PittGirl pulls plug on Burgh Blog

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In a retirement worthy of Greta Garbo, PittGirl, the sassy and clued-in high priestess of Pittsburgh blogging, called it quits yesterday in a bid to preserve her status as an anonymous celebrity.

Known for a ferocious wit and an avowed hatred of pigeons, the woman who skewered such local bigwigs as "Mayor Lukey" and "The Dread Lord Yarone Zober," PittGirl was among the region's best-read bloggers and was at the peak of her popularity when she walked off the cyber stage, her real name still a mystery to all but a handful of people.

She closed the site yesterday morning after someone figured out her identity.

"I wasn't threatened with being outed. In fact, the person that learned my identity begged me to stay, but enough information about me was slowly leaking and it was important to me and my livelihood that I end it on my own terms and shut down the archives while I could," she said in an e-mail exchange with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Indeed, the archives to her site, TheBurghBlog.com, vanished simultaneously with the announcement and even cached pages of Google were hard to locate.

A fan site devoted to PittGirl on Facebook.com filled with posts expressing sorrow at the cancellation, and PittGirl said her own e-mail inbox began to overflow in the five hours after her announcement.

"I am astounded at the reaction to the blog's end," she said. "The blog did not change my life in any way on the outside, but inside, it made me a better writer, a better thinker, and it really gave me something to be proud of. None of that is going away any time soon."

Readers were met with this message yesterday morning as they logged on:

"I'd be lying if I said I'm not incredibly sad about it because I didn't realize how much a part of my life this blog has been for three years. It seemed like a little side thing I did and not a very important thing, but now that I'm cutting it away, I'm realizing what a big cut and a deep cut it really is. And how much it is hurting to let it go."

The site was uncharacteristically plain, lacking the customary photos and graphics, sometimes taken with her camera phone during her commute to work in the city.

"I hope you'll trust me that I'm doing what I must do, for my comfort level, for my privacy and for my life," she said.

Yesterday's closure of The Burgh Blog marks the third high-profile Pittsburgh blog to shut down since summer. On Aug. 28, Chad Hermann, a local writer and consultant, shuttered Teacher.Wordsmith.Madman, his precisely written and often controversial site. A month later Michael Madison, a University of Pittsburgh law professor and a pioneer in the city's blogging scene, closed Pittsblog.

"It doesn't surprise me at all. It was inevitable that she was either going to be outed in some kind of cruel and pointless way or she was going to shut it down at some point," Mr. Hermann said yesterday.

He wrote Teacher.Wordsmith.Madman under his own name and said he generally disapproved of anonymous blogging, but praised The Burgh Blog for its comments section and the author's willingness to face critics.

"She was a consistent and always answerable voice. You could at least hold her accountable for the consistency of her thoughts," he said of PittGirl.

PittGirl's identity -- even gender -- was the subject of speculation in the online world as fans and targets alike pondered the identity of the blog's author. At one point, speculation half-jokingly centered on KDKA anchor Ken Rice. Others who had met the author described her much the way she did herself: a local worker in a nonprofit organization whose regular contact with players in the Pittsburgh community required that she keep her identity secret.

"People tried to project her onto recognizable people because she's become so recognizable without having an identity," said Mike Woycheck, a technology analyst who handled construction of the site and who was one of a handful to know PittGirl's name.

That anonymity only seemed to whet the appetites of readers, who logged in every Monday for her "What They Were Really Thinking" feature that put thought balloons next to the helmets of the Pittsburgh Steelers in photos from the preceding day's game. Readers followed her vacation adventures with her four sisters -- Ta Ta, Ohio Sister, Pens Fan and one she dubbed Tina Fey.

In correspondence she suggested these siblings were real and she wrote with unvarnished affection for them. Less real was her collection of "self-united husbands," various celebrities and athletes to which she would declare herself married. Chief husband was Pittsburgh actor David Conrad, who received endless favorable notice on the Burgh Blog.

Less favorable were the notes earned by public officials or bureaucrats who cross the line. After the city settled out of court with ousted URA director Pat Ford and his wife, former mayoral press secretary Alecia Sirk, PittGirl declared them "annoying burghers" and let loose.

"I toss dead roses at your nasty Gollum feet," she wrote, calling them "egotistical, unethical, narcissistic thieves, and when the karma boomerang hits you upside the head, I hope it circles around again to give it to you twice."

Whether gleefully recounting the kicking of a pigeon or conferring pet names like "Cabbage Patch Baby Cici Donna" -- her pet name for Steeler Casey Hampton -- PittGirl lured readers into her self-created world.

Dennis Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1965.


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