View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Friday, June 20, 2003

I was talking to a friend of mine from DC last night (actually Maryland now, Virginia then) and the subject of Nipper came up. When I was growing up, and for a long time thereafter, some guy with a farm in the middle of Fairfax County had one of the huge, original RCA dogs sitting on his lawn. The thing was 14' high, on a green pedestal, just sitting there in his front yard on Lee Highway, a few blocks down from the Merrifield Post Office. I never understood what the hell it was doing there, although from time to time Arch Campbell, the "features" guy from Channel 4 would do a special story on the weird guy with the dog in his front yard, and all the Wurlitzer Organs and Rube Goldberg coin banks in his trailers.

It turns out that the dog used to reside in Baltimore, first at the RCA building and then on top of an awning over a store. In the mid 70's, the store went out of business, but the dog had become a Baltimore landmark. Then-mayor, eventual governor and national embarassment, William Donald Schaefer assumed that some Baltimore home would be found for the dog. But Jim Wells, in what would become a model for the Irsays several years later, bought the dog for a dollar, that's right, priceless Americana for $1, loaded it onto a truck of his own and spirited it out of town before Schaefer knew what had happened. Schaefer tried for years to get the dog back, but Wells had 'im, and that was that.

Wells put the dog on his front lawn, and for many years, I used to drive by that thing on the way to school. It did look a little out of place. But Fairfax County went so far as to file suit, claiming that the dog amounted to illegal advertising in a residential zone. This was in the late 70s, when nobody was buying RCA, or any other American electronic any more, so it's hard to see what their point was. They lost, and the dog stayed there until Wells died. Now, it's back in Baltimore, on an awning, over the Maryland Historical Society. I called there to make sure, and the receptionist was kind enough to let me know they had the dog. But apparently, they're remodeling, and all the actual historians are busy until November, and not taking calls.

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