Franco Harris, George Washington statues return to Pittsburgh airport
Welcome back to Pittsburgh International Airport, Franco Harris and George Washington.
The iconic statues of Harris and the first U.S. president returned to their homes inside the airport. They were re-unveiled Thursday.
“It really turned out well,” said Harris, who was surrounded by fans before and after the unveiling for pictures and autographs. “It’s like looking in the mirror. I was like ‘Wow’ when I saw it.”
The statues were taken to the Sen. John Heinz History Center in March for conservation work and cleaning.
Upgrades include a fiberglass restoration, ultraviolet protection to prevent fading and a new jacket for Washington.
The airport and the history center split the bill for the upgrades, said Andy Masich, the history center’s president and CEO.
“They got a little worn, so we did some work on them and now they are scary lifelike,” Masich said. “The eyes follow you. When you see these two figures when you come to Pittsburgh, you know you’re home.”
Washington is depicted as a 21-year-old. Harris was 21 when the Steelers drafted him in 1972. In a playoff game that season, he made the famous “Immaculate Reception” play, which the statue at the airport replicates.
Christina Cassotis, CEO of the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which manages Pittsburgh International Airport and Allegheny County Airport, made sure people knew the statues would be gone for a while.
“I told Andy at the Heinz History Center that we can’t just remove them,” Cassotis said. “People would be looking for them.”
She said they are in a perfect spot — between two sets of escalators where travelers returning home would see them as they came down the escalators. Many snap selfies with the statues.
“I can’t tell you how many times a dad would pose like Franco and have his child take a picture,” she said. “And the dad says so many times, ‘Hurry up, press the button and take the photo.’ Franco is Pittsburgh. He represents that Pittsburgh is a winner, especially with that amazing play. Franco is emblematic of Pittsburgh’s grit and spirit.”
The statues’ return date was chosen because it is close to the Steelers’ opening home game on Sunday, when they host the Seattle Seahawks.
Airport employees were celebrated the event by wearing Pittsburgh Steelers gear and colors.
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .