Signs of patriotism flash in Baltimore

January 18, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron and Laura Lippman | Thomas W. Waldron and Laura Lippman,Evening Sun Staff

America is at war, but Baltimore-area residents seem to be taking it in stride.

Although some people displayed a patriotic bent yesterday, getting out flags and yellow ribbons, most adjusted quickly to life while the conflict in the Persian Gulf went on.

Others reacted quite differently by canceling trips out of fear.

There was a brief run on flags -- Iraqi flags -- at the Flags, Banners and Pennants store downtown.

"Somebody wanted to burn them," said William Barr, the store manager.

American flags are also selling well. People are "ringing the phone off the wall," Barr said.

At Celebrate Maryland Inc. in Ellicott City, a woman looked for a small American flag for her silver Mercedes. She ended up putting it on her car phone antenna because the radio antenna goes up and down, said store employee Karen Gerwig.

In most Baltimore neighborhoods, it was easier to spot faded remnants of holiday decor than it was to find any patriotic touches, although there were yellow ribbons in South Baltimore and yellow ribbons also tied around all telephone and traffic light poles in downtown Catonsville. A few flags dotted the landscape in Hunting Ridge and Ten Hills.

Some neighborhoods put on a more notably patriotic display, however. In the 7900 block of Kavanagh Road in Dundalk, there were nine flags flying.

"Just certain sections are patriotic," explained Stella Westbrook, who along with her husband, William, had taken their flag out of the living room closet yesterday. "One section, on holidays, has its flags out, the other doesn't."

Hampden also gloried in Old Glory. Perhaps the most notable display there was the massive 48-star flag hung across the porch of a white rowhouse in the 800 block of W. 38th St., illuminated by a string of white lights on a tiny tree in the front yard.

"I've done it on and off ever since the Gulf situation started," said Joe Lucas, 44, a Vietnam veteran. The flag is from the mid-1950s burial of his uncle, Samuel Young, a World War I Army veteran. He said the tree is lighted "because I know the only place you're supposed to fly the flag at night is the White House."

Flags were hot, but information was an even hotter commodity.

Televisions popped up in offices all over town -- at City Hall, the Govans post office and convenience stores. People bought newspapers wherever they could find them.

Gas stations seemed shy about putting up rah-rah signs supporting American troops. But Vellegia's Restaurant posted "God Bless America" on its front on Joppa Road in Towson. A huge "PRAY FOR PEACE" banner was hung on the Episcopal Cathedral on University Parkway and a big banner with the same message on a business on Fort Smallwood Road.

Radio stations broadcast more news about the war and added patriotic music.

WPOC, a country station, added patriotic songs such as Kate Smith's "God Bless America," Johnny Cash's "Rugged Old Flag" (also popular during the flag-burning debate) and Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA."

WHFS, a progressive rock station, added such songs as XTC's "Generals and Majors" and repeatedly gave out the Pentagon phone numbers for information about relatives.

But WIYY-FM, which generally revels in controversy and even broadcast musical lampoons of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein earlier during the crisis, swore off anything political.

"We've pulled any song that has lyrics that might conjure up bad meanings," said Russ Mottla, the station's program director and afternoon disc jockey. "We're just trying to stay away from the issue. There's a lot of people in this area who were called up, or who have family over in Saudi Arabia. We realize it's a tough time for them."

Some travel agents said local airline and cruise bookings have dropped steeply.

"I've never seen anything put a freeze like this before," said Terence McDonough, owner of Aladdin Travel Agency in Annapolis.

Airplanes did, of course, continue to fly, and the Federal Aviation Administration ordered the nation's airports, including Baltimore-Washington International, to increase security to its highest level to prevent terrorist actions.

At BWI, that means only people with tickets can go to the gate area and passengers have to take their own luggage to the ticket counter, said Carol T. Riley, a spokeswoman for BWI.

The state capital went through one scare yesterday when a security officer in the James Senate Office Building saw a man rush in, drop a battered briefcase onto the floor and leave.

The man turned out to be state Sen. Arthur Dorman, D-Prince George's, and the briefcase contained his papers. But that wasn't discovered until after the guard called for help. Within minutes, police cleared the office building of workers, took up positions at intersections outside and closed one street.

Later, an unsmiling Gov. William Donald Schaefer complained that the guard waited 45 minutes before alerting anyone that the briefcase had been abandoned.

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