Bookshelf provides descriptions and notices of recent publications on Pennsylvania subjects.

Hope Abandoned: Eastern State Penitentiary

By Mark Perrott
Pennsylvania Prison Society and Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, 1999 (105 pages, cloth, $28.00)

The images by Pittsburgh photographer Mark Perrott of Philadelphia’s “modern ruin,” Eastern State Penitentiary, are haunting in their portrayal of a medieval-looking fortress that is falling into grave disrepair. Herbert Muschamp, whose 199 2 article for the New York Times is both the inspiration – and introduction – for Hope Abandoned: Eastern State Penitentiary, describes the sprawling complex as “a gloomy landmark … still worthy of wide public attention.” Opened in 1829, Eastern State Penitentiary was the largest and most expensive in Amer­ica at the time, and drew international visitors, among them Charles Dickens (see “‘Punishment, Penitence, and Reform’: Eastern State Penitentiary and the Controversy Over Solitary Confinement” by William C. Kashatus, Winter 1999). The penitentiary is, wrote Muschamp, “a showcase of lost hopes. Empty since the last prisoners departed in 1970, the prison’s stonewalled cells are haunting tableaux of a failed experiment in Utopian social planning. Designed in 1821 by Philadelphia architect John Haviland, Eastern State was born from the fusion of Quaker soda! conscience with the Enlightenment’s faith in reason. Its innovative form arose from humanitarian concern for the treatment of prisoners and from philosophical speculation about the cause and cure of crime.” Muschamp warns readers, however, that they will find the complex neither humane nor reasonable, which is dearly reinforced by Per­rott’s stark and unforgettable photographs. The photographer conveys the character of Eastern State Penitentiary with black and white images of architectural details, such as enormous locks, long stone hallways, watchtowers, steel cots, and cell walls riddled with graffiti. There are huge bars and grates everywhere. Interspersed among these gloomy portraits are snippets of interviews conducted with prison inmates, guards, and neighbors by documentary filmmaker Hal Kim. Identified only as Norman, an inmate’s recollections are juxtaposed with a photograph of a calendar scratched into a crumbling plastered wall. “Yes, there were – there were hard times,” remembered Nor­man. “There were times I laid in bed myself and cried. I could hear people celebrating New Year’s outside my wall. New Year’s Eve, you know.” Mark Perrott summarizes his photographs of Eastern State Penitentiary – designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965 – as depictions of the “awful beauty of this mostly dark and profoundly disturbing place.”


The Monongahela: River of Dreams, River of Sweat

By Arthur Parker
Penn State Univer­sity Press, 1999 (202 pages, cloth, $35.00)

The Monongahela River in western Pennsylvania, one of the three rivers that meet at Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle, possesses a rich history associated with the westward expansion of the na­tion during the colonial era and with the development of America as an industrial power beginning in the nineteenth century. It is a waterway that has seen many phases of use. The Monongahela River became the “river of dreams” for pioneers who trekked over the Allegheny Mountains, some staying to settle and establish trading businesses, others moving further west. Beginning in the 1790s, the river became home to a major shipbuilding industry, which turned out everything from flat­boats to steamboats. Brownsville, in Fayette County, one of the centers of this industry, produced the first steamboat to make a full roundtrip on the Mississippi River – the very same boat that General Andrew Jackson commandeered in New Orleans to help defeat the British. It was not long before other industries began to develop. Financier Albert Gallatin opened a glass factory at New Geneva. Millsboro claimed a gristmill, a sawmill, and an ironworks. The growing need for coal as fuel – first in home heating and then in industry – spurred the building of locks and dams to make the river more navigable for towing and also gave rise to more urban development in the Mon Valley. After the Civil War, the making of steel began, and Andrew Carnegie built his first steel mill in Braddock in 1872. He later acquired facilities in nearby communities, such as Homestead, where the bloody strike occurred in 1892, to cre­ate a thirty-seven mile long continuous plant tied together by the river, making the Monongahela the Ruhr of the United States – truly a “river of sweat.” In the 1980s, when the steel belt became the “rust belt,” towns in the Mon Valley went into decline, entering yet another period of transition to an economic future still uncertain but encouraged by signs of new development, with industrial parks opening and recreational use of the river growing. The fascinating history of the Monon­gahela is recounted as the author rides in towboats along the river to experience life as it is still lived daily by those who work and play on the river. His anecdotes and interviews, along with a full panoply of illustrations new and old, help enliven the tale the river has to tell for those who want to remember its rich past and those whose lives will be affected by the river in the future.


Petrolia: The Landscape of America’s First Oil Boom

By Brian Black
Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000 (235 pages, cloth, $42.50)

The tapping of the world’s first commercial oil well in north­western Pennsylvania by Edwin Drake and Billy Smith in 1859 set off an exploitative boom of industrial development reminiscent of California’s gold rush ten years earlier (see “The Valley That Changed the World: Visiting the Drake Well Museum” by Jane Ockershausen, Summer 1995). Within a few years, the forests and farmlands of northwestern Pennsylvania were oblit­erated and replaced with thousands of oil derricks, storage tanks, pump houses, and shacks. Rampant deforestation intensified spring freshets, which led to catastrophic flooding. Fires became dangerous and dramatic. Towns and villages were hastily built and quickly abandoned. Fortunes were made, lost, and stolen. Inevitably, an urban landscape emerged to service the industry. Petrolia: The Landscape of America’s First Oil Boom offers a geographical and social history of the region that was not only the site of America’s first oil boom, but was also the world’s largest oil producer for nearly a quarter-century, from 1859 to 1873. Against the background of changes in attitudes toward consumption and the growing demand for petroleum during and immediately after the Civil War, the author describes the Oil Creek Valley’s descent into “environmental hell.” Known as “Petrolia,” the region charged the popular imagination with its nearly overnight transition from agriculture to industry. So unrestrained were these early efforts at oil drilling, contends the author, that “the landscape came to be viewed only as an instrument out of which one could extract crude.” In a very short tine, Petrolia, the place, was spoiled – environmentally, economically and, to some extent, even culturally. Petrolia, the book, offers the reader historical detail and thoughtful analysis to account for this transformation and conveys an appreciation of the character of the oil fields that is every bit important as its commercial value.


Aaronel: The Art of Aaronel deRoy Gruber

By Donald Miller
Centaur Editions, 2000 (130 pages, cloth, $49.50)

Aaronel deRoy Gruber, born in 1918 to Pittsburgh dentist Joseph Israel deRoy and his wife Bessie Leyser deRoy, began her career in art first with painting, then sculpture and, beginning in the 1980s, turning to photography. She earned her bachelor of science degree in 1940 at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, studying with several outstanding professors of the Institute’s College of Fine Arts, including Samuel Rosenberg, Roy Hilton, Wilfred Readio, and Robert Lepper. (Lepper would later inspire artists Andy Warhol and Philip Pearlstein). Her husband, Irv Gruber, a steel industry executive, provided dis­carded steel forms, which she restructured in bold, new sculpture. Gruber’s largest sculpture, Steelcityscape (1977), lo­cated in downtown Pittsburgh, was seen “as symbolic of the region’s historic but fast-changing industrial strength.” Because she missed what she described as “the immediacy between my inspiration and the final work,” Gruber turned to photography. Much like the famous photographer Margaret Bourke-White, she was drawn to powerful architectural themes: bridges, ruins, ghost towns, and old steel mills. “I love to record beauty with the camera,” she noted. “1 try to capture strong images worth preserving beyond their expected time.” She also said that many of her images “may have a lonely quality. I know businesses can’t run obsolete mms, but it’s terribly sad to see old towns disappearing with deteriorating houses, boarded-up buildings, and businesses.” Gruber’s passion resulted in astonishing views of not only her native Pittsburgh, but also far-off places around the world, to which she traveled, encouraged by her husband. Her insatiable curiosity – coupled with her wan­derlust – has resulted in a body of work that transcends the ordinary; it is exotic, timeless, and surprising. Aaronel features an entire section devoted to images of Pittsburgh, including Fog (1996), Dream City (1996), Downtown Pittsburgh Skyscrapers from Mount Washington (1996), Secluded House near Brunot’s Island (1995), and Phipps Conservatory (1997). Her portraits of local landmarks – from cemeteries to the Union Trust Building and Henry Clay Frick’s baronial mansion Clayton – are serene yet haunting, attesting to her keen eye and eclectic style of compo­sition. Even her views of dilapidated steel mills are not grim, but heroic, almost celebratory, as if she’s preserving the drama and the majesty of what once was. In the chapter entitled “Ad­ventures,” readers are treated to the photographer’s glimpses of Casablanca, Damascus, Morocco, Barcelona, London, St. Pe­tersburg, and Rome, in addition to images made in cities in the United States. The book concludes with an index of plates, a chronology of career highlights, a listing of collections in which her work is included, and a brief bibliography.