But the money was only part of the glare of the spectacle, which annually brought up to 130,000 visitors to Park Heights, the working-class neighborhood next to Pimlico. “It was so exciting; there would be so many people from all walks of life,” said Monica Tyson, a nurse who is Lillie’s daughter.
With the novel coronavirus causing Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) to postpone preakness until Saturday and limit 250 people attending, Park Heights and the greater Baltimore area have lost – at least for now – an event that city officials and See residents as their version of the Super Bowl.
The showcase horse race, which usually takes place in May, is just one aspect of a party that has long drawn in well-heeled and well-dressed people, along with politicians, gamers and revelers who have moved away from the stands and towards the less decorative Limits of the infield.
“Not having a crowd is a big buzz kill,” said Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (D), a member of the Baltimore City Council, whose Pimlico district is a part. “You have no other event in Baltimore that draws that many people.”
Park Heights, a mostly black neighborhood 10 miles northwest of downtown Baltimore, has long struggled with disease, high unemployment and violent crime. Almost a quarter of the region’s population lives below the poverty line.
While Pimlico is the neighborhood’s main attraction, residents say they rarely benefit from their proximity to the track – except on Preakness Weekends when some got temporary jobs at the racing complex or made money from self-proclaimed businesses they operated from their front yards to have.
With no crowds dismounting for Saturday’s race, the silence is another blow to a city that has seen turmoil, a flurry of corruption scandals and an unrelenting spike of carnage in recent years. In Park Heights, the pandemic has tarnished otherwise friendly residential streets; Neighbors, especially the elderly, now stay indoors with their shadows drawn.
“It’s like a ghost town here,” said Maceo Price, 72, a grocery store owner and a Park Heights resident. He said the preakness had long been an opportunity for him to show his kids and grandchildren how to start a business – on his front steps to sell soda and candy to racing fans who come from far and wide.
“It’s a way to teach them how to make money,” he said.
Across the street, 51-year-old Patricia Williams, who left her warehouse job in March because she did not want to travel during the pandemic, said she would like to spread the wealth of preakness and send cars to park with her neighbors if she could Lawn filled.
“That was my hectic money,” she said, estimating that her family could make $ 500 parking cars on race day. “Now we’ve lost the crowd and we’ve lost the money.”
A few blocks away, across from a high fence that hid the trail, was 32-year-old Tyisha Fulton on her mother’s porch, a thin cigar between her fingers. A group of young children – her siblings’ and her own – ran up and down the stairs.
Fulton said she had never attended Preakness because entry was too expensive. But she and her siblings, she said, made hundreds of dollars each year selling hot dogs, hamburgers, bottles of water, candy, T-shirts, and hats.
They used the money to send their children to summer camp.
“We’d be out here from start to finish and make $ 1,000,” she said. “It’s good they shut it down because of the virus, but it’s messing up people’s money.”
Fulton said she hasn’t worked in six months, partly because she can’t get babysitting help and doesn’t want to leave her four young children unattended while schools are closed. She visits her mother every day and feels sorry for neighbors, who seem to become more and more depressed as the pandemic progresses.
“It makes people cuckoo,” she said.
On Thursday afternoon, a man a few blocks away was shot and injured a man. From the corner of Park Heights and West Belvedere – with jockeys in Pimlico in the distance circling the track on their horses – the sound of gunfire followed by sirens.
“Who asks ‘What happened?’ is not from here, “said Wanda Tyson, 61, watching the police tape off Park Heights Avenue with yellow tape.” There’s always shooting here. All you need to see is the yellow tape and you know what happens . “
The preakness, she said, is usually a short break from everyday life.
“We just got back from the riot and now this,” she said of the virus.
Half a block away, on Park Heights Avenue, was Marvin Jones, 62, a juvenile justice minister for Youth for Christ, with his religious brochures and a stuffed lion that he said was meant to symbolize “God is King.”
Jones said the absence of the preakness crowds had robbed him of the opportunity to meet people and spread his faith.
“It’s like heaven to me,” he said of the race. “I stand in front of the gate and say, ‘Can I give you some good news from God today? ‘Nobody says, “No.” ”
Antoine “Shamir” Williams, 47, said the lack of preakness crowds was a minor problem compared to the violence that so often rattles the city. He pointed to a lamp post that had recently been home to a shrine to a murder victim – a mixture of flowers, pearls, heart-shaped balloons, and empty liquor bottles.
“It’s bigger than the preakness,” said Williams. “How often do we cry when a little baby is shot in your house because someone has a gun?”
A few blocks away, 70-year-old Nathaniel Dorsey left his house and made his way to his job in a supermarket.
Sure he missed the crowd, he said, describing the preakness as a “big family get-together”. But he has other pressing concerns: saving money to fix his shabby porch, keep his job, and stay alive.
“I thank the Lord every day I open my eyes,” he said from behind his face mask before turning to catch his bus.