Chain Chain Chain: The Posthumous Portraits of Workmen’s Circle Branch 45 Cemetery, Part 2

photograph of young man encased in Lucite and set into grave marker
The Lucite-enclosed photograph of Harry Begler (d. 1921). One of many grave markers that include both photographs and the symbolic imagery of chain links at Workmen’s Circle Branch 45 Cemetery, Shaler

From inside a half-globe of clear Lucite, Harry Begler stares straight back at us. The young man’s image is amazingly intact and undistorted by the odd curvature of the material that protects his photograph. The clear casing has suffered somewhat over time, but is still in terrific condition considering it’s spent the last hundred years living through as many freeze-and-thaw cycles, the corrosive air produced by heavy industry, and the inevitable presence of no-goodniks. Centered below Beglar’s photo and cut into his long granite grave marker is the depiction of three chain links making an ever-so-graceful arc downward.

ceramic photograph inset in gravestone
Harry Abromovitz, 1888-1932

Chains are a not-uncommon symbol to find etched into gravestones and they appear in great frequency here at Workmen’s Circle Branch 45 Cemetery. Begler’s three links match the totem of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows whose symbol—standing for Amicitia Amor et Veritas (English: Friendship, Love, and Truth)—is its own standalone thing.

The rest of Workmen’s Circle’s linked chain imagery takes an entirely different form. For these, an unbroken chain encircles the deceased’s portrait.

cracked ceramic photograph inset in gravestone
Harry Shore, 1885-1928

Google the subject and you’ll find a whole lot more information around grave marker carvings that feature a broken chain—with its last link either missing or severed. There even appears to be a common twofer plan where the first half of a couple to die would have the broken link with her or his partner following it up with a connected chain to symbolize the pair united in the afterlife. We don’t see any of this at Workmen’s Circle, though—all chains are perfect circles and completely intact.

That the residents of Workmen’s Circle are all Jews may or may not be significant with regard to the symbolism of chains on grave markers. This goy couldn’t find anything connecting the two, but perhaps our O.T. brothers and sisters can help us out here.

ceramic photograph inset in gravestone
Max Kaufman, d. 1931

Last week we took a look at the ghostly half-there posthumous portraits at little Workmen’s Circle cemetery in Shaler. Today, we’ve linked together [har har har] a very different theme from the same pool of ceramic grave marker photographs from the early 20th Century.

Speculation aside, it’s always interesting to see how these patterns emerge at certain cemeteries—it’s almost fad-like. So gander away at these terrific combos of grave marker photographic portraits and the wreath-like protective chains that wrap them up both as design elements and symbols.

ceramic photograph inset in gravestone
Joseph Bazell, 1879-1929
ceramic photograph inset in gravestone
Celia Cohen, d. 1953
ceramic photograph inset in gravestone
Daniel Beck, 1900-1931
ceramic photograph of young man inset in gravestone
Jacob Firestine, d. 1914
ceramic photograph inset in gravestone
William Singer, 1882-1929
ceramic photograph inset in gravestone
Phillip Cohen, d. 1931
ceramic photograph inset in gravestone
Anshel Cohen, d. 1931
ceramic photograph of young boy inset in gravestone
Jesse Cohen

Among the Ghosts: The Posthumous Portraits of Workmen’s Circle Branch 45 Cemetery, Part 1

ceramic photograph inset in gravestone
The ghostly image of Bennie Mazer (d. 1925) set into his grave marker. One of many similar deteriorating ceramic photos at Workmen’s Circle Branch 45 Cemetery, Shaler

The young man—he’s perhaps all of twenty-five—sits for his formal portrait in a jacket, tie, and pressed white dress shirt. Bennie Mazer possesses a full head of thick black hair and holds what is fair to call a Mona Lisa smile. The man’s eyes, though, are inscrutable. Through no fault of his own, the photograph—printed on a ceramic disc nearly one hundred years ago—has started to deteriorate in a most unexpected way.

In this image, Mr. Mazer’s deep set eyes appear as if engulfed by sparkles of light. The swirling electrical field that creeps over his right shoulder seems to have entered the body and lit Mazer like a jack-o-lantern from within.

The photograph, set into a large stone grave marker, is lovely, fascinating, and bizarre—equal parts local history and science fiction. It’s also hard to fathom how this object that survived 98 harsh Pittsburgh winters would deteriorate in such a lopsided way. The reality probably has to do with the printing technique and the particular value of that two-tone shade, but it feels like the work of spirits.

faded ceramic photograph of young girl inset in gravestone
Dora Cherry, 1909-1918

The Orbit first went goo-goo ga-ga over these early-century ceramic grave photos when we encountered them at Loretto Cemetery years ago. Those were a revelation … and then Beaver Cemetery upped the ante considerably. Those earlier posts brought to mind all sorts of ponderances on memory and permanence and how we (the living) use these places—we’ll not repeat all that here but to say those questions are never far from the noggin.

faded ceramic photograph inset into grave stone
Harry Beck

We also discussed the strange clustering of ceramic photos in certain cemeteries and the near complete absence in others. Let me know if you find more than three or four of these in all of giant Allegheny Cemetery.

Stone for stone, the per capita count of photo graves, or posthumous portraits, at the tiny Workman’s Circle Branch 45 Cemetery (and next-door New Light Cemetery—we’ll get to that) is off-the-charts. There are so many examples that we decided to break these out into a series around a few loose themes.

cracked ceramic photograph inset in gravestone

Here then is part one, where we look at the most haunting of the gravestone portraits—the ones that are in their own slow dissolve right before our eyes. The images contained range from mostly there with some weird distortions—like we see with Bennie Mazer—to versions so weatherbeaten and sun-bleached as to make their subjects barely distinguishable. We also threw in a handful of gentle fades and a couple that have apparently been defaced—a sadly common occurrence at all these cemeteries.

We’ll quit the gabbin’ so you can get to gawkin’. We’ll see you on the other side.

ceramic photograph inset in gravestone
deteriorating ceramic photo of young woman inset in gravestone
Eva Millstone, 1895-1917
ceramic photograph inset in gravestone
Simon Begler, 1890-1932
ceramic photograph inset in gravestone
Eleanor Saul, 1900-1925
ceramic photograph of young girl inset in gravestone
ceramic photograph of young girl inset in gravestone
Mary Katz, d. 1922
ceramic photograph inset in gravestone
Temma Sigal, d. 1939
ceramic photograph inset in gravestone
Harry Singer, d. 1927
gravestone with inset ceramic photo
Harry Singer
defaced ceramic photograph inset in gravestone
Rebecca Leah, d. 1940
defaced ceramic photo insert in gravestone
Evelyn Goldman, 1927-1934
gravestone with photo inset removed
One that got away / Spock hands. S. Rozinsky d. 1918

See also: Chain Chain Chain: The Posthumous Portraits of Workmen’s Circle Branch 45 Cemetery, Part 2

Skyline Fine Time: At Ten, An All-U-Can-Eat Buffet of Downtown Pittsburgh

mural of people in vestments praying with skyline of downtown Pittsburgh
Holy City. A mural featuring the skyline of downtown Pittsburgh, Homewood

Man, I hope you came ready to eat.

It’s been a been more than a year since The Orbit served up its last over-the-top feast of all things skyline-shaped, themed, printed, and painted, so you have a right to be hungry.

And O! What a meal we’ve prepared for the skyline-starved today! Murals with downtown Pittsburgh as both star and supporting player. Business signage to either boast one’s 412 bona fides or pander to us yokels from a corporate office far, far away. Hand-created tributes as extracurricular activity spray painted onto bicycle paths and inked onto city steps railings.

mural with view of downtown Pittsburgh skyline
The city with a disembodied foot: mural, Perry Hilltop

All that—and more—awaits diners at this all-u-can-eat buffet of bridges, The Point, Steel Tower, PPG, and the rest. Grab a fork and knife, don’t waste your time on rolls—those are for suckers—and dig into a legitimate, if figurative, smorgasbord of Your Favorite City™ put on the pedestal it deserves … or, at least, thinks it deserves when it’s not too down on itself.

If somehow you’re still hungry for more, you can always go back to skyline stories one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine part 1 and 2, you know, just to tide you over.

colorful mural of downtown Pittsburgh rendered in cubist style
Cubist City: mural, Love Pittsburgh, Strip District
mural of downtown Pittsburgh awash with river water
Flood City: mural, Ketchup City, Sharpsburg
mural in arcade including downtown Pittsburgh skyline with cartoon zombies
Undead City: mural, Zombieburgh, Monroeville Mall
mural including many musicians and skyline of downtown Pittsburgh
Music City: mural (detail), Homewood
mural on side of row house featuring shoe designer and downtown Pittsburgh
Shoe City: mural, Mexican War Streets, North Side
painting of downtown Pittsburgh skyline with sparkles
Sparkle City: The Color Park, South Side
mural for coffee shop with skyline of downtown Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh: where the coffee flows like a tidal wave. Adda Coffee, Garfield
painting of downtown Pittsburgh skyline hung on sagging canvas in warehouse
Sagging City: mural, Art All Night 2022
pen drawing of downtown Pittsburgh skyline drawn on handrail for public steps
Step City: handrail drawing, Polish Hill
barber shop sign including skyline of downtown Pittsburgh
‘Do City: Pittsburgh Cuts & Styles, Wilkinsburg
mural in shop window including skyline of downtown Pittsburgh
Green City: Patagonia, Shadyside
sign for gym featuring stylized image of downtown Pittsburgh
It’s 9:10 somewhere. Downtown Pittsburgh plus the old Duquesne Brewery clock, Crossfit Athletics, South Side
electrician's van with image of skyline of downtown Pittsburgh
Emerald City: Emerald Electrical Services van
electrician's van decorated with stylized silhouette of downtown Pittsburgh skyline
Electric City: A to Z Quality Electric
decal on car of downtown Pittsburgh skyline rendered as simple icon
Iconic City … at least we hope this is a super-stylized image of The Point and downtown buildings and not something more sinister
label for handmade soap including downtown Pittsburgh with bubbles and rubber ducky
Bubble City: Up in Suds Soap
beer sign with downtown Pittsburgh in faux-neon
Buy-a-Lady-a-Drink City: Stella Artois beer sign
retail sign including skyline of downtown Pittsburgh
Paradise City: Winner’s Paradise, Wilkinsburg
logo for kickball league including skyline of downtown Pittsburgh
A city with high heels and rubber balls: Steel City Kickers League, Lawrenceville
business sign with silhouette of downtown Pittsburgh skyline
River (Trail) City: River Trail Cafe, North Side
business sign with silhouette of downtown Pittsburgh skyline
Gray City: Quinerly Financial Group, North Side
window decal with silhouette of downtown Pittsburgh skyline
Food City: Pittsburgh Restaurant Week office, North Side
sign for Pittsburgh neighborway with skyline of downtown Pittsburgh
This is why we can’t have nice things. PGH DOMI neighborway signage, Lawrenceville
logo for animal rescue organization featuring skyline of downtown Pittsburgh
Paws Across Pittsburgh, Tarentum
sign for retail store including skyline of downtown Pittsburgh
Sideways City: Cohen’s Collectibles & More, Regent Square

A Window of Whispers: One Year at Silver Apple Gallery

art installation of imagined landscape made from recycled food packaging by artist Kirsten Ervin at Silver Apple Gallery, Pittsburgh
Kirsten Ervin “Peace on Earth” (Dec. 1-31, 2022)

A window of whispers. The alluring title comes courtesy of artist Escalator Harrison (neé Dan Ivec) whose solo show of small pen-and-ink drawings filled one of Pittsburgh’s smallest art galleries for the first half of April, 2022. The gallery itself—a mere two-and-half feet wide, not quite as tall, and fronted by a single pane of glass—is its own window of whispers, even when the Escalator’s not running.

The Silver Apple Gallery, located on residential Main Street in Lawrenceville, was installed right around New Year’s Day, 2022, and received its signage, lighting, and variable pedestal options in the coming weeks. We thought we’d celebrate that achievement with a look back at its first year.

show announcement for Escalator Harrison's "A Window of Whispers" at Silver Apple Gallery, PIttsburgh
Show announcement for Escalator Harrison’s “A Window of Whispers”

Full disclosure: We at Pittsburgh Orbit are not impartial observers to this particular story. This has been a project between your author and Mrs. Orbit from the start and it’s been a joy to see how the little venture has taken on a life of its own. In that first calendar year we hosted 11 individual artist shows—two a month on the even months (we had one cancelation in December)—and offered the space as a free little art gallery/art swap on the odd months.

The shows have been tremendous with many of the artists creating site-specific installations that completely maximized the space to turn what is essentially a glass-fronted, street-facing, cupboard with pretensions into a magic oasis of creativity and surprise for determined visitors and random passers-by alike.

collection of abstracted car wash photos by artist Suzanne Werder installed at Silver Apple Gallery, Pittsburgh
Suzanne Werder “Car Wash” (Feb. 1-14, 2022)
show announcement for Ricardo Solis' show at Silver Apple Gallery, PIttsburgh
Announcement for Ricardo Solis’ (untitled) show

The single-artist shows have come with all the fixins. Openings, closings, and in one case “middling” receptions right there on the porch and spilling out onto the sidewalk. Attended by friends of the artist, gallery faithful, neighbors, and the curious, these have been great ways for people to see the artwork who mayn’t be in the neighborhood otherwise—and it’s just a good excuse to have folks hang out on a Sunday afternoon (or whenever).

totem people created from burnt wood
Stick people by Claudia McGill, arriving by mail from Eastern PA, Jan. 2022
collage artwork by artist Kim Breit
Collage by Kim Breit, left in gallery Sept. 2022

And what of the pieces randomly arriving during free gallery months? To say that every day is a surprise would be a stretch—but it’s more often than not.

Right out of the gate, art hero Claudia McGill sent us a package from the other side of the state containing a family of “stick people” (photo above) and a gaggle of equally wonderful “vial people.” Serial contributors like collage artist Kim Breit, Dan Ivec, Mark347, and John “Clohn Art” Lee—all of whom have had/will have solo shows at the space—have dropped-off terrific small works.

artist John Lee with a painting outside of Silver Apple Gallery, Pittsburgh
Artist John Lee drops off the first piece of free art at the Silver Apple—before we even had a sign—January, 2022
Untitled landscape painting by David Geer
Untitled landscape by David Geer, left in gallery Jan. 2023

Like a mini Art All Night, what walks in through our tiny glass door comes in all media—paintings, drawings, ceramics, assemblages, collage, papier mache, photographs, sculpture, lino prints—you name it. Some pieces stay for a little while, some are gone so fast we don’t even get to see them once. Like that proverbial tree falling in the forest, we don’t even know what we don’t know.

small painting by Stephen Caspar
Painting by Stephen Caspar, left in the gallery Feb. 2022
public television personality Rick Sebak rendered as a hot dog in crayon artwork
“Rick Dog,” left in the gallery May, 2022 (artist unknown)

Enough tooting of one’s own horn! It was a great first year and we have an exciting slate of shows booked all the way through the end of the year. The current show—Dave English and Jennifer Ramsey’s “A Spirited Winter”—is terrific and well worthy of your eyeballs.

If you find yourself on Main Street in Lawrenceville, maybe pause to take in whatever’s happening in the gallery on that particular day. You can follow what we’re doing here or there and hopefully we’ll see you and/or your art around the gallery sometime soon.

installation art with handmade trolls in woodland scene at Silver Apple Gallery, Pittsburgh
Erica Leigh Murray “The Life Ephemeral” (June 16-30, 2022)
playing card-sized artworks of imagined dragons
Ralph Cuccaro “The Wrath of Caesar Baby” (detail) (June 1-15, 2022)
show announcement for Sherri Roberts' "Grinn While You Can: Tiny Art for Small Spaces" at Silver Apple Gallery, PIttsburgh
Announcement for Sherri Roberts’ “Grinn While You Can: Tiny Art for Small Spaces”
small paintings of imagined creatures in gold frames
John Lee “Sold Out Solo Show” (detail) (Aug. 1-16, 2022)
colorful monoprints made with leaves
Tracey Donoughe “Curing Plant Blindness” (Aug. 18-31, 2022)
show announcement for Melissa Ciccocioppo's "Creepy Cuties" at Silver Apple Gallery, PIttsburgh
Announcement for Melissa Ciccocioppo’s “Creepy Cuties”
art installation including comic books, paintings, sculptural collage
Mark 347 “Signs + Symbols” (Oct. 16-31)

Getting there: Silver Apple Gallery is located in front of 255 Main Street in Lawrenceville. It is always “open” (for viewing) but the lights aren’t always on when it’s dark. For happenings and show announcements, follow on Instagram at @silverapplegallery

Writer’s Block: A Poetry Walk on Woodwell Street

handmade letters attached to residential house reading "certain"
One thing is certain: Woodwell Street continues to impress with block-long public art projects

When last we left Woodwell Street—a single long residential block at the north end Squirrel Hill—it was full of bright color. Thin streamers from every point in the rainbow decorated lamp posts and trees like electric shafts of light. House after house, the community art project was a wonderful, safe, deep pandemic way to get out and experience little bursts of joy.

Woodwell Street is at it again, read the email from dedicated streetwalker Lisa Valentino, and she wasn’t kidding. (The block mounted a yarn bombing project between then and now, we’re told, but we missed that one.) Woodwell Street is currently host to an excerpt of Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Hill We Climb,” displayed (mostly) one word at a time, house-by-house, in block letters attached to front porches and dug into flower beds.

The poem, written for and first delivered at the inauguration of President Biden and Vice President Harris, is a call to action. To merge mercy with might and might with right are fabulous words with terrific intention. Walking down Woodwell Street on a blessedly beautiful day like the one we happened to catch is a wonderful experience of community effort, but putting those heady words into action isn’t so easy. Let’s all see what we can do.

handmade letters attached to residential houses reading "but one thing"
But one thing
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "is"
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "certain"
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "if we"
if we
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "merge"
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "mercy"
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "with might"
with might,
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "and"
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "might"
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "with"
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "right"
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "then love"
then love
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "becomes"
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "our"
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "legacy"
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "and"
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "change"
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "our"
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "children's"
handmade letters attached to residential house reading "birthright"

Are You Shakespearienced? To Ellwood City for a Loves Labour’s Lunch

fountain with decorative cherubs under overcast sky
“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I:i) Cherubs in Olde Stonewall’s large garden fountain looking out towards the golf course and stone wall.

Cowards die many times before their deaths, Julius Caesar famously opines in William Shakespeare’s tragedy of the same name, the valiant never taste of death but once. (Julius Caesar, II:ii)

Your author a taste of death has yet to sample—but wander perilously closer to the kitchen each annum does he. Shakespeare, roundabout way as he might, enticed the same to a fine loves labour’s lunch.

With this simple invitation, to Ellwood City a voyage planned; the ensemble boisterous and profound. A prediction bold, for sure, but this meal does the great All-U-Can-Eat buffet in the sky maintain superior.

castle battlements behind stone wall
“This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air nimbly and sweetly recommends itself unto our gentle senses.”

Battlements the first thing the eyes divine. Rising from Lawrence County’s gently rolling hillsides, the imposing gray structure unmistakably a castle keep. Here in the highland just above Ellwood City, it’s a remarkable sight—even if faded the illusion has by the time one pulls into the giant parking lot out front.

Imposing against this winter of our … very predictable discontent’s bleak weather, Olde Stonewall, the name for both the ersatz castle and its accompanying golf course, may or may not be “olde”—opened in 1999, it did—but the stone be jest it is not. Seven hundred and fifty thousand tons of stone, true to Olde Stonewall’s history, make up lengthy walls that around the property run. Continue it does up along the hillside above the adjacent golf course.

suit of armor with directional sign to golf shop and rest rooms
This way to Ye Olde Golf Shoppe … and the king and queen’s thrones

Forsooth and forthwith did our merry band of hungry travelers at the entrance to Olde Stonewall arrive. Enormous be the 800-pound wooden doors outfitted each with dragon-shaped handle and details, born of fire at the castle’s construction. The building’s entrance is a stunner true betwixt fine carpentry and bronze work, its elegant adaptation of rescued Catholic church light fixtures, and the replica suits of armor, shields, and weapons that decorate the dark wood paneling that runs throughout.

ornate bronze door handle in shape of dragon
Stop dragon my heart around. Custom bronze door pulls at the entrance to Olde Stonewall
ornate chandelier under ceiling painted like blue sky with clouds
An ornate antique chandelier at the entrance to Olde Stonewall

If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it; that surfeiting, The appetite may sicken, and so die. (Twelfth Night, I:i)

Indeed, play on the group did and to Shakespeare’s Pub & Restaurant we were shown for the food of … lunch. ‘Twas for midday repast the foursome sought from afternoon’s grey light a pause. And O! what bountiful offerings were presented to even these knaves from Pittsburgh came.

The better part of valor is discretion, true, but how can an appetite’s natural yearnings be denied when Shakespeare’s “Castle Teasers” tempt the very limits of mortal tastebuds’ capacity for carnal pleasure? Would beer cheese are twin pretzel logs be requested? Perhaps the party would opt for the wings of hen, flavoured of garlic-Parmesan or dry ranch served. Cruel witches be the only explanation for the devilish debate that ensues pitting cocktail of Gulf shrimp against fried cheese with marinara aligned.

restaurant diners holding up plates with sandwiches and fried potatoes
“Praise us as we are tasted, allow us as we prove.” Heidi and Paul with meals fit for the queen and king they are.

A man loves the meat in his youth that he cannot endure in his age. (Much Ado About Nothing, II:iii)

We’ll excuse The Bard’s gender-exclusive language as but peril of his age. For man is not alone when the offerings of Shakespeare’s Restaurant “From the Pantry” selection present themselves for delighted perusal and consumption be. To wit, Queen Heidi made not her enjoyment of the kitchen’s Castle Burger unknown. The lady doth not protest at all, if in meaning thou doth comprehend. Good Sire Paul—himself, a learned scholar of the form—accepted a chicken club, traditional not in the least, but a thrill nonetheless. On Mancini’s egg Kaiser rolls both sandwiches arrived adorned and with pickle spear paired.

What more can be said of the humble potato? Its starch as plain as air; its color that of the earth from which it is born. And yet for our company did surprise it make! Elevated at the hands of Executive Chef Andrew Davin, the pomme de terre is formed into corkscrews thick, to golden brown fried, and delivered as hot and steaming as a planet erupting. No less impressed by such a celestial visage were our diners at these sides of fries.

plate with large fish sandwich and broccoli salad
“Fishes live in the sea, as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones.” Your author is but a court jester in real life; on this day he dined like a prince.

Fishes live in the sea, as men do a-land; the great ones eat up the little ones. (Pericles, Prince Of Tyre, II:i)

Ms. Orbit, herself favoring a harvest sought deep from the briny, engaged in Chef Davin’s shrimp Barsac and was no less pleased. The meal, a melange of the color tan, did not a charitable photograph make. In its accompaniment, however, Shakespeare’s French onion crock did surpass any expectation—it’s flavours rich and satisfying, piping hot and belly warming on this frosty day.

Your author cannot a generous fish sandwich dissuade. On Saturday last he was no more able to deny its temptation than in Lent’s siren season, a mere six salivating weeks hence. O! Why must Lent come but once a year? While I hope we shall drink down all unkindness every day, ’twas but he that sampled of Shakespeare’s ales. The gustatory ensemble it did complete in suitable fashion. No customer at this table was made to feel unsatisfied.

window with ornate ironwork looking out on golf course
“What light through yonder window breaks?” ‘Tis the East, and the shrimp Barsac comes with your choice of potato or soup du jour.

Praise us as we are tasted, allow us as we prove. (Troilus and Cressida, III:ii)

Razor thin be the line betwixt class and kitsch as it stretches across the fair acres of Olde Stonewall. Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge and perhaps an extra dose of the former would have enhanced the experience of the latter. The property’s fine millwork and legitimately delicious fare do not disappoint, but hard it is to overlook be truth of the situation, goofy by an standard.

Brevity is the soul of wit and the better part of valor is discretion, true. Your author claims neither attribute in his praise for a visit to Olde Stonewall—be it the final destination or side trip when travels take Orbit faithful north. Haveth a good tyme—and a fine meal at an expense faire—thou willst, but dodging duffers in warmer seasons may prove a task more treacherous than sublime.

Godspeed you travelers and curiosity-seekers alike! To Shakespeare’s Restaurant & Pub you go! Forget not to order the fries. They be the true sustenance of gods.

exterior of large building made to look like medieval castle
Olde Stonewall: where the tymes may be medieval, but the ample parking is handicap-accessible

Getting there: Olde Stonewall/Shakespeare’s Restaurant & Pub is at 1495 Mercer Rd. in Ellwood City. It takes ~45 minutes to get there from metro Pittsburgh. Check their web site for opening days and times.

The Party’s Over: Sad Balloons

deflated balloon on leaf-strewn sidewalk
“L” is for Lying face down in the gutter under a bridge on the South Side. A sad balloon in its natural habitat.

Is it lying or laying? I’ve read and re-read the grammar definition a dozen times—my dear, sainted mother was an English professor, for goodness sake—and I still can’t figure out whether there’s a direct object there or not.

Fooey. A large gold letter L, turned upside-down so it looks more like a lazy J, lies (lays?) in the thick sidewalk mud that has collected late autumn’s last fallen leaves upon its gooey surface. On this chilly Sunday morning one can’t help but feel the sadness as the air has quite literally gone out of what we hope was a joyous moment, now gone by.

pink number balloons left by grave marker
Pretty (sad) in pink. Allegheny Cemetery

Someone (Lori? Linda? Lenny?) was celebrated in the near past—a birthday, maybe? perhaps an engagement, job promotion, or baby shower—and her or his friends ordered up a golden capital L balloon to commemorate the occasion. The party may have been terrific—drinks all around, goofy stories from the past, novelty gifts from friends that embarrassed family members—but that’s all over now. The big helium-filled letter balloon floated out of a car window or the venue’s service entrance, had some dying adventures in the low atmosphere, and landed here, in the muck under a bridge on the South Side.

deflated red balloons caught in tree limbs
Lofty ambitions, caught in the treetop. Grandview Park, Mt. Washington

This day—of all days—New Year’s happens to fall on a Sunday and like Kris Kristofferson, we’re all comin’ down, one way or another. Maybe you reveled last night; maybe you stayed in with a book or a movie; maybe you were working or taking a care of a sick kid. Either way—any way—New Year’s Day resets the table, tells us that last year, whether it was a party or not, is definitively over and we’re on to new things.

Your author is not one for resolutions, but he did make a plan to learn Vladimir Cosma’s “Sentimental Walk” on the piano. It’s simple enough that these amateur-level hands should be able to grasp it and heartbreakingly beautiful in a way that will reward the time commitment.

Whatever your plans for the new year—inspired by a resolution or not—hopefully they’ll include new adventures, plans realized, and the wonderful happenstance that leads you up into the treetops and down in the muck. Life exists on both planes and we’re fools to fantasize that it can occur in only the more lofty of them.

Happy New Year, y’all!

"1" and "4"-shaped balloons outside of a small dumpster in a garage
14 or 41, what’s the difference at this point? Hill District
deflated balloon hanging from tree limb
Hang in there! Hill District
deflated balloons in dead leaves
Game over. Allegheny Cemetery
deflated balloon hanging from tree limb
World’s worst Warhol tribute. Allegheny Cemetery
celebratory balloons left in tall grass
Not so sad … yet. Hazelwood
deflated balloons hanging from an electrical line
Sad bundle. Lawrenceville
deflated balloons hanging from utility wires
Wire mess, Lawrenceville

City Chicken: Requiem For an Almost Rooster

image of red rooster wheat pasted to mailbox
Li’l Red, rockin’ the flock. One of a slew of city chickens that roosted in Polish Hill throughout 2022.

Something was brooding this year. Perhaps we were all scratching and clawing for a chance to get back to the real world. There was a fox in our collective hen house, but when we tried to fly we couldn’t get off the ground. Cocksure at our place in the pecking order, we waddled out of the frying pan straight into the fryer. In a plot most fowl, feathers were ruffled and eggs were cracked in the great omelet that is a year in the life of America. Yes, in 2022 the chickens came home to roost.

image of red rooster wheat pasted to mailbox
Big Red, mailbox rooster
image of red rooster wheat pasted to masonry wall
Around-the-corner rooster

Seemingly overnight—quite possibly literally overnight—an entire flock of bright red roosters appeared in Polish Hill. The big birds’ super-saturated color glowed from the drab surfaces they played against. The roosters’ look was both comical and earnest—wholesome, even—but with a keen, knowing wisdom beyond their years.

At first—especially when wandering around Polish Hill, randomly finding the fowl on different morning constitutionals—one assumed the roosters are all of a common breed—identical in size, scope, and marking. Each has the same brilliant crimson, the same general shape, and their images have certainly been applied to United States Post Office equipment and city infrastructure with the same wheat-pasted method.

image of red rooster wheat pasted to large recycling bin
Recycled rooster
image of red rooster wheat pasted to plywood garage window covering
Garage rooster

But given this opportunity to see each member of the flock right up against the others, we have the advantage of understanding they’re no mere cookie-cutout duplicates. Some of the roosters face left; most face right. There are clear differences in beak shape and hind feather arrangement.

The widest variance, though, is in each bird’s detailing. Some include a fully-formed leg and claw, but others remain gestural—or nearly free of definition altogether. Chickens may have cartoonish humanoid eyes or concentric circular rings like those of a hypnotist, mid-induction process.

image of red rooster wheat pasted to mailbox
Mailbox rooster
negative image of rooster removed from wheat paste street art
Ghost mailbox rooster

Full disclosure: your author is a rooster booster who loves chicken-pickin’, so the arrival of these fine creatures last April was a welcome surprise as winter’s gloom ceded to glorious spring rebirth. They’ve lived a lifetime since then with many of these specimens no longer present or left in wounded, half-torn-off states of decay. Perhaps many of us—certainly those blunted by seasonal affective disorder or the holiday blues—feel in their own states of decay this time of year.

How the non-denominational bunny rabbit and egg came to be so closely associated with Christianity’s highest, holiest holiday is a matter for historians and/or Wikipedia. We’ll not trouble ourselves with all that, but the roosters of Polish Hill walked out of our dreams and into our lives right around Easter. The timing may be coincidental, but it couldn’t have been more perfect.

Maybe that’s what the chickens were trying to tell us all along … if we’d only listened.

image of red rooster wheat pasted to mailbox
Ripped rooster

Address Your Best: Numbers Running, House Hunting, and Looking for the Right Address

hand-drawn address marker on brick wall
Have you seen the back? “Apt 2 in back”! (in the back). One of many terrific handmade or otherwise extraordinary address markers. Bloomfield

December, here we are. We can now see our breath on every pre-dawn constitutional as November’s mild, sunny weather has finally given way to real winter temperatures. Snow has been minimal, so far, but shovels and salt stand at the ready for the inevitable. Trees are fully divested of their leaves. Figs have gone to ground.

All around us The Twinkling has begun—lights in Christmas green and red, but also “electric icicle” white. Plastic figurines are set up to either celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ or make offerings to the candy cane gods—take your pick. Draped on bare trees and outlining front porches, all those tiny LED bulbs act as sentinels to the night. It’s coming, they sing in quiet unison to an audience with no option, whether you want it or not.

In short, we are officially in what retail workers, mail carriers, and delivery drivers call the most wonderful time of the year.

hand-painted sign directing to apartment access
439 Apts 1 & 2, Oakland

It’s likely The Orbit‘s convivial readership will have plenty of visitors to their homes over the next few weeks. Hopefully some of those will bring glad-tidings, along with the requisite maids a-milking and geese a-laying. If you’re lucky maybe Uncle Joe will break out the myrrh—it’s just not the holiday season without myrrh.

Others will climb your front steps on business. Envelopes stuffed with year-end brag letters and pictures of golden children will come for many. Thousands—millions!—will receive packages ordered from enormous operations full of plasticware produced far, far away. Amazon doesn’t offer real live swans a-swimming for sale—yet—but that feels like merely a matter of time. If you’re lucky, a friend will send you something truly special by U.S. Mail.

This isn’t the start of the holiday season—that kicked-off right after Valentine’s Day—so let’s call the first week of December the beginning of peak Christmas. For that, we’re sending this photo collection out to all the folks visiting all the addresses with all the things while many of us get to sit cozy, work a puzzle, and fall asleep on a couch as the television spools out one myth after another.


former barber shop with address painted on front door
4825, Garfield (since demolished)
home address marker created from stickers and stenciled spray paint
348, Lawrenceville
residential mailbox hand-painted with address
5428, Lawrenceville
House front door with address repeated in many ways
179 ½ 179 ½ 179 ½ 179 ½, Lawrenceville
hand-painted mailbox with Pittsburgh Steelers emblem
2nd flr, Sharpsburg
handmade sign on front door window directing mail delivery to mail slot
2133, Perry Hilltop
house with address markers crudely painted on basement masonry walls
469 FL 2 / 469 FL 1/Apt 1, Polish Hill
hand-painted residential mailbox
4703, Bloomfield
exterior door with handwritten address above mail slot
six twenty five, Bloomfield
three mailboxes with hand-painted sign for the addresses
215 Ella Street, Apt. 3-5, Bloomfield
hand-painted address sign outside brick house
247 Albert, Mt. Washington
hand-painted residential address painted on ceramic tiles
2828, Strip District
hand-painted address marker for rear appartment
4632 Rear, Bloomfield
hand-painted address sign next to mailbox
Apt B, Monongahela
hand-painted address marker on mailbox
316, West Homestead

Paint on Brick

hand-painted address on masonry wall
4209, Bloomfield
hand-painted home address on masonry
752, Hill District
hand-painted address marker on brick wall
701, Homewood
residential address number painted on masonry
5312, Lawrenceville
address marker with different house numbers carved into masonry and painted on
326 / 382, Lawrenceville

The Art of the Address

stylized address painted on front door of house
3210, Polish Hill
hand-painted address sign feature Polish eagle emblem
3059 Pulawski Way, Polish Hill
hand-painted address sign feature Polish eagle emblem
3060 Wiggins St., Polish Hill
Home address created with mosaic
1212, Spring Hill
home address sign in "boomerage modern" style
3432, Polish Hill
address for Italian Restaurant with image of chef carrying a large bown of pasta
424, West End

Corporate House Numbers Still Suck!

home address written on cardboard and taped to house
312 ½, Bloomfield
home address hand-written on paper, inside Ziploc bag, taped to front door
161 43rd Apt 1, Lawrenceville
home address written on cardboard, stuck inside Ziploc bag, and stuffed behind mailbox
161, Lawrenceville
address sign written on disposable plate
Apt 2, Carrick
home address written on wall shingle
3908, Lawrenceville
house number written on cardboard attached to front door of home
498 First St use back door, West Elizabeth
home address drawn on blue painter's tape attached to front door
5231, Lawrenceville
steel door with handwritten address above mail slot
4913 1/2, Lawrenceville
wooden gate with handmade address sign
5417 Rear, Lawrenceville

Old School Cool

older door with custom address marker set into window
330, Polish Hill
hand-painted address marker on brick wall
810 Concord, East Deutschtown
fading address marker painted on wood
4845, Lawrenceville
house front door window with address numbers in glass
4610, Bloomfield

BET / HAN / KFUL: Thanksgiving Gratitude 2022

painting on wall reading "Be Thankful"
Be Thankful or BET HAN KFUL, your choice. Wall art, The Run

Be Thankful. Those two words—or possibly three when rendered as BET / HAN / KFUL—are something we can all (hopefully) act on. Your author has plenty to be thankful for—a wonderful wife, terrific friends, neighbors, and creative partners, most of his health, some of his hair—and I don’t take any of it for granted.

So often—especially in today’s hashtag self-obsessed culture—expressing gratitude comes in the form of “humble brag” gloating. We’ll not do that here. Instead, we thought for this Thanksgiving we’d nominate some very Pittsburgh-centric things our readership can relate to and share in group gratitude for this little collective virtual Thanksgiving.

Here then are some things The Orbit is thankful for every day we get to spend in our hometown. Maybe you’ll relate and maybe not. Either way, we thank you for reading.

single chair from dinette set on street, acting as a "parking chair", Pittsburgh, PA
Parking chair, Garfield

Yes, we’re grateful for the humble parking chair. For the record, Chez Orbit, located in cheek-to-jowl Lawrenceville, does not deploy a chair—even after digging out from snow. Regardless, the absurdity of seeing random old dinette seats literally taking up space three feet off the curb never gets old and never stops being amusingly funny. With more and more parking placeholders moving to generic white molded plastic lawn chairs and Home Depot job buckets, we get a special thrill to come across a classic like this one.

Rising Main city steps, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Rising Main city steps, North Side

City Steps are ho-hum to some and what are those? to others. Like a child’s fantasy of magical pathways through mysterious overgrown woods, Pittsburgh’s collection of seven hundred-and-a-bunch sets of city steps are an elaborate intra-city adventure portal masquerading as public transit infrastructure. With this large a collection, pretty much everyone in the 412 has steps not too far away, right at your fingertips … err, foot steps. Be thankful you do.

old brick wall with layers of paint, cinderblock, and plywood
One of the world’s most beautiful walls, Arlington/Mt. Oliver

We’re thankful for walls. Not any ol’ jive-ass boring walls, mind you, but walls that read like archeological expeditions, art moderne collage, and site-specific evidence of histories we’ll never know. Take that wall off of that wall and dudes in New York will pay top dollar for it. You can have it for free, right here.

house under construction with artwork attached to plywood door covering
Outside art, Millvale

Our friends over at The Portland Orbit coined the term “Outside Art” for the unique phenomena of exactly that. Neither public art nor graffiti/street art, outside art is installed either by the (private) property owner or with their consent for the express purpose of delighting and amusing the rest of us. We’ve been working a couple angles on this we’ll get to in the new year, but suffice to say the volume of outside art available just about everywhere is awe-inspiring when you start cataloging it. Putting one’s art into the world anonymously, with all the potential hazards of weather, mockery, and vandalism, is as altruistic an action as there is. We’re glad people keep doing it.

foggy scene with rusted iron fence and houses
Fog, Polish Hill

Generally, being a morning person works out pretty well—that is, until you stay up late and can’t ever make up the sleep. It’s never more true than when one is on a pre-breakfast constitutional through thick fog. You name it and it’s going to look better draped in the gauzy blur of cool humid air that makes everything appear mysterious, a little dangerous, and right out of a dream. When you take that fog walk through the cemetery? Fuggetaboutit.

hilltop view of two neighborhoods in Pittsburgh
View of Troy Hill (foreground) and Strip District (background) from Reserve Township

Weird views are something everyone in Pittsburgh gets accustomed-to—but don’t take it for granted! Sure, you can go with a corporate view like Mt. Washington or the West End Overlook—and those are great—but give yourself a chance to check out the view of town looking straight across the Liberty Bridge from the trail in Emerald View Park or the roofs of Bloomfield’s row houses lit by the morning sun from Sugar Top/Upper Hill District or the 360-degree view from St. John’s Cemetery in Spring Hill or this one looking down at the top of Troy Hill and all the way across the river to the Strip District from Reserve Township.

metal can lid painted with devil holding anarchy flag nailed to utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA
Tin can pole art anarchy devil, Friendship

Pole Art is the evergreen Where’s Waldo? of bike/pedestrian travel. On any day any given utility pole may be enhanced by the anonymous addition of just about anything. Sure, we’re nuts for tin can pole art, but it doesn’t stop there. Weird signs, full art installations, recycled toys, and improvised memorials. You gotta look! The very nature of these ephemeral pieces means that each has a ticking clock counting down its limited lifetime before it disappears. Not knowing how long we’ve got is a central theme of all of our lives—being thankful for the time we have and the opportunity to interact with these random exclamation points is something we’ll not overlook.

pair of gravestones with last names Will and End
Will/End. Gallows humor, St. John Vianney Cemetery, Carrick

Cruel humor from beyond the grave may be a strange thing to find comfort in, but it reminds us we’re thankful to be alive. Even with all of life’s pain—and there’s no small amount of it—I’d rather be breathing than the alternative. Hopefully that’s the same for anyone reading this. If you’re in doubt, please get yourself the help you deserve, and then think about the things you have to be thankful for. Those things are all around us every day.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.