Easter Special: You Can’t Make an Omelet Without Finding Some Eggs

baby doll painted gold and hanging from telephone wires, Pittsburgh, PA

Golden baby, Lawrenceville

Matched ceramic salt and pepper shakers, ruby glass, bobbleheads, Hummel figurines, cookie jars–people collect all kinds of goofy stuff. Bakelite AM radios, Santas, and state plates, World’s Fair trinkets and glass insulators from telegraph lines. David from our West Coast rival Portland Orbit has some unique collections: cans of knock-off Dr. Pepper, eyeglass stems found on the street, other peoples’ grocery lists.

Easter may come only once a year, but every day can be the Orbiteer’s figurative egg hunt–which is really just the primordial collecting impulse–and it doesn’t cost a penny or take up any room on your shelves. Spotting is a lifelong and year-round habit: take the alley, poke behind the bushes, look down at the pavement and up in the telephone wires. [Oh, Golden Babies, how we pray we haven’t seen the last of you!]

Today, whether you’re a committed church-going, brunch-eating Easter reveler or full-on dance-naked-by-the-bonfire pagan, we celebrate some of the Orbit‘s favorite any-time/all-year-long city egg hunt targets.

protractor glued to metal driving barrier, Pittsburgh, PA

Pittsburgh protractor, Allegheny River Trail, Millvale

Pittsburgh Protractors are the easy money, chump change, fish-in-a-barrel of local urban collecting. In that way, though, they’re a great entry point–the gateway drug–to hardcore egg hunting. Either way, you have to respect the work of the protractor perpetrator(s) and we couldn’t not include the protractors in the list. There are just so damn many of the little plastic doo-dads glued all over the place that if you’re in bicycle-accessible city limits and keep your blinkers open, you’ll probably spot a few even if you’re not really trying.

ghost sign for "Arsenal Brand Meat Products" painted on side of brick building, Pittsburgh, PA

Ghost sign: Arsenal Brand Meat Products, Hill District

Sal’s MeatsHipCo BatteriesMother’s Best FlourOwl Cigar. Who are these vendors and what is the business arrangement that traded a (presumably) single payment into a long-after-life of marketing products that may no longer be purchased?

The hand-painted, brick wall advertising of yesteryear was all put out of business (we assume) by the arrival of big, purpose-built billboards with their larger display areas, darkness-defying flood lights, targeted sight lines, and monthly rates. That’s part of what makes so-called ghost signs so enjoyable for the egg hunter: it’s pretty obvious that there won’t be any more of them[1], and what’s left is often fading fast.

brass marker showing the 46.0 high water mark for the March 18, 1936 flood of downtown Pittsburgh, PA

1936 flood marker, Blvd. of the Allies, Downtown

Waaaay back when, the very first story committed to these virtual pages concerned a cryptic message painted around two faces of an old brick building in Manchester. That [SPOILER ALERT!] turned to be a marker for the most famous rising of the waters in Pittsburgh’s history–the 1936 St. Patrick’s Day flood.

We’ve found a handful more of them around downtown and on the North Side, but surprisingly few considering the immensity of the event and the age of our building stock. That just makes the hunt all that much sweeter when we zero in on previously unseen prey.

Mary statuette in homemade grotto, Pittsburgh, PA

Front yard Mary and grotto, Arlington

The blessed mother, hands spread with her palms open in a welcoming embrace or–far less often–the pietà image of Mary cradling the dead body of Jesus or holding the once-and-future as a baby [see above]. Whichever way we encounter the statuary, this is Front Yard Mary [even if she’s in the side or back yard] and we’ll take her any way we can get her.

There are so many Marys out there that we’ve got separate future features planned for South Oakland, Homestead, and the South Side Slopes (at least), which hardly makes Mary the most difficult egg to hunt. That said, this is ostensibly an Easter feature…

painting of woman with three eyes by Clohn Art, wheatpasted to wood, Pittsburgh, PA

Clohn Art, Downtown

Clohn Art is the nom de plume–or perhaps nom de paintbrush–of one John Lee, whose crude extra-eyed men, women, and animal paintings are executed on the placemats of Chinese restaurants and unfurled brown paper bags. They’re found wheatpasted at construction sites, alley walls, and, in at least one case, a rusty bus shelter in Homestead.

Wherever we happen to see the artist’s distinctive little paintings, they always pop off the wall surface and bring a twisted smile to our merely two-eyed faces. Mr. Lee declined The Orbit‘s request for a feature interview [John: we’re still interested!] so we’re left to troll the back streets, hoping to grab another of those rarest of eggs: a fresh, new Clohn to nestle in the wicker basket.

teddy bear and plastic flowers left on curbside, Pittsburgh, PA

Reasonably happy-looking sad toy, Fairywood

Like some mangy old teddy bear, dropped casually from a toddler’s stroller and forced to spend purgatory face-down in the weedy berm, Al Hoff brought the concept of “sad toys” into this blogger’s life and then cruelly left us by the side of the road to fend for ourselves.

Stuffed animals with their fur matted, flattened, and filthy; a basketball, punctured and concave in an oily culvert; doll parts dismembered and jettisoned like the work of a Lilliputian serial killer. So much pathos in such tiny candy-colored doses! It’s almost too much to bear…almost. But when we find them–and these are truly both the most random and the most reliable, renewable resource of today’s eggs–we can’t help but bag them.

outline of previously-existing "ghost house" against larger brick building, Pittsburgh, PA

Ghost house, North Side

Ghost houses–the imprint of one, now-extinct building upon its still-extant neighbor–is hardly a concept unique to Pittsburgh, but we’ve got the perfect environmental conditions to produce them here. Older building stock constructed right up against each other in a previous era when the density supported a pedestrian-based workforce, coupled with decades of “benign neglect” that demolished many–some falling all on their own–and landlords caring little about fixing-up the weird negative spaces on their vacant lot-facing windowless walls.

Like many of the other ova that occupy our oculi, ghost houses are special because–like a petrified forest, or the career of Steve Guttenberg–they’re the result of such a peculiar series of historic events, circumstances, and (non-)actions over a great period of time that we’ll likely not encounter the same perfect storm here again.

Clarence the Bird artwork stapled to telephone pole, Pittsburgh, PA

Clarence the Bird pole art, Bloomfield

With Clarence the Bird, the egg hunt changes parameters. Like picking up pawpaws, where there’s one of his handmade, ink-on-cardboard Make the World Beautiful instances, there tend to be a lot. Find a Clarence and you can safely spread out–looking up and down at the adjacent-blocks’ neighboring telephone poles and bulletin boards–and you’ll likely spot more.

So far [to our knowledge], Clarence has stuck to the greater Lawrenceville-Bloomfield-Garfield-Friendship portion of the East End, but that may just be where we’ve crossed paths with his big wings and pointy beak. I’m sure if we do see his trail elsewhere, we’ll see it everywhere.

poems of The Dirty Poet taped to a lamp post, Pittsburgh, PA

Poems of The Dirty Poet, Oakland

To call locating the telephone pole and street lamp verse of The Dirty Poet “egg hunt” material is a little bit of a stretch. His Dirtiness (yes: the writer is a he) wants the short, dittoed poems he authors to be read, after all. They’ve been taped and stapled at eye level on prominent foot traffic corners for just that purpose.

Regardless, it’s still neat to run across the prickly prose and lurid lines of the Bard of the Backstreets, knowing that one is literally standing in the creator’s footprints, inhaling his boozy breath, and shimmering in what’s left of his groovy vibes. To you, Whitman of the walkways, Dickinson of the downtown, Angelou of the who are you? may we always encounter your offspring sunny side up.

Toynbee Tile reading "Toynbee Idea in movie '2001' resurrect dead on planet Jupiter"

Toynbee Tile (no longer present), Downtown

It almost feels like cheating to include the so-called Toynbee Tiles in the list–we ran a feature on the House of Hades tiles just last week. But when you get lucky enough to spot one of the remaining, legit, first-generation street pieces, well, it’s a good day indeed.

As we reported, it is The Orbit‘s conclusion that none of these still exist in metro Pittsburgh and we’re left with a pair of ersatz Hell-bound tributes. But you never know! What does Easter–and, by association, spring–offer but the arrival of new hope, possibility, and opportunity. It is a new season: the sun is shining, birds are chirping, and flowers are popping with their tiny blasts of color across late winter’s gray-brown backdrop. Go out there and get you some eggs!


[1] There are, however, several efforts out there to restore/repaint old ghost signs as new mural projects. There’s a big one on Penn Avenue in Garfield and several in Braddock that we know of.

Golden Babies: The Final Chapter?

golden baby hanging from electric line, Pittsburgh, PA

Golden baby #4 (aka “Clement Baby”)

Almost as soon as this blogger’s index finger migrated January’s More Golden Babies! post from “draft” to public record even more tips on the mysterious street art/prank started rolling in. Three of them, in fact, one right after the other. Another golden baby had been spotted just off Main Street in Bloomfield/Lawrenceville, a second over on The North Side, and yet a third down in the 10th Ward on Butler Street. That last one turned out to be duplicate report of Butler Baby (golden baby #3), but, as a famous realist–and entrée–once said, two out of three ain’t bad.

silhouette of baby doll dangling from electric line over row houses, Pittsburgh, PA

Golden Baby #5 (aka “Sampsonia Baby”)

Oh, you can believe that chops were licked and hootenannies kicked into high gear to confirm these reports. Orbit readers who’ve already perused the included photographs will note that we were not let down in our pursuit.

Golden Baby #4 is (still) dangling from the electrical infrastructure on tiny Clement Way, just off Main Street, right next to The Shop and Liberty Beer. Golden Baby #5 was caught hanging loose in the Mexican War Streets on the very block where both The Mattress Factory and City of Asylum houses are. In both cases, the baby dolls seem to perfectly match their siblings: same gold paint, same white onesie, same dangle by the ankle.

The jump across the river for #5 was especially interesting as it meant our perpetrator(s) may be, you know, “city-wide,” rather than concentrated purely in the Penn and Butler stretches of the East End. How many more would there be? We’d just have to hang back, wait, and see what else turned up.

golden baby hanging from electric line over brick building, Pittsburgh, PA

Golden baby, blue sky. Clement Baby

Well…the calendar turned from February to March, we ate a bunch of fried fish and mac & cheese, and now we’re half way into April and there’s been nary a peep from any more golden babies (or their spotters). The 1-800-ORBIT-ME hotline sits silent, phone bank operators idly twiddling their well-intentioned thumbs. We can’t get a grainy cell-phone baby photo tweeted at us to save our lives. Sigh.

Is this it? Is this the way it all goes down? If so, that’s O.K.–we had a good run. I’m tempted to say, like a famous minstrel–and heartbreaker–once did, don’t do me like that. But, you know, that ain’t how it is. No, Mr. or Ms. Golden Baby dangler, you did me pretty good. Yeah, you did The Orbit pretty darn good.

golden baby, electric lines, and sky, Pittsburgh, PA

Upside-down you’re turning me. Sampsonia Baby

A Salute to The City of Sad Toys

Stuffed polar bear toy in alley

Bloomfield clip job

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

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

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

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

stuffed red toy in street

Red…thing, Oakland

stuffed monster toy on street

Green monster, Oakland

stuffed bunny toy on roadside

Roadside bunny, Rogers, Ohio

Barbie doll laying face down in street

Barbie hit-and-run, Lawrenceville