News & Community

The Chatter: October 2016

Overheard at Fells Point Ghostwalk, Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church, and Fluid Movement.

Past Lives

South Broadway
August 5, 2016

“Look around, what do you see?” asks the top-hatted, cane-sporting guide of the 30 or so Charm City visitors gathered Friday evening at the foot of Broadway for The Original Fells Point Ghostwalk. “Friendly part of town, right? Pretzel place. Ice cream parlor. Young professionals . . . that’s a new phenomenon, however,” he adds, somewhat ominously. “This used to be a dangerous part of town. Pirates here would stick you in the gut for the coins in your pocket.”

Among the ghosts said to reside nearby is a 10-year-old girl who has appeared in the second-floor stockroom above Bertha’s restaurant. She has been spotted over the years by employees, says the guide, glancing from the window to where the crowd now stands—reputedly a mass burial site from an 18th-century yellow-fever outbreak that may have claimed her mother.

On Thames Street, the discussion turns to the former practice of shanghaiing young men into service aboard a ship—known as “crimping” in Baltimore. One such young man, who apparently didn’t survive his initial kidnapping, is said to haunt Leadbetters Tavern. The Ghostwalk includes a visit to the family cemetery of Fells Point founder William Fell, whose long dead ne’er-do-well son is reportedly sighted from time to time walking down narrow Shakespeare Street.

Naturally, the best tales blend fact and hard-to-fact-check anecdotes. Melissa Rowell, a former medical illustrator who launched the Ghostwalk tours, admits to being skeptical even as she did her initial research. “Then something strange happened,” she says. She’d bought a T-shirt from an older Cat’s Eye Pub bartender and not long afterward found herself back there and asked about him. “I described him to the woman working—that he kinda looked like Abraham Lincoln,” Rowell continues. “And so she points to a photograph behind the bar. I said, ‘Yes, that’s the guy I bought the T-shirt from.’

“She says, ‘Well, he worked here. Doesn’t anymore. He’s been dead eight years.’

“True story.”


Park Avenue
July 17, 2016

In Europe, stained-glass windows have been associated with Christianity and appreciated for their beauty since the Middle Ages. But there’s also historic—if not quite as old—stained-glass inside Bolton Hill’s Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church. This Sunday morning, as part of Artscape’s slew of events, congregation member James Shuman is leading a post-service Breakfast With Tiffany tour of the Gothic-style, 1869-built church’s exquisite windows, which a glass art expert once described as “the finest collection of Tiffany windows in the country and quite possibly the world.”

Tiffany glass, Shuman notes, refers to the work of the prolific decorative artist Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of the founder of the famous luxury jewelry retailer Tiffany & Co. The two largest windows at Brown Memorial measure 16 feet wide and stand three stories tall.

“These were made when there was no TV, no radio, and people came to church twice on Sunday and once during the week,” Shuman says. “They each preach a message.” The two biggest windows, which face each other, depict the annunciation to the shepherds and the heavenly city of Jerusalem, for example. From outside, however, the images in the windows appear, at best, in shadowy outlines.

“There was a boy, 8 to 10 years old, who made his mother bring him in 10 years ago,” Shuman recalls. “It gets a little rough a couple blocks west and there had been some shootings in the neighborhood around that time. He said he wanted to see the picture of the man holding the gun.

“What the image was,” Shuman explains, “was a seeker holding his arm outstretched with a cross.”

Light Waves

South Linwood Avenue
August 5, 2016

On this warm Friday evening, the city pool at Patterson Park is playing the role of multipurpose gym, hosting the Robert L. Drake Jr. Middle School 17th Annual Science Fair, as a banner in the backdrop indicates. The move to the unusual venue, explains tonight’s emcee—an earnest educator named Miss Waters—is “due to an unfortunate ant colony incident.” But not really.

The bleachers here are actually packed for the award-winning performance art/synchronized swimming troupe Fluid Movement’s 15th project—Science Fair! The Water Ballet—which pays homage to the discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton and Nikola Tesla, as well as science fiction. The Inner Harbor’s breakthrough trash-eating device, Mr. Trash Wheel, also gets a big shout out with his own song and swim number. (The fictional middle school is an homage, too—named after a former city rec and parks lifeguard and scuba instructor who passed away in January.)

The highlight of the evening is probably the second of the six choreographed segments—“Reanimation: Brides and Monsters”—which starts with a dozen and a half ghoulish performers in waterproof zombie makeup and red and black suits dancing on the pool deck to “Monster Mash.” Soon enough, they’re falling into the water, kicking a routine to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”

“The whole thing began in 1999, when I was working for the Patterson Park Community Development Corporation and looking for ways to promote the park, the usual concerts and things,” co-founder Valarie Perez-Schere says later. “Someone told me there was a woman [Trixie Burneston] who wanted to do water ballet at the pool. I said, ‘Shut the front door! Give me her number!’”