Union Square festival will recall the neighborhood's Victorian past


It's not hard to look across the deep green grass to the turn-of-the-century brick and brownstone town houses of Union Square and imagine horse-drawn carriages where the cars are. And if you squint hard, you can almost see women in long hoopskirts strolling arm and arm with their beaux.

But this Saturday you won't have to be squinting much at all to turn the clock back when the residents of neighborhood will be sponsoring the Union Square Victorian Festival from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

This year's festival will be different from the neighborhood festivals that have been held in the square during the past few years, which were more like carnivals with rides and gambling. According to Amy Klair, this year's festival chairperson, the festival had become so boring that no one wanted to work on it.

Just a couple of months ago, at a neighborhood meeting, they decided to change the entire event. "We wanted to make it a little more classy, to change it back to a festival that would promote the neighborhood. And since most of the houses were built during the Victorian era, we decided to make that our theme," Ms. Klair says.

With little more than two months to pull it all together they were unsure about how things would turn out, but, she continues, "We were surprised at ourselves. We've been walking around patting ourselves on the back."

The core of the festival is a small tour of the most Victorian-style town houses, whose homeowners will greet visitors in period costume. The H. L. Mencken house on Stricker Street will be part of the tour, which will last from noon to 2:30 p.m. David Keltz, a Mencken impersonator will be talking to visitors to the Mencken house.

In the square itself there will be craft booths operated by more than 30 craftspeople, featuring baby quilts, watercolors of the area, pillows made from coverlets, teddy bears, teacups, baskets, stenciled floor cloths, fresh and potted herbs, and handmade porcelain dolls. There will also be a tarot reader set up in the park.

At the nearby Steuart Hill Elementary School at 31 S. Gilmore St., antiques and accessory dealers will set up booths selling such things as antique porcelain and glassware, vintage clothing and linens, kitchenware from the '20s and '30s, Black Americana, sewing collectibles and old framed prints.

Also at the school will be parlor games, a decorative arts expert who will evaluate antiques, and demonstrations by local artisans of quilting, clockmaking, lacemaking, marbleizing and woodgraining.

A silent auction from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. will feature such things as tickets to the Skipjacks, an "Avalon" poster signed by Barry Levinson, gift certificates to Baltimore restaurants, an overnight stay for two at the Society Hill Government House and four days at a house on the beach at Nags Head, N.C. A handmade queen-size quilt will be raffled.

Wandering barbershop quartets will serenade visitors and the Starvation Army Band will play from 2:30 to 4 p.m.

There will be puppet shows by the Animal Amphitheatre and Richardson and Company.

Several neighborhood non-profit organizations and preservation groups will have information booths.

There will be a video seminar featuring videotapes about Bradbury & Bradbury wallcoverings, travel to Cape May, the restoration of old parlor stoves and episodes from the "This Old House" public television series.

There will be a $5 charge which covers the house tour and admission to Steuart Hill Elementary School. Proceeds from the festival will go to the Mencken House, which is normally open Tuesdays and Thursdays by appointment and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with tours on the hour.

Union Square Park is located in the 1500 block of West Lombard Street. The rain date for the festival is June 22.

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