Revisiting Forbes Field: Photographic Exhibition Shows Pittsburgh’s Sporting Past

Issue Date: 
October 26, 2015

Scenes and memories of the great Forbes Field now grace the very spot where the neighborhood ballpark once stood. A permanent exhibition of 30 black-and-white photographs hangs on the walls of Posvar Hall’s ground-floor corridor.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company CollectionSeveral of the images show Pittsburgh Pirates lore: German immigrant Barney Dreyfuss, the first owner of the Pirates in 1900, who personally paid for the construction of Forbes Field; spectators entering the ballpark in 1909 for the Pirates’ first World Series, which the team won; and the great Honus Wagner, who began playing professional baseball to get out of the coal mines where he had worked since age 12. 

But many photos depict other events that occurred at Forbes Field, which stood from 1909 to 1970 on ground that is now home primarily to Posvar Hall and also the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business.

Pitt’s football team won three of its nine national championships at Forbes Field under the legendary Glenn “Pop” Warner before leaving for Pitt Stadium. The site was also a major venue on the Negro National League’s circuit, as shown in the exhibition’s Teenie Harris photos of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, Homestead Grays, and the legendary Josh Gibson, who played for both teams. Pittsburghers turned out in droves to cheer on boxers like Jake LaMotta and East Liberty’s own Billy Conn.

Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Detroit Publishing Company Collection“Pittsburgh sport was unusual in that no city of comparable size had as much athletic success across the spectrum during the 20th century,” said Pitt professor of history and sports historian Rob Ruck, who helped build the exhibition. “The Homestead Grays, the Steelers, and the Crawfords emerged from local sandlots; Art Rooney, Josh Gibson, Billy Conn, and Dick Groat grew up here. What made our success so special was that few cities depended as much on their native sons.”

“All in all,” said Ruck, “it’s a compelling picture of sport in Pittsburgh.”

The photo exhibition was funded by Pitt’s Office of the Chancellor and created by Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, Chancellor Emeritus Mark Nordenberg, University Art Gallery Curator Isabelle Chartier, Ruck, and others. Multiple organizations permitted copies to be made of their photographs, among them the Pitt Archives, the Senator John Heinz History Center, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and others.