On the hunt for missing Neanderthal in Towson

July 09, 2005|By ROB KASPER

A NEANDERTHAL man, perhaps a likeness of one of our ancestors but definitely a fixture of a Towson neighborhood, has gone missing. I spent an afternoon searching for him this week, but came up empty.

The fiberglass figure, about 4 feet tall, wearing nothing other than a fiberglass deer slung over his back, disappeared about two weeks ago from his usual spot, the side yard of the home of Charlie L. Hayes. He had resided there for the past eight years, peeking out behind a tulip poplar tree, delighting children, startling joggers and once summoning the Baltimore County police to investigate a report of a suspicious character in the woods.

Before moving to this area, the man had achieved national notoriety, appearing in an exhibit in Washington, D.C., sponsored by National Geographic about the origins of mankind.

After the exhibit folded, the man was destined for a Dumpster. But he was rescued by Scott Pittman, Hayes son-in-law, who placed him in a grove of trees on Doves Cove Road next to Hayes' home.

Among those who believe in evolution, the Neanderthal man is regarded either as our cousin or our ancestor. That is what Susan McCarter, an archaeologist and assistant adjunct professor in the department of Near Eastern Studies at the Johns Hopkins University, told me. Neanderthals were people who lived in what is now Europe, she said. They were terrific hunters, and for a time co-existed with Homo sapiens who had migrated to Europe from Africa. Some scientists hold that there was a mingling between the Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, she said, and others do not. The Neanderthals, the real ones, not the fiberglass variety, disappeared about 30,000 years ago, McCarter said.

I got on the trail of the Towson Neanderthal man after Hayes called me telling me that it had vanished. But as we walked around his yard, we talked more about the evolution of families and neighborhoods than about the evolution of man.

Hayes, 77, told me that when he moved into Hampton, a leafy neighborhood off Seminary Avenue between Dulaney Valley and Providence roads, there were more woods. That was 41 years ago. When he first saw the two-story brick house that Joe Grimm, a local Ford dealer, was selling, Hayes wasn't sure he could afford it. But his wife, Joyce, liked it, and his wife prevailed.

Like many in the neighborhood, Hayes commuted on an express bus from a park-and-ride lot on Providence Road to downtown Baltimore. A certified public accountant, he recalled that his corner office in the Monumental Life building at Chase and Charles was a terrific spot to view the parade in 1954 that rolled up Charles Street welcoming the Orioles to Baltimore.

Behind his house, in the driveway, he showed me where a basketball goal once stood. He clobbered the goal with his family station wagon in 1966, hurrying off to a World Series game between the Orioles and the Dodgers.

As their family grew, the house mutated. The attic was converted to a bedroom for their son, Greg, who graduated from Towson High. The conversion of the attic freed up bedrooms on the second floor for their twin daughters, Jill and Joy. The girls went to the area's "new" high school, Loch Raven.

Hayes showed me the exact spot in his side yard where the Neanderthal man had resided. It is the spot that his granddaughters, Isabella and Kerry, head for when they visit, he said. It is where the kids from the family next door take visitors. It was also, he said, where a Baltimore County police officer convulsed with laughter several years ago when Hayes showed him the "suspicious character with a sack on his back." That was a report that a passer-by had phoned in to police.

Recently, Hayes and his wife have been preparing to say goodbye to the neighborhood they have lived in for the past four decades. They have sold their house and are moving to a one-level condominium in North Carolina, their home state.

Hayes said he was hoping to leave something that the neighbors could remember him by. That something was the Neanderthal man, which he planned to give to Patrick Geritz and his family, who live next door.

Two weeks ago, when the Neanderthal disappeared, Hayes called neighbors, searched the nearby woods and finally telephoned the police and filed a report. In the report (No. 051790533), the missing fellow is referred to as "a caveman," Hayes said.

His hope is that if any one sees a caveman, one who isn't breathing, they will either call Baltimore County police or return the man to his spot in the woods. No questions about what happened or about whether we have evolved as a species will be asked.

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