Raising funds with fun

THE BALTIMORE SUN

For one week each summer, the folks in Glen Burnie turn a drab parking lot into a frenzied, candy-colored party.

Children shriek as they spin and rock on rides with names like "Samurai."

Teen-agers flirt while devouring pit beef sandwiches and 75-cent hot dogs. Grandmothers play bingo.

And the more than 1,000 volunteers manning the penny tosses and raffle games wear smiles that look as if they've been glued on, even as their feet ache from hours of standing.

It's The Big Glen Burnie Carnival, and for nearly 100 years, it's been the main revenue source for the Glen Burnie Improvement Association. The event ends today .

"This is about raising money," said state Sen. James E. DeGrange Sr., a longtime carnival volunteer who showed up to man the booths recently wearing shorts and a white polo shirt. "You have to have money to give it away to the community, because that's where it all goes."

The carnival sits at the intersection of Crain Highway and Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard, near the Glen Burnie Town Center.

Organizers won't reveal how much the event usually raises, and because they don't charge admission, they aren't sure how many people will visit this year.

But in past years, the carnival has attracted thousands of revelers and has grossed hundreds of thousands of dollars. Patrons can pay $1 per ride or buy a $13 ride-all-day ticket.

The money funds activities and charities in Glen Burnie, a sprawling community of about 40,000 residents in north Anne Arundel County.

The association maintains parks, lobbies for the community's agenda, and organizes the Memorial Day parade and other events. The money raised also pays the bills for the association's building on Crain Highway, which many smaller associations use.

Aside from the occasional tiff involving teen-age girls, the carnival-goers behave themselves, said Anne Arundel Police Cpl. Joe Hatcher, who has worked security at the event ever since he joined the force 18 years ago.

He attributes that to the temperatures -- "with cooler weather, cooler heads prevail," he explains--and to the 20 or so uniformed police officers the association hires to patrol the carnival each night.

But much of the credit for the carnival goes to Glen Burnie Improvement Association President Barbara Moeller, known as Miss Barbara, who has been organizing the carnival since Hatcher's rookie days.

With a pit beef sandwich on rye in one hand and a walkie-talkie in the other, Moeller sat at the entrance of the carnival recently and watched those who entered.

In between greeting neighbors, she ran from the front of the carnival to the back, making sure the vendors had enough hamburger buns and Popsicles.

"We have a lot of Glen Burnie people here. It's a family tradition for us," Moeller said. "And you could not run it successfully without the volunteers. A lot of them come back year after year."

When the carnival started in 1908, much of the action was along the sidewalk of Crain Highway, now a busy thoroughfare. Favorite activities included jousting matches and prettiest-baby competitions. There was also a dance floor.

Today, the carnival is full of rides that look like pink mushroom caps or lollipops, which hoist children several feet off the ground and then cycle them back down.

It's a summer pleasure that transplants visitors to another time, a fair with 25-cent sodas and free parking, where neighbors greet each other with hugs and back slaps. Rare is the visitor who doesn't score a shot glass, a blow-up doll or a flowered lamp from his gaming prowess.

"I just wanted The Hulk. I'm going to put it in my room," said 14-year-old Garrett George of Severn, hauling a blow-up Incredible Hulk doll nearly his size on his shoulders.

Glen Burnie resident Cathy Woodson was tired after volunteering for much of the carnival's first weekend at the raffle booth. Still, she came back to the carnival with her children during the week.

"When we worked Friday night, you could tell everyone was having a good time. They kept coming back to play again," said Woodson, a teacher's aide at Benfield Elementary School in Severna Park.

Even Glen Burnie resident Cristie Shires forced a smile after explaining that her friend, Ashley Whitcomb, dragged her to the carnival this year.

Shires -- who is 6 feet tall, dyes her hair bright pink and has a pierced lip -- points out that she is hard to miss in a group. Nevertheless, she said, people at the carnival are always bumping into her.

"I don't like crowds," she said, "and when people bump into me it really makes me mad."

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