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Williamsport asks do you guano dance?

September 01, 2005|by Tim Rowland

We've always suspected Williamsport had bats in the belfry - but bats in the dance hall? Apparently, because the big annual C&O Canal Days hootenanny was canceled last week because the barn where the dance was traditionally held was full of bat droppings.

Nice. What was the first dance going to be, the Guano del Fuego?

As usual, when I am writing about Williamsport, I can't 100 percent guarantee that I have the facts correct, because no one there ever seems to know if they have the facts correct. But best I can tell, here's the deal.

The barn dance that kicked off Canal Days was traditionally held in a barn. Keep this point in mind, since it's the only part of the story that makes sense.

To my mind, things begin to go Very Wrong with the next point, which is that the barn, along with hosting the annual dance, also hosts about 10 million bats during the balance of the year, when Williamsportsmen are not kicking up their heels.


Those who are familiar with bats will understand at this juncture that bats do not clean up after themselves, in the sense that there no such things as Bat-O-Johns that are routinely flushed out the way humans do it, which is usually once every eight years.

No, the bats see nothing wrong with allowing their droppings to add up and up and up until the barn gets so full it explodes, at which point the bats are issued a citation by the Washington County Historical Society.

But if I may reverse gears here for a moment and go back to the top: They hold a DANCE in a barn full of BATS? Are they crazy? Who thought that was a good idea, Adam West? What, while people were dancing did the bats sit outside drumming their little claws on the fence waiting for the people to wrap it up for the night so they could go to bed - or go to rafter, or whatever bats call turning in?

I mean, not to be nosy, but do any women go to these dances? And if they do, have they heard about the - you know - the flap-flap, squeak-squeak, rustle-rustle, ohmygoditsaBAT!!getitOUTTAHERE!!! problem?

Just to toss out one female example, if the Birdophobe in High Heels ever got wind that a bat had even stopped by the barn for a cup of tea at some point in time, you wouldn't get her within five miles of the hayloft if Rumpelstiltskin himself were chucking out bullion for the talking.

But back to the story. It seems that each year, employees of the Town of Williamsport would clean up the bat leavins' and none of them seemed to pay it much mind. Instantly, this tells you that the Town of Williamsport employees are not union. Most labor organizations wrote anti-bat-droppings language into their contracts about the same, ere they got time-and-a-half for stoking the coke ovens.

But the new Williamsport Council sensed a problem, specifically that sweeping out a barn full of dusty (bad) or not-so-dusty (worse) bat droppings might not be, what's the word, "healthy."

Oh, whatever would make them think that? Dusty old bat guano, bad for you? I would have thought good.

But to protect the employees and the town, the annual cleaning was called off. Even though the town employees didn't see a problem, who knows but that in 30 years they might all come down with batocosis or gray lung disease or something, and then the town would be on the hook much like Monsanto over asbestos.

This left the would-be barn dancers with limited options. Personally, I would have liked to see them go ahead with the dance without cleaning up. Think of how much fun this would have been for the caller:

Swing your partner

Round and round

Listen to her scream

If her hair swipes the ground.

Unfortunately for callers looking to break new ground, the Canal Days committee couldn't afford the cost of a professional bat-dropping cleanup, so the dance had to be canceled.

Truly this is a sad day, when a piece of the town heritage succumbs to vague, potential health concerns. And I think it is incumbent upon the town council members to look themselves in the mirror and ask the question: What do professional bat-dropping cleaners call themselves on their income tax forms? Bat Abatement Supervisor? Bat abatement?

In the blank after Occupation, do you just write: "Well, this is a little hard to explain ..."

That's OK. So is Williamsport.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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