Construction on the Clifton Mansion in Clifton Park on St. Lo Drive

Construction on the Clifton Mansion in Clifton Park on St. Lo DriveWednesday’s windy bike ride took me up the hill and over to Clifton Park to check out progress on the Clifton Mansion, currently receiving a $7 million face lift. It was originally built as a farmhouse by a merchant who also captained an artillery during the War of 1812 and then converted into an Italianate mansion by Johns Hopkins, who used it as his summer home–if he’d ridden a bicycle, he totally could have moved his summer home farther out, just saying. It fell into disrepair over the years but is now the home of Civic Works who, along with the Friends of Clifton Mansion, are overseeing its rescue. Clifton Park is so close to my neighborhood, but getting there on bike is not the easiest thing, mostly because it is bordered by busy streets on all sides, and the roads through the park are used by commuters, not just by people using the park. The road through Druid Hill Park, for example, is hardly a thoroughfare. The park was also used as a gathering place for the National Guard during the uprisings of 1968, after MLK, Jr. was assassinated. I wonder if some day there will be proud artillery markers of this event as there are in Patterson Park, where soldiers dug in to fight off the marching forces of the British in 1814, or at Fort McHenry, Riverside Park, Federal Hill, or the other parks that brag of their military pasts. Gives “public space” a new sort of meaning, eh? Anyway, I continued my ride around the park, past the totally decrepit and falling-apart water house and then through and around east Baltimore, across Edison Highway ad back around. I passed blighted house after blighted house, neighborhoods in the active state of being torn down, others just boarded up, their marble steps that surely used to be shiny and clean a jumble of stones. It reminded me of the cemeteries in New Orleans where once-magnificent vaults have been reduced to dusty piles, cracked tombstones strewn amidst tourist trash. Vaults are the responsibility of the family, but in many cases, families have disappeared, died out, moved away and on from these memories. Who is in charge now? What memories do we decide to preserve in the physical record, and how do we move and live among these ruins? And then I biked over and up and over and up and up and over back home, glad for another year of bicycling around the city, eyes open.

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