By SHELBY SCHROEDER
Planters nutty icon disappears from renovated downtown span
After a renovation in the late 1980s, the Spring Common Bridge to downtown Youngstown earned a new character - and a new nickname.
Since then, the link from Mahoning Avenue to downtown Youngstown has been warmly known as the Mr. Peanut Bridge. A steely Planter s icon perched high on the bridge greeted travelers at the Oak Hill Avenue entrance.
The bridge has a history of its own, replacing the first Spring Common Bridge built before 1900. The current crossing, which cost $2 million in 1950, has undergone a $5.4 million rehabilitation that included new handrails, new concrete pavement and a new paint job.
The once pistachio-colored bridge has given way to a firetruck-red hue. Its modern look now mirrors the revitalization efforts seen downtown.
And although the work is nearing completion, longtime observers know that it is not done. The one question being repeated to the county engineer’s office, construction workers on the bridge, and on blogs: Where is Mr. Peanut?
“We’re getting calls like you wouldn’t believe,” said Randy Partika, a Mahoning County engineer in charge of overseeing traffic construction. “Everyone wants him back.”
The story of the Mr. Peanut Bridge is less familiar to residents than is the figure itself. Few know where it came from, and there are many conflicting stories.
In 1986, during extensive renovation to the bridge’s upkeep, Mr. Peanut was born.
“Periodically, I’m introduced as the guy who had put it up,” said Joe Mansky, the foreman of Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 87, which ran a steam pipe across the bridge, from Youngstown Thermal to the former Forum Health Southside Medical Center.
Mansky, now 66 and living in Boardman, remembers the day the 30-inch icon was embedded in Youngstown’s lore.
“It’s become a historical landmark,” he said. “When I would drive past it, I’d give it a little salute.”
Fellow steamfitter Dick Tranick recalls how the steel-welded figure sparked interest more than two decades ago.
It started with a co-worker who had dopey ideas, he said.
“Just about everyone in the trade has a nickname,” said Tranick, who worked for Mansky with Local 87.
Tranick explained that one guy in the trade was known for his wild ideas and consistent forgetfulness.
“If he was doing something [on the job], stopped, and went for coffee and came back, we’d have to remind him what he was doing,” Tranick joked.
As the story goes, Tranick said, the crew tossed around a few nicknames for him until settling on “Peanut Brain.”
It was while cutting steel in the company’s shop on Temple Street that Tranick and Mansky’s brother, Jim Mansky, who was also a steamfitter, turned Mr. Peanut from a joke to a reality.
“Sitting on the table when Jim and I were working was a peanut can,” Tranick said. On a whim, Tranick decided to sketch the small Planter’s icon on a quarter-inch sheet of steel.
“Jim said, ‘Hey man, that looks good — we’ve got to cut that out!’” he said.
“It all escalated from there.”
The two decided that the cane-leaning, top hat-adorned legume was proper recognition for their nutty co-worker. Back on the site, Tranick and Jim Manksy hopped in a two-man basket and were lifted to the first arch of the bridge. The two welded Mr. Peanut firmly to a piece of steel secured to the bridge.
“We were half afraid we were breaking the law,” Tranick said.
But no one ever complained, the men said, and Mr. Peanut was painted to match the bridge. It had remained there, admired by observant travelers since October 1986.
Over the years, the legend of Mr. Peanut has grown — and mutated. Entirely new stories about where it came from began to surface, and before its creators knew it, others were claiming responsibility.
But when renovation of the bridge commenced Jan. 7, 2007, Mr. Peanut disappeared.
After the figure was removed, Partika said one woman requested it, claiming her relative placed it on the bridge and that she would like to have it as a keepsake.
“There has always been talk about who put Mr. Peanut on the bridge,” Tranick said. “When talk [of it] came up, we would just sit back and chuckle.”
Over time, the figure rusted with the bridge, shedding some of its pistachio hues for the burnt orange of oxidized metal. Partika said Mr. Peanut also suffered two bullet wounds to the chest.
But with less than a week before the bridge is to be reopened and renamed, the battered Mr. Peanut has yet to take his place back at the bridge entrance.
“I most certainly do want it back,” Mansky said of the landmark he still speaks of proudly.
“If they’re welding it back up, I want to be the guy who does it,” Tranick said. “I wish my buddy was here to see it.”
Jim Mansky, who cut the Mr. Peanut from a sheet of steel, died in 1998. The icon was further perpetuated in a 1997 print called “Here in Youngstown” by artist Bob Barko Jr., highlighting 62 pieces of the city’s history.
Jeremy Levenson, the project manager for the company that rehabilitated the bridge, said that although in hiding from the public, Mr. Peanut is in good hands.
“They’re giving him a face-lift right now,” said Levenson, who explained that volunteers from the painting crew were working to clean and repaint the figure.
Partika said concerned residents can expect a shiny, new Mr. Peanut to be unveiled along with the newly named “Fallen Fire Fighter’s Memorial Bridge” on Friday.
Tranick and Mansky, like many others who have quietly wondered about the posh peanut, are happy to hear it.
“It was put up there not to come down,” said Mansky, who intends to be among the first to revisit Mr. Peanut.