Federal Hill throws a block party

Annual fundraiser draws 5,000 for food, music, and perhaps supernatural healing

April 30, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,Sun reporter

Federal Hill's resident psychic didn't say a word to lure people into her blue tent - she just motioned them in with her hand.

"I can tell they want to come in by their look," said Sylvia Eli, whose $5 palm readings were among the many attractions at the neighborhood's Spring Block Party yesterday.

"I can tell they want to come in by their look," she said. "It's a gift."

And here, near stands selling frozen margaritas by the blender-full and dripping cheese fries, they asked about love, ambition and wealth.

There were crystals in the tent to cleanse their aura, but not far away was a vat of mango-colored shea butter to smooth out winter-dried heels and elbows.

You could pick your brand of healing - from frothy drinks to psychic readings to calming lotions - at the annual party - the premier fundraiser for Federal Hill Main Street, a redevelopment program that has helped encourage 74 businesses to open in the Baltimore neighborhood in the past seven years.

The block party is one of three festivals the program uses to raise money for beautification and community projects. Next up are the jazz and blues festival in June and Street Beat in September.

"When we opened at 11 this morning, we actually had a line extending down the block of people waiting to get in," said Bonnie Crockett, Federal Hill Main Street's executive director.

Organizers estimated at least 5,000 people had clogged East Cross Street by 1 p.m. The throng was sandwiched between more than 30 vendors and two stages hosting performances by 10 bands, including a rock group of elementary and middle school children who kicked off the event.

And then there was Eli, who put on her Rosedew lipstick and waited underneath her blue tent for anyone who wanted to lighten their soul, after the usual double-take at the purple-and-white sign advertising the $5 peek into their lives.

Joshua Overmiller, 26, of Baltimore, was among the first of her customers.

"You're a hard worker but have nothing to show for it," she told him.

"Hmm," he nodded and pushed his palm closer to Eli.

"You are attractive to women," Eli continued, "but you have not found the right one."

That last bit turned out to be more complicated than Eli realized.

"That's my fiancee right there," Overmiller said, pointing to a pony-tailed blonde sipping an icy drink.

"So I don't know how much of this is bunk."

Eli doesn't let such hiccups disturb her flow. She looked ahead to her next customer: a young mother, with two children huddled around her.

Lutherville resident Jennifer Busse, 35, was happy to find Eli.

She had hoped Eli would be here. She had walked with purpose to find the Romanian psychic, past the bands, past the booths with the silver beaded jewelry and the homebuilder hawking luxury townhouses.

Busse had met Eli 17 years ago - though the psychic herself didn't remember the encounter - when she was in high school and out partying in Federal Hill with friends. They had gone to the palm reader for fun but Busse remembered every word of her life's forecast: She would have three children and a special fondness for her first-born.

Busse had just lost her third child. She returned to Eli yesterday for answers.

When Busse approached her, Eli reached for her left palm and leaned in close to whisper to her about the future.

"I see you have been through some hard times, but it's all behind you now, and things will get better," Eli told her.

"It's what I needed to hear," Busse said, giving her 3-year-old daughter Kate a "lucky crystal" from the table.

ruma.kumar@baltsun.com

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