For the past eight months, readers like you have submitted their queries, and our staff has hunted for answers to questions like:
- Why does Sixth Avenue take me toward the Seventh Street Bridge and Seventh Avenue takes me toward the Ninth Street Bridge?
- What’s with the steam coming off that old Heinz plant in Pittsburgh?
- Is it possible to date the construction of my North Side row house to 1864?
And we’ll continue to search for answers about the mysteries you bring our way. So keep asking us about Pittsburgh oddities and traditions.
Along the way, we stumbled upon the answers to several of your mysteries while researching previous articles from our archives as well as fellow media outlets. We rounded them up here.
Q: At its peak, how many inclines did Pittsburgh have, and how many could take a car up to Mount Washington?
More than a dozen inclines once dotted Pittsburgh’s hills, 90.5 WESA reported in August, adding that the inclines were first used to move coal. Then, as people moved to the tops of the hills, the cable cars started moving people, too.
“Engineers took on the challenge and in 1870 hundreds of people rode the Monongahela Incline on opening day,” per WESA.
And yes, the inclines did move vehicles, too. One example is the Castle Shannon Incline, which allowed cars to go from East Carson Street to the top of Mount Washington.
Per a February 2017 Post-Gazette article, the Castle Shannon Incline’s entrance on East Carson was between First Street and the Smithfield Street Bridge. On Mount Washington, it ended on Bailey Avenue, west of Haberman Avenue. It operated until 1964.
Q: How about the cookie table at weddings? I don’t remember it so much growing up and I went to plenty of Polish weddings.
The history here is a little messy. Some say it’s a custom brought to Pittsburgh by immigrants. And everybody, from Italians to Greeks to Polish people, claims the tradition as their own.
However, others say it’s a tradition that grew out of the Depression Era and the need to save money on wedding cakes.
Regardless, there’s very little published on the tradition, per an April 2018 article by Rossilynne Culgan in our archives.
However, one thing is clear, according to Lauren Uhl, Heinz History Center’s curator of food & fitness: With the exception of Youngstown, Ohio, it seems to be a uniquely Pittsburgh tradition.
Q: Is it true that the glass of the Grand Concourse roof was painted black during WWII to disguise it?
Yes. During World War II, Pittsburgh and the area around it were known as “Victory Valley,” and after Pearl Harbor, the government wanted skylights and other features covered to keep enemy planes in the dark, Pittsburgh City Paper reported in September 2004.
And that included the Grand Concourse, which at the time, was a passenger station for the Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad.
When restoration started in the 1970s, there was not only paint, but dirt and tar so thick that it took days and 400 cans of Oven-Off to get the skylight was clean, according to City Paper.
Q: How did the Pittsburgh left come to be? Why do people do it? Is it legal?
This trio of question about the local traffic custom comes from two readers. And the last part is the easiest part to answer — no, it isn’t legal.
Like many Pittsburgh quirks, it’s embraced as a tradition of the city. The Post-Gazette tried to track down the Pittsburgh Left’s origins in September and found the newspaper’s earliest reference was in a June 1985 column that called the maneuver “pushy.” By 1996, the Pittsburgh Left was dubbed “famous” in a letter to the editor.
But as for why it exists to begin with, a City Paper article from June 2006 noted that many of the city’s streets were designed before cars and offers this justification:
But they also mean that street grids are constricted, with little room for amenities like left-turn-only lanes. The absence of such lanes means drivers have to solve traffic problems on their own. Instead of letting one car at the head of an intersection bottle up traffic behind it, the Pittsburgh Left gives the turning driver a chance to get out of everyone else’s way. In exchange for a few seconds of patience, the Pittsburgh Left allows traffic in both directions to move smoothly for the duration of the signal.
Inspired to ask a question? Let us know what you’re wondering about: