June 30, 1946: Pittsburgh’s violent demise
Last week we made a wrong turn while exploring a far corner of the vast PG photo archive. Hopelessly lost, we dug our way out through the W, X and Y files. There, we discovered a folder labeled, “World Ends.”
We scratched our mulleted heads. Pittsburgh has always existed in its own time warp. Pop culture, music, fashion — we’re always a decade or two behind. So the Earth was destroyed? And we missed it? No big deal, we decided. Sooner or later we’d hear the news on our transistor radio. That’s how we learned last month about the cancellation of “WKRP in Cincinnati.”
We opened the folder and found a surprise: Five illustrations depicting the demise of Pittsburgh by various (and mostly violent) means. The spectacular illustrations, by staff artist Ralph Reichhold, were published in The Pittsburgh Press “Roto” magazine in the summer of 1946 under the inspired headline, “End of the World.”
A brief story explained that the world “as we know it” was bound to have an end — probably not for a while, the Press assured its readers. But then again, “it could conceivably happen today or tomorrow.”
The feature, inspired by an “end of the world” show at the Buhl Planetarium, offered up five possible methods of destruction:
1) Comet attack. Well, the optimistic writer admitted, this probably wouldn’t end the entire world, just one locality — “Pittsburgh, for example.” Yikes! But don’t spend too much time worrying about an attack by malicious comets. “The chances of it happening in the near future are infinitesimal,” read the Press.
2) The sun grows cold and we become human popsicles. “There could be no escape from this frozen death,” the article noted. Then we glanced at the weather forecast and thought, “Hey, wait a minute.”
3) The sun explodes and fries us all. This method would have the added effect of reducing our entire planet to a cinder. We’re thinking the traffic jam at the Squirrel Hill Tunnel would survive. It survives all.
4) Break-up of the moon. We consider this the most creative idea: The moon decides to get a bit closer to the earth. Earth’s gravity tears the moon apart. Chunks of the moon crash down on the ‘Burg. Quite possibly several hundred of us could survive by seeking shelter in that monstrous pothole on Ft. Pitt Boulevard near Market Street.
5) Atomic warfare. This scenario certainly was the most terrifying — and probable. One day after publication of Reichhold’s illustrations, the United States detonated its first atomic weapon since the bombing of Nagasaki. Readers of the Press on July 1 were presented with a front-page picture of a mushroom cloud over Bikini Atoll.
Top illustration: A comet attack levels the Wabash Bridge. (Illustration by Ralph Reichhold/The Pittsburgh Press)
— Steve Mellon
This is awesome.