By Crystal Boehm
It doesn’t take fame or fortune to be remembered.
On Nov. 10 the Crafton Shade Tree Commission will dedicate a pin oak in Crafton Park to Walter “Shorty” Fulton, a man whose kindness helped a woman named Ellen Hughes survive a painful childhood.
Hughes, now living in Nebraska, relayed the man’s nickname and a few treasured memories that lasted through her years when she contacted Crafton Borough in October of 2021.
Hughes wanted to dedicate a bench to a man named “Shorty” who would greet her on her lunch breaks from St. Philip School and on her way home in the afternoons. The man gave her the nickname “Sugar Lump” and asked her every day what she learned. Being overweight, and having a tough time at home, Shorty was the only person in her young life to show her consistent kindness. For that, she wanted him to be remembered in their hometown.
However, without a full name, address or direct connection to the borough, a decision to consider Hughes’ request would be difficult. Crafton Heritage, a nonprofit and 501(c)(3) with a mission to preserve Crafton’s stories, jumped in to help.
Hughes grew up in Crafton in the 1940s and 1950s and lived on Belvidere Street until the age of six.
She remembered Shorty living in a shack. Some historical accounts of the place said it was once a slaughterhouse with ties to Sigmund and Albert Streebech Butcher Shop at 10 W. Crafton Ave.
Hughes recalled Shorty as an African-American man and a former slave who died around the age of 100. Research revealed he was employed by the borough and was often seen pulling a large industrial cart with brooms used to sweep the streets. Hughes recalled seeing him sitting on his porch with his little black dog or favoring one leg while walking or doing odd jobs around the neighborhood.
Advisor to Crafton Heritage, Susan O’Connell connected the shack at 11 W. Crafton Avenue to a man known as Walter D. Fulton who was born into slavery on Sept. 6, 1862 in Danville, Virginia a place known for its tobacco industry. Shorty came to Crafton from 48 Greenleaf St. in the 19th Ward of Pittsburgh according to the 1920 Census. After retiring, he moved to 83 First St., House 44 in Bethel Park, and ultimately died of heart failure on Dec. 17, 1957 at age 95.
Funeral arrangements were coordinated by Shorty’s niece Lillie Crawford. Harger Funeral Home (Beinhauer Funeral Home today ) provided archived records pointing to his burial at Restland-Lincoln Memorial Park in Monroeville. Records at Restland show Walter in a stacked, unmarked grave. A generous and thoughtful Hughes installed a marker at the cemetery plot.
Social media efforts through the “Remember Crafton When” Facebook group, helped researchers to learn more about the kindness that most seem to remember about Shorty. Many recall his angora cats, caged rabbits, his small black dog, a garden, a shack in need of repair, the shack being smoked out in the late 1950s, sightings of working for others in the neighborhood (he even worked to make money to help others in need).
Clay Little, son of Donald Little provided a photo of Shorty with his maternal grandfather Robert “Bert” Newell (born 1947) owner of Newell Coal Co. in Crafton. Shorty worked for Newell Coal Co. and ate almost every meal with Bert’s family at 15 Division St. Shorty loaded the dump truck and shoveled the coal into people’s cellars. Sometimes he cut grass for free, he certainly had a sense of humor and would joke about cutting off toes with his hedge clippers.
Shorty’s family was from Pittsburgh’s uptown neighborhood where he would often return for Sunday Church service.
Donald Little, 75, got choked up thinking about “Shorty” and his brother-like friendship with his father Bert Newell, who died July 18, 1959, saying, “They were both amazing men and anyone who knew them would say the same.”
Anyone who has ties to Shorty is asked to reach out to email@example.com. The Crafton Tree Commission will announce an exact location and time for the tree commemoration later this month at craftonheritage.org.