A voice silenced

Death has ended the rants of a Fells Point homeless man, and for some the quiet is disquieting

May 09, 2006|By ROB HIAASEN | ROB HIAASEN,SUN REPORTER

Thames Street in Fells Point is quieter these days. Michael Sibert, also known as "Screaming Mike," passed away at the age of 53, or maybe he was 57. His age, like his background, remains sketchy. Either way, the man looked 70.

The street person died on the street April 4. Two weeks later at St. Stanislaus Cemetery in East Baltimore, Sibert was quietly buried among old headstones of babies who lived only two days, five days, six months. At least Mike Sibert lived 53 or 57 years.

"He might have been crazy, but he was our crazy," says Wes Robison, a Fells Point resident. "I loved him, and I miss him."

Sibert was a loud regular and regular nuisance sometimes. Tourists would walk the other way when shaggy-haired Sibert was on one of his rants; his obscenities would often echo from the underbelly of Recreation Pier. He was not an easy presence even in Fells Point, with its history of harboring and even embracing down-on-their-luck souls.

He was, for better or worse, a member of this waterfront community. Here, despite the neighborhood's more recent reputation for upscale bars and pricey condos, Sibert had a group of residents and shopkeepers who would care for him, calm him down, move him along. And now, bury him.

"Despite his constant, insane rambling, you knew there was someone inside and you could get to that person," says Robison, who paid for Sibert's April 18 funeral at a neighborhood funeral home, Lilly & Zeiler. Sibert's body was taken to St. Stanislaus in a hearse -- perhaps the best ride the man ever had. "I knew no one was else was going to bury him," Robison says, "and he deserved a decent burial."

Sibert did receive a decent burial, attended by two friends under a cemetery tent. In Row 9, Grave 2-A, the dirt is dried and cracked above Sibert's coffin. Topsoil, seeding and a flat marker are on their way. A bouquet of red carnations rests on the mound among the children's headstones at St. Stanislaus. Robison chose this sentiment for the marker: He gave those who helped him a reason to feel better about themselves.

"It's very admirable that Wes took it upon himself to do that," says Andrew Dowell, Lilly & Zeiler's funeral director. It's unusual for his funeral home to receive a call about services for a street person, and he felt inspired by Robison's commitment to Sibert. "If Wes was going out on a limb, I figured I'd like to play a little part in helping Mike out, too."

Not that cost is the point, but neither man wanted to talk about the cost of Sibert's funeral, to which St. Stanislaus also lent a charitable hand.

Cremation had been briefly considered. "I was thinking of putting his ashes in the harbor," Robison says, "but with my luck, the wind would blow him right back on the street."

Robison, a manager at Henderson's Wharf, first noticed Sibert eight years ago -- although others say the man had been in Fells Point longer. Robison, who has befriended other homeless people, says Sibert never asked for money, which seemed to separate him from his street brethren. He wasn't a con man, Robison says. He was also alone -- a troubled, sick man living alone on the street.

"I see some fakers down on Thames trying to mumble, but it isn't very effective," Robison says. "There was only one Mike."

After Sibert's death, no one had any luck tracking down family members. People weren't sure of his last name. Did Sibert have family? He seemed to have been hospitalized at one point. Was he an alcoholic? More often he was seen with a cup of coffee in his hand rather than a bottle. Some wondered if Sibert had Tourette's syndrome, given his vocal tics; others believed he might have been schizophrenic, given his ramblings and mood swings. Maybe he served in Vietnam and suffered post-traumatic stress disorder, others thought.

"Where is a person like this to go? It just seems Fells Point was a safe area for him," says Andriana Pateris, owner of Trixie's Palace, a Thames Street boutique featuring such funkables as "Emily the Strange" socks, Betty Boop merchandise and stickers that read "I haven't had my coffee yet -- don't make me kill you."

After Sibert spent time in her store, Pateris would light incense to dull his street scent -- but not before listening to him riff ("Las Vegas!" he screamed once) and offering him free sunglasses. "Oh yeah, he'd always say crazy stuff, but he'd also say, `Thanks,' too." An "R.I.P. Mike 1953-2006" poster hangs in her window. Pateris drew hearts on the sign in honor of her homeless neighbor. "He had this total rock-star quality to him. The street seems very empty with Mike gone."

Sibert was often seen -- and heard -- outside the Daily Grind. Maybe you stepped around him. He might have been wearing polka-dotted pajamas, listening to a broken Walkman or wearing sunglasses from Trixie's. He might have been hollering obscenities or carrying on a heated conversation with a cigarette butt as tourists gave him a wide berth.

"Everything he said was weird and poetic," says Rudy Gomez, who works at the Grind.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.