Homicon '99 Keeps Homicide Alive
Review By Teddy Durgin
I remember my first time visiting Walt Disney World as a kid. I had seen Cinderella's Castle on TV countless times, but was still unprepared for how big it would be in person. It was massive! Staring up at it, I must have looked like every other goofy, wide-eyed child who had ever visited the Magic Kingdom.
So, I can truly understand how fans of "Homicide: Life on the Street" who descend on Baltimore from all over the country often stand in front of the old Rec Pier building in Fells Point, mouth wide open, marveling at the huge edifice that stood in for the Police Station House for seven years. About 100 such fans came to Charm City over the Columbus Day weekend to celebrate the gone-but-not-forgotten police drama.
Dubbed Homicon '99, the four-day event was organized largely over the Internet by Maura Crowther of Toronto; Cheryl Rabin of Kansas City, Mo.; and local fan Kathy Wilhelm. All three met in a "Homicide" newsgroup more than a year ago and had assembled in Baltimore several times during the show's final season on NBC to watch filming, mingle with the cast and crew, and just whoop it up in some of Fells Point's numerous pubs and bars. Over beers at Kooper's Tavern, Crowther recalled the first time she laid eyes on the Station House. "The breath left my body," she said. "It seemed monstrous. It seemed much bigger than I ever imagined. But yet everything else seemed smaller. Thames Street seemed smaller, the bars seemed smaller."
Advertising on the newsgroup and on various fan Web sites, it became evident over the summer that the event was going to be big. The trio soon garnered the support of Court TV (which airs "Homicide" re-runs in syndication). Rabin commented, "Court TV sent us 100 copies of the David Simon book [the series was based on], plus "Homicide" bookmarks and towels that will be given to [attendees] as prize packages and door prizes."
The centerpiece of the weekend was the "Red Ball," a term Homicide detectives would apply to politically high-profile murder cases. As far as "Homiconners" were concerned, the Red Ball was the Saturday evening party held at Kooper's where they got to meet "Homicide" production designer Vince Peranio and actor Ralph Tabakin. The elderly Tabakin played Medical Examiner Dr. Scheiner for all seven seasons of the show's run. Fans in attendance were able to get autographs from the two, as well as take photos in front of "Homicide's" famous Board.
The four-day expo was a cut above the typical, hotel-based fan gatherings for such shows as "Star Trek" and "Xena." Like the Baltimore police series, Homicon '99 took full advantage of all Crabtown has to offer. A bus tour was arranged for Sunday, Oct. 10, that took 35 lucky fans on a hunt for various filming locations all over the city. Among those spotted, thanks to tour guide Paul Kilduff, were: the Druid Hill Park location where drug dealer Luther Mahoney had his infamous run-in with the Nigerians; the laundromat where Detectives Gharty and Ballard investigated the death of a man force-fed liquid bleach; the liquor store that Detective Bayliss went bonkers in because he came up "11 cents short" for his beer and cookies; the house where Bayliss was shot defending his partner Frank Pembleton; and the church where Detective Crosetti's funeral was held.
Kilduff even managed to regale the Homiconners with a story of how his last name ended up as a murder victim in the classic Season Five episode, "The Documentary." He laughed, "You would be amazed at all of the different ways the actors pronounced "Kilduff!" I think Kyle Secor did the best job with it. Others made it sound like "killed off."
Walking tours of Fells Point were also arranged, showcasing the neighborhood's rich history. Perhaps the most fun part of the Homicon weekend was the Mike Kellerman Pub Crawl. Named after the detective who liked to tie one on every now and then, the Crawl included stops at Miss Irene's, Hightopps, the Wharf Rat, and The Cat's Eye Pub.
So, what draws fans from all over North America to our hometown? What inspires their allegiance to a show that never even sniffed the Top 20 Nielsen ratings, much less the Top 40. Perhaps Crowther said it best: "I believe these characters are real. They don't exist on this plane, but somewhere in the whole universe, they are alive. The characters are so flawed. They're so genuine that you believe they are real people walking around out there."
As a die-hard fan of the show, I couldn't help but look over my shoulder at the bar to see if Kellerman was there pounding back a shot of Jim Beam. Maybe next time.