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Grandson of child at Carnegie Free Library dedication helps mark its centennial

Wednesday, October 02, 2002

By Linda Wilson Fuoco, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

On April 22, 1902, Emma Danziger Krass and her first-grade classmates sang at the dedication of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library on Beechwood Avenue in Carnegie.

One-hundred years later, her grandson, author Peter Krass, will speak in the library's music hall to commemorate the centennial of that dedication, which was presided over by Andrew Carnegie himself.

The steel magnate-turned-philanthropist came out of retirement to attend the festivities in 1902. At the ceremony, Carnegie gave the town a stage curtain for the music hall. The curtain contained a painting of Skibo Castle in Scotland, where Carnegie lived much of the time after his 1901 retirement.

Krass, 38, has written a 541-page biography, "Carnegie," published last week by John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Krass is a native of suburban Carnegie and lived briefly in Bethel Park. He now lives in Hanover, N.H.

"I had done a series of business books and had written an article on Andrew Carnegie," Krass said in a telephone interview. "I was fairly well-versed on the Carnegie legend, and it seemed the public has a great deal of interest in him" and other late-19th century industrial giants with names like Rockefeller, Morgan, Frick and Mellon.

So Krass undertook a comprehensive biography that would take 2 1/2 years to complete. While doing research he discovered another tie to Carnegie, the town, and Carnegie, the man.

Krass discovered that his great-grandfather, William Danziger, had worked in one of the Carnegie Steel Co. mills.

Danziger lived in Carnegie, and took a trolley to his job at the Duquesne Works. His assigned tasks included changing and repairing furnace linings.

He lived to be 59 years old, compared to Carnegie who was 84 when he died in 1919, Krass notes in the preface of his book.

The town of Carnegie has deep ties to Andrew Carnegie.

In February 1894, residents of Chartiers and Mansfield voted to change the names of the boroughs to Carnegie.

"Primarily they hoped to attract business, and would have loved Carnegie to build a steel mill there," said Glenn A. Walsh, who was on the library's board of directors from 1995 to 2000, and has compiled the history of the building. "Unfortunately, the Chartiers Creek was not navigable."

When residents of Carnegie asked for a library, Andrew Carnegie granted their wish, Walsh said. He allocated $200,000 for land acquisition and construction of a library and music hall, and an additional $10,000 to buy books. The original allocation included $93,000 for an endowment to help run the facility. Only four other libraries received endowments from Andrew Carnegie.

He gave a total of $35,695,653 to philanthropic causes, according to the Krass biography, and built 2,811 public libraries in addition to funding museums, colleges and scientific research.

On the other end of the scale, Carnegie's employees worked 12-hour days, seven days a week for low pay. Krass's book details the dangerous working conditions in the mills and the miserably unhealthy living conditions in the mill towns.

The book paints both sides of a very complex man -- the ruthless businessman and employer and the philanthropist who gave away most of his fortune.

"Was Carnegie just another robber baron who squeezed every penny he could from his men before they dropped dead, like my great-grandfather?" Krass asks in the preface. "Or was there more to this man who considered himself a lord of creation, a trustee of civilization? ... Before me arose a Titan I both disdain and respect ...

"While trampling asunder thousands of working men, he ultimately uplifted millions of people in the future."

Krass's speech is free and open to the public at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the music hall of the Andrew Carnegie Free Library, 300 Beechwood Ave., Carnegie. He'll also be signing copies of "Carnegie." Proceeds from books sold at library appearances are donated to the library.

From Saturday through Oct. 12, Krass will also be speaking at the Carnegie Mellon University Bookstore, the main Carnegie library in Oakland and the Woods Run and Squirrel Hill branches, and the Cambria County Library in Johnstown. The schedule is available at http://www.peterkrass.com.

Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at lfuoco@post-gazette.com or 412-851-1512.

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