Lansberry still hears voices, but he's a changed man
THERE ARE many true "harbingers of spring in this town. Tulips ablaze in a garden. Cotton skirts swirling around bare legs. The Pirates. And, of coarse, Lansberry.
On this lovely morning Bob Lansberry - In jeans, red T-shirt and sneakers with a multicolored swoosh - idles on a bench in Market Square. The sign that is as much a part of him as the gray hair nestling on his shoulders and white beard is propped at an angle to catch the eyes of passersby, It reads: "Cong. Coyne is no damn good. Ask him why."
Congressman Bill Coyne is the latest of a long list of targets for Lansberry's signs that includes Sens. John Heinz and Arlen Specter, former Congressman Bill Moorhead, various lesser political lights, and every judge in the county. Coyne's crime has been his failure to help Bob Lansberry get his mail.
Ah, but this is The New Lansberry. To be sure, he remains the dean of the city's professional protesters and a bur under many saddles, but he is a changed man.
No longer does he live under the 10th Street Bridge, but has a room on the South Side. No more does he rant and rave about the mail he still insists he can't get. Rather than indigent, he is as financially solvent as is possible on $500 a month. The sandwich board sign he carried for years has been replaced by a smaller, sleeker version. Occasionally, he is spied wearing a suit and necktie.
He has, he is saying, even rid himself of his vices.
"I don't drink. I don't smoke, I don't chase women anymore. No family. I'm even on a diet. I don't have any vices at all now."
Bob Lansberry smiles. which he does a lot these days, in contrast with the years when he plodded the streets with compressed lips and a face sterner than stone.
"You got any suggestions?" he inquires with a grin.
For those unfamiliar with him Bob Lansberry has been a Downtown institution for perhaps 15 years, or since the day in the early 1970s when he hit the streets with a sign complaining about his inability to receive his mail.
One thing has not changed. Bob Lansberry still hears voices.
He says he is controlled by them; that they are part of a federal mind-control project; that he is fighting to expose the government's role in this insidious business.
"I can't win," he says amiably enough. "But some day, someone else will"
Until then, Bob Lansberry, articulate and among the most affable of men, will fight the good fight. I am sort of partial to Lansberry. We both went to Friendship grade school and Peabody High School. Chances are excellent that once we lived next-door to each other on Coral Street in East Liberty. And, of course, the next suggestion that I don't have both oars in the water would not be a virgin.
"I'm getting a VA pension these days," Lansberry is telling me while pigeons and secretaries flutter past. "It's $500 a month. The VA says that because I hear voices, I'm insane."
Lansberry smiles at the notion.
Before he became a protester, Bob Lansberry graduated from Penn State and there are indications that be was once a very successful businessman. He says he owned two grocery stores in Westmoreland County "and some apartment houses in Highland Park. I had money. I was probably worth around $300,000."
Then, he got mad at the government. In short order, the money, his wife, and his three children were gone, and he was living under a bridge.
"I'm too old for it now, like chasing women, but I liked it under the bridge," he says. "Wake up and the first thing you see is the river. The birds sing. Five years I lived outside, even when it would get 20 below zero."
A man wanders past and waves, Lansberry waves back.
"Everybody knows me," he says without boast.
Enough people know him that he received 13,000 votes running against Coyne in 1982 and 35,000 votes running for clerk of courts in1983.
Surprisingly enough, he is rarely harassed on the street. When he does his twice-yearly stint picketing the White House, ABC newsman Sam Donaldson always comes by to chat.
At 57, Bob Lansberry is unswerving in his effort to force the federal government to see the error of its mind-controlling ways.
"I'm never going to quit," Lansberry says, "Some day, I'll just die."
When that happens, some piece of this town's color and charm will be lost.