He strapped on the oxygen tank he kept at home, the green one, labeled TO BE FILLED WITH COMPRESSED OXYGEN ONLY, and walked out the back door, onto Thompson Avenue, into the dark fog. Bill Schempp at a fire practice Walking had become so difficult by then that he dropped to his hands and knees and crept through the heavy, burning fog, feeling his way from house to house.
Cancer was once a word uttered soto voce, a word so dangerous it would conjure demons and visions of the Spectre of Death. A barely-known radiologist named Marjorie B. Illig helped to change that, and the women of Donora readily jumped aboard her world-changing vision.
"The word thus coined is a contraction of smoke and fog — 'smog' — and its introduction was received with applause as being eminently expressive and appropriate. It is not exactly a pretty word, but it fits very well the thing it represents, and it has only to become known to be popular."
If even a slight breeze had strolled through the Donora valley that week the smoke would have broken up, giving residents some respite. But no, there was no breeze to be had, not in Donora, nor in Monessen to the south, nor in Monongahela to the north.
It seems that not everyone received a death certificate in 1948, or, if they did, it was lost or never archived. Marriage applications, census data, immigration passenger lists, and so forth, are also often inaccurate or provide inconsistent information.
Most people know Donner, if they know him at all, as the founder of Donora, a town with a name unlike any other in the world. They might know that Donner was connected to the Mellons —Andrew W. and Richard B. — and that he was instrumental in creating the zinc and steel mills in Donora at the turn of the 20th Century. They might not know much else.
Donora, Pennsylvania, would likely not exist today if town founder William H. Donner hadn't finally persuaded Margaret Heslep, a surprisingly crafty negotiator, to sell her land.