Pearl's slaying stings Waverly community

June 29, 1995|By JACQUES KELLY

On a trip to the 800 block of Montpelier Street in Waverly, I spotted a St. Anthony statue, another to the Sacred Heart, lots of clipped lawns and well-tended brick homes.

This was the place where 72-year-old Pearl Elizabeth Moffett lived. She was murdered June 9 about a quarter of a mile away, outside a Greenmount Avenue bank. Police have charged a nephew with setting up the killing.

Montpelier is one of those quintessential Waverly streets, one that dips and climbs the sides of the small urban valley due east of the Gothic Revival steeple of St. John's-Huntingdon Episcopal Church.

It is a street out of hard-working Baltimore, a little corner of the city made a lot more pleasant by the presence of flower gardens and mature trees.

Word of Pearl Elizabeth Moffett's death has saddened this old and resilient neighborhood. On many occasions she dropped in at Pete's Grille, the landmark coffee-hamburger-egg house at the southwest corner of 32nd Street and Greenmount Avenue.

"She would do anything for you," said Charmain Sharkey, who runs the restaurant with her husband, Lou. "There were times when I thought she might offer to come behind the counter and help out. She was the kind of customer we'd like to have more of."

To those who know it, who live and work in it, Waverly remains one of the more remarkably stable Baltimore neighborhoods, a place where age and race do not matter much, where people accept their neighbors. If they wanted to live at a fancier address, they would have moved away long ago.

It is so remarkable because this neighborhood is old and, in places, somewhat battered. But there's a tenaciousness here, a willingness to settle in and live.

"Despite what people say, it isn't that bad here. I think it's a good neighborhood. It really hasn't changed that much," said Ralph Sica, who has operated a dry cleaning operation since 1946. His Waverly Tailors is about a block from Pearl Elizabeth Moffett's home.

The shooting happened on a Friday afternoon as Greenmount Avenue was filled with its usual mix of bus patrons, shoppers and people just out to pass the time.

"A calm came over Greenmount. People just went out on the street. Then word came down -- it was Pearl," recalled Mrs. Sharkey.

Then the television cameras and the reporters moved in.

There was also an outpouring of heartfelt support for Pearl, a candlelight vigil that brought out 300 people.

"I was really offended that some of the media portrayed that as an event that happens every day here in Waverly," said Mrs. Sharkey. "That's not the way it is. My husband and I are here from early in the morning and we see the street, we see the people. We have great customers. The worst I've seen is a few kids who cut a hole in the roof of a shoe store, got in the place, then couldn't get out.

"But people hear 'Greenmount Avenue' and, boom, everybody is supposed to think, this is a bad area. That is just not right."

The people who fear and avoid Waverly do not know it. They won't give it the time of day. That is their loss.

Pete's friendly and bustling lunch counter did not look like something out of a traumatized urban neighborhood. Hungry eaters were putting down the mashed potatoes and getting on with life.

"It seems like real Baltimore," said Robert Harington, science editor at the Johns Hopkins Press, who regularly comes here to eat lunch.

Real Baltimore today means some of the adjoining shops have security guards. It means there is a scattering of vacant commercial buildings. The street is far from spotlessly clean.

And yet the decades-old Woolworth store looks almost as it did in the 1950s. Clothing, shoe and drug stores remain busy. This is not a monitored shopping mall, but a model of the way this country shopped for so many decades.

And until her death, Pearl Elizabeth Moffett was one of its regulars, one of its stalwart believers, one of the people who were not afraid.

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