Here's to Crapo, Pigtown, Scaggsville


March 17, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

CHANGE Scaggsville's name just because the newcomers to the area don't like it? I smell another attempt to homogenize the provinces. Change the name to North Laurel? You might as well call it Bland's End.

If I were a descendant of the Scaggs family, I'd be plenty peeved. Does Boz Scaggs know about this?

I like names, and the more colorful the better. I like the song of zTC names. I like when a name makes me wonder about a place's history. (One of these days I'm going to call the Waste Gate Historical Society in Wicomico County and find out what corruption scandal I missed. Waste Gate, if you're wondering, is just a few miles from Wango.)

I like when people stand up for the name of their place in life. (You don't hear anyone calling for dropping Dundalk, do you?)

A few years ago, some folks on the southwest side of Baltimore wanted to drop Pigtown for Washington Village. They've succeeded to some degree. A lot of Baltimoreans - card-carrying members of the Honorable Sons of Pigtown, particularly - still call it Pigtown. (They know the history of pigs herded through the street on the way to the abattoir.) Some call it Washington Village. Some refer to it in print as both, with a slash mark wedged between the two names. I guess they've achieved a separate peace.

Out in Garrett County, on the way to Deep Creek Lake, you pass through the little town of Accident. A friend of mine once quipped: "Accident - A Town Waiting To Happen." It was a little joke, a reaction to an amusing surprise. It was not a put-down, but a way of celebrating a unique name. That's all. If I had to live in Accident, I'd make sure the house had plenty of firewood, I'd patronize the little grocery store there, I'd enjoy the countryside, and make sure the bears couldn't get into my trash. I would not start a campaign to change the name to North Deep Creek.

Some people have the idea that every community should have a safe, sweet-sounding, even generic name, with no authentic connection to its history or geography. In his highly enjoyable series of "the official rules" books, Maryland author Paul Dickson lists one of his own: "The more trees a developer cuts down, the woodsier the name of the resulting housing development." Whatever happened to the marsh in White Marsh, anyway?

We have to hold fast to what makes life here in the Greater Patapsco Drainage Basin unique. (That means never changing Cockeysville's name, either.) We have to resist the mass market forces that strive to make everything here look and feel just like everything everywhere else. Is there anything more disappointing than the experience of driving through a little town and finding the same fast-food restaurants, the same sprawlmarts you find everywhere else? That's Bland's End.

Give me Pigtown, give me Dundalk, give me Crapo (Dorchester County), give me Pomonkey (Charles County), give me Detour (Carroll County), take me down to Funkstown (Washington County), Chewsville (also Washington) and give me Scaggsville. Scaggsville then, Scaggsville now, Scaggsville forever.

Once more, with spirit

Overheard in a local crafts shop: "I'd like a can of spiritual thinner, please." No heathen she. What the woman wanted was mineral spirits.

To our honorable ancestors

He seems amused that people who've heard it in clubs like his song, "Streets of Baltimore," so much, but Martin O'Malley, the city councilman and Celtic-rock band leader, understands. It's an old-fashioned folk song with a patriotic spirit. But it's not sentimental. It has a bitter edge, recalling, as it does so well, the struggles of the poor Irish of the 19th century to break from their famine-plagued homeland and seek a better life in America. O'Malley wrote the song one afternoon a year ago, at the request of Ron Zimmerman, the South Baltimore real estate broker who has been working to open a museum about the city's immigrant experience. The result is an up-tempo homage to the Irish Catholics who endured the pain of departure and the deaths of friends and relatives on their way to the United States. Some of them landed in Baltimore and, in O'Malley's vision, what they saw as they arrived here was the great flag at Fort McHenry. That's why the chorus goes, "Come up on the deck this morning, and give your hand to me, and see the flag that flies above this new land of the free."

When O'Malley's March finished recording it for its first compact disc, "Celtic Fury," Bob Baum, the band's bass player, declared it the best song on the album. It might be.

For me, it reveals in O'Malley something that cuts deep in a lot of people, no matter their skin color, no matter their ethnic ancestry - the desire to remember what others would have us forget. Just as the antimulticulturalists press us toward some vague ideal of assimilation, we are drawn to our roots, that which makes us different, that which affirms our identities and shapes our souls.

The Irish raise glasses today to their heritage. But all of us should toast our honorable ancestors - those who walked before us, who broke their chains, who blazed trails with brave hearts and the power of love.

Pub Date: 3/17/97

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