Begin parks renewal with Pulaski shrine


October 16, 2002|By Raymond Daniel Burke

THE DISREPAIR of Baltimore's parks has been the subject of much recent concern, prompting intervention by Mayor Martin O'Malley and promises from City Hall that things will be different.

The situation was not helped by a midsummer storm that wrought havoc throughout Patterson Park, ripping several large old trees completely out of the ground and breaking a number of others beyond repair. Though not well-publicized, the damage was readily apparent to park visitors and passers-by, as city crews continued the cleanup of broken limbs and downed foliage for several weeks.

But perhaps the most noteworthy victim of the storm was the enormous flagpole at one of the city's largest dedicated memorials, the Pulaski Monument. The wind sent it crashing to the ground, where it tore right through the ornamental wrought-iron fence surrounding the monument, its spotlight shattered among the debris. The pieces of the pole are gone but the fence is still broken. Repair of the flagpole would be a fitting place to begin a renewal of the city's park system.

Casimir Pulaski was a Polish count who became an American Revolutionary War hero. Joining George Washington at Brandywine, Pulaski led a cavalry charge that stunned the British regulars and allowed the fledgling American army to escape. The Continental Congress rewarded Pulaski with a commission as a brigadier general.

But it was in the training and command of a special detachment of foreign volunteers that Pulaski would earn the title "father of the American cavalry." This independent corps, known as the Pulaski Legion, much of which was raised and outfitted in Baltimore, was the best-performing Colonial cavalry unit of the war and served as the model for American mounted troops.

After attacking the British at Charleston and holding the city until relief arrived, Pulaski moved on to the Battle of Savannah, where he was mortally wounded, giving his life for the cause of American independence.

The Baltimore monument includes a huge bronze plaque by Hans Schuler, which depicts Pulaski and his forces in action. The flag of his adopted country, flying at the center of the monument enclosure, was an acknowledgment of our nation's debt to the Polish general.

Its repair should be a priority, not only in honor of Pulaski but in recognition that the public statements we make have an enduring value to our connection as a people -- in this case our connection to the values of the people who lived when the monument was dedicated.

In one sense, the condition of our parks speaks of the regard we have for our public home. As private yards hold defining evidence of each family of occupants, parks display our communal selves. They are our outdoor spaces of recreation and discourse and the venues for our memorials, our expressions of appreciation and reverence. They serve our present needs for the grace of natural surroundings while housing shrines to the past that holds us together.

Our public yards should be places that energetically enrich our lives and properly honor our history. Indeed, it is where we come together -- with each other and with those who walked and tended those grounds before us. Let our parks be places that truly serve our people; as community gardens, playing fields and picnic grounds, and as reminders of who we are as revealed in whom and what we have chosen to honor.

If we allow our parks to degrade, we lose an opportunity to have a place of natural beauty in our midst that is available to everyone. If we don't replace Pulaski's flagpole, we lose the connection to those who understood the importance of honoring him and thereby risk losing a comprehension of what we, as a people, have deemed honorable.

Today's writer

Raymond Daniel Burke, a Baltimore native, is a partner in a downtown Baltimore law firm, an American history and baseball buff and a free-lance writer.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues and events in Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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