Stone: Dying hometown of Musial, Griffeys clings to its sports history

From Larry Stone at the Seattle Times on April 1, 2016:

The peeling sign greets drivers as they cross the Monongahela River on the “Stan The Man” Musial Bridge.

“Donora, The Home of Champions.”

Donora is a decaying town, another in a long line of once-flourishing Rust Belt boroughs along the river in Western Pennsylvania that have hit hard times. The steel mills closed long ago. A broken-down bridge that was Donora’s last business life line was imploded last year. Inhabitants wonder if their city is ever going to get its luster back.

“It’s really depressing, and basically, everybody moves out of this town,” said Dennis Lomax, 64, who grew up in Donora and moved back about 10 years ago to be near his daughter and two grandchildren.

“Basically, what I call this is a holding cell for the funeral home,” he said. “It’s like, who’s dying next? So many people are dying.”

Lomax doesn’t have a car any more, and doesn’t miss it.

“There’s nowhere to go,” he said bitingly. “Where you going to go in Donora?”

Yet even as stores keep shuttering at staggering rates, leaving a virtual ghost town on the main drag of McKean Avenue, Donora clings to its amazing sports legacy. That’s about all it has now, other than a perverse recognition as the site of the deadly 1948 Donora Smog, one of America’s first, and worst, environmental disasters.

Donora is famously the home of Stan Musial. And it’s the birthplace of Ken Griffey Jr., overwhelmingly elected to join Musial in the Hall of Fame last January.

This week, I found myself in Pittsburgh and had a free day. Donora, 25 miles south down the industrial clutter of Highway 51, beckoned. I had long been intrigued by the town that birthed two left-handed baseball icons. And, in a bit of exquisite trivia that continues to floor me, both arrived on the same day, Nov. 21 — Musial in 1920, Griffey Jr. in 1969.

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Originally published: April 5, 2016. Last Updated: April 5, 2016.