If, on a stroll past the Broadway Pier, you have seen a group of children laughing hysterically as one marionette puppet clobbers another, then you have seen Fell’s Point aficionado Mark Walker in action.
Walker, who doesn’t actually live in the Point, has been putting on his “Punch and Judy” show since the 1980s, carrying on a Baltimore tradition that started in April of 1897.
“Punch and Judy” is a traditional puppet show that was established in England ages before it came to Baltimore. In a similar vein to the fairy tales of old, it was once a very black comedy, and it gradually morphed into something geared toward children. During the course of the show, the large-nosed hero, Mr. Punch, overcomes a series of adversaries and irritates his wife, Judy.
The old-timey-ness of the production—perhaps the fact that it has been shown for hundreds of years by countless puppeteers, many of whom have passed on—lends it an almost supernatural air. The marionettes themselves have exaggerated facial features, and could be described as grotesque. It’s hilarious by day, but you wouldn’t want to leave the silently smiling Mr. Punch gazing down from your bedroom dresser at night.
Baltimore’s “Punch and Judy” tradition began in 1897 with James Edward Ross, a.k.a. Professor Rosella. (“Punch and Judy” puppeteers are always addressed as “Professor.”) Around 1932, George Horn (Professor Horn) became a go-to “Punch and Judy” puppeteer in Charm City.
A young Mark Walker watched Professor Horn perform in Patterson Park in 1963, and the rest, as it is now cliché to say, is history. Horn transferred his knowledge and skills to Walker in the 1980s, and the two remained close friends until Horn’s death, at 98, in 2004. In honor of his mentor, Walker also performs under the name Professor Horn.
More information on Walker’s “Punch and Judy” activities is available at www.hornspunch.com.
Walker’s fellow Fell’s Point activists and residents chose him as recipient of this year’s Selfless Community Service Award, an annual recognition established by resident Jack Trautwein in 2003 and awarded on Sept. 11 in conjunction with a remembrance of that day’s events.
“I was just shocked, just like everybody else,” said Walker of the day the World Trade Center was attacked and almost 3,000 people died.
Although he now lives in Harford County, Walker grew up on the 500 block of N. Kenwood Ave. His grandmother lived on Bank St.
“I considered Fell’s Point my home,” he said. “I used to go there all the time.”
In the 1970s, Walker returned to the Point as an adult, visiting bygone taverns such as Turkey Joe’s. His visits became more frequent in the 1980s, and he became entrenched in the goings-on at Fell’s Point over the past few decades.
Walker’s involvement in Fell’s Point goes well beyond his “Punch and Judy” show. Over the years, he wrote 66 articles for the “Fell’s Pointer” newsletter. His intimate knowledge of the local taverns and his interest in the dozen-or-so now closed movie houses provided ample material for his articles.
Though he has retired from writing for the “Fell’s Pointer”, he still delivers the periodical on a volunteer basis.
He has been active in the Preservation Society and the Fell’s Point Main Street program. He was also heavily involved in the rehabilitation of Fell’s Point’s recreation pier.
He was simply doing what interested him and pursuing things he cared about.
“I was kind of surprised they picked me [for the Selfless Community Service Award],” said Walker. “You do stuff, and you never think about if anybody is paying attention to it.”
Walker works for Johns Hopkins in the Bond Street Wharf building. He hopes that his volunteer activities in Fell’s Point make up for the fact that he takes up a parking space during the day.
by Erik Zygmont