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]

Out of Orbit: Falling to Earth at the Kecksburg UFO Festival

The truth is out there … but it’s probably not here at the Kecksburg UFO Festival

There is a lot of green in Kecksburg this time of year. The deep, multi-hued leaves on trees, rich with heavy spring and summer rainfall, are present in all directions as are rich earthy greens found in grasses and flower stems, corn fields and vegetable gardens bursting with life in summer’s thick humidity. The local volunteer fire department has painted their cinderblock-and-wood plank buildings in muted emerald shades and you’ll find dark, military-issue greens in the small set of U.S. Army Jeeps and troop-transports brought in for the weekend.

With all this, the green that stays with you is an electric, iridescent lime color. Like a fluorescent safety sign come to life or the inside of one of those light sticks, the eye-popping Day-Glo green wiggles in spring-mounted antennae on the heads of youths, graces noggins in the form of synthetic costume wigs, and gently flutters as inflatable figures dance in the wind. It glows in the bright sunlight on a 10-foot pneumatic carnival saucer and struts through the midway in novelty full-body costumes.

The Kecksburg “space acorn” monument, created for “Unsolved Mysteries” in 1990

Little Kecksburg, a rural community 40 miles east of Pittsburgh, was the perfect spot for a UFO to crash land. Far enough in the country to have few eyewitnesses but close enough to city resources for federal authorities to swoop in and make off with the evidence before anyone could figure out what had happened.

Exactly what occurred on the evening of December 9, 1965 is still in question. Theories range from a stray meteor and fallen Russian satellite to a time-traveling Nazi war machine and, yes, alien spacecraft.

It is this last possibility–amazingly, not the weirdest option in the list–that has kept dogged UFO hunters and seekers of truth in the unexplained coming back to “Pennsylvania’s Roswell” for the last 54 years. The continued interest brought the TV series Unexplained Mysteries to town in 1990, bringing a custom-built, scaled-to-life facsimile of the flying object with them. The hieroglyphics-engraved, acorn-shaped replica lives in permanent display elevated atop a tall pole on a hillside near the VFD hall. (See photo, above.) It’s also one of the things that brought us here. That, and the 14th annual Kecksburg UFO Festival.

The Orbit wasn’t the only news outlet on the scene. TV crews interview Kecksburg incident expert Stan Gordon.

Stan Gordon is the self-declared “primary investigator” of the 1965 Kecksburg incident and a lifelong researcher of the unexplained. Mr. Gordon operates a “radio command center” from his home in nearby Greensburg and regularly attends the UFO Festival. He was busy signing books and DVD documentaries at a corner table that included numerous fuzzy photo enlargements of mysterious lights in the night sky and enormous ape-like footprints in both mud and snow.

Gordon has spent a lifetime looking for the truth about Kecksburg and the description of the event and summary of his findings on his web site are without parallel. We encourage our readers to visit stangordon.info for his full rundown of the event and subsequent investigations.

Yes: the tinfoil hats were there

Stan Gordon wasn’t alone. Appearing at the annual UFO festival is both de rigueur and a no braineur for the region’s experts on the unexplained–and there are a lot more of these than you may think.

Why, there was Raymond Keller, author of Cosmic Ray and Tony Lavorgne of the Legends & Lore podcast. Bilco Productions, the team behind the film Paranormal Bigfoot, was there, as was Ed Kelemen, author of a half dozen books of haunted Pennsylvania lore. Saucers Over Appalachia! author William B. Van Huss had books to sell as did “Mr. UFO” Timothy Green Beckley.

Carried away. This parade-goer may or may not have made it to the main event.

Of course, not every attendee of the Kecksburg UFO Festival takes the event quite so seriously. The costume du jour was clearly this one that effectively makes the illusion an alien is hoisting a child-sized version of the person within (see photos above and below). After seeing a bunch of these–both at the event and then reviewing the pictures afterward–I can tell you neither is the deception obvious nor does the joke get old.

The Leeper Meats crew in the festival parade

The three-day festival is paced with a number of marquee events. Some of these–lectures from UFO and paranormal experts–stay firmly on-message. Others–a corn hole tournament, country band, and the “UFO hot dog-eating contest”–not so much.

Saturday afternoon features a parade down a half-mile of Kecksburg Road, alongside the VFD grounds where the main event takes place. The fancy term bifurcated comes to mind as there were really only two unconnected parties involved here: a handful of old-school military vehicles, with riders playing along dressed-up as the 1960s-era G-men and -women that whisked E.T. away, and then what felt like every fire truck in Westmoreland County.

That’s it. No high school marching bands dressed in coordinated alien costumes and no pre-teen dance troupes shimmying to “Outta Space”; no local politicians waving from tinfoil-covered convertibles and no flatbed hay bale dioramas. Just army play-actors, fire trucks, and Leeper Meats.

U.S. Army truck with replica of cloaked UFO remains

Yes, the parade was a disappointment. Luckily The Kecksburg UFO Festival redeems itself in its many other offerings.

The best of the lot were a number of artisans who brought chainsaw-hewn sculptures of big-eyed aliens and models of Big Foot. (Big Feet?) Among the latter were some extremely impressive life-size (around 7-feet tall) carved-from-a-tree-trunk Sasquatches–any one of which would look great in the backyard of Chez Orbit.

Sasquatch chainsaw sculptures

alien chainsaw art

It’s unclear who comes to the Kecksburg UFO Festival and why they’re there. If I had to put money on it, I’d guess the dressing up/having-a-laugh group outnumbers the relatively small contingent of true believers. Both sets are likely dwarfed by the soft pretzel-and-corn hole crowd, for whom this is the nearby summer fair benefiting their local fire department.

These numbers don’t work in the favor of a researcher who’s given his or her life (it’s pretty much always his) to studying alien contact and Big Foot sightings. Visibly annoyed at having to answer the same old questions from funnel cake-wielding skeptics and won’t-stop-talking over-enthusiasts, a number of the authors and filmmakers came with an arms-crossed, scowl and furrowed brow body language that pretty much told the world, just buy the damn book and get out of my face. No one said ghost hunting was easy.

little green man, big soft pretzel

The story of the Kecksburg incident and its supposed cover-up is even getting the big-screen treatment courtesy of a new, feature-length independent film by SW PA local Cody Knotts. Representatives from the team were there to sell t-shirts and offer advance tickets to the world premier and “red carpet screening” this September in Uniontown.

A couple trailers for the movie are already out. While it’s clear the filmmakers are working on a budget and you won’t recognize any of the local actors (at least, you know, not from acting), they managed to get the period look of mid-’60s America right and shot in a creepy, stylized Twilight Zone way that should satisfy the Creature Feature audience. Judging from the preview clips alone, I doubt we’ll see Kecksburg during Oscar season, but hats off to anyone who can produce a full-length dramatic period piece–even if the actor portraying  L.B.J. had to be shot from behind.

Alas, a real journalist would have bunked-down for the full UFO conference on Sunday–or at least stayed later on Saturday to catch the bed race and Renegade Ridge Band! But it was just too damn hot and your fair-skinned, not-watching-his-figure-enough author didn’t need any more time around the deep-fried pierogies and Helltown beers.

So … we headed home early, content that whether or not the truth is out there, it could wait for another day.

Kecksburg V.F.D., home of the 14th annual UFO Festival

A Graveyard for Gravestones

dismantled granite building in unruly pile, Pittsburgh, PA

Deconstructed building in the graveyard for gravestones

Editor’s note: This story generated no small amount of controversy. After a discussion with the cemetery’s president, we made the decision to update the story, removing certain identifying details for general public safety. Based on the many questions raised by the piece, we responded with the follow-up story “Where Do Gravestones Go To Die?”


The simple grave marker is nothing out of the ordinary. Gently curved and smoothly hewn, the stone is a standard off-the-shelf/out-of-the-catalog mid-century model we’ve seen hundreds–perhaps thousands–of times in different plots over the years. About the size of a microwave oven, it has raised block letters on its face which detail only the most basic facts about the deceased: Frederick W. Zinsser, 1878-1942, Father.

broken gravestones in disordered pile, Pittsburgh, PA

What’s strange about Frederick Zinsser’s headstone is how it arrived in its current position–upside-down, squashed between two felled trees, in a hidden, barren spot just outside the cemetery’s otherwise beautifully-groomed and spectacularly-scenic acres of visiting space. Oh, and why is it surrounded by dozens of other gravestones and stray cemetery infrastructure that appear casually tossed in the dirt like children’s playthings at the call for dinner?

broken gravestones in disordered pile, Pittsburgh, PA

We’re not talking about just a few stones–a pile here and a pile there. No, the graveyard for gravestones is extensive. It’s a big, basin-shaped open area just downhill from the older side of the cemetery. By now–in early May–you probably wouldn’t even notice it. But when we visited on Easter Sunday the thin shroud of young trees hadn’t yet fully sprouted all its leaves, allowing this unsightly broom closet of quickly-tossed granite to be impressively available to the passer-by.

column bases from dismantled mausoleum, Pittsburgh, PA

This graveyard-within-a-graveyard contains piles and not-so-neatly-stacked collections of granite monument trimmings, grave edging, foundations, pedestal bases, supporting structural elements, and a least a couple full cemetery buildings, deconstructed and laid out like parts to-be-assembled in an Ikea box.

The stones didn’t just get dropped-off yesterday. They’ve got several years worth of viney overgrowth climbing in, on, and around the various pieces; a number of fall seasons’ downed leaves mulching their bases.

gravestones removed from their graves and under thick vine, Pittsburgh, PA

In the head-heart continuum, we tend to want the cemetery to be the final place where one may rest in peace…forever. We also know that nothing actually lasts that long. Most of the time, for good or bad, we won’t have the chance to confront that reality. But seeing dozens of (literal) set-in-stone, lifetime memorials uprooted from their primary locations and dumped in a strange public-private boneyard junkyard makes it all the more obvious.

trimmed granite pieces in woods area of cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

We don’t know why these gravestones were uprooted or why the cemetery has dumped them so casually right in the middle of the property. The Orbit maintains a strict “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy toward clarifying these matters, preferring to speculate and wonder over the cruel realities of truth.

That said, it seems like a strange business move for the marketing side of the cemetery. Will customers really want to buy that plot seeing the downed markers so nearby? And–assuming there are legitimate, practical reasons for the markers’ removal–why can’t the grounds crew at least put the retired stone in some kind of relative respectful order?

broken gravestones in disordered pile, Pittsburgh, PA

We imagine the current market for used gravestones is pretty low. That said, there simply must be more interesting uses for this substantial supply of unique historic, hand-cut, and incredibly-durable pieces than just sweeping them under the cemetery’s rug of fallen leaves.

The stockpile could absolutely be turned loose for artists to work with, used to decorate public spaces around the city, or recycled by monument makers into new graves. Speaking from experience, those of us who haunt the cemetery and ponder how the whole thing works would appreciate an educational display explaining how and why all these elements ended up displaced from the humans they once memorialized.

broken gravestones in disordered pile, Pittsburgh, PA

For our purposes, however, it’s a kind of weird disaster cool just as it is. The area evokes something between an Easterner’s imagination of the catastrophic wreckage following a big earthquake and the post-armageddon chaos that seems more likely every day. In zombie-obsessed Pittsburgh, we can picture the living dead rising from their crypts and casually tossing headstones like beach balls at summer concert. Perhaps the whole thing is social commentary: in just a couple months, The North Side can look forward to a similar scene in the wake of Kenny Chesney’s inevitable mid-summer return–only we may end up with more dead bodies around Heinz Field.

broken gravestones in disordered pile, Pittsburgh, PA

Fairywood: The World Without Us

fire hydrant in field of tall weeds, Pittsburgh, PA

Former Broadhead Manor public housing project, Fairywood

Fairywood. Has any place as bucolic a name? One would assume it could only exist in fantasy–within Narnia or Neverland or, at least, New Zealand. Fairywood must be a land of eternal mist, riddle-spinning toadstools, magick staffs hewn from gnarled bentwood, spellcasting. It is where banshees live, and yes, they do live well. But one need not cross the Misty Mountains nor the darkest depths of Mordor[1]–it’s right here in the City of Pittsburgh.

If one were to set out for Fairywood, she or he might also optimistically hope to encounter pixies, gnomes, gremlins, griffins, or unicorns along the journey. Such other-worldly creatures simply must exist in the forest faerie realm. Alas, that was not this blogger’s experience.

empty street with jersey barriers at entrance of former Broadhead Manor, Fairywood, Pittsburgh, PA

Entrance from Broadhead Fording Road

Look up Fairywood and you’ll likely come across some bad press. At this point, the peninsular neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s far southwestern border [it is surrounded on three sides by non-city boroughs] is mainly associated with two things: colossal ex-urban warehouses and off-the-charts crime.

The former is easy to see–along the south and west perimeters are huge distribution centers for UPS, ModCloth, Amazon, and Giant Eagle/OK Grocery. The hum of their idling 18-wheelers and beeps of reversing forklifts are omnipresent even from a great distance.

The latter is not so obvious. On a picture-perfect Saturday afternoon, we barely encountered a single living soul–and the ones we did meet were real nice! The sum of residential Fairywood is contained in four or five streets of pre-war frame houses and Baby Boom-era pill boxes and split-levels, plus one former project-turned-gated community. Only around a thousand people live here. Who’s committing all this crime?

cul-de-sac in former Broadhead Manor, Fairywood, Pittsburgh, PA

Cul-de-sac

Alan Weisman’s 2007 best-seller The World Without Us detailed the ways in which the built environment would inevitably deteriorate in the absence of human beings. I’ll confess I haven’t actually read the book, but Mrs. The Orbit did and relayed its projections of houses collapsing and cities overtaken by nature as I was suddenly getting much more aware of cracks in the plaster ceiling and loosening of our mortar joints.

By far, the most prominent feature of Fairywood today is the enormous negative space created by what was at one time the Broadhead Manor public housing project. In its absence is a massive plot of land–its footprint similar in size to a junior college campus or suburban shopping mall (including all the parking). The actual housing blocks have been razed and removed, but the infrastructure–several curling roads that terminate in dead-ends, street lights, sidewalks, fire hydrants, an absurd children at play road sign–all remain.

handrail and concrete sidewalk to urban prairie, former Broadhead Manor, Fairywood, Pittsburgh, PA

Handrail, sidewalks

Between these few remaining stretches of concrete, nature has come back hard and fast. It’s a very un-Pittsburgh landscape–almost completely flat (although you can see hills in the distance in any direction) and dominated not by trees, but instead with scrubby waist-high bushes, weeds, and wildflowers–much more midwestern than Appalachian. Nationally, these kinds of spaces have been coined urban prairies for a reason–they’re not quite nature without man, but they’re decidedly not city (as most tend to think of it) either.

That Broadhead Manor should or should not have been razed is a conversation for those who actually lived in and around it[2]. With no personal connection, it does strike me as a classic built-to-fail situation: warehousing people in closed-circle public projects at the most distant edge of the city in a neighborhood with neither business district nor many transportation options[3]. What could go wrong?

Man in winter clothes against chain link fence, Pittsburgh, PA

Mr. Ro Ro (note his wizard’s staff)

We met Mr. Ro Ro camped out on a folding chair, waiting for a bus on Prospect Avenue. A wizard’s staff was casually propped against the chain link fence. Mr. Ro Ro told us he’s lived in Fairywood for fifty years and said of Broadhead Manor, “Roosevelt built them after the war.” President Roosevelt’s connection is unknown, but Broadhead Manor was indeed former military housing, purchased by the city in 1946[4].

As the only human wandering through the strange dystopian landscape of an ex-neighborhood with all its buildings removed–now almost completely reclaimed by nature–the irony of the phrase “after the war” was ringing in the air. More than anything else, this huge section of Fairywood feels like what’s left after the nuclear winter has finally subsided and an entirely new form of nature begins again on the bones of the civilization that destroyed the old one. Let’s hope we get it right this time.

dead end street in former Broadhead Manor, Fairywood, Pittsburgh, PA

The end of the road


[1] It is telling that The Orbit‘s knowledge of Middle Earth comes more from Houses of the Holy than The Player’s Handbook.
[2] A post in the Abandoned, Old & Interesting Places – Western PA FaceBook group shows some of the housing after the residents had been moved but pre-demolition. It includes many comments–both positive and negative–including quite a few former residents who speak glowingly of their time at Broadhead Manor in the 1960s.
[3] Port Authority’s 27 bus route serves Fairywood and nearby neighborhoods with a link to downtown Pittsburgh.
[4] Fairywood Fact Sheet (date unknown) http://digitalcollections.library.cmu.edu/awweb/awarchive?type=file&item=550317

Alien Landscapes: Color Run Cleanup

Peak of PPG Place seen through a cloud of yellow dust, Pittsburgh, PA

These colors don’t run…but they may blow away in the wind

You’ve seen them–heck, maybe you’ve been them. (Generally) young people in sunglasses and jogging outfits with wild random splashes of color criss-crossing the full lengths of their persons. Nothing is spared–clothing, exposed skin, face, and hair have all been haphazardly doused in iridescent blasts of paint dust. They’re on foot, winded, giddy, and/or dazed–appearing as if recently exposed to supernatural radiation or looped on a new dancehall hallucinogenic.

yellow dust covering street and sidewalks, Pittsburgh, PA

Yellow brick (err…cement) road (and sidewalks)

The Orbit has no idea what “The Color Run” is all about*–we stopped following trends after opening the closet to a wardrobe full of acid wash. What we can say is that it’s some kind of well-organized group event** that involves throbbing disco music, inflatable rainbow-shaped arches, many bold statements suggesting–perhaps, demanding–participants be HAPPY, and yes, lots and lots of deeply-hued paint dust.

Whateverthehell these folks are doing, I’ll tell you one thing: accidentally running into the Color Run aftermath is bizarre…and it’s a hoot.

orange dust covering sidewalk and bushes

Planet Orange

Streets of gold! Phosphorescent shrubbery! Day-glo pavement! Bike trail loose gravel mixed with electric blue dye and formerly hum-drum parking spots tattooed in technicolor. For one, brief, shining post-Color Run moment, the general area of the near North Side, around the stadiums and those new office buildings, was transformed into a Star Trek set, a fever dream, a visionary environment, an alien landscape. The future really is here right now…or it at least it was last Saturday.

man pushing an electric blower kicking up yellow dust from The Color Run, Pittsburgh, PA

Spell-caster/dream-maker/Color Run cleanup crew member

When the big custom sweeper/blower machine rolled through, I couldn’t race fast enough to catch the billowing clouds of bright yellow dust filling the sky and temporarily blocking out everything in sight. A couple decent shots with downtown Pittsburgh nearly enveloped and then it all disappeared in the wind as fast as it had flown up. The Orbit‘s only regret is that we didn’t make it around to the other discarded dust patches in time to collect the whole color set. We’ll not make that mistake next time.

wooden letters that spell HAPPY, seen from behind

They even have their own language. YPPAH.


* Yes, we are well-equipped to Google “the color run,” but Orbit readers have come to expect a level of “speculative journalism” that doesn’t weigh the reader down with undue facts or research.
** The trucks packing up in the parking lot all had Salt Lake City, Utah addresses on them, so we assume this is some kind of franchised, touring operation.

Ex-Atom Smasher

Westinghouse atom smasher laying on its side at the site of former Westinghouse research facility, Forest Hills, PA

Westinghouse atom smasher, Forest Hills

This blogger knows what you’re thinking: That would look great in my apartment! Am I right? Well, bad news: The Orbit’s got dibs. [Note to self: get apartment with sixty foot ceilings.]

That is the Westinghouse atom smasher. According to the historical marker on the site (see below) it’s the “world’s first industrial Van de Graaff generator, created by Westinghouse Research Labs in 1937.”

The Orbit pretends to be many things–substantive, humorous, newsworthy–but it won’t pretend to know science (at least, not in a post that “real scientists” might actually read). The atom smasher has been well-documented with its own Wikipedia page and Roadside America entry, not to mention countless news stories and physics lessons, so we’ll leave the facts to the pros.

Remains of Westinghouse building in Forest Hills, PA

Former Westinghouse Research Labs building

But to not cover the ex-atom smasher, currently laying on its side as the only remaining piece of the former Westinghouse Research Labs in Forest Hills, would be an oversight we’re not prepared to live with. We never ate dinner at Poli’s, never caught rays at Myrtle Booth, and never got a generator re-jiggered at Goeller. We’ll not make that same mistake with the only Van de Graaff generator we’re likely to encounter in this lifetime.

Westinghouse atom smasher on pile of rubble, Forest Hills, PA

It’s a strange sight today. The same historical marker describes the ex-atom smasher as a “pear-shaped structure,” but in its present form, it looks more like a great rusting lightbulb, laying in a pile of debris on a giant’s basement floor. Or maybe a Bladerunner-era war balloon, made of some future lighter-than-air material, downed tragically in an electrical storm.

Atom smasher on its side at the former Westinghouse research facility, Forest Hills, PA

Ex-atom smasher with Paul Rand’s great Westinghouse logo still clearly visible

It’s also beautiful. Especially the day we visited, under thick cloud cover with perfect mid-autumn leaf-changing adding an incongruous warmth to an otherwise cold, gray scene. The ex-atom smasher even looks comfortably nestled on the chock-a-block pile of bricks, broken concrete, and cinderblocks that have been swept together to (presumably) keep it from rolling away. Even faded, scored, and turned on its side, Paul Rand‘s great 1960 Westinghouse logo still looks fantastic.

Historical marker for Westinghouse atom smasher: the world's first Van de Graaff generator, 1937

Historical marker at the corner of F Ave. and Service Road No. 1 in Forest Hills

But this is maybe the most perfect way to see the ex-atom smasher today. The former site of the Westinghouse lab sits among a neighborhood of detached middle-class houses in the appropriately-named Pittsburgh suburb of Forest Hills. Its medium-large poured concrete footprint is surrounded on three sides not by industry, but thick foliage. The whole scene has a feeling of nature reclaiming this land, the ex-atom smasher the lone survivor as the earth’s wolves salivate at the chain-linked perimeter. Each of them thinking that would look great in my apartment.

Westinghouse atom smasher and giant pile of bricks from former research facility, Forest Hills, PA

Forest Hills: lunar landscape


Orbit bonus! The original atom smasher influenced some musical collisions as well, including a second-tier British prog band that took their name (with a slight spelling difference) from the technology. Here’s them, a couple dozen candelabras, and a whole lot of organ live in 1972:

As Robert Mueller mentions in the comments:

…WATCH the right hand of the keyboard player (from 3:36 to 3:42) and PAUSE at 3:39 !!! ASTONISHING !! His fingers are like LIQUID plastic !! HIS FINGERS ARE SHAPESHIFTING !!!! A REPTILIAN SHAPESHIFTER !!!!! These beings come from SIRIUS !!!!