Mark O’Connor, Slippery Rock University professor of English, has written a historical essay about the Polish Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh that was published by The Massachusetts Review.
The 16-page “Holy Ghosts” essay presents a warts-and-all sketch of the gritty neighborhood populated by Polish immigrants in the 19th century.
O’Connor, who has lived in Polish Hill for five years and spent six months researching the community as part of his sabbatical project, said the neighborhood is in conflict between two camps – families that have lived there for decades and younger “Goths, punks and artists.”
The result is a culture clash between former mill workers and hipsters who hang out in a coffee shop that sells jazz on vinyl. Its most well known building is the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church.
“And though there is a culture clash at times, there is also a sense of community inherited from the old neighborhood where there is some give and take, with older residents getting their sidewalks shoveled by the newcomers,” O’Connor said.
In its heyday, Polish Hill had 27 stores, eight grocery stores, a meat market and dry cleaner. Most of them are long gone, although a resurgence of sorts is afoot because younger residents are moving in and remodeling homes, he said.
O’Connor said his research included a review of old newspapers, books, medical documents, Catholic archives and oral interviews with many residents in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. He also amassed a collection of old photographs.
The Massachusetts Review founded in 1959, is a high-end literary magazine published with support from Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Smith College and the University of Massachusetts. Each edition publishes well-known writers, such as Pulitzer Prize winners John Ashbery and Frank Wright.
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