Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and writer David McCullough shares poignant stories about his experiences growing up in Pittsburgh for a new article featured in The Wall Street Journal.
Author of 11 books—including his latest, The Wright Brothers (2015, Simon & Schuster)—McCullough writes that he first gained early inspiration for a lifelong career during his youth in Pittsburgh.
“I learned how to tell a story at my family’s dinner table in Pittsburgh, where my parents and my maternal grandmother told stories about World War I, the city’s terrible floods, violent labor strikes and family eccentrics. I listened carefully and wound up with an appreciation for history. We were Scotch-Irish, and storytelling was in the blood. ”
McCullough, 81, has twice won the Pulitzer Prize and is also the recipient of a National Book Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the US.
McCullough discuses his father Hax, who ran the family’s electrical supply business, and was a natural raconteur:
“The secret was in the characters—how the people in his stories coped with problems and how ingenuity, determination and humor got them through adversity. I suppose that’s when I realized that history is human when told well, that all of those people in my father’s stories were just as real as we were.”
McCullough goes on to write about the house that his parents built in the 1920s on Glen Arden Drive in Point Breeze where he grew up, his adventures with the Junior Commandos, the city’s pollution and his decision to attend Yale University along with his brothers.
“In those days, Pittsburgh was heavily polluted with smoke and soot. Going to school some mornings, you couldn’t see 50 feet in front of you. But there were also plenty of days when the sky was blue.”
The writer’s preteen reflections are dominated by memories of WWII, when Pittsburgh was called “the Arsenal of Democracy because it produced so much of the steel needed for the war.”
Pittsburgh’s rich cultural life had an indelible impact on the budding historian:
“Culturally, Pittsburgh was a marvelous place to grow up. The Carnegie Music Hall, the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Art and the Carnegie Library were all under one huge roof. You never had a sense that the arts were separated. The first time I discovered that there was a world beyond Pittsburgh was on a Sunday afternoon in 1941 when my older brother, Hax Jr., took me to see “Rodeo,” Aaron Copland’s ballet. I was 8. When we came out, a crowd on the sidewalk was talking nervously. Pearl Harbor had just been bombed.”
And though he splits his times between Boston and Martha’s Vineyard today, McCullough’s beloved Pittsburgh—where the 16th Street Bridge was renamed in his honor in 2013—is never far from the writer’s heart:
“I still have an enormous affection for Pittsburgh and go back whenever possible. I am exceedingly proud that one of Pittsburgh’s great bridges has recently been renamed for me.”
Read David McCullough’s article in The Wall Street Journal.