Stolen Heritage Trail sculpture recovered by police


The two-piece Unkillable Human sculpture stands on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail in front of the Veterans’ Memorial Bridge. The piece on the right was stolen last weekend and recovered on Wednesday. (Photo Courtesy Friends of the Riverfront)

A donated sculpture, stolen last weekend from the North Shore portion of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, was discovered Wednesday morning in a private Bridgeville home.

The "Unkillable Human,” a seven-foot steel sculpture by the late Frederick Franck, was donated in 2003 to Friends of the Riverfront, who placed it along the trail between the 16th Street and Veterans’ Memorial bridges.  

“It’s going to need to be refinished. There’s some damage to the base,” said Thomas Baxter, executive director of Friends of the Riverfront, an organization that takes care of the trail.

Baxter said city detective John Varner recovered the sculpture and that Varner said the individuals suspected of the theft are cooperating with police.

Varner would not comment on the incident or give suspects’ names.

The sculpture consists of two separate pieces — one, a steel slab with the shape of a human figure removed; the other, which was stolen, the cutout human figure itself. The two pieces stood about 20 feet apart from each other along one side of the Heritage Trail in a small park created in partnership with Pittsburgh Physicians for Social Responsibility and the city of Pittsburgh.

Baxter believes the sculpture was stolen sometime on Saturday. He said his organization received a rash of phone calls from trail users over the weekend, reporting the missing sculpture.

Friends of the Riverfront’s board is working with Red Star Ironworks of Millvale on restoring the piece. They have consulted with Franck’s family on the best way to retain the sculpture’s artistic integrity.

Franck’s work has grown in value since his death in 2006.

He said the thieves were likely going to sell the sculpture for its artistic value, since the raw material would only fetch about $45 at a scrap yard and the process of removing it would have been too arduous.

“They could have pulled it out with a truck. If they had four or more people, they may have been able to lift it. But they wouldn’t have been able to get the other piece without a backhoe,” Baxter said.

The "Unkillable Human" was inspired by Franck’s trip to Hiroshima. On a granite nameplate near the sculpture, Franck’s inspiration is given: “At Hiroshima Franck was confronted with the shadow of a human being burned into a concrete wall by the atomic bomb. The indestructible spirit rises from the ashes.”

Baxter said the sculpture will likely be reinstalled by late August.

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