"Thee Had To Ask" | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


Having just arrived here from Philadelphia, I find some local customs most vexatious: the tendency for locals to shoot at you from behind trees, for example, rather than standing in an orderly formation like honorable Christians. But prithee, what is the deal with these chairs in the streets?


I posed your question to the newly installed head of Public Works, Ebeneezer Costa. Costa speculates this is a practice adopted from the local Indians. The origins of the practice are unclear, though they may represent some variation on the totem pole -- an attempt to invoke the spirit of ancestors, in hopes that they will sit down in the chair, watching over a home when the family leaves it.

We may well laugh at such superstitions, and pity those who've never experienced, say, truly skilled leechcraft, or a first-rate cupping. But few settlers have dared touch the chairs. Local superstition holds that evil will befall anyone who moves such a chair, unless it is the owner.

Costa acknowledges the chairs impede traffic, but he is currently focused on plans for an ambitious road-improvement program. Pittsburgh just received a load of "Belgian block" stone for paving the streets, he says. Work has yet to begin: The Public Works Department only began hiring last week, and the employees are still on their first coffee break. But Costa predicts that hiring will pick up in the years ahead, once those public servants have settled into the area and begun raising extended families.

And once the paving starts, Costa says that deeply rutted roads will be a thing of the past. "Pittsburgh shall be known forevermore by the high quality of its roads," he pledges.

Costa even predicts that someday, crews will dig holes straight through the surrounding mountains, so that travelers will be able to go directly beneath them, rather than journey around.

Costa acknowledges that many travelers would be wary of the cavern. Before entering such a subterranean passage, he admitted, "drivers would likely slow down, in case the savages had laid an ambush near the entrance."

But he points out that encouraging such caution need not be difficult. "All you'd need is for the very first person entering the tunnel to slow down," he says. "Once he does it, everyone behind him has to slow, and then the people behind them as well, and so on." As with the primitive chair-placing rites of the natives, he says, "Such traditions can last for years. Over time, people may not even remember why they do it."

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