Pittsburgh Phil Immortalized in Stone

Jun 22nd 2008 09:48 pm |

Last week, I was at a Digital Library conference in Pittsburgh populated by academics, librarians, archivists, and information scientists. About midway through the conference I felt the need for a more lively setting so I visited two local cemeteries….seriously. Actually it wasn’t a spur of the moment decision, it all started while reading the obituaries for Pittsburgh Phil a few weeks ago when I came across this in the Washington Times (February 2, 1905):

“Pittsburg, Feb. 2 — To the rest of the world George E. Smith was known as ‘Pittsburg Phil’. To his people here, those who knew him best, he was known simply as Phil and was beloved by all.

“And now, after eight years of emptiness and waiting, a beautiful $30,000 mausoleum in the Allegheny cemetery will claim its own. With that rare foresight and carefulness which marked his way through life, Phil some years ago drew the plans for his own burial house, chose the Italian marble himself and watched week after week while the workmen built the little house which at some future day would hold all that remained earthly of him. It is one of the finest bits of architecture in the cemetery and has been since its completion the source of many a jest at the expense of the plunger when he made his annual visits to his people here.

“It was only by accident that Phil’s idea of having a nice and neat resting place for his body was discovered. In the fall, about eight years ago, John Staley and some other friends of the plunger crossing the cemetery came on Smith superintending a party of men at work on a mausoleum.

“‘What are you doing,’ said Mr Staley to Phil.

“‘Don’t you see,’ grunted Phil nodding toward the beautiful structure of marble which was beginning to take definite shape.

“‘Who’s it for,’ continued Staley referring to the mausoleum.

“‘Me.’

“‘You’re not thinking of dying are you Phil?’

“‘Got to some time,’ said the famous plunger as he sat down on a block of marble and discussed the hereafter. He had always had a horror of the earth and had early in success decided that a beautiful mausoleum would be his as soon as he could get time to build it. It could wait after completing until he was ready to occupy it.

“And since it was completed Phil has not missed a year in which he did not visit it and see that the sexton had kept it well fixed up. The sexton was his pensioner, and was paid more than well for attending to the mausoleum against the time that Phil should be carried into it.”

Being in Pittsburgh with a few hours to kill I thought finding the final resting place of Pittsburgh Phil might make for an interesting adventure. Using the above as a guide, I started my search at the Allegheny Cemetery which turned out to be the wrong place. The helpful folks in the administrative office there gave me the number to the Uniondale Cemetery which in 1905 was located in Allegheny City (the area was annexed by the city of Pittsburgh in 1907).

Across town I went and the hunt was worth the time. I called Pittsburgh Phil the founding father of horseplayers in a previous post and like all worthy founding fathers he has been immortalized in stone (on his dime of course but still…).  Here are a few of the photographs I took of his mausoleum:

The site sits on a hill looking down at a Shell station on the corner of Brighton and Marshall Avenue in North Pittsburgh

When I first saw “Pace” above the door I thought it was a horse racing reference….”Reqviescant in Pace” is Latin for “Rest in Peace” (R.I.P.)

Dressed for success in his high collar, waist coat, and thick watch fob but, interestingly, no hat.

Is that a racing form? If so, it is the only indication of George E. Smith’s vocation found at his grave site

NOTES

Google map with the location of Uniondale Cemetery, the site of Pittsburgh Phil’s final resting place.

Pittsburg Phil Buried; Immense Crowd at Cemetery Despite a Heavy Snowstorm“, New York Times, Febuary 6, 1905 (free registration required)

Remarkable Career of Pittsburg Phil“, Washington Times, February 2, 1905

I got the horse right here : Appreciating 100 years of the Daily Racing Form” by Frank Deford (Sports Illustrated, August 31, 2005) makes an interesting mention of Pittsburg Phil

Note on the spelling of Pittsburgh — Pittsburgh as in “Pittsburg Phil” drops the “h” (explained here). In a previous post, I used the 1905 spelling throughout but here I kept the portions from the newspaper as is but used the corrected version everywhere else.

Thanks for reading!

Filed in famous gamblers,Pittsburg Phil,Pittsburgh Phil,Uniondale Cemetary



7 Responses to “Pittsburgh Phil Immortalized in Stone”

  1. Jessica C. says:

    I can’t believe I missed reading this post last week! Love the pictures and knowing a bit more about Pittsburgh Phil.

  2. QQ says:

    Jessica may have missed reading this post until July, but I just saw it now. Sorry I missed you on your visit to the ‘Burgh!

  3. Phil was the nephew of my great great grandmother. I would be interested in knowing more about his family. Was he an immigrant? does anyone else claim to be his relative?

  4. Yes Kevin! Phil is still immortal. Tears are streaming down my eyes right now,with a flood of emotion, while I read your beautiful tribute to a man like none other. Today I stand on the treshold of winning theories on horse racing,all sowed by this man when I was but little.By a strange coincidence he also carries my surname.Your article of course is heart warming and deserves the highest encomiums and praise…..Long live Phil….truly REST IN PEACE….PRINCE (Clifford Smith)

  5. Matthew H. Davidson says:

    I *never* knew ! God bless you ! Right after I got out of the USMC back from Asia early 1970s I happened on the Gambler’s Book Club, LV and the first thing I ordered was “Racing Methods” by PP. Later when I got my byline @ *Racing Star Weekly* in the mid-70s, I would quote him—solid stuff, stands the test of time. I’ve read most of the books about horse-race betting old and new, most have the life-expectancy of a house fly—not PP’s Maxims. He set the standard, raising the bar *high*. If we have a Patron Saint, he is *it*.

  6. […] statue decked out to the nines (complete with racing form), and still more information, check out the post on the thoroughbred racing history website, Colin’s Ghost.  In all this searching, we even discovered a novel based on the life of George E. Smith entitled, […]

  7. David says:

    Extraordinary work on your part Kevin