Whole Grotto Love: The Marys of Stanton Heights

cinderblock and brick residential wall with five different statues of Mary
Multiplying Marys. The (now) quintet of Marys (and friend) that greet visitors to Stanton Heights.

Most people will blow right by without ever giving the place a second thought. The little post-war brick and cinderblock house sits a comfortable distance off Stanton Avenue, tucked behind a curve in the road, and probably won’t even catch your eye when you’re barreling up the hill. It’s not the house itself that’s so exciting here, but rather the miracle of the multiplying Marys that is taking place out front.

Five years ago, your favorite hyper-local electronic publication ran a story that attempted to round up some of our favorite Marys from all over the place. [See: Hail Mary! Front Yard Mary Roundup (Nov. 27, 2016)] Yes, it was naive to bundle so many Marys from so many places together when seeking them out and collating them into location-based sets is so satisfying. Lesson learned.

Anyway, in that story, most of the way down, there’s a photo of this same Stanton Ave. address, but with merely three Marys against the aqua-blue foundation wall. If anyone is equipped for a miracle, it’s a woman who can conceive pregnancy with a holy ghost–so we shouldn’t put human cloning past The Blessed Mother. But this jump in the population begs so many questions: Can Mary immaculately replicate herself? Where do they all come from? Will there be more? Look, I’ve seen Multiplicity and things didn’t work out so well for Michael Keaton, so let’s all keep our fingers crossed.

statue of Mary in front yard of house
Whole grotto love Mary

Stanton Heights won’t bowl you over with its Marys. Between the neighborhood’s detached homes, large yards, big hedges, and fenced-in backsides, just locating a Mary here and there can feel like no small achievement. Rest assured, though–they’re around.

It takes a patient blogger who no longer sleeps to rise at the crack of dawn, trundle up the big hill, and criss-cross every block, each dead-end alley, and explore all the places, courts, and ways to get a thorough accounting of Stanton Heights’ Mary scene. [Side note: if you’re a Heights resident whose Mary was not found or you just think she deserves a better photo, please get in touch.]

That’s about all there is to say here. On this Mother’s Day 2021, we salute all the mommas out there from the O.G. Mother of All Mothers–you’re all immaculate in The Orbit‘s book!

statue of Mary among leafy groundcover
Our Lady of the rising groundcover
statue of Mary in front yard of house
Sunshine Mary and babies
statue of Mary in front of large hedges in residential front yard
Bustle in your hedge row Mary
statue of Mary on brick porch wall
Don’t jump! Mary
statue of Mary in front of brick house
Oohooh Mary Blue, livin’ her life in a free-form style
statue of nun in front yard of house
Yeah, this looks more like a nun, but we’re going to count it
statue of Mary in back yard of house
Back patio Mary (looming, far right)
statue of Mary in front yard of house
Flower box Mary
statue of Mary under a tree in residential garden
Shade garden Mary
statue of Mary in front of brick house with big yard
Perfect green blanket Mary
statue of Mary between flower garden and front porch
Mary Flowers-a-Poppin’
statue of Mary in front of house
Excited about the new city-issued recycling bin Mary
statues of Mary and Jesus by large bush
Big Mary and half-pint Jesus
statue of Mary against a cinderblock wall
Eyes on the door, back-against-the-wall Mary [yes, we need a longer lens]
small brick house with statue of Mary in front and no other decoration
No friends Mary

Step Beat: May the 54th Be With You

Top entrance to the 54th Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

There is a darkness. Upper entrance to the 54th Street steps at Camelia Street, Stanton Heights.

An unusually iridescent quality to the daylight–the result of diffuse, cloud-filtered sunbeams’ gentle descent to Earth. That, paired with recent showers and high spring reawakening, resulted in a glorious array of patchwork greens popping from every direction. Bright yellow-greens from first leaves and tangled weeds climbing through last year’s dead growth. Deep low greens darken ivy shadows and taller members’ undergrowth. Add one storybook passageway–literally full of twists and turns, hoots and birdsongs–and you’ve got a recipe for magic.

Right-angle turns at the top of the 54th Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

Zig zag wanderer: right-angle turns at the top of the 54th Street steps.

The 54th Street steps are a stretch that one can only assume is on the endangered species list. Several pedestrian walkways link the residential neighborhood of Stanton Heights (above) to 10th Ward/Upper Lawrenceville (below). At one time, there must have been significant demand for this kind of infrastructure, but with (most of) Lawrenceville’s big industry jobs long gone and automobile ownership more rule than exception, it’s hard to imagine many people needing to use these particular steps anymore. This blogger didn’t encounter a single other human on his recent visit.

Long middle section of the 54th Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

The long middle section of the 54th Street steps including wooden replacement handrail.

And that’s a shame…sort of. Pittsburgh has its share of great parks, trails, green spaces, etc. But it never ceases to amaze how simply walking around city neighborhoods offers so many everyday opportunities for nature, tranquility, solitude–you name it.

The 54th Street steps, as well as others up this way, are a prime example. The parks may have a greater bounty of trees, flowers, birds, and chipmunks, but they don’t supply the crazy catwalk gangways and cut-into-hillside stair climbs. You won’t see the same ghostly foundations of long-gone step-accessible (only) houses or burnt offerings to witchcraft. The entire length of 54th provides commanding bird’s eye views of Upper Lawrenceville and across the river to Millvale. The river trails are often crowded with Sunday cause-marchers and lollygagging strollers that can test the through-rider’s patience. The presence of humanity is no such problem up here.

Overgrown hillside view from the 54th Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

This is city living. View from the 54th Street steps.

The 54th Street steps are in quite good shape overall. There is some cracking to the concrete and there’s been obvious repair work including a fixed-up section of felled handrail with a jerry-rigged wooden replacement. But the treads are all sound and there’s no point where they feel like they’re falling apart. Any regular step-hiker will tell you this is no small achievement.

This is all pretty remarkable given the length and complexity of the operation. Fifty-fourth Street is definitely not the longest set of steps in the city (that’s the unbelievable Rising Main Way on the North Side), but with maybe 200 stairs* it’s probably up there. When you factor in the six right-angle turns and long flat stretches, it’s really a hidden jewel a in the city’s step crown. Get out there and try it on for size.

Bottom entrance to the 54th Street city steps, Pittsburgh, PA

Lower end of the 54th Street steps at Wickliff Street, Lawrenceville.

* Just guessing here–we didn’t count.