A squealing good time in Baltimore's Pigtown

Festival: An annual event pays homage to the neighborhood's past, when pigs were herded through the streets.

October 17, 2004|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

The serious runners were a few blocks away, finishing up what they thought was the real race of the day, the Baltimore Marathon.

But on a quaint cobblestone street in the center of Pigtown, six little piggies waddled, jostled and snorted their way down their very own racecourse. It was marked off with tarps and concrete blocks to make sure they didn't escape into the crowd of camera-toting children and grown-ups.

"I hate myself for loving bacon so much," said Tracey Clark, who with her business partner is opening an antiques store in the neighborhood next month. "Look at them - they're so cute. I was just saying I don't know if I can eat pork anymore."

If it's Pigtown, there must be pigs - at least during the third annual Pigtown Festival, held behind the B&O Railroad Museum yesterday afternoon. There were the live ones, of course, paying homage to the area's past when pigs were herded through the streets from the railroad terminal and stockyards to Federal Hill and South Baltimore.

According to the neighborhood's old-timers, when a pig got loose, sometimes a neighbor would reach out of the cellar and grab it to feed the family.

Still, the festival is about more than the history of Pigtown. It's about embracing the growth and revitalization of the present and future, organizers said.

"It's all about pigs. It's all about fun. It's all about funkiness," said Jack Danna, manager of Pigtown Main Street. "Pigtown is Baltimore, like Hampden is Baltimore. It's one of the elements that makes Baltimore Baltimore because it's not generic. We're not cosmopolitan, but we're not generic."

Vacancy rates are down, home ownership rates are up, townhouses that will go for more than $200,000 are being built and businesses are opening up in the neighborhood's commercial district, Danna said.

Nanda Carroll and her husband have lived in Pigtown for 17 years. "We've seen a lot of changes. We've seen the spurts of revitalization come and then die down. We've got a real spurt of revitalization now that's here to stay."

Sure, there were the standard lemonade and french fries, live music and face painting of any festival, but here pigs certainly ruled the day.

Many festival-goers wore plastic pig snouts or dressed in pig costumes or performed in the Pigtown Pageant, which featured pig-inspired music, pig-themed poetry and a rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" sung in pig Latin.

The festival usually is held the second Saturday in September, but organizers felt it would be disrespectful to hold it on Sept. 11.

Then they discussed doing it the week before, but that was during the state fair, and the pigs, which come from Tom Hartsock's Porky Pines Farms in Clarksburg, were booked.

So they settled on yesterday, which was at times cold and rainy, though that could be ideal weather for the 3-month-old porkers, which aren't exactly speed demons or marathon runners.

"I saw them race," said Matthew Baker, 6. "They looked cool, but they started out slow."

If neighbor Bill Elrick could change one thing, it would be the number of swine.

"The one thing I would do to improve this is add more pigs," he said. "I know we can't do it the way they used to. I'd love it to be even more of a spectacle."

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