A bridge too soon
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While I approve of ennobling local bridges with the names of illustrious Yinzers, I question the wisdom of Allegheny County Council's proposal to rename the 16th Street Bridge after the writer David McCullough ("McCullough, Rooney Touted for Spans," Aug. 22). I just don't believe he meets the standard that has been set.
The three suspension bridges over the Allegheny River have a graceful symmetry, which their honorees share: visionary scientist Rachel Carson, visionary artist Andy Warhol and athlete Roberto Clemente, who enabled us to envision the concept of athletic achievement beyond the descriptive limits of statistics. His on-the-field performances are barely described by awards or stats, and off the field he redefined the role of an athlete's public service and sacrifice. Collectively, these Pittsburghers had a profound influence on the entire world.
David McCullough is also an artist -- a highly accomplished popular historian and gifted storyteller. Measured in book sales, he is surely Pittsburgh's highest performing writer, although a few others of greater cultural significance come to mind -- like playwright August Wilson and songwriter Stephen Foster. Where are their bridges?
Mr. McCullough's highly popular books are considered by many observers as flattering of his audience and their sturdy American values while soothing of their guilt about empire ("The Path Between the Seas" about the Panama Canal), suppression of political opposition ("John Adams") or thermonuclear war ("Truman"). Like many popular historians before him, it is unlikely that future generations will consult his work or even remember him. Mr. McCullough is unquestionably an entertaining writer, but by failing to confront the big historical issues of his subjects, he may have severely limited his legacy.
It is much too soon to enshrine Mr. McCullough with the status of a permanent icon. Better to wait a few years until history has a chance to speak.
First Published August 30, 2012 12:00 am