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Forget flowers and candy: In Baltimore, you could buy your loved one a pothole for Valentine's Day

Forget flowers and candy: In Baltimore, you could buy your loved one a pothole for Valentine's Day
Audrey Eastman had a pothole filled in front of her home for her husband, Donald, as part of Baltimore's "adopt-a-pothole" Valentine's Day campaign in 1983. (Ellis J. Malashuk / The Evening Sun)

Now here is a Valentine’s Day gift that is as romantic as it is practical.

In the 1980s, Baltimore launched a Valentine’s Day “adopt-a-pothole” campaign in which citizens could pay to have a pothole filled in their sweetheart’s name. A pink or red heart was stamped in the asphalt by the repair, and the recipient was sent a pink Valentine in the mail notifying them of the gift.

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The campaign, called “Be Sweet to Your Streets and Your Sweetie,” was kicked off by Mayor William Donald Schaefer in January of 1983. The first person to participate was Audrey Eastman, who had a pothole repaired in front of her Guilford Avenue home for her husband, Donald.

The key to a man’s heart, after all, is through his tires.

City employees said the campaign helped alert workers to potholes that they might have missed. “We have 2,000 miles of street … and it’s hard to identify potholes everywhere,” one traffic official told The Sun. (Today, Baltimoreans are advised to report potholes using 311).

The fee was a tax-deductible donation and ran from $2 for children to up to $100. Some complained that the program would disadvantage poorer neighborhoods, where residents might not be able to afford to make a donation.

The pothole campaign wasn’t the only thing notable about Valentine’s Day in 1983. A major blizzard hit the region in February, dumping 22 inches of snow on Maryland by Feb. 14. Unable to make flower deliveries in the snow, a group of local florists convinced Maryland Gov. Harry Hughes to extend the celebration of Valentine’s Day for a whole week to help them recoup lost business.

The tradition of extending Valentine’s Day celebrations would be repeated again… and again … in Maryland history.

A Valentine's Day ice storm in 1994 prompted then-Gov. Schaefer to extend the holiday through Feb. 20. In 2007, then-Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon decreed that Valentine's Day be observed through Feb. 18. And then-Gov. Martin O'Malley proclaimed “Valentine’s Week” in 2010.

Baltimore Sun librarian Paul McCardell contributed to this article.

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