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Inspired by the heroic acts of two Pennsylvania miners, the Carnegie Hero Fund has honored the “heroes of civilization” for the past 100 years.

The Stanwix Steam Heating Plant Rescue, 1947

The hallmark of the Hero Fund’s investigative process is the scentific documentation of heroic acts. While Samuel Hopkins (see X) dangled from a strap inside a 262-foot smoke-stack, Rosco Chapman, straddling the rim of the top of the smoke-stack, moved around it (see A, B), to descend the ladder to reach Hopkins. Chapman held on to a rung (C), then hooked his leg on another rung (D), and with his foot on the bottom rung (E), swung out to grab Hopkin’s hand.



































The Rescue at
Niagra Falls

After midnight on June 5, 1906, a man waded into the Niagara river just above the American Falls and was washed 500 feet to within 15 feet of the brink, where he regained his footing and stood waist-deep in the torrent (see X). City fireman John Batts (who could not swim) waded out to him with a rope and helped extend a 30-foot wooden ladder from beneath an iron fence (see A), to within 3 feet of the man. But the man would not take the rope. Then, Police Sergeant Joseph Conroy crawled out on the swaying ladder, held onto its last rungs with his legs and grabbed the man, while Conroy held the ladder from going over the falls. All three were pulled back to shore by the ladder. Such marked photographs and diagrams are typical of the Hero Fund’s "scientific" analysis of heroism.

It was 100 years ago that the Harwick Mine disaster near Springdale, Pa., claimed 181 lives, and prompted Andrew Carnegie to create a fund that would honor civilian heroism. One of the worst mining disasters of the century, the Harwick explosion, which occurred not far from Pittsburgh, preyed on Carnegie’s mind, especially since two of its victims had entered the mine after the explosion in fatal attempts to assist others.

It was the early morning of January 25, 1904, when the Allegheny Coal Company’s mine exploded. After the explosion, mining engineer Selwyn Taylor hurried from his Pittsburgh office and descended into the mine with two other men to attempt a rescue. A 16-year-old boy—the only survivor—was brought up, but Taylor died from poisonous gases he had inhaled.

The day after the explosion, coal miner Daniel A. Lyle answered an appeal for volunteers and rushed to the scene from Leechburg, a small town 15 miles away. Although he suffered asthma and was aware of the dangerous conditions in the mine, Lyle and two other men worked from late afternoon well into the night, going deeper into the mine than other volunteers to look for survivors. The other two men surfaced the next morning, but Lyle was fatally overcome by mine gases.

Carnegie’s friend, Richard Watson Gilder, the influential editor-in-chief of the Century Monthly Magazine, had sent Carnegie a poem, about which Carnegie said, “I re-read it the morning after the accident, and resolved then to establish the Hero Fund.” Carnegie was an outspoken pacifist, and the poem expressed his conviction that in peacetime, the “heroes of civilization” were as important as the heroes who performed acts of valor in wartime.

Accordingly, he set aside $5 million under the care of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission in Pittsburgh to honor the heroes of civilization and to provide financial aid to those disabled by their spontaneous acts of heroism or to the dependents of heroes killed while helping others. Unlike policemen, firemen, or people in the military, the heroes selected by the Carnegie Commission are not paid or required to help others, but instead are ordinary citizens who act spontaneously in a crisis and are ready to risk their own lives to help others.

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, the commission investigates heroic acts in Canada and the United States. The hallmark of its investigative process has always been the “scientific” documentation of a heroic act before making an award.
For a century, the heroic actions rewarded by the commission have been the stuff of high drama. In early decades, heroes saved people trapped in mines and wells, caught in machinery or burning houses, or about to be trampled by runaway horses, or struck by an ice flow. In more recent decades, automobiles figure more prominently, as do weapons. One hero pulled a victim from a burning car about to explode; another dragged a trapped person from a vehicle on railroad tracks moments before a train demolished it.

Still, the old crises persist, as a modern hero saved a 2-year-old from raging waters, while another rescued a 70-year-old trapped several miles within a raging forest fire by driving an SUV into the inferno. Locally, in 2002 in nearby Clairton, Pa., a man leaped from a car to assist a police officer who had been shot seven times while apprehending a criminal; and in Alaska, a reading teacher saved his students from a slashing attack by overpowering a crazed, knife-wielding man.

Pittsburgh Heroes
Pittsburgh was a deliberate choice by Carnegie as the home for the Carnegie Hero Commission. Not only was it the city where he had lived, become a businessman, and made his fortune, but also it was an industrial city full of dangers in the workplace, a symbolic city where many hospitals were needed to treat the victims of accidents in the mills and mines.

One act of local heroism occurred in 1947, involving two men painting the 260-foot smokestack of the Stanwix Steam Heating Plant in downtown Pittsburgh. When Samuel Hopkins climbed down an eight-foot temporary ladder hanging from the top of the stack and moved into the boatswain’s chair from which he worked, a strap broke and the chair fell away, leaving him dangling from the top of the stack and holding onto the strap with his gloved hands, one of which had slippery paint on it. His partner, Rosco Chapman, climbed around the 18-foot diameter smokestack to the work ladder, climbed down it and, hanging on to the ladder with his legs, grabbed Hopkins by the left wrist. Then, with his other hand he removed Hopkins’ slippery work-glove, allowing Hopkins to seize the strap more firmly. By shifting and lifting, Chapman was able to haul Hopkins up so he could get a grip on the ladder and climb to safety.

Another heroic event occurred in 1960 at the Heinz plant on the North Side when a man was saved from suffocation inside a large tank car nearly emptied of tomato paste. Climbing down through the 20-inch hatch on the tank car by an interior ladder, 34-year-old Joseph Buttice was overcome by the nitrogen used to preserve the paste and slumped forward into the paste remaining at the bottom of the car. While the supervisor ran for an air hose and assistance, a cook’s helper named Stephan Jagusczak tried to rescue Buttice from inside the car, but was also overcome by the gas. Then a preparation helper named Peter P. Smoley put on an air mask and descended into the car with a rope around his waist and another rope to secure the two unconscious men at the bottom. He roped them, which enabled them to be hauled up. But Smoley, too, was overcome. Buttice was in the car the longest, but he did survive thanks to his rescuers. Both Jagusczak and Smoley died, and their families received recognition of their heroism from the Hero Commission.

A third instance occurred in 1986, in the parking lot outside the Mellon Arena after a Pittsburgh Penguins Hockey game. Andrew Wray Mathieson and his wife were leaving after the game with their friend, Jane Celender, when they were approached by Celender’s estranged husband. A large six-foot man weighing 250 pounds, he ordered Celender into his car, and when she ran, he fired a .38-caliber handgun at her from 10 feet away, striking her purse. Mathieson tackled the husband and was shot twice in the chest in the process. After his wife secured Celender’s safety and returned to help her husband, she, too, was shot in the chest. After this, the gunman returned to his car and shot himself. Both Mr. and Mrs. Mathieson recovered from their wounds, and when Andrew Mathieson died 15 years later at age 72, the lengthy obituary of this quiet, widely-respected man—a financial advisor, corporate director, and foundation executive—noted that his “confidence in himself was no greater than the trust others could place in him.” Like the heroes before him, he exemplified the courage of the ordinary person in a crisis.

In establishing his Commission in 1904, Carnegie appointed 21 Pittsburghers whom he admired and trusted. These were people whom he wanted to look objectively at an act of courage, evaluate it scientifically, and make awards in the spirit of “scientific philanthropy” that he advocated. To this day, every heroic act is painstakingly verified and recorded in rich detail.

Ten of Carnegie’s original Hero Fund trustees were leaders or trustees of Carnegie Institute and Library, and as the board membership changed through the years, different leaders of his educational institutions continued to serve as trustees.
In the century since its creation, the Commission in Pittsburgh has awarded 8,764 medals and $27 million in accompanying grants, including scholarship aid and continuing assistance. In Europe in 1908, Carnegie established the Carnegie Hero Fund Trust for Great Britain, and soon after also established hero funds in Germany, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, and Italy. All but the German fund are still active.

A Centennial Celebration, 1904-2004
In honor of the centennial, a rare, complete suite of Carnegie Medals—gold, silver, and bronze—kept in the Anthropology collection of Carnegie Museum of Natural History will be displayed at the museum starting in late August. The set includes medals designed and used by other countries. The exhibit will be seen a few days earlier in mid-August at the American Numismatic Association National Convention held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.

The centennial celebration itself will take place in Carnegie Music Hall on Saturday, October 16, with a keynote speech by the prize-winning historian and native Pittsburgher, David McCullough. The public is invited, and tickets are available by calling The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust at 412.456.6666 or visiting www.pgharts.org.

The Hero Fund also is publishing its own story, A Century of Heroes, in the fall of 2004, in honor of the occasion.

Prepared with the help of Mary Brignano, co-author of A Century of Heroes, and Douglas R. Chambers, managing director of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.

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Copyright (c) 2003 CARNEGIE magazine. All rights reserved.