Bearing shovels in traffic to salvage circus treasure

JACQUES KELLY

December 30, 1992|By JACQUES KELLY

It's all in the way you look at a surplus of elephant dung.

While the state recently cited the city for dumping the Baltimore Zoo's animal manure near the Jones Falls, some gardeners might be happy for the opportunity to visit the Cold Spring Lane pile and haul away that mammalian treasure.

I've seen the stuff perform miracles when applied to rose and other flower beds.

One spring afternoon 35 years ago, police cars suddenly appeared along 29th Street. People rushed from their Charles Village rowhouses to see what the commotion was all about.

A few minutes later, a line of elephants appeared from a circus that was literally folding its tents. Trainers led them across 29th .. Street from what was then a vacant lot near Kirk Field (today a dairy plant) to the Pennsylvania Railroad's old Mount Vernon rail yard, the local home of the circus train.

The whole neighborhood seemed to turn out for the unscheduled arrival of Jumbo and his pals. Children sat on the curbs. My mother ran for a Kodak movie camera and recorded the event. After the filming, she reached for a snow shovel.

Indeed, these noble animals had dropped their inevitable souvenirs in the middle of 29th Street.

Gardeners know the powers of cow or horse manure as a fertilizer. Those in the city also know how rare a commodity it is in an environment where everything is asphalt or masonry.

In a flash, Mom was employing her largest shovel out in the middle of the street. As she dodged traffic, she scooped up bucket after bucket of the stuff for the hybrid tea roses that flourished in her small backyard garden. The stuff she salvaged was impressive.

It took some weeks for the stuff to decompose. I'm not sure the neighbors appreciated the perfume wafting from the mulch pile. In time, it broke down; the massive dose of nitrogen worked its way into the soil. The resulting crop of roses was impressive. Mom took great pride when she informed her squeamish friends about the secret of her gardening success.

The elephant manure seemed to work wonders with the roses, which normally take a beating from Baltimore's damaging humidity.

Before the arrival of the Styrofoam cup and plastic garbage bag, we recycled a lot more than people do today and never gave it a thought. Soft drink and beer bottles were redeemed for the value of their deposits. It seemed that everything was not so heavily packaged in paper and cardboard.

Horse-drawn wagons regularly rolled down the alleys of the old neighborhood. These steeds often relieved themselves. There was competition among zealous gardening neighbors as to who would be the first to scoop this prize from the alley for use later on flower beds.

Neighbors were armed with shovels equal to the task. We also used an old black coal shovel left over from the anthracite heating era. The man next door had a fine, oak-handled model with a long, flat blade.

People stockpiled the stuff. When room ran out in the garden, the truly serious gardeners built up supplies in garbage cans.

xTC Cow manure was always preferred, but there were few Elsies roaming around Charles Village then. If there had been, I know where their byproducts would have found a welcome home.

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