A deeper look at what's beneath crater captivation Sinkhole: It's a disaster to drivers

to gawkers and talkers, a far-from- pedestrian chance to peek and pontificate.

November 11, 1997|By Richard O'Mara | Richard O'Mara,SUN STAFF

There's not much that can be said about a hole in the ground, usually. A more mundane thing could hardly be thought of. But for some reason or other, Baltimoreans seem entertained by them.

In 1985, a water main broke at the corner of Lafayette and Park avenues. Much of Bolton Hill was flooded, and before the water was turned off and drained away the rupture had gouged a deep hole. It resembled the deep hole gouged into Baltimore's hide Saturday by a sinkhole and gas main explosion at Franklin Street and Park Avenue. Twelve years ago, the people in Bolton Hill began showing up to look down into their hole and make comments about what they saw.

What did they talk about?

Basically, according to reports from those times, about how the hole got there, and when it might go away. Some began to bring their evening cocktails. Folding chairs appeared. Neighbor spoke to neighbor, mainly about "The Big Hole." One school brought children on a field trip.

Yesterday, George G. Balog, director of the city's Department of Public Works, stood on the edge of the yawning abyss where the intersection of Franklin Street and Park Avenue used to be. He was determined to figure out where the hundreds of tons of mud, stone and sand that used to constitute that intersection went.

A chunk of downtown Baltimore is missing.

It's too soon to tell if the Mt. Vernon hole will generate the same mystique the one in Bolton Hill did a dozen years ago. But by midday yesterday, two and a half days after the canyon was created, a few people had showed up with some comments on it.

"It's the first pothole of the season," proclaimed Bill Huppert, an administrator at the city's housing agency who came down with co-worker John Ainsley to inspect the city's newest natural wonder and potential tourist attraction.

Ainsley complained about the traffic snarls the hole has caused. Huppert was asked if he ever seen anything like it?

"In Vietnam," he replied.

Tony Bradford was standing behind the yellow police tape, his hands in his pockets finding it all pretty interesting, especially the old trolley car tracks which were thrust out into empty space from beneath the asphalt.

"It's amazing. The tracks are about a foot below the surface. It's interesting to see the history of the city this way, like an archaeological dig."

Twelve years ago, observers of the Bolton Hill hole were also intrigued by the way it revealed the city's intestines, all its pipes and conduits and mains and wires. Maybe that's the source of fascination of holes like these: they offer a glimpse into the underside of the place where you live.

A few Bolton Hillers, perhaps made a little tipsy by nostalgia for those days with drinks and friendship at hole-side, overstated its size. Depths of 20, even 40 feet were suggested.

Press reports, however, put its length at about 35 feet, its width at 15 feet, its depth at 6 to 10 feet. This would be considerably smaller than the current canyon in Mt. Vernon, estimated by Balog as 50 feet long, 33 feet deep (and getting deeper) and as wide as Park Avenue.

A cocktail hour is not likely to develop around the disappeared intersection of Franklin Street and Park Avenue. It's not as neighborly a place; society thereabouts is not necessarily so soigne.

But there can be no dispute, Mt. Vernon's hole is larger and deeper. Although in such things as these, bigger is not necessarily better.

Pub Date: 11/11/97

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