Social media for newspapers.com dug into its archives in April 2020 to highlight a hundred year old article about a Pittsburgh dog who loved his prosthetic leg.
The story first appeared in the 1922 Pittsburgh Post. It really is a great quirky tale about a VERY GOOD BOY, and it got lots of likes and shares.
But I wanted to know more.
First things first, though. The dog’s name was Buster. He was a pit bull terrier, aged 5, who’d lost his leg under mysterious circumstances. I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing the article as it appeared, since the original is hard to read.
Here are the headlines and images that went with the 1922 story.
|Pittsburgh Daily Post, 22 April 1922|
One of the sights of the Northside is "Buster," a five-year-old bull terrier. "Buster" is the only dog in Pittsburgh, and probably the only one in this part of the world,who sports an artificial leg.
The word "sports" is used correctly, for the leather limb, which he has worn more than two years, is his most favored possession. The proud air of being aware that he has something which never fails to attract attention from the passing humans, and in some way makes him different from other dogs, is always with him as he hobbles through the streets of the Northside.
It was about 25 months ago that "Buster" lost his left foreleg. Just how the accident happened his master has never found out. One afternoon "Buster" was in the backyard of his home at 222 East General Robinson Street when suddenly he espied a cat or another dog passing down an alley. He sprang over the fence after the other animal. When he returned, 15 minutes later, his leg was gone. His master took him at once to the animal hospital at 2216 Forbes street, conducted by Dr. John C Gensburg, and there "Buster's" life was saved. At the suggestion of Dr. Gensburg the artificial leg was fitted.
"Buster didn't like it for the first few days, but soon he would not willingly leave his home without the small leather object strapped to him. Each morning, before he goes to his breakfast, "Buster" is at the side of his master, Edward Kane, with his leg in his mouth, indicating he wants it put on.
A few months ago, "Buster" disappeared one afternoon. A search started and along towards night, "Buster" was found out in Soho, trying to get home as the best way he could on three legs, the artificial one in his mouth.
I’m not sure whether Buster was the “only” dog hereabouts who had an artificial leg, but it may have been true. No local challengers were reported to have laid claim to similar status, and unfortunately the veterinarian identified as having saved Buster wasn’t interviewed. Dr. John Gensburg could have at least clarified whether Buster’s fake leg was made of leather or wood, since details in the article and photo are contradictory.
But the vet also would have been a good source regarding the incidence rate of regional dog prosthetics. If this 1925 story about Dr. Gensburg is any indication, he had a knack for saving good dogs in bad circumstances. Doc G is posing here with a wee pup named Brown Eyes, from whom he'd just removed a 7-inch long hat pin.
I’m not sure that’s even anatomically possible. Even if it was, given the potential for internal injuries I have my doubts as to whether Brown Eyes’ story ultimately had a happy ending. (Dr. Gensburg's personal story certainly didn't: he died in 1928 at the age of 34 of an infection said to have been "obtained during an operation on a dog." His official cause of death was cellulitis of the face accompanied by septicemia. In this era before antibiotics, untreated facial cellulitis could indeed cause fatal bacterial meningitis).
Dr. Gensburg’s animal hospital was actually one block away from the location described in the Post article. His veterinary clinic operated from 2217 Fifth Avenue, near what was then the Brady Street Bridge (now the Birmingham Bridge).
|Pittsburgh Daily Post, 13 April 1923|
Ten days after the Post article appeared, its competitor the Pittsburgh Press ran a short blurb with photo that was picked up by wire services and published in newspapers across the nation. That's the equivalent in 1922 of going virial on social media and soon everyone in the country learned that Buster was Pittsburgh’s VERY GOOD BOY.
|Pittsburgh Press, 14 April 1922, picked up by International News Reel|
There are questions to be asked here.
Questions like “WTF happened to Buster’s leg?”
The disappearance of Buster’s leg was explained so casually: doggo chases a passing cat or dog (like one does) out of his yard.
As if returning without a left leg was, you know, just one of those things.
The lack of detail! How did this happen? Did anyone randomly come across a left canine forelimb later that day, specifically in the 200 block of East General Robinson Street, between Anderson and Sandusky, near Arbuckle Way?
Because that’s where Buster’s owner lived. In this house, the one on the right:
|Buster's house to the right, East General Robinson Street at Arbuckle Way looking north, 1911 |
Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, University of Pittsburgh
The newspaper claimed that Edward Kane, owner of Buster (who really was a VERY GOOD BOY), lived at 222 East General Robinson Street. Perhaps that’s even the address Kane gave. But we’ve already seen that the Post article didn’t describe Buster’s prosthetic accurately, nor did it give the veterinarian’s correct address. It wouldn’t have been difficult to check on these things. Although reporters a century ago didn’t have today’s digital world at their fingertips, addresses would have been easy to confirm. A perusal of the 1922 Polk City Directory for Pittsburgh – or for any other year in the 1920s – confirms that Edward Kane’s home address was 212 East General Robinson Street, not 222.
Edward Kane’s name doesn’t mean anything to us now. And today's General Robinson Street is little more than a nondescript stretch from the North Side sports arenas to the highway on-ramps.
But if you knew that part of Pittsburgh in the 1920s, chances were you also knew Edward Kane.
And if you knew, I mean, REALLY knew that part of Pittsburgh in the 1920s?
Well. You thought vice was nice.
Allegheny City's Little Canada
To understand who Edward Kane was, and to guess what happened to Buster's leg, it's important to understand the neighborhood where they lived.
Their North Side neighborhood was known as “Little Canada.” That wasn’t because its location, due north of downtown Pittsburgh, in what was once the separate city of Allegheny. No, Little Canada was so named because crooks perceived themselves as safe there from law enforcement as they would be in the far north of Canada. Crooks protected their own, so extradition for crimes committed in Pittsburgh didn’t happen once you made it to Little Canada on the North Side.
Former Pittsburgh Police/Detective Superintendent Thomas A. McQuaide (1861-1925) recalled the safe-zone area as it was in the late 1890s:
Those were the days before Pittsburgh and Allegheny were consolidated into one city, and a criminal could scoot across the bridge into lower Allegheny and be safe. That is why Robinson, Lacock, Isabella sts, and River ave. were called Little Canada.There was enough crime and mayhem back then to make Little Canada necessary. Speakeasies had been thriving since an 1887 Pennsylvania law made it prohibitively expensive to obtain saloon liquor licenses. Along with clandestine drinking establishments like speakeasies came the criminal element that profitted from them. So beginning sometime in the 1880s, crooks headed to the neighborhood east of Federal Street to lay low. They knew they’d be safe and protected in Little Canada so long as they didn’t make any moves on the locals.
That was a low bar of conduct, really, since there were many satisfyingly illegal recreational activities to keep visitors to Little Canada occupied.
Little Canada was in fact filled with speakeasies, bars, bordellos, gambling dens and general chaos, and all of it was protected by the machine government of the City of Allegheny. In 1904 the Assistant DA claimed some 207 “gambling houses, speak-easies, and houses of ill repute” were crammed into this section of Allegheny City. No catalogue of crimes was inclusive, but the papers regularly (and gleefully) reported on the neighborhood’s safe crackers, dips (aka pickpockets), bank robbers, short-change artists, counterfeiters, confidence men (or con-men) and thieves of every class.
These were guys with delightfully descriptive names. Guys like Dick the Waltzer (a pickpocket who plied his trade in the city’s dance halls), Steamboat Murphy (former towboat deckhand who conned free drinks by imitating steamboat whistles) and Foley the Ghost (who robbed homes of the recently bereaved). Out-of-towners like Windy City Walsh, Sleepy City Jake and The Fort Wayne Kid were made welcome alongside locals like Peter “Hobnail” Riley, Sneg Cooper and Red Leary. Everyone knew Dice Box McGuire (have dice in box, will gamble), who may or may not have been related to Fingers McGuire. Shoe Box Miller was a legend for having escaped Western Penitentiary in 1882 by hiding in a crate that held shoes. There were safe-crackers named Big Swede and Fingers Sullivan (who actually issued a formal challenge to Fingers McGuire for sole use of the appellation). The One-Inch Jimmy Man was a thief who jimmied his way in windows using a small crowbar, which he was rumored to leave behind as his “tell.” There was also The One-Armed Bandit (because he…wait for it…had only one arm). And there were pickpockets like Sheeny Mike, English Bill and Three-Fingered Jack Coffey (go figure).
|Identified as Fainting Bertha|
22 February 1925
And, of course, there were prostitutes. Lots and lots of prostitutes. In Little Canada, scores of anonymous women passed their days (and nights) identified only by the monetary worth of their bodies. Most had ordinary names -- Kate and Lizzie and Jennie –- just like ordinary girls from ordinary neighborhoods.
Their lives were anything but ordinary.
Take, for example, MaryAnn Quinn, who gave birth in the early 1880s to the first child said ot have been born in Allegheny Penitentiary (legend has it that she named her boy Grover Cleveland Quinn). Her husband was conveniently serving time in another part of that fine establishment, so at least the family was all together. Lizzie Gilson seemed to regularly find herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, making news in the 1890s as witness to two separate murders. And while Mollie Paradine had an impressive list of offenses, in 1890 she showed up at the Pittsburgh Post office to emphatically deny that she was a member of the infamous “Dirty Dozen” gang of street girls. A girl had to hold the line on the truth, after all.
|A lady of questionable morals, circa 1890. Source unknown, public domain|
Saloons and gambling places were sometimes called “Night Houses” because they stayed open all night long. Brothels were referred to variously as bawdy houses, disorderly houses, or resorts. These euphemisms spared delicate sensibilities from the offense of explicitly identifying the trade practiced within their walls.
There was an unofficial color line that ran through this land of vice. Heading west out of Little Canada, one crossed Federal street and could find brothels and speakeasies run exclusively by women of color in the vicinity of Kilbuck Street and western Lacock. That area was referred to as the “Blackberry Patch” well into the 1950s, a common name given to such segregated neighborhoods.
According to a 1920 Post article about the early heyday of Little Canada, neighborhood residents knew the unwritten rules. If they transgressed, they were soon taught the error of their ways:
It was understood that they would be permitted to live in that section of the city unmolested as long as they did not break the rule of “Leave Allegheny Alone.” And this rule was violated only on several occasions. Then it was done by strangers who were soon brought to book and taught the rule of the district. Hundreds of the men pulled off big jobs on the Pittsburgh side and then rushed back home to “Little Canada,” where they were safe. The denizens were required to report to the Allegheny city hall once each week. All new arrivals were rushed to the front office. There a picture and their history were recorded. This information was kept for the use of the Allegheny city officials only and very rarely revealed.In addition to this formal roll call of rogues, disorderly houses and booze-purveyors were protected by Allegheny’s machine government, if not actually run by it. Those in the vice trade paid graft, extortion, and bribes to Allegheny officials and were in turn permitted to flourish unmolested (much) by the law. Little Canada was home to all kinds of mean and nasty and ugly and horrible crime-type guys.
Looking back on this early organization of urban vice in designated neighborhoods, former Police Superintendent McQuaide recalled
With a restricted, watched and guarded district, I do not believe there was nearly so much immorality as there is with no such community, but instead with the whole city open for the invasion of disreputable women.
In other words, corralling vice in re-light districts like Little Canada kept it from being a bigger problem.
The larger community, however, was inclined to disagree with this philosophy. A first round of community protest occurred across the river in the city of Pittsburgh. In 1892, a moral crusade led by United Presbyterian ministers resulted in an order from Mayor Henry Gourley insisting that city police enforce existing laws against prostitution. City police interpreted this order literally and immediately by raiding brothels, evicting the inhabitants, and padlocking Pittsburgh’s 252 “houses of immorality.”
|Evocative of the scene, this is one of artist Edgar Degas' monotypes of brothel life, c. 1876-78|
In a contemporary biography, Gourley was described as a man “of strict integrity and sterling worth.” His order made clear that while he found prostitution to be morally abhorrent, he also recognized the complex interplay of factors that went into managing urban vice. Unlike the complaining ministers, Gourley was under no illusion that dramatically stopping commerce in vice would cure the city’s social ills.
Those sudden brothel closures in 1892 resulted in Pittsburgh’s 1200 prostitutes literally being cast out upon the streets. Presumably some of the more nonplussed ladies decamped across the river to Allegheny City's Little Canada. But the newspapers also reported that dozens of irate homeless “fallen women” visited the homes of two leading reform ministers in noisy protest. Another contingent of 30-40 “exceedingly well-dressed, but usually rather gaudily” attired prostitutes descended upon Pittsburgh's City Hall to “raise a mighty wail of protest” to the Mayor, who supposedly listened sympathetically to their tales of woe.
Lacking concrete plans to care for these women, Pittsburgh’s “suppression of social evil” through eviction was doomed to failure. It didn’t take long for that city's “houses of ill fame” to reopen.
|Another Degas brothel, monotype illustration|
Thus when the Allegheny Federation of Churches organized in 1905 to campaign against alcohol consumption and prostitution, its ministers primarily directed their collective ire not at the prostitutes but at the capitalists of corruption who profited from and supported Little Canada’s vice. In 1906 the Pittsburgh Post reported the concerted sermonizing of Allegheny ministers, who lamented:
….Allegheny has been known far and wide as the town of graft, grafters and speakeasies, and where crooks of all kinds could find protections when chased out of other cities. “The Little Canada," the speakers said, was the name Allegheny is known by in the “Under World….” This is not a movement of the ministers….but a movement of all those on this side of the river who have the interests of the city at heart and want better and purer government.And more pointedly:
It is a sad commentary on our civic spirit that Allegheny, the city of churches, with its thousands of Christian voters, should have more than 200 disorderly houses and numerous speakeasies and gambling houses, all under police protection. These dens of vice and crime are allowed to flourish because they yield a large revenue to some of the city officials.Although the ministers’ preferred reform candidate lost Allegheny’s mayoral election in 1905, the heat was on to reshape society. A year later, George Guthrie was elected across the river as Pittsburgh’s major on a reform, anti-machine platform. One year after that, in 1907, Allegheny was legally annexed (or as is still claimed, was forcibly annexed against residents' collective will) to the city of Pittsburgh and referred to collectively as the North Side (sometimes written as Northside).
|Pittsburgh Daily Post headline, 23 December 1907|
Even with Prohibition as the law of the land, city administrators recognized that commerce in vice couldn't and wouldn't be stopped. It could, however, be controlled for the greater good, and confined to circumscribed areas like Little Canada. Enormous sums paid for "protection" were used for the personal benefit of those keeping things under control.
And so it was that in the 1920s, the graft that fed the old Allegheny machine flowed into Pittsburgh City Hall. The game was the same, but a new generation of characters ruled the streets. Nettie Gordon was “queen of the underworld” in Little Canada. A savvy businesswoman, Nettie kept a firm reign on prostitution operations and was also a Republican committeewoman for her ward. Pittsburgh Police Lieutenant Charles Faulkner patrolled the streets of the North Side, enforcing the law in his own inimitable way. At the same time he enjoyed the considerable profits from skimming off the top for North Side vice den protection, along with earnings from his $33,000 pool room and bowling alley on Federal Street below the Kenyon Theater.
|Illustration from a retrospective about Little Canada in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1949|
A few blocks away from Faulkner’s club was a joint owned and managed by Edward C. Kane.
Trouble in River City
Edward Clinton Kane was born 5 August 1881 in Everson, Pennsylvania. His family had roots going back at least 50 years in the Laurel Mountain foothills, moving around towns in Fayette County and across the Jacob’s Creek border to Westmoreland County.
A history of sorts can be pieced together from genealogical resources to tell us about his family. Edward’s parents were John Kane and Mary Ann Beckner. John may have been a Civil War veteran for the Union forces. Of their five children, Edward was the youngest. Eldest son Henry William Kane became a railroadman who raised his family in New Castle, where he was well-regarded. Second son Simon Fred Kane married in 1896 and had 3 sons. But by 1900 Simon was an inmate at Dixmont, the Western Pennsylvania Hospital for the Insane. He seemingly spent his life in institutions, dying at age 69 at Wernersville State Hospital. There were two Kane daughters. The oldest, Emma Alice but known as Allie, was blind. Allie never married and lived variously with either her parent/s or sister. The younger girl, Minnie Maria Kane Snider, raised her large family in Westmoreland and Fayette counties. One of her daughters, Dessie, would be named as executrix of Edward’s will.
|John, Mary Ann, Allie and Simon Kane, date unknown |
From familyoldphotos.com uploaded by Linda Squires
The records don’t tell us what patriarch John Kane did for a living, but we can make some educated guesses. The Kanes resided in an area rich with natural resources, where bituminous coal and iron ore seams ran for miles beneath the ground. Exploiting those resources brought wealth for men like JV Thompson and Henry Clay Frick, and manual labor employment for everyone else.
In 1880 John Kane, his wife, and four of their eventual five children lived in Stonerville. This was one of the original farming communities of East Huntingdon Township in Westmoreland County. There were also five boarders living at the same address.
John Kane and his 13 year old son Henry were categorized as laborers in that 1880 census. “Laborer” was this census-taker’s catch-all default occupation for hundreds of area men. A non-specific category, it encompassed any number of regional occupations affiliated with the ubiquitous coal and coke works, glass factories, ever-expanding railroads, or other supportive industries. That Henry was working at age 13 would not have been unusual; before child labor laws were enacted, it was commonplace for boys to join their fathers in the mining industry.
John Kane’s descendants moved within this region, following work opportunities, crossing county lines to nearby towns of Alverton, New Haven and Everson. Nothing was easy and the Kanes surely didn’t lead lives of leisure. But at least and best, honest work could be had.
It’s unlikely that John’s youngest son Edward Clinton Kane availed himself of opportunities for “honest” work.
Edward Kane doesn’t appear archivally until the 1910 census, when he can be found renting a home on East Church Street in Masontown, Fayette County with his wife Stella and 8 year old son Walter.
|RPPC of Main Street and Church Street, Masontown, Fayette County, PA, early 1900s|
Masontown was at that time rebuilding after a fire had raged a year earlier through the downtown business district. The Kanes lived a block or so away from the main drag in town and the fancy Hotel Le Roy.
|Postcard featuring Hotel Le Roy at corner of Church & Main, Masontown, Fayette County, PA|
Coal powered the area’s economy. While residents didn’t lack for jobs, their habitual pastimes took a toll. A column from a 1916 edition of The Herald and the Prebytr, a Presbyterian family publication, highlighted the “Bad Showing” of Masontown residents in the fight against intemperance:
A funeral director located at Masontown,Fayette County, Pa., in the midst of the coke regions, furnishes the following results of the work of two saloons in the community for a period of twelve years: thirty-four murders, eight suicides, nineteen accidental deaths, and thirty-six cases of acute alcoholism, showing a total of ninety-seven deaths, or an average of eight every year, in one small community as the fruit of the drunk traffic.Although the census worker misrecorded information about the Kanes onto the wrong lines, some deciphering indicates that in 1910 Edward Kane made his living as the proprietor of a pool room. His 22 year old brother-in-law John Morris lived with the family, and was a laborer in the pool hall.
Given what Edward’s subsequent business career, he was unlikely to have been associated with the town’s high-end Hotel Le Roy. But a town that can support fancy facilities also has its share of lower end amusements, like pool halls.
|RPPC of Masontown, Fayette County, PA |
There was a pool hall in 4th building on the left. Hotel Le Roy is first building on right.
|Main Street in Masontown with another view of the fifth building on the street that housed pool room and bowling alley. |
From Yesteryear In Masontown and Surrounding Communities
Edward didn’t confine himself to the local pool hall, although it was likely a source of steady income for him. As hard as it is for us to imagine today, newspapers of a century ago frequently printed lists of people who’d checked into area hotels, since travelers were newsworthy. Such publications tell us that Masontown resident E.C. Kane regularly checked into hotels in Everson, Connellsville, Uniontown and Pittsburgh.
Edward Clinton Kane traveled from Masontown because he was a gentleman of chance. A card sharp. A professional gambler.
The 1847 Pennsylvania Act for the Suppressing of Gambling was still on the books in 1910. It defined the parameters and penalties for gambling. Subsequent legal wrangling over the language of the act yielded this statement about the professional bettor:
A class of persons have made their appearance in the country who practice gambling for a livelihood! Sometimes they are stationary, but in general they have no fixed habitation—they travel from place to place, attending for the purpose of preying upon the unwary, wherever the people are gathered together in large numbers. By artful allurements they ensnare men into their haunts of iniquity, in the hope of profit, thus reducing innocent and helpless families to beggary…It was against such evils that the act of 1847 was intended to operate, and it is the duty of every good citizen to enforce the law. ~An Abridgment of the Criminal Law of the United States, 1848Even fifty years later at the start of the 20th century, nearly all gambling was legally prohibited in the United States. But as with other attempts to legislate vice, the law didn’t actually deter it. Gambling occurred in neighborhoods like Little Canada, and it occurred in the bars of fancy hotels.
Perhaps Edward Kane started out in a backroom poker den, hazy with the requisite atmosphere of dim lighting and clouds of cigar smoke. Once Kane was good enough to try his luck on the circuit, he’d maybe front as a traveling salesman and visit a hotel somewhere he wasn’t known. He’d initiate a friendly game with stakes just high enough to entice a fellow traveler, and keep his winnings low enough to douse suspicions of a con. Then he’d move onto his next mark.
Being what the Pittsburgh papers euphemized as a “sporty dressed man of leisure” placed these kinds of men outside the boundaries of respectability, unless they were rich enough that financial losses from cards playing did not signify.
That would not have been Edward Kane’s situation. Fortuna presumably smiled upon Kane often enough that he could keep sitting at the tables. Occasionally, though, she abandoned him to The Fates.
It was a good thing that Eddie Kane was a man of many interests and talents. Some of the time he spent on the road was also related to his interest in breeding prize-winning bull terriers.
A Man and His Dog(s)
No less a personage that Scottish author and historian Sir Walter Scott once wrote “The wisest dog I ever had was what is called the Bull and Terrier.” These leggy, muscular, active dogs had become enormously popular in the late 1800s.
Kane and his contemporaries were particularly enamored of a breed refinement called the “White un” or “white cavalier” English bull terrier. The breed was recognized throughout the country as loyal, intelligent, sturdy, and especially adapted to urban life with keen rat-hunting and watchdog abilities.
The most respected bull terrier breeder in Pittsburgh was a man named James Barbin, who flipped his last name backwards and called his facility Nibrab Kennels. Barbin's dogs were well-regarded as breed standards nationally.
|Advertisement from Pittsburgh bull terrier breeder in Dog Fancier magazine, Vol 24, 1915|
Barbin’s pups all bore the Nibrab name. Champion lines came from his kennel, including a 1924 Westminster Kennel show winner with the charming show name of Nibrab Satan.
There were other bull terrier breeders producing champions in Pittsburgh, too. In fact, this region had enough of a dog-loving population that the Pittsburgh Post even had its own dedicated dog columnist.
|Pittsburgh Daily Post Dog Column header, 1926|
In 1918 E.C.Kane made the news, not for losing at cards but for winning at puppies. Kane has a bull terrier puppy named The Outwood Sport who won best of breed at an Atlantic City dog show. According to AKC registries through the early 1920s, Kane bred The Outwood Sport as well as another male named Perfection Warrior, and a bitch named Lady Dell Lightfoot.
Dog breeding incurred expenses but also provided side gig supplemental income for relatively little effort. The dogs did the necessary work, after all. Let’s assume that our good boy Buster was one of the studs in Kane’s breeding program. It’s even possible that Buster was a “pet name” for The Outwood Sport, who was born in 1917. That would make him 5 years old in 1922 -- Buster’s purported age.
While genuine affection for Buster may have played into Kane’s decision to pay for life-saving medical care and a prosthesis, practical matters would likely have figured into justifying the expense. The Outwood Sport seems to have been Kane’s first prize- winning dog. If that dog and Buster were one and the same, the dog was a money-maker. Kane would have wanted to preserve his winning dog for breeding purposes.
And why not? After all, a three-legged dog can still mate. Awkwardly, yes, perhaps, but dog sex was never known for its balletic grace.
While history can’t tell us how Buster lost his leg in 1922, piecing together this much about Kane’s life allows certain possibilities to come into focus. Edward Kane began to appear in Pittsburgh residential directories in 1917. By 1922 he was established as one of Little Canada’s best-known characters. His purebred bull terriers would have been well-known and recognized, even in the tough neighborhood of Little Canada where dogs ran loose on the streets.
Kane's dogs, valuable though they were, may well have had a habit of getting loose. Buster ran at least twice, according to his famed newspaper history. According to another newspaper notice, one of Kane's female dogs went missing as well, a few years later.
|Lost and Found ad in Pittsburgh Press, 22 February 1925|
Consider, too, that Kane probably had his share of enemies. One of those enemies may have impulsively seized an opportunity for revenge after some perceived offense. Imagine: inflict what could be a quick and mortal wound on Kane’s loose dog, and simultaneously inflict lasting damage to Kane’s wallet and feelings.
Of course, it’s also entirely possible that Buster was hurt in a random accident. The papers told many sad tales of city dogs injured by trolleys and automobiles. But Edward Kane’s life lived on the edge meant Buster was consigned by Edward to live life on the edge, too.
As were Edward’s wife and son.
Well, sort of.
You see, Edward wasn’t legally married to his wife, Stella.
And Stella? Well, Stella was a prostitute.
Woman Keeper of Northside Dive
Estella Catherine Morris was born on 26 January 1884, the second of two daughters born to John Morris and Fannie Hammers. Like Edward, Stella grew up in sight of the Laurel Mountains. Her family clustered in the town of Star Junction, about 14 miles west across the Youghiogheny River from Edward’s family, situated near some of the largest coke works in the nation.
|Star Junction, undated. Fayette Historical Society.|
Stella’s father John was an illiterate “coke drawer” who worked until he was 70 years of age. John’s first wife was Stella’s mother Fannie, who died in 1898 in her mid-30s. John was left to raise six children ranging in age from 3 to 15: Nellie, Estella, John, James Oscar, Walter, and Edgar. Although it wouldn’t have been unusual for a widower with young children to soon remarry, John waited until 1911. His second wife was 19 years his junior, and he had a second family of six more children with her.
Perhaps John Morris didn’t feel the need to quickly remarry because his two oldest children, Nellie and Stella, were old enough to take on the role of running his house. No one in late 1890s Fayette County would have questioned the propriety of two girls, aged 15 and 12, taking over a household and the care of their four younger brothers. Poor families did what they had to do to survive.
The Morris boys each followed their father into the coal industry when it was time. The eldest brother, John H. Morris, was at work in the coke fields by age 12, possibly sooner. He at least got some respite from breathing coal dust in 1910 while living with Edward and Stella in Masontown, working in Edward’s pool room. But John died of brain cancer three years later, aged 28. Walter served in the Great War with a regiment that fought in the Battle of Marne and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He suffered severe wounds, and the military recognized in its precise way that Walter’s injuries constituted a 35% disability. He lived for less than a year after the war ended, some of which was spent with his sister Stella in Pittsburgh. In March 1919 aged 25, Walter succumbed to pneumonia, possibly secondary to the influenza pandemic. Stella’s brother Edgar never married, working in the Fayette coal fields all his life. He died age 53, suffering burns over most of his body after falling asleep in a coke oven. Only brother James Oscar Morris married, and he supported his family of nine children as a coke worker.
The 1900 census found the Morris girls keeping house for their father and four brothers in Star Junction. But the two girls moved out soon enough to keep their own houses.
Sentences were served in 1902 and 1905 in the Allegheny County Workhouse by a Nellie Morris, likely our Nellie, on charges of street-walking and disorderly housekeeping. Nellie did marry a fellow named Albert Smith in 1909, but the historical record is silent about the fate of that marriage. Using the last name of Smith and/or Kohler, Nellie died in the County Workhouse in 1914 at age 31. The cause of death was paretic dementia, which is an organic brain progression of untreated syphilis.
Estella Catherine married before her sister Nellie did - but not to Edward Kane. Stella was 18 years old when she married Walter D. Stroud in Fayette County in 1902. She sought a divorce eight years later, citing grounds of spousal desertion after only two days of wedded bliss. It’s not clear whether a divorce was granted, but Stella occasionally used the last name Stroud throughout her life.
|Pittsburgh Press, 13 July 1910|
Stroud wasn’t the only name she used. Public records give us our first glimpse of Edward and Stella as a couple in the 1910 census that placed them in Masonville with son Walter. They all used the Kane surname. Stella and Edward claimed to have been married 9 years earlier, and gave Walter’s age as 8 years old. That would place the Kane, uhm, union in 1901…a year before Stella married Walter D. Stroud. But on subsequent public records, an adult Walter listed his birthyear as 1905.
Deciphering accurate info from such records can be difficult, because they are only filled with as much truth as the individuals being surveyed wished to share. Given such conflicting information, what scenarios make sense here? Nothing fits easily. Walter Stroud was not an alias for Edward Kane since census data confirms Stroud was a real person who grew up in Fayette County. Perhaps Walter Stroud discovered on his wedding night that his 18-year old bride Stella was pregnant by another man, prompting him to abandon her. Maybe Stella was even pregnant by Edward Kane, but named the baby Walter D. after her husband. Then again, Stella did have a brother named Walter. On the other hand, perhaps Walter D. Stroud actually was young Walter’s father and namesake, but Edward Kane served as stepfather once he and Stella got together.
Or perhaps it wasn’t even clear to Stella who'd fathered her son.
We’ll never know for sure. It's also hard to know when Stella and Edward made their move to Allegheny County. Best estimates indicate that it was sometime in 1910, since Estella Stroud filed for divorce from Walter Stroud in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court that year. Perhaps she was too well-known (perhaps even notorious) in Fayette County to try to dissolve the marriage there.
Stella quickly became known--and notorious--in Allegheny County. As Edward’s putative wife, she went by Stella Kane, but her professional name was Stella Shaner. In a 1916 Polk Directory, Stella is listed as the widow of one John Shaner. Whether such a gentleman ever existed, or thought himself married to Stella Morris Stroud, cannot be determined.
Stella’s relationship status would be defined as “complicated” on today’s social media platforms.
Stella seems to have settled first in Pittsburgh, not the North Side’s Little Canada. She was arrested several times in late 1914 with other women for “keeping houses of questionable character” on First Avenue in downtown Pittsburgh, a known vice district. On one occasion she was ordered to pay a $50 fine for disorderliness or spend 30 days in jail. On another, men from the nearby No 19 Engine Company at Water and Short Street were implicated for trying to conceal departing visitors to Stella’s near-by establishment. The customers were nabbed when they came back for their coats.
|Pittsburgh Gazette, 17 May 1914|
At least Stella had friends in the neighborhood, but her legal troubles continued and the fines increased. A year-end 1914 raid netted Stella and some other women, each ordered to post $500 bail or be held for court. All of these ladies were in business on and around First Avenue.
This group was a direct descendant of the circa-1907 reformative zeal that had tried to extinguish the exuberance of Allegheny’s Little Canada during the Guthrie administration. But this new 1912 group was motivated by the city’s collective shame regarding its tarnished image following publication of the 1909-1914 Pittsburgh Survey. That groundbreaking sociological study enlightened the nation about the abuses of industrialization. It documented how intersecting urban social evils -- things like substandard housing, sanitation, and working conditions -- eroded and disrupted family life. Pittsburgh was ground zero for the study, meant to stand in for all other industrial cities. Having its problems publicly paraded before a scandalized nation shamed city residents and politicians. But instead of remediating underlying industrial inequities, the city-sanctioned Morals Bureau (as it was colloquially known) responded by turning its attention to symbolic and circumscribed expressions of the immoral city: vice.
The Morals Efficiency Commission was charged with investigating and eliminating social ills like Sabbath degradation, drinking, gambling, prostitution, and to undercut the political graft supporting any commercialized vice. The 12 members of the Morals Bureau – which included women – took their jobs seriously. The committee chair declared to City Council in November 1914:
We have started out to eliminate sex vice in Pittsburg, and we are not going to let up. We are going through with the work. Disorderly houses can be closed and kept closed. If every policeman on his beat would do his duty there would be no need for a morals board.The commission issued its share of sanctimonious declarations, but it had good intentions and was progressive in many ways. Its philosophy in combating vice was that “the best remedies are economic and educational, rather than repressive.” It intended to address related dangers like the venereal disease that killed Stella’s sister Nellie by setting up testing, tracking, and treatment programs (although on a less enlightened note, it also proposed to sterilize “confirmed criminals and degenerates”).
The Commission undertook studies. It published reports detailing how prostitution was embedded in the economy and body politic. It made recommendations. It held public lectures, and even tried to have sex hygiene taught in public schools. It scolded the police into taking action against commercialized vice, doing so often and loudly enough that raids periodically swept up women like Stella.
|Report and recommendations of Morals efficiency commission Pittsburgh, Pa, 1913|
Pittsburgh’s Morals Efficiency Commission lasted little more than a year. In an ironic moral reversal, it was declared unconstitutional in 1914, having been financed through an illegal state tax scheme. But while it had power, the Morals Bureau drove women like Stella from practicing their trade.
But our girl Stella was not be deterred by a fussy city Morals Bureau. She just moved operations across the river to a different part of the city: Little Canada, to a house at 212 East General Robinson Street.
Stella was first listed at that North Side address in 1916 as Stella Shaner, widow of the aforementioned and mysterious John. A year later Edward C. Kane (whose new occupation was “real estate”) was officially living there with her. After 1916 Stella Shaner did not identify as anyone’s widow, although there’s no evidence that she ever legally married Edward Kane. While the names she used can't be pinned down, it's clear that Stella Shaner/Estella Kane/Stella Stroud provided “furnished rooms” at the 212 East General Robinson Street address for the next decade.
If you knew that address in the early 1920s, you knew what kind of “furnished room” such listings implied. A boarding house, yes, but with benefits. This 212 East General Robinson Street address in the heart of the North Side’s Little Canada had been associated with prostitution for years before the Kanes arrived. It was a 10-room brick house, likely built by a bar owner and low-key property developer named William Printy in the latter half of the 19th century. The building was inherited by one of his daughters, Sarah Hannel, and used as a rooming house -- with all that connotations that implied in Little Canada.
Edward Kane’s managerial and entrepreneurial skill-set made him enviably employable in Little Canada, although city directories record various above-board occupations for him like “salesman” or “restaurant.” In July 1926 we find Kane running his own popular, high-profile gambling joint at 118 Federal Street near the corner of Isabella, in a building variously occupied by a tailor named Nicholas Christ and the Crystal Restaurant. The William Penn Theater was his neighbor to the left, looking east toward the Sixth Street Bridge crossing the Allegheny to downtown Pittsburgh.
|Wm Penn Theater on left, looking south from 118 Federal Street toward Isabella Street & Sixth Street Bridge. Kane's place, not pictured, was right before the theater. Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, University of Pittsburgh|
This next photo from 1913 shows how densely packed and busy Federal Street was. The Girard Hotel and Grill, mid-right, was eventually replaced by the William Penn Theater. Edward's place would have been one building beyond it. These photos speak to the advantages of location, location, location for a successful business. Gotta be where the action is. Especially the vice action.
|Federal Street looking north from Sixth St Bridge, January 1913. Kane's place was directly beyond the Girard Hotel. |
Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, University of Pittsburgh
After years of life lived on the edge making money through side gigs and hustles, Edward Kane had finally hit it steady on the North Side. Then again, during the Roaring Twenties he would have had to try to fail on purpose when it came to successfully peddling vice. Because of constitutional prohibition, commercial vice prospered, satisfying the demand for alcohol and its pleasurable accompaniments of gambling and prostitution. All of that was ostensibly underground, but in reality it was hidden in plain sight.
Pittsburgh's vice flourished in the 1920s thanks to the protection of law enforcement under the administration of Pittsburgh’s mayor Charles H. Kline, whose political campaign was funded by vice money. Once he took office in 1926, Kline placed loyal bosses in various wards. It was expected that those bosses would collect protection money, and that they would profit from the bootlegging industry and gambling concessions.
And it was expected that the police answered to the bosses.
The Citizens League of Pittsburgh, successor to that earlier Morals Efficiency Commission, called loudly and often for reform in the 1920s. There were spasmodic responses and attempts to clean things up for appearances’ sake. For example in 1924 before he opened his own club, one paper reported that Edward Kane had been arrested in a raid as a “gambler suspect” who had “visited” the “bawdy house” kept by Stella Shaner. All of those things were true, strictly speaking, but the story didn’t get to the heart of the Kane/Shaner connection, which the press was still figuring out. Any kind of reform swirling around their businesses was bound to meet with limited success, anyway, since Pittsburgh political authority and vice were too intertwined.
In 1926 the profile of Edward Kane’s gambling joint was raised in a Pittsburgh Post expose by none other than Ray Sprigle, a Pittsburgh newspaper journalist famous for his investigative reporting on crime and injustice. In July 1926 Sprigle turned his attention to Pittsburgh's North Side.
|Ray Sprigle at work. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette archives|
Sprigle's muckraking journalistic style retains its power across the decades. Here are excerpts from that Post piece:
Pittsburgh’s Northside again has become Little Canada. The law of the state and the nation stop on the North banks of the Allegheny and the Ohio.Sprigle devoted generous column inches to Little Canada’s shenanigans and characters. He focused on a place owned by North Side Police Inspector Charles Faulkner, a toney bowling alley/poolroom/gambling den in the basement of the Kenyon Theater on Federal Street. On the top floor of that building was an even swankier den of iniquity: “one of the most elaborate and genteel gambling kennels the Northside ever has seen.”
The gambler, the bootlegger, the dive keeper and the masquereau rule.
Gambling houses cluster so thick in the districts between the rivers and North avenue that certain nights are allotted to each group.
Speakeasies and disorderly houses alternate for blocks on some of the streets of the lower Northside.
From seven in the evening until after midnight doorways are filled with known gamblers and men in the bootleg game. Bookmakers and women of the streets ply their trades among the gamblers and their patrons alike. The old days of Little Canada of more than a quarter century are back. Here is all the color and lawlessness, all the vice and romance, all the sordidness and squalor…
But this time there is none of the free-and-easy, hit-or-miss vice of the old days.
Vice on the Northside today is a business….Never was the partnership between crime and government as represented by the police so palpable…
“Get it while the getting’s good is an old motto of the underworld. The “getting” is good now under the regime of Inspector Charles Faulkner and the underworld is getting it. The little dirty back-street joints are there as of old—more of them than ever. But the underworld is stepping out. It is extending itself. It is coming out on the main streets.
|Kenyon Theater at Federal & Erie Sts, 1939. Pittsburgh Police Lieutenant Charlie Faulkner's place was in basement.|
Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, University of Pittsburgh
Sprigle’s spare, staccato prose elevated the most ordinary racketeer to celebrity stature. Of course Sprigle knew Edward and Stella. Here’s what he had to say about them:
If the palatial blind pig above Inspector Faulkner’s pool room is the most luxurious place in the Northside,the gambling joint on the second floor of 118 Federal street is the busiest and the most crowded. This is the club owned by Edward Kane, most prominent of the masqueraux of the Northside. His wife is Stella Shaner, and when not engaged in rooking easy marks in his gambling house Kane helps her run her bawdy house at 212 East Robinson street. Kane’s partner is Paul Davis. A few months ago Kane and Davis both were run out of Faulkner’s office in the Northside station with the threat following them that if they returned they’d be thrown out bodily. Evidently Faulkner became more reasonable because now they call on him in the manner of old friends.Pittsburgh's (insulted) reporters - especially Sprigle - kept the spotlight trained on Little Canada and eventually Inspector Faulkner would be taken down by such investigative work. Faulkner was one of the highest-ranking public individuals indicted for bootlegging by federal and county grand juries, though he was able to dodge convictions. His gig was up in 1932 when he resigned from the police force after being bumped to patrolman by the successor of disgraced Mayor Kline, who was at that point cleaning house.
OUT-TALK DOORMAN: Kane’s joint isn’t so easy to get into. Last Thursday the newspaper party was flatly turned down. But Friday night they managed to out-talk the door keeper and before he recovered from his daze at the flow of language, the reporters were inside. There they found about 75 gamblers crowded about a crap table. Rat-faced underworld figures clutched rolls containing hundreds of dollars and shrilly shouted their bets while one of the crowd rolled the dice. The game keeper who raked in ten per cent of all bets for the benefit of the house was Walter Kane, Stella’s and Ed’s son. He got a little of the limelight that his father and mother hitherto had monopolized when his wife, an actress, sued his mother for alienating Walter’s affections. The wife probably thinks more of Edward’s [sic] affections than anyone else in the world for she valued them at $50,000 in the suit.
In the rear of the room five men sat at playing pinochle. It was anything but a friendly game for the stakes ran high and money changed hands rapidly. Three poker tables in the front of the room were vacant. These, it was learned, do not open until near midnight. Here come the proprietors of other gambling resorts to lose what they have just won from the amateur patrons.
But the small change is just as welcome to Ed as the big. A reporter’s bet of $2 was accepted without question at the dice table. The dice rolled once and the $2 changed hands.
As the newspapermen left the door keeper apologized for his tardiness in letting them in.
“You know,” he said , “we heard that a bunch of nosey newspapermen were making the rounds and we thought for a while you might be them. But I know now that you fellows couldn’t be newspapermen.”
The reporters are still trying to figure out if they were insulted or complimented.
The Kanes had law enforcement targets on their backs, too. In December 1926 a North Side police lieutenant named Hook busted Edward’s joint. Lieutenant Hook perhaps thought himself the Pittsburgh version of Elliot Ness, in that his “raiding proclivities have made him a thorn in the side of many police inspectors who prefer “listening to reason” to enforcing the law."
According to the Post report - no byline, but likely a Sprigle piece — Officer Hook responded to a desperate housewife’s plea to close down Kane’s place since she was being made destitute by the losses her gambling husband incurred. The description of the subsequent raid paints a vivid picture of Little Canada shenanigans and Eddie Kane’s aplomb:
|Pittsburgh Post headlines, 21 December 1926|
She appealed to him at 8:30 and two hours later the gambling joint that Kane and Davis boasted was “cop-proof” was smashed up and out of business…While most of the men were released on $30 bail, Edward was charged with keeping ye olde disorderly house. According to the report “A number of prosperous looking gentlemen called the police station to learn what Eddie’s bail was set at and held whispered conversations with the officers in charge but until after midnight there was no indication of his being released.”
ALL HOPE ABANDONED: When Lieutenant Hook and Patrolman John Sigmund stepped into the joint there was a scramble for hats and coats, but with the realization that there was only one avenue of escape, and that through the front door blocked by the impressive person of Hook, all thoughts turned toward the telephone. Use of this means of getting in touch with “influential friends” was denied the players, however, and they settled down to wait for the wagon.
A large crowd gathered in Federal street and patiently waited for the thrill of watching the raid.
The patrons of the place were led through an admiring crowd handcuffed in pairs and Eddie Kane, who, unaware that the place was being raided, had walked right into it, and was greeted by Hook acting as doorkeeper, was the last to leave. He carefully turned out the lights, locked the door, and philosophically climbed into the waiting wagon containing a load of his erstwhile customers. Two trips of the wagon were required.
Those whispered conversations by monied friends worked, as per the aftermath of the raid as reported in the Press:
An alleged gambling house at 118 Federal st., which police said was operated by “Eddie” Kane and Paul Davis, was raided. The reputed proprietors were fined $25 each in Northside police court. Twenty visitors were fined $5 each.Basically, a slap on the wrist. This wasn’t the first time Eddie got off easy, for he had friends in high places. According to the Post, Kane and his partner Davis had boasted they had the “strongest kind of protection” and “had been conducting their joint openly since the beginning of the Kline administration” with full support of Pittsburgh public safety and law enforcement officials. Even with such friends, complaints had to be investigated, though that was usually done by, or on the orders of none other than Inspector Charles Faulkner. Since Faulkner was essentially a fixer for all things vice on the North Side, complaints amounted to a whole lot of nothing:
Faulkner, even while Eddie and Paul were rooking their dupes nightly, reported….that there was not the slightest sign of any gambling… “See, you’re all wrong. The Northside’s clean and there’s no gambling at Eddie Kane’s.”
Poor Stella had worse luck, and she made the papers quite often for her disorderly housekeeping. During one vice crackdown in 1924, Stella and sixteen other “madams” were indicted after a series of “sensational raids.” An April 1926 Post article cited police records indicating she’d been “arrested nearly 300 times during the last three years and has been held for court scores of times…At one point she’d been served with swift injunction papers and ordered closed. But the Northside political leaders stopped the proceedings.”
Those helpful “Northside political leaders” did at least offer some personal protection for Stella.
But, really, Stella was arrested THREE HUNDRED times? That averages one arrest every three days. AT that rate, Stella could have had her own bench and personal revolving door in lock-up. She’d pay up and wave goodbye until next time.
Because for her, there would always be a next time.
And if the next time came too soon, she’d forfeit bail from the last time during her court appearance.
Usually these visits cost her around $100 each. Presumably she made more than that at her business, otherwise she’d never have gotten ahead.
It's clear from these reports that there was a peculiar kind of gender inequity at play in law enforcement of Pittsburgh's vice trade. A gambling den run by a man might get busted every so often for appearance's sake, but female sex workers faced far more harassment since they were the physical vectors of immorality. There were enough people who believed that drinking and gambling were illegal but not implicitly illicit activities, but who held very complicated ideas regarding sex.
The Card Shuffling Son
What of Walter Kane? Whatever his genetic parentage, Walter was raised by Edward and Stella against a backdrop of chaos that must have shaped his attitudes and relationships. It’s possible he tried to overcome those influences, pursuing a legit career trajectory in the early 1920s while still living with his parents at 212 General Robinson. He worked as a “helper” at age 15, according to city directories. Walter was listed as a “student” of 17 years of age in 1922, when his father’s three-legged dog Buster (that very good boy) made the national papers. Later public records indicate Walter claimed to have left school at the age of 15, or in sixth grade. Although no photos were available in public searches, he was documented to have stood 5 feet 9 inches tall, with blue eyes and brown hair.
In 1923 Walter was working as a “clerk” somewhere. If the newspapers are to be believed, also in 1923, an 18 year old Walter found love.
It didn’t end well.
According to news stories, in 1923 young Walter allegedly married an actress named Lorrain who was an understudy in a traveling company for the hit comedy Abie’s Irish Rose. You’d be forgiven now if you’d never heard of it - but not back then. Abie’s Irish Rose was a wildly popular three-act comedy that debuted in 1922 with a simple plot premise: Jewish boy marries Irish Catholic girl, families protest, mayhem ensues. It was critically panned, but raked in the dough because it made people laugh. It yet endures: there have been multiple revivals, a radio show, and two film versions. The interfaith marriage conflict it enunciated would resonate decades later in modern entertainment - think wedded comedy duo Stiller and Meara, or television shows such as Bridget Loves Bernie and Thirtysomething.
In the 1920s Abie’s Irish Rose had what was then the longest run of any Broadway production. Its official touring companies went everywhere. Multi-ethnic Pittsburgh loved the play so much that the company was in residence from March to October 1923, for an unprecedented 29 week run.
|Pittsburgh Press advertisement for Abie's Irish Rose, 14 March 1923|
Three years later, while the play was still running on Broadway and touring the country, a related story made the round in the nation’s newspapers. It originated in Pittsburgh papers in March 1926. A young woman identifying herself as Lorrain L. Kane, former understudy in the Pittsburgh touring company of Abie’s Irish Rose, was said to have filed a $100,000 lawsuit in Common Pleas Court against none other than Stella Kane. The suit accused Stella of alienating the affections of Lorrain’s husband Walter Kane, thereby breaking up their marriage.
Let me repeat: Stella Shaner, described then as a “notorious Northside underworld character, raided many times by the police,” was in 1926 accused of successfully poisoning her son Walter’s mind against his wife Lorrain, to the point that Walter abandoned his marriage.
|Pittsburgh Gazette Times headline, 4 March 1926|
It sounds bizarre.
Because it was bizarre.
|Pittsburgh Daily Post, 4 March 1926|
Kane and his wife were married October 27, 1923, the wife having given up her role in the play. She alleges that they lived happily until her mother-in-law, the Shaner woman, took a dislike to her, and eventually brought about an estrangement. A reconciliation was effected, and the couple lived together until July 26, 1925, Mrs. Kane asserts, and then, through the mother-in-law, her marital life was broken up again. Mrs. Kane alleges that her home has been broken up and that she has been deprived of the society and comfort of her husband through the machinations of the Shaner woman. Kane is believed to be in Los Angeles at present. The plaintiff was represented yesterday by Assistant City Solicitor Charles P. Lang and Attorney Samuel Rosenberg.What happened? Well, possibly nothing. It’s a story that cannot be confirmed without more information.
But perhaps, as according to one International Press Service report, Stella lowered the disapproving mother boom on Walter and "sent him to California and threatened to cut him out of her will if he lived with his wife.”
What we can know for sure is that Abie’s Irish Rose enjoyed a popular run in Pittsburgh and received copious press coverage. It played at the Schubert Pitt Theater at Penn Avenue and 7th Street until August, then moved to the Lyceum for the rest of its record-breaking Pittsburgh run. Nowhere in any of the local press coverage was there mention of an understudy named Lorrain. That doesn’t mean she wasn’t there, of course, just that she wasn't making the news. It's impossible to confirm or deny this story without public record documentation of a marriage between 18 year old Walter Kane and actress Lorrain on the date claimed. Nor is there anything conclusive to be found about Walter living in California in 1926. If Walter was out west in March 1926 when this story broke, he came back soon enough, because Walter was prominently identified in the Ray Sprigle piece that July about Edward Kane’s gambling den. In fact, Walter was running games there. Sprigle even mentioned the divorce suit (although he got the amount and the guy wrong; see above).
|Example of national wire services story about Lorrain and Walter; others were more detailed.|
The lawyers who allegedly filed suit were certainly real. One of them, Samuel Rosenberg, was regularly involved with cases connected to Pittsburgh’s vice element.
There was no media follow-up about these allegations in Pittsburgh newspapers. But in July 1929, notice of a divorce suit pressed by one Walter J. Kane against Lorrain/e L. Kane was posted in the Pittsburgh paper. This is most certainly the same couple, although our Walter’s middle initial was usually listed as D (for Dell or sometimes Dale). His putative wife Lorrain seems to have vanished. A public notice was posted by Walter’s lawyer in November 1926 ordering her to appear in court by 6 January 1930 (the original subpoena could not be delivered).
As entertaining as it might be to read Ray Sprigle’s writing in the Post about the Kane family, there’s an exploitative element about his coverage that is hard to get past for us as modern readers. It hints at a mini case-study of the law of unintended consequences, and a harbinger of the pitfalls of modern reality show voyeurism. Had Sprigle not been so attuned to Pittsburgh vice, and so tickled by the quirky alienation of affections lawsuit filed against Stella, the break-up of Lorrain and Walter’s marriage wouldn’t have made national news. Walter was somewhere between 18 and 23 when all of this allegedly happened, and he was surely no innocent. But when your private business is splashed across the front pages of the nation's newspapers because of who your parents were, it surely made getting up from where you’d been knocked down more difficult.
The truth behind this broken marriage eludes clarification, at least for now. Walter listed himself as “single” on official records for the rest of his life.
The Notorious Kanes
Thanks to Sprigle’s reporting, readers could hardly open the paper in 1926 without running across the Kanes. There was the July profile of Edward’s place, a high-profile bust in December, various and sundry routine busts involving Edward and Stella, and Walter’s alienation of affection lawsuit.
But wait, there’s more! Walter was cited by the Post for drunk driving in September 1926. The article claimed that since his father’s gambling den was “dark” (probably after yet another raid), Walter had too much time on his hands since being temporarily “out of his nightly job of game tender in the notorious gambling resort.” He was seen speeding and driving recklessly on Penn Avenue, eluded arrest, and led the police on a chase.
Walter cooled his heels overnight in jail and “laughed things off” at a hearing the next morning. It helped to have connections, for the magistrate also laughingly apologized for slapping Water with a $10 fine for disorderly conduct. The reckless driving charge stuck, though.
|Pittsburgh Daily Post headlines, 9 September 1926|
Six weeks later in October 1926, Walter was back in court on another reckless driving charge. This one didn’t stick, either, dismissed before the plaintiff completed her testimony. The write-up in the Post first established Walter’s credentials as a lowlife:
Walter Kane, 24, of 212 East General Robinson street, who dealt stud poker in the gambling dive of his father, Eddie Kane, until the place was closed, and whose mother, Stella Shaner, is a well known bawdy house keeper, had enough political pull, evidently, to cause Magistrate John A. Staley, Jr., in traffic court yesterday morning to discharge him for reckless driving because no policeman saw him operating a motor car dangerously for others Wednesday night.(Yes, that was all one sentence).
Then the article detailed Walter’s transgressions. As he drove on Federal Street with a young woman companion, Walter allegedly paced the plaintiff’s car, passed, and zig-zagged in front of it. The plaintiff, Elizabeth Crozier, was a Dormont woman who was “driving home from the downtown district following a club meeting” with her sister and two friends. Walter cut her car off several times so “To avoid collision she swung her steering wheel quickly and nearly upset the car which shot into the path of an oncoming car.” Fortunately, disaster was averted and no one was injured. But since Walter had pulled over to watch this action, Mrs. Crozier decided to approach him to demand accountability in a certain clubwoman-from-Dormont way. That encounter went about as well as you might expect:
CARD-SHUFFLER INSULTING: She asked him what he meant and the reply of the son of Stella Shaner was: “If I had that tin can, I would drive it into the country and lose it.” This despite the fact that Mrs. Crozier was driving a new and expensive automobile while his own was an old model machine, a bit weatherbeaten.And, oh dear, imagine this. According to Mrs. Crozier:
…."he smelled as though he had been drinking liquor,” so she took his license number and went to the Northside police station. A few hours later Kane was arrested for reckless driving. In traffic court he did not testify—the ex-card shuffling son of Eddie Kane, the gambler,and Stella Shaner, the house of ill-fame owner, simply stood by and heard Magistrate Staley make a new ruling in an automobile law violation case before Mrs. Crozier had finished talking.Raids, national shame from bizarre divorce suits, and terroristic drunk driving splashed all over the newspapers meant the year 1926 was not a good one for the Kanes. They’d captured the attention of Ray Sprigle in the Post. Sprigle was like one of Ed Kane's pit bulls with a bone when it came to shaking down colorful characters in the vice world. Fortunately for the Kanes, Sprigle’s attention was diverted in 1927 by new responsibilities required of him as Post city editor. He was even more distracted when, in the flurry of multiple Pittsburgh newspaper consolidations, the Post was merged with William Randolph Hearst’s Gazette Times later that same year.
The Kanes didn’t exactly fade into oblivion after that, but at least the press spotlight was off. They still did what they'd always done to make a living, which meant they still got caught in sporadic vice raids. But maybe Stella was slowing down. She came to court on accumulated charges in 1927 and paid a $300 fine. She might even have gone to prison that time, had she not presented a doctor’s excuse that amounted to a Get Out of Jail Free Card when her physician testified that he’d been treating her for “heart trouble” for the last two years. Stella cooperated with testimony a year later in a grand jury probe of the activities of North Side’s chief of graft, Lieutenant Charles Faulkner, with whom she and Edward had a long, complicated professional relationship.
Stella died of secondary pneumonia related to influenza on 2 January 1929, aged 45. Her death certificate was filed as Mrs. Estella Kane but her estate belonged to Estella Catherine Stroud. Despite her notorious reputation, there was but a perfunctory obituary notice in the Press and Post-Gazette. Friends were invited to pay their respects at 212 East General Robinson, where funeral services were held a few days later. Internment was private, and Stella was laid to rest in a single grave in Section 38 of the Allegheny Cemetery. Edward and Walter published a personal note in the Press later that month.
|Pittsburgh Press, 10 January 1929|
Edward was executor of Stella’s will. Throughout the Depression years he remained at 212 East General Robinson, advertising it and the adjacent building he and Stella had owned as boarding houses. By 1930 someone new had moved in to take charge of the disorderly side of things: Vera Martin, ten years Edward’s junior, born in Wisconsin. Edward’s life with Vera settled into familiar routines, with periodic raids and fines for disorderly housekeeping and gambling operations. A sensational case implicated both of them in 1937 when a 26 year old who worked elsewhere on East General Robinson attempted suicide, then publicly accused her husband of abuse and sex trafficking. The physical proximity of the operations run by Kane and Martin were noted and they suffered the usual charge of disorderly housekeeping. Occasionally Vera was referred to as Vera Kane, but there is no evidence that she and Edward married. As always Edward kept multiple sources of income: in 1935, he sold property he owned on Sandusky Avenue for a cool $15,000.
By the time he was in his late 50s, Edward was spending time in the Mount Pleasant/Scottdale area of his birth. No one named Vera seemed to be around. He was counted in the 1940 census in Wooddale, a village not far from where he was born in the Connellsville coal country. Edward listed his occupation as “farmer” and shared his home with a 34 year old maid and a 64 year old male lodger.
It requires imaginative thinking to picture Edward Kane, who’d lived his life profiting from urban vice, enjoying a quiet life on what may have been a family farm. He certainly wasn't taking care of farm business on his own; in 1941 he advertised for a dairy farmer to take it on.
|Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ad, 18 July 1941|
Two years later after that, in 1943, Edward sold 152 acres for $20,000 to Isadore Bergstein, a grocery store proprietor in Monessen about 25 miles away.
He must have moved back to Pittsburgh, for Edward died in 1946 in his East General Robinson Street house. His funeral took place at his sister Minnie’s Mount Pleasant home, and he was laid to rest in the family plot in Alverton Cemetery with his parents and siblings Allie and Simon. One of Minnie’s daughters was designated as Edward’s executor, not his son Walter.
Thus it was that in 1946, Walter was the last Kane standing. He'd spent 30 days in the Allegheny County Workhouse a decade earlier in 1936 on a vagrancy charge. Also, he'd been charged in a vehicular hit-and-run crash in the North Side in 1937. But otherwise Walter seems to have stayed out of the scandal sheets -- a blessing for him even though it makes tracking his later life difficult.
Walter was an unemployed boarder in 1930 at his 212 East General Robinson address. He claimed to be a "sweeper salesman" when living there in 1940. In 1942, 37 year old Walter Kane enlisted in the Army to answer the call of service during World War II. He listed his next-of-kin as his father, Edward. Walter served domestically in the Army Air Force Third Service Command in Baltimore Maryland for fourteen months and was honorably discharged with the rank of private in 1943. After the way he returned to what was essentially his childhood home, the boarding house on the North Side. Following his death in June 1957, Walter was buried in Highwood Cemetery in Allegheny County.
To the very end, Walter maintained on his military and other public records that he had never been married.
Bringing a 1900s Pittsburgh family into the spotlight was not my intent when I started to explore the story-behind-the-story of a three-legged dog. Whether one starts with a random story like this or begins a personal family history exploration, tracking people through their appearances in public historical documents is a dicey endeavor. Those records are only as informative as the individuals that they document, and the data is only meaningful when compassionately and carefully assessed in the context of the times reflected.
Buster may have been a very good boy. I’m going to stick with that because, c’mon, just look at him!
But we do an injustice to close this story by concluding that his owners lived very bad lives.
The research on this story is not complete. Maybe somewhere in a newspaper morgue or city police record archive are photos of these folks. There may be other non-digitized primary sources to explore that might add tone and nuance to their stories.
But I doubt any records I find will tell me why the Kanes made the choices they did.
Edward, Stella, and Walter Kane lived out loud. They were born into the raw edges of society, not the comfortable folds. But even so, they had relatives who made choices that propelled their lives away from those edges. What was different for Edward, Stella and Walter? In a world conditioned to modify its vices, the Kanes seem to have reveled in the benefits they found by exploiting theirs. Certainly for some people, the uncertainty of a gambling life is its own reward. Or perhaps it was just habit, fueled by equal parts inertia and exhaustion. When all you’ve known is the struggle, it’s an act of self-preservation not to struggle against it. Dysfunction is functional in such cases. For so many people like the Kanes, at the end of the day there’s no energy left after the daily hustle to analyze, to cultivate insight, or to change.
Life simply IS. You keep on doing what you’re doing because it’s all you know how to do.
Sometimes that means that when you chase a cat out of your yard, you come back with only three legs. At the end of the day, let’s hope the Kanes had people in their lives who cared enough to prop them up.
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