You Are Here: A Tall Tale

Overheard at the Shot Tower, state arm-wrestling championship, and annual Nun Run.

By Ron Cassie - November 2016

You Are Here: A Tall Tale

Overheard at the Shot Tower, state arm-wrestling championship, and annual Nun Run.

By Ron Cassie - November 2016

-Photography by Justin Tsucalas

Our monthly news-and-events column "The Chatter" has been redesigned and rechristened "You Are Here" with bolder photos but the same local character and charm. For the first installment, senior editor Ron Cassie visited the Shot Tower, an arm-wrestling competition, and the annual Nun Run.

A Tall Tale

East Fayette Street
September 4, 2016

“Two towns formed to make Baltimore,” guide Marsha Wight Wise says as Baltimore Heritage’s tour of Jonestown—one of those towns—gets underway at the Baltimore Farmers’ Market. “Mr. David Jones, a Quaker, was the first settler in 1661 and built a mill. In 1745, Jonestown merged with Baltimore Town—then just a village near the Inner Harbor. But since it was named after Lord Baltimore and because royalty always gets its way,” Wise adds, “the Baltimore name won out.”

The tour, highlighting Jonestown’s often overlooked treasures, passes several of the city’s prominent examples of cast-iron-fronted buildings, including an old food emporium that’s been readapted into a 7-Eleven. It also visits St. Vincent de Paul, celebrating its 175th anniversary, and Zion Lutheran Church, whose congregation predates the Revolutionary War. The highlight, however, is the trip inside the iconic Shot Tower here—a Baltimore landmark since 1828. In fact, the 215-foot edifice and its estimated 1.1 million bricks remained the tallest structure in the U.S. for almost two decades.

Shot was made by pouring molten lead through a colander and dropping it straight down the open-air shaft. As the droplets fell, gravity spun the lead into spheres before they splashed into a water-filled barrel, where they cooled and solidified. Musket balls from the tower were likely used by Union soldiers during the Civil War, and were sold to local hunters until 1892 when new methods and the price of lead made the operation obsolete. Forty years ago, the tower—in one of the city’s first acts of preservation—opened to the public.

“The world’s only remaining working shot tower is in Riga, Latvia,” says Matt Hood, program assistant with Carroll Museums, which oversees Baltimore’s tower. “I don’t speak Russian, or Latvian, but basically what they told me was, ‘Shot still flies in the Third World.’ That, and they get the occasional call from a Saudi prince who wants to go hunting in Pakistan and doesn’t mind paying a 3,000-percent markup.”

Sisters in Arms

York Road
September 3, 2016

Beyond the Ferris wheel and funnel cake, there’s a compelling array of events on the outskirts of the Maryland State Fair’s midway. For example, a newborn calf is gently pulled from its mother’s womb at the appropriately named Cow Palace birthing center this afternoon. (“I’m not licking my baby,” a wary pregnant woman quips as the calf falls to the ground and its mother begins the natural cleaning process.) There’s also a variety of country-strong contests, including chain saw carving, mechanical bull riding—and the annual state arm-wrestling championships.

A variation of a game with hard to discern roots (some say Native-American; others say ancient Greece), “modern” arm wrestling gained popularity in barrooms before becoming a popular televised sport in the ’70s and ’80s. In fact, Steve Simons, the organizer of today’s tournament, quit his investment banking job to launch a professional circuit in the sport’s early years. “I’ve known a few of these guys for 30 years,” Simons says, gesturing toward the still buff, 63-year-old J.R. Hostler, a former horse trainer, who wins the men’s light-heavyweight division.

In the women’s open division, a pair of blond, solidly built sisters from Bel Air—Jessica Coleman, 33, and Christy Coleman, 32—meet for the second year in the finals. “I usually don’t tell people my secret, but I’ve been an auto mechanic for 13 years,” says Jessica, who outmuscles her younger sis. “Lifting heavy things, turning wrenches—that’s every day.” Christy, she adds with a smile, does body repair.

The sibling rivalry between the “Irish twins,” as the women describe themselves, makes for an entertaining match, but not Simons’ favorite pairing ever.

“The all-time dream finals was a Hell’s Angel versus a Methodist minister—our first year in the Deep South after taking the sport out of California,” recalls Simons. “The preacher won, too.”


North Charles Street
September 10, 2016

“Let’s do it again,” shouts fitness instructor Roxana Feenster, as ’80s new wave blares from the steps of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen. She’s warming up 800 joggers and power walkers—including a goodly number of priests, seminarians, and Catholic sisters in full habit and running shoes—for this morning’s 5K and 1-mile fun walk.

“Easy to start,” Feenster shouts again. ‘Easy, easy. Four . . . three . . . two . . . one.”

The Oriole Bird and Archbishop William Lori are also on hand, pumping up participants for the third annual Nun Run, which supports Catonsville’s Little Sisters of the Poor and St. Martin’s Home, where the women serve seniors with limited resources.

Founded in Baltimore in 1869, Little Sisters—in the midst of a $25 million overhaul of St. Martin’s—provides 24/7 care, including skilled nursing. While the nuns haven’t specifically trained for the run, they all do quite a bit of walking on the campus grounds as part of their daily duties, Sister Lawrence Mary assures. And the long-sleeve habits are not as hot as they appear, she adds. “They’re white; they reflect the sun. And we’re used to them, of course.”

After completing her 1-mile power walk, Sister Cecilia Mary grabs a bottle of water and happily collapses into a chair beneath a shade tree. “This is the first time I’ve been able to do this,” she smiles. “I had a knee replacement last year.” She politely declines to give her age when asked—“Oh, we’re ageless,” she smiles—but mentions she recently celebrated 50 years with her order after growing up in Detroit.

“I’m a big baseball fan,” she adds, needling another participant wearing a bright orange O’s T-shirt. “You do know that the Tigers beat the Orioles last night, right?”

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