POOR Wally Orlinsky has taken many a lump over the years for his promotion of the Largest Birthday Cake in All the World during the 1976 Bicentennial, the latest being Gilbert Sandler's Aug. 28 Baltimore Glimpses.
So it seems almost unfair to describe another goof Wally almost made -- in complete innocence -- that would have capped the whole affair.
But what the heck, Wally has broad shoulders and a good sense of humor (and he's about to get married). So now it can be told.
Wally, then president of the City Council, was in his City Hall office one day describing his grandiose plans for the cake's central role in the celebrations and how he would dress up in a Revolutionary-era uniform to cut it with a ceremonial sword.
What sword, Wally?
"One of those," he replied, pointing to three weapons stacked in a corner of the cluttered office. He said friends had lent them for the occasion.
He produced the swords for inspection. Which will you use?
This one, Wally said, picking up the most ornate, which had a sweeping curved blade and a beautifully engraved hilt. "I like this one," he said.
His visitor inspected the piece. "Are you sure?" he asked.
"Sure, why not?" Wally responded.
"Oh, My God," Wally gasped and pushed the sword away.
It was a Russian Cossack saber -- a very distinctive style -- and was probably Red Army issue because the pommel was engraved deeply with the communist hammer and sickle.
And at that time, after all, the cold war was still very much a fact of life.
"What if television picked that up?" said Wally. "I'll use one of the others." They weren't as fancy, but their American pedigrees were secure.
So even though most of the 69,860-pound effort was ultimately shoveled into the Patapsco after a rainstorm turned it to mush -- and the cake did not make the Guinness Book of World Records -- Wally had his all-American moment on national television with his Cake to End All Cakes. It remains the most memorable part of Baltimore's contribution to the national birthday.
But if you think the cake was a silly idea, who dreamed up painting caricatures of Revolutionary heroes on fireplugs? A few of them are around, too.