Two days after I had a chance to spend a full day playing tourist in Cleveland back at the end of August, I arrived in Pittsburgh bright and early for a pair of Pirates games at PNC Park. Last season was the second straight year I had the fortune of seeing two games at the beautiful downtown ballpark, and the second year that I’d be staying at the top-notch Hampton Inn & Suites Pittsburgh-Downtown.
My plan was to get to the city well in advance of my hotel’s check-in time, park for free in the hotel lot and do some sightseeing. A year earlier, I’d noticed that the hotel is directly across the street from the Senator John Heinz History Center, a Smithsonian-affiliated museum that includes the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum. Here’s a shot that shows the hotel on the left and the museum on the right:
Anyway, I’d been short on time and wasn’t able to visit during my previous stop in Pittsburgh, so I was determined to make time during this visit.
So, just a couple minutes after leaving my car in the hotel’s parking lot, I was standing directly in front of this:
This is a WWII Sherman tank that sits in front of the museum. It’s obviously quite hard to miss and certainly a head-turner, given that it sits just a few yards from the street. Once I’d taken this photo, I bought my ticket and started to check out the sights — and, boy, were there lots of things to see! The museum is 275,000 square feet with displays on multiple levels. Although I was anxious to get to the sports area, I was interested in the various historical displays, too.
Here’s a 1936 Ford DeLuxe sedan with a body made of stainless steel:
It was designed by Allegheny Steel, a Pittsburgh company, along with Ford. If you’re wondering, the museum concentrated on exhibits with ties to Pittsburgh, but there were a ton of great general American history things to see, too.
You’ve probably seen the iconic “We Can Do It!” WWII propaganda poster featuring the female production worker known as Rosie the Riveter. What you might not know, however, is that the poster was designed by a Pittsburgh artist named J. Howard Miller. In addition to the numerous copies of the poster on display, there was a statue of the poster’s character:
The museum had a ton of WWII displays, which was interesting because I was obsessed with WWII history when I was a kid. (And I still have a hard time turning the channel away when I come across a WWII documentary on TV.) The next display I saw was impactful — this photo shows nearly 7,000 dog tags hanging from the ceiling, and each one represents five Pennsylvanians who lost their lives in the war:
Whenever I’m in a building, I tend to favor the stairs over the elevator. I was glad that I sought out the stairs at this museum, because they have a sports theme. Check it out — the ninth stair is labeled as the Bill Mazeroski stair, the 21st stair (the landing, actually) is the Roberto Clemente stair, and so on:
For whatever reason, the museum was largely empty during my visit. In fact, on some of the upper floors, I’d only come across another two or three people. This obviously meant that some of the floors were extremely quiet … which was fine except for that fact that when I heard a booming voice and saw this historical reenactment figure talking on this screen that I initially thought was a mirror …
… I must’ve jumped a foot in the air. I didn’t stick around to hear what this mustachioed gent was telling me; as my heart rate slowly returned to normal, I continued browsing and stopped at another sobering display. This one is a calendar that shows the industrial-related deaths in Allegheny County from July of 1906 to June of 1907. We certainly take workplace safety for granted in many industries today, but look at this calendar — anything from 35 to 60 people killed in workplace accidents per month over the course of this year:
The good news it that it wasn’t all doom and gloom. The museum was certainly packed with uplifting displays, too, and things only got more exciting as I made my way through the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum portion. Here’s a life-size model of the Franco Harris “Immaculate Reception” play:
A Jason Kendall replica locker stall:
And a Willie Stargell autographed jersey:
The museum had a number of interactive displays, too, like this mini-putt hole:
I’m not sure of its significance in terms of Pittsburgh sports history — or maybe it was just there to keep kids occupied. Either way, I gave it a go. I hit my ball roughly from where I took the above photo, laid it up where I’ve placed the “X” on the photo and then had a short putt to get this result:
After deciding to walk away from my mini-putt career while still on top, I checked out this Buck Leonard signed ball and Homestead Grays jersey …
… and then spent some time in this enormous room dedicated to Pirates baseball:
There were seats from old Forbes Field (which I’d visit a couple days later and you can read about at the end of this blog post):
And a life-sized statue of Mazeroski:
There was even an Official Green Weenie from 1965:
If you aren’t acquainted with this bizarre object, here’s the official description from a plaque at the museum:
Broadcaster Bob Prince developed the green weenie as a good luck charm for the Pirates. Fans were encouraged to point the weenie at the opposing team and shake it, bringing bad luck to the opposition.
That might be the best description I’ve ever read.
After I’d spent a bit of time browsing all the baseball stuff, it was over to the football display, where I threw a few passes to John Stallworth and Lynn Swann:
And then used my hand to show just how big former Steelers tackle Max Starks’ (6’8″, 345 lbs.) size 19 cleats are:
There were a ton of other cool displays at the museum but, hey, why don’t you just make time to check them out if you ever visit Pittsburgh for some ballgames?
Once I stepped outside the museum, it was time to check into my hotel and quickly get ready to head over to PNC Park. You can read all about that visit here.
Fast-forward to the following morning and it was time to do some more touristy/sightseeing stuff. The Pirates were playing an afternoon game, which meant I was up early to check out the sights before I entered the ballpark.
My main goal was to visit Point State Park, which is the park featuring the famous Pittsburgh fountain that you’ll often see on TV broadcasts when you’re watching the Pirates or the Steelers. As you can see from this map, it’s very close to PNC Park and an easy walk from my hotel, which I’ve marked with a star — and you can click to enlarge the map:
The walk along the shore of the Allegheny River is picturesque. Not only do you get to enjoy checking out the bridges and the water, but PNC Park is within view, too:
As I walked past the ballpark, here was my view:
Point State Park is directly ahead and on my left, while kayaks moved quietly through the water to my right. It was perfect.
From this point, I also had a nice view of Heinz Field:
But the scene got even better when I finally made it to the park, which is the meeting point between the Ohio River, Allegheny River and Monongahela River. The park is so vast that it’s hard to capture it in a single photo from the ground. Here’s a panorama I took:
And here’s a wider-angle shot of the fountain and Heinz Field directly behind it:
Point State Park should truly be on your itinerary if you visit Pittsburgh for any reason; I truly regret not making time to check it out a year earlier. In addition to the park itself, there are lots of things you can see from this vantage point. For example, here’s the Duquesne Incline, which is an inclined railroad built in 1877 that travels a distance of 800 feet and climbs 400 feet:
I spent a couple hours walking around the park, just hanging out on the benches and, in general, enjoying the view. And, sometimes, snapping shots of myself that make it look as though the fountain is coming out of my head:
During this time, I also stopped to take a photo of this plaque that is embedded in the ground right at the point of the park …
… and was amused a little while later to see that the plaque was the exact site for a small wedding that was taking place:
As you might expect, given its location, the Point State Park area played a key strategic role in Pittsburgh’s history. It was the site of Fort Pitt and Fort Duquesne, which you can read all about online. I won’t try to recount these forts’ extensive history here. Everywhere I looked, though, there were signs of the forts. See the stone layout in the foreground? It was put in place to show the elaborate outline of Fort Duquesne:
A short distance away stood the Fort Pitt Museum, a cannon and the Fort Pitt Block House, which was constructed in 1764:
The fort itself was built between 1759 and 1761, and was visited by George Washington on three occasions, which is extremely cool. Here’s a plaque commemorating these visits:
Admission to the block house was free, so I went inside and took this photo through one of the observation ports in the wall:
I didn’t spend long inside the block house, so I was soon back outside touring the park. I saw a couple practicing some partner yoga …
… kids playing catch and a park employee playing Frisbee golf with some tourists. A couple final landmarks for you — this is the entrance to the Fort Pitt Tunnel, which is visible from the park:
And here’s the Carnegie Science Center with the USS Requin submarine docked out front:
After I took the above photo, it was time to say goodbye to the park (not aloud, of course) and retrace my steps to the Roberto Clemente Bridge, cross the river and enjoy everything PNC Park has to offer.
The next morning, I got up early in anticipation of the eight-hour drive home, but I had a fun stop to make first. Before I drove away from Pittsburgh, I wanted to visit the site of old Forbes Field. It was the home of the Pirates between 1909 and 1970 and was demolished in 1972 after a pair of fires. So, there’s not much that remains to the old ballpark, but some of the park’s old fences are intact. It was a short drive from my hotel to the Forbes Field site, which is on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh.
I parked on the street, grabbed my camera and hopped out of the car — only to realize that I’d have to wait for several minutes to take some shots. I’d had my hotel room so cold with the A/C and it was so hot and muggy outside that the camera lens instantly fogged up severely. Nevertheless, after walking around for a few minutes, the camera was good to go and I was able to take a handful of photos. Here’s the historical marker:
Part of the fence and the flagpole:
And a little more of the fence with its ivy covering:
I spent a little time walking around the site (it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in Pittsburgh) and then it was time to get back on the road, given the length of the drive ahead of me.
As always, it was a great time in Pittsburgh — both at PNC Park and getting a chance to play tourist — and I hope to get back to the city again soon.