PITTSBURGH — The patients at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh were barely awake Monday morning when the first ropes unfurled from the roof 12 floors up.
But when window-washers clad as superheroes rappelled down the brick facades along Penn Avenue and 45th Street in Lawrenceville, little eyes were wide open.
Caleb Whitaker, 6, of Windber, raced through a third-floor clinic — and catapulted himself over pint-sized furniture — to ogle Spider-Man, Batman and Superman as they sprayed and wiped clean the glass panes. Captain America rounded out the comic-book foursome, assembled at no charge, thanks to Allegheny Window Cleaning Inc. of Springdale.
"We heard people yelling: 'It's Spider-Man!' When the other ones appeared, it was just kind of amazing," said Joe Hartnett, 42, of Castle Shannon. His rapt daughter Leah, 6, who accompanied her younger brother, "didn't quite believe it" at first.
"It's a wonderful surprise," said Hartnett, who joined dozens of gawkers inside and outside the hospital. Many posed for photos with the costumed heroes at ground level.
Allegheny Window President Edward Matuizek said the company wanted only to brighten the day for children battling illnesses.
Matuizek said the washers improvised to position their safety harnesses around the costumes.
"This isn't about us. This is about them," said Matuizek, a father of two teenage daughters. "It's a nice place to work, but emotionally it's a real tough place to work. You go home and pick your own kids up, and there's a lot of gratitude there."
A similar superhero appearance at a British hospital inspired Matuizek's plan. Allegheny Window Cleaning has washed the windows at the 296-bed UPMC facility since the hospital opened about three years ago, Matuizek said.
The firm's office manager Michelle Matuizek — Edward's wife — first suggested the costume idea.
His initial reaction: "You're crazy. I'm not doing this."
But Children's Hospital facilities director Elizabeth Munsch helped nudge the plan along, officials said. Allegheny lined up $800 worth of Broadway-quality costume rentals and four experienced window-washers to wear them for about two hours.
The washers are Rick Bollinger, 46, and Mark Errico, 26, both of Harrison; Ed Hetrick, 36, of Springdale; and Jim Zaremba, 43, of Lower Burrell.
"The kids were loving it," said Errico, suited up as Captain America. "Everywhere we went, they were coming in from different rooms."
He would do it again in a heartbeat, he said. And he might get the chance: Edward Matuizek said the company is looking to make the appearance an annual gig.
"On a nice day like this, those kids are locked up in there for — who knows? — months," Errico said.
Quinlan Carney, 4, could get on board with a return engagement. He isn't a patient, but he locked his eyes on Spider-Man as he gripped his mother's hand along 45th Street.
"He's going to talk about this forever," said his mother, Julia Carney, 37, of Harmony.
Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, http://pghtrib.com