Friday, August 24, 2012

McCullough movement fueled by love of history - Pittsburgh Post Gazette

Michael Connors, a 50-year-old arborist from Chalfant, is a man with a strong appreciation for history, especially Pittsburgh's history.

He served as vice president of the Lawrenceville Historical Society for about six years. He has been a proponent for the creation of a statue to honor Hollywood star and dancer Gene Kelly, who was born in East Liberty 100 years ago Thursday. And he has written about the region's history in contributions to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

So it makes sense that, when the Allegheny County Council floated the idea of opening up naming rights for the county's 520 bridges, Mr. Connors suggested a bridge be named after Pulitzer Prize-winning author David McCullough, another Pittsburgh native with a strong appreciation for history.

"If McCullough was from St. Louis or Cleveland or something, I'd still consider him an extremely good writer and extremely good historian," Mr. Connors said Thursday morning as he walked along the 16th Street Bridge, which may be renamed for Mr. McCullough.

"But the fact that he is from here and that he's never lost sight that he is from here -- I mean, he refers to Pittsburgh as his home."

And his hometown, Mr. Connors said, should honor its "best and brightest."

A year ago, Post-Gazette columnist Brian O'Neill built on Mr. Connors' suggestion and proposed renaming the 16th Street Bridge, which spans the Allegheny River from the North Side to the Strip District, after Mr. McCullough.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Connors made his case to the Allegheny County Council, which voted unanimously to send the proposal to the county manager for recommendation, setting in motion the possibility that the David McCullough Bridge could take its place alongside the Roberto Clemente, Rachel Carson and Andy Warhol bridges sometime in the future.

If it does come to be, Mr. Connors said, the renaming of the bridge will speak to Pittsburgh's past and future.

It also will speak to Mr. Connors' personal history.

His father, the son of a man who came to Pittsburgh from Ireland in 1891, grew up with eight siblings in a "borderline 'Angela's Ashes' " existence, Mr. Connors said. His father served in World War II and then worked in maintenance for Westinghouse.

He can remember his father reading Mr. McCullough's biography of Theodore Roosevelt, and although they came of age at different times in Pittsburgh's history, they were united by their love of Mr. McCullough's writing.

"The only thing I had in common with my dad was the Steelers and history," he said.

As he walked the bridge Thursday morning, he held in his hands "Brave Companions," a compilation of profiles written by Mr. McCullough that is his favorite work by the author.

"History," Mr. Connors said, "is a compass."

By writing about the past, he said, Mr. McCullough has provided a frame of reference for the present.

"In a lot of ways, McCullough is a bridge builder," he said.

Now he just needs a bridge.

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