Cal U. Exhibit Focuses on Mon Valley History
Washington PA Observer-Reporter
21 March 2016
By Scott Beveridge
CALIFORNIA – California University of Pennsylvania librarian Julia
McGinnis was drawn to glass negatives used a century ago by a
mysterious Donora photographer as a new exhibit on Mon Valley
history was taking shape on campus Monday.
The labor-intensive method used by Bruce Dreisbach and other
photographers of his time to create photographs should draw
interest from today’s students, who are accustomed to taking quick
and easy selfies with cellphones, said McGinnis, who oversees
special collections at Cal U.’s Louis L. Manderino Library.
“I think the glass plates are cool,” she said about the Dreisbach
items brought to Cal U. by the Donora Historical Society for the
exhibit, Voices of the Mon Valley: Oral History and Local
“The kids today have no concept about how photos were taken and
developed from glass negatives. It’s alien to them,” McGinnis
Historical societies from Donora, California and Monessen were
invited to display items from their collections here as part of
the culminating event of work performed under a $15,000 grant to
teach professors and the societies how to collect oral histories
and incorporate them into classrooms. A sampling of the oral
histories will be incorporated into the exhibit, along with select
items from the university’s archives.
Donora owes a debt of gratitude to Dreisbach, who left behind a
vast collection of his glass negatives containing images of the
birth and growth of U.S. Steel mills along the Monongahela River
in the borough. He shot groundbreakings, gatherings of
steelworkers, scenes of them toiling in the zinc works, steel
products and thousands of other scenes of one of the most infamous
mills in the world. He also worked in the mill as an engineer and
safety inspector. But the historical society doesn’t know much
else about Dreisbach.
The photographer’s work was overshadowed by the infamous Donora
smog of 1948, which killed more than 20 people and sickened
thousands of others when a temperature inversion trapped the
mills’ pollutants in the valley.
A display on the smog, which became the nation’s worst air
pollution disaster, is included in Donora’s section in the new
California Area Historical Society features borough native Bruce
Dal Canton, who pitched for 12 seasons for major league teams,
including the Pittsburgh Pirates. His worn-out leather game shoes
are on display, along with one of his bobbleheads.
Among the items contributed by the Greater Monessen Historical
Society are a lunch box and hard hat worn by a worker at the
Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel mill in the city.
“I’m just glad to be part of it,” said Pat Cowen, archivist at the
“It’s an opportunity for us to show the valley what we are doing
to preserve our history, because a lot of people don’t know we
exist,” Cowen said.
The exhibit opens in the library from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday with
an open house featuring speaker Lou Martin, a professor at Chatham
University who specializes in Appalachian history and culture.
The exhibit, which is open to the public, will be open through
April 10. Hours are: 5 to 7 p.m. Monday; 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday
and Thursday; 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday; 3 to 5 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m.
to 3 p.m. Saturday; and 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday. The gallery in the
library at 701 Third St. will be closed March 25 to 28 and April