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.

Step Beat: Bloomfield’s “Try Try Try” Steps

City Steps with graffiti reading "Try" on every riser, Pittsburgh, PA

Bloomfield’s “Try Try Try” Steps

Try, try, try. What a wonderful message of self-affirmation, coming to you directly from your urban infrastructure! You can do it–whatever it is! Just make it a little farther, a little higher. Reach for the sun; step into the light!

The word Try is identically painted over and over again on each of the risers on the long second flight of Bloomfield’s Ella Street steps. If only all law-scoffing paint-huffing miscreants would take such an interest in the collective conscience. Sometimes we wish the city would put more effort into the upkeep of the steps, but if some well-meaning civil servant were to white-wash each of these, you could bank on this blogger’s mellow getting majorly harshed.

City steps in the Bloomfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA

The “Try Try Try” steps from Lorigan Street

Bloomfield won’t make anyone’s short list of great city steps must-sees. Despite the steep drop-off into “Skunk Hollow,” The Orbit knows of only two sets of steps in the whole neighborhood–these on Ella and one other at the end of Cederville. But don’t let the step snobs of more vertical wards deter you from a really great easy-access down-and-back hike. The end of Ella Street is mere blocks from Liberty Avenue, Bloomfield’s main drag, but a world away from the dense thicket of row houses you pass to get there. It’s all air and light and thick, untamed overgrowth, spilling off the hillside and into the hollow below (at least by this time of the year). Get your hot sausage, go for a little hike down the hill, come back up for a cannoli.

Homemade toy truck bolted to city steps in Pittsburgh, PA

The little red truck: the “Try Try Try” steps unofficial mascot

I’ve been up and down the Try Try Try steps a dozen times in as many years, and for that entire duration, there’s been a curious attachment to the bottom-most landing (just above Lorigan Street). A rusted, red-painted toy truck, which seems to be a homemade piece from heavy garage scraps, is bolted to the concrete. The motivation for this is curious, as is the respect it’s paid from the crews that hang out and graffiti the step rails after hours. They may leave their malt liquor bottles, but they don’t mess with the little red truck. I tend think of it as the unofficial mascot of the Try Try Try steps: the little (fire) engine that could.

View down the Ella Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

View down the Ella Street steps

Reaching the top of the Ella Street steps (and optionally the short flight up the perpendicular Wertz Way steps that adjoin) one gets a great payoff with views through the tree canopy to Polish Hill, North Oakland, and down to Skunk Hollow. On this beautiful early fall(-feeling) day, the sky a perfect cloudless blue, the dappled light, and lush, overgrown hillsides were as spectacular as one could want. And all we had to do was try.

View of Skunk Hollow and North Oakland from Wertz Way, Pittsburgh, PA

View of Skunk Hollow and North Oakland from Wertz Way steps