was a kid, I decided that I liked Carnegie because of our shared love of collies. It didn't hurt that he'd funded all those libraries and the museum complex I grew up with in Pittsburgh. I've since developed a far more nuanced view of Carnegie as a man of his times, but his ability to fascinate me has never diminished.

They may never have met, but P.T. Barnum and Andrew Carnegie were likely cut from the same cloth. From modest origins each man created fortune and fame, and had egos to rival their riches and reputation.

And each man recognized an utilized the value of showmanship and name-branding in promototion.

Barnum was born into an established Connecticut merchant family, but it was his personal hybrid of business savvy built upon novel schemes and grandiose hype that made him several fortunes. The working-class Carnegie family immigrated from Dunfermline Scotland to Allegheny City PA in 1848. In this new land of opportunity, Andrew's motivation and skill at working the crony capitalist network made him the world's wealthiest man.

Their rags-to-riches success stories are of the type that reinforce paradigms of the American dream and exceptionalism. Guys like Barnum and Carnegie personified a certain entrepreneurial and promotional Zeitgeist that represented the American dream-come-true. They were full to bursting with energy and ideas and ingenuity and money -- so much money that hardly anyone dared tell them what they couldn't do. What these men lacked in formal education they made up for in charisma and entrepreneurial imagination. Both were masters of promotion benefiting their personal images, philosophies, and pet projects -- which were inextricably entwined.

In November 1894 even the Pittsburg Post newspaper noted a connection between the two men. When commenting upon the semi-retired Carnegie's annual visit to the city, the paper noted the value of branding and showmanship to their business empires:
But in this respect the Carnegie company is much like the Barnum show. During the last ten years of the life of the illustrious humbug his greatest usefulness was his name on the bills.  It does not take a baker to tell good bread, and Mr. Carnegie has been able to select the most capable men to manage the affairs of his industries.

Jenny Lind, 1850, Mathew Brady studio (retouched)
Perhaps most importantly, both men believed in the importance of accessibility to "high culture" for the masses.

Barnum first sought to bring high culture to America in the form of Swedish prima donna Jenny Lind, whom he promoted on a blockbuster US tour in 1851. Jenny even made an appearance in Pittsburgh (it's not known if teenaged Andrew Carnegie heard her perform here, but it's quite possible). Barnum believed that the ear for music was not clogged by class boundaries and could be cultivated by anyone with the right access, so he set about providing such opportunities.

Mind you, this was hardly a selfless endeavor, as promoting high culture brought great personal advantages to Barnum. He may not have cared much what the guardians of high culture had to say about his museum, but he wanted a certain level of social respectability and to be known for something other than "humbuggery." (Also, let us acknowledge that there was big money to be made in promoting Jenny Lind, and Barnum liked big money. He had observed fortunes made by promoting European superstars in the USA vis-a-vis the 1840s phenomenon of "Esslermania," when Austrian ballerina Fanny Elssler conquered American hearts on a tour arranged by the fabulously-named Chevalier Henry Wikoff. Barnum applied even more zealous promotional efforts when arranging Jenny Lind's American tour, and he reaped the benefits).

Andrew Carnegie was no show business impresario, but he also liked making and spending money. And he, too, had ulterior motives for promoting high culture, since doing so promoted his personal philosophy and served as a tool of impression management.

Carnegie held dear and wished to promote a personal philosophy of social Darwinism and redemptive philanthropy that he spelled out in a treatise he called The Gospel of Wealth. In developing this manifesto, he was influenced by several factors: family heritage espousing Chartist beliefs for political reform against inherited wealth and position; doctrines of social responsibility inherit in the Swedenborgian church he attended in his youth; ideas put forth by his intellectual hero English philosopher Herbert Spencer, and by the writings of social critic Matthew Arnold. (I have wondered how much of Carnegie's philanthropic philosophy might also have been influenced by another contemporary, English writer and artist John Ruskin. It was Ruskin who advocated art education for all social classes in order to mold individual and social morality, and who modeled personal cultural philanthropy. However, while Carnegie's ideas about the obligations of the wealthy and the wisdom of inheritance taxes have echoes of Ruskin, the latter's critiques of the effects of capitalism and industrial society surely wouldn't have endeared him to Carnegie).

Carnegie was neither a man of traditional religious faith, nor was he a driven workaholic, so he did not hold with popular contemporary notions that material success was a singular blessing from God or the result of relentless personal diligence. His view was more nuanced. Carnegie claimed that the wealth that had found its way into the hands of a few privileged individuals was created as a result of the well-managed labors of many, and wealth was thus "the joint product of the community."

Accordingly, Carnegie believed it was the duty of privileged individuals to devote themselves to earning masses of money to administer on behalf of the community in which it was earned, for the benefit of those who chose to reach for opportunities and improve their lots in life. The wealthy were agents of progress; their riches not personally theirs but their personal responsibility to distribute for the betterment of society.

Just as his promotion of Jenny Lind gave P.T. Barnum's image a cultural facelift, there is no doubt that Andrew Carnegie's generosity polished his tarnished robber-baron reputation. A relentless optimist whose personal motto was "All is well since all grows better," Andrew Carnegie wanted to be remembered as someone who bettered the world and loved his fellow man. With riches and wisdom to spare, Andrew Carnegie resolved at an early age to spend his life dispensing his advice and money. It was in keeping with his ideals that he strove to "grow better" mankind by using his money to provide access to high culture, to advances in art, science and technology -- with no access barred for all who chose to avail themselves of opportunity.

Of course, he never did address the inherit contradiction between his ideals and the reality he created. Most millwork demanded twleve hour days, 6-7 days per week, leaving scant time or energy to wander the halls of Carnegie cultural complexes. But never mind these practical considerations; Andrew Carnegie believed that if motivation for improvement was strong, determination would carry the day.

1897 Carnegie Institute, original design by Longfellow, Alden & Harlow. Carnegie Museum of Art Collection of Photographs, 1894-1958.

Building a physically magnificent, eponymous-named museum complex filled with amazing artifacts in Pittsburgh helped Carnegie deflate public criticism. Even one of his harshest public critics, the writer Theodore Dreiser, grudgingly wrote upon the opening of the Oakland complex that "The particular manifestation of interest on the part of the public pleased me greatly and somehow qualified, if it did not atone for, in part at least, Mr. Carnegie's indifference to the living welfare of his employees elsewhere."

But Pittsburgh has always viewed with suspicion the Carnegie philanthropic philosophy made manifest in mighty museums and libraries. No one does anything for nothing, after all. Just like Barnum had money to earn, Carnegie had a reputation to repair.

Even though the historical record shows that stage-managing his reputation was not Carnegie's goal when he first planned to dole out his money, Pittsburgh is hard-pressed to credit his generosity. Andrew Carnegie's journal entries confirm that he had clearly developed his philanthropic philosophy and resolve as a young man in his 30s, well before labor strikes and lock-outs and violence at Homestead tarnished his public image.

While it may be hard to shed a tear for poor misunderstood Andra, he was genuinely aggrieved that his actions were perceived in a context of philanthropy-as-atonement. He resented accusations that his philanthropic philosophy was a self-serving promotional device. He was irritated by discussions that framed taking Carnegie's "tainted" money for culture as a sell-out in the battle between labor and capital.

Perhaps he protested too much. Perhaps the criticisms hit too close to home. Whether or not he really believed he'd receive a heavenly reward for his gifts, there was definitely personal redemption associated with Carnegie's generosity. Andrew Carnegie absolutely had what his biographer David Nash described as a "....talent for cloaking self-interest in larger humanitarian concerns."

There are many people who to this day believe that Andrew Carnegie owed far more to Pittsburgh laborers than grand cultural institutions that those same laborers had little time to visit, and that his gifts merely represent attempts to manipulate public opinion. This mindset and a century's worth of multi-generational resentment have influenced how we remember Carnegie in Pittsburgh.

Here, there is a different feeling about the man's legacy than what one gets in Carnegie's native Dunfermline, where there is a whiff of secular canonization in the air.

Carnegie in Dunfermline: hometown boy made good
To be sure, Dunfermline is dominated by its ancient abbey which houses the bodies of some half-dozen or so Scottish kings and queens and The Bruce. Still, Carnegie looms large.

A visit to this former capital of medieval Scotland was a must for my family when we were traveling back in June 2013. We visited Andrew Carnegie's birthplace, which connects to a wonderful biographical museum with a wee bit of a feel of a shrine to it (contrasted with an actual pilgrimage shrine to St. Margaret, located in a cave below a car park on the other side of town). We were warmly greeted there as Pittsburghers on a Carnegie cultural pilgrimage.

Carnegie Cottage, Dunfermline Scotland

The Carnegies lived in this well-preserved cottage built circa 1775 at the corner of Moodie Street and Priory Lane, down the hill from the High Street. Young 'Andra' had every expectation of becoming a weaver like his father, who at one point had four working looms in the home. Once a prosperous town at the center of the Fifeshire linen industry to which its fortunes were tied, Dunfermline housed many weavers and their families in humble cottages like this one, which Andrew's father rented from a family member.

William Carnegie's looms took up the whole of the first floor, while the family of four occupied a single upstairs room on the left side of the cottage.

Working Jacquard handloom, circa early 1800s, on the first floor of the Carnegie cottage.

It was a hard-scrabble existence. The family lived above constant racket from the looms below, mess from the dampened dirt floor to keep the necessary humidity for the looms to work properly, no electricity or gas or indoor plumbing, and water fetched in buckets from a near-by well (Andrew's ruthless and competitive streak emerged early; he reported that since he was not one to wait his turn to fill the family buckets he'd earned a local reputation as "an awfu' laddie" for his bucket-queue-bullying ways).

The fortunes of this one-industry town collapsed in the 1840s when it lost its industry due to steam-powered looms taking precedence over hand-weaving. The Carnegie family moved twice before leaving Dunfermline for good in 1848.

Dunfermline Demonstration by Andrew Blair and William Geddes, 1881

This painting at the birthplace museum by local artists Andrew Blair and William Geddes was commissioned by Carnegie to mark his triumphant return to Dunfermline some forty years later, when in 1881 he laid the foundation stone for the first of an eventual 2811 Free Carnegie Libraries (the reputation-damaging scandals associated with the Homestead Strike were 11 years in the future when he gave Dunfermline its library). The throngs lining the streets and buildings decorated with flags and bunting welcome Carnegie (in the first carriage, doffing his hat to the crowd) alongside his formidable mother, Margaret.

Carnegie established the Dunfermline Trust in 1903 to "bring into the monotonous lives of the toiling masses of Dunfermline more of sweetness and light; to give to them--especially the young--some charm, some happiness, some elevating conditions of life...."  Such a legacy of "sweetness and light" meant Carnegie's presence would henceforth dominate even the town's medieval history.

Looking through the gates of Pittencrief Park as a young Andrew Carnegie might have done.
The Dunfermline Trust also allowed Carnegie to fund maintenance for a local park that he purchased, one whose history illustrates his disdain of privileged access. This park, officially known as Pittencrieff Glen but referred to locally as The Glen, is situated next to Dunfermline Abbey with an entrance across from the first Carnegie home on Moodie Street. When young Andra lived in Dunfermline the park was privately owned by the Hunt family, whose head was known as the Laird of Pittencrieff. Carnegie's maternal grandfather and uncle were outspoken politically against the notion of inherited privilege--the very kind of privilege the Laird of Pittencrief enjoyed--and protested his uncontested encroachment on Dunfermline's common lands and the Abbey grounds. The Laird was forced by law to open the park gates for the public one day a year, but he exercised his right to ban certain individuals as he saw fit. For their temerity, that ban included the extended Morrison family and their descendants.

And so it was that young Andrew Carnegie was never permitted on the grounds of Pittencrieff Park. Thus were the seeds of revenge sown.

Remembering the lovely park "as near to paradise" Carnegie was delighted to purchase Pittencrieff from the financially-challenged Hunt family many years alter, and then to permanently open wide the gates to the public! It remains today a beautifully-maintained public oasis in the center of town, with winding paths and friendly squirrels keeping company with historical sites like the reputed ruins of Malcom Canmore's 11th century tower and William Wallace's Well.

Photos from Pittencrieff Park, June 2013

The ties between Dunfermline and Pittsburgh are strengthened by shared heritage and coincidence. When Carnegie became Laird of Pittencrieff, he inherited a 17th century mansion on the grounds that had been the childhood home of General John Forbes. This same General Forbes is credited with turning the tide of American history in favor of British forces during the Seven Years War; his armies defeated the French, who burned and abandoned their Fort Duquesne at the fork of the Belle Riviere in 1758, never to return. The modern city of Pittsburgh thus owes as much to Forbes as it does to Carnegie, and it's a strange twist of fate that unites them in this way.
Pittencrieff House, home of General John Forbes.

We were thrilled to be escorted upstairs in the mansion, now a visitor's center, to see where a young Forbes had carved his name into the glass of an attic window.

Ironically it was the debts that Forbes incurred while serving in the British army (and eventually founding Pittsburgh) that bankrupted his family, forcing them to sell the Pittencrieff estate to Carnegie. The latter was well aware of these connections, wroting in his autobiography: “This General Forbes was then Laird of Pittencrieff and was born in the Glen which I purchased in 1902 and presented to Dunfermline for a public park. So that two Dunfermline men have been Lairds of Pittencrieff whose chief work was in Pittsburgh. One named Pittsburgh and the other labored for its development.”

General John Forbes signature, Dunfermline

We were also tickled to stumble upon a historical marker outside the mansion that was donated to the people of Dunfermline in 2012 by the Allegheny Conference of Pittsburgh to mark Forbes' accomplishments.

Forbes Trail marker in Dunfermline
It is one of five such bronze medallions, 30 inches in diameter and weighing 80 pounds, installed to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the epic passage of Forbes' army as it marched 300 miles across mountains and wilderness to wrest Fort Duquesne from the French. (The other markers are at Fort Ligonier, Fort Pitt, Bedford, and Carlisle). The Forbes Trail proved to be the most enduring physical legacy of the Seven Years War for Pennsylvania because it opened access to the western frontier and thereby facilitated communications, trade and settlement of the Ohio Country. Anyone who has traveled along the Pennsylvania Turnpike between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh has followed in the footsteps of General Forbes' army.

Forbes Trail marker at Fort Ligonier
The veneer of historical significance is many layers thick on any Dunfermline memorial to Andrew Carnegie. But so, too, are the layers of bird poop on the mammoth bronze statue which graces the main entrance to Pittencrieff Park, just past the Louise Carnegie Memorial Gates with their prominent and ubiquitous (at least to a Pittsburgher) AC initials.

Richard Reginald Goulden's pooped-upon bronze statue of Andrew Carnegie, 1914, Pittencrieff Park, Dunfermline

Poor Andra! It's hardly a dignified way to greet visitors.

Pittsburgh represents: Carnegie's presence and legacy
It must be said that the condition of this statue as reflective of Carnegie's lasting reputation would resonate with more than a few Pittsburghers. With its inspiring birthplace museum and myriad sites named for him (many of which he funded), there is evident reverence for the hometown-boy-made-good and respect for Carnegie's local and international charitable reputation in Dunfermline.

That reverence isn't so apparent in Pittsburgh, where Carnegie made his fortune on the backs of our great-grandfathers (sometimes breaking them in the process).

To be sure, Pittsburghers flock to the Carnegie libraries and cultural complex, and generations have been educated at the Carnegie Technical Schools (now Carnegie-Mellon University and far removed from its original mission as a vocational training school for the sons and daughters of working-class Pittsburghers). And the citizens of outlying suburbs Mansfield and Chartiers did name their consolidated boroughs in Carnegie's honor in 1892, leading him to note that "Life would not be worth living to me if I felt the the people in and around Pittsburgh did not, at least, in some degree, reciprocate the affection which I have for them...."

Mmm, affection, yes. But Pittsburghers display that affection for Carnegie the way we might for an irascible, albeit generous, uncle who never quite gets what a pain in the ass he can be.

Pittsburghers get their digs in.

For instance, remember the Duck that famously floated on Pittsburgh's Ohio and Allegheny rivers in 2013?

Florentijn Hofman's Duck debuts on the Allegheny River, September 27 2013

Yeah, well, we floated Andrew Carnegie's head down the Allegheny River a few years earlier during the Three Rivers Arts Festival.
Stephen Antonson's 20-foot inflatable sculpture of Andrew Carnegie on the Allegheny River, 2010 Three Rivers Art Festival. Source: WSJ.
Our local transit authority Photoshopped Carnegie into a fetching tropical shirt for its 2009 "California Dreaming" vacation give-away. (At least I think that's shopped. I can tell from some of the pixels and from seeing...eh, never mind).

And perhaps the ultimate indignity: we can't even spell the man's name right! This road sign directing travelers to the Carnegie Science Center from the Parkway West, just outside the downtown area, carried a cringe-worthy misspelling that went officially unnoticed until residents brought it to the attention of the PA Department of Transportation in May 2016.

Carnegie misspelling (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette photo, 16  May 2016)

That other Pittsburgh Andrew-from-a-poor-family-who-made-good, artist Andy Warhol, famously took on Carnegie as a silk-screen subject in 1981 when the Carnegie Museum of Art commissioned a portrait of its founder and benefactor. These large Warhol works hang in all their pop-art glory in the museum, prominently displayed as founder's portraits for the modern era.

Andy's Andrew, 1981. Image from postcard, author's collection.

Andy Warhol's Andrew Carnegie acrylic and silkscreen on canvas, 1981.

But the ultimate irreverent portrayal of Andrew Carnegie has to be this mural downtown Pittsburgh, right above the last existing Wiener World at the 600 block of Smithfield Street on Strawberry Way.

Entitled Two Andys, the mural by Pittsburgh artists Sarah Zeffiro and Tom Mosser was commissioned by The Sprout Fund in 2005 as part of a series aimed at revitalizing shabby downtown exteriors with public art. This mural commemorates Pittsburgh's two white-haired Andrews, men who drastically changed the appearance of the worlds they inhabited. The Andys are shown primping in a beauty shop, their white tresses wrapped around curlers and positioned beneath hair dryers. Our man Carnegie has his hands soaking in manicure liquid (sadly not apparent from my street-level photo). It's impossible not to think about the Carnegie who never dirtied his hands during labor disputes, preferring to let subordinates handle the gritty details...and fun to imagine this as a commentary on Carnegie softening up his public image. Pittsburgh architectural scholar Dr. Franklin Toker immortalized the mural as representative of the dynamic nature and compelling history of our urban environment when he used it as the cover of his fabulous book Pittsburgh: A New Portrait.

We do pay serious homage to Carnegie in Pittsburgh, of course, but such examples are generally discrete and you've got to look for them. For instance, there are the de rigueur Andrew Carnegie portraits and busts at local libraries, where his resolute gaze follows stack-browsing patrons. Such images are typically ignored by patrons.

There's a strategically-placed official state marker that that gets a bit more attention, commemorating Carnegie largesse outside the mammoth Oakland Carnegie Library

The colossal bronze statue of Carnegie by John Massey Rhind that sits in the Carnegie Music Hall Foyer is visible to the average museum-goer only from an elegantly velvet-roped distance. It's off-limits unless there is a public event going on in the Music Hall, at which point one can enter this spectacular room. It's tempting to slide in one's stocking feet across the marble floor, past 28 columns, beneath the 45-foot high ceiling encrusted with sculptured plaster and gold leaf, to stand at Andrew's feet.  Etched around the bottom of this statue is his motto: "All grows well since all grows better." It is indeed a throne room fit for the Victorian-era King of Industry. 

PT Barnum would have approved of the presentation, I think (and probably charged for even the most distant view).

The marble-columned Carnegie Music Hall Foyer, built 1907.

John Massey Rhind's 1907 seated bronze statue of Andrew Carnegie holding court in the 60x135 foot Music Hall foyer.

Out of sight to the common man is Louise Carnegie's favorite portrait of her husband and one actually commissioned by his frenemy, Henry Clay Frick. Painted by French portrait artist Théobald Chartran, this painting hangs in the President's Office at the Carriage Drive entrance of the Carnegie Museum, safe from prying public eyes.

Théobald Chartran's portrait of Andrew Carnegie, 1895. Carnegie Museum of Art website.

A possible stealth portrayal of Andrew Carnegie greets patrons who know where to look when at his museum.

Climb Staircase Hall to see John White Alexander's 3-story mural cycle entitled The Crowning of Labor, and you will spy a certain white-haired Black Knight of Labor floating above the romanticized working classes ascending from the depths of the hellish mills to the spiritual heights of pristine arts and sciences. White never claimed it was Carnegie he was portraying, but then again, no one can definitively say that it isn't Andra.

In this painting, called The Crowning of Pittsburgh, our hero floats heavenward amidst his crimson cape of battle to the blaring of trumpets by lovely winged creatures suspended above the industrial smoke. He is about to be crowned with a wreath by a topless art-nouveau winged beauty.


If we think of the museum-library-concert hall complex as the high temple of Carnegie's social gospel, then it's not much of a stretch to see Andrew Carnegie portrayed here as its noble Messiah-figure being crowned and Assumed into heaven as a reward for his accomplishments on earth. His expression indicates a certain smug self-satisfaction; such is his due, after all.

It's Barnum-worthy showmanship.

John White Alexander worked on his mural cycle from 1904 to 1915 but at his death this enormous work remained unfinished. The noble workers are thus still marching up the stairs to reach the cultural heights, with no end in sight.

And our maybe-Andrew Carnegie never does get a throne.

A more traditional portrayal of Carnegie can be found at the Heinz History Center, where a life-sized figure sculpted by Life Formations of Ohio greets visitors in the Tradition of Innovations exhibit. If you aren't compelled to run from its Uncanny Valley evocation, you can press a button and listen to an actual recording of the diminutive Scotsman reading from his Gospel of Wealth.

And if you're walking downtown and chance to look up when passing the 7-Eleven on Seventh Street, you'll see Andra staring down at you from the 18-story Midtown Towers. Once the tallest building in the city, the former Keenan Building at the corner of Seventh and Liberty is decorated with sculpted medallion portraits of luminaries such as Carnegie, George Washington, William Penn, Teddy Roosevelt and various long-gone local politicians. The building has a storied history all its own that's worth investigating.

Carnegie Lake Postcard, 1920s

Oh, Andrew Carnegie had a Pittsburgh lake named for him, too. In the 1870s a halfway station was constructed in East Liberty as part of the municipal water system to hold water pumped from the Allegheny River to the Highland Park reservoir. Technological innovations rendered the need for this secondary reservoir obsolete, so in 1892 Carnegie partially financed the creation of Lake Carnegie for public recreation in the new Highland Park. For several decades this picturesque site was used for boating, fishing, swimming and ice skating.

Carnegie Lake, from Palmer's Pictorial, 1905

The popular Highland Park swimming pool was carved out of the lake in 1932. What remains of the lake today is mostly stagnant and decorated with piles of goose poop...not a very pleasant place to visit, though once upon a time it was a very busy recreational site.

Carnegie Lake, then:

Carnegie Lake, circa 1905
Lake Carnegie, 1937.  Pgh City Photographer Collection, Historic Pittsburgh Image Collection

Carnegie Lake now:

Carnegie's presence in Pittsburgh is mostly represented by the cultural institutions and the remains of the industrial complex he created, with a few other random portrayals tossed in. There is no systematic attempt at memorialization here, and certainly no lovingly-maintained house museums like Frick's Clayton or the Carnegie birthplace museum in Dunfermline.

That's despite Carnegie having had four different homes in Pittsburgh, now all gone.

House identified as Carnegie's Rebecca Street home by PBS biography
Upon arriving in Allegheny City in 1848, the Carnegies lived in two small upstairs rooms in a back-lot alley cottage owned by relatives at 336 Rebecca (later Reedsdale) Street, in a neighborhood known as either Barefoot Square or Slab Town. By 1855 Andrew and his mother (his hapless father having died that year) had purchased this lot and the two properties on it. They sold the property three years later to buy a house in Altoona, where Carnegie worked as an assistant superintendent with the Pennsylvania Railroad's western division.

House identified as Carnegie's Rebecca Street home by Pittsburgh Gazette Times, 1913.

These images are of buildings purported to be the Rebecca Street property of the Carnegie family in Allegheny City. The one above has been identified as such by a PBS biography. The one to the right is identified as such from the March 30 1913 edition of the Pittsburgh Gazette Times. Both clippings are from the Oakland Carnegie Library files on Carnegie's life.

Upon returning to Pittsburgh in 1860 at the age of 24, Andrew Carnegie moved his mother and brother Tom to a rented house downtown at 10 Hancock Street (soon renamed Eighth Street). They lived there for less than a year, finding its proximity to industrial pollution overwhelming.

His last home in Pittsburgh was a 13 acre estate located at today's Carnegie Place in what was once the bucolic eastern suburb of Homewood (now Point Breeze). The neighborhood was part of what Carnegie himself described as "the aristocratic quarter" where Pittsburgh's industrial giants once resided. Having arrived at last, Carnegie dubbed his Homewood residence "Fairfield." The brick mansion he purchased was reportedly filled with fine woodwork, including a black walnut dining room, and eventually boasted 33 rooms.

There are no pictures of Fairfield accessible in public archives, although an 1987 blurb in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted the auction of a stained glass panel believed to be from a door in Fairfield.

Carnegie's business interests took him abroad for extended periods. Thus while he owned Fairfield from 1861-67, it wasn't much of a home to him. By 1867 he'd permanently relocated to New York City and turned Fairfield over to younger brother Tom and sister-in-law Lucy for their growing family. When visiting Pittsburgh thereafter, Carnegie would either invite himself to Fairfield or lodge at the Union Depot Hotel adjacent to Union Station downtown.

Burning of Union Depot & Station,
Harper's Weekly August 11 1877,
None of these architectural witnesses to Carnegie's residential history remain. The decrepit Rebecca Street homes were demolished in the 1960s to make room for the now-destroyed Three Rivers Stadium. Hancock Street/Eighth Street is lined with parking lots and high-rises. Fairfield was sold to a developer and razed in late 1920; only the reputed carriage house remains today as a private home. As was typical, the interior fixtures were sold when the house was torn down, and the black walnut dining room is reputed to grace a bungalow on Brownsville Road. The Union Depot Hotel was torched to the ground by rioters during the Great Rail Strike of 1877.

Carnegie Museum Heinz Architectural Center

Thus it came to pass that while Pittsburgh has cultural institutions that represent his ideals, we have nothing representative of Carnegie's personal life to visit (unless you count the two window dormers transplanted from his New York Fifth Avenue home, which adorn the entrance of Carnegie Museum's Heinz Architectural Center).

I suppose Carnegie wanted it this way. He chose to craft his own image and legacy based on ideals deeply rooted in his own background and experiences. While he was hardly perfectly principled, he chose to set an example by putting his ideals into practice.

And he tried to dispense his fortune during his lifetime beginning with the cities to which he felt he owed the most: Dunfermline and Pittsburgh. Dunfermline was the city of his youth, a place "as near to paradise" as his romantic heart could imagine. Pittsburgh was more than an ocean removed from such ideals; it was the gritty city of adults, the place where he would become a man and earn his fortune. Had heart-burial been in vogue during the Edwardian era, Carnegie's heart might have been tucked into a casket in Dunfermline alongside the body of The Bruce (whose own heart was buried at Melrose Abbey a few hours away). Perhaps his backbone would have been interred in Pittsburgh.

As it stands, neither place cherishes Carnegie's mortal remains; he was laid to rest at the prestigious Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in New York.

Andrew Carnegie gravesite, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

What we are left with instead is Andrew Carnegie's abiding belief made manifest: art and culture should be accessible to all comers and not remain the sole domain of society's self-proclaimed elite.

While I don't know how much Carnegie would have relished seeing his floating head on the Allegheny, or pop portrayals of his likeness, I can imagine him harboring a certain wry fascination with it all.

I like to think he'd have embraced Occupy Facebook With Art. As were many of his contemporaries, Carnegie was not particularly articulate in describing how individual artworks moved him. Still, he nurtured an appreciation for culture both ancient and modern, and desired that others should have the opportunity to do so as well.

So, sure, I can see Andra posting a few favorite paintings on his Facebook account every now and again. And if his choices enhanced his personal image, well, so much the better. With the dawn of the Internet age, we are privileged to have far greater accessibility to art and opportunities to appreciate cultural resources today than at any point in the world's history. Our Grand Tours are but a screenshot away.


Sources and Further Reading

Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum Guide Book: Birthplace of Modern Philanthropy. Dunfermline Scotland: Andrew Carnegie Birthplace Museum. 
"Andrew Carnegie: The Richest Man in the World." The American Experience. PBS. Boston, MA, 1997. Television.
Bear, David. "Great Scot: Dunfermline remembers native son Andrew Carnegie." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. June 20 1999.
Carnegie, Andrew. My Own Story. Reprinted for The Carnegie Dunfermline Trust by Houghton Mifflin Company. 1920, 2012.
"Carnegie Started as a Bobbin Boy." New York Times Obituary. August 12, 1919.
Crawford, Lynn. "The Legacy of The Laird of Pittencrieff." Pittsburgh Family Magazine of The Pittsburgh Press. July 19, 1981.
Dietrich, William S., II.  "Andrew Carnegie: Black white. He took some and gave more." Pittsburgh Quarterly. Summer 2007.
Gangewere, Robert. Palace of Culture: Andrew Carnegie's Museums and Library in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. 2011.
Gray, Christopher. "Andrew Carnegie Was Here." New York Times. March 1, 2012.
Holland, WJ. "The Carnegie Museum." The Popular Science Monthly. Vol 59. May 1901.
Kunhardt, Philip B., Jr., Philip B. Kunhardt III, Peter Kunhardt. P.T. Barnum American's Greatest Showman.  New York: Albert A. Knopf. 1995.
Laskin, David. "Andrew Carnegie's Pittsburgh: Where a Tycoon Made it Just to Give It Away." New York Times. October 21, 2007
Miller, Donald. "A link to the past: The drive to restore Andrew Carnegie's summer house." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. December 5, 1990.
Miller, Donald. "The Taste of Andrew Carnegie." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. May 16 1991.
"Mrs. Andrew Carnegie Dies in New York, Aged 89." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Obituary. June 25, 1946.
Nasaw, David. Andrew Carnegie. Penguin Books. 2006.
Toker, Franklin. Pittsburgh: A New Portrait. University of Pittsburgh Press. 2009.


  1. Wow! I just came across your blog while googling how the Spanish Flu of 1918 in Pittsburgh.
    I'm really glad I found your interesting blog and will be exploring it more!

  2. SO interesting. Thank you. I am now reading Marie Benedict's Carnegie's Maid...and just found this by Googleing.

  3. I, too, am reading Carnegie’s Maid and grew up in the ‘Burgh near the stadium. I was curious if any of Carnegie’s homes exist and your Blog answered just that! Saddened to know a home tour will not be on my next visit. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I'm getting ready to lead a book discussion on Carnegie's Maid, and this is very helpful.
    I live in PIttsburgh, but will be doing the book discussion this winter in Georgia. Want so much to be able to show the many Carnegie-related Pittsburgh photos to the group.

  5. Very fascinating and wonderful blog. My father, born streets away from then Rebecca street in 1906, found great comfort in the library of Carnegie as a young man. I am a graduate of Carnegie Mellon (chemical engineering) and the oldest areas of the university make you feel Carnegie’s presence. Artistic halls of learning. His legacy helped many to access books and art.