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A vibrant America, refreshed

For 40 years, Bob Hieronimus' mural has stood watch over the Charles North community, its depictions of an American eagle, the great seal of the United States and Baltimore's Battle Monument serving as a constant in the evolving neighborhood. Now, a new coat of paint and an enlarged canvas should ensure it continues to do so for at least another four decades.

Called "The Bicentennial Mural" when it was first painted in 1974 on a wall overlooking a park at Lafayette and St. Paul streets, Hieronimus' work has expanded in both size and scope. It now covers the entire wall, nearly doubling in size. Renamed "We the People," it now includes depictions of Lady Liberty and the Liberty Bell, along with Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious symbols and a red-skinned Lady Freedom, a representation of the statue that stands atop the Capitol in Washington.

Although it's been in place since last July, the mural will have its official unveiling Friday during ceremonies at the park, scheduled for 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

"It's like a reawakening of an area, that little park there," said Richard Willis, treasurer of the Charles North Community Association and a resident of the neighborhood since 1979. "The young people that are moving here, they like the idea of having that park there."

The original mural had all but vanished by the time he and his crew began working on the redesign, said Hieronimus, who lived in Charles North for much of the 1960s. "For about five years, parts of this particular community would come to me and say, 'Bob, your mural is all faded and all that; would you redo it?' " he said. After attempts to raise enough money for the project were unsuccessful, he said, he agreed to foot the bill himself; including materials and labor — the 15 artists who worked with him on it were paid at least minimum wage, he noted —- the new mural cost about $30,000. He painted the original mural on a budget of $1,000.

Hieronimus, 70, is a local artist and author who since 1988 has co-hosted (with his wife, Zohara) "21st-Century Radio," first on Baltimore's WFBR and, since 1992, on WCBM. A recognized authority on the meanings behind symbols and author of the book "Founding Fathers, Secret Societies: Freemasons, Illuminati, Rosicrucians and the Decoding of the Great Seal," he has a Ph.D. in psychology from Saybrook University in San Francisco.

"We the People" is replete with symbols, including an eye in a triangle, from the Great Seal of the United States; the Iroquois "Tree of Peace"; and Lady Freedom — a figure Hieronimus pointedly decided to make red, to recall the Native Americans who dominated this land for thousands of years.

In fact, he noted, the entire bottom of the mural is a series of Native American symbols — references to a vital component of American history that is often overlooked. The mural, Hieronimus said, "grows out of all those symbols at the bottom."

"America just didn't come about from a bunch of Europeans who came over from Europe," he said. "When they arrived here, there was a whole culture already here. And that's what most people, especially historians, didn't understand. ... There's more to America than what our history tells us. The Native Americans were the teachers of Washington, of Jefferson, Franklin and Adams."


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