A few weeks ago, while walking through Kennywood with Public Relations Manager Jeff Filicko, we stopped in front of the entrance of Lost Kennywood. He turned to me and said, “Ya know, every season we get literally dozens of complaints from guests telling us that we spelled ‘Pittsburg’ wrong. This is actually intentional… ” Filicko explained to me over the next few minutes that this section of the park was designed to reflect a part of Pittsburgh’s history back near the early 1900’s.
In reality, the entrance to Lost Kennywood is sort of a love letter to Luna Park that operated in Pittsburgh from 1905 to 1909. While there a total of 44 Luna Park’s built around the world, the one that opened just down the street from Kennywood was the first, with one opening in Cleveland shortly thereafter. Luna’s design was considered to be iconic because it had the advantage of being completely wired for electricity, which no other park had done before.
As a result, they were able to illuminate it at night with a total of 67,000 light bulbs throughout the 16-acre property and giving birth to what we now know as the carnival midway’s classic look. Luna Park featured a classic shoot-the-chutes ride, roller coasters, a fun house, a Ferris wheel and even a dance hall.
Lost Kennywood recreates that feeling with its own homage to the lighting, architecture and even rides found in Luna Park. They even have The Whip, which dates all the way back to 1918 and is still considered to be one of the best flat rides in the park. Instead of shoot-the-chutes, Kennywood opened the Pittsburg Plunge, a modern version of the old splashdown ride from days gone by.
Yet again with Pittsburg Plunge, the “H” is missing, but why? Time for a history lesson, kids. William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham, was an integral part of French and Indian War. So much so, that there are over 15 cities in North American that represent his name in some form or fashion. The suffix “burgh” is a Scottish/English mashup of the word for “borough” which was often times used as a place that’s defensible; such as containing a fort or a hill in it.
Even today, the city often gets misspelled because of so many other cities in the United States with the “burg” suffix, which comes from the German translation of borough. In 1891, the United States Board on Geographic Names adopted 13 general principles to be used in standardizing place names, one of which was that place names ending in -burgh should drop the final “h.” The Board compiled a report of place name “decisions”, also in 1891, in which the city’s name was rendered Pittsburg.
While the board’s ruling was “official,” it wasn’t far reaching. For example, the US Post Office was forced to drop the h, but the University of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Stock Exchange, were amongst some of the businesses that refused to change the spelling. Ultimately, in 1911 the decision to officially spell Pittsburgh with the “h” again was reversed thanks to political pressure from Senator George T. Oliver.
Easily the most famous part of this controversy today revolves around, of all things, a baseball card. Honus Wagner, of the Pittsburgh Pirates, had a card printed with his name and likeness on it while wearing a “Pittsburg” jersey, with no H in it. Combined with him being considered to be one of the greatest players of all time, this extremely rare piece is considered to be the “holy grail” of baseball cards of all time, with one in pristine condition fetching $2.8 million at an auction in 2007.
Next time you’re strolling in Kennywood and want to throw out some fascinating trivia, tell your friends about the history of the great city of Pittsburgh, the homages to Luna Park and a baseball card worth more than you or I will probably make in our lifetimes.