The collection and presentation of the stories of the past have become a flashpoint in our civic discourse.
Who gets to tell which story and to whom? Is there a collective past that we all share, or does our present circumstance dictate the stories we choose to honor, the stories that mean something to us today? Is there a truth with irrefutable evidence, or is it all subjective interpretation or something in between?
Here are the stories of collectors, people who have dedicated themselves to answering these questions, each in their own way.
The North Side Story
Did you know that President John F. Kennedy visited the North Side on an open motorcade in 1962?
Most people didn’t know, but William Gandy surely knew about it. And, he knows a lot more about his neighborhood than most of North Siders as he preserves and promotes such a history through his gallery.
433 East Ohio Street in Deutschtown neighborhood was the former location of Allegheny County History Gallery where North Siders and other Pittsburghers appreciated their history. But since it has been closed since 2015, you could watch and listen to Mr. Gandy’s story about his passion and endeavor while previewing some of the vintage images of the North Side.
My name is Bill Gandy, and I preserve and promote Northside history. I was born at Allegheny General Hospital raised in Northview Heights, went to Northview Heights Elementary School, McNaugher, Perry and Community College on the North Side. So I’m very qualified as a North Sider. I was always interested in history, but I found it amazing to see all pictures of the streets that I walk on today.
One day, while browsing on Facebook, I saw an amazing picture of Federal Street from a year that was from the year out before the year I was born. It came from a guy named Bob Rathke. And the photo got a lot of “Likes” when I shared it. So I began sharing more photos of the North Side; I made sure that I always gave credit to the person who is responsible for the photos or the source that it came from; always made sure that they got the credit for the photo. Other North Siders began sending photos from their personal collection, so I was sharing them. And I was also impressed by the photos too. I was impressed to see different parts of North Side that I never saw before and then I started going back in history.
Looking at all, I learned that Northside was Allegheny City and this was something brand new to me. I never knew this before. So I started looking into the history and a lot of people like to see old pictures of their neighborhood. Around July 2014, I created a Facebook page and I started sharing from myself and others. And sometimes I would share from the city photographers collection, but those were too common. So I prefer to share from people’s personal collections, as far as their photos.
Councilwoman Darlene Harris is one of my Facebook friends. She had also had, you know, she was a huge fan of the North Side photos. So one day I inboxed her and told her — I suggested — we should create a physical location where past and present North Siders could learn and promote their family histories. She agreed and helped fund the venture. She used the North Side Leadership Conferences, my fiduciary; they were also my landlord. So I was located at 433 East Ohio Street, which is on I guess they call it a neighborhood Deutschtown now. The Allegheny City Historic Gallery was active in, you know, the community and the gallery itself.
We had things like book signings with like, Dan Rooney, and Carol Petersen. They wrote a book called Allegheny City. And we hosted them and it brought a lot of people in. You know, Dan Rooney, he seemed to be a very big fan of the gallery; he came in often. But we gave free access to the whole neighborhood to the gallery; we didn’t charge to get in the gallery. You know, it was free. So anybody who wanted to learn their neighborhood history to come in. Children always came in and we showed them all pictures and things like that, so I thought it was a great adventure.
We also, I also appeared at neighborhood events; there would be all types of neighborhood gatherings. And I made sure that I was there with a display of photos and things like that. We had neighborhood reunions inside the gallery also. We had one for the first Ward one time, which is the neighborhood that Dan Rooney come — the Rooneys actually come from. It’s the area, I guess they call it now the North Shore. And it used to be a neighborhood. But now it’s not but we retained all the old pictures and we brought all the old people back together and it was a beautiful reunion.
We also do things such as neighborhood tours, show Allegheny General Hospital one time they came to me and asked if I could give tours to their graduate students or whatnot. So I gave tours to those also. And I thought it was a great thing. And we shared history with Neighborhoods Societies you have like that Mexican War Street Society and things like that, where I would go talk and give history and things such as that.
The gallery closed in somewhere around late 2015. I don’t feel that it was fair the way it happened, nor in the neighborhoods best interest. That story, however, I guess I can save for a future time. You know, despite the loss of the physical location of I’ve been continuing to promote and educate about the last time in its history online as well as making appearances at different places.
Once did a appearance at Perry High School, we do place — I do place — I keep saying “we” because I used to have a team of people. I still, I did a talk at Perry and it was nice to educate the students on what was going on. And then I also still teamed up with places like Citizens Bank, to do neighborhood promotions and things like that. Also I still do neighborhood reunions. I do the Northview Heights reunion every year, which is held up in Riverview Park. And that seems to be a great thing that keep bringing people back together.
I also built a website. That’s what I was thinking, also built a website that you go to “Northsidehistory.gallery”. And if you go there, you can find a whole bunch of old photos, podcasts; I have everything. I have other Northside writers on there also besides myself now. I started recruiting other writers and people who take photos, so it’s all about North Side; it is all about North Side history, the whole thing. So I’m currently and I do all this stuff with no funding, just so you know.
I’m currently searching for another physical location, but it’s been really tough as far as trying to get a fiduciary together and things like that. I’m pretty sure that I can do it. And I’m very determined that I can that I’m going to get another location. So in the meantime, I’m still going to be out there you’ll still hear from Bill Gandy from the Allegheny City Historic Gallery.
I like to, I thank Storyburgh for doing and let me tell my story. I appreciate this, because, you know, a lot of times stories like mine get lost. I’m out there working it and nobody would have heard about the story if it was not for people like you guys coming along and given me a chance to talk about what I do.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
** Even though the virtual site has been established at https://northsidehistory.gallery/, Mr. Gandy is still looking for a new location and a more sustainable funding to operate it.
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