November 8, 2012 by johnkennetheddy2012
Patterson Park is one of the great urban parks in America (just ask Forbes Magazine). Locally we call the park “Baltimore’s backyard”. It is circled on all sides by 100-year old row houses huddling together cheek-by-jowl. To the northeast of the park is Butcher’s Hill where Civil War butcher’s made their fortunes selling meat to the Union army. With their wealth they built ornate 3-bay wide by 3-stories high brownstones. To the south of the park is Canton, a gentrified neighborhood of uncountable bars and restaurants. The park has carved out a dozen athletic fields where Canton’s 20- and 30-year olds play kickball, ultimate frisbee, and gender football. To the east is the neighborhood of Highland Town. If you saw John Water’s Shampoo then you know Highland Town. Originally, Highland Town was populated by Irish, German, Polish and Ukrainian immigrants. While many remain, the latest influx has been Latin American and South American families. The best Mexican food in Baltimore can be found in Highland Town and the best soccer games occur right on Patterson Park’s football/lacrosse/soccer fields.
The area surrounding the park has its problems. My own home was burgled within the last year and others on my block have been broken into since then. There are still areas too close to the park that have serious crime, prostitution and drugs. But the park is the island of safety, beauty, and recreation in this crowded city. And, for me, the best event in the city is the annual Lantern Parade.
The Lantern Parade is put on by the Creative Alliance, the Friends of the Park, neighborhood organizations, schools, and local artists. The idea is simple. Get a plastic bottle or some other recyclable item. Convert it into some sort of fantastic creature with lights. Carry it in a parade. Schools work for weeks in advance making their huge lanterns. There are lantern making workshops in the park. The Creative Alliance holds Lantini parties where lantern making, exacto knives and drinks peacefully coexist. Local artists gather hundreds of the empty plastic water jugs left over from the Baltimore marathon. They use them to make a life-sized Loch Ness monster. I spent two months myself making a full-sized, paper-Mache, great blue heron with LED lights.
During the day of the parade there is a festival with food trucks, music, hay rides and a children’s costume contest. But the big event is the parade in the evening. As soon as the sun goes down everyone starts lining up. School kids, parents and teachers get together with their lanterns. Neighbors join together to march. There are step dancers, brass bands, and drummers. There are stilt walkers. The parade begins at 7:30 and marches a mile and half loop. There are lots of spectators but most of the people are in the parade.
The pictures speak for themselves.
A giant rat rides on top of a hearse.
Children dance along with a “squirrel” parade marshal.
One family carries a detailed model of Patterson Park’s pagoda.
There are bicycles converted into elaborate carriages towed by nightmarish horses.
A butterfly flaps its wings. A spider wears a psychedlic suit. And look! There’s my great blue heron in the background.
A sea anemone glows and floats in an imaginary sea.
Fantastic sea creatures float above the heads of Patterson Park locals.
After an hour, almost everyone in the parade has circled the park. Everyone meets in the grassy circle near the Pulaski Monument. The tempo has gone frantic at this point. The bands and drummers are pounding away and women on stilts are gyrating to keep their hula hoops up.
The parade is over before you know it. Everyone is happy and having the times of their life. We are all so proud of our community. The night is not over yet. The children go home. The adults move on to the after-party at the Creative Alliance. We squeeze out a few more hours of dancing to a tuba and accordion band.
Look! Living in the city is not easy. I know way too much about the behavior of rats. “Where will I park” is one of the major factors whenever I decide to go somewhere or even stay late at work. But events like the Lantern Parade are special. They can only happen in a city where there is a compaction of people with such quirky interests. I feel really lucky to live here.