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Photos: Barbara Haddock Taylor.
After Baltimore artist Juliet Ames started decorating salt boxes with images associated with Baltimore, others joined in.

What do think of when you see a headline with the phrase “salt boxes.” I was a bit slow, first picturing the boxes of table salt used in old-time kitchens, then New England’s saltbox architecture.

Turns out it referred to the clunky plywood containers for the de-icing salt used on sidewalks and streets.

In an article at the Baltimore Sun, we learn, “The artist Juliet Ames has always loved salt boxes because she has always loved snow. She says she looks forward to the day every fall when the boxes appear on street corners because she thinks ‘it means that a snow day could be around the corner.’

“She’d always wanted to decorate one, especially the boxes that lacked even the stenciled words ‘salt box.’

“ ‘They looked sad,’ she said. ‘A naked salt box needs a dress.’

“Fearful of getting into trouble for damaging city property, she restrained herself — until the day in mid-December when she found herself contemplating a criminally unadorned salt box in Hampden [a Baltimore neighborhood]. Snow was in the forecast.

“ ‘I knew it had to be this box,’ she said. ‘That night, I Tweeted the picture of the decorated box out … and said, “Somebody vandalized the salt box.” ‘

“The next day, she received an email from the city’s Department of Transportation.

“ ‘We told her that we loved the salt boxes and that we looked forward to seeing more as long as they have a salt theme or highlight something special in the surrounding neighborhood,’ said German Vigil, communications manager for the DOT. Ames didn’t need more encouragement. …

“In the past two months, more than 100 of the decorated salt boxes have appeared around Baltimore, including more than 25 adorned by Ames herself.”

You can see a great collection of photos at the Sun, but here are a few descriptions.

The Sun says, “Literary icon Edgar Allan Poe stares out moodily from the front of a salt box across the street from the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Central Branch. And yes, that’s a raven perched atop his head — a nod to the Bard of Baltimore’s most famous poem and its cryptically croaking bird.

‘I was trying to subtly work in a reference to “nevermore,” Ames said, ‘because there is never more salt. A lot of the boxes have been empty this year.’

The newspaper’s caption for the photo below explains, “Adjacent to the Baltimore School for the Arts is one of its most famous alumni. His hat on backwards, quizzical eyes hooded, mouth open as if preparing to speak is none other than Salt Pac Shakur. (Salt Shaker, get it?) Tupac Shakur studied acting at the high school in the 1980s, where, according to his former teachers, the soon-to-be-renowned rapper had a special gift for performing Shakespeare.”

Among the photos you can see online is one of the “I Love the Morton Salt Girl,” whose slogan you doubtless remember: “When it rains, it pours.” Ames told the Sun, “I have a tattoo of the Morton Salt Girl on my leg that I got five or six years ago. I like her imagery, I love to cook, and we always had canisters of Morton salt when I was growing up.”

One box features jazz great Cab Calloway “looking over his shoulder and warbling a version of his trademark ‘hi-de-ho.’ Ames said, “I first learned about Cab Calloway from a Janet Jackson video in the 1990s. My mom was so excited. She told me, ‘Oh, he’s from Baltimore!’ Even though Cab technically wasn’t technically born here, we like to claim him.”

Two of the other themes shown were particularly interesting to me: local favorite Old Bay seasoning and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The seasoning is for the famed blue-claw crabs associated with Baltimore. Ames said, “That’s the only salt box where I painted the actual lid instead of decorating a yellow plywood panel that attaches to the front of the box. I was painting the lid bright red while people were passing by, and no one questioned what I was doing.”

But why is Minnesota native “F. Salt Fitzgerald” connected to Baltimore? Apparently, he wrote his 1934 novel Tender Is the Night while he was living there. “I decided to have him recline while drinking a martini,” Ames said.

I’ve lost count of the cities that claim Fitzgerald.

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