Original Document
Original Document
Robert Haven Schauffler, On the “novel beauty” of Pittsburgh's smokescape, 1914. 

THE beauty of the site of Pittsburgh, like that of the immortal gods, would seem to be ageless and invulnerable. For whatever man could do to deface it he has done. He found, in the Allegheny and the Monongahela, two crystal rivers, flowing between splendid cliffs, enclosing, as young Major George Washington reported a century and a half ago, "a considerable body of flat, well- timbered land . . . very convenient for building," and uniting to form the majestic Ohio.
Man befouled the streams, bedraggled their banks, ripped up the cliffs, hacked down the trees, and dumped refuse in their stead. He sowed the imposing heights with hovels and set up beneath them black mills to cover everything far and wide with a film of smoke.
Then he looked about him and saw that the pristine, virginal loveliness of the spot was gone. But lo, in its place had arisen a new kind of beauty, a more poignant, dramatic kind, with more of thrill and variety and even of sheer charm than surrounded old Fort Le Boeuf that day when Washington saw the land that it was good.
I never come within range of the spell of Pittsburgh without wishing to conduct thither the lying sage who declared that there is nothing new under the sun. For Pittsburgh is some thing new. A few years ago an enthusiastic painter, writing of the place, declared that "the indescribable freshness of its motives, the infinite variety of its moods, the mirage-like appearance of distant hill-tops, suspended for a moment in the turquoise haze and dropping mysteriously from view, the tender distances, light and volatile as ether . . . the masterful disposition of architecture, with a landscape at times primeval in character, lend an exotic beauty to this restless background that furnishes the jaded traveler with what he has begun to look upon as unattainable a distinctly new thrill."
This novel kind of beauty is largely due to the very thing which, more than all else, has sealed Pittsburgh s reputation for discomfort and sordid ugliness. The smoke is the thing which has put upon the place its nick-name of "Hell with the Lid Off." But-
"like the catholic man who hath mightily won
God out of knowledge and good out of infinite pain
And sight out of blindness and purity out of a stain"
so Pittsburgh has won its crowning beauty out of its foulest stain the smoke.
From any of the city’s hundred hills one can enjoy more kinds of smoke in an hour than there are kinds of cloud in a month. In swift succession pass banners of snow, creamy fountains, aerial groves of olive, hanging gardens of lilac and rose, hills of oranges and rusty red apples, geysers ranging through a thousand grays, from fawn color to sheer brutal dirt, then deepening to a black as rich as the tarry coal from which it sprang.
One convenient thing about the smokescape is that you can enjoy some part of it wherever you happen to be. In Fourth Avenue one morning the lower parts of the office-buildings were quite obliterated by a dense, low-lying bank of soft, dusky smoke. But as the eye traveled upward this cloud began to thin, until, when it reached the cornices, every detail of them stood out sharply in the sunlight against a sky of pale sapphire.
Such effects are as interesting as they are characteristic of the place. Pittsburgh smoke and fog make strange companions. I remember one murky morning when from the tower of the Allegheny Library the city resolved itself into a steaming caldron, with the sky-scrapers emerging as though a race of giants had been condemned to have their feet parboiled. About this one feature of the local pageant one might run on without end. But any such account as this of the picturesque side of the city of beautiful smoke perforce must rigorously select a mere handful of effects out of as many as would fill fat volumes.

Credit: Robert Haven Schauffler, Romantic America (London: Grant Richards Ltd., 1914), 70-75.
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