The Baltimore Ravens’ coach John Harbaugh just received one of the coolest, most prestigious honors ever bestowed on one of Charm City’s own — and we’re not talking about a Super Bowl ring.
This week, Harbaugh got his own salt box. And not just any salt box, but one of the roughly 200 salt boxes depicting Baltimore personalities that has been decorated by the artist Juliet Ames.
On the new, bright yellow box, Harbaugh is performing the victory dance that went viral following the Jan. 20 playoff win against the Houston Texans. There is the Ravens coach, loaded and ready for action, doing his very best John Travolta impersonation from 1977’s “Saturday Night Fever.” Harbaugh’s right arm is raised and pointing towards the sky, while his left arm reaches down towards the Ravens logo on the team’s locker room floor. His knees are bent and his hips are swiveling.
Above the coach is the oft-repeated Harbaugh family motto: “Who’s got it better than us?” while his players gyrate happily in the background.
The salt box, which is based on an instantly iconic locker room photo taken by Shawn Hubbard, is on view outside the entrance gate leading to WIYY-FM — better known as “98 Rock,” the Ravens’ broadcast home.
Fans who walk around to the side of the box will find an image of the Greek comic and Baltimore native Stavros Halkias who often portrays an uber-Ravens fan he has named “Ronnie.”
Ames admits that she’s not particularly football-obsessed. She hasn’t mastered the intricacies of the halfback pass or the razzle dazzle, and she can’t tell a tight end from a loose end. But her husband and teenage son are mad for the team.
“I might not love football, but I love how happy everybody in Baltimore is right now,” Ames said. “I love the players coming into the locker room in their cool outfits, and the joy they were showing, and the dancing afterwards.”
The team seems pleased with the honor bestowed upon it; a photo of Ames’ salt box can be seen on the Raven’s website.
Hubbard, the freelance Ravens photographer who snapped that image, said he had a feeling that Harbaugh was going to break into a dance after the overwhelming, 34-10 victory. He had his camera ready when the players began to form a circle in the locker room to the strains of “Party Train” by The Gap Band.
Hubbard heard a team member say, “You said you were going to do it” — and suddenly Harbaugh was in the center of the circle, waving one arm as if he were twirling a lasso.
“He dances as if no one were watching,” Hubbard said. “That’s what I love about it. He doesn’t care what anyone thinks. You rarely see someone in that position get to let go. His unabashed joy is the best part about that dance.”
Nor is Ames the only artist to think that Hubbard’s photograph captures a quintessential Baltimore moment. Football fans can already buy a T-shirt instructing others to “Hit the Harbaugh” and another that proclaims “Lamar comin,” — a reference not just to the Ravens’ star quarterback, but also to Omar Little, the fictitious Baltimore stick-up man and fan favorite from the HBO cable series “The Wire.”
Ames originally began decorating the salt boxes in early 2021 as a pandemic project. She writes on her website that she’s always been charmed by the bright yellow salt boxes.
“When they show up on street corners in the late fall, I get excited thinking that a snow day could be around the corner,” she writes. One day on a whim, she noticed a “naked” salt box in Hampden without the words “salt box” to inform passersby of the container’s contents. So, she added the words herself, cutting the letters out of broken china plates.
After she posted a photo of her creation, the Baltimore DOT responded almost instantly — they loved what Ames had created — and invited other city artists to decorate other boxes. Reaction to Ames’ creations was so positive that the salt boxes have been featured not just in local media, but in “New Yorker” magazine and on ABC TV’s “Good Morning America.”
Since then, salt boxes have paid tribute to such beloved Baltimore figures as Edgar Allan Poe, Cab Calloway, John Waters and Tupac Shakur. Ames’ only other previous football-themed salt box honored Lamar Jackson. It debuted last year after Jackson ended months of fan agony by signing a five-year contract reportedly worth $260 million.
The artist said she is careful not to damage the salt boxes themselves. Instead, she creates a new decorative front panel that previously was plywood, but now is corrugated plastic. She then screws the new panel onto the front of the boxes.
She said she thinks the boxes have been welcomed so warmly because they remind local residents of Baltimore itself:
The boxes appear reliably every year in December before snow starts to fall and remain until April. They are filled with the salt that melts icy sidewalks and protects pedestrians from falling. They provide a service and are completely without pretension.
As Ames put it:
“A salt box is just a utilitarian object, but it is there to help and support you.”