In Pittsburgh, if you tell somebody “Kennywood’s open,” they will immediately, with some embarrassment, check their pants zipper and zip it up.
For newcomers to Pittsburghese, the expression serves as a subtle heads up, less awkward than saying “your fly’s down.” Everybody around here, from kids to grandparents, seems to know this peculiar Pittsburgh phrase.
The terminology dates back to at least the 1950s, but nobody knows where it originated — not Pittsburgh Dad, not Rick Sebak, not Heinz History Center experts, not Kennywood officials.
“It’s a little bit of a mystery what the roots are, but there’s no denying its recognition and power,” Kennywood Park spokesman Nick Paradise said.
He’s consulted the West Mifflin amusement park’s most veteran staffers, including an in-park historian, and still nobody knows the backstory to what he calls “an absolutely critical piece of Pittsburghese.”
Brian Butko, director of publications at Heinz History Center, is the local expert on Kennywood. He wrote two books on the park, and he’s working on a third.
He grew up in West Mifflin in the shadow of rollercoasters and still lives in the neighborhood. Butko said all of his family members worked at Kennywood in roles from security to waitressing to dressing up as the Kenny Kangaroo mascot.
Even with all of those Kennywood connections, Butko said nobody he knows can figure out where “Kennywood’s open” originated.
“My memory of it would probably be like 1970, when I was hearing it and that embarrassing moment when they tell you that — the panic,” Butko said.
Kennywood’s open (no, you don’t have to look down). Fen Labalme / Flickr
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