Historian McCullough 'humbled' by Pittsburgh bridge honor

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Historian David McCullough plans to be in Pittsburgh when Allegheny County officials officially rename the 16th Street Bridge in his honor.

"I am hugely inflated and a little humbled," Mr. McCullough said in a phone interview on Wednesday. "I will be there with bells on and with a large delegation of families members, also laden with bells."

He and his wife, Rosalee, have 19 grandchildren. He said he hoped to have all of them visit here for the dedication.

Allegheny County Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to rename the span for the two-time winner of both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

Mr. McCullough, who will turn 80 on July 7, is a Pittsburgh native, and he speaks often and fondly about growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania. "I am deeply devoted to Pittsburgh and I come back every chance I get," he said.

The subjects of his books have included the Johnstown Flood, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Panama Canal. He was once asked how he managed to work so many references to Pittsburgh into his books.

"I said I don't have to work the city in," he said. "Pittsburgh has been an important presence throughout American history.

History buff Michael Connors of Chalfant proposed more than a year ago to name a bridge for Mr. McCullough. Post-Gazette columnist Brian O'Neill suggested the county-owned 16th Street Bridge as an appropriate span.

Councilwoman Barbara Daly Danko, D-Regent Square, was the bill's prime supporter. She drew praise Tuesday night for her efforts from her colleagues and from Andrew Masich, president of the Sen. John Heinz History Center.

Urging council members to approve the renaming, Mr. Masich described Mr. McCullough as "one of Western Pennsylvania's and Pittsburgh's great ambassadors."

"His books show how if you understand the past you can make great decisions about the future," he said.

"We are doing more than honoring Mr. McCullough," Councilwoman Heather Heidelbaugh, R-Mt. Lebanon, said. "We're saying that history is important."

Councilman James Ellenbogen, D-Banksville, said he had not been familiar with Mr. McCullough's work and had learned a lot during the year-long review process.

"I love bridges," Mr. McCullough said. That sentiment probably is not surprising coming from a man who spent several years researching and writing about the Brooklyn Bridge.

"My father's office looked out on a bridge," he recalled. "I had a magnificent teacher at Linden School, Miss Schmeltz, who taught us all about bridges."

The 16th Street Bridge will become the fifth county span to honor a famous person with strong Pittsburgh ties. The county's "three sisters" bridges, crossing the Allegheny River at Sixth, Seventh and Ninth streets, are named, respectively, for baseball great Roberto Clemente, artist Andy Warhol and environmentalist Rachel Carson. The Philip Murray Bridge, which links South 10th Street and Second Avenue, is named for the first president of the United Steelworkers of America.

In addition to his Pulitzer Prizes and National Book Awards, Mr. McCullough has received the Francis Parkman Prize, for the year's best book on American history, and a 2006 Presidential Medal of Freedom. His latest book, "The Greater Journey," is about young Americans who traveled to Paris in the 19th century to learn about new discoveries and trends in science and art.


Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.


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