The Protractor Files: One Last Big Score

protractor glued to Bloomfield Bridge, Pittsburgh, PA

Bloomfield Bridge

Oh, their demon powers! The perfect arc, the cosine-solving magic, the eternal urban egg hunt! Wherever we go, that’s where we are–and so are they! Attached to the low wall of a concrete pedestrian walkway, stuck to the base of a lamp pole, glued to a park bench, painted red and white on a Polish Hill mailbox. Like the protagonist of any decent jewel heist flick, just when this blogger thought he was out, the Pittsburgh protractors held a dear family member hostage, blackmailing him back to the game for one last score.

protractor glued to base of light pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Squirrel Hill

protractor glued to electrical box, Pittsburgh, PA

#32, Strip District

When Pittsburgh Orbit first wrote about them last year, we suggested right in the post’s title that the protractors are “disappearing”. The existing stock seemed to be in the process of removal by authorities, stripped by trophy-seekers, weather-eroded, and/or painted-over with no replacements arriving to replenish the supply.

Given a little time and perspective, though, reports of the protractors’ demise seem to be somewhat–if not greatly–exaggerated. Many of the specimens spotted in this spree–certainly the solid purple and yellow ones photographed here–appear to be new, unnumbered additions to the landscape since last we looked.

If so, why the change of M.O.? Did the protractor perpetrator just get lazy? Lose count? Or do we have a copycat on our hands? One Office Max dumpster dive plus a tube of Shoe Goo[1] and anyone could add to the city’s long-running street art mystery.

protractor attached to mail box, Pittsburgh, PA

Polish Hill

protractor glued to Bloomfield Bridge, Pittsburgh, PA

Bloomfield Bridge

And what a mystery it is! How does anyone keep their big yap shut for this long without spilling the beans?

Is there a message to the protractors we’re all just too blind to see? Do they actually mean something or is this just someone’s goofy prank? Like the Trump voter coming to the realization the pathological liar he elected was telling the truth in just enough horrifying ways, are we in on the joke, or the butt of it?

Ah, hell. Maybe that’s something that could–and should–be said of all art[2]. If these little plastic doohickeys glued to nondescript bridge joints and light pole bases get people off their keisters, stretching their gams, asking questions, and looking at the world a little closer, you know, I.R.L. we’ll be happy to take a few lumps for Team Humanity.

protractor attached to graffiti-covered mailbox, Pittsburgh, PA

Polish Hill

protractor glued to I-beam in city park, Millvale, PA

Millvale Riverfront Park

protractor glued to pedestrian overpass, Pittsburgh, PA

Pedestrian overpass, Bigelow Blvd.

purple protractor attached to "Receiving Entrance" sign on stone building, Pittsburgh, PA

Lawrenceville

purple protractor attached to metal expansion joint on bridge, Pittsburgh, PA

40th Street Bridge

protractor attached to graffiti-covered mailbox, Pittsburgh, PA

Polish Hill

protractor glued to park bench, Pittsburgh, PA

Lawrenceville

See also:
A Paean to the Disappearing Pittsburgh Protractors Pittsburgh Orbit, June 5, 2016.
A Protractor Bender Pittsburgh Orbit, June 30, 2016.


[1] “Sources say” this is the origin story and application method for the protractors, but that is not confirmed.
[2] That the protractors may be “art” versus, say, “prank” or “graffiti” is worthy of its own debate.

Get the Gist: The 1917 Manchester Bridge Sculptures

Preserved Manchester Bridge sculptures in their new location near Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA

The Manchester Bridge sculptures in the drifting yellow fog of the Color Run cleanup

Has anybody seen the bridge? Robert Plant asks on Led Zeppelin’s 1973 time-scuttling pseudo-funk jam “The Crunge,” Where’s that confounded bridge? It’s a preposterous rhetorical question–an inside joke, to be sure–but it wasn’t so funny when this blogger found himself in the very literal position of being unable to locate the bridge he was looking for.

To be fair, The Orbit was actually just trying to find some ornamentation–not, you know, an entire bridge. Still, we were on the hunt for three giant bronze sculptures that originally adorned the Manchester Bridge, and are now on display on the North Shore. We had only the most minimal of directions–“near Heinz Field”–but they couldn’t be that hard to find, right?

Well, it took wheeling around the entirety of the stadium, down along the riverfront, and then a befuddled dose of Googling to actually locate the new installation. [Readers: fear not, we’ll make it easier for you–see below.]

Black and white photo of Manchester Bridge in 1918, Pittsburgh, PA

Manchester Bridge as it looked in 1918, the year after the sculptures were added (photo: Wikipedia)

The story goes that the old Manchester Bridge–which spanned the river between the point and where Heinz Field is now–was erected between 1911 and 1915 and then had these sculptures added a couple years later in 1917. When the old bridge was replaced by the much larger Fort Duquesne Bridge in 1969 someone thankfully had the wisdom to put the big bronze decorative pieces in storage instead of the scrap yard.

It’s kind of amazing that now–forty-seven years later–the sculptures should finally move off the shelf to out on the street where everyone can see and enjoy them[1]. The location–in the literal shadow of Heinz Field–seems a little goofy. It’s really only convenient if you happen to already be walking in to a football game or urinating before a Kenny Chesney concert. However, it is within a stone’s throw of where the old Manchester Bridge touched down on the North Side, so in that way it makes pretty good sense.

Detail of frontiersman Christopher Gist from the preserved Manchester Bridge sculptures, Pittsburgh, PA

Frontiersman Christopher Gist (detail)

And what of the sculptures? Well, on one side you’ve got Christopher Gist, the “frontiersman” who mapped the Ohio River valley in the 1750s crouching with musket, buckskin, and one very manly beard. Up close, there’s a deep, dazed look in his eyes and remarkable detail considering how high the piece was suspended above the bridge deck.

Opposite is the figure of Guyasuta, who was also involved in the colonial exploration of the Ohio[2]. The Seneca chief acted as local guide to one George Washington, in his pre-father of the country role as a young officer on a mission to survey what was then The West. Guyasuta’s posture is a near mirror image of Gist: hunkered down on one knee with a weapon at hand (in this case, bow and arrow), ready for action, but not yet drawn.

detail of Chief Guyasuta from the preserved Manchester Bridge sculpture, Pittsburgh, PA

Chief Guyasuta

Between these two figures is an enormous representation of an unfurled banner reading MCMXVII (1917) Manchester Bridge. Below it is a full-on 3-D version of the city crest and seal, complete with its checkerboard pattern (these are blue and white when they appear in color), “three bezants bearing eagles rising with wings displayed,” and “a triple-towered castle masoned Argent.” The seal is very much not the required black-and-gold[3]. Rather, the whole thing has turned the fabulous weird green of oxidized bronze, which looks pretty terrific.

Worth the trip? Certainly, at least if you’re already down on the North Shore walkway, at Heinz Field, or Stage AE for any reason. Or you can just pick up the twofer with the next Color Run cleanup, like we accidentally did. And if you see this wayward blogger gasping in the clouds of technicolor dust, maybe you can show him the way out, just like Gist and Guyasuta.

Manchester Bridge sculpture detail including a triple-towered castle masoned Argent from the seal of the City of Pittsburgh

Detail: the “triple-towered castle masoned Argent” of the seal of the City of Pittsburgh

Getting there: The newly-installed Manchester Bridge sculptures are indeed right by Heinz Field. They’re on North Shore Drive, just about where it meets Art Rooney Ave. (the little ring road around the stadium), in the small greenspace between the gates and Stage AE.


[1] The new installation only includes the sculptures from one end of the bridge. There is another set with different figures (including Joe Magarac!) that was also saved and is yet to be made public.
[2] Gist is presumably the namesake of the tiny cross street in Uptown. Guyasuta also has an un-remarkable eponymous residential road in suburban Fox Chapel. This seems like a bit of rip-off for both explorers when similar colonial-era players Forbes and Braddock got such prominent main drags.
[3] Between looking up Gist, Guyasuta, the Manchester Bridge, clarifying Led Zeppelin lyrics, the city flag and seal, and then definitions for “argent” and “bezant”, this post set some kind of Orbit record for its orgy of Googling obscure minutia[4].
[4] Note: no, we were not Googling “orgy”. That’s for later.

A Protractor Bender

protractor glued to base of light pole, Pittsburgh, PA

#234, Arsenal Park

Much like starting on a bag of potato chips or listening to Creedence records, when you finally break down to blogging about the Pittsburgh protractors, you can’t stop at just one*.

Oh, how long had this blogger let his eyes skip over them, camera safely stowed in the hip pocket? No temptation at all–we’d let other hack bloggers work this scene.

But once we ran the Orbit Obit waxing on about the fate of the disappearing Pittsburgh protractors, the floodgates were officially open. Like a drunkard on a first bender after rehab, we were bagging everything in sight–bridge railings, bases of light posts, electrical boxes, the posteriors of park benches, an air conditioner. (Yes, even an air conditioner!)

So, whether you’re full-on pro-protractor or just geometry-curious, here you go. It’s an Orbit collection of a bunch more of the arced creatures, picked up in just the last couple weeks. Drink up.

protractor glued to lamp post base, Swinburne Bridge, Pittsburgh, PA

#425, Swinburne Bridge

protractor glued to light pole, Pittsburgh, PA

#218, Bloomfield

protractor glued to electrical box panel, Pittsburgh, PA

#236, Arsenal Park

purple protractor glued to power box on light pole, Pittsburgh, PA

#410, Bloomfield

purple protractor glued to metal plate on Swinburne Bridge, Pittsburgh, PA

Swinburne Bridge (number unreadable)

purple protractor glued to rear of park bench, PIttsburgh, PA

Friendship Park (number unknown)

purple protractor glued to window air conditioner, Pittsburgh, PA

#418, Lawrenceville

Purple protractor glued to 10th Street Bridge, Pittsburgh, PA

#448, 10th Street Bridge

purple protractor glued to electric power box, Pittsburgh, PA

Troy Hill (number unknown)

protractor glued to lamp post base, Swinburne Bridge, Pittsburgh, PA

#430, Swinburne Bridge


* Yes, even this choogler can stop before he gets to Mardi Gras.

Down Under: The Bloomfield Bridge Troll

Silhouette of the Polish Hill troll, Pittsburgh, PA

Under the bridge, up in the sky. The Bloomfield Bridge Troll.

Every bridge should have a troll. Some may even deserve a couple.

It hadn’t ever occurred to this blogger that there was room for more than one of the creatures under any given bridge. That is, until he surveyed the fiefdom of The Bloomfield Bridge Troll. Down under that high span, on the steep incline of the Polish Hill side, it is obvious that there is room enough for neighboring Bloomfield to host their own troll to guard his or her side of the deep Skunk Hollow ravine in-between. The two “bridge buddies” may never even get to meet!

Boxy head with top hat of the Polish Hill troll, Pittsburgh, PA

Hard-headed, but well-dressed. The Bloomfield Bridge Troll in top hat.

Perhaps every bridge having its own troll is a little fanciful. Who’d want to get stuck under one of those featureless highway overpasses with a busy interstate rushing by and the only decoration being the reliable Trust Jesus graffiti? Not this bridge-under-hanger-outer, I can tell you that.

On the opposite end, consider some little footbridge over a culvert or babbling brook–no troll with any self-respect is going to hole-up in a hovel s/he can’t even stand upright in.

The Polish Hill troll and concrete support for the Bloomfield Bridge, Pittsburgh, PA

The Bloomfield Bridge Troll and concrete bridge support, decoration by paint pellets

The Bloomfield Bridge is no great architectural marvel, but its span is so long and its gulf so deep that those with a fear of heights (ahem) can get a little nauseous just looking down on the long walk over it. From the bridge deck you can see sights in all directions: tall buildings downtown, The Strip District, Lawrenceville, Bloomfield, Schenley Heights, Oakland’s Cathedral of Learning.

Under the bridge is just as interesting: there are train tracks in heavy use, the East busway, and an assortment of the old industry buildings that dot the single road, which amazingly has three names*. It’s hard to get lost in a place that’s one-way-in/one-way-out, but Skunk Hollow will do its best to accommodate.

The Polish Hill troll with Bloomfield visible in the distance, Pittsburgh, PA

A troll’s eye view of Bloomfield across Skunk Hollow

Pittsburgh famously calls itself the “City of Bridges,” with varying counts putting us at one of the top four in total quantity for the world**. Given that we have between 446 and 2000 bridges, depending on who’s counting–and how–it stands to reason that we’d have an enormous troll population.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Aside from the uninspired Troll’s Restaurant*** (not quite under the 31st Street Bridge on Washington’s Landing), the Bloomfield Bridge Troll is the only one this blogger has encountered thusfar.

Cut out steel placard on the Polish Hill troll's concrete pedestal, Pittsburgh, PA

Prescription: Cisko. Steel placard on the troll’s pedestal.

In any case, hats off to whomever fabricated and installed the iron and/or steel Bloomfield Bridge Troll–an adjacent cut steel placard with the name “Cisko” may be a clue to that. With its jaunty chapeau, skeletal rib cage, defiant stogie, and drink-holder left hand (it was grasping a full water bottle when we visited–who says trolls only want to party?), the troll is a welcome surprise addition to always-mysterious Polish Hill.


* Lorigan Street > Neville Street > Sassafras Street.
** This is a major issue of debate among the bridge-counting set. Other cities vying for the title of most bridges include Amsterdam, Hamburg, and Venice.
*** Troll’s also has the bizarre status of being one of only a handful of dining establishments to actually take advantage of a position on one of the rivers.