Baltimore's 20th Annual Hog Calling Contest left Fells Point ears ringing yesterday afternoon as 46 competitors of all ages celebrated swine with a variety of screams and grunts.
"The people here are very interesting and a little backward," said 55-year-old retiree Jim Reinsfelder, a contestant who proudly wore a pig nose over his own snout. "I've been practicing since Saturday, you know, calling friends on the phone and just hollering."
Since the idea for a hog call was suggested to the head of the city's Office of Adventures in Fun two decades ago, Baltimoreans such as Mr. Reinsfelder have taken to the event like, well, pigs to mud. And even though officials at the City Life Museum could turn up no evidence of a tradition of hog-calling in the city before 1975, the contest has grown into a local spectacle, with radio and TV stations chasing full-boar after the winners.
Before yesterday's contest, two-time defending under-18 champion Andria Bowman, age 6, recognized a reporter and called an impromptu news conference. She coolly predicted victory.
But old age prevailed. Tara Carbone, 9, took the junior title with a fierce call of "Here Pig, Soooeee." Appearing a bit overwhelmed by the moment, Tara struggled to raise the winner's prize of a 10-pound ham triumphantly over her head as a crowd of more than 100 cheered and, in a few cases, grunted approval.
She seemed more concerned about the pressure that may come with her new red crown. Asked if she could handle both the title and the fourth grade at Highlandtown No. 237 next fall, Tara sighed and said, "I don't know."
In the adult bracket, Paul Burgess, an East Prairie, Mo., real estate agent in town to visit his mother, won the competition. As per tradition, the judges were tight-lipped, but seasoned observers of the contest said that integral to Mr. Burgess' victory was a Porky Pig-style coda to his call: "Da-Da-Dat's All Folks!"
Mr. Burgess, a former deputy sheriff, said a relative back in Missouri used to keep Vietnamese pigs, but he had no experience calling to them. He credited a strong desire to be a ham and a previous winner, his mother Bea Hubbard, for the victory.
"I didn't expect this," he said. "I had the best coach in my mom."
Many contestants boasted of their grueling training for the event. Maude Gunther, a 74-year-old former winner, said she had prepared by watching old episodes of "Green Acres." Tara, meanwhile, said she spends a few minutes every day trying to make her calls of "Soooeee" louder.
The event, sponsored by toy maker Milton Bradley Co. and the city's Department of Recreation and Parks, was interrupted only once, when a 3-month-old pig, visiting the contest from a farm in Woodstock, escaped through a hole in its pen. Organizers quickly captured the squealer, and no one was forced to yell for police.
Still, despite the presence of two real pigs, the Baltimore contest has failed to win the respect of local experts.
Out in Carroll County, Frank E. Feeser, a Taneytown resident and a pig farmer for 35 years, said neither hogs nor farmers make sounds resembling the "Sooooeee" at yesterday's contests. Female hogs merely grunt toward their young at feeding time, he said, and farmers are more likely to chase pigs than call them.
"Those city folks are so many generations removed from the farm DTC that they don't know what an animal sounds like," added David A. Fleming, who raises more than 2,000 hogs in Hampstead.