Maybe It’s a Sign? Considering Mystery Signs

sign nailed to tree reading "Barber School?"
Pretty sure that’s not a barber school, but now we have to question everything. A mystery sign in Kilbuck Township

So many questions! One chunk of wood nailed to another is attached to the outside of a residential garage. Next to the wood hangs a length of braided twine with a sharp nail at the end. The wood is painted with a cryptic message: Its for my bac but by a man’s hand.

Bac may or may not have been cut off—or misspelled. Is it for the back? What is it—the nail on the string? Does this serve a real purpose—that’s hard to imagine—or is it entirely symbolic? Assuming the latter, the message is lost on me. Maybe it’s a Biblical or cultural reference your heathen author just doesn’t get?

It’s the very definition of a mystery sign—a public notice set out for the world to consume but not entirely clear what the message is or who it’s meant for.

small sign on cinderblock wall reading "It's for my bac... but by a man's hand."
“Its for my bac… but by a man’s hand.” The Run
large roadside sign saying "No quid pro quo"
“No quid pro quo.” Duquesne

With some signs the mystery may not be that great but they’re still worth review and inclusion. We may assume the No quid pro quo sign [photo above]—photographed in Duquesne during some of the former guy’s obvious quid pro quo activity—is the work of one of the ex-president’s supporters expressing an opinion … but it still looks way goofy absent any other context.

Anyone who travels Babcock Blvd. in the summer knows the corn guys by Hastings Hardware, but still, seeing a lone day-glow CORN SOON sign [below] just feels like a cruel taunt. Found glasses [below] suggests someone did exactly that … but not any way to return the lost item to its rightful owner.

Handmade sign on utility pole reading "Corn Soon"
But when will there be corn NOW? “CORN SOON.” North Hills
hand-written sign with drawing of eyeglasses and text "Found glasses"
“Found glasses.” Lawrenceville
sign in front yard with spray-painted message "Who is John Galt?"
I don’t know—you tell me! “Who is John Galt?” Stanton Heights

Others aren’t so obvious. Who is John Galt? [above] has an easily Googleable explanation, but it doesn’t explain why a Stanton Heights homeowner feels the need to decorate their front yard with this message.

A chain link fence in a Bloomfield alley hosts an odd specimen. No violins, the sign declares, along with a fine folksy painting of the instrument, no crying, no crying [below]. We like to think violins are purely metaphor here—that crying is the only real objection—but where’s that coming from? Not a creature was stirring when the picture was snapped, but perhaps it rains with teardrops of a thousand tortured toddlers at other times of day.

hand-painted sign with violin and text "No violins, no crying"
Cellos only. “No violins. No crying. No crying.” Bloomfield
hand-written sign in barber shop window reading "See you Tuesday Guess Why""
You don’t want me guessing why. “See you Tuesday Guess ? Why.” Millvale

Every one of these gems has a story and it’s likely we won’t find out the explanations to any of them—and that’s OK. With the number of messages we humans push out to the world every single day, I’ll take mystery over hate, exploitation, cruelty, or narcissism any time. Wondering ain’t such a bad thing. Plus, like the sign says, … And that’s life right?

Sign on utility pole reading "Street continues around corner."
Perhaps the most Pittsburgh sign ever. “Street continues around corner.” Troy Hill
hand-painted sign on utility pole reading "Slow kid playin"
“Slow kid playin.” Millvale
wooden board with cryptic symbols painted on it nailed to utility poles
Runes, Oakland
wooden sign nailed to utility pole with hand-painted message "CJ's Spot"
“CJ’s Spot.” Hill District
cardboard sign in window of home reading "Someone else removed the stop work order."
Sure they did. “Someone else removed the stop work order.” Spring Garden
hand-written sign in Zip-Loc bad stapled to utility pole
“Psalm 91 over this neighborhood.” North Side
mirror in front yard of home with message "Please do turn around here."
Vampires, you’re on your own. “Please do turn around here.” The Run
hand-written sign in barber shop window reading "Closed until Tuesday for court stuff"
“Closed until Tuesday for court stuff.” Millvale
handwritten sign in hot dog shop window reading "We are completely out of chili ... sorry."
If only every restaurant was as up front about their chili status. “We are completely out of chili … sorry.” Frankie’s, Lawrenceville
empty aluminum serving trays in deli display case with Post-It note reading "Not for consumption. Only for religion purpose."
“Not for consumption. Only for religion purpose.” Scranton
Handmade sign reading "JACK"
You don’t know Jack. “JACK.” Lawrenceville
color printout of cat stapled to utility pole
Cat, just a cat. Spring Garden
pair of doors in brick building, one of which has handmade sign reading "ACES"
“ACES.” Vandergrift
hand-painted sign on utility pole reading "NO OUTLET"
“NO OUT LET.” Millvale
white paper taped to cinderblock wall with no text remaining
A mystery [blank/sunbleached] sign among mystery signs! Lawrenceville
hand-written sign left by highway
“Sun Ra / Alice Coltrane. I miss my friends …” Millvale
handmade wooden sign with section missing attached to utility pole
What was here before the middle went missing? Polish Hill/Strip District
plastic butterfly and small sign reading "... and that's life" on cinderblock wall
It sure is. “… and that’s life.” The Run

Don’t Need No Doctor: A Prescription for Mannequin Fever

mannequins with colorful tuxedo vests in storefront window, DuBois, PA
Dressed to impress. Mannequins all set for prom, heads optional.

If you’re like most, you can’t even remember when or where the fever set in. A trip to the department store with Mom, perhaps—that’s where I caught it—or glanced from the corner of the eye while hustling down a busy sidewalk past downtown shop windows.

Figures, stiff and lifeless with contorted expressions and abstracted features frozen mid-pose, draped in seasonal attire or modeling hats and jewelry. Not people, but also not not people, mannequins are no simple clothes hangers in 3-D. Mannequins lead strange existences like harmless exhibitionist vampires—caught in an eternal state somewhere between alive and dead, real and imagined, naked and clothed, a waking dream and a living nightmare.

purple mannequin torso in green overgrowth
A raspberry mannequin in her natural habitat
mannequin dressed as Statue of Liberty
Lady Liberty, mannequin style

One can be excused for thinking mannequin fever only expresses itself within the world of retail apparel. I’m not going to lie, when your author is jonesing and it’s been a while he’ll take a stroll into a Marshall’s, Gabe’s, or Target’s just to take the edge off. It’s a good idea to have one’s local vintage shops in poking distance during a fallow period.

Sure, that’ll get you through, but the real fever kicks in when you’re well out-of-range of sterile department store fluorescent lights and the ringing of cash registers. We’re talking about the not-quite-beating heart of Mannequin Nation.

wig store window with many mannquin heads and painting of Santa Claus
Forget eight tiny reindeer, Santa’s got dozens of mannequins ready to party!
female mannequin of front deck of wooden house
Nothing creepy here. On the lookout with a vacant stare at Lobo’s Lair.

Dozens of mannequin heads stacked cheek-to-jowl in the front window of a wig store. Headless mannequins dressed in patriotic red, white, and blue finery. Like something out of a cable TV crime drama, a lone female model, dressed for summer sun, on the front deck of a house literally down by the river with a sign reading Lobo’s Lair.

You don’t need a head—or a brain—to love America!
male mannequin wearing black and gold leather underwear
Let’s go Steelers!

Mannequins cheer on the Pittsburgh Steelers—in their own way—and advertise political candidates on crime scene cleanup coveralls. (“Shut up and do your job!”) Mannequins hawk vape store offerings—like we need another reason to try Juul strawberry lemondade e-cigs, am I right? Along with the rest of us, mannequins have their own pandemic concerns to worry about and get left out on the curb for big garbage day.

storefront with two mannequins wearing full-body hazard suits
Send in the clones
sculpture made from mannequin torso with large white wig
Mannequin art!

Bored fashion mannequins—hey, you’d be bored too if you had to sit still for months at a time!—wait to catch the eyes of sidewalk strollers. Arty mannequins with paint-cracked skin, ridiculous wigs, and detached hands look for a whole different type of attention. Mannequins are relegated to the side porch with the cat box and dumped in construction sites like stool pigeons who’ve squawked for the last time.

painted mannequin boy left on curbside
Been there! Mannequin left out for the trash
mannequin dressed in banana costume holding sign for vape shop
Vape shop banana mannequin, a “bananaquin”

One more note for the heads (ha!): no discussion of Pittsburgh-area mannequin fever should leave out Randyland—the city’s grand buffet of mutant mannequins. The central North Side artvironment has a little bit of everything and whole lot of over-the-top. That includes mannequins—available any time you need them—hand painted, accessorized, and ready to party. A must, when you’ve got the fever.

man posing behind painted mannequin heads
Mannequins as far as the eye can see. Randyland, Pittsburgh’s mannequin central.
six mannequin midriffs on shelving
Mannequin midriffs, on sale
mannequin heads with protective face shields in storefront window
That’s not six feet apart! Mannequins get Covid-safe.
pair of mannequin heads with wigs and white lipstick
White lips passing in the night
five mannequin heads, each with a long wig, in storefront window
Bored mannequins with long haircuts floating in space
mannequin torso and cat box on porch of house
Still life with mannequin and cat box
mannequins dressed in vintage formal wear in storefront window
Mannequins all set for their dreamy music video
storefront mannequin dressed with bikini top and carnival mask

mannequin lower torso with golden bikini bottom and yellow sashes
Hey, it’s carnival time!

Lastly, a big shout-out to our sister blog The Portland Orbit whose recent story Whatever Happened to Mannequin Fever? got us up off the thinkin’ chair and digging through the archives for a suitable answer post, many years in the making.

mannequin left in muddy water of construction site
Mannequin hit job

A Bundle of Plastic Flowers, A Tumble of Teddy Bears: Memorial Day, 2022

memorial left on bridge support
Impromptu memorial for Tony, Bette & Sisters, down under the high-level bridge, Homestead

In so many cases, we have next-to-nothing to go on—an overflowing bundle of plastic flowers, maybe, or a tumble of teddy bears. There are memorials with rain-streaked and sun-bleached photographs. Utility poles are strung with flags, photographs, and the personal effects of the departed. Crosses left by the side of the road decorate every highway and bouquets adorn all too many neighborhood telephone poles.

Sometimes we get a name, or names, but that’s it. Who were Tony, Bette & Sisters? (photo above) And how did they come to be memorialized with flowers and a placard on the concrete support of the Homestead High-Level Bridge? Did this fairly anonymous spot have a special significance to their lives? Their passing?

roadside memorial cross attached to utility pole
Chance Borgese, Monongahela

When we see a memorial cross installed in the grass by a highway or lashed to a metal guardrail, it’s a pretty safe guess the person’s death was related to an automobile. The NHTSA estimates nearly 43,000 auto-related deaths in the United States in 2021. The evidence of those kinds of numbers is all around us.

Chance Borgese who lost control of his car and crashed into a guardrail on Rt. 88 near Monongahela in 2020. Borgese has a large wooden cross adorned with a wreath of flowers, a photograph, and decorative pots left for him on the site. He’s not the only one with a roadside cross.

memorial on utility pole with stuffed animals and flowers
unknown, Homewood

When we see similar scenes on residential side streets, it’s had not to worry something more sinister was afoot.

That’s definitely true for Dai’Shawn Grace, whose memorial on a Munhall utility pole includes a photo-adorned cross, flowers, and protective ring of stuffed animals. In 2019, Mr. Grace was murdered, shot multiple times, walking home from the bus stop after working a shift as a prep cook.

memorial for murder victim on utility pole
Dai’Shawn Grace, Munhall
roadside memorial featuring teddy bears taped to utility pole
Dai’Shawn Grace, Munhall

This Memorial Day 2022 there’s no shortage of human losses to mourn. A million American lives to Covid—an enormous number of which could’ve been prevented if people simply believed science. Unimaginable—and likely difficult to even estimate—deaths in Ukraine. Horrific mass murders in Buffalo and Uvalde. No small number of shooting deaths right here in Pittsburgh. The list goes on and on.

So while many of us get to enjoy this sunny, summery day off from work—quite possibly with friends, beers, and the smell of charcoal in the air—let’s not forget that Memorial Day need not be reserved for our fallen soldiers. When any 18-year-old can legally buy an assault rifle, no questions asked, and turn it on a classroom full of fifth-graders—when the freedom to purchase that weapon is considered more important than the freedom for those children to reach their eleventh birthdays—the war is very much right here at home.

large window display memorial heart
Anthony Emil Mueller, Jr., “great brother, devoted and loving husband, and warrior for Christ,” Perry Hilltop
elaborate memorial left by train tracks in snow
unknown, Tarentum
roadside memorial cross planted in grassy hillside
John Thomas, Monongahela
memorial cross left by utility pole
Emily, Penn Hills
memorial cross left by roadside
unknown, Paw Paw, WV
memorial cross left by alley fence
unknown, Bloomfield
memorial cross and flower box in public park
Kent Geyer, North Park
roadside memorial cross in long grass
Terry Duane, Rt. 88
memorial cross left on fence
Angela Martin, Homestead
memorial jug filled with dead flowers
Angela Martin, “killed by train,” Homestead
memorial mural on cement walkway wall
Miss Max, Polish Hill
memorial left by public bench
unknown, Spring Hill
grafitti memorial on brick wall
Daniel Montano, Homewood
graffiti heart with name Paul painted on cinderblock wall
Paul, Lawrenceville
memorial circle of stones in grassy vacant lot
unknown, Larimer
bouquet of plastic flowers taped to utility pole
unknown, Lawrenceville
large mural for deceased street artist on brick wall
Danny Devine, “local artist, graffiti writer, and friend,” Bloomfield
large mural for deceased street artist on brick wall
Danny Devine, Bloomfield
memorial left on utilty pole
unknown, Dravosburg
spray-painted memorial painted on concrete wall
Garret Foster, Jail Trail
memorial left on sidewalk
unknown, Homewood
memorial flowers and marker by public park
unknown, Bloomfield
improvised cross memorial for crushed turtle
Turtle memorial! South Side
memorial with religious message left on chain link fence
“Intrust God we do. He is a just god. Prevaling is on the way.” (sic.) unknown, Larimer

Ketchup City Confidential: The Marys of Sharpsburg

statue of Mary in front garden of brick house
Backlit like an angel Mary. A fine ambassador of Sharpsburg’s fertile Mary scene.

KETCHUP CITY, 2021.

One thing about not sleeping: it leaves a blogger lot of time to hit the bricks–maybe too much time. Your wayward author spent most of the big light months stumbling through pre-dawn fog. Aimless, wandering, wondering, and trying to shake not few demons. Up hillsides with more wild turkeys than people; down roads where ravens and groundhogs ghosted the train to Lonelyville. Out looking for a reason when no one else had yet cracked the lids or boiled the bean.

Ketchup City at six in the morning is a funny place to meet a woman out on her own. This one wasn’t what you’d expect–all flowing robes, white gown, palms out like Fido’s about to jump in her lap. She had the face of an angel–glowing, porcelain, radiant–but this lady wasn’t giving anything away. She held her secrets tighter than a vice grip on a lug nut. Mary made you think decency may still linger on this scorched earth.

statues of Mary and Jesus in glass storefront window
Patriotic Mary
statue of Mary in front of brick house
Composed Mary

Around another corner and there she is again … and again! Mary kept busier than a vampire at a blood bank. This lady didn’t know when to give up or how to relax. At every corner in this small hamlet, there’s another mother of a holy other watching out, keeping us honest.

There she is: standing guard in a big flower pot, her blue and pink gown ready for anything the world would throw at her. Again on a front stoop, commanding in the supra-orbital power of a protective grotto. Down the alley she’s relaxing under the dappled sunlight of backyard roses. Yeah, Mary looked better than a cold beer after a mowed lawn and all that walking makes a blogger mighty thirsty.

statue of Mary and rose bush in backyard garden
Shy Mary/Mary of the roses
ceramic statue of Mary on front steps of house
Classic grotto Mary

We put the tacks on Mary, but she gave us the slip more times than we’ll tell the big guy. A secret smile echoed from curtained window seats; knowing chortles from behind a screened-in façade. Sure, she was happier than a butcher’s dog, but Mary was hiding something. Like the best secrets, though, we knew the suspense is always worth the wait.

small statue of Mary in window overlooking flower box with many colorful flowers
Window box view Mary
statue of Mary in screen window
From a window to a screen Mary

Ketchup City–OK, Sharpsburg, if you’re pushing paper for the governor–you’ve got a lot to be proud of. Not the least of which is the battalion of Blessed Mothers peepin’, creepin’, and brow-beatin’. From St. Mary’s to The Madonna of Jerusalem, The Lafayette to CC’s, The Internet Court of Lies to Drop ur Load Washery (R.I.P.), you’ve got a friend in Sharpsylvania–just don’t forget the french fries.

ceramic statue of Mary in front of brick house
Brown brick Mary
statue of Mary in front of house with weeds
In the weeds Mary
house with statue of Mary
Mary with some of her less-famous offspring
statue of Mary with feet buried in garden mulch
Quicksand Mary
statue of Mary along alley
No Parking Mary

Stamp Collecting: A Tale of Filbert, Falvo, Frank, and Ferrante

brass sidewalk plaque for G.H. Filbert, Pittsburgh, PA

“F” is for stamp collecting. Hundred-year-old(-ish) brass sidewalk plaque for mason G.H. Filbert, Shadyside

You’d think a person pounding greater Pittsburgh’s pavement, eyes glued to the surface in an intense review of its cracks and crevasses, would run out of new sidewalk inscriptions … eventually. But lucky for all of us, there is a lot of cement in the world.

So much so that after years of meticulous street-by-street inspection we can still regularly turn up absolute jewels in the field like that of G.H. Filbert’s big brass F (above) on a Shadyside cross street or the gorgeous compressed-lettering typeface of Falvo & Son’s stamp (below) on the same day, on the same block. That’s what makes this particular egg hunt so eternally rewarding.

sidewalk stamp for Falvo & Son, Pittsburgh, PA

Falvo & Son, Shadyside

What about the Putchs? Frank and Edward (father and son? or possibly brothers?) had their own sidewalk-pouring empire throughout the greater North Side. Sure, we had a pair of different Edward Putch stamps one of the times we did this, but he turns up here with yet a third variety of the stamp design, this time as E.W.

sidewalk stamp for E.W. Putch, Pittsburgh, PA

E.W. Putch (version #3), Marshall-Shadeland

One could cut the excitement around Chez Orbit with a knife when another Putch entered our lives in the form of the first-initial-only F. Now, usually Googling any of the names on these older stamps gets us exactly bupkis, but this time around we hit paydirt. The great online photo and map archive HistoricPittsburgh.org happens to have an August, 1918 photo of Frank Putch Stone & Concrete world headquarters on Brighton Road in Woods Run (see photo, below).

Don’t look for that little shack today–it’s long gone–but the three-story tavern/apartment building across the alley is still there and one imagines the ghosts of Putchs past still hoisting lagers after long days of building walkways in Perry Hilltop and Marshall-Shadeland.

sidewalk stamp for F. Putch, Pittsburgh, PA

F. Putch (#1), Marshall-Shadeland

sidewalk stamp for F. Putch, Pittsburgh, PA

F. Putch (#2), Perry Hilltop

photo of Frank Putch Stone and Concrete company, Pittsburgh, PA

Frank Putch Stone & Concrete, Brighton Road, Woods Run, c. 1918 (photo: HistoricPittsburgh.org)

After that, we’ve got a bunch of one-offs. These all count as rare breeds, deep cuts, and/or white whales. With the exception of the Ferrante brass plaque (we got his more pedestrian stamp in 2018), Luick & Sons (there are a couple variants of this one), Ricci & Ciotola (at least two of these exist in Bloomfield), and John Heubel (Erie isn’t really “in orbit” and therefore hasn’t gotten the full dragnet yet) the rest of these all amount to one and only one spotting anywhere.

brass sidewalk plaque of John Ferrante & Son, Pittsburgh, PA

John Ferrante & Son, Point Breeze

brass sidewalk plaque for John Heubel, Erie, PA

John Heubel, Erie

sidewalk stamp for A.B. Gray, Pittsburgh, PA

A.B. Gray, Lawrenceville

sidewalk stamp for Anthony Frank, Beaver, PA

Anthony Frank, Beaver

sidewalk stamp for Joseph Franceshini, Pittsburgh, PA

Joseph Franceshini, Lawrenceville

sidewalk stamp for Saccacione Cement Contractor, Pittsburgh, PA

Saccacione Cement Contractor, Bloomfield

sidewalk stamp for Riccla Ciotola, Pittsburgh, PA

Ricci & Ciotola, Bloomfield

sidewalk stamp for D. Dalia, Pittsburgh, PA

D. Dalia, Bloomfield

hand-written sidewalk stamp for Joe Palmiera, Pittsburgh

Joe Palmiera, Friendship

sidewalk stamp for Supreme Masonry, Pittsburgh, PA

Supreme Masonry/S. Dunkovich, Uptown

sidewalk stamp for Luick & Sons, Pittsburgh, PA

Luick & Sons, Lawrenceville

sidewalk stamp for Battaglia & Sons, Pittsburgh, PA

Battaglia & Sons, Shadyside

sidewalk stamp for Avelli Construction Crop., Beaver, PA

Avelli Construction Corp., Beaver

sidewalk stamp for R.C. Coccaro, Pittsburgh, PA

R.C. Coccaro, Friendship

heart-shaped sidewalk stamp from Allegheny Concrete Co.

Allegheny Concrete Co., Brighton Heights

Message from Big Pink: Breast Cancer Awareness Dumpsters

dumpster painted bright pink with downtown Pittsburgh skyline in background

One of Boyd Roll-Off Services breast cancer awareness dumpsters, South Side

Admittedly, it’s an unlikely way to be honored in the afterlife.

Aretha Boyd was young, just 46-ish*, when she passed away three years ago. And while she may not have the (local) celebrity-level name recognition of, say, Mr. Rodgers or Franco Harris, you’ll find tributes to Ms. Boyd all over the city in ever-changing locales. In fact, the Boyd name may appear around town more often than those of Carnegie or Clemente, Mellon or Warhol.

pink breast cancer awareness dumpster in front of cemetery

Lawrenceville

pink breast cancer awareness dumpster in large parking lot

Strip District

It may be a little harder to tell this year, what with that other health affliction getting all the press, but Breast Cancer Awareness Month is here. Just like the arrival of pumpkin spice, crisp mornings, and the first turning leaves, the nation’s pink-out begins right on schedule every October first and stays strong for the next 31 days in a branding and awareness campaign that makes all other diseases drool with envy.

The proliferation of pink ribbons and pink t-shirts will abound, as will coordinated group marches along the river trails, billboard advertisements, and public service announcements on broadcast media. In what is both absurd and lovingly allied, hyper-masculine football players will suit up in eye-popping “mangenta” gloves and cleats when they take the field–the black, gold, and hot pink color scheme is a little daring for most fashion runways, but hopefully gets the attention of Steeler fans.

large dumpster painted bright pink in front of office building

Downtown

dumpster painted bright pink in front of large brick building

South Side

In a move no one saw coming, Boyd Roll-Off Services, a McKees Rocks-based waste disposal business, upped the ante considerably when their fleet of big 30-yard construction dumpsters  started appearing a couple years ago to spread the gospel. Each dumpster, painted in breast cancer awareness electric pink, contains a custom placard featuring the campaign’s trademark pink ribbon and the simple message In Loving Memory of Our Sister ARETHA BOYD, 1970-2017.

large dumpster painted bright pink in front of apartment building

Lawrenceville

pink breast cancer awareness dumpster in front of large stone building

Oakland

While they’re a little goofy, the pink dumpsters may end up being the awareness campaign’s greatest ambassadors … at least, here in metro Pittsburgh where you’re likely to encounter them on the street. The Boyd dumpsters aren’t painted pink just during October. No, they’re out there putting in the work and being visible 365 days a year. They can also be found anywhere and everywhere: at any job site or corporate office building, on downtown street corners and in neighborhood back-alleys.

pink breast cancer awareness dumpster in front of under-construction building

Downtown

pink dumpster in front of hospital entrance

Bloomfield

The need for public education around the disease is obvious; statistics for breast cancer in America are grim. According to the site BreastCancer.org, one in eight U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, hundreds of thousands of new cases are detected every year, and we’ll lose around 40,000 women in the U.S. to breast cancer in 2020. The disease also disproportionally affects Black women.

pink breast cancer awareness dumpster behind large building

Downtown

pink breast cancer awareness dumpster by highway overpass

Chateau

The street-side dumpster is a part of urban life we see all time. Its role as a big trash can for construction projects is pure utility with no expectation that it will ever be the object of attention. It will disappear into the night as soon as the job is done.

By painting the normally drab skiff bright pink, Boyd Roll-Off has turned the everyday into activist statement: breast cancer is for real, and it’s as omnipresent as the city’s concrete sidewalks and brick façades. And, of course, let’s remember Aretha Boyd and all the other women we’ve lost to this most heinous disease. That’s the message from Big Pink.

pink breast cancer awareness dumpster in front of apartment building

Strip District

dumpster painted bright pink

North Side

pink breast cancer awareness dumpster in front of old stone building

North Side

Additional resources:


* The dumpsters clearly give 1970 as Boyd’s birth year, but Boyd Rolloff Services web site lists it as 1971. We were unable to locate an obituary for Boyd.

Let’s Get Small: Big Ideas, Tiny Doors

tiny candy shop by Anne Mundell

If you arrived in Pittsburgh in the 1980s or ’90s, the narrow storefront at the corner of Liberty Ave. and Tito Way (neé 8th Street) held a second downtown outpost of The Original Oyster House. Such was the popularity of their fried fish sandwich, breaded oysters, and buttermilk chaser that the business could sustain multiple restaurants mere blocks from each other. The Oyster House left Liberty Ave. some time in the early oughts; the space is a Crazy Mocha coffee shop today.

A generation earlier, 801 Liberty Ave. was a sweets shop. The Internet offers very little information on Dimling’s Candy, but it appears the local company was big enough in the 1950s to purchase competitor Reymer Brothers[1], whose massive 1906 Romanesque factory building still stands Uptown. A ghost sign in the back alley, complete with the “It’s Fresher” tag line, shows us that the Liberty and 8th retail space previously held one of Dimling’s stores. The company was out of business by 1969. Candyrama, the multi-location heir to the downtown sugar market, is gone now too. Sigh.

All that said, for a very limited time you can relive the magic as a little–and I mean tiny–candy shop has opened its single door right on the backside of the former Dimling’s space, directly under the old painted sign. Technicolor lollipops and psychedelic swirling goodies are literally spilling out of the entrance, down the steps, and into the street below. They’re yours to enjoy … just don’t handle the merchandise.

in context: ghost sign for former Dimling’s Candy Shop with Anne Mundell’s tiny candy shop door at bottom right

“My door is a tribute to the different kinds of candy, real and metaphorical, that have passed through that alley,” writes Anne Mundell, CMU Professor of Scenic Design and the artist who created the candy shop for Tiny Doors PGH.

“There’s also a tribute to the theater and to how all things coexist on that corner. The candy spilling out hopefully suggests that the whole building behind it is filled with candy and we’re only seeing a tiny corner of it. The rats making off with candy are there to imply a darker side.”[2]

Mundell’s little candy shop is one of three “tiny doors” created for this year’s Three Rivers Arts Festival in cooperation with the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust (on whose property all three doors are attached). The others, created by artists Sarah Zeffiro and Sasha Schwartz, are just around the corner at the Trust Arts Education Center (805-807 Liberty Ave.) and on the Theater Square Parking Garage (655 Penn Ave.).

“Pittsburgh is Color” technicolor dream door by Sarah Zeffiro, Liberty Ave.

Tiny Doors PGH was conceived by Stephen Santa; this is its first installation. “I come from a theater background as I’m a theater director. I’ve always been obsessed with the set models that designers create for me,” writes Santa, “It’s like being a kid again, moving the small parts around in the model. I also love playing with scale and this project does just that.”

“There is a tiny door revolution happening as many doors are popping up in cities around the country, most notably in Atlanta. I saw the success these doors were having in other cities and being born and raised in Pittsburgh, I’m always brainstorming ways to make our city a better place, and I knew this project could bring happiness and curiosity to our residents. I pitched the idea to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, they loved it and were on board.”

tiny house entrance by Sasha Schwartz, Penn Ave.

The tiny doors are a great project satisfying all manner of urbano-curiosa: art and architecture, history and exploration, humor and little things. Longtime Orbit readers know we also love an egg hunt. Our only greedy wish is that Santa had been able to sign up another dozen artists for more doors.[3]

Whether or not we’d have gotten all of Anne Mundell’s references to ghosts of the theater, the evolution of downtown Pittsburgh, and Liberty Avenue’s red light past is questionable. But if a piece of public art can make you stop in your tracks, get down on your knees, and squint through a tiny window door into a (literal) candy-colored dreamscape, someone’s doing something right.

The three tiny doors will be up through the end of July; get yourself down there to see them while you can.


[1] Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reymer_Brothers_Candy_Factory
[2] That darker side is legit: by the time we got there, it seems someone had already made off with the rats. A subsequent report is that the door itself was stolen. This is why we can’t have tiny things!
[3] He wants to! Per Santa: “I’m certainly open to people, businesses, or artists reaching out with their concepts or location ideas for doors. To connect please write to me on Instagram @tinydoorspgh.”

Going Postal: The Cap Man Returneth

Cap Man #13, East Liberty

It’s all there: the non-plussed selfie stare, the upturned ball cap, the all-contrast Sharpie-on-postal label execution. Super fans already know where this is going, but for everyone else, these are the tell-tale traits and hallmark style of one of the city’s more mysterious and elusive serial street artists.

Cap Man #14, Friendship [photo: Lee Floyd]

When last we reported on the mysterious Cap Man, in the fall of 2017, it was with the strong accusation that “he’s likely left Pittsburgh entirely.” That may have been true–the backsides of the East End’s street signage and utility poles remained remarkably free of the behatted one’s visage through all of last year.

Well, he’s back, emerging some time in the late winter/early spring–slapping his little original sticker artworks on city infrastructure throughout a contiguous swath of East Liberty, Friendship, and Bloomfield. And this time…well, he’s fooling around just as much as he ever did.

Cap Man #15, Bloomfield

One of the assumptions made in prior stories was that Cap Man (the artist) was the author of both the Cap Man (the subject) (self) portraits and the similarly-styled “rogue’s gallery” drawings of (in)famous celebrities, media notables, and true crime figures.

This theory is only bolstered by the simultaneous re-emergence of these types of drawings, inevitably committed by the same hand and distributed within the same vicinity as the Cap Man portraits. This time around, we can only positively ID slain rapper The Notorious B.I.G. aka Biggie Smalls, who arrived on a Bloomfield utility pole some time in the late winter or early spring. The recent offerings also include a dripping skull, a message of peace and love, and a couple renditions of one “Fro Bro.”

The Mysterious C.A.P. meets The Notorious B.I.G., Bloomfield

Bloomfield

Peace, Love, and a bunch of other stuff, Bloomfield

Fro Bro 1, East Liberty

Fro Bro 2, East Liberty

Finally, a legit street art miracle. Co-assistant to the mail room intern Lee Floyd spotted this loose, perhaps unfinished, drawing of a young woman on a Liberty Ave. pole after we’d snuck in one last Lenten fish fry on Good Friday. (See below.)

The figure’s head is turned to the right, her long hair unruly and wind-blown across her face. One eye is obscured, but the other stares with steely unease right back at you. It ain’t the Mona Lisa, but as much could be supposed on that head position, that glare as anything people read into Da Vinci’s masterpiece.

unknown woman, Bloomfield [photo: Lee Floyd]

So, imagine our surprise when mere days later the crew is on a rainy day stroll down Baum Blvd.–nearly a mile from the original light pole–and there she is again. Divorced from the steel pole and lying on a soaking wet sidewalk is … the same woman! Not just the same subject, but the same drawing!

unknown woman, East Liberty [photo: Lee Floyd]

Now, how that sticker came off one light pole completely undamaged and worked it’s way a mile down the road just to find the only two pair of people in the world who would care about it is something we have no explanation for–but it’s a doggone miracle!

If that’s not enough positive juju, coincidental mojo, and lightening striking twice for you, I don’t know what is. Most people have to steal their parent’s HBO password to get that kind of drama, but Cap Man is offering it to you for free, right here on the street.


Background on the continuing saga of Cap Man:

Stamp Collecting: The Deep Cuts

sidewalk stamp for Joseph Cicchetti, Pittsburgh, PA

Joseph Cicchetti, the “Inverted Jenny” of sidewalk philately, Friendship

When you start collecting sidewalk stamps, you can bag all of Pittsburgh’s greatest hits in one decent-sized stroll through any neighborhood: CirielloSanto, and SpanoBalenoScotti, and Pucciarelli. Trust me: you’ll pick these up right away, without even really trying.

Those guys, of course, are just the B-team. If you can make it down any residential block without stepping over a DiBucci–the Elvis, Beatles, and Micheal Jackson of local masonry*–you’ve found a rare, naked block, indeed.

Start to take a few more walks, look at little farther afield, and you’ll get into the hack-lineup album tracks: DidianoReganLangell, and Colucci. These are great pick-ups, but not so unique that a person needs to, you know, lose it over their first Lucente. Relax, kid–you’ll see another.

mason's stamp in concrete sidewalk, Pittsburgh, PA

F. Naccarelli, South Side

Here at the Orbit, we’ve been counting stamps for a couple years now, and we’re down to the deep cuts. These are the serious outtakes, rarities, and B-sides for only the hardest of core collectors. We’re talking live bootlegs sold in the parking lot from the trunk of a LeBaron after the show.

The sidewalk stamps included in today’s post are mason’s markers that we’ve only spotted one–and only one–extant tag for. That doesn’t mean this example is the only one that exists, but with the amount of staring at the pavement we’ve done over the last couple years, we can tell you they’re rare. Enjoy.

sidewalk stamp for Ray Benney, Pittsburgh, PA

Ray Benney General Contracting, Squirrel Hill

mason's stamp in concrete sidewalk, Pittsburgh, PA

Joe Darpli, Friendship

sidewalk stamp for Geo. A. Shepard

Geo. A. Shepard [photo: Lee Floyd]

mason's sidewalk stamp in cracked concrete, Sharpsburg, PA

ALD, Sharpsburg

sidewalk stamp for mason Eric Gerber, Pittsburgh, PA

Eric Gerber Contracting, Friendship

sidewalk stamp in Pittsburgh, PA

Castellano (?), Friendship

mason's stamp in concrete sidewalk, Pittsburgh, PA

Vincent Mannella, Friendship

sidewalk stamp for mason C.H. Hempel, Braddock, PA

C.H. Hempel, Braddock [photo: Kevin Welker]

mason's stamp in concrete sidewalk, Bellevue, PA

James R. Bell, Bellevue

mason's stamp on concrete sidewalk in Sharpsburg, PA

WPA (Works Progress Administration), Sharpsburg


* There are so many varieties of the DiBucci stamp/plaque that co-assistant to the cub reporter Lee Floyd has suggested trying to collect all the permutations. This is a journey we believe even the most dedicated of Orbit readers may not follow us on. That said, there are more ways to measure success than with web analytics, so perhaps we’ll go down that road, err…sidewalk, alone.

Higher and Higher: Star-Gazing in Squirrel Hill

sparkle Star of David with heart hanging from tree limb, Pittsburgh, PA

Star of David + heart on Forbes Ave.: one of two thousand, in and around Squirrel Hill

The little stars are made from glitter and felt, plastic and wood, popsicle sticks and laminated paper. They’re tied to the tiniest branches of street trees with ribbon, wire, and bailing twine; they rest lazily in boxwood hedges. The stars commune with other memorials left on handrails and steps, safety gates, and police barricades.

Overwhelmingly, though, each of the small totems–a six-pointed Star of David with a heart at its center–has been knit or crocheted by hand and attached to utility poles throughout central Squirrel Hill[1]. When you pass down Wilkins or Shady, Forbes or Negley, you’ll not miss the stars fluttering–dancing, even–in the breeze.

crochet Star of David with heart hanging from utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

October 27, 2018 may well go down as Pittsburgh’s 9/11–the remember-exactly-where-you-were date for a generation’s most horrific local atrocity. Me, I was in Bellevue, dressed in a stupid outfit, holding a trombone, and standing in the cold rain at the tail end of the borough’s Halloween parade.

The relentless weather that morning pretty much kept all of the expected crowd home, leaving just us obligated parade marchers to get the news all at the same point. I remember feeling useless and helpless–milling around on the vacant, closed-to-traffic main drag before heading home without even saying goodbye.

crochet Star of David with heart on tree limb, Pittsburgh, PA

By now, America has sadly gotten plenty of practice grieving for the victims of mass shootings and violent hate crimes. Even if you didn’t make it up to the Tree of Life synagogue in the days following the massacre, you know what the outside scene inevitably looked like. The victims here were all adults–so it didn’t feature quite so many teddy bears as your, yes, average school shooting–but the scene of an overflowing buffet of flowers and personal notes, photographs and mementos set against protective barriers and caution tape was all there.

In the two months since the Tree of Life shooting, most of these memorials have been relocated. But by mid-November a second-wave tribute–beautiful in its decentralization, variety, and spirit–arrived throughout pedestrian Squirrel Hill.

wooden disc with Star of David hanging on utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Star of David made from postage stamps hanging on utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Right now, thousands of handmade Stars of David decorate nondescript public spaces and street-facing hedges and gates in the neighborhood[2]. They radiate out from the Tree of Life synagogue and populate Squirrel Hill’s business district along Forbes and Murray Aves.

The stars are the work of an impromptu online group called Jewish Hearts for Pittsburgh, started by two “craftivists,” Hinda Mandell and Ellen Dominus Broude, both from separate parts of Upstate New York. The Post-Gazette has an article and short video detailing that effort.

collage of homemade Stars of David found around Pittsburgh, PA

Likely, most of those who experience the Tree of Life stars will only see them as brief flashes of color, twiddling in the breeze through the passenger-side window–their forms may not even be recognizable at any speed. The Orbit recommends ditching the car and taking a long contemplative walk around middle Squirrel Hill’s wide streets as the best way to inhabit the diffuse tribute.

golden wire Star of David on tree limb, Pittsburgh, PA

Perhaps it should be no surprise but the totality of the experience is incredibly moving. The first, gut reaction to these handmade, intersected symbols of Judaism and love, sent from supportive crafters from around the world, is the most obvious.

“There is more good in the world than evil,” says Ms. Broude in the P-G video, “An assault against one is an assault against all.”[3] That message–something terrible happened here, but there is way more love than hate in the world–comes though loud and clear, ringing out from the branches and telephone poles.

crochet Star of David with heart on utility pole, Pittsburgh, PA

But it doesn’t stop there. So many of the knit stars–hung from a single point, stretched out by gravity, and curled in the weather–end up taking on unexpected anthropomorphic qualities. [Yes, there is one extra appendage in this representation.] The little bodies appear alternately huddled and triumphant, at rest and in play, lifted and weightless in the wind.

collage of homemade Stars of David found around Pittsburgh, PA

This atheist goy had to Google “Jewish belief in an afterlife.” While the religion isn’t nearly as hung up on the notion of heaven as Christianity–preferring instead to value and emphasize life here on earth–it’s also not without its post-mortal coil fallback options. This description, from the Chabad site, seems to sum up the philosophy:

There isn’t anything after life, because Jews believe that life never ends. It just goes higher and higher. In the afterlife, the soul is liberated from the body and returns closer to her source than ever before.

crochet Stars of David on tree limb, Pittsburgh, PA

Sure, it was a windy day when we visited and took these photos, but the rapturous lifting of these little forms–literally higher and higher off of their twig and twine moorings, flying up towards the sun–felt like liberation. Hopefully, for the victims, family, and friends of the Tree of Life shooting, they’ll find some peace in this beautiful expression of love.

crochet Star of David with heart hanging from tree limb, Pittsburgh, PA


[1] … and supposedly elsewhere. (But we’ve only seen them in Squirrel Hill.)
[2] Organizers estimate “around 2000” stars. Source: https://www.post-gazette.com/news/faith-religion/2018/11/17/Jewish-Stars-of-David-Tree-of-Life-Pittsburgh-volunteers-knit-crochet-twelve-countries-crafts-facebook/stories/201811170055
[3] Ibid.