News & Community

The Chatter: March 2015

Overheard at the MLK parade, Edgar Allan Poe memorial, and World of Pets Expo.

Historical Notes

January 19, 2015

Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard

“I won’t be doing a lot of twirling,” says Dunbar High School drum major Martuise Montgomery, a silver baton tucked into the nook of his elbow as he rubs his hands together before the start of the 15th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Parade. “I’m afraid I’ll drop it. I’m freezing, but it’s important to be here. We’re marching to honor Dr. King’s marches.”

Despite the chill, deep crowds line the 10-block route and, moments later, Martuise kick-starts the trombones and trumpets with pumps of his baton. Their first number, “Wade into the Water,” is an old Negro spiritual, which Harriet Tubman used as a reminder to escaping slaves to get off the trail to prevent dogs from tracking their scents. Nearly 70 groups follow Dunbar’s lead, including the Buffalo Soldiers of the Baltimore Chapter 9th and 10th Calvary Association on horseback, and neighborhood marching bands like the Westsiders and Baltimore Go-Getters.

Among the songs blasting today is Stevie Wonder’s “Happy Birthday.”

“Many of our kids know that song, but don’t know that Stevie Wonder wrote it in 1980 because of the backlash against making Dr. King’s birthday a holiday,” says Charles Funn, Dunbar’s band director. “That song swayed public opinion. I’m not just a music teacher,” Funn adds, standing next to Martuise, who eventually worked up a sweat with his high stepping, as the band gathers near their bus afterward. “I was about their age when Dr. King was shot. I try to be a history teacher, too.”

Dark Places

January 19, 2015
West Fayette Street

Laura Fabian places three red roses at Edgar Allan Poe’s memorial on what would be the macabre poet’s 206th birthday. “One for each person buried,” she says, a telltale smile alluding to the discomforting weirdness that remains the hallmark of the writer’s mysterious work—and life. “That’s Poe, his cousin/wife Virginia, and his aunt/mother-in-law Maria.”

Per tradition, there’s also a reading this afternoon of a few of Poe’s despairing poems, including “Alone,” by local actor Tony Tsendeas, dressed, appropriately, in black from head to toe.

“My sorrow—I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone—
And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone.”

Following the readings, Poe House curator emeritus Jeff Jerome and this year’s honored guest, Victoria Price, daughter of legendary horror movie villain Vincent Price, lay a rose-filled wreath on the grave, a birthday custom dating back to the 1920s. Afterward, Price tells the gathering that her father, who starred in numerous Poe-inspired films, particularly loved his poems, which naturally suited her father’s rare combination of gifts—a mellifluous voice and intimidating 6-foot-4 presence.

In fact, Jerome adds, Vincent Price deserves great credit for bringing Poe’s works to wider notice with his 1960’s films. He also notes that the actor visited Poe’s memorial and the catacombs beneath Westminster Hall in 1977. “He was in a show at the Morris Mechanic and this was before the renovations here,” Jerome explains. “At one point, when we’re down in the catacombs, which were even darker and creepier than they are now, I felt him grab my arm and pull me toward him.

‘I don’t like it in here,’ he whispers.

“And what did I blurt out [in reply]? ‘Oh, you big baby.'”

Cat Power

January 25, 2015
York Road

There’s a kangaroo and a monkey inside the Maryland State Fairgrounds’ Cow Palace, but most animals at the packed World of Pets Expo appear to be domesticated. Filled with folks who’ve brought their own dogs for a look-see, the three-day show features parrot-training demos, pet CPR workshops, canine “good citizen” tests, and a talk on animal hospice care. There are rabbits and alpacas as well as booths for pet portraits and, believe it or not, a rat rescue operation. Highlights today include the “Gerbil Olympics,” the dog long-jumping finals, championship pure-breed shows, and the 7th Annual Household Pet Cat Show.

Thirty-two felines are entered in the household pet competition, a sort of beauty contest for the every-cat, where Norma Anderson, 75, an American Cat Fanciers Association judge, checks their cleanliness, paws, and coats on a tiny, well-lit stage. She also engages each cat, petting them, and offering toys and a climbing post. The scoring is fairly subjective. “Whatever cat I enjoy the most,” says Anderson, who has 13 of her own.

Most contestants are tabbies of various hues, but there’s also a hairless sphynx that resembles ET and a British shorthair named Earl Grey. “He likes tea,” volunteers his owner. Of course, the cats generally appear uninterested. Ultimately, a tabby named Johnny Rotten, who, unlike his punk-rock namesake, is exceedingly cuddly, wins first place. “The outgoing cats win because most cats aren’t that way,” says Anderson. “Dogs love everyone. With cats, you have to earn their trust and affection, which is harder, but it’s also why people like them. You know what they say, ‘Dogs have owners and cats have staffs.'”