“Gosh darn pigeons won’t get out of my way fast enough.”
You might say that as you drive through the city on any given afternoon, though you may upgrade each word of profanity by a degree or two.
Dave Glorioso, of Landsdowne, is also in favor of faster pigeons.
As one of many “folks” at the Maryland Traditions Folklife Festival this weekend, Glorioso offered city dwellers a rare insider’s view of his “folksy” art/hobby/career: pigeon racing.
“It’s been a major sport in Baltimore for 100 years, but it’s dying off because the younger generation has so much to do,” said Glorioso, who has been pigeon racing since 1972.
Pigeon races, Glorioso explained, are long-distance flights.
“We start off with a 100-mile race, and then we go 200, 300, 400, 500, 600.” he said. “You take [the pigeons] to the clubhouse the night before; the club hires a guy to drive them down and release them at a certain time.”
These clubhouses and clubs are surprisingly numerous, and local. The Baltimore Pigeon Fanciers Social Club is located at 642 S. Montford Ave.
One common race is from Atlanta to Baltimore.
“On a good day like today, it’s 12 hours,” said Glorioso, looking up at the bright sky dotted with happy, non-threatening clouds. “They would beat you and I if we’re in a car.”
“I mean, they’re tired when they get home,” he added. “It takes them two weeks to recuperate.”
Races can be surprisingly high-stakes. In one race in South Africa, winners’ spoils include five cars and $7 million, Glorioso said.
The pigeons are fitted with bands and computer chips, which are activated at the start of the race. A pigeon finishes the race by stepping onto a small platform at the finish, which register’s the bird’s time and band number. It’s a process very similar to that used in modern road racing.
Getting the pigeons to know when and where to land is important. Glorioso held a white female pigeon in his hand and said that his birds will come down toward her and land if he throws her up in the air.
The key to winning races, Glorioso said, is caring for your birds.
“You’ve got to learn everything about them–how to feed them and give them medicine,” he said. “the man who can do that the best is going to have the best success.”
Glorioso himself learned from R.L. Spoone, “one of the greatest fliers in the U.S.”
“If somebody don’t teach you when you get into it, you won’t last long,” Glorioso said.
Glorioso has taught his son, Fish, the art, and he is also teaching Bubba Hopewell.
In addition to pigeon racing, the Folklife Festival featured blacksmithing, eel-pot weaving, Smith Island Seven-Layer Cake-making, Southeastern Woodlands broom-making, African American storytelling, live music of all varieties from honky-tonk to steel drum, and much more. The festival is produced by the State Arts Council and supported by the Creative Alliance and the National Council for the Traditional Arts.
by Erik Zygmont