The Bad Old Days: Two Doctors Describe the ‘Illegal’ Years

by Kirsten Ervin

illustration of doctor entering room with woman on examination table
[illustration: Rick Bach for In Pittsburgh, 1992]

I was lucky to be fertile during the time of Roe v. Wade, to have the protection of a law that ensured that I had the right to control my own body. Roe v. Wade meant I could decide if and when I wanted to be a parent, or if I wanted to be a parent at all. If the Supreme Court overturns this ruling, it will have existed for just under 50 years; I am currently 54 years old. The thought that people younger than me—women and non-binary folks—will not have this same right, the same control of their bodies is chilling. As Senator Patty Murray stated this week, if Roe v. Wade is overturned “this will be the first generation of women with fewer rights than their mothers.”

Thirty years ago, when I was just 24, I interviewed two doctors who regularly witnessed what illegal abortions did to women for In Pittsburgh. They regularly saw hospital wards full of people sick with sepsis, bleeding profusely, often with permanently damaged reproductive systems—all due to illegal abortion. Over 5,000 women died this way every year. Both doctors fought to create access to reproductive freedom, and ensure women maintained control over their bodies and lives. May we be inspired by their fight, by their resolve and commitment to freedom of choice in our current struggle. Please vote on Tuesday’s Primary Election and know how your candidates stand on the issue of choice. Our lives depend on it.

Kirsten Ervin, 2022


The Bad Old Days: Two Doctors Describe the ‘Illegal’ Years

Originally published by In Pittsburgh Newsweekly, 1992

Like Mary Litman [see last week’s story The Bad Old Days: One Woman Remembers How It Was] thousands of women were hospitalized due to botched illegal abortions in the years before Roe v. Wade. According to the 1970 Kinsey Report, one out of five pregnancies ended in abortion at that time, with the resulting deaths of about 5,000 women each year. Pittsburgh obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Robert Kisner, who was an intern at Magee Women’s Hospital from 1969 to 1973, recalls the many women who came to Magee after illegal abortions: “The typical ones I saw and remember were people who were really sick. They had a temperature of 104, 105; they looked like the devil and were really septic. If they had done this in an era where we didn’t have powerful antibiotics, a lot of these women would have died.”

Dr. Tom Allen, now the medical director of Women’s Health Services, was a resident intern at Magee from 1944 to 1945. He remembers that usually about half of the 12 or so beds in the Septic Ward were occupied by victims of illegal abortions. Since World War II was on, “all the penicillin, which was the only antibiotic we really had at that time, was reserved for the military,” Allen says. Quite a few women died, and “if they did get better, they were probably gynecological cripples.”

Kisner says patients often developed sepsis, a poisoning caused by absorption of bacteria into the blood; or peritonitis, an inflammation of the abdominal lining. Both were brought about by the unsterile instruments and harsh chemicals of back-alley abortionists. If aggravated, these infections could result in sterility or the later need for a hysterectomy.

Yet “these women almost always waited until they were sick to come in, because they didn’t want to share with us and they knew we would probably be able to figure out what happened,” Kisner says. “It was so painful to me to ask these poor women, ‘Who did this to you?”, or ‘What did they do to you?’ … You could see the shame on their faces.” Many had remained silent because they feared prosecution: “It was almost as if they were educated by the person who performed this to ‘deny everything, because you don’t know me’,” says Kisner.

A number of factors united to change conditions in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Standards set forth by the Obstetrican-Gynecologist Hospital Services in 1969 broadened the scope of medically necessary, or therapeutic, abortions permitted in hospitals. Around this time Magee established the Therapeutic Abortion and Sterilization Committee, which acted on patients’ requests for abortions and/or tubal ligations.

Allen concedes that the meaning of therapeutic abortion was stretched a little bit. Therapeutic abortions in the ’40s and ’50s were for very severe heart or kidney disease that complicated continuation of the pregnancy because of the extra stress on the organs. But there was a conscious movement on the part of [Magee’s] staff to challenge the abortion law. The chairman required that two psychiatrists say, “The continuation of this woman’s pregnancy will endanger her life.” They got it down so they could say, “damage her mental health.”

Also, two direct court challenges were made to Pennsylvania’s restrictive 1939 abortion law. In 1970, motorcycle mechanic Barry Graham Page—a convicted abortionist from Centre County—attacked the law as being too broad and ambiguous, and won. For a time, Centre County was the only place in Pennsylvania where abortion was permissible.

That same year, Allegheny County District Attorney Robert Duggan subpoenaed the hospital records at Magee for all of 1970. He had filed a criminal complaint charging three Magee physicians with conspiracy to commit illegal abortion. Outraged, three therapeutic abortion patients at Magee filed an equity class action for an injuction against the release of such records, claiming this would violate their privacy. Common Pleas Court Judge Anne Alpern granted the injunction, concurring that the state’s 1939 law was ambiguous and therefore unconstitutional. 

Now technically without any abortion law, Allegheny County officials allowed a more permissive atmosphere. As Allen remembers, “We could interpret it so that we could go ahead with an abortion until we were challenged … It was our hope that we could change the legislation. and get a law similar to New York but that didn’t happen.”

What did happen was that Allen, along with the late Leah Sayles, co founded Women’s Health Services in the fall of 1972 as Pittsburgh’s first free-standing, nonprofit clinic providing abortion services. The U.S. Supreme Court made its landmark Roe v. Wade decision in January 1973, three months before WHS actually opened its doors. But Allen says, “We didn’t really care. We were going to open [WHS] anyway.” 

As the Supreme Court prepares to rule on Pennsylvania’s new Abortion Control Act this July, Allen says “Women should never relinquish a right that is theirs,” and warns that protecting choice “is going to take some hard work politically. The only way is … to elect a pro-choice Congress and a President who will not veto choice legislation.” Kisner agrees on the need for activism, adding that “if [choice] ever came down to a single vote, men should not even participate in the vote. We don’t get pregnant.”

The Bad Old Days: One Woman Remembers How It Was

by Kirsten Ervin

illustration of doctor entering room with woman on examination table
[illustration: Rick Bach for In Pittsburgh, 1992]

Thirty years ago, I had the privilege of interviewing Mary Litman, a woman who had experienced the physical danger and emotional trauma of an illegal abortion in the 1950s. What could have been a safe medical procedure for Mary instead became a months-long nightmare of shame, secrets, and life-threatening internal bleeding—all with far-reaching consequences. 

When I interviewed Mary for the now-defunct In Pittsburgh Newsweekly, I was fresh out of college. While her story greatly impacted me, I don’t know that I ever truly considered that we as a country would ever go back to such a dark place, where anyone with a uterus is denied the basic choices about their own body. As Mary states in the interview, “When you have control over your body, you have control over your life.”

Now, with Roe v. Wade threatened at its very core by a looming Supreme Court decision, Mary’s story takes on heightened significance. The raw truth of this single story gives us a glimpse into a world without access to safe, legal abortions. When reading Mary’s story again, I am struck by the sense that her world is closing in on her; she is ready to face death, jail, or a lack of any viable future. With Roe v. Wade struck down, abortions won’t go away—they will go underground. Anyone facing an unplanned pregnancy will have their own life choices severely constricted. Without control over our bodies, we lose access to social, vocational, and financial freedom. 

Please excuse the fact that the language in this 30-year-old interview is not as gender inclusive as it could be. I know the loss of Roe v. Wade would affect not just women, but also many non-binary folks as well. 

My hope is that those who read Mary’s story, as well as countless others, will be moved—beyond sharing and posting on the Internet—to action, to the streets, and to the ballot box. In Pennsylvania, we have an election primary coming up on May 17. Please vote and know your candidates’ stances on matters affecting reproductive freedom. Our lives depend on it.

Kirsten Ervin, 2022


The Bad Old Days: One Woman Remembers How It Was

Originally published by In Pittsburgh Newsweekly, 1992.

Political issues often remain abstract until they are personalized. Certainly this is true of reproductive choice. How many women too young to know the realities of illegal abortion feel the same visceral attachment to the issue as those who remember? How clearly can today’s women envision life without reproductive freedom, as it was before Roe v. Wade?

Mary Litman, pro-choice activist and education director of Women’s Health Services in downtown Pittsburgh, agreed to share her 1958 illegal abortion experience with In Pittsburgh. Litman first went public with her story at a NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) speak-out in July 1989, just prior to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Webster decision. She has been featured, along with the patients and staff of Women’s Health Services, in the HBO documentary Abortion: Desperate Choices.

Kirsten Ervin: Why did you decide to finally speak out?

Mary Litman: I just decided that it was time I shared my story with other people—specifically with other women to remind them of what it was like to not have any place to turn for counseling, or help, or treatment, or even a pregnancy test. I knew there were some restrictions coming down, and wanted to have some impact on people’s consciences. 

KE: How hard was it for you to first speak out publicly, at the NARAL event in 1989? 

Mary: I spent about three or four days pacing my living room—because I had repressed so many of the memories, I didn’t want to think about it—trying to get the words to come out. I would sit on the bus and let the words run through me, and I would walk around my house and let the words run through me. 

KE: Are you glad you spoke out? What changed for you in the process?

Mary: It’s like walking around with weights on your shoulders, and then it felt like they were gone. It was being able to look at the world and think, “It’s out there now, I have nothing to hide from you.” It also made me feel more of a sisterhood with the women who had had legal abortions. The other thing it did was inspire other women to speak about their own experiences, and they felt exactly as I did. [We all] were isolated from each other because nobody ever wanted to stand up and say, “I had an illegal abortion.”

KE: Could you describe the circumstances surrounding your abortion? What was happening in your life at that time?

Mary: I came from a very large, Appalachian family—very loving, but not exactly upwardly mobile. I was the first in my family to formally graduate from high school and I had a job in one of the big corporations in Pittsburgh.

The person who I became pregnant with could not marry me, and I knew I couldn’t continue working at my job as an unwed pregnant woman. I didn’t want to go back home to my mother and be an extra burden on her. I just saw everything in my life I had strived for and worked for, and had attained, slipping away from me.

KE: How old were you?

Mary: Just a little past 20. I had never really heard about abortion. My sisters, when they got pregnant, they got married. My mother admitted to jumping off a couple of tables, and trying to fall down stairs, but she said, “If a pregnancy is good, it’s going to be good.” Abortion wasn’t anything I had ever heard about, except whispers about somebody dying or some awful thing happening to them. I trusted the person [I was involved with] because he was very sophisticated, very wise in the ways of the world. He told me he knew a good, safe place in Youngstown, Ohio. 

KE: Did you consider abortion as an option only after he suggested it?

Mary: Exactly. I didn’t know what I was going to do, and there wasn’t any place like [Women’s Health Services] to come and talk about my options. So, trusting his judgment, and trusting his ability to know what the accepted norms were, I went to Youngstown with him and his friend, the contact person, to this classic scene of a house. I think it may have been the same house in the book Back Rooms, because there’s one story about a woman from Cleveland who goes to Youngstown for an abortion. When I read that, I kept thinking, “I would like to find this woman,” because I don’t remember all that happened to me, and I feel like if I could find her I could fill in the blanks.

[When I went to the house], this doctor was an old man, and there was gambling going on in the front room. There were the three of us, and they left me; I don’t know where they went. I went into this room, which I don’t remember a whole lot about. There was a table. There was a calendar on the wall with the year of my birth, 20 years ago. When I saw the calendar I was sure I was going to die. It was like some prophecy. I was so very frightened, I’m not sure where reality left off, because I don’t remember anything. I don’t remember that man touching me.

KE: Were you anesthetized? 

Mary: I don’t think so, but I don’t know. I remember him telling me, “You’re going to experience a lot of pain. Don’t worry about it, just take some aspirin and stay quiet.” Don’t tell anybody was the message I got.

We drove back to Pittsburgh and I had a roommate. She really stayed with me through this whole thing, through the pain and the hemorrhaging. I remember Leigh coming into my room and saying, “You’ve got to let me call your mother. You’ve got to let me call the doctor. You’ve got to let me take you to the emergency room.” And I remember saying, “I can’t, Leigh. They’ll put me in jail. I’ll be all right.” 

So rather than go to jail and admit I had broken the law, I was ready to die. I was convinced I was going to. But good girls don’t go to jail; good girls don’t get pregnant; good girls certainly don’t go to Youngstown, Ohio and have illegal abortions. So I toughed it out. 

Finally the hemorrhaging stopped and I managed to go back to work for a while. Then I had this terrible infection and I smelled so bad. So I thought, “Well, I can go to a doctor because there’s an infection.” I still wouldn’t tell him I had had an illegal abortion. He tested me for venereal disease and said, “You don’t have venereal disease, but we need to put you in the hospital. You’re very anemic. If you lose any more blood, you’re going to have to be admitted immediately. We’re going to have to give you transfusions.”

[But] I went back to work, and I started to hemorrhage again. [This time] I was admitted to the hospital and had several blood transfusions, had my D&C*, and then I remember my doctor bending over my bed and saying, “Why didn’t you tell me?” I started to cry and said, “I thought you’d lock me in jail.” And he said, “I would have taken care of you. You should have told me.” 

KE:  You had no way of knowing who was going to be hostile and who wasn’t? 

Mary: No, absolutely not. I thought, you break the law, you go to jail, period. So I went on with my life, sort of pushing it back. I never told anyone except my roommate. I got married in 1961 and I tried for a number of years to get pregnant and I never could. But in 1968 I adopted my daughter Tracy, and I don’t feel any lack of having children because I’ve got Tracy.

KE: How long after your abortion did it take you to get you back on your feet, physically and emotionally?

Mary: This whole procedure, from getting pregnant to being in the hospital and the D&C, was a four- or five-month period. Then, like everybody else, I thought, “Oh, I’m never having sex with anybody ever again.” I truly did repress it, the whole idea that it happened to me. I just put it out of my mind.

In 1972 or ’73, I picked up a copy of Ms. Magazine; a number of celebrities who had had illegal abortions were listed. I can still remember crying and reading. It was very important to me that I had tapped into a whole group of people who had had the same experience I did. 

KE: The man you were involved with, was he a support for you?

Mary: No. If he had been, and not been worried about himself, he would have picked me up in his arms and carried me to the emergency room. But he didn’t do that. He came [to my apartment] and looked at me and looked at Leigh and said, “Is she gonna be all right?” and left.

Women are such strong creatures, though. Lots of other women did exactly what I did. We all managed to live through it and we all managed to go back to work, back to school, or whatever. It’s unbelievable how brave women are. 

When people ask me whether the anti-choice people in front of our clinic make any women change their minds, I say, “Absolutely not. Women used to risk their lives to terminate an unplanned pregnancy.” Anybody who is going to change her mind about having an abortion will do it here in the privacy of the counseling session. And that often happens. 

KE: Do you at all regret your decision to have an abortion?

Mary: The decision at that time was entirely appropriate. I wasn’t ready to be a parent and I couldn’t have handled it financially or emotionally. It was a good decision; I just wish it could have been done in the safety of a clinic with proper counseling, and proper care.

KE: How do you think your life would be now if you hadn’t made that decision?

Mary: I know that in 1958, having an illegitimate child was not accepted the way it is now. But how my life would have turned out, I really don’t know. It’s just one of those mysteries. I’m satisfied with the way my life turned out.

KE: Does your experience as a young woman have a lot to do with your working at Women’s Health Services? 

Mary: Absolutely. Walking through that recovery room and seeing somebody have their blood pressure taken, seeing the counseling rooms filled up during counseling sessions, somebody else getting a pat on the cheek—I couldn’t get that kind of care, but other women are getting it now. That makes it all right.

KE: What message would you send to young women about this issue?

Mary: I think young women have got to realize what the broader agenda of the anti-choice movement is. They want to eliminate certain kinds of birth control, like the pill—low-dosage birth control pills act as an abortifacient and they also want to get rid of abortion.

Women have made greater strides since 1973 than in any time in their history. It’s no mistake that the anti-choice forces want to take away reproductive freedom for women, because if you don’t have reproductive freedom, you can’t really think about becoming a lawyer, becoming a doctor. When you have control over your body, you have control over your life. That’s what young women need to understand. It’s not about abortion. It’s about power over women’s lives.


* D&C: A dilation and curettage procedure, also called a D&C, is a surgical procedure in which the cervix (lower, narrow part of the uterus) is dilated (expanded) so that the uterine lining (endometrium) can be scraped with a curette (spoon-shaped instrument) to remove abnormal tissues.

In the Land of Giants: An Orbit Day Trip to The Farnham Colossi

large statue of man carrying grocery bags with animal-friendly messages
The great grocer in the sky. One of many enormous figures at The Farnham Colossi in Unger, WV.

If one is ever to meet a giant in real life, let it be like this. Big John greets every new visitor with a friendly smile. John’s big arms spread out to cradle four old-school brown paper sacks brimming with groceries. If that wasn’t enough, the great grocer is animal lover, to boot—we know this from the pro-pets messages printed on the shopping bags and his apron’s message Never eat anyone who had a mother.

At thirty feet tall (just guessing here) Big John is a fiberglass cast statue/advertisement for a retailer that we’ll assume no longer requires his services. The problem isn’t John—he’s in excellent shape. The large form is remarkably free of cracks or dings and the paint job—including that text on the bags and apron—is crisp and detailed.

"muffler man" painted like a lumberjack
Lumberjack muffler man

Colossus is not a word we generally hear in its plural form. Heck, we don’t even use the noun that much; its adjective gets most of the attention. Encountering a single giant is a rare enough occasion, how often does one experience two? or three?

Keep going. Unger, West Virginia has a tiny human population—I’ll bet it numbers in the hundreds—but when it comes to giants, that’s another story.

Unger, an unincorporated rural community just one mile from (regular) Virginia’s northernmost point, likely has the most per-capita giants in the country. They all live on the grounds of an old farmhouse along Winchester Grade Road. Collectively, they’re known as The Farnham Colossi.

large statues of "muffler man" holding muffer, beach man, and bikini lady
King Midas, muffler man (and friends)

The colossi come in many forms—human and otherwise—that spread around three sides of the property. There’s a giant apple painted with a faded mural of apple-harvesting, a colorful crab poised high in the sky, Yogi Bear’s supporting players, and a soaring pterodactyl that flies above a purple barn.

Mister Fifteen Hamburger Man, a rotund chef proudly hoisting a burger, stands in a large lawn with a circular ring of cast concrete statuary. Behind him is a mini roller coaster with one set of cars containing The Simpsons family, another a set of carnival clown game figures.

large statue of painted apple and smaller dog statue
Big apple / faithful friend

The whole thing’s a gas, but the attraction for many will be the exquisite pair of muffler men at Farnham. One is a legit muffler-holding mechanic with a Midas crown, the other appears in full lumberjack flannel, beard, and toque (but no Paul Bunyan axe).

Uniroyal Gal is the Mr. Pibb to Muffler Man’s more name-brand Dr. Pepper. She’s here too, wearing an electric purple bikini and go-go boots. Uniroyal Gal left the tire on the car, this time.

large statue of woman in purple bikini
Uniroyal Gal [photo: Kirsten Ervin]

Both Atlas Obscura and Roadside America have very fine entries on the history of The Farnham Colossi and the couple who seated them all here together, so we’ll not repeat those basic facts.

What we will say is that this part roadside attraction, part open-air museum of the dying history of the highway is a lovely place to visit when one finds him- or herself in the greater Berkeley Springs/Winchester/Cacapon State Park area of West Virginia’s eastern panhandle. Where else can one so easily walk among giants?

section of painted roller coaster cars with clown heads on them
Clown cars / bobblehead Santa
large statue of chef holding a hamburger
Big burger chef [photo: Kirsten Ervin]
large statue of man in sunglasses and swim trunks holding a can of beer
Beach dude [photo: Kirsten Ervin]
statues of characters from "The Yogi Bear Show" in front yard
Yogi Bear has a posse [photo: Kirsten Ervin]
large statue of crab
Sky crab
statue of pterodactyl on tall pole
The colossi are pterrific! Pterodactyl
large statue of Santa Clause toppled on his back
Santa down! [photo: Kirsten Ervin]

From the Wrinkles of the Face to the Interior of the Mind: Navigating Uncharted Waters with Artist Annie Heisey

oil painting of girl in lake by Annie Heisey
“Fathoms” (2020) by Pittsburgh artist Annie Heisey. The painting appears in Heisey’s current show Uncharted Waters.

Red on red. Firey hot, turbulent, scraped, and streaked—the glowing red of the insides of the eyelids after staring at the sun. The world is a dangerous place and we need only this background riot of warm orange-reds, seen-better-days pale pinks, and muddy maroons to remind us of it.

At the center of the oil painting is a woman’s face in ashen pale blues. Her expression is neutral—one could read anything from bored to sad, sleepy, desperate, or haunted into it. The woman’s eyes, though—enlarged, swirling balls of red—make her look transfixed, hypnotized, zombiefied.

Draped atop the figure is surreal cloak in another raft of deep reds. The head of a hound—looking very much alive, minus its lower jaw—with attached forelimbs morphs into a full body covering.

self-portrait oil painting by Annie Heisey with dog draped around the artist like a cloak
“Protector” (2022)

“I’ve never been accused of making myself look too pretty in a painting,” says Annie Heisey of her self-portraits, “And I’m OK with that.”

I am too. “Protector” and its sister self-portrait “Sacrifice” (below) both draw their power from the vulnerability of their subject—her imperfections and fragility. I’ve written in these very e-pages about carrying a lifetime membership in the Fancy Brain Club. I’d offer up these two paintings as Exhibits A and B in the defense of art as an expression of that which words cannot fully describe. Both are featured in Heisey’s current show Uncharted Waters at Curio Cool.

Looking at these two arresting paintings, I immediately identified with the experience. When you’re in the hole, the world feels like that big wall of discordant reds. In this state, a person is always just one misaligned action away from squeezing that delicate starling just a little too tight.

self-portrait oil painting by Annie Heisey with artist holding a bird
“Sacrifice” (2022)

“Like everyone during the pandemic, I was paying more attention to my mental health,” says Annie Heisey about “Protector” and its faithful-companion-as-emotional-shield metaphor. Heisey has two large boxers, one of whom very much acts as a security guard against any perceived threat. “She’s so brave in a lot of ways I wish I was,” Heisey says, “I like the shamanistic idea of wearing animal skins as a protective layer between me and the world.”

“Sacrifice” was inspired by a stained glass image included in this past winter’s Victorian Radicals show at the Frick Art Museum. In it, a woman clutches a bird to her chest in a way Heisey echoes in her self-portrait. “Sometimes I lash out at people,” Heisey says of her painting and the moods that inspired it, “When that happens, I wonder if I kill the things I love?”

oil painting of young boy by Annie Heisey
“Paloma’s Technicolor Dream” (2021)

If you’re familiar with Annie Heisey’s work, you know the magical children (that’s our term). The artist has four recurring youths—the children of her sister and a friend—who appear in states of blissed-out innocence and spellbound wonder throughout many of Heisey’s paintings in both the current show and past.

Often shirtless and alone, the kids are vulnerable in a way that’s hard to not to see as in-peril by our current awareness of stranger danger. Around these children swirl glowing lights and winsome creatures. It’s a rosy-eyed nostalgia for a childhood that may or may not have ever existed for anyone.

oil painting of young boy by Annie Heisey
“Child of the Light” (2022)

To spend any time with these paintings is to see there’s a real darkness beneath all those twinkling fireflies and carefree days at the lake.

In “Fathoms” (photo at top) a girl in a bathing suit wades in knee-deep water as glowing lights dance in the air above. It’s a lovely painting, but it’s no glamor portrait. The girl’s head is awkwardly cropped out of the frame and the vantage point is of someone standing on the shore—the subject clearly not aware of whoever may be watching. The subtlety of this perspective gives the artwork an off-kilter sensation where the girl is not the focus one might expect. Instead the viewer is left to complete a penciled-in narrative with only the slightest of details available.

oil painting of child hanging by arms from limb of gingko tree by artist Annie Heisey
“The Gingko Tree” (2022)

A youth dressed in black from neck to ankle dangles from a tree limb in full autumn splendor. The image likely comes from a playful real life experience, but in Heisey’s “The Gingko Tree,” (above) the figure is set against a pitch black background with the disturbed rustle of falling leaves. With the child’s face and upper torso obscured by yellow foliage, it’s hard not to worry that something more sinister is afoot.

Heisey describes her own childhood as “idyllic,” but wants the paintings to speak to a cautionary reality for children at this tender age. “I want to say to them, ‘This is how you are now—before you grow up. But bad things are going to happen, just like they do for everyone.'”

oil painting of woman surrounded by butterflies by Annie Heisey
“The Butterflies Will Drink Your Tears” (2022)

Heisey has had her own bad things to deal with. The triple whammy of depression, PTSD, and a recent diagnosis of ADHD all make their way into the artwork. Heisey’s painting “The Butterflies Will Drink Your Tears” (above) is an attempt to render the ping-pong attention leaps of the latter as fluttering creatures, beautiful but uncontrollable.

“All the (magical children) paintings are self-portraits,” Heisey says, “A lot of artists use big ideas or philosophy as the basis for their art. My (reference) folder is my brain. All of my paintings are things that happened in my life.”

It doesn’t take Carl Jung to connect the dots between adult-grade trauma and wanting to revisit the safe innocence of an idealized youth—”Big time,” Heisey says of the relationship. Understanding this informs each painting with a depth way beyond its gorgeous palette and economical just enough composition.

abstract oil painting in blue tones by artist Annie Heisey
“Abstract No. 3” (2021)

Amazingly, being a realist painter in the twenty-first century is to be way out-of-step with the art world. Go to the next Carnegie International and I guarantee you’ll see plenty of broken chairs, paint-splattered mattresses, and grainy photographs of eddying mud pools—all served with academic prose that seems designed to make anyone without an MFA hate the art world. Oil portraits that reach deep into souls of everyday people? Notsomuch.

What Annie Heisey achieves with her artwork is daring and exciting. By taking her immense skill as a realist painter and then abstracting color and composition, removing excess detail, and creating space for the viewer to participate by filling in the blanks, we’re invited on a tantalizing journey that takes us from the mundane to the sublime, from the wrinkles of the face to the interior of the mind. Can’t ask for much more than that.

artist Annie Heisey in front of a wall of small portraits
Annie Heisey in her Lawrenceville studio with many faces from the “Experimental Portrait Project” [photo: Annie Heisey]

Uncharted Waters, Annie Heisey’s current show, is up now through the end of the month at Curio Cool, 113 North Main Street, Zelienople.

You can find more on Annie Heisey at her web site, Instagram, or FaceBook Internet locations.

The Art of the Wheel: Master Mechanics, Amateur Painters

hand-painted sign for TNT Monster Mechanic, Beaver Falls, PA
Who wouldn’t want the Tasmanian Devil fixing their timing belt? One of many examples of great auto repair artwork. TNT Monster Mechanic, Beaver Falls

The Tasmanian Devil—all sinister fangs, seething anger, and whirling destruction—seems an odd candidate for the kind of precision work required for automotive repair. But there he is—crazy eyes, giant jaw agape, and squeezed tube of toothpaste body—clutching a box socket in one hand and a crescent wrench in the other on the brick wall of TNT Monster Mechanic in Beaver Falls.

Taz, as the popular Looney Tunes character is sometimes known, has a well-documented following that way outreaches the limited run of his original short cartoons. He’s a famously popular pop icon who exists in a sweet spot between lovable cartoon character and hyper-masculine bad boy who acts first and thinks … never. The podcast Decoder Ring did a terrific episode on tattoos that talked about Taz’ stranglehold on the upper arms of young men. Some of those biceps work on cars.

mural of automobile shock absorbers on brick wall of garage
It’s shocking where you can find great art, but you mustache yourself if you’re really looking. North Side
mural for auto repair shop of two mechanics working on car engine
Blue period. Neal N Tony’s Automotive Repair, Larimer

Auto repair shops are, almost always, structures of pure utilitarian economy. Typically constructed of brick or cinder block and lit by big fluorescent shop lights, they often contain no windows aside from what comes through the office door, garage openings, and the occasional glass block. This leaves a lot of exterior wall space available for decoration.

Most garages are as down-to-basics on the street-facing walls as the buildings that house them are plain … but not all of them. There is a particular phenomenon where mechanics have set down the wrench and picked up the paintbrush (or found others to do so) to elaborately advertise their businesses in ways both humorous and boastful, triumphant and goofy. These murals, 3-D painted cut-outs, and custom airbrush jobs all make up The Art of the Wheel.

handmade artwork of car wheel with fire attached to masonry wall
This wheel’s on fire—even if it’s where birds nest. Hobbs Tire & Supply, Chester, WV
mural of dog's head fused onto speeding wheel
This dog’s rabid … and thankfully still on the chain. Big Dawg’s Performance, Vandergrift

Auto Repair artwork is a gift that just keeps giving. There seem to be piston-packing Picassos and revved-up Rembrandts just about everywhere people drive cars. If you’ve got a favorite we didn’t get to (this time), give us a holler and we’ll bag it for the inevitable sequel.

Until then, keep your foot on the gas and your eyes on the garage walls.

ghost sign of mechanic repairing flat tire
Back when mechanics wore bow ties. Mechanic on Duty/Tires (ghost sign), Homestead
auto tow truck painted with image of cartoon tow truck
(Big Daddy) Henry’s*, McKees Rocks
mural of auto engine on exterior wall of garage
Bernie’s Garage, Polish Hill
painting of large spark plug on cinderblock wall
Plugged-in. Bernie’s Garage, Polish Hill
logo for Transmission Magician of cartoon man in top hat, black suit, and magic wand
Hocus Ford Focus. Transmission Magician (before the building was repainted), Bloomfield
hand-painted sign for German Motor Werks including large gear
Sprockets. German Motor Werks, Strip District
hand-painted sign/mural for Halblieb Automotive
Give ’em the hook! Halbleib Automotive, Hazelwood
hand-painted mural of engine on cinderblock wall
… and the shaft! Halbleib Automotive, Hazelwood
mural on cinderblock wall of 1960s Ford Mustang for Auto Works repair shop
Stay chassis**. Auto Works, Munhall
brick building with advertisements for auto supply shop
(unknown) Auto Supply, Donora
"Auto Parts" sign painted on masonry walllll
Auto Parts, Hill District
mural for All American Transmission Company with company name in giant waving American flag
All American Transmission Co., Millvale
hand-painted sign for Uneeda Tire Co., Beaver Falls, PA
No, YOU need a tire! Uneeda Tire Co., Beaver Falls
"Hydraulic Hoses" sign painted on masonry walllll
Hoses simple. Hydraulic Hoses, Hill District
entrance to mechanic shop including wooden model car
Model Model-T, Sacco’s Automotive Services, Sharpsburg
hand-painted sign for Peck Auto Electric, Logan, Ohio
Peck Auto Electric, Logan, O.
graffiti-style sign reading "Window Tint" on garage
Window Tint, Ambridge
brick auto repair garage with name in painted brick
Zovko’s Garage, South Side
barely readable sign advertising bodyshop
Ghost bodyshop, Lincoln-Lemington

* The artwork for Henry’s feels like a clear homage to the over-the-top cartoon hot rod artwork of Ed “Big Daddy” “Rat Fink” Roth … but maybe it’s just coincidence.
** Yes, the mural for Auto Works, featuring the body of a 1960s Ford Mustang, does not include the chassis.

Attend Me: Collage Dropout in Deutschtown

colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Detail from large collage installation on East Ohio Street, Deutschtown

Attend me, hold me in your muscular flowering arms,
protect me from throwing any part of myself away.

These words, from self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” Audre Lorde, are printed and duplicated—silk-screened, most likely—in an ornate, curlicue typeface and accented by fronds of unknown origin.

The cut-out text is layered atop a riot of dozens, hundreds maybe, of other screen-printed elements. Torn paper with the same couplet printed over and over again; images of skulls and boxers, eyeballs and ghostly figures; photographs cut from magazines bedazzled with after-market patterns and paint jobs.

They’re all part of a new(ish) installation on the North Side that, by its very nature, won’t be around for too long. Just like Ms. Lorde, attend it while you can.

colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Collage (detail) including Audre Lorde quotes, Moravian Way
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Ghost boxer

The 400 block of East Ohio Street has seen its fair share of change, even in just the last few years. Google Streetview reminds us the retail storefront at 404 E. Ohio was Ike’s Barber Shop and then Mosley’s Barber Shop until going vacant in 2015. The larger building at the corner was the old Peanutz Bar & Grill, which closed by 2016. In between the two, Alex’s Ice Cream held on longer, but seems to have become a victim of the pandemic lockdown just two years ago.

The most recent time Google documented the street, in August, 2021, it included another interesting detail. 408-410 E. Ohio hosted a large, double-door-sized collage piece on the temporary plywood covering the entrance. This is unmistakably the work of the same artist(s).

two vacant retail storefronts in disrepair
406-410 East Ohio Street, most recently Alex’s Ice Cream and Peanutz, in August, 2021 [photo: Google Streetview]

As observers, curiosity-seekers, speculators, we naturally look for meaning and theme when a piece this elaborate is exhibited—and there is plenty to work with here, if that’s your bag. Black icons Jack Johnson and Audre Lorde are an obvious entry point as are reverent photos of everyday folks and revolutionaries, updated with kente cloth, polka dots, and leopard skin patterns.

There’s also plenty of grim, foreboding imagery here. The repeated use of skulls, a menacing monster-like figure with its giant jaw agape, what may or may not be a nuclear blast, and the Virgin Mary in a hostage-taker’s ski mask.

colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront

We’ll not make the mistake of assigning any specific message to the collection. The artist (or artists)—there is no attribution on any of the pieces that I could find—kept themselves anonymous (although, we have our suspicions). So there’s no one to go to for clarification, which is fine.

Update (March 19, 2022): Following initial publication of this story, Pittsburgh Orbit was informed that the artists involved are Quaishawn Whitlock, Bekezela Mguni, and Darrell Kinsel. The three have a current show called Alchemical, created as part of their residency at AIR: Artists Image Resource on nearby Foreland Street.

colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Collage (full), Moravian Way

Whether we’re supposed to think anything at all about a stirring work, heavy on the iconography, or just enjoy the blast of layered color from a voracious screen-printer cleaning out his or her workspace is missing the point.

Someone created this, and it’s beautiful. It’s also unexpected, fun, head-scratching and gets us out of our heads and into the world. It’ll also be gone before you know it. The wheatpasted paper is already peeling at the corners and between unpredictable Pittsburgh weather and a property manager trying to rent the spaces, the whole thing will disappear before you know it.

Protect me from throwing any part of myself away feels like it might be a way of life for whoever did this. Embrace the piece by holding its visage in your muscular flowering arms, err … thoughts, dreams, and travels.

colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
The noses know this
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Mind/blown
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Mary Maskstillon
colorful collage of printed paper images layered on plywood covering vacant storefront
Collage installation at 406 East Ohio Street

Look Out Loretto, Part 3: Ovdje Počiva Zaboravljeno Groblje*

broken grave marker in untended cemetery
Crucified and cut in two. Marija Stosic’s grave marker is one of dozens in a no-longer-maintained section of Loretto Cemetery, Arlington

It’s a striking image. Marija Stosic’s grave marker has deep-chiseled text that casts stark shadows in the day’s bright sunlight. The minimal epitaph, Ovoi počiva u miru bozjem, is—if Google Translate is to be believed—Croatian for Rest in the peace of God. Above, we see the familiar empty oval cutout where a ceramic portrait of Ms. Stosic would have been inset when the stone marker was first installed.

The design of the monument features a carved cross at the top with an image of Jesus in relief. Sometime over the last 94 years, the top has broken off leaving the Beloved Son not only crucified but bisected at the waist. Marija Stosic’s tombstone rests with another couple dozen (at least) fellow graves in a plot that’s now overgrown with the kind of scrubby barbs that will make this place difficult to negotiate by the time spring returns.

grave marker covered by thick overgrowth
Elizabeth Floros

To be honest, we didn’t think Loretto Cemetery would produce another Orbit story. Our two-parter, from way back in 2016, on Loretto’s fine collection of pre-war photo graves and the ones that just about slipped away seemed like all we’d be able to squeeze out of such a small memorial park.

This time though, with a return trip on a lovely full sun midwinter day, we went all the way to the back and the bottom. The cemetery has an L-shaped extension that reaches down the hillside and runs out where the closely-clipped grass meets untamed snags and prickly bushes … but the cemetery doesn’t actually end there.

cemetery with clearly-defined sections where grounds are still tended vs. overgrown
Loretto’s lost cemetery below; still-tended cemetery above

Come springtime, it’s unlikely anyone would even have the sight lines into this extra, lost, forgotten—take your pick—section of the cemetery. We imagine the winter’s long grasses and denuded vinery will produce the same sort of thick greenery that envelopes every square inch of untended, asphalt-free Pittsburgh making this parcel all but invisible to Loretto’s visitors.

broken grave marker in untended cemetery
Mary Pavicič

The obvious question: why did this section of the cemetery—a plot maybe a few acres large, containing grave markers almost entirely with Croatian names, deceased in the 1920s and ’30s—stop receiving the care the rest of the park has? In lieu of any real journalism, we’re left to speculate.

grave marker knocked over by fallen tree
Mathilda Goralczyk

Theory 1: Cost savings for the cemetery. The geography of the hillside is just too severe and Loretto’s management decided they couldn’t justify the expense of sending their grounds crew into an untamable wild to tend a set of grave markers so old they rarely—if ever—receive family members.

Theory 2: This was never a part of Loretto and instead it was a separate, independent cemetery. We find these tiny cemeteries—often associated with a particular church, faith, or national origin—all over the place. They’re also often immediately adjacent to larger cemeteries. Perhaps the Hilltop’s Croatian community purchased or sub-leased this plot of land back in the 1920s with their own maintenance agreements that Loretto is not responsible for.

broken grave marker in untended cemetery
Matija Kalicanac

A wander through the cemetery—any cemetery—always brings up questions of permanence. Grave markers—cut from granite, weighing hundreds of pounds, placed on land with this specific purpose—carry the unrealistic expectation that they will exist in this state forever. But we know it ain’t going to play out like that.

In our previous story on Loretto’s photo graves we discuss the irony that some of the ceramic photos on grave markers have outlived the carved text, such that we don’t even know the names of people whose images we still have—and it’s been less than a hundred years.

Loretto’s forgotten cemetery takes that and says hold my beer. You’re not even guaranteed a reasonable way for visitors to access your plot—and it may have been that way for decades.

eroded grave marker in untended cemetery
Anna ? (Genz?)

You’re still reading this? The rambling rarely stops, but here we are.

If you do want to check out Loretto’s forgotten cemetery, we recommend doing it before the poison ivy, viney overgrowth, and legit jaggerbushes come back to life.

grave marker in untended cemetery
Otec Janko Sculac

* That should be something like Here rests the forgotten cemetery.

Twofer Two, Two Two, Two Tuesday: Daily Doubles for 2/22/22

two large round dormatories
Twin towers / double dormatories. Two times the fun on 2/22/22. Oakland

On the day the photo was taken—the burning sun high in a cloudless sky, light shimmering in the sweltering heat—twin pointed peaks glimmer on a horizon of mysterious black obelisks. In the haze of midsummer’s full, drenching humidity, it seems we must have been transported thousands of miles away and centuries back in time.

Of course, what’s really going here is far more prosaic. The vision of Egypt’s great pyramids is but a wishful hallucination in the blur of summer sun and the deceitful dual sheet metal roofline of General Tire Service’s big building on Smallman Street.

Double diamonds. The great pyramids of General Tire Service, Strip District

On this of all days, however—February twenty-two, twenty twenty-two (2/22/22)—the photograph takes on new life as a daily double. It’s not alone, this twofer, this double from another rubble: a couple memorialized in a ceramic grave photograph, two stencils of a cartoonish astronaut flashing us the OK sign, a pair of broken plastic Christmas candles left out as a matching set for someone … who doesn’t know it yet, but they’ve arrived at their daily double.

two lawn ornament geese dressed in Christmas costumes
The double gooses of 46th Street. Lawrenceville

The double gooses (not “geese”) of 46th Street have long donned their gay apparel—for Christmas, yes, but other prominent holidays too. On this day, however, what great fortune—as if God herself was dealing Jacks or better on a blanket by the stairs—to locate a second double goose up on Penn Avenue just as we’re headed to press. These (plastic) feathered fellows have already gone green in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day (we assume?), but the camo Army fatigues suggest they may be doing double-duty (ha!) serving up through Memorial Day, too.

pair of goose lawn ornaments decorated green St. Patrick's Day attire and Army fatigues
Entirely different double gooses of Penn Ave. (Yes, that’s *double* double gooses.) Lawrenceville

However you celebrate this very literal once in a lifetime occurrence of numerological planets in alignment, know that while a couple may give you trouble and twins may do you in, there’s still time to double down on a second chance. Don’t think twice, it’s alright.

ceramic photo inset from grave marker
Double portrait. The Riccitellos, Beaver Cemetery
repeated stencil of astronaut making "OK" hand sign
Double OK astronaut. Strip District
Russian orthodox church with two green onion domes
Double onion dome. Charleroi
sign on utility pole with arrows pointing to "Dirty Slag" and "Dirty Limestone"
Double dirty. Skunk Hollow
Two 2-car garages built together
Double two-car garage. Arlington
two ventriloquist dummies, both with sad facial expressions
Double sadness
pair of windows, each with a large Santa head
Double Santa. Lawrenceville
Christmas window decoration of two silver reindeer with red and green ornaments
Double reindeer. Lawrenceville
pair of broken plastic decorative Christmas candles
Double Christmas candle. Lawrenceville
window decorated with two Krampus ornaments
Double Krampus. Lawrenceville
pair of window flower boxes, each with a decorative grave marker
Double flower box burial. Lawrenceville
window decorated with two pictures of Frankenstein and message "Remeber to Love"
Double Frankenstein. Lawrenceville
large house with two front doors
In Pittsburgh, it’s a double-house (not duplex!) Hazelwood
directional arrow on asphalt layered with a second arrow on top
Double arrow. Monaca
street art of traffic cones with Campbell's Soup background and floating eyeballs
Double Warhol eye cones. Strip District
storefront with two mannequins wearing full-body hazard suits
Double danger. Arnold
pair of footprints embedded in concrete sidewalk
Double footprints. Monessen
glass block bar window with painted image of two beer glasses
Double convivial. Coraopolis
hand-written sign on door reading "Turn both knobs at the same time!!!"
No snickering! Double doorknobs. Carrick
pair of anti-Trump posters
Double dunce. Wilkinsburg
Chromos Eyewear sign of a large pair of glasses, with the Pittsburgh skyline in each lens
Double vision / double Downtown. Chromos Eyewear, Lawrenceville

P.S. Not enough doubles for you? Well, you’re in luck. Over at the Portland Orbit they’ve got their own take on this mother of all Twofer Tuesdays. Yes: that’s double the double-takes!

Love Anarchically: Valentine’s Day Hearts, 2022

Halloween jack-o-lantern carved with large heart
Love: you can’t always see your way through it, but sometimes there’s a fire that burns bright. Lawrenceville

Love, noted relationship counselor Patricia Benatar once informed us, is a battlefield. It’s a powerful metaphor whose cuts-to-the-bone directness is no doubt part of her 1983 chart-topping song’s lasting appeal. Other pop music pseudo-therapists have broken the news that Love Hurts and Love Scars, Love Bites and yes, Love Stinks.

These sentiments may or may not reflect each of our individual experiences but we know it can get wilder than even this. Sometimes love is pure anarchy.

graffiti heart with large letter "A" painted on concrete steps
Love isn’t always a battlefield—sometimes it’s anarchy. Polish Hill

The red heart spans three concrete treads of the Downing Street steps in Polish Hill. Its black outline is pretzel-curved into the verticals of a capital letter A. Sure, this may be a vigilante Valentine left for (or from?) an Anna or André, Alex or Audrey, but it sure resembles the circle-A symbol would-be anarchists leave all over the place. Perhaps not coincidentally, that call-to-arms also often shows up spray-painted on public infrastructure.

The anarchy heart image is not alone. Looking through this year’s street Valentines, a certain theme emerges—not of the joy and perhaps unrealistic Hallmark special expectations of love—but rather, as a certain Bunnyman called it, The Back of Love.

Valentine's Day heart decoration on front porch with caution tape
Love: proceed with caution. Etna

Big red hearts aglow against caution tape; hearts chaotically strewn across back alley walls; crumpled hearts in derelict windows. These—and plenty more where they came from—all seem to say, Yeah, love is out there, but be careful, buddy. Here, that advice is gifted to us from Pittsburgh’s Krylon Cupids, available wherever people take out the trash and tack tin cans to telephone poles. This year it’s more true than ever.

wall with much graffiti including large red heart
Sometimes love doesn’t quite know what’s going on. Bloomfield

That said, even without the pressures of a global coronavirus pandemic it’s always that kind of year when it comes to affaires d’amour. (That’s French for the love thing.)

So whether you’re in love, all out of love, or you’ve lost that lovin’ feeling, whether love is like oxygen or love is the drug—heck, even if you give love a bad name—this Valentine’s Day, know that you’re not alone. There are lots of folks out there who are experiencing the same exact thing and it cut them deep enough to spray paint that feeling on some city steps.

Keep on, everyone, and happy Valentine’s Day.

homemade heart decoration in front window of house
Love ain’t always perfect, but we keep trying. Lincoln-Lemington
decorative skeleton wrapped in Christmas garland with Valentine's Day hearts
Love: it’s a killer. Etna
painting on abandoned building of woman with afro, green snake, and glowing yellow heart
If you’re falling in love, watch your asp. Garfield
side of house decorated with both Valentine's Day hearts and black bats
It’s great, but love is spooky too. Etna
mural of realistic human heart over stylized mountains
Your heart may float like a balloon, but watch out for those dangerous peaks. Lawrenceville
tin can lid painted with red hearts and figure on bicycle
Tin can pole (he)art. Garfield
large mural of many hands around a multicolored heart
Sometimes love takes a village and a helping hand. Strip District
heart painted on wooden fence slat
Good love can heal pain and peel paint. Uptown
sidewalk chalk drawing of a heart and a snail
Love can be slow … and messy. Sharpsburg
graffiti heart painted blue and red
There are no red hearts and there are no blue hearts—there are only American hearts! … and hearts from other places. Lawrenceville
fence with heart-shaped cutout in wooden slats
Sometimes we’ve got a heart-shaped hole in us. Lawrenceville
wheatpaste street art of heart-shaped face with Xs over eyes
Big heart, dead eyes, can’t lose. Greensburg
street art sticker in shape of heart with word "Crone"
Love is for us old people, too. Lawrenceville
wheatpaste street art of heart-shaped face with Xs over eyes
Love: it’s fine … until it’s not. Friendship
wheatpaste street art on dumpster of heart-shaped face with Xs over eyes
Sometimes love can get you down in the dumpster. Garfield
truck trailer with graffiti heart and word "Luv"
You can’t fabricate luv. Bloomfield
wheatpaste street art of heart-shaped face with Xs over eyes
It’s always decorative gourd season when your heart’s on the fence. Garfield
graffiti heart with name Paul painted on cinderblock wall
Paul may be gone, but he’s still in our heart. Lawrenceville
pair of cardboard hearts attached to utility pole
You can’t break a cardboard heart, but it may just get blown away. Garfield
shiny heart decoration attached to utility pole
Love may look great on the outside, but there’s often duct tape holding it together. Lawrenceville
cinderblock wall painted with many small hearts
Maybe there’s love right around the corner. Strip District
mural of flowers and words "with Love"
Happy Valentine’s Day, with Love, from us to you

No Dogs Wasted Here: Dog Police, Part Deux Deux

no dog poop message spray painted on wood covering garage door
Think of the children! No dog poop. Kids walk to school here. A warning message from The Dog Police, on patrol in Wilmerding

Stuck to the aluminum siding of a little house up the hill in Millvale, a set of peel-and-stick letters spells out a curious message: No dogs wasted here.

Is this a rehab clinic for hooched pooches? An embetterment program for down-on-their luck pups? A recycling center for man’s-best-friends at their wits-last-ends?

sticker letters on siding reading "no dogs wasted here"
No dogs wasted here. Millvale

Of course not! Don’t be ridiculous! Diligent Orbit staff know when The Dog Police are on patrol, keeping the streets, alleys, and—especially—residential trash receptacles safe from the terror of incoming canine caca. Foreign or domestic, but always unwanted, Fido’s doo-doo and Scout’s dishonor are a deeply divisive feature of the pedestrian experience.

Having neither a mutt to strut nor publicly-available trash can, your author—excuse the expression—doesn’t have a dog in this fight, so we’re but mere spectators from the cheap seats as the daily doggo drama plays itself out just about everywhere.

hand-written signs on garbage can to stop putting dog shit in cans
Stop asshole no shit in my cans / Dont put your dogs *shit* in my cans. Lawrenceville

What’s the right thing to do?

The responsible pet-owner takes their furry friends out for daily constitutionals, lets them sniff all the fire hydrants and boxwood hedges they care to, and picks up the droppings inevitably jettisoned from their mutts’ butts right there on the sidewalks and grassy patches along the way. Do we expect the human companions to carry the scat sachet all the way home? Or are public/city trash cans an acceptable end point for the excrement?

Alternately, the home owner doesn’t want to deal with that (quite literal) crap—either on the sidewalk or in their street-facing waste bins. It doesn’t make a lot of sense—it’s just trash, right?—but people feel a sense of violation when anyone uses their bins, and when that trash is dog shit—that’s where it gets ugly—and smelly.

hand-written sign on utility pole saying "Pick up after your pups poops"
Pick up after your pups poops. Dravosburg

Like certain other ages-old, inconsolable rifts, it’s unlikely the poop-scoop-and-scoot crowd will ever reach a peaceful accord with the all-volunteer dog police, but we can dream.

Until then, please curb your dog, no peeing on the plants, use the trash can across the street, and make sure none of your possessives or contractions include apostrophes.

"No dogs" sign in front of large garden
Forget the poop, some dog police go straight to the root of the problem. NO DOGS. Millvale
hand-written signs on garbage can to stop putting dog shit in cans
Stop!! Take your dog shit home!! Not a public can!! Lawrenceville
message to keep dog poop cleaned-up on parking sign
Semi-official-looking dog police. Keep you dog shit … cleaned up. Lawrenceville
"No animal waste" handmade sign in front garden
Not into species-shaming dog police. No animal waste. Lawrenceville
handmade sign in front yard to not let dogs do their business
Gender-inclusive dog police. Do not let your dog do their business ((here)). Highland Park
message hung from tree limb to not let dogs pee on grass
Think of the children! (again) Kids on the block play here, please do not let your dog go potty. Lawrenceville
handmade sign to clean up dog droppings
Clean up dog droppings. Bloomfield
hand-written sign on gate asking owners to stop their dogs from shitting
Please stop *your* dog from shitting on my property!!! Thats very inconsiderate of you. Stanton Heights
hand-painted stone with message "Please curb your dog"
Dog cop rock. Please curb your dog. Millvale
foam pad with message "no peeing on the plants" written
No peeing on the plants. Lawrenceville
message to clean up doog poop in stickers on side of house
Have a bag clean your dog — poop, Millvale
street sign with owner scooping dog poop
Drop cops, from the butts of mutts. Etna
pumpkin lawn sign with message to keep dogs off lawn
The dog police, all decorated for fall. Please keep dogs off my lawn. Munhall [photo: Lee Floyd]
cinderblock wall with "no dogs" stenciled
No dogs. (Just smile) Millvale
sign across row house airway reading "no dog poop"
The dog police at the end of the tunnel. No Dog Poop. Polish Hill
handmade sign to keep dogs out of yard
Keep dogs out of yard!! Thank you. East Liberty
egg carton with "no dogs please" written on it
If you bring your dog around, start carton their poop home with you. No dogs please. Lawrenceville
message to clean up dog poop taped to front door of house
Hey! Please use the trash can across the street instead of our storefront for your dog poop. Thx. Lawrenceville
message taped to garbage can saying "no poop bags"
No poop bags in my garbage cans. Thank you. Lawrenceville
message taped to garbage can saying "no poop bags"
Attention! Please do not put your dog’s poop bag in my garbage can. Thank you. Lawrenceville
message about dog poop bags use written on styrofoam plate
Please do not leave ‘green’ poop bags on trails or throw off trails. Dispose all poop bags properly. Thank You. Frick Park
hand-written signs in house front windows asking for owners to pick up their dogs' poop
Smile you’re on camera / Please pick up your dog’s poop. Free bags below. Lawrenceville
message to clean up dog poop on chain link fence
It is your job as the dog owner and not mine as the homeowner to clean up after you and your dog… Be respectful of other homes. Larimer
message to clean up dog poop on chain link fence
Attention dog owners and walkers: if your dog poops on our grass please have the courtesy to scoop it up so that we are not stepping in your dogs poop. Larimer

See also: “The Scoop on Poop or Hill Street Doo Doos: On Patrol with the Dog Police” (Pittsburgh Orbit, Sept. 22, 2019)