Possessed to Impress: Sad Toys, Haunted Dolls Edition

baby doll missing one leg on brick street
The haunting of the one-legged baby of Brick Street. Lawrenceville

Those eyes! Haunted, possessed, staring blankly or looking right through you—take your pick. Any way one describes these quite literal baby blues, they’ll either do a number on you or you’ve got no heart. The form of this particular plastic baby doll—naked, broken, mud-stained, body caked with an unknown white substance, missing one foot and the other leg—is to elicit pathos of most primal variety.

There, on rain-soaked century-old brick paving, we find a counter to all the ghosts, goblins, witches, and boogeypeople that get the big press this time of year. These unsung, woefully innocent, and generically “creepy” children—nay, mere babies!—lay lost, damaged, bugged-out, and now seem to exist in an undead state of demonic reanimation.

baby doll left on sidewalk
Those eyes! Lawrenceville

Little child dry your crying eyes
How can I explain the fear you feel inside
‘Cause you were born into this evil world
Where man is killing man and no one knows just why
What have we become just look what we have done
All that we destroyed you must build again

Vito Bratta / Mike Tramp
face of baby doll removed from body
Face/off. Deutschtown

If we’d only listened! Sure, Denmark’s White Lion weren’t writing in their native tongue, but for ESL Rock, these 1987 lyrics proved as prescient then as they’ll inevitably be for … let’s face it, every future generation. Why, the crying children of the mid-1980s are now well into their 30s, bringing up youths to whom they’ll eventually have to “explain the fear [they] feel inside.”

Creek baby [photo: Lee Floyd]

On this perfect Hallowe’en Day—overcast and drizzling, right on cue—we salute all the lost babies, Barbies, doll parts, and broken hearts that can make any day a Hallows Eve … if you know where to look. Sure, we’ve all been born into an “evil world,” but if you’re not lying face down in the gutter, abandoned in a creek, or missing too many body parts, there’s still a bright side, right?

baby doll face down on edge of street
Coked-up and face down in the gutter. Marshall-Shadeland
baby doll face down in the woods
Sad in plaid. Munhall. [photo: Lee Floyd]
The ol’ tree baby. Lawrenceville
Barbie doll with blue hair left on leaf-covered ground
Every British detective show begins exactly like this. Blue-haired Barbie. Mellon Park
doll's legs sticking out of debris from demolished house
We’ve all been down, but have you been “buried head-first in a demolished house in Rankin” down?
doll's leg in pile of debris
Spare leg. Hill District
Barbie doll mermaid on gravel lot under car
Car mechanic pink mermaid Barbie. Hazelwood
brightly dressed baby doll on edge of road
The lighter side of sad toys! North Oakland
baby doll face down in the woods
Tenderfoot, underfoot. Munhall [photo: Lee Floyd]
doll with large weapon in tall grass
Jungle warfare. Grass warrior. Bloomfield
River ape [photo: Dan Rusnak]

October Surprise! Halloween at Thunberg Acres

large wooden bat hanging from a tree

Hangin’ around for Halloween: one of Gary Thunberg’s wooden bats.

[Cue: creepy pipe organ soundtrack, thunder clap, and dramatic lightning strike.]

Ghosts–with their eyes closed, tongues derisively throwing a Bronx cheer–lurk in the bushes. Black bats hang from branches and clothes lines. Spiders as big dinner plates creep up beside you. Gravestones fill the vegetable garden and a doghouse-sized haunted mansion rests on the front lawn. Dozens–it feel like hundreds–of jack-o-lanterns decorate walkways and yard passage, shrubs and tree limbs.

Halloween is alive and well at the Thunberg household, just like it’s been for the last forty-five years.

wooden Halloween decorations of ghosts and jack-o-lanterns

Ghosts! Pumpkin shrubs!

It’s just a fact: Autumn, in all its leaf-crunching, cider-drinking, sweater-wearing, gourd-decorating, hay-riding, apple-bobbing, technicolor fantasia, is the best season.

Summer’s unending parade of tortures–is over. Yes, the infernal heat and sunshine, insects and poison ivy, frolicking youths and unfulfilled expectations, are all safely in the rearview mirror. It is only then, in the melancholy gloom of turning leaves, crisp air, frequent drizzle, and solid cloud cover–that the world feels at one again.

wooden Jack-o-lantern ornaments hanging from bare tree limbs

Tiny jack-o-lantern tree ornaments.

Elongated to four or five weeks, Halloween is no mere one-evening oddity, but rather autumn’s peak and a legitimate season of the witch. By late September, tombstones and skeletons are popping up in suburban front yards. Little row house porchlets are decked-out in cobwebs and purple light. Preposterously fake stray body parts dangle from windows; creepy mannequins glower in side yards. In Allegheny Cemetery, family members are lovingly decorating real graves.

wooden Jack-o-lantern ornaments hanging from tree limbs

Lighted shrub pumpkins.

Gary Thunberg is truly a man for all seasons. When last we visited Beaver’s house of holidays, it was on the eve of Independence Day, 2017. Gary and his mother Doris could not have been more excited about showing off the red, white, and blue handmade eagles, stars, and fireworks blasts around the house, along with the volumes of guest books signed by visitors from around the world. After that encounter, we vowed to return and experience more Thunberg holiday displays in future.

handmade wooden Halloween decoration in back yard, Beaver, PA

Doris Thunberg and friend.

It will take a bunch of trips out Rt. 65 to see them all. The Thunberg home, on Third Street in Beaver, is in a perpetual state of rolling seasonal displays. The year’s lawn decoration starts with Valentine’s Day, which bleeds into St. Patrick’s, Easter, spring awakening, etc.

By late September, Gary Thunberg is all-in on Halloween season. The orange and black has taken over all surfaces of lawn, porch, bushes, and trees. Glowing orange lights are strung through the pumpkins in the shrubs and the handful of big, store-bought inflatables are plugged-in and stumble to life.

collage of homemade wooden lawn art for Halloween

Peanuts! Ghost house! Curious George!

two wooden spider ornaments hanging in a tree

Crawled up beside her: tree spiders.

Alas, Gary Thunberg’s work schedule doesn’t always line up with The Orbit‘s reporting availability, so we missed him on this trip out. But we got to see the house and grounds fully decked-out, the spirit of Halloween vividly present anywhere you look.

We learned from Doris that Gary is getting close to retirement which means our chances of getting a personal tour again will go way up. It also means Gary will finally have the opportunity to take this part-time hobby and put it into high gear. We can only hope.

Happy Halloween, y’all!

collage of four wooden Jack-o-lanterns

Pumpkin patch: some of the many wooden jack-o-lanterns created by Gary Thunberg.

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