Left: The cover of Ambrose Korn Jr.’s newst novel "Deutschtown’s Pigeon Hill."
Ambrose Korn Jr. lived on the Northside from 1938 to 1955. He lived on Overbeck Street in Spring Hill, Dunloe Street and Tripoli Street in in Deutschtown.
From the Northside’s perspective, he saw World War II and the flourishing ’50s and watched the neighborhood and the country rapidly change economically and socially.
One night, sitting on a set of old wooden stairs at the end of Diana Street in Spring Hill, the teenage Korn saw a young woman get out of a car and run up the stairs crying. The man in the car haphazardly stopped, caught up to her, kissed her and together they got back in the car and drove away.
At the time, nothing more came of the incident. But 60 years later the memory still lingered in Korn’s mind, and it became the opening chapter in his second book “Deutschtown’s Pigeon Hill,” which tells the stories of a series of characters in a changing neighborhood, inspired by the Northside.
Korn, now a 73-year-old ex-marine, spent the last 10 years working on his two novels “Smelling Lilac” and “Deutschtown’s Pigeon Hill.” Though he now lives outside of the city in Western Pa., Korn incorporates his experiences growing up on the Northside into his latest book. Though he renames it Pigeon Hill, the Northside neighborhood is in itself a significant and changing character in “Deutschtown’s Pigeon Hill”
“I wanted to show how old established neighborhoods that are changed suddenly by government actions are not always received warmly by the citizens, even when the changes are made with good intentions,” Korn said, though he noted that his story is not an exact mirror image of Deutschtown’s.
However he said both the fictional Pigeon Hill and real-life Deutschtown face many changes after World War II and feel effects of a larger richer government and the then newly enacted GI Bill.
The story begins with a secret shared between members of two generations and how the younger generation feels the “exhilaration of growing up” while their parents “suffer from the disappointments of life” in post-war America.
All the while their once quaint community of “old homes, small roads, neighborhood stores, peddlers and trolleys” transforms to a “new way of supermarkets, shopping malls, automobiles and suburban housing plans.”
“Instead of just writing a chronicle, I use characters of all persuasions, the good the bad and the ugly, whose own lives are evolving while…the times they are a-changin,’” said Ambrose.
Longtime Northside residents will recognize small details, like how Pigeon Hill Arrows football team that are based on the 1954/1955 Spring Hill Arrows football team. Korn said he used bits of memory to construct many scenes.
“Every establishment in the story, from the German deli to the German club is a composite of anything I could recall,” he said.
As he grows older, Korn’s trips to the Northside are fewer and fewer.
“I am old,” he said. “Seventy three plus, and now when I come back to the Northside it’s to visit family or a grave site. Most of the places I entertained at when younger, the taverns, the clubs etcetera are all gone now.”
As the Oscar Wilde quote at the front of his book says, “No man is rich enough to buy back his past.”
Paper back and Kindle editions of “Deutschtown’s Pigeon Hill” are available on Amazon.com.