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  • June 2011
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Mary Schenley: slightly scandalous.

My mind has been wiped clean of topics to blog about as I diligently make a prototype of a magazine bowl for East Liberty’s summer art club, so I will regale you with a local tale. Something to think about as you maybe find time to enjoy the outdoors in one of Pittsburgh’s lovely parks.

About 5 or 6 years ago I volunteered at the Sen. John Heinz History Center, doing many interesting things. One of them was researching Pittsburgh women in the Library and Archives, and it was there that I heard the story of Mary Schenley.  Now you may think that Mrs. Schenley is famous for being a Pittsburgher. In fact, in her life she was most well-known for eloping and never coming back to Pittsburgh.

Scandalous!

Thanks to the Digital Archives of Western Pennsylvania magazine I was able to go back and refresh my memory of the story.

Mary Schenley was born Mary Elizabeth Croghan in Locust Grove, Kentucky. Her mother was a Pittsburgher (an O’Hara, to be exact) and died when Mary was young. Her father, an attorney, moved back to Pittsburgh when Mary was 10.  He eventually built a mansion for them near Stanton Heights, called the “Picnic House”.

She was sent to a boarding school on Staten Island when she was 15 years old. It was run by a Ms. McLeod, an ex sister-in-law of one Captain Edward Schenley, a twice-married Englishman who had run away to join the army at a young age and stayed in Italy with Lord Byron and Percy Shelley (who have some stories of their own, but now is not the time).  Although he was much older than she, the aforementioned article states that “the dashing solider, in his fine uniform, with its bright buttons and gold lace, captivated the susceptible hearts of the young ladies of the entire school.”

Schenley, of course, chose the 16 year old Pittsburgher. They eloped. Upon hearing the news, her father reportedly fainted.  It’s like Gossip Girl, right?

Her father and Queen Victoria eventually forgave Mary Schenley (she wasn’t allowed at court for a while), and Mr. Croghan even built her a whole addition of her own onto his house. It was always staffed so as to be ready for her arrival. Unfortunately, she rarely visited, citing her asthma and Pittsburgh’s aggravating effect on her lungs.   She died in 1903, leaving her land to the city for a park. thanks to the quick thinking of Edward Bigelow.

The mansion served as the club house for the Stanton Heights Golf Club but was eventually sold. Some of its rooms were preserved and can be seen in the Cathedral of Learning. And they are rumored to be haunted.

Another charming thing that I found in my research was that Mary Schenley signed off on her letters not with “sincerely” or “best”, but “believe me”.

So in honor of fun local history (I’ll tell you about the Biddle Boys sometime), I say,

Believe me,

Tessa – CLP East Liberty (where Teen Time is every Wednesday at 3 this summer).

P.S.! Does this kind of story capture your interest?  You may be interested to know that a book full of local East Liberty history was just published, and it was written by Peabody High School students. You can get a copy from the Young Preservationists Association or pick up an order form at CLP – East Liberty.

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