Nearly five years ago several horizontal metal bracings were bolted to a wall beneath the Longfellow Bridge, and on those bracings someone had meticulously placed a collection of mysterious plastic trophies that one might receive as a child playing on a soccer team, or dancing in a recital, or hitting balls in Little League.
But as the Massachusetts Department of Transportation did construction work on the span crossing the Charles River in 2014, the trophies — vestiges of the past that people would go out of their way to find and photograph — were suddenly removed.
With the bridge finally reopened after the years-long rehabilitation project, the trophies recently made a triumphant return, delighting people who pass under the bridge on their daily commute.
“Now that the construction is finished, I have been able to add quite a few more,” said the artist behind the trophies, a 50-year-old attorney from the area who asked to remain anonymous because he believes it adds to the intrigue of his project. (That, and he doesn’t want to get cited for littering, he said.)
“I figured now that the bridge is reopened, I wouldn’t be in [MassDOT’s] way, and they wouldn’t be upset” about the trophies, he said.
The installation’s creator first got the idea to place trophies under the bridge after walking by the empty metal slats in 2014. Each time he saw them he thought, “There’s got to be something that can go on there,” he said.
Then, one day, while at a local dump, he overheard a man who was trying to discard a large box of trophies.
“He said, ‘What do I do with this box of trophies?’ ’’ the artist said in a telephone interview. “And I said, ‘Give it to me. I’ve got a place for them.’ ”
The installation initially led to a lot of head-scratching: How did they get there? What did they mean? Who was behind it?
As intrigue grew, and people continued to post pictures online, the site became known, unofficially, as the “Longfellow Bridge Trophy Room,” earning it a spot on FourSquare and becoming a must-see attraction on TripAdvisor. The mysterious collection was even covered on the local news.
Soon, people started adding their own trophies to the collection.
“It really sort of took on a life of its own. People started coming to it as a destination, rather than walking by,” the artist said. “I think it was the delight and the surprise; the strange juxtaposition of this underpass and a whole bunch of trophies.”
When the installation went on hiatus to make way for repairs to the bridge, the artist started placing trophies in other random places, all around the world.
He dubbed it “The Trophy Room Project,” and lugged suitcases of old trophies he picked up to faraway destinations like China, London, South Africa, and Japan.
Closer to home, he created impromptu exhibits in Connecticut and New York. He spread “the joy of winning across the globe,” and documented it all on Instagram.
The recent reopening of the Longfellow Bridge, however, has brought the street art project back home.
Earlier this week, a pedestrian took a video of the trophies tucked away between the beams beneath the bridge, reigniting a conversation about their presence.
“Does anyone know why these trophies are under the underpass of Longfellow Bridge?,” the person tweeted. The video was viewed more than 20,000 times, as people tried to answer the question, including the artist.
As of Wednesday morning, there were more than 60 trophies visible along the path on the Cambridge side of the bridge. Above the sidewalk were basketball trophies and baseball trophies. Some were from old hockey team championships or given out for tennis and golf tournaments.
They’re gold and silver plated, some of them small enough for a bookshelf and others extravagant and tall, bearing stripes and stars or flags.
A few trophies have even been customized. One says “Regular Season Champion,” but has a clown’s head mounted on top in place of a figurine. Another features a plastic dinosaur eating a NCAA basketball figurine. They look like something from Sid’s toy box in “Toy Story.”
People passing under the bridge this week stopped to ponder the trophies, wondering, as people did back in 2014, how they got there.
Elizabeth Stevens, who is in town with her husband for a conference, thought they were charming.
“It’s like a small human expression in an industrial stretch of road,” she said.
That’s exactly what its creator had intended.
“It’s provoking thought and taking things out of context,” he said. “And that’s what art is all about.”
Steve Annear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.