Visitor brings steel man tall tale to life for Pine students |

Visitor brings steel man tall tale to life for Pine students

Ask a elementary school students what they know about Joe Magarac, and they’re likely to respond with a puzzled look.

Two generations after the peak of the city’s steel industry, Pittsburgh’s mythical Hungarian steelworker — a man made of steel who rose from an ore mine to help steelworkers — is at risk of fading into obscurity.

“It’s a tall tale. It’s a tall tale from your heritage. Maybe some of your ancestors worked in the steel mills. They made Pittsburgh,” local actor Tim Hartman, 48, told about 400 students from Wexford Elementary in Pine at an assembly Friday.

For more than an hour, Hartman’s one-man show painted a picture of a city teeming with immigrants and filled with smoke, soot and rust-colored skies, but awash in profit from the steel industry.

“I loved his facial expressions and how he did all of the parts. I have never seen one person do so many different people,” said fifth-grader Katie Graszl, 11, of Pine.

Graszl and schoolmate Maddie Ince, 10, a fourth-grader from Pine, hadn’t heard the Magarac story.

“I thought it was funny and interesting. It’s a good story,” Ince said.

The origins of the Magarac legend are unclear. The tale likely has its roots in the 1890s or early 20th century during the migration of people from Eastern Europe who staffed the mills in Homestead.

Magarac is depicted on paintings at the University of Pittsburgh and in a statue at Kennywood. His likeness is at an elementary school in Rankin and on a Downtown mural.

In its day, the legend moved beyond Pittsburgh, to the Great Lakes steel cities stretching from Buffalo, N.Y., to Wisconsin. Magarac at times has been Czech and Croatian.

Sort of a cross between Paul Bunyan and Superman, Magarac often appeared out of nowhere at critical moments to protect steelworkers. In one story, he appeared to stop a 50-ton crucible from falling on a group of steelworkers.

“Joe Magarac sacrificed everything for his friends,” said Hartman, who stands 6 feet, 6 inches tall and has done versions of the Magarac show countless times over 25 years.

As a young man, legend says, Magarac won the beautiful Mary Mestrovich’s hand in marriage in a weightlifting contest, but allowed her to marry her true love, Pete Pussick.

His fate is the subject of much debate.

Some say he melted himself in a Bessemer furnace for material to build a mill. Others insist he still lives in an abandoned mill, waiting for the day that the furnace burns again.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.