In love? He'll tell the world Romantic: The message of love on a Pigtown wall is a constant reminder of one ordinary couple's extraordinary devotion.

February 14, 1996|By M. Dion Thompson | M. Dion Thompson,SUN STAFF

Clint loves Annie, and everybody in Pigtown knows it. All you have to do is read the sign on the wall at Ostend Street and Washington Boulevard.

"ANNIE

"One Year To Always Remember

"Two Hearts Forever In Love

"HAPPY ANNIVERSARY

"Love, Clint."

"I'd say at least one person a day is standing out there reading that sign," says Rick Walls, whose business shares the wall with the love note.

In a time when half of all marriages end in divorce, the sign is a simple declaration of one man's love for his wife.

If it were a one-shot deal, an adult version of the puppy love graffiti sprayed all over town proclaiming love 4-ever, por vida, always, it would not mean as much.

But it is eight years old. And every year Clint George climbs a ladder to mark another anniversary.

"If I had an old man, for him to do that for me, it would just tickle me pink," Janet Ayers says during a quick stop at Bob's Bar across the street.

"There's not too many men telling the woman that he loves her, and here he's telling the whole world, everybody who rides past there."

Clint George and Ann Murphy-George were known in Pigtown long before the letters went up.

Clint, 47, grew up in the neighborhood. He joined the city Fire Department 23 years ago and spent years on Engine 58 in Westport. He is now a captain with the fire prevention bureau.

Ann, 38, is from South Baltimore, which, in a nod to the city's creeping gentrification, she will jokingly call Federal Hill. At various times she had a hot dog cart in Carroll Park, a tavern at Cross and Carroll streets, a doughnut shop and laundry at

Ostend Street and Washington Boulevard, home of the wall.

They met on a summer night in 1985. Clint and some friends were at the old Market Cafe, a policemen's bar on Hollins Street. Ann was on a date with one of Clint's other friends.

"She came in and she was dressed up real good, and I said, 'That looks like my next wife,' " says Clint. "Little did I know."

Two years later, they were married. And a year later, Clint went up the ladder. He says he never expected the words to stay up as long as they have. After all, the letters -- 3 inches by a half-inch and 6 inches by three-quarters of an inch -- are just made of tape.

"It was raining" hard, Clint says, remembering the night he and some friends put up the sign. "It was the night before our first anniversary."

Tradition says the first anniversary is celebrated with a gift of paper. Clint wanted to rent a billboard. But the cost was high -- $1,000 for 30 days -- and there was no guarantee he could get a sign in the right place at the right time.

So, "I just got an idea that I'd just get the sticky letters," he says, sitting in the rowhouse he and Ann have renovated in the 1200 block of S. Carey St.

At the time Ann ran the laundry and corner doughnut shop. She went to work that anniversary morning and made her routine check for whatever new graffiti might have been spray-painted overnight. Then the red letters caught her eye.

"I couldn't stop grinning," she says, smiling from a memory that still brings a glow to her face. "I think I grinned all day. Everybody who came in the laundromat commented on it."

That year she gave Clint 365 capsules, each with a tiny rolled-up love note.

"The doctor thought I was crazy. He said, 'I can't sell you empty pills.' But then I told him what they were for," she recalls.

Those pills are still around, all but one kept in a plastic jar. Clint keeps the other in a roll-top desk in the family living room. It reads, "I love you in my life." For their sons, Craig, 8, and Jeffrey, 6, all this love stuff gets to be a bit much, says Clint.

The neighborhood adults don't mind. They have seen enough of life's disappointments. Why not find solace in a sentimental sign, in one man's extra effort? Makes you think about what might have been if you had done something more, said something more. No one says you have to go public, though.

"Very few men are going to climb up on that ladder to do that," says Rick Walls, eyeglasses pushed back on his forehead, words coming between puffs on an Optimo cigar he smokes until it is a nub half the size of his small thumb. "But the women, they love that kind of stuff."

The way to a woman's heart may well be through a bold statement, love proclaimed without a care about who knows. A guy proposes over the public address system at Camden Yards, and the crowd applauds. He rents a plane to trail the letters across the sky and makes the evening news.

"I just get such a kick out of it," says Ann. "If that sign weren't mine, I'd think it was really nice. It just touches something in everyone."

Even the neighborhood brawlers and drug addicts look for the sign, says Clint.

"It does catch your eye," he says. "I've read it a million times. But when I come down Washington Boulevard and I catch that red light, I read it. Not to be romantic or anything, but it's still the same feeling."

The Georges aren't long for Pigtown. They have bought 13 acres in Pasadena, room for the boys to grow, for the cats -- Embers, Ashes, Charcoal and Silver -- and Samantha, the German shepherd. The sign will bring them back. If they ever sell the building, the contract will state that the sign stays.

"What present could bring as much joy as that sign?" asks Ann. Then another thought races into her mind and she smiles. "But I do like diamonds. Diamonds go well with that sign."

According to modern tradition, all she has to do is wait until Sept. 5, 1997.

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