Attempted theft of gate an open-and-shut case

Halted: A housekeeper thwarts the attentions of an ironwork admirer.

November 13, 1999|By Jacques Kelly

WEDNESDAY started out being one of those days when it's great to be in Baltimore. There was plenty of warmth in the November air. The city trees were in high color. No frosts had killed my back garden. The goldfish were still darting around the pond and had survived the attention of the neighborhood cats.

The roofers had been by and fixed the last of the leaks from the summer's storms and hurricanes. I called the painter to repair the inside damage. I thought to myself that maybe I'd have the house ready for the upcoming holidays.

I'm a bachelor who much relies upon the help of a housekeeper to keep me and my house in line. Wednesday is Susie Hobson's day to put me through the hurdles of cleanliness. So, when she called me at work around 4 in the afternoon, I thought maybe the washing machine had broken.

She was filling out a police report.

When cleaning my front room, she had observed a man passing my house, then passing again.

In the afternoon light, this guy reached down and lifted my Victorian-style iron gate from its hinges. He was ready to take off -- and presumably sell the thing -- when she began banging on the window glass.

He dropped it. She wisely called the police.

I am glad all it takes is a bang on the window to get a thief to drop your iron gate, but this is the second time that my little gate has been the object of metal nabbers.

It was nine years ago that the original gate walked one afternoon -- also when the house was being cleaned. I was home sick that dreary January day. It disappeared while I was taking a nap in a warm bedchamber only about 30 feet from the front gate.

I was really upset that time -- and scoured the junk shops of East Baltimore Street and Fells Point in search of the gate. My detective skills failed -- but I did find (I think it cost $100) a section of iron that precisely matched the curled wire in the gate's design.

Then, thanks to the corps of skilled artisans who live in Baltimore, I found a Fells Point ironmonger named Bob Machevek who, guided by a photo, made me a replacement gate that was more sturdy than the old one.

It was Bob's gate that almost walked away this week.

When I got home and surveyed the near-theft, I realized that it hadn't been secured in a thief-proof manner. That's going to take the skills of a welder and some sort of tamper-proof hinge. It was a contingency I should have considered years ago.

I'm not the first one who's had Victorian iron fencing, gates, urns and other bits of architectural finery stolen. I've read the stories of the thieves who worked over cemetery mausoleums and burial vaults. Some even climb on the roofs to rip off the iron cresting that keeps snow chunks from falling.

In the meantime, my gate is going to take a little vacation and shall remain in the kitchen pantry until I figure out how to outsmart its considerable admirers.

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