Posts tagged holiday.

Celebrate the Season Parade, late 1980s

On This Day in Pittsburgh History: November 29, 1980

Kaufmann’s department store sponsors Pittsburgh’s first Celebrate the Season parade. [Historic Pittsburgh


Nov. 22, 1956: ”Christmas Parade Downtown Pittsburgh” 

Despite 27-degree weather, thousands of people packed Downtown streets to watch the annual Christmas parade during the noon hour on Thursday, Nov. 22, 1956. 

Leading the way was a Marine Corps color guard and mounted county police officers. Behind them were marching bands. Waving from open-topped cars were the “Santa Belles,” women drawn from the membership of the Pittsburgh Models Club. The women covered their goose bumps by modeling fur coats. 

The Indian Bonnettes, an Oil City unit of baton twirlers who ranged in age from six to 12, weren’t so lucky. The girls’ legs turned a rosy red as they marched and spun in the frosty air. They marched, counter marched and swung batons as though they had lived at the North Pole all their lives, wrote David Martin of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

There was a float with a nativity scene. Also in the procession were 40 mammoth balloons, pulled by boys in clown suits. One balloon was shaped like an ice cream cone. The others were characters such as Humpty Dumpty, Felix the Cat and Jocko the Monkey. Santa Claus and his eight reindeer sat on an 85-foot-long float and brought up the end of the procession. 

Back then, the parade route was different. Participants started in Gateway Center and marched up Liberty Avenue to Fifth Avenue, up Fifth to Grant Street, then down Sixth Avenue to Liberty and back to Gateway Center. 

(Post-Gazette photo)

 Marylynne Pitz

On This Day in Pittsburgh History: November 21, 1960 

Light Up Night has its first official debut at 6 p.m., and all department stores unveil their holiday displays. The previous year a smaller unofficial light-up event was launched. [WikipediaBrady Stewart


Jan. 1, 1962:  ”Gus Brickner prepares to swim the icy Allegheny River”

If you’re making a list of the toughest dudes in Pittsburgh history, Gus Brickner certainly has to be near the top. Brickner was a steelworker from Charleroi who gained fame as an endurance swimmer unaffected by cold weather. He’s probably best known for his annual New Year’s Day plunge into the Monongahela River, a tradition continued by our city’s Polar Bear Club.

But Brickner’s most amazing feat occurred on January 24, 1963. On that day, as temperatures dipped to 18 degrees below zero,  Brickner swam the width of the Monongahela River at Dunlevy. A towboat ahead of him smashed a path through ice 10-inches thick.  ”My whole body was encased in ice as soon as I got out of the water,” Brickner told a reporter.

The effort set a cold-weather swimming record will stand forever. Guinness closed the category for safety reasons after several people died trying to surpass Brickner.

Twice Brickner attempted to swim the English Channel. In 1957, he was pulled from the water 4 1/2 miles from his goal. He came closer in 1960, but lost consciousness 400 yards from shore. The swim took 18 hours. Gus lost 18 pounds.

Brickner swam every day except Christmas. By 1985, he had logged more than 38,000 miles.  After tacking on 500 more, he stopped counting. That was in 1986. Brickner was 75 years old. He kept swimming for pleasure until his death at age 79 in 1991.

(Photo credit: Unknown)

— Steve Mellon

New Year’s Eve party, 1964. Teenie Harris. [Carnegie Museum of Art] 

Steel and Holly: Christmas in Pittsburgh (1925) 

By Frances Lester Warner [Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh]

To know what Pittsburgh is really like at Christmas-time, you should be at least eight different persons besides yourself, each with a separate geography and point of view.

First, you should be the traffic officer at the corner of Liberty and Sixth, near Penn, with ‘The Store Ahead’ at the right of you, the ‘Five and Ten’ at the left of you, and the cross-town cars shuttling past you, at the very vortex where the parcel-bearing shoppers from Squirrel Hill and Soho, Shadyside, Mars, and the Panhandle all convene. (more)

Santa and elves exiting airplane, 1960s. Teenie Harris. Carnegie Museum of Art.

“Men and women dressed in Santa and elf costumes exit an airplane on a landing strip, as the pilot and landing crew watch with excitement. To the right of the door, the plane has painted on its side ‘10 tons of toys given by, Santa’s Workshop, North Pole N.Y., Flown By, …so Sky Reindeer, Operation Toylift,’ with a Christmas tree next to it. This was probably a charity toy drive that brought toys to children in Pittsburgh.” [Historic Pittsburgh]

The Pittsburgh Press, December 1947 (via

Girl with Christmas tree, 1930. Dorsey-Turfley Family Photographs, Senator John Heinz History Center. [Historic Pittsburgh]

Children’s Christmas party at the Lewis Center, 1925 Pittsburgh City Photographer Collection, Archives Service Center, University of Pittsburgh [Historic Pittsburgh]


Dec. 5, 1976: “Sunday Christmas Shoppers”

Cash registers rang out a Merry Christmas tune in the three biggest stores in the Golden Triangle on this particular Sunday. Retailers that had been banned from conducting Sunday sales for years by Pennsylvania’s Blue Laws finally opened their doors on that day to Christmas shoppers.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, stores opened for Sunday business after the state Supreme Court issued orders prohibiting prosecution of Blue Law violators “until the validity of the controversial statutes can be tested in the courts.” 

Downtown streets, particularly Grant and Smithfield streets and Liberty and Sixth avenues, were jammed with cars most of the afternoon. Shoppers crowded the main sales floors of Gimbels and Kaufmann’s. And people seemed to be buying, not just looking, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

(Photo by Anthony Kaminski, The Pittsburgh Press)

— Mila Sanina

Christmas entertainment at H.J. Heinz Company, 1912 [Historic Pittsburgh]