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Buried Treasure
By Curt Wohleber


While in his seventies, Thomas Mellon, the progenitor of one of Pittsburgh's wealthiest and most influential families, wrote an autobiography during spare moments in the parlor of the bank he founded. Mellon had the memoirs privately printed in 1885. He intended them to be read only by relatives and close friends.

Now, however, Mellon's grandson Paul Mellon, a collector as well as a benefactor of art museums and other institutions, has collaborated with the University of Pittsburgh Press to bring out a new edition of the book, thereby bringing to light a long-obscured literary treasure.

Mellon proves to be a deft and engaging storyteller, stuffy at times but also earnest, relfective, and capable of flashes of sardonic wit. "I was not there to take lessons in flora culture or botany, or to learn the history of birds, fishes or butterflies," he writes, complaining about what he saw as the unnecessary chatting involved in his courtship of Sarah Jane Negley. "But I must say to her credit that she never inflicted any music upon me." Best of all, Mellon offers intriguing glimpses of local history, covering Pittsburgh's evolution from a modest village near the edge of the civilized world to a mighty, albeit smoky, industrial metropolis.

Mellon first visited Pittsburgh at age nine, traveling alone on foot the 20 miles from his parents farm in Westmoreland County. On his journey into the city, he glimpsed a world beyond his rural imagination. He particularly admired the stately mansion of Jacob Negley.

The Negley family was old money by the standards of Pittsburgh's aristocracy, while the Mellon's own family, recently emigrated from Ulster, struggled to get by at the grimly named locale of Poverty Point. Decades later, however, Mellon married Sarah Jane Negley and built his own handsome home a half-mile form the Negley estate.

Yet Mellon's autobiography reveals that he came very close to a life of rustic obscurity. His father, who had little sympathy for his son's ambition to pursue a merchant or professional career, was about to purchase a farm for his son when a breathless and desperate Thomas interrupted the transaction at the last minute.

Such tenacity finally earned Mellon his father's reluctant support. In 1834, Thomas Mellon enrolled at the Western University of Pennsylvania, later known as the University of Pittsburgh. After graduation he taught Latin at Western, then embarked on the study of law.

Soon, Mellon got down to what he calls "the real business of life" --making money. In a chapter entitled "Bread Winning," he reounts opening his law office at Fifth Avenue and Market Street. His practice flourished, and he carefully invested his earnings in coal and real estate.

Managing his mushrooming assets soon absorbed much of MellonÍs attention. Elected judge in 1859, he found plenty of time to tend to his numerous investments. He gave up his judgeship after 10 years and cast about for a new vocation. Money flowed freely in the booming post-Civil War economy, and therefore, Mellon decided to open a bank. The rampant speculation that fueled the boom, however, soon brought on a devastating collapse tht wiped out banks like a financial bubonic plague. Mellon, however, managed to keep his bank open and pay all his depositors in short order.

Still, the Panic of 1873 clearly unnerved Mellon, for its shadow haunts much of his 500-page narrative. He warns repeatedly against the calamitous effects of reckless speculation and "the canker worm of credit."

Mellon comes across, in some ways, as the archetpical hard-hearted capitalist, an indefatiguable accumulator of wealth with scant sympathy for "weaklings" who can't raise themselves above their curcumstances. He mounted a rather coldly systematic search for a wife that the courtship had taken "much valuable time, somewhat to the prejudice of my professional business."

Yet Mellon's reminiscences also reveal a gentle and thoughtful man with a touching devotion to his family. As a father he struggled to find a balance between strictness and indulgence, succumbing more to the latter after three of his offspring died in childhood. He finished his autobiography on the 42nd anniversary of his wedding, which he called "the luckiest" event of his life.

Assessing the changes in the world during his lifetime, Mellon recounts at length a strikingly familiar litany of woes exorbitant taxes, bloated government, rising crime, and legislatures overrun by self-interested career politicians. Against this darkening backdrop, Mellon hoped his own life story would highlight the value of simple virtues such as thrift, moderation, and hard work. The idea that success in life requires only diligence and clean living might sound simplistic and old-fashioned to modern ears, but Mellon presents his case with the force of a veteran lawyer and the Úlan of a raconteur.

Interview with the Stars
By Sharon Dougherty


B ack in hich school chemistry class, you carried one of the most complex puzzles of all time tucked into the front flap of your book cover. Each puzzle piece, nestled in a mosaic of squares and symbols, has its own history, an individual ancestry that scientists can trace back to the beginnings of the universe. And when all these pieces came otgether to complete the puzzle in the front of your chemistry book yu held in your hand the chaotic sheme of nature neatly packaged into a kind of order.

This great puzzle is the periodic table of the elements, those mysterious building blocks of creation. Without the elements, life as we know it might never have existed. But they present a host of other things to think about besides the formulas and equations you had to learn for Chemistry 101: When did the elements form? How did they come to make up the world we know? And the simplest to ask, yet the most difficult to answer: Where do the elements come from?

"In the beginning stages of the universe, the environment was primarily made up of hydroge, so it's a rather complex question," says John Hillier. Hillier and Regina Schulte-Ladbeck, assistant progessors of astronomy at Pitt, have been looking for the answers in the stars.

Schulte-Ladbeck and hillier are part of a select group of astronomers participating in a NASA observational project called Astro-2. Astro-2's mission is to examine the invisible ultraviolet spectrum, which is mostly blocked by Earth's atmosphere and so can be studied only from space. Schulte-Ladbeck and Hillier designed one of 10 "guest" experiments for the Astro Observatory-- a trio of sophisticated telescopes carried on the space shuttle. (Schulte-Ladbeck was part of a group led by Pitt astronomer Brian Espey that devised another guest experiment on Astro-2 as well, a project to study gas flow between gravitationally joined "symbiotic" pairs of stars.) Schulte-Ladbeck and Hillier hope this opportunity for observation will yield new discoveries about the links between star evolution and the way the elements came to be.

But what does astronomy have to do with chemistry? Surprisingly, quite a lot, since all the naturally occuring elements on the periodic table, except hydrogen and helium, were created inside stars. Stars begin their lives by "burning" through nuclear fusion. They form elements as the fusion process joins nuclear particles. As stars age, they produce heavier and heavier elements in the continuing fusion of atoms.

Eventually, the stars that are especially massive begin to fuse iron in their cores. Subsequent reactions require rather than release energy. For this reason, the fusion reaction stops. The star can no longer sustain its own weight. It collapses and creates a cataclysmic explosion, known as a supernova, that gives off more energy than most galaxies give off in a year. This explosion propels elements such as carbon, oxygen, and magnewium into interstellar space.

Through work with the Astro-2 mission, Schlte-Ladbeck and Hillier hope to learn more about the interiors of stars where the elements form. for this reason, they are studying a group of very unusual stars, called Wolf-Rayets, which reveal the secrets of their composition and enable astronomers to see the "insides" of stars as they never have before.

Astronomers know that each and every star is made up of distinct layers,each of which produces its own lineage of elements. "We think of the interior of sars as having an onion-like structure, and eery shell of theonion has different chemical elements and different processes that are occurring in it," Schulte-Ladbeck explains.

In the past, however, it was difficult for scientists to study these layers because they couldn't observe the inner parts of stars. But the Wolf-Rayets are different. Astronomers like Schulte-Ladbeck and Hillier believe that Wolf-Rayets are the bare cores left over from the peeling of stars that may have originally been 50 to 60 times more massive than the Sun. "The strong stellar winds of the Wolf-Rayet stars have peeled away someof the outer shells of the inion, so we are looking at material that was previously farther inside the star. In other stars, you could never see that," says Schulte-Ladbeck.

Because Wolf-Rayets are so massive and so hot, they give off vast amounts of ultraviolet energy, which the astronomers can examine for clues about the star's chemical composition. By analyzing this light, Schulte-Ladbeck and Hillier hope to discover more about exactly which nuclear processes go on in ech layer of the stellar core. And in doing so, they will be shedding light o ftheir own, helping other sientists to better understand the structure of the stars, thos firey workshops where the elements that compose our world are made.

Louder than Words
By Laura Shefler


T here is more than one way to tell the story of a city, more than one way to talk about the places where people live. A description of the linden trees planted along the main street or the acrid smell of a factory near a river or the history of a town founder's life can give you a feeling for a place. But there are also times when plain statistics portray an idea, and the lives of its people, just as eloquently.

Statistics speak loud and clear in Economic Benchmarks, a report on Pittsburgh and Allegheny County presented by Pitt's University Center for Social and Urban Research (UCSUR). The report, funded by Allegheny County and the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh, tells a story, on the one hand, of a region that has made impressive economic gains in recent years. In Pittsburgh, for instance, the standard ofliving climbed well above the average for the 50 largest US cities. Unemployment rates here have trailed national figures, And personal income has grown. Allegheny County's real per capita income rose 14.4 percent from 1987 to 1992. This increase was the second highest among the nation's 50 largest counties.

On the other hand, grimmer set ofstatistics overshadows this good news. The Benchmarks report points out that economic condidions for placks are worse here than in nearly any other major city or county. The 1989 per capita income for African Americans, at $8,365 countywide, was approximately half that of whites. The City of Pittsburgh had the fourth highest black poverty rate (40.9 percent in 1989) among large cities and the fifth highest black unemployment rate (18.9 percent in 1990). With the white poverty rate at 14 percent and white unemployment at 6.4, Pittsburgh was also the city that showed the fourth greatest disparity between black andwhite poverty rates and bwtween black and white unemployment.

According to Ralph Bangs, a researh associate at UCSUR and the director of the Economic Benchmarks project, the University created the report to give thos who inguence public policy--from government officials to business leaders to the heads of charitable foundations--a clearer understanding of economic conditions and recent economic changes in the region. Beide looking at unemployment and income, UCSUR assessed a broad range of factors that might affect the region's economic health--everything from electric rates (unfortunately we pay well above the national average) to high school dropout rates (they're relatively low here) to commercial bank deposits (they're especially high here and so procide an important pool of capital for local businesses).

"The report has been very well received," says Bangs, who notes that UCSUR has given out nearly 2,500 copies and that requests for the report keep coming in. Published in October of 1994, Economic Benchmarks has already guided policy decisions. For instance, Bangs says, Pittsburgh mayor Tom Murphy responded to the findings by expanding the city's Minority Enterprise program--a move that should substantially increase the number of city contracts awarded to minority-owned firms.

Bangs adds, Economic Benchmarks,"has also helped to mobilize the black community." The report, he explains, offers black leaders a new and powerful way to tell a story they already know all too well. He concludes, "The report backs up what they have been saying; that black economic conditions are worse here than in other places--and that we need to do more to address the problems of the black community.

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