Vexations of local nomenclature
Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods. The neighborhoods and landmarks in them have names. The boundaries of those neighborhoods are not necessarily clearly delineated, and the names are not necessarily stable.
Pigtown, for example, got its name when swine were commonly run through the streets to their fate. Various municipal prettifiers have attempted to rename it Washington Village. It’s Pigtown.
When a neighborhood demographic shifts or becomes unstable, so does the nomenclature. Gentrifiers move into what was once a working-class neighborhood, and some of the old names they attempt to remove with the Formstone.*
All this rises from an inquiry from Sam Sessa our estimable Midnight Sun blogger, who writes about all the watering holes I avoid. ** An irate reader took him to task for a reference to “Canton Square” in the east-side neighborhood of the same name. It’s O’Donnell Square, the reader insisted.
The canny Mr. Sessa consulted out electronic archive and discovered that we have played both sides for years, alternating between “Canton Square” and “O’Donnell Square.” Then he came to my desk.
“Approach,” I said.
“M’lud, I crave a boon,” he said, and described his need for a ruling.
So I consulted Dee Addington, a 32-year resident of Canton, who explained that the square is properly O’Donnell Square, displaying a statue representing Capt. John O’Donnell, whose plantation was developed into the neighborhood.
Ms. Addington also said that a store calling itself Canton Square Video in the 1980s and that houses built where original rowhouses had been demolished were known as Canton Square.
Ms. Addington did the intake when I was first enrolled in The Sun’s books, and it is not wise to cross her. O’Donnell Square it is, and so The Sun’s electronic stylebook now states unequivocally. Fiat, fiat. Next.
* Formstone, you outlanders, is a synthetic stone covering commonly used on Baltimore rowhouses in the past century. The fastidious find it tacky; when they remove it, they discover that it has protected the original brick from decades of air pollution.
** It’s not that I sit at home with a gouty foot propped on a hassock while I bellow for more port. It’s just that it’s difficult to find saloons with decent draft beer and no televisions. Not fond of the music the young people listen to, either — “young people” understood to include just about anyone born since 1800.