a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The original Donora smog service

A small service was held a year after more than 20 people died over two days in October 1948 from breathing zinc mill fumes that were trapped by stagnant weather in the Donora area.

Fewer than 50 people gathered in a Webster, Pa., schoolyard to commemorate the deaths in a service dominated by church hymns and prayer. Someone painted a memorial on a sheet of plywood containing 26 names of people whose deaths locals attributed to the smog. It the focal point for the audience that afternoon in this southwestern Pennsylvania village that was downwind of the smokestack pollution.

It’s a bit surprising that so few people came to recognize the casualties of America’s deadliest air pollution disaster. This was an area where more than 16,000 people lived at the time.

But then again, most of these folks depended on the culprit, American Steel and Wire Co. of New Jersey, for paychecks. And this service was sponsored by the newly formed Society for Better Living in Webster. The word was spreading that its members were urging folks to file federal lawsuits against the mill to put an end to the poisonous air they were breathing.

Dr. J. B. Laughrey of nearby Sutersville delivered the key speech, according to a type written program book covered with a black folder. I’m going to dig into some old newspaper files to find out more about the guy, and ask around to see if anyone knew what he said that day.

These photos are among of the papers of Allen Kline of Webster, who was a leading member of the society, talented newspaperman and local expert on the smog.


Anonymous said...

Scott, I got a chance to watch the story on the Donora smog on the Weather Channel. It was very good and you and "Mom" did a good job too. What was most troubling was that few people had the ability to get out of town at that time and that the mills just kept operating. Christie

Scott Beveridge said...

Thanks Christie. Once the thick fog settled in, no one could see to drive or walk out of town. The were trapped.