Local saloon singer Kevin Scott gave away $2,300 at the Broadway Recreation Pier yesterday so grown-ups could go out and buy books for children.
By the time Mr. Scott left, city workers were putting up plywood shelves inside the 76-year-old Recreation Pier on the Fells Point waterfront, and the new Agnese Hunter Dempsey Reading Room was open for business.
"Books are something tangible," said Mr. Scott, who sings and plays guitar around town and raised the money last summer with other local musicians on a Lady Baltimore harbor cruise. "Books are a charity you can see."
With his light brown hair hanging in a jagged line across his brow, a long, black scarf around his neck and several dozen schoolchildren at his feet, Mr. Scott held three checks in the air: $1,000 to buy books for the Dempsey Reading Room, $1,000 to buy books for the library at General Wolfe Elementary School and $300 for the Fells Point branch of the Pratt Library on South Ann Street.
"You like new books, don't you?" he asked the third-graders from General Wolfe Elementary.
"Yeeeees," they sing back to him.
"You're not going to mess them up, are you?"
"Nooooo," they answered.
Watching the show was 69-year-old Virginia Baker, a longtime Bureau of Recreation and Parks employee who runs the city's Adventures In Fun program out of the Recreation Pier.
Miss Baker, the mind behind the city's annual Hog Calling contest and Elvis Presley tribute, had no plans to establish a reading center at the pier for the children of Southeast Baltimore.
But when Mr. Scott told her he wanted to give some money away to buy books, she jumped on the idea, ordered some shelves from city work crews and turned a small conference room at the top of the Rec Pier's long flight of stairs into a narrow library.
"Kevin's philosophy was books, books, books, so we turned a little room here into a library, and the thing we can do that maybe the public library can't is have someone sit down with these kids and read together," Miss Baker said. "I'll buy the hot chocolate, and I'll buy the cookies."
Miss Baker decided to name the room in memory of the late Agnese Dempsey, a longtime director of activities at the Recreation Pier who was one of Miss Baker's many mentors.
In 1949, Mrs. Dempsey described the pier's 75-foot-by-320-foot rooftop playground as "the only one I know of directly flanked by freighters loading at adjacent docks."
Since it opened at a cost of $1 million in 1915, the big brick pier on Thames Street has hosted starlight summer dances, stickball, outdoor nursery school, ping-pong, Chinese checkers, and, in 1930, a dramatic
rendering of "The Pied Piper of Hamlin."
Now, with the $1,000 donation from the sixth annual Fells Point "sing-a-long cruise" and a pair of shelves built in two hours yesterday morning by city workers Ronald Morman and Roland Bordley, the Recreation Pier will be a place to read a story.
But with new hardback books for children easily going for $10 to $15 each, the donation from local musicians won't go far enough to fill those shelves.
Which is why Miss Baker is asking anyone with extra books for children around the house to toss them in the big wooden box just inside the Rec Pier entrance.