Where Do Gravestones Go To Die?

sculptural detail of family with features worn away on marble grave monument, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

This one’s not going anywhere…until it does. Marble monument detail, Allegheny Cemetery

Generally, when one plants a couple thousand pounds of hard stone it stays put…but not always. With around 134,000 long-term residents over 300 acres of land, Allegheny Cemetery would make up one of the larger neighborhoods in the city all on its own. Some of these folks–dead or alive–are going to move around.

There are all sorts of reasons for this: separately-buried individuals are consolidated in family plots, a spouse chooses to spend eternity next to the husband or wife who departed first, buried caskets are migrated into a mausoleum, bodies are disinterred to other facilities across town or way out-of-state.

marble grave monument with details eroding, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Last week we ran the story “A Graveyard for Gravestones”–a look at the strange world created by a cemetery’s recycling lot. It was meant as humorous look at an unusual, fascinating scene, along with a polite nudge at one of our favorite places in the world to clean up one of its (very few) rough edges.

We had no idea about the reaction this story would generate. Within hours of its initial publishing we heard it from all sides: the cemetery felt it had been misrepresented, neighbors got wild ideas about what was going on within its stone walls, readers called it “nuts”. At the mere suggestion that retired grave markers might find a reuse outside of the cemetery we were tarred as “grave robbing” and “the lowest of the low”.

SO, in this most teachable of moments–for us here at The Orbit along with our readers, neighbors, and anyone else who’s ever wondered about the behind-the-scenes workings of a large, historic cemetery–we talked briefly with David Michener, a man who knows his stuff as president of both Allegheny and Homewood cemeteries.

simple headstone with three names, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Shared (replacement) grave marker, Allegheny Cemetery*

First of all, the vast majority of items that have ended up in the cemetery’s recycling area are not grave monuments. In the piece, we mention “dozens of…gravestones”, which is accurate–there are maybe 30 or so total stones currently retired to the lot. But the stacks of other material in our photos could be misconstrued as many more.

“Ninety percent of what’s [removed/recycled] is foundation,” says Michener. Foundations are, as the name implies, poured concrete structural elements that are buried under the surface and used to anchor the visible, sculpted portion of the monument. As markers are removed, so is the foundation, and it all ends up in the same place.

broken porcelain doll on base of marble grave monument, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

“For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,” goes the passage from Genesis. It turns out this applies to retired monuments as much as expired human beings. As we saw, when a grave marker has reached its, ahem, “end of life” (sorry) it is removed by the cemetery’s grounds crew and taken to a kind of purgatory in the recycling yard. At this point, when the stone has been divorced from its grave and retired from service, it will eventually have any identifying information (the deceased’s name) ground down, defaced, or otherwise removed.

“At that point,” says Michener, “they’re just stones.” Allegheny Cemetery does all it can to recycle these no-longer-used materials into its own infrastructure projects–they’re deployed as foundations or supports and added as clean fill to stabilize land areas.

As for why there is an obvious delay in processing the retired markers, Michener says, “Our concern is taking care of the place where burials occurred and not our recycle yard.” Anyone who’s ever visited Allegheny Cemetery’s immaculate landscape knows this is true.

granite headstone with names for "father" and "mother", Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Two become one: shared (replacement) grave marker in Allegheny Cemetery*

A couple of the more outrageous criticisms we heard were that families would be shocked to find out the state of their loved ones’ markers and would want to be notified so they could come pick them up. “They just need the descendants of the original owner to pay the cemetery to have them put back”, was one statement. All of these are patently false.

First, families are the only ones making the decisions on the movement of graves and retirement/replacement of grave markers. “We never–by our own volition–remove a monument”, says Michener. If a gravestone has ended up in the recycling yard, it was at the request of the family.

Second, grave markers weigh from hundreds to thousands of pounds. No family takes mom’s granite stone home in the trunk of their Buick. “They are entitled to them–they own them”, says Michener, but do families ever claim the marker as a memento? “Very very rarely.”

grave monument featuring two sculpted figures with both heads broken off, one of them has a bird's nest where the head would be, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

To sum up: most gravestones are going to stay right where they are until they crumble to dust all on their own. A very small proportion of them will be removed and retired at the behest of the deceased’s loved ones. If the family declines ownership–which is what happens almost every single time–the cemetery takes ownership of the monument and processes it back into raw material to be born again. May we all be so lucky.


* The identifying information [surnames] on these monuments have been intentionally obscured in the photographs at the request of Allegheny Cemetery.

Sudden Death, Over Time: Steeler Graves

gravestone with Pittsburgh Steelers football helmet, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Robert K. James, Allegheny Cemetery

In the great Autumn campaign that is each of our lives, we’ll inevitably begin to feel those last seconds of the final game tick off the clock. We can all hope to make it deep into the playoffs–heck, some may even get lucky enough to reach this preposterous metaphor’s Super Bowl. But even with the very best “clock management,” we’re all heading toward a long long off-season in the sky at some point.

matching graves with Steelers logo, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Stacy and Stephen Slanina, Allegheny Cemetery

Forever, the Purple One reminds us, is a mighty long time. It’s likely, though, that The Prince was not thinking about funeral arrangements when he urged us all to “go crazy.” So I’m sure it’s with no small amount of consideration that most folks choose the design and ornament of a gravestone–either for oneself (if he or she likes to plan ahead) or for the loved one the family is burying (more likely?).

Why, there’s the stone itself, available in any number of shapes, sizes, finishes, and flourishes. There’s the text–a full name, sometimes with a favorite nickname, birth and death dates*, and then any manner of other possibilities: pithy epitaphs, Bible verses, embedded portraits, etched images both representational (occupations, avocations) and ornamental (flowers, angels, religious insignia).

grave marker with Steelers logo, St. Michael's Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Jack W. Springer, St. Michael’s Cemetery

If the deceased happened to champion a particularly well-loved, black-and-gold-hued eleven, chances are maybe better than you’d think that the emblem of said N.F.L. franchise will end up etched into his or her headstone. This act of committing and commemorating the deceased to eternity as a devoted Steeler fanatic lets the living know that while still tripping on this mortal coil he or she bled (hopefully not, you know, all the way out) black and gold.

gravestone with Pittsburgh Steelers flag, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Marie and Jim Coyner, Allegheny Cemetery

It’s a curious choice. Steelers fans would never admit it, but sports franchises are transient things. Pittsburgh has been fortunate to never have one of its teams skip town, but we’re only 80-some years into professional football history–there’s still a lot of time for a lot of things to happen.

Are there graves in Baltimore or Brooklyn or Hartford with Colts, Dodgers, and Whalers logos carved into them? I doubt it, but only because those moves all happened before the relatively recent phenomena of having one’s passions preserved in stone**. But what about St. Louis–are there fresh graves just set with Rams insignia marking them? Possibly…maybe even probably. What an indignity to give one’s afterlife to a team that just high-tailed it back to Los Angeles.

gravestone with Pittsburgh Steelers logo, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Roman L. Bryant, Allegheny Cemetery

It makes you wonder if this happens everywhere. This blogger can certainly imagine the same level of devotion from fans of the Boston Red Sox or Montreal Canadiens or Green Bay Packers. But what about Cleveland or Cincinnati? They’ve got their own rabid fans, but are there Browns and Bengals graves? We sure hope not–life on earth following these teams was already Hell, why take that misery with you?

upright gravestone with Steelers logo, Highwood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Frederick J. Brown, Highwood Cemetery

What about even more marginal sports territories? Is there anyone in Seattle or San Jose that cares enough about the Seahawks or the Sharks to tattoo it on a gravestone? Does most of North Carolina, Florida, or Texas even know they have hockey teams? What monument maker could carve the offensive Cleveland Indian or Washington “redskin” into stone in good faith? I don’t even want to look at the terrible Anaheim “mighty duck”, let alone get buried under it.

gravestone with Pittsburgh Steelers logo, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Jeffrey L. Turner, Allegheny Cemetery

All that said, the good people of Pittsburgh are quite comfortable with this option. It wouldn’t be my choice, but I’m glad it is for some. Studying the cemetery is like anything else where we see changes in culture reflected over time. In many ways, future generations will know more about us now from these Steeler graves (as well as the other custom designs and embedded images) than we can derive from their much more opulent 19th century ancestors. At least, they’ll know we (Pittsburgh) sure liked football. On that, they’ll be correct.

gravestone with large Pittsburgh Steelers football helmet, Highwood Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Kevin Washington, Sr., Highwood Cemetery


* Coming across the occasional stone with no death date is always intriguing. We assume these are just folks who plan farther ahead than Orbit staff, but you never know.
** You’ll note that all photos are from graves dating from 2002 onward. We don’t know when monument makers began offering these kind of options, but almost all of the custom personal interest imagery seems to come from the 1990s-present.

Allegheny Cemetery: Mausoleum Stained Glass

mausoleum stained glass with pentagram, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Sproal-Splane

Seeing the world through the Orbit eye. Those words came to us a while back from superfan Lee, and we accept it as the ultimate compliment. Lee still requires corrective eyewear–so be warned that Pittsburgh Orbit is no substitute for Lasik–but we think we know what he was getting at.

If Orbit “reporting” has taught us anything at all, it’s to always take another look. Lose the expectations and open up the senses. Point those peepers everywhere you can: down the alley, around the corner, on the pavement, up in the telephone wires, and through the crack in the window. Like Irene Cara said: take your pants off and make it happen. What a feeling, indeed.

broken mausoleum stained glass with sitting woman and field of flowers, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

James M. Miller

mausoleum stained glass of oil lamp hanging in arched window with columns, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Unknown (possibly Krey, based on nearby cenotaph)

One of those spots, attentive Orbit readers will have anticipated by now, is through the thick barred grates, cobwebbed glass, and musky air of the ornate mausoleums at our historic cemeteries. Pittsburgh is sitting on a bunch of these.

This blogger has walked through, bicycled around, picnicked in, and shutterbugged Allegheny Cemetery literally hundreds of times over the last couple decades. Allegheny’s collection of mausoleums isn’t quite as spectacular as the rock star ones we toured with Jennie Benford last year at Homewood, but it’s nothing to scoff at.

The mausoleums act as both beacons and exclamation points on the rolling landscape and much of the art deco and faux-Egyptian architecture is really astounding. But for whatever reason, we rarely ever took the opportunity to shade the eyes and poke the schnoz in to check out the interior spaces.

mausoleum stained glass with angel, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Unknown (detail)

mausoleum shelves with trophies in front of colored glass, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Sheets

I’ll tell you: it’s not an easy thing to do. The average mausoleum–in Allegheny Cemetery, at least–seems to have a pair of thin, highly-decorated entry doors, each behind some version of vertical iron bars or decorative scrolled metalwork. Half the time, the original door locks are still in use, if not, there’s an awkward after-market steel chain and padlock lashed around whatever it can grab ahold of.

If you can see much inside, it’s typically a narrow passage, just wide enough for a person to turn around in, flanked by the celebrated residents’ crypts. Sometimes there’s just one of these on either side; others are stacked floor to ceiling. At the rear of almost every mausoleum is a stained glass window providing the only natural light outside of the shaded entry doors.

So to look inside a mausoleum is to peer through several layers of obfuscation, from the outside daylight into a darkened interior that may have had a hundred years since its last human visitor.

broken mausoleum stained glass with architectural design, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

King

mausoleum stained glass with angel in green tunic, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Wettengel (detail)

And what do we get to see in the stained glass? In a word: flowers–lots and lots of flowers. Flowers in vases, flowers in gardens, ornamental flowers, and flowers held by angels; lillies of the valley and daffodils of the foothills. We only included photos for a few of these; the flowers are quaint, but they’re just not that exciting.

Beyond the flora, however, there’s some pretty neat stuff. An old-school oil lamp dangles under an arched cathedral window with ghostly leaf shadows backlit from the outside; angels appear with painted-on faces, doe-eyed and calming; and, of course, in that chestnut of mortal symbolism, the sun sets over and over again in Mausoleumville.

There are also the broken panes. Windows whose heavy weight, coupled with a hundred years of un-climate-controlled Pennsylvania weather, eventually overburdened the lower sections. Individual colored pieces have popped out and cracked, leaving the windows looking like incomplete paint-by-numbers; the unimpeded sun’s glare the brightest element in the tiny space.

broken mausoleum stained glass with arch and white flowers, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Lillian Russell Moore

Is it worth a trip? Well, Allegheny Cemetery is absolutely worth all the time you can give it–even if you don’t want to squint into (silent film star) Lillian Russell‘s final repository. But while you’re there, yeah, you should neb into whoever’s crypt you can. The Sheets and the Kreys and the Sproal-Splanes don’t seem like they’re coming around anymore, but don’t worry; we’ve got that Orbit eye looking out for them.

On the Trail of the Wild Pawpaw, Part 1: Way Down Yonder

hillside and trees overgrown with knotweed, Pittsburgh, PA

Panther Hollow hillside. Do pawpaws live here?

This blogger has it bad. Pawpaw fever, that is. The old scout song makes gathering pawpaws sound so easy. Pickin’ up pawpaws, put ’em in your basket…way down yonder in the pawpaw patch. Nothing to it, right? Just head down to the ol’ pawpaw patch–the damn things must be everywhere. Yeah? Well, it’s not quite that simple. 

It started so innocently, almost a year ago. A chance encounter with Andrew Moore, the pawpaw expert who literally wrote the book on “America’s forgotten fruit”[1]. In that conversation, I learned that I had just missed the 2015 season, which was frustrating, but certainly something to look forward to. That pawpaw trees (and their fruit) grow wild and plentiful in our region only made the pursuit more enticing. Could The Orbit locate publicly-accessible fruiting pawpaw trees right in the city? We set our sights on finding out.

five wild turkeys crossing a gravel road, Pittsburgh, PA

Q: Why did the wild turkeys cross the road? A: We don’t know, but they didn’t find any pawpaws. Allegheny Cemetery

So I waited. Eleven long months counting down to pawpaw season[2]. I read Moore’s book, which only intensified desire. Pawpaws are among our oldest heritage foods–eaten by natives, colonists, and western explorers. The trees grow wild through a wide swath of the eastern half of the United States, but they’re amazingly foreign to most Americans.

The fruit is loaded with vitamins and minerals and is credited with treating diseases from gonorrhea to cancer. And, of course, it’s supposed to be delicious. The flavor is most often compared to something between banana and papaya, often with “caramel notes”, and a pleasing custard-like texture. Hungry yet? Yeah, me too–and you haven’t been waiting a year to get a taste!

Friends, neighbors, The Internet were all polled: Do you know any pawpaw patches in Pittsburgh? People tried to help, but like marrying a prince, or profiling serial killers, one has to sift through a lot of bunko anonymous tips to kiss the right frog.

Alley intersection with street sign marking "Pawpaw Way", Pittsburgh, PA

No pawpaws here. Pawpaw Way, Hazelwood.

“There’s a stand in Highland Park by the reservoir,” read the first to arrive. The search was called off before I’d left the house. “Sorry for the false alarm,” the coming-clean tipster filled-in later, “they’re actually horse chestnuts–no pawpaws here.”

Another spoke to rumored pawpaws by the Stanton Heights community garden. I climbed most of that big hill in a low gear, traipsed through the woods, and talked to an Allegheny Cemetery groundskeeper and some Saturday morning gardeners. Sadly, no one knew anything about pawpaws…or at least, no one’s talking. We did happen to cross paths with a rafter of wild turkeys[3], which seems like a decent trade-off.

A third offered pawpaws along the North Side bicycle trail, just as you get off the ramp to the Washington’s Landing bicycle/pedestrian bridge, but it wasn’t happening. There were even more vague directions for entire neighborhoods: “South Side Slopes” and “Panther Hollow” and “on the hill behind Phipps (Conservatory)” and “Frick Park, along the trails”. It’s no surprise that none of these panned-out, but people have got to be a little more specific–we’re racing against time here! Little Pawpaw Way in Hazelwood is six kinds of overgrown, but not with its namesake tree, which is nowhere to be found.

close-up of pawpaw fruits and leaves from a tree, Pittsburgh, PA

First sighting: two fruits of the pawpaw tree

So, empathetic readers will undoubtably understand what a thrill it was to finally lay eyes on the big, tropical leaves of the first pawpaw trees we actually found. There, just feet from a trail in Schenley Park, were tall, mature, big-leafed trees–much larger than I’d expected, but unmistakable after so much preparation.

A scurried hustle off the path and down into the fabled pawpaw patch. Trees–from tiny infants to mature thick-trunked giants–in every direction and continuing far back into the wood. It is glorious, cool in the near full tree cover, soothing, airy, and private.

Seeing no fruit, we began to shake the trees small enough to wrap a hand around. Ripe pawpaw fruit should fall from a shaken tree, but none did. We continued on, deeper into the understory. And then, there they were: a pair of oblong, fist-sized, and potato-shaped green fruits joined under a leaf section. Looking around, another cluster, and then another. Some of the pawpaws low enough to touch, others many feet out of reach. We were finally, unequivocally, in the right place…or were we?

Two clusters of pawpaw fruits hanging from pawpaw tree, Pittsburgh, PA

Double clusters: pawpaw pawpaw.

Will our blogger ever achieve sweet relief beneath the leaves? Does the peculiar pawpaw please the palate or merely maim the maw? And With fruit in hand, what’s the plan, man?

I’m afraid, dear reader, this blog post must end on the kind of nail-biting cliffhanger one would expect, nay, demand from a story about foraged fruit. We get to all that, however, in Part 2 of On the Trail of the Wild Pawpaw.


[1] Andrew Moore, Pawpaw: In Search of America’s Forgotten Fruit (Chelsea Green Publishing). More of Moore in Part 2.
[2] Pawpaw fruit is ripe enough to pick roughly for the month of September in western Pennsylvania’s climate zone.
[3] Yes, rafter is the term of venery for turkeys.

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

Allegheny Cemetery: Halloween Graves

Graves decorated for Halloween, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Spiderland: Halloween grave at Allegheny Cemetery

Every October people put great energy into making their homes look like graveyards. The ubiquitous R.I.P. curved-top cardboard or foam-core headstones dot America’s front yards like popped toasters at a diner. In city neighborhoods, sometimes you see these incongruously strapped to stoops and front railings as if somehow there were people buried under the porch.

So in real graveyards, what’s the motivation to add additional set dressing to the already universally-understood scariest of locales? Decorating a grave marker for Halloween strikes this spookworthy blogger as somewhere between questionable in the taste department and just plain redundant.

I’ve checked the dates, and none of the deceased were ever either born or died on the thirty-first of October, so that’s not it. One can only assume then that either the holiday had a special significance for the departed, or that the grave-tenders are so faithful they give the full redecoration treatment every season. I’ve certainly seen the other holidays represented throughout the year (but not at these specific graves).

Grave decorated for Halloween, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Sauerwein grave, 2013

Graves decorated for Halloween, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Sauerwein grave, 2014

grave decorated for Halloween, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Sauerwein grave, 2015

Whatever the reason, the phenomenon of Halloween-decorated graves occurs every year in Allegheny Cemetery. There aren’t a ton of them, but enough that’s it’s definitely a thing.

Above are photos from the the same plot over the last three Octobers. You’ll see a number of repeated pieces–the big gray plastic gargoyle, the 2-D Jack-o-lanterns, the solar lights, the homemade ghost, the Trick-or-Treat grave and ghoul combo–but a lot of the decor either didn’t make it back or had to get re-generated. The park has a strict fall cleanup policy (more about that later) but they seem to leave the Halloween decorations alone, at least through November.

fresh grave with Halloween skeleton decoration, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Boo Blvd.

Google Maps tells us there’s a Boo Avenue in Kansas City, a Boo Street in Louisiana, and a couple Boo Roads in Mississippi and Indiana. There are apparently more Boo Lanes than any other type of Boo thoroughfare.

But Pittsburgh Orbit readers will be excited to learn that the nation’s one and only Boo Boulevard exists right at the end of this freshly-dug grave in Allegheny Cemetery’s section 61. A cloaked skeleton hangs on a old school gaslight to mark the entrance.

Grave decorated for Halloween, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

Carl Walzer: bad to the bone

Grave decorated for Halloween, Allegheny Cemetery, Pittsburgh, PA

 

The Over-the-Wall Club

Bloomfield rowhouses seen over a wall

Bloomfield

What’s on the other side?

The question that drove thousands (millions!) of seekers–from Lief Ericson and Amelia Earhart to Harry Houdini and Charlie Sheen to that darned chicken.  What’s on the other side?

Walls make us wonder all the time, especially those that give just glimpses above of what might be masked below: treetops, a roofline, hillside, telephone wires.  What’s going on over there? Who’s in there? Is the grass really greener?

Photographically, they’re strange creatures. There’s very little visual action in a wall (depending on the wall), and you probably wouldn’t want to only look at a just a plain old wall. But what if it bisects a scene into neat geometric chunks: bands of near and far, light and dark, patterned and dissonant.

The Over-the-Wall Club meets irregularly to share photos of their findings, gulp coffee, inhale paint fumes, stare over the wall, and ask the question one more time: what’s on the other side?

Corrugated metal wall, Lawrenceville

Lawrenceville

Leslie Park Pool, seen over the pool wall

Leslie Park Pool, Lawrenceville

Troy Hill, seen over a wall

Troy Hill (from the Strip District)

Lawrenceville row houses from Allegheny Cemetery

Lawrenceville (from Allegheny Cemetery)

ALICE IN WONDERLAND, W.C. Fields, as Humpty-Dumpty, 1933

The Over-the-Wall Club’s most famous member