15 Pittsburgh facts you can use as conversation starters at your holiday dinner

The answer to the age-old question “Can we talk about something else?” is a definitive “yes.”

Avoid awkward silences at family functions over the holidays with these fun facts about Pittsburgh.

Avoid awkward silences at family functions over the holidays with these fun facts about Pittsburgh.


Each holiday now, news organizations bombard us with tip sheets on how to navigate family dinners in the modern political era.

“How to deal with your Trump-loving uncle or ‘woke’ niece at the Thanksgiving table,” read a November headline in the Denver Post. The article suggests keeping the peace by listening, empathizing and, if all else fails, changing the subject.

But change it to what?

Well, we here at The Incline have a few ideas. We’ve spent the last year digging into Pittsburgh peculiarities and factoids and have assembled below the ones we feel could provide the softest landing when used as a conversational escape chute.

And since it’s Christmas and all we also threw a few topical ones in for good measure. Awkward silence never stood a chance.

The monkey ball.

The monkey ball.

Courtesy of Joe Stavish, Tree Pittsburgh

Let’s talk about trees

🙈 Monkey ball trees are in Pittsburgh, and they date back nearly 13,000 years. If that’s not impressive enough, their fruit once served as breakfast, lunch, and dinner for woolly mammoths.

🔊 Thousands of crows come to Pitt every winter to roost in the trees and eat the plentiful garbage. The university uses audio CDs and holiday laser lights to drive them away. Feel free to use these same tactics to drive your family members away from your house, as needed.

🌳 There are more than 2,500 trees on Pitt’s Oakland campus. Two people cataloguing each and every one. If all else fails, take a walk outside and look at some trees for a few minutes. Deep. Breaths.

Parking Chairs in Squirrel Hill

Parking Chairs in Squirrel Hill

Petichok / Wikimedia Commons

Pittsburgh esoterica, anyone?

📍 Parking chairs have been around in Pittsburgh for decades. But no one talked about them until the ’90s.

🏡 No, the colorful house on Mount Washington wasn’t built for ‘The Real World.’ But it’s a rumor that’s persisted for decades.

💙 Blue Slide Park isn’t actually called that. And the iconic slide wasn’t always blue, either.

Pittsburgh City Photographer Col

How about some history?

🦈 Pittsburgh was a mecca for ancient sharks. Turns out this area once formed the shoreline of a large seaway and that meant ancient sharks, lots of them.

🇺🇸 George Washington is the father of the country. You could say he’s the father of Pittsburgh, too. Also: Alexander Hamilton was persona non grata in Pittsburgh in the 18th Century and nowhere near the box office draw that he is today.

🎄 Pittsburgh once called the holiday season “sparkle season.” It didn’t go well.

🌁 In 1948, deadly smog killed 20 people in Donora and sickened hundreds more. The incident helped launch a clean air movement that continues today.

🌕 Pittsburgh helped make the Apollo 11 moon mission a reality. The Columbia command module itself, which carried astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, was built by the Pittsburgh-based North American Rockwell company.

Of course, the Klondike shares its space on this ad with chipped ham.

Of course, the Klondike shares its space on this ad with chipped ham.

Courtesy of Heinz History Center

Literally any other subject

🚗 There’s a good reason why Pittsburgh’s streets don’t line up. There are grids that intersect at Liberty Avenue: One that runs parallel to the Monongahela River and another that runs parallel to the Allegheny River.

🍦 The Klondike bar hails from Pittsburgh, and it’s part of the reason we put an “s” on everything. There’s also a name for this linguistic quirk, it’s called “productivity.”

🔥 Pittsburgh’s iconic blast furnaces were named after local women, often as a way to honor the family. The machinery was reversed itself and a source of pride and ingenuity and progress, experts say.

✈︎ A military plane went down in the Mon River in 1956, and it’s never been recovered. But an all-volunteer search crew says it may be closer than ever to finding it.

ISO further distractions?

That brings us to the end of our list.

Assuming you’ll be in need of more conversation starters and steerers at future holiday functions, we’ve got you covered. Just subscribe here to receive emails with our new Peculiar Pittsburgh stories as they publish. Be sure to share them with your “woke” niece and Trump-loving uncle, too.

And while you’re at it, the three of you can send us your own questions about our city and region that you want The Incline to investigate. There’s more than enough Pittsburgh to go around.