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South Neighborhoods
Research is a passion for Castle Shannon historian

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

By Lori Humphreys

The "Great Fire" in 1915, a bank robbery in 1917 and a bitter coal mine strike in 1927 are just three events that make Castle Shannon the small town with the big history.

And the best person to introduce you to these dramas is lifelong resident and historian Paul Dudjak, 52, whose enthusiasm for the town's past is infectious.

"I became interested in local history in 1965 when our teacher did a unit on local history. I've been hooked ever since. I'm a collector of paper; it's a sickness," he said.

Dudjak, a Castle Shannon postman for 30 years, is a document collector, a researcher and a man for whom learning is a daily practice.

Since 1993, he has compiled 80 three-ring binders devoted to Castle Shannon history. These include biographies of prominent residents, business histories like the Terminal Coal Corp. Mine No. 2, the Pittsburgh-Castle Shannon Railway and Saxonwald Gardens, and Peter Merovich's history of "The Patch" describing life in coal-company housing.

The binders, available at the Castle Shannon Library, are a course in the history of the people and events of late 19 th- and 20 th- century Castle Shannon. Each binder has articles and pictures related to the titles.

The history is sprinkled with people who played roles on a larger stage, such as banker, developer and Saxonwald Gardens owner Henry Meuschke, sculptor Frank Vittor, 1948 soccer Olympian Steve Grivnow, and Margaret and Stella Stein, who were the first female students at the University Pittsburgh in 1898.

Their lives are proof that local history touches national and international history.

Meuschke is an excellent illustration. He was an emigrant German who became a prosperous American businessman and banker, an example mimicked across America during the first half of the 20th century. During a return trip to Germany in 1935 he visited with Adolf Hitler, who convinced him that prosperity, peace and serenity lay ahead for the New Germany. The trip was reported in a lengthy Pittsburgh Press article.

Castle Shannon received Andy Warhol's "15 minutes of fame" as the nation shared the town's joy when three boys were rescued from the abandoned Terminal Coal Corp. mine in 1963.

Although Dudjak does not have a degree in history (his associate's degree is in science and physics), he has a historian's relish for research and is a stickler for accuracy and proper references. Each article and picture has the periodical, book or author listed by name and date of publication.

Dudjak keeps a vigilant lookout for anything printed that refers to Castle Shannon.

Three of his most fruitful sites are the newspaper archives at the Bethel Park and Baldwin Borough libraries, and the Pennsylvania Room at the Oakland Carnegie Library.

He delights in sharing his historical treasures and has spoken twice to the Historical Society of Mt. Lebanon.

He also had to solve a problem that every historian faces -- how to organize information. He used the life of Henry Meuschke to demonstrate his approach.

"His is one of the more extensive biographies, so he is in the biographies volumes. He is part of the book on the Saxonwald Gardens and shows up in the Castle Shannon history volumes," he said.

Today Saxonwald Gardens is gone, the Terminal Coal Corp. closed in 1938 and the Pittsburgh-Castle Shannon Railroad is now the T.

But thanks to Paul Dudjak's dedication, their history remains in 80 binders ready for the future to interpret.

Lori Humphreys is a freelance writer.

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