Mr. Odd’s Mysterious and Fascinating Tales of Pittsburgh, Episode I

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And in case you were wondering if this was really a true story:

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The amazing Harry Albacker and the great paint hoax!

Pittsburgh's great Harry Albacker!
There are so many great stories about Harry Albacker. The Pittsburgh papers would regularly print quotes from him. For decade he toured performing at nigGinger Leehtclubs. He was well known among other performers.  He was a charming man with a gift for hocus pocus! He once had a fling with an exotic dancer named Ginger Lee. He even enticed her into visiting Pittsburgh, the city he loved. He once said “the world is my stage, but Pittsburgh is my home.” 

He was a natural born showman. He once claimed to be P.T. Barnum reincarnated, he said the same of Houdini. He claimed to have been born the day Houdini died, a story he manufactured to add to the illusion of his life on stage.

He was known for handing out the rabbits he used in his shows, he once gave a rabbit to Caroline Kennedy on her birthday. The rabbit had a taste for beer, and could supposedly play the trumpet, according to Harry. The rabbit was removed from the White House and donated to the Washington Zoo, apparently drunken rabbits were not considered a proper pet for a the young daughter of JFK.

Harry-Albacker

Of his many pets over the years several of them made headlines. His guinea pig escaped during a visit in North Carolina. When he was found six days later he was flown back to Pittsburgh. A thief caught a nasty surprise when he stole Harry’s suitcase and discovered a sixty pound python. His rooster Big Daddy wandered off, Donald the duck flew away, and many rabbits vanished. Luckily they always seemed to make more rabbits.

A story that gained national attention was the escape of his flea circus. The tale alleges that he dropped the tin holding them while visiting Ohio. Eva the weightlifter, Magda the shimmy dancer, and Zsa-Zsa the ringmaster all escaped. He called the local dog pound to see if his fleas turned up on one of their dogs. It was of course a bit of brilliant bunk. (Flea circuses don’t actually use fleas. It’s all a mechanized illusion using magnets.)

He “gave up magic” in 1949 when he discovered a formula for polka dot paint. News spread throughout the United States of his “discovery.” He rented the parlor at the Fort Pitt Hotel and invited the press and representatives of the paint industry.

He demonstrated his remarkable paint and the audience was stunned! It was of course an illusion but newspapers ran the story and soon stores where getting calls asking how they could buy the polka dotted paint. It was of course just another of his magic tricks.

The papers got back at him when they ran the story of Harry getting locked out of his dressing room! He’s no Houdini they declared.

When the work at nightclubs dried up Harry began to take work performing for children. At first he thought it would be degrading, but he soon fell in love with the crowds. He would entertain Pittsburgh children for decades at festivals, libraries and on TV. He became a Pittsburgh icon.

Harry passed away while performing on stage at Pittsburgh senior citizens center in 1994.

It was a heck of an exit for a great showman!

Pittsburgh’s First Automobile

Pittsburgh's first car
Pittsburgh’s first car

Joseph F. Haller was an inventor who held several patents. His inventions included a fruit washing machine, an automated bottle washer and other mass production machines for the bottling industry.  He had worked for Heinz for several years designing improvements to the manufacturing process.

He began inventing when he was just 14 years old when he built his own bicycle. In the early 1900’s he began tinkering with an idea for a “horseless carriage”. While his design was not the first, it was the first in Pittsburgh, and one of the earliest, predating Henry Ford’s first vehicle design by 3 years.

When Haller drove into downtown Pittsburgh he was met with howls of laughter. His own father thought it was a worthless contraption and would never replace horse and wagons.

In 1896 the car tipped over onto the newly laid out Beechwood Blvd, causing one of the first automobile accident in US History. Luckily no other cars were involved in the accident…because there weren’t any.

He passed away in 1944 and is buried in St. Martin’s Cemetery in Pittsburgh.