Traffic, noise part of the program for 'Star-Spangled 200' neighbors

O say, can you see a parking spot in Federal Hill? Probably not

September 11, 2014|By Colin Campbell | The Baltimore Sun

While hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to descend on Baltimore this weekend to see the ships, fireworks and cannon fire of the "Star-Spangled Spectacular," Jessica Damen is staying home.

The festivities are happening outside Damen's door, so the Federal Hill woman decided she'd throw a party and watch the Blue Angels and the tall ships from her rooftop deck.

Residents of Federal Hill and Locust Point say they've grown used to the gridlocked traffic, elusive parking and other effects that come with the big weekend events in their neighborhood. Many say it's a small price to pay for their front-row seats to the festivities.

"Yeah, it's going to be noisy," Damen said. "But I figured, 'Let's get involved.'"

Damen is expecting more than 50 people on Saturday at her Grindall Street home, where they'll be able to watch the Blue Angels and fireworks overhead and the tall ships in the harbor from her rooftop deck. Damen sent out invitations two weeks ago, and several neighbors who aren't coming said it was because they were having their own parties, she said.

Her 12-year-old dog, Chessie, won't get to enjoy the party — the mixed breed was terrified by the roar of the jets when the Angels were here last, and she will spend the weekend in a kennel to spare her the anxiety.

Polly and Terry Smith plan to volunteer at some of the weekend's events. Polly will work as an assistant chef Friday in the Inner Harbor, and the pair will help with concert security Saturday night at Fort McHenry.

"That's why we live here," Terry Smith said. "This is one of the weekends we've been promoting to our friends."

Ron Howard, 45, can walk from his front door right across Eastern Avenue to Patterson Park, where he'll enjoy an all-day music festival Sunday. He isn't concerned about traffic, either — he lives close enough to ride his bicycle to all the events.

"I think it's phenomenal being at the doorstep of it all," he said.

Howard and his co-workers peered out their office windows Thursday in Fells Point as the Navy's Blue Angels aerobatic team practiced for the weekend's shows.

"I can't get enough of the Blue Angels," he said.

Ruth Wood, who has lived on Cross Street for all of her 74 years, said she used to go to Fort McHenry to see the tall ships come to the city each year.

The event has grown since Wood last attended. The celebration to mark the bicentennial of the writing of "The Star Spangled Banner" this weekend will be the biggest of all.

Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak Saturday night at Fort McHenry, and pop singer Jordin Sparks is to perform the national anthem before a massive fireworks display.

The event, dubbed "Star-Spangled Spectacular: the 200th Anniversary of our National Anthem" is to be televised live on PBS from Pier 6 Pavilion and the fort Saturday night. John Lithgow is set to host the broadcast, and Sparks is to be joined at the concert by performers Kristin Chenoweth, Kenny Rogers, Smokey Robinson, Melissa Etheridge, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and others.

The "Star-Spangled 200" celebration, scheduled to run through Tuesday, includes visits from tall ships and Navy ships from all over the world, festival villages at the Inner Harbor, Fort McHenry and Martin State Airport in Middle River and, on Saturday morning, sporadic cannon fire.

The city is decked out for the occasion. American flags adorn so many houses and businesses that in some areas it looks like a second Fourth of July.

Karen Johns has a collection of about 30 flags in her Locust Point home. A large Old Glory hangs from a second-story window facing Fort Avenue.

Johns, 74, took a break from spraying grass clippings and cigarette butts off the sidewalk in front of her home earlier this week and reflected on living in the middle of the weekend's action.

"I love it," she said. "I can't wait. This is my community, and I'm proud of it. I'm perfectly happy here."

She laughed and said she had been living in her family's home practically since Francis Scott Key penned the verse that became the "Star-Spangled Banner": "I was around the first time!"

Not all share Johns' enthusiasm. Lane K. Berk loves the tall ships, but she won't be attending the celebration of what she sees as "one of the world's lowliest countries."

"We've gone so far astray from those ideals" on which the country was founded, she said.

Berk, a former Peace Corps volunteer, said she would rather make the country better by working with its young people than by joining the throngs waving its colors this weekend.

Joe Halperin has a separate qualm: The amount of money the city is spending, which he said could be put to better use addressing drug addiction and homelessness.

"I'd love to see more money spent in other ways," he said.

The office of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is projecting the cost to the city at about $2 million. Spokeswoman Caron Brace said the actual cost will not be known until the events are concluded and agencies are able to calculate exact expenditures.

Halperin's wife, Lynn, said the celebration is fine with her. She's seen decorations going up in the park near her house.

"If it were every weekend, I'd be moving," she said. "But I'm caught up in the excitement."

As for the traffic and the inevitable carousing in her bar-heavy Federal Hill neighborhood, Lynn Halperin said residents signed up for that when they moved in.

"We chose to live in this neighborhood," she said. "We chose to stay here. We know its problems, but we also know there's a great sense of community here."

Baltimore Sun reporter Chris Kaltenbach contributed to this article.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

twitter.com/cmcampbell6

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