While on duty, Duquesne police Sgt. Daniel J. Burns was often approached by people about the crimes, buildings and people of the city's colorful past.
One notorious figure he often heard about was Martin Sullivan, a police officer who, in 1936, shot and killed five people while on his way to jail for another crime.
That and other tales intrigued the Whitehall native, a history buff with a journalism degree. He filed them all in his memory.
In 2003, after joining the Homestead & Mifflin Township Historical Society, he researched some of those stories and revisited the people who told them.
He wrote a book about the city's history and plans another one that will include crimes such as Sullivan's.
Tomorrow, his 128-page "Duquesne," in Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series, will be released, with copies, priced at $19.99, available at local bookstores, a major online bookseller and the historical society.
The book tells a history of Duquesne from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, mostly through 189 photographs and their detailed captions.
"It's really good to know that 100 years from now, someone will be able to pick up this book and look at history," Burns said.
He hopes to return to police duty by midsummer; he suffered a vertebrate fracture in November. He also speaks throughout the state on violence protection.
As a boy, Burns, 42, dreamed of being a police officer while watching "Starsky and Hutch" and "Hill Street Blues" on television, and reading the Joseph Wambaugh police novels.
"I always wanted to be one of the good guys," he said.
After graduation from South Hills Catholic High School, now Seton-La Salle, and three years in the Navy, he enrolled in Point Park College, now a university, where he discovered his talent for writing.
He taught English for two years at a high school in Rochester, N.Y., before returning home to pursue a career in law enforcement.
Most of the pictures in the book were offered to him or the historical society by longtime residents or their descendants as word of the project spread.
William Gallagher, who owns a Gallagher's Pharmacy in Duquesne, provided photographs and information, including about his grandfather, John, who emigrated from England and helped organize Duquesne's Holy Name Church.
"Gallagher's signature can be found on the document that incorporated the city of Duquesne in 1892," Burns captioned under his picture among other details.
Other photographs arrived through a combination of luck and savvy. A former employee of U.S. Steel's Duquesne Works salvaged pictures the company was set to destroy when it closed in the 1980s, and gave them to Burns.
A 1909 picture of the police force was discovered by Burns in a trash bin at city hall as he was throwing something away.
For caption information, he scoured newspapers of the day -- the Duquesne Times, The Observer, the McKeesport Daily News, the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph -- and census data and other records.
He also relied on oral histories, such as from the late Joe Walker about the fire department.
Burns' girlfriend, Sarah Manns, of Duquesne, showed him how to use the Internet to track genealogy.
After contacting Arcadia with 20 captioned photographs, he received a contract and a deadline.
Burns next plans a book on Sullivan, the first police officer executed in Pennsylvania for capital crimes, and a book on Homestead for Images of America.
The series' small royalties probably won't cover costs, but his efforts, whether concerning Duquesne or elsewhere in the Mon Valley, are not for money but rather to preserve the steel towns' fading history and heritage.
"The pictures might be scattered to the wind if this wasn't done. You never know," he said