Andrew Carnegie gives us two great museums for the price of one - Friday, July 17
No name is more intimately tied to the city of Pittsburgh than that of Andrew Carnegie. Praised by some and damned by others, Scotsman Andrew Carnegie’s best deeds and some of his worst were perpetrated right here in this city of rivers.
Today he is known mainly for his philanthropy. His name appears everywhere - especially on schools, and libraries and museums that he founded. But the money he used to create these institutions was earned and accumulated by ruthless business practices that damaged his reputation.
If his name is associated with Carnegie Tech, the Carnegie Art and Science and Natural History Museums, the Carnegie Libraries and all the other philanthropic trusts and foundations he originated - it is also associated with the Johnstown Flood of 1889, and the bloody Homestead Strike of 1891.
Detractors claim his philanthropy was the result of a guilty conscience, an attempt to salvage his name and his reputation. That may be partially true, but his early writings speak of using wealth for the public good. In a memo to himself at the age of 33 he said that, “a man who dies thus rich dies disgraced” and he stated that his aim was to retire at the age of 35 and pursue the practice of philanthropic giving. He didn’t actually start giving back until he was 46, but then he started in earnest - and that was in 1881, eight years before the Johnstown Flood and 10 years before the Homestead Strike.
Like many of the era’s tycoons, Carnegie lived an incredibly active and productive life. His efforts on behalf of the Union made major contributions to the conduct of the Civil War, and he was one of the pivotal founders of the nation’s steel industry. Believing as he did, that the money would eventually be used for worthy purposes, it is not hard to imagine him using that rationale to justify the rapacious and unscrupulous acts he was accused of.
It’s all history now. The flood victims and strikers are long in their graves, as is Andrew Carnegie himself. What remains is a clean and vibrant city that is home to Carnegie Tech, one of the major engineering schools in the country. The City of Pittsburgh is also home to such cultural gems as the Carnegie Music Hall, the Carnegie Science Center, the Carnegie Art Museum and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.
The latter two were our destination for today. Fortunately they are housed in the same building at the edge of downtown Pittsburgh. To get to them we had to travel through downtown Pittsburgh on a busy workday. Any trip with a motorhome through the downtown center of a major city involves a certain amount of stress, and this trip was no different. We had to negotiate tunnels and bridges and many construction zones, as well as narrow lanes, sharp scary turns and our share of tight spots requiring difficult maneuvering.
The museums say they have some RV and bus parking, but when we got there it was all taken. A very nice but unimaginative security guard tried to find us a spot, and when he waved us into a parking maze telling us he had a spot for us we thought our troubles were over. Actually they were just beginning, as the spot he was holding for us would have been tight for a Volkswagon bug a quarter of our size. Not only could we not park there, but we now had to make a U turn in a tightly packed parking area that only had a few inches to spare. We did spot a small lot where several of the Museum’s trucks (none as large as us) were parked. The guard said we could park there if we could find a space and he would notify security that it was OK.
We did - and he did - and everything worked out fine. We took the parking garage elevator to the museum entrance and we spent the next five hours enjoying the fruits of Andrew Carnegie’s efforts. Both museums have large permanent collections that are a combination of items Carnegie himself purchased and items subsequently purchased with funds he left in trust to the institution. These collections are enhanced by traveling temporary exhibits. The price of admission includes both museums and at $11 apiece it is very reasonable.
Unlike many museums, this one (with very few exceptions) allows you to take pictures. So we did - and the results are shown here above. They are random photos of items that caught our eye. They are presented in no particular order except that the photos from the art museum are shown first, and the photos from the natural history museum follow. As a viewer it will be your job to try and figure out where one leaves off and the other begins. (Hint: When you start seeing dinosaurs you will no longer be in the art museum.)
Going home was easier than getting there, and we arrived back at our campground in Madison with daylight to spare. The rain that was forecast finally did show up, but the rain did nothing to spoil a great day at two fine museums.