Q: Who Can Take a Rainbow and Make the World Taste Good? A: The Randyland Can

elaborately painted former storefront, now Randyland, in Pittsburgh, PA

All the colors, all the time: Randyland, Arch Street, North Side

Even on one’s second, third, or fourth visit, there is still a lot left to take in. Dangling fruit and topiary flora; psychedelic pattern-over-pattern detail and wooden animals spinning their wings in the breeze; funhouse mirrors elongate space and disembodied mannequin heads make sure someone’s looking out for you at all times.

With all these competing attention-grabbers, what will stay with you most are the colors. The phrase “every crayon in the box” comes to mind–but it’s not quite accurate here. You’ll find no dour grays or bland beiges, nor any ugly browns or heavy black. The colors are more like an exploded rainbow dipped in a dream: big, bright, and bold, fully saturated with no restrictions on theme or palette.

wooden backyard arbor decorated with plastic fruit at Randyland

Arbor fruit and psychedelic stairs

By now, Randyland needs (almost) no introduction. The North Side house of many murals, its open-to-the-public garden art environment, decorated fences, adjoining buildings, and extending-to-the-street pole art have been featured in travel sites, airline magazines, city visitor guides, and a zillion Instragram selfies.

That level of publicity usually takes a location out of our purview … usually. But Randyland is also such a special place–so individual, fun, giving, personal, positive, and, yes, colorful that we also can’t not include it in The Orbit‘s broader map of Pittsburgh’s you need to see this cultural high points. Plus, we’ve been negligent on including a Mexican War Streets story and it’s high time we right that wrong.

map of the North Side of Pittsburgh rendered as 3-D mural at Randyland

3-D Central North Side map (excerpt)

However it happened, Pittsburgh’s North Side ended up with an outsize share of the city’s big name cultural and tourist attractions. The Andy Warhol Museum, National Aviary, Children’s Museum, and Carnegie Science Center are all within (long) blocks of each other, as are the ball parks for both The Steelers and Pirates. The North Side also hosts slightly less name-brand amenities like The Mattress Factory, St. Anthony’s Reliquary, The Hazlett Theatre, Bicycle Heaven, and the newish (but terrificish) Alphabet City. It would be negligent to not mention that that the city’s only casino also ended up on the far “North Shore.” (Sigh.)

direction signs outside Randyland, Pittsburgh, PA

All roads lead to Randyland

So it is entirely fitting that Randyland is right here, on Arch Street, at the absolute geographical center of The North Side. This place–both visionary and as grass roots and down-to-earth as they come–seeks to be a welcome beacon to all of Pittsburgh’s disparate citizens, as well as all of her visitors. Those who come to our fair city and ignore the Land of Randy in favor of a roll on the slots or pre-game beers in a parking lot do so at their own peril. You’ve been warned.

handmade welcome signs in many different languages at Randyland, Pittsburgh, PA

Section of “The largest international welcome wall in America”

Whether The largest international welcome wall in America can really claim that honor is probably up for debate. Regardless, Randyland has the interior of the Arch Street fence fully decked out with hand-painted arrows that bienvenidosmurakaza nezaüdvözöljük, and haere-mai visitors from around the world into Randy’s little corner of it.

The property’s side shed is well-stocked with shelves full of blanks ready for visitors to decorate with new welcome messages. A sign by the project mentions the creator’s welcome message  “must be your ancestry,” suggesting a United Nations-like visitor count has already made Randyland a stop on their American adventure.

wooden painted cutout of a musician playing a horn at Randyland, Pittsburgh, PA

Play, baby, play … and then dream big

Around the east and south sides of Randyland, facing Arch and Jacksonia Streets, are big sections of wooden picket fence. It’s likely the first thing you’ll see after the Randyland pseudo-storefront right on the corner. Like everything else on the property, these are decorated in multiple layers of swirling psychedelic bubbles, little round fish eye mirrors, and spinning whirligigs on off-kilter poles.

Atop all this are a series of life-size, 2-D wooden cutouts of musicians and dancers. Wearing fabulously groovy patterns, caught mid-stride and in full blown-out jam mode, they seem to all be at a swinging good-time party no one would want to miss. Among all the eccentric oddball entries scattered about Randyland, these painted cutout figures are a really incredible collection of work that would stand on its own in any environment.

hand-painted cut-out of man playing long trumpet at Randyland, Pittsburgh, PA

Play, smile, laugh, dance, love, believe, grow

Messages painted directly on the figures’ body parts, clothes, and instruments are a not-too-subtle thesis for Randyland writ large. Dream Big, reads the bell of a saxophone; Believe U Can, the inscription on a dancer’s necktie. A cubist trumpeter with a punk rock hairdo implores us to Play, Smile, Laugh, Dance, Love, Believe, Grow. The message on a frenetic dancer’s long flowing dress is simply Be Happy.

metal letters spelling L-O-V-E in sand at Randyland

We IOVF Randyland! Love letters in the sand.

That kind of relentlessly earnest optimism and you-can-do-it positive encouragement is both a rare thing in this age of cynicism and easy to dismiss as hopelessly naive. It may also be a tough nut to swallow for those suffering from a blues that can make tossed-off statements like “be happy” feel like either an insufferably shallow temperature reading or an insurmountable obstacle to achieve in a real world outside the boundaries of Randyland.

art robot with outstretched arms

HUG-BOT 2.0

But…that’s why Randy created the HUG-BOT 2.0–and a garden’s worth of oversize art flowers, goofy takes on where to hang one’s lawn furniture, and how to look at the sky in its mirror opposite. If you can manage to visit Randyland, take your time speculating on the preposterous occasion of a suit of armor with a necktie, giant flies on telephone poles, mannequin heads in sunglasses and lip gloss and still not feel any better about the state of the world, well, you may just need to turn around, look at that wall of arrows one more time, and know that this is a place where you’re always welcome to try again.

collection of mannequin heads wearing sunglasses at Randyland

Here’s lookin’ at you! The future’s so bright, even the mannequins gotta wear shades.


Getting there: Randyland is located at 1501 Arch Street in the Mexican War Streets neighborhood of the North Side. It’s free and open to the public from 10 a.m. to dusk pretty much every day.

Man-Sized Bird or Something: An Orbit Primer on The Mothman of Point Pleasant

statue of The Mothman in Point Pleasant, WV

Man-Sized Bird…Creature…Something. Mothman statue in Point Pleasant, WV. [photo: Candice Northcut Tomon]

When Candice Northcut Tomon told us she was headed to Point Pleasant, West Virginia for the 18th annual Mothman Festival we were initially both jealous and irate she was scooping us on this important regional event–so we put her on the payroll. Here’s Candice’s first story for Pittsburgh Orbit.


Couples see Man-Sized Bird…Creature…Something

This was the front-page headline readers of the Point Pleasant Register woke up to on November 16, 1966. Over the course of the following year, many residents of the greater Ohio River Valley reported seeing this same ominous creature, said to have glowing red eyes, a sculpted, helmet-like cranium, and the tattered wings of a giant moth. Other news outlets picked up on the story and the legend grew.

sandhill crane with its wings spread

A red-crested sandhill crane–possible dupe for the Mothman? [photo: Omaha World-Herald]

What was messing with the television reception and causing dogs to disappear in and around Point Pleasant? Was it a large sandhill crane–a bird described as the size of a grown man with red eyes–out of its migration pattern? Or possibly an otherworldly moth-like creature? During that year, over a hundred reports were logged and paranoia ran rampant in the small town.

postcard image of the former Silver Bridge connecting Point Pleasant, WV to Ohio

old postcard showing a pre-collapse Silver Bridge

On December 15, 1967 the Silver Bridge that connected Point Pleasant, WV to Gallipolis, OH, collapsed during rush hour traffic. A single eye-bar in a suspension chain failed and the Silver Bridge fell into the Ohio River, killing 46 people that evening. Two of the bodies have never been found. After the tragedy, for the most part, the Mothman seemed to disappear from the area. But there have been reported sightings in other parts of the world. In 1975, John A. Keel wrote the book The Mothman Prophecies which later spawned the 2002 movie of the same name starring Laura Linney and Richard Gere.

book cover for "The Mothman Prophecies" by John A. Keel

book cover for John A. Keel’s “The Mothman Prophecies” (Saturday Review Press, 1975)

The book has led many to believe the Mothman was a prophet of doom, a figure arriving in Point Pleasant to warn residents that harm was to come their way. Fifty-two years later, the Mothman is a cottage industry, but now he is a harbinger of cotton candy and curly fries. Every September for the last 18 years, the town has hosted a festival to honor this spooky doom-predicting winged creature. Even though the event is light-hearted, after speaking to a few residents, I get the feeling they do not find humor in the myth.

One local antique shop owner described to us the feeling of isolation that was felt in the town after the bridge collapsed. You were stuck here until they finally borrowed a ferry boat from a neighboring town, he said. For better or worse, they seem to believe their fellow townspeople saw something that petrified them. However, if they did not take this marketing opportunity someone else surely would. Thus, the Mothman Museum and festival were born.

storefront window display featuring novelty items associated with the Mothman, Bigfoot, and zombies

Keep on Squatchin’. Mothman souvenirs in Point Pleasant. [photo: Tim Tomon]

At the festival, you’ll find no shortage of t-shirts, mugs, stickers, badges, taxidermized gewgaws, and sweet treats. There are also local enthusiasts costumed as superheroes, Ghostbusters, and Star Wars characters. One can mingle with an elected court of royals, musicians, and expert speakers in all things paranormal. You want to know more about Sasquatch and eat your weight in ice cream? Come to Point Pleasant and enjoy the sites.

stuffed toys of Flatwoods Monster and Moonlight Mothman for sale at the 2019 Mothman Festival, Point Pleasant, WV

The Flatwoods Monster meets Moonlight Mothman [photo: Tim Tomon]

Point Pleasant is a throwback to a different time with its functioning Main Street, a Piggly Wiggly grocery store and an old timey hotel, the Lowe, which is said to be haunted (of course). If you’re staying, ask for room 314, “the Pi Room,” a local shop owner advised. The town also offers the opportunity to take in the history of the region at nearby Tu-Endie-Wei State Park. The location is integral to the tragic story of Shawnee Leader Chief Cornstalk, as the place where he was both defeated in battle in 1774, murdered in 1777, and interred for at least the third time in 1954.

sign for Tu-Endie-Wei State Park in Point Pleasant, WV featuring large cut-out model of stone monument

You can say that again: Tu-Endie-Wei State Park, Point Pleasant [photo: Candice Northcut Tomon]

I have to say that while I wish I were a Mulder, I am a Scully. I did not see anything that would make me believe that the Mothman was real, however, I do believe that the people who reported seeing the creature believed. If possible, the residents of Point Pleasant have managed to find a silver lining in such a sad event. Overall, I thought it was a perfect weekend road trip and I recommend the festival to anyone who wants a touch of the weird in their street fair.


Getting there: Point Pleasant is around three-and-a-half hours drive from metro Pittsburgh, so yes–it’s debatable whether this counts as “in orbit.” The Mothman Festival is held annually on the third weekend of September.

The Scoop on Poop OR Hill Street Doo Doos: On Patrol with The Dog Police

Dog Police beat poetry: “Shit No / Dog Shit Shit / No Dog Shit”, Friendship

The brick structure is two stories tall, three car-widths wide, with a barn-like gambrel roof. It’s been painted in a striking color scheme of deep black and vivid red. The legit c. 1900 carriage house faces the back alley of one of Friendship’s many stately manses. Across the building’s three sets of big wooden folding doors are a collection of crude, self-administered graffiti publicizing a wild set of existentialist free verse:

Shit no
Dog shit shit
No dog shit

metal rail painted with message "Curb your dogs!"

“Curb your dogs!” Shadyside

Title Six, Article III of the City of Pittsburgh’s Code of Ordinances deals with citizens’ conduct around the ownership of dogs, cats, and other animals. It’s a lengthy tract full of minutia on the expected behavior for pet owners on predictable topics like spaying and neutering; the conditions of kennels and catteries; food, water, and bedding; off-leash exercise areas.

Section § 634.09 deals with sanitation. The first paragraph is as close as we get to detailing the conduct around expectations for dog (and cat) poop:

(a) Excreta shall be removed from primary enclosures and exercise areas on a daily basis. Feces and soiled litter material shall be removed from all litter pans on a daily basis. Absorbent litter and/or any other litter material used to absorb urine shall be changed when it becomes thirty (30) percent saturated with urine.

No! Lawrenceville

Setting aside any comments on whether cat owners (ahem) ever let Mr. Peeper’s litter box get “thirty (30) percent saturated with urine,” this finely-worded requirement has more gray area than one may think.

Is a dog owner, taking the pooch out on a stroll, required to clean up Fido’s dookie or not? Is every block a dog walks his or her “exercise area”? And if so, “daily basis” suggests a person has a fair window, perhaps as much as 24 hours–or at least until Midnight–to clean up anything left behind on the jaunt.

With no law in sight, the city’s homeowners have become vigilantes of a sort–the sidewalk and front yard their beat; dog crap the contraband flooding the beaches and temping youths into a an amoral lifestyle of loose peeing and rampant defecation. These are The Dog Police.

“Clean that shit up,” Bloomfield

The city’s web site offers a little more information on the For Pet Owners page. Without any specification of repercussions, the site defines the following (among other actions) as “nuisance violations”:

  • Allowing a dog to “go to the bathroom” on school grounds, a City park or other public or private property (It is not considered to be a nuisance violation if you immediately clean up after your dog – called “Poop-Scoop” laws in most communities).
  •  Allowing your pet to scratch, dig or defecate on any lawn, tree, shrub, plant, building or any other public or private property other than that of the owner or person in charge or control of the animal.

“Please clean up after your dog,” Lawrenceville

One might assume that Rover’s, uh, solid waste would be the primary source on contention here–and that probably is the case–but one would be underestimating the full jurisdiction of The Dog Police.

Dog urine kills flowers reads one dinner plate-cum-public service announcement and it is true that canine pee–in enough quantity–can kill flowers, grass, and other foliage. This seems to be a result of the combination of alkaline pH of dog urine, its nitrogen load, and enough repeated applications–i.e. one or more dogs hitting the same spots over and over.

That said, it’s unlikely that a neighborhood dog passing umpteen tempting bushes, lamp posts, grassy lawns, and, yes, flower patches are really going to lay waste to mother nature. But … maybe.

plate with message "Dog urine kills flowers. Please curb dogs." in garden flowers, Pittsburgh, PA

“Dog urine kills flowers. Please curb dogs.” Shadyside

If killing the petunias and turning the grass brown wasn’t enough, The Dog Police work another urban scourge–disposing of Scout’s crap in someone else’s private receptacles.

Take dog poop home with dog reads a hand-painted brick holding down the lid of a garbage can in Friendship; another sign, just a few blocks away, demands Do not throw dog wastes in garbage can or driveway.

brick painted with message "Take dog poop home with dog" on outside garbage bins

“Take dog poop home with dog,” Friendship

One would think that having the “dog waste” disposed of in the rubbish bin would be vastly preferable to … just about any realistic alternative. But this gets into the “broken window” theory of dog policing–you let them put Ranger’s shit in your 50-gallon Rubbermaid today, they’ll be soiling that tall fescue, asking who’s a good boy? and laughing in your face about it tomorrow. Let’s nip this (quite literal) shit in the bud right now.

Sign posted on garage wall reading "Do not throw dogs wastes in garbage cans or driveway,"

“Do not throw dogs wastes in garbage cans or driveway,” Friendship

It’s a cruel world out there. In the face of global environmental catastrophe, absolute political corruption–not to mention each of our own worries about health, economics, and mortality–a patch of stray dog poop or some browned grass can seem mighty petty.

BUT–with dogs, there’s always a big butt–if I was the homeowner repeatedly waking up to a minefield of crap on the sidewalk or my black-eyed Susans murdered in the night by a spray of Fido whiz, well, I’d be pissed-off too. One has to assume you don’t go to the lengths of painting your garage over just one or two stray incidents.

That’s when ordinary citizens feel the need to take the law into their hands. That’s when we call The Dog Police.

handmade yard sign reading "Please be a good neighbor!!! Clean up after your dog"

“Please be a good neighbor!!! Clean up after your dog.” Shadyside

“Clean up after your dog please! Yuck!” Bloomfield

Ask the Dust: An Orbit Vacation Postcard from New Mexico’s Roadside Memorials

Taos

There is only one way to drive from El Rito to Abiquiu, in north-central New Mexico. You’ll take state road 554, a curlicued up-and-down route through wild and beautiful country that may as well be another planet for us “back East” folks. Gorgeous mountain views and scrubby desert vegetation join rugged canyons, dry river beds, and dramatic wind-scarred buttes.

What you won’t see much are signs of human existence. Sure, we’re on a two-lane blacktop that someone had to build, but there aren’t any other vehicles on it, nor will you find gas stations, billboards, graffiti, guard rails, or reflectors. You may come across the occasional stand-alone house, a stretch of elevated power line, or barbed wire fencing marking a property boundary, but often, that’s about it.

Pilar

So the memorials that appear with alarming regularity–some dozen or more on the short, sixteen-mile stretch between El Rito and Abiquiu alone–pop from the roadside as the most tender of touches in a landscape otherwise devoid of human intervention. The shapes–vertical and angled in a world of broad horizontals, colored in eye-popping reds, pinks, yellows, and purples found nowhere else around these parts–make the tributes jump from the scraggly earth.

There are some simple wooden crosses, sure, but most of the memorials are unique elaborate displays that include custom ironwork, closely arranged stone formations, photographs, religious dioramas, plastic funeral flowers, garlands, flags, and treasured personal mementos of the departed.

Fabian Lawrence Mata, Ojo Caliente

A little Googling proves that, surprise surprise, Pittsburgh Orbit wasn’t the first to take notice of New Mexico’s descansos, the Spanish term for this tradition. New Mexico Explorer, a kind of NM Orbit, has a nice intro with some good photos and the Albuquerque Journal ran a 2015 piece about Pam and Doug Rietz’ documentation of descansos (but no links to see the pictures!) There are plenty of photo collections out there.

So why cover it here? Well, for one thing, we’ve written about roadside memorials back home a couple of times [see our Memorial Day 2018 and 2019 stories], so the subject is near and dear. Also, we’re jealous–with all due respect to the loving displays on Pennsylvania’s rural routes, New Mexico’s descansos are just so much more–excuse the apparent contradiction–full of life*.  Each one is unique, glorious, heartbreaking, and beautiful in its own way.

And yes, it’s a good way to squeeze vacation for an Orbit story.

El Rito

Abiquiu

Jeffrey Zamora, Ohkay Owingeh

Abiquiu

El Rito

Phil Snow, La Madera

Dylan Romero, Abiquiu

Abiquiu

D.D.H., Rio Grande gorge

Jamie, Hernandez

Juan Mariscal, Abiquiu

Gilberto “Beto” Maestas, La Chauchia

Baldino Elizardo Gomez, Ojo Caliente

El Rito

El Rito

Hernandez

El Rito

Abiquiu

Kenneth and Elmer Martinez, El Rito


* In fairness, though, the relentlessly dry sunny weather in New Mexico naturally elongates the lifetime of a descanso. Pennsylvania’s omnipresent rain and thick humidity, plus winter snow and ice, make all SW PA memorials de facto temporary installations. For what it’s worth, it is also true that New Mexicans die in motor vehicle accidents at greater than twice the rate of Pennsylvanians. [Source: https://www.iihs.org/topics/fatality-statistics/detail/state-by-state]

Hold the Cheese: Son of Ghost Pizza

hand-painted sign for former Yolanda's Pizza & Italian Restaurant, Monaca, PA

Yolanda’s, Monaca

The lovely woman approaches, jet black hair up in a tight bun, dressed in a plain green skirt and poofy red peasant blouse. She’s headed straight toward you, carrying an enormous plate of indeterminate pasta, red sauce, and meatballs–let’s just assume the carafe of house chianti is already breathing on the table. Her facial expression is difficult to discern as the detail has been lost to weather and time, but we’re willing to bet that once it concealed a secret, Mona Lisa smile.

brick wall of former hoagie shop painted with "Subs," "Hot Sausage," Meat Ball," "Sandwich," Johnstown, PA

unknown, Johnstown

Yolanda’s Pizza & Italian Restaurant, the source of this faded gastronomical fantasia, appears to still be very much around. It’s even multiplied, with dining rooms both in Beaver Falls and here, the original location, in a converted gas station/car wash on Pennsylvania Ave. in Monaca.

But it sure didn’t look like (the possibly-fictional?[1]) Yolanda was still slinging sauce the summer day a year ago when this interloper was wandering around town, dying for an eggplant parmigiana or meatball volcano big enough to sate a blogger’s schnoz-poking appetite. Instead, there was just an empty lot, a Closed sign in the window, and that faded, peeling mural. Sigh.

Ed’s Pizza House, Jeannette

While Yolanda’s is still serving their traditional Italian chicken pot pie calzones and Polish pizzas–just not when we’re in town–the restaurant’s success doesn’t extend to other regional pizzerias and hoagie houses.

For all the true fans who loved The Orbit‘s 2017 Pi/Pie Day salute to “ghost pizza” and have been waiting a cruel a couple years for more photos of boarded-up Italian restaurants, blinds-drawn dining rooms, and pizza shops vacated long enough ago for their buildings to be condemned, well, here you go.

Happy Labor Day, y’all. Go out and eat a damn pizza before they’re all gone!

Angelo’s Pizza and Hoagie House, Wilkinsburg

DiBacco’s, Weirton, WV

older brick apartment building with former Pizza Prima restaurant in ground floor space, Pittsburgh, PA

Pizza Prima, Oakland

exterior of former Luigi's Pizzeria, Bellevue, PA

“Thanks for 42 great years,” Luigi’s, Bellevue

exterior of former Rosario's Pizzeria, New Kensington, PA

Rosario’s, New Kensington [Note: “X” = building condemned]

empty storefront with sign reading "Italian Restaurant", Monaca, PA

Italian Restaurant, Monaca

sign for closed pizza shop in alley, Etna, PA

Ciocca’s “Italian Maid” (sic.) Pizza, Etna


[1] On yolandaspizza.com, the About section mentions the restaurant was founded by a carpenter named Pete Samovoski. There is no explanation as to who the namesake Yolanda is.

Dying To Get In: The Mid-Century Mausoleum at Penn Lincoln Memorial Park

Penn Lincoln Memorial Park mausoleum and chapel, c. 1960, North Huntingdon

The unusual roofline, viewed from either end, has the perfect semi-circular curves of a series of long sheets of paper, each arched gracefully to bend back in on itself. Across the front of the big building are evenly-spaced openings echoing the same design motif. The big spaces are filled with aluminum grids and stained glass windows that echo the fantastically frenetic line drawings of Ben Shahn or Paul Klee.

In fact, one can imagine the entire structure modeled in miniature, constructed from simple cardboard tubes, thick paper stock, and colored gels. You can almost see the architects–’50s beatnik-meets-big city corporate; all cigarette ash, turtlenecks, and horn rims–as they talk the wary customer through an unexpected design laid out before them in the firm’s big conference room.

Penn Lincoln Memorial Park mausoleum and chapel, North Huntingdon, PA

Appearing like a retro-futuristic science-fiction film set, the mausoleum at Penn Lincoln Memorial Park rests atop a gentle hill along Route 30, east of Pittsburgh. Driving by–one would have no good reason to walk or bicycle this stretch of highway–it may not even be obvious what you’re seeing as the big building flashes past the driver’s side window at 45 MPH.

An industrial R&D laboratory? Experimental school? A sneaker preacher’s mega-church? Heck, maybe even some crackpot millionaire’s attempt at an ex-urban Utopia. Any of these seem as plausible as something this designy winding up as an “above-ground burial” for Westmoreland County’s deceased moderne.

CMS East, Inc., the parent company that owns Penn Lincoln Memorial Park, along with 22 other cemeteries across five states, declined to provide The Orbit with any information on the architect who designed the mausoleum or any history of the design. CMS didn’t even respond to our request so it’s safe to say we do not recommend having any organization this rude turn your lifeless body to cinder!

The Google Machine offers no more information, so we’re left to wonder and speculate.

chapel interior

And that’s a shame. Not the wonder part, mind you, but the complete lack of recognition this remarkable construction seems to have received.

I’m no architect, but the artful curved concrete pours, the clean lines with no square corners, and the New Age yoga camp-meets-abandoned spaceport atmosphere all feel like ample source material for some academic’s Ph.D. thesis or a full-color spread in a glossy design magazine. At the very minimum, it’s worth pulling over to take a walk around the next time you’re headed east, toward Jeannette or Greensburg.

Most of metro Pittsburgh was constructed in a relatively short period of the city’s great industrial build-up–say, from the 1880s to the start of the Great Depression. So the prevailing design heritage here is curlicued Victorian filigree and blunt worker efficiency. The modernism of mid-century American design–so prevalent in breezy West Coast cities and Sun Belt oases–largely passed us by.

There are some notable exceptions, of course–Gateway Center’s gleaming aluminum cladding, Pitt’s brutalist expansions throughout Oakland, and (sigh) the old Civic Arena’s extraterrestrial colony come to mind.

But the lovely mausoleum at Penn Lincoln Memorial Park reminds us that the brilliant ambition of post-war America extended everywhere–to gasoline stations and dry cleaners, ice cream stands and car dealerships. It even came out here, to the distant suburbs of Pittsburgh, as a place one might entomb their loved-ones forever … in the future.

“above-ground burial” plots


Getting there: Penn Lincoln Memorial Park is on Rt. 30, half way between East McKeesport and North Huntingdon. It’s about a half hour’s drive from downtown Pittsburgh.

Onion Dome Fever: The Domes of Jeannette

St. Demetrius Ukranian Catholic church and clergy house, Jeannette

Come around the back, narrow your focus a little bit, and forget about how you got here. It doesn’t take too much imagination to feel instantly transported several thousand miles away–to Khmelnytskyi or Zhytomyr, Bila Tserkva or Ivano-Frankivsk.

The scene is something right out of a movie depicting a romanticized rendering of old world Eastern European rural quaintness. In all directions, hills rise with gentle grace, their trees a deep green in this wet summer’s lush glow. A simple old stone church, built for maybe a hundred congregants, rests aside its semi-attached, wood frame clergy house.

Saint Demetrius Ukrainian Catholic Church has a peaked roof, tiled in red shingles, with a single small steeple at the front. Atop it sits a glorious–if weather-worn–steel onion dome, accented by the Byzantine cross of the orthodox church.

St. Demetrius

It’s not alone. Jeannette had around 8,000 people at the time of the 1910 census. Likely most of them were working in the small city’s many glass factories–there were at least seven and there is a claim that at one time 70-85% of the world’s glass was made in Jeannette.

Yeah–that seems like a stretch. Regardless, the little boom town clearly attracted a fair number of these folks from old Russia as two different orthodox Catholic churches were constructed that same year, mere blocks apart.

cornerstone, St. Demetrius, 1910 (remodeled 1954)

St. Demetrius Ukranian Catholic Church, Jeannette, PA

St. Demetrius, the Ukrainian church on Gaskill Avenue, is the smaller and more humble of the pair. It sits in an otherwise unremarkable row of simple wood frame houses just a block off the railroad tracks that bisect Jeannette. It’s also a little ways downhill, so you won’t spot the gleaming silver-colored ornament until you’re relatively close.

Ss. Cyril and Methodius Russian Orthodox Catholic Church, Jeannette

The same can’t be said for Saints Cyril and Methodius. The eponymous brick Russian Orthodox church constructed in their honor decorates the absolute peak of Scott Avenue on the north side of town. The building’s distinct roofline, featuring multiple sky blue-with-gold crosses, is visible from just about anywhere in the city.

Ss. Cyril and Methodius

Cyril and Methodius is a magnificent brick-and-stone structure of multiple depths and angles, details and decorations, murals and stained glass. It also appears to be in spectacular shape, freshly repainted and bricks tightly pointed, on well-groomed grassy grounds. Catch it as we were lucky enough to on a cloudless day, gleaming in the hot sun, and looking resplendent against a perfect blue sky and even this atheist feels like he’s died and gone to heaven.

Cornerstone, Ss. Cyril and Methodius, 1910. We don’t know if the smiley face skull and cross-bones is original.

It’s doubtful anywhere in the area–heck, anywhere in America–has the per-capita domes of little Lyndora, up in Butler County. (Not to mention being able to righteously claim Poison’s Bret Michaels as a former congregant.)

That said, Jeannette’s lovely pair of orthodox churches, mere blocks from one another on the same side of town, are a feast for the onion ogler and an invitation to sidle out to Westmoreland County that should not be turned down. You can load up at DeLallo Foods, pace anxiously as two new microbreweries threaten opening any day now, and walk off that nervous energy with an old world constitutional. Recommended.

steeple view, Ss. Cyril and Methodius