A guide to Pittsburgh's 10 Guinness World Records


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An argument started it all. The year was 1951 and Hugh Beaver, then-director of Guinness Breweries, was fighting with a friend in an Irish pub over what species was the fastest bird in Europe. He realized how many pub-brawls must have been started over unknown facts -- and the Guinness Book of World Records was born.

Today there are more than 50,000 records, all thoroughly documented and searchable on GuinnessWorldRecords.com. Earlier this month at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, the Anthrocon convention tried to add a record for largest parade of humans in fursuit costumes.

This feat is far from the first Pittsburgh has seen on its turf. Set your sports teams, sandwiches and golden bridges aside. Here's a new set of claims to fame Pittsburghers can be proud of:

1. Highest insured hair

Steelers safety and Head & Shoulders shampoo spokesman Troy Polamalu's legendary locks made history in 2010 when Proctor & Gamble insured them for $1 million.

At the time the company bought the insurance policy with Lloyd's of London, Mr. Polamalu's hair was 3 feet long. His frizzy mane, which hasn't been cut since 2000, takes 45 minutes to prepare before games.

"It's correlated to what a warrior in the past would do to prepare for war," Mr. Polamalu told People Magazine. "You have the Mongolians, the Japanese Samurai, the Spartans -- all of these warriors with long hair ... and in that way you can almost get into the mind-way, preparing for some type of battle when you are doing your hair."

2. First brain cell transplant

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center claims the completion of the first-ever brain cell transplant for patients of a stroke. On June 23, 1998, a team of doctors inserted cells via a needle through the skull and into the brain of Alma Cerasini, a woman who was partially paralyzed after suffering a stroke. The idea is for the new cells to help stimulate cells that survived the stroke.

"The safe completion of the procedure was encouragement to keep pursuing this research," said Dr. Lawrence Wechsler, chairman of UPMC's Department of Neurology. "Although it's not an established therapy yet, we're making [our] way to improved strength and speech for these patients."

3. Most dogs walked simultaneously

On Oct. 1, 2011, Lower Burrell dog trainer Joe Orsino, more well known as "Mr. O," walked 35 dogs on one leash for 45 minutes -- proving the power of proper pet training, he said. As a fundraiser for the Lupus Foundation of America, the dogs were walked exactly 1 km (a little more than half a mile) on the North Shore.

"And don't just think I did all small ones," Mr. O said. "There were mastiffs, Great Danes, Dobermans and Newfoundlands. If I'm going to do it, I'm going to overdo it."

Mr. O said he hopes to walk 50 dogs simultaneously in the near future.

4. Largest gathering of zombies (the first time)

As far as Mark Menold is concerned, everyone should know that Pittsburgh is the zombie capital of the world. Mr. Menold and 893 others were the first to set a Guinness Record for largest gathering of zombies at Monroeville Mall in 2006.

Since then, "zombie walks," a public gathering of people dressed as zombies, have become an international phenomenon. The current record stands at 8,027 undead that completed a Zombie Pub Crawl Oct. 13, 2012, in Minneapolis.

But Mr. Menold, who hosts the show "It's Alive" on WGBN, is sure that Pittsburgh can reclaim the title this year at the Pittsburgh ZombieFest on Oct 12 at Arsenal park in Lawrenceville.

5. First digital emoticon

Long before emojis, smart phones and instant messaging, the smiley was born in Pittsburgh.

Scott Fahlman, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University, recommended that the use of ":-)" and ":-(" would be useful in distinguishing which messages on the university bulletin board system were serious and which should be taken lightly.

"I've had this interesting research career and what I'm best known for is 10 minutes of being silly in 1982," Mr. Fahlman said.

6. Largest paint swatch

It started as a marketing campaign -- "Color It Big" -- then, PPG Industries took it literally. In 2011, the Pittsburgh company created the world's biggest paint swatch, a 68-square-foot replication of a spring green swatch, 24 times its normal size.

"Guinness required everything about the swatch to be exact," said Color Marketing Manager Dee Schlotter. "Even the paper had to be the same as the normal swatches."

After spending time in Market Square and PPG Place, the swatch is now displayed at home builders' shows across the country.

7. Oldest person to get tonsils removed

At 84 years and 277 days old, John Mazzafer of West Mifflin underwent a procedure that would do nothing to improve his health -- but would change his life forever.

Mr. Mazzafer was unaware he was setting a record when doctors recommended his tonsils be removed in June 2002. It was an attempt to ease the then-84-year-old's swallowing problems caused by throat cancer.

It didn't work, but soon after the procedure, someone joked to Mr. Mazzafer that he must be the oldest person to have his tonsils out. They were right.

"He had the certificate framed and then he took it to the mall and had a t-shirt made of it," said Mr. Mazzafer's daughter, Sue Bradley of Rossiter. "He had a photocopy of the thing that he carried around with him and would show people whenever he got the chance."

Mr. Mazzafer, who was also a WWII veteran and a steel worker, passed away in February 2011 at the age of 93. His tonsils were mentioned in his eulogy.

8. Largest glowstick design

The Cathedral of Learning's nighttime glow took a different form in August 2011, as 2,792 University of Pittsburgh students made its shape out of blue and yellow glowsticks to break the record for world's largest glowstick design.

Attempting to break a world record has become a tradition during Pitt's new student orientation. Records for the largest flashlight-lit logo and largest umbrella dance also have been challenged, but have not yet been officially approved by Guinness.

9. Most consecutive Major League Baseball losing seasons

Pittsburghers aren't exactly proud of this one, but it is the Pirates' claim to fame. The record was set in 2010, after the Pirates completed their 18th losing season in a row. A 79-83 finish in 2012 made it 20 losing seasons. Throughout that time, the Bucs have been through six managers, five general managers and a new stadium. Here's to hoping 2013 isn't another year for the (Guinness) books.

10. Largest beer tasting

Although it is pending approval by Guinness, the record for world's largest beer tasting was broken in April during Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week. A total of 294 people (27 more than the record-to-beat) showed up to taste and rate four beers from Maryland's Flying Dog Brewery. Matt Hough, the event's organizer, said it shows Pittsburgh is more into craft beer than ever.

"And you always hear about the friendliness and the community feeling in Pittsburgh's neighborhoods," said Mr. Hough, who runs Hough's Taproom and Brewpub in Greenfield. "This event proved it."

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Jessica Contrera: jcontrera@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1458 or Twitter: @mjcontrera. First Published July 13, 2013 4:00 AM


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