Sweet smell of success at annual Flower Mart

Tradition: Started in 1911, the spring festival on the streets of Mount Vernon is still going strong and drawing a crowd.

May 16, 2002|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

Straw hats, lemon sticks and Maypole dancers were in the mix as usual - along with a bit of added zest from contemporary arts-and-crafts booths and jazz band music - as yesterday's annual Flower Mart festival put on a fresh face for 2002.

The genteel affair in the heart of Mount Vernon drew office workers on lunch break, Peabody Conservatory students and even busloads of Catholic schoolchildren enjoying a field trip with the approval of the archdiocese.

"From wheelchairs to baby strollers, you'll see anybody and everybody," said Bobbie McKinney, a community activist in Edmondson Village who was sporting a hat.

"It's a diverse celebration of Baltimore," said John Constantine Unitas III, 13, an eighth-grader at the School of the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, as he surveyed the crowd surrounding Washington Monument, open to all who wished to climb its 228 steps.

Flower Mart, begun in 1911, remains an only-in-Baltimore thing, and traditionally sets the stage for the Preakness Stakes, which takes place Saturday. Many go not for the daisies and irises, but to see and be seen.

"It's nice to get among people," said Ethel Hall, who lives in Northeast Baltimore, strolling along Mount Vernon streets that were closed to vehicle traffic for the occasion. "All the fun is here. I saw people I know."

Mayor Martin O'Malley was missed during the usual opening ceremony - in which the mayor rides by horse-drawn carriage - because he gave a speech about homeland security in Salt Lake City on Tuesday and couldn't get back in time, his spokesman said.

The mayor was gently scolded by the man who took his place in the carriage - former Mayor and Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"He doesn't have the knowledge of tradition," Schaefer said of O'Malley, 39. "He will when he gets older."

Schaefer - who championed saving the Flower Mart when its founding organizers, the Women's Civic League, retired in 2000 - repeated the reason why he found the civic fair worthwhile: "It brings all kinds of people. Everybody's walking around, and nobody's mad."

The congeniality was catching, even to visitors.

"I had no idea it was so festive. I love the way people are dressed," said Alicia Sheridan, who was visiting from California with her husband, Dick.

Nostalgia was at play as a mother and son walked arm in arm by Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, which was offering organ recitals yesterday.

"This is a belated Mother's Day gift," said Rick Ebling, 52. "My mom used to bring me here years ago when there were streetcars."

Kay Ebling, 71, said she had come to the Flower Mart with her grandmother as a girl but had not attended in the past 40 years. Back then, she recalled, "All the women had hats and everything was flowers."

At the lemon stick booth, a division of labor took place between volunteers who cut the lemons and others who put a peppermint stick in each. "Everybody gets a whole lemon," Sandra Sparks said, adding that she aimed to sell 5,000 for $2 each to raise money for the Midtown Community Benefits District, which she heads.

Over at the Engineering Club mansion, on West Mount Vernon Place, the Junior League of Baltimore was serving sandwiches with the crusts cut off and pouring cups of tea, helped by classical music conductor Edward Polochick, who translated the spring ritual to Francie Cohen Spahn, a lawyer and newcomer from Atlanta.

But gone was the Flower Mart's old logo, an illustration of a girl designed before women could vote. On the cover of this year's program is an image of a black-eyed Susan.

At one of the 180 booths, artist Stephen Parlato displayed his print Bloomin-Loverly, a surreal silhouette of a woman composed of flowers. He made the print for the occasion, he said. Frederick Bierer, a trial lawyer who founded the Flower Mart nonprofit organization, admired the image.

And at least one native was seeing the festival for the first time. Homicide Detective Darren J. Sanders, 36, who attended in uniform, said, "I grew up in Baltimore all my life, and I never heard of it. This is great. I called my wife and told her to bring the kids down."

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