The Kid At The Top Of The Pole

BACK TRACKS *

July 07, 1991|By Carleton Jones

Flags are suddenly back in style in a big way, but in the 1920 what was at the top of the pole wasn't always red, white and blue. Sometimes it was a live body.

One such aerial enthusiast was Avon "Azey" Foreman, a small, slim, dreamy-eyed 15-year-old whose heroes were the flagpole-sitting champ of the era, Shipwreck Kelly, and aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh.

Azey's older brother, Handley, had nailed a perch to the top of a tall, sturdy pole behind the family home on Ethelbert Avenue in Pimlico.

Azey began his 10-day, highly publicized sitting on July 20, 1928. He'd had plenty of practice on an 18-foot hickory tree at the family home, so perhaps that accounted for his family's lack of concern about the safety factor.

The family salvaged an old rosewood ironing board that had belonged to the pole sitter's great-grandmother. Handley nailed it to the top of the pole, where it served as a safe spot for Azey's naps.

Sister Hazel, 17, said that if her brother fell off the pole it really wouldn't matter, just skin him up some. "He fell 15 feet off the Walbrook trellis bridge one time and didn't get anything but a skinned nose," said Hazel.

Most of Azey's food was milk and vegetables, but after 90 hours aboard, his ma sent up an order of ham and eggs. Things were happy.

There were some minor blips, though. On the fourth day he overdosed on too much candy contributed by well-wishers, and tossed and turned uncomfortably all night long. People had begun bringing presents to the poleside: golf clubs, a necktie, books, a pair of shoes and other oddments. A local baker offered $1 a day for every day Azey lasted, and the pole sitter also received promises of free dance lessons and a dental exam.

By midpoint in Azey's sit (now being reported virtually around the world), about 19 other Baltimore kids had caught the fire, rounded up poles and were sitting (and sleeping) atop them.

Soon some old busybody called a juvenile protection agency, which sent a representative to the scene to demand an end to the whole thing. But Mrs. Foreman ran them off. She said she liked to have Azey in the yard where she could see him while doing the dishes. "He can't get into any mischief up there," she said.

When Sunday rolled around, instead of attending church, Azey read a Bible on his aerial retreat, like some modern version of St. Simeon Stylites.

On the ninth day of the sit, Mayor William F. Broening arrived to do Azey honor. Another caller was an astrologer, who sat up nights at the perch site to determine "the mysterious forces that induced Azey to mount his pole and perch there." Even Shipwreck Kelly stopped by to honor the lad. The Pimlico Athletic Club was called on to police the crowds.

"The crowds arrived steadily from nightfall on, and an hour before the scheduled morning descent had Mrs. Foreman's flower beds and lawn thoroughly trampled," a reporter wrote. Eventually, about 4,000 people were gathered around the modest dwelling for the early-morning finale.

"The first three days were the worst," said Azey as he climbed down in the midst of roaring cheers and popping flashbulbs. He did a quick version of "the black bottom dance" on his parents' porch, then went inside for a good day's sleep.

With such a picturesque start in life, it would be cheery to find Azey going off to the 1936 Olympics or making bank vice president in the 1950s. It was not to be. At 17, Azey pled guilty to auto theft. (He was in a neighborhood gang that had hustled a car at Greenspring Avenue and Cold Spring Lane.) In 1944, while loading coal, he had a massive circulatory attack and died soon after. He was 30.

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