Photographs and written accounts document the sulfurous smog that lingered above the railyards and wafted over all of Collinwood. Hundreds of coal-burning locomotives idled each day‘Every day from dawn till dark the sky [over the rail yard] is blackened by clouds of smoke and no effort has been made by the village to abate it.’ in the yards as they switched tracks, underwent repairs, or shunted freight. The blast furnace in the railroad’s maintenance shops poured pollutants from its smokestack. Only a few blocks away, children in the elementary school heard clattering cars and breathed acrid exhaust. “Every day from dawn till dark,” complained suffering residents in 1910, “the sky [over the rail yard] is blackened by clouds of smoke and no effort has been made by the village to abate it.”
Experts in the early 1900s often saw railyards as the most intense generators of soot and smoke in cities and towns, but Collinwood’s factories added significantly to the pall.W C Tinsley, “In the Yards,” The Camera: A Practical Magazine, July, 1910. Click image for more. More smog wafted in from Cleveland’s refineries and massive steel mills. Oily soot clung to the windows, floors, and desks of the Collinwood school, as it did to everything else in the shadow of industry and rail traffic. A woman in Cleveland reported that “At night we can hear the cinders like hail falling on the roof. Nothing will grow here. My trees and flowers are dead.” Fritz Hirter, the janitor, followed the common practice of scrubbing ash and dirt from the the school’s floors with kerosene, an effective solvent that also saturated the wood with a potent fire accelerant.
The school neighborhood had other environmental problems that no janitor could even struggleThe Lackawanna Railroad featured the fictional Phoebe Snow in a long-running series of ads. She dressed only in white and rode the “Road of Anthracite” through a fantasy of scenic, unpolluted landscapes. Anthracite burned more cleanly than bituminous coal but was far from smoke, soot, and cinder free. Credit: Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania. to clean up. The Ohio Board of Health reported, without ironic commentary, that Rockefeller Creek, running past the rail yards and a few blocks from the school, was “practically all sewage . . . at times giving rise to extremely bad odors very offensive to passersby.” The creek carried the untreated waste for much of Collinwood to Lake Erie where it “spreads out and covers a very large area . . . to the eastward.”