A group of 26 bicyclists got a chance to view Baltimore history over the top of their handlebars Saturday, as they cycled through the city for the May Day Roll. The 12-mile guided tour took us through Baltimore’s back alleys and dirt roads — from the former workers’ cottage of Hampden-Woodberry’s Stone Hill, to the hulking Crown Cork and Seal building in Greektown — which we rode through on our bikes.
An entire mini-city in east Baltimore, centered on bottlecap-making? Who knew? Well, historian and Brew contributor Mark Reutter did: as tour leader he brought to life “Crown City,” (the old name for Greektown when 5,000 worked at CC&S) the Mount Vernon mill in Woodberry and some violent labor history in Fells Point.
It was a beautiful warm day and — well, you tell us, participants, we’d love to get your feedback — but we organizers were in a mood to roll past the occasional patch of shattered windshield glass or rat-roadkill and enjoy the odd alleys and lively streets of Baltimore. Other than upgrading the coffee (and getting it to you a little sooner) I don’t think I’d have done too much differently.
(CLICK THROUGH FOR A MAYDAY ROLL SLIDE-SHOW)
Our group included some really knowledgeable, plugged-in people who piped up at key moments and shared their expertise:
* Peter Harnik, of the Trust for Public Land was there and talked about Patterson Park as we paued on the west side of it, near the pagoda. Harnik raved about the park as a national model for the way parks can be used to revive neighborhoods and he’s particularly well-placed to speak on the subject. (He’s the director of the Center for City Park Excellence and wrote a book on the subject, “Inside City parks.”
* As we passed near The Lloyd Street Synagogue, we got a little discourse on the Bolsheviks of the old Jewish ghetto from Ralph Brown, a pediatrician who hosts Monumental Bike Tours. (They’ve got a great motto: “In a car you’re a Perdue chicken. On a bike, you’re free range!”)
* Another May Day Roller was Baltimore architect Klaus H. Philipsen, who specializes in adaptive re-use and renovation projects, including one we saw on our tour, Printer’s Square in Mount Vernon.
* Also joining us was tech entrepreneur Dave Troy, lately of of Bmore Fiber fame. At the great lunch provided to us at a bargain price by the folks at Ikaros, Troy recommended a good book, Fordlandia, about Henry Ford’s failed attempt to export Main Street and American style manufacturing to Brazil.
It sort of fit the mental place perhaps many of us were in, after seeing the bleached bones of all that once-great, now failed industry during our tour. For me, it was a bit like that moment in “Planet of the Apes” when Charlton Heston looks at the Statue of Liberty protruding from the beach sand. “You maniacs! You blew it up!”
Links to the Brew’s full series: BIKING INTO BALTIMORE’S HISTORY
Part 1 (4/28/10): Born by the Falls
Part 2 (4/29/10) : The Bottlecap Capital of the World
Part 3 (4/30/10): Conflict on the Docks