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A community on the march


With ear-splitting bands, colorful art cars and the usual flotilla of waving politicians, Charles Village celebrated itself in style yesterday.

Rain splattered throughout the opening hours of neighborhood's annual festival, and the parade - always a highlight - started a few minutes late. But the festival's 5K race went on. And the parade's spectators still lined St. Paul and Charles streets, waiting for their favorite floats to pass by.

Children dressed as pirates - their strollers decorated as boats - strode past Wyman Park Dell, followed by art cars covered in devilish red hands, a gaggle of dancing milkmaids, their goatherds and their oversized goat sculpture.

There were a few glitches. The mounted police unit that usually participates declined this year, saying the horses couldn't march in the rain. Precious the Skateboarding Dog, a perennial favorite, also could not accept the invitation, having gone recently, as master of ceremonies Lisa Simeone put it, "to the great skateboard in the sky."

And the bands arrived late. It was nearly noon by the time the drums came banging down Charles Street to end the parade.

"It was not smooth, but it was a lot of fun," said Dana Moore, one of the parade's organizers. "You can't have a parade without a band."

The festival celebrates a neighborhood that is among the city's liveliest. The North Baltimore community of about 14,000 is perhaps best-known for its Victorian homes, the "painted ladies."

About a decade ago, as crime was creeping in from other areas, the neighborhood created a special benefits district in which residents pay taxes to get additional protection and sanitation workers.

Now a local developer is building a 170-condominium complex in the neighborhood called Village Commons. And signs of renovation are apparent all over the neighborhood.

Still, those who came for yesterday's parade said it looked like the same old Charles Village to them - and they were thankful for that.

"I don't think it's changed. It seems the same. Same kind of people," said former Charles Village resident Charlie Nass, now a Mount Washington real estate developer who watched the parade with his two daughters, Stella and Charlotte, in hopes of seeing a clown.

Rebecca Hoffberger, founder of the American Visionary Art Museum and a parade judge, said the neighborhood has always felt like an extended family.

"There is truly a village feel here, in the sense that there are many people that care passionately about cities," she said. "The friendships here are real, and the parade is the affirmation that everyone cares about the same things."

Hoffberger and the other judges gave the top prize - $500 for the Most Super-Duper Entry - to the New Edition Marching Band.

But the people dressed as goatherds and milkmaids were not to be shut out, winning the Most Outrageous award. Along with their kinetic sculpture, "2 Goats Meet on a Bridge," the crew told the story of war and peace through a short sequence that involved dancing, a battle and then some fairy dust.

After the parade, they dispersed, taking in the sights of the festival and blending right in, wearing their karate tops and shorts.

Andrea Matney and her husband, Steve Matney, came from Glen Echo to be goatherds in the parade. Though Washington is the closer city, the couple didn't hesitate when J. Gavin Heck, the artist who created the sculpture, asked for their help. "What better way to spend a Saturday morning than being here, with all this silliness?" Andrea Matney asked.

The festival continues today at Wyman Park Dell with live bands and a garden walk. For more information, visit

Because of incorrect information provided to The Sun, an article about Charles Village in Sunday's Maryland section reported that Precious the Skateboarding Dog had recently gone "to the great skateboard in the sky." Precious is still alive.The Sun regrets the errors.
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