Sad Toys: Graveyard Edition

pink teddy bear leaning against gravestone

Pink bear, Highwood Cemetery. [Yes: for a sad toy, this guy looks pretty happy–but don’t let that grin fool you!]

The grass-is-greener daydreamers that loaf around Pittsburgh Orbit’s office imagine there’s a point in any blog’s creative arc when the pieces begin to fall together without even trying; when the self-referential tropes loop in on themselves. Like a well-primed compost heap, or a nuclear meltdown, heat is generated all on its own and the stories pop out as fully-formed posts, and then barrel their way through the earth’s core.

“Imagine”? Hell: we’re counting on it! By one reasonable calculation, mere months separate the Orbit from magically appearing on your computer screen without any legwork or finger-clicking on our part. There’s Yoo-hoo in the fridge, call me if you need anything–just don’t interrupt my Rockford Files.

four plastic action figures in weeds in front of gravestone with date and epitaph

“Our Beloved Son”. Superheroes in the weeds, Highwood Cemetery

Whatever the reality of “publishing” “new media,” we don’t think we’re abusing too many metaphors to say there was some kind of magic that happened when this little piece of manna dropped from the sky and rolled across the Orbit editorial desk. There it was: a story with all the ingredients for the most satisfying of autumn blogging stews: a heaping helping of cemetery tales, a motherlode of sad toys, a dash of pathos, some human expression, and nature-without-man chaos. Bitter, sweet, and yes, umami. Oh, and it was all timed for Halloween season–when the graveyard toys rise up to take back what is rightfully theirs.

2 teddy bears in thick grass

Twin teddy bears, Allegheny Cemetery

To label stuffed animals left at grave sites as “sad toys” is certainly a judgement call. These creatures are not flotsam dropped from strollers or ejected from the open windows of minivans. No, the figures were left very intentionally as tribute or companion to the departed. In that way, they’re exactly where their owners expect them to be, doing just what they intend them to do. Is that so bad? We should all be so fortunate.

grave with teddy bears, solar lights, and deflated champagne bottle balloon

Sad teddy bear, sad cool bear, sad inflatable Cristal bottle, Allegheny Cemetery

stuffed animal dog on bed of plastic flowers, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Game over, Rover, Allegheny Cemetery

But to not call them sad would be an even greater oversight. These playthings are, after all, left out in the rain, ice, and snow; their once-soft fur a gnarled, sun-bleached mat. Often alone, these fierce friends watch over the graves of the deceased with no company but the occasional stray deer, opossum, or wild turkey. A drive-by from this flash bulb-popping blogger paparazzi makes the highlight reel of their short lives.

If this wasn’t pathetic enough, these toys’ inevitable fate is to be corralled in every cemetery’s seasonal cleanup where Build-a-Bears and Steeler monkeys join the plastic flowers, laminated photographs, sports balls, Hennessy bottles, and deflated Mylar balloons in grotesque heaps that, as one Orbit pundit put it, “look like a florist threw up.”

stuffed bear and stuffed dog with flowers

Bear and dog, Highwood Cemetery

two plastic action figures with living flowers

Wrestler (?), stunt man (?), last-legs flowers, Highwood Cemetery

To you, faithful servants, doomed sentries of the cemetery, mud-soaked minions of Mordor: know that at least one of us is here looking out for you. You may be in a trash compactor in McKees Rocks by the time we go to press, but you’ll live on for eternity–or at least a couple months–in cyberspace blogosphere Purgatory. Godspeed.

monkey in Pittsburgh Steelers colors with sad bear

Steeler Monkey and friend, Highwood Cemetery

A Salute to The City of Sad Toys

Stuffed polar bear toy in alley

Bloomfield clip job

I only became aware of Al Hoff’s City of Sad Toys right at the end. So late in the game, in fact, that by the time I started submitting photos, the blog had already ceased to publish any new content. [Note to self: consider Rejected by Sad Toys as potential memoir title.] That was four years ago.

“Sad toys” are pretty much what they sound like: lost, discarded, maimed, or otherwise on-the-loose playthings, often photographed in the comically incongruous settings of other urban flotsam. City of Sad Toys still exists in whatever perpetuity Blogspot grants its lapsed authors, so we encourage our readers to check it out while you still can. Al generously offered to hand the keys over to this Johnny-blog-lately fan, but as we’re more Rupert Pupkin than Rupert Murdoch, we’ll stick to just one global media enterprise.

In Al’s hands, the definition of “toys” was extremely liberal–the blog accepted sports equipment, cake toppers, board games, and party decorations among its sad clientele. This is of course all fine, but The Orbit considers these outliers as merely middle-of-the-mall sad toys; the only real anchor tenants being stuffed animals and downtrodden dolls.

Despite the official blog’s inevitable denouement, our digital shutters never stopped virtually clicking and blogs exist largely for us citizen-journalists to, in Al’s words, “do whatever [we] want!”–including important work like publishing photos of filthy fake fur. Here then, we’ve collected a nice little set of Pittsburgh-area additions to share in this Orbit tribute to a great photo genre: the sad toy.

stuffed red toy in street

Red…thing, Oakland

stuffed monster toy on street

Green monster, Oakland

stuffed bunny toy on roadside

Roadside bunny, Rogers, Ohio

Barbie doll laying face down in street

Barbie hit-and-run, Lawrenceville