Even then, handwriting was on the walls

The Baltimore Sun

If you've never been to Homewood's historic outhouse, ya gotta go.

The brick privy is open to the public through the end of March as part of a special exhibit - Next to Godliness: Cleanliness in Early Maryland - that explores housekeeping and personal hygiene in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The outhouse graffiti came later, between 1897 and 1910, when Country School for Boys, the school that later became Gilman, took up residence at Homewood. So it's not technically part of the exhibit.

But the handwriting on the bathroom walls just might be the best part.

"If you want to get a piece of nice [BLEEP] you can call at Miss Mowen 1615 Bolton Street Baltimore, Maryland," someone scrawled in pencil on the privy's chestnut walls.

Don't you just long for the days when courtesy titles were extended even to good-time girls?

"There's one that's worse associated with 1022 McCulloh Street," Homewood curator Catherine Rogers Arthur assured me.

"How would you like to [BLEEP] your [BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP] call 1022 McCulloh Street Baltimore, Maryland signed Bessie."

A Homewood employee once assumed the graffiti was the work of modern-day Hopkins students and alerted Arthur in a huff.

"You won't believe what these horrible students did!" she told the curator. "I'll do whatever it takes [to remove it]."

Arthur had to wave her off.

"If it's in pencil, it's historic. We want it there. If it's spray paint or Sharpie, we don't."

The exhibit extends beyond the outhouse and inside Homewood itself, but don't be fooled by the elegance of the 1801 mansion. Charles Carroll Jr.'s chamber pots were made of fine English stoneware and were tucked inside mahogany chests of drawers. But excreta stink, even when flowing from the offspring of Declaration of Independence signers.

Also stinky: the mansion's painted sailcloth floor mats, which used to be washed in creamy milk to keep them supple.

Said Arthur: "It's probably a good thing we don't offer scratch and sniff tours of Homewood."

Efforts were made to combat the curiously strong scents.

"Even Altoids date back to 1780," Arthur noted. "We have a point in the tour in the drawing room where people can stop and help themselves to a breath mint."

From the Bulge to the hearth

Henry Roth hardly gave a second thought to the Army duffel bag he left in a foxhole in Belgium not long before the Battle of the Bulge. Yet 63 years later, it managed to turn up on his doorstep.

Roth, who died late last month, is not so easily forgotten. His widow keeps expecting him to turn up.

"I expect to see him walk around the corner any minute now," said Mary Ann Roth, who had been married to him for 65 years and had known him for 70.

Henry Roth, a retired accountant, Catonsvillean and World War II veteran, was the subject of a front page story in The Sun in April 2007, not long after his duffel bag found its way back to him. A collector of war memorabilia in Belgium had tracked Roth down, with help from the Internet and the serial number stenciled on the bag.

At the time, Roth thought it was funny that everyone was making such a fuss about the recovered bag.

"What am I going to do with it, hang it over the fireplace?" he said to reporter Josh Mitchell.

When I spoke with Roth's widow the other day, I asked what he wound up doing with the bag.

"You know, his nephew came one day, he took the duffel bag," she said. "He picked it up and said, 'We're going to hang this on the fireplace.' ... There happened to be a nail on the hearth. I guess it was where the children hung the Christmas stockings. And it stayed there, I know, for almost a year. Everybody came in and said, 'There's the duffel bag.' "

Eventually, the bag was taken down and tucked under a chest of drawers, inside the box that had carried it from Belgium.

Out of sight again, but this time, not forgotten.

Said Mary Ann Roth: "It will be passed on to my son."

Drawing on his talents

Let's get the disclosure thing over with right off the bat: The following item stars the son of Amy Davis, a Sun photographer.

Anybody else out there with kids who've landed book contracts with Random House at the tender age of 13, I promise to write about them, too.

Paul Cronan was an eighth-grader at Roland Park Middle School last year when, through a friend of a friend, he was asked to submit sketches for a fantasy/adventure story for Delacorte Press, a Random House subsidiary.

The Last Synapsid is about a 12-year-old who draws all the time. Author Tim Mason was interested in having a child illustrate the book.

"Seemed like a really long shot at the time," said Paul's father, Bob Cronan. Paul submitted some drawings, and the whole family sort of forgot about it.

Months later, they got a call saying Paul was in.

Paul, now 14 and a freshman at Baltimore School for the Arts, has 12 black-and-white illustrations in the book, mostly of dinosaurs.

"Some of the drawings were pretty challenging to get them right," said Paul.

But the really hard part was on Random House's end: They couldn't figure out how to pay someone that young.

"The parent company had not worked with a minor in that capacity ... under the working age of 14," Bob Cronan said.

The publisher ultimately paid Bob Cronan instead. "Paul is actually my subcontractor," he said with a laugh.

The family isn't saying just how much that was, just that it's not enough to get Paul out of getting a summer job.

Both author and illustrator will appear at a book signing at the Ivy Bookshop from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday.

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