Staunton Neighborhood Howls Against The Pandemic

Apr 23, 2020

Sherwood Avenue neighbors maintain appropriate physical distancing during their nightly howl session.
Credit Mike Tripp

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to feel alone. One Staunton neighborhood handles the isolation by howling as a community each evening. WMRA’s Mike Tripp has the story.

Last Saturday, Peggy Ruth Geren raises her head and howls.
Credit Mike Tripp

Five minutes before 7 o'clock each evening, the neighbors of Sherwood Avenue walk outside. They gather along the street. And a  few minutes later …


Peggy Ruth Geren recalls that first night. She was still inside.

GEREN: I thought, holy cow, what's going on out there, and I walked to the front porch and realized that it was people out there giggling and howling.

STEPHEN TALLEY: We always do this right at seven.

Stephen Talley says there were more than a dozen other people that first night. Each maintaining proper physical distancing, of course. It lasted all of 3 or 4 minutes.

Stephen Talley lifts his head and howls. He says it's a way for people just to let off a little steam.
Credit Mike Tripp

TALLEY: People began to laugh and talk back and forth about it. Everybody decided it was worth continuing to do.

GEREN: So the next night, I got the word. And I just thought it was so amusing. And the idea of a pack was just a neat idea.

Talley is the mastermind behind the Sherwood howl sessions.

TALLEY: [laughs] Been kind of a free spirit guy. I’m 71 years old and I remember sometime back in the 70s. There was this movement called Primal Screaming. And I never got into that, but this is kind of akin to that, I think. It’s a way for people just to let off a little steam. 

He feels it’s a way for them to say they’re not going to let the coronavirus defeat them.

TALLEY: We’re gonna do what we need to do to get through it, and we’re just here to stay.

Although instigator for the howls in Sherwood, Talley quickly admits the idea was not originally his.

Even on a bike and scooter, a father and daughter join their neighbors on the nightly howl.
Credit Mike Tripp

TALLEY: This movement started in Colorado. I just happened to see a story on Facebook. It was kind of interesting because some guy out there thought it would be a good idea to go out on their porch and start howling.

Decision made; Talley began by contacting his neighbors.

TALLEY: You know, we’re a pretty tight knit community over here. It’s a small dead-end neighborhood. So everybody knows everybody. So I just sent people an email and said this is what I’m doing tonight.

GEREN: Our neighborhood is really kind of like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood anyway. And if you have two people out in the street talking …

[Sounds of neighbors greeting one another]

GEREN: … pretty soon you've got six people out there. So, it was just a whimsical and kind of fun idea.

Jim Kivlighan is another neighbor.

Jim Kivlighan Sr., a retired elementary school principal, howls while standing in the street between his home on one side and his son's home on the other.
Credit Mike Tripp

KIVLIGHAN: Steve Talley, who’s my next-door neighbor approached me, and I thought, “Absolutely. This sounds like a lot of fun and very Sherwood Avenue-esk.”

The neighbors are known for gathering together for holiday parties and of course they are known as one of the best Halloween spots in the city, attracting over 1,000 trick or treaters each year.

KIVLIGHAN: We do a lot of things together on the street. And it just seemed like something that would be really fun to do. Especially in these times when we’re cooped up and stressed a little bit. It’s nice to go out and just … howl. Right when the clock goes to 7, either Steve or myself will give the first howl. And then everybody joins in.

He says you can hear it grow along the length of the street. Sherwood is where Kivlighan grew up, returning to as an adult.

Penelope Gundling, 9, blows her conch shell like a horn, joining in during Sherwood Avenue's nightly howling session.
Credit Mike Tripp

KIVLIGHAN: It’s a fun neighborhood. There’s multi-generations. There are older people … retired people. And then there are also young families with kids.

But do they howl?

KIVLIGHAN: My whole family howls. My mom and dad live about a 100 yards from us. My dad howls every day.

It’s actually one of the highlights of his dad’s day. And sometimes his mom will join in as well as do Jim’s   children … those still living with him and his wife. 

KIVLIGHAN: A lot of people say she maybe has the best howl on the street, but I think I maybe do.

GEREN: We’re starting to recognize one another’s howl. Kind of starting to rate each other’s howl. And now the kids up the street have brought out a conch shell horn that they’ve added.

Another neighbor joins in. Does the howling help alleviate anxiety from the pandemic? Sherwood Ave. residents say it definitely does.
Credit Mike Tripp

As the entire community participates, the question has to be asked. … Does it help?

KIVLIGHAN: The pandemic has changed things. It’s obviously much scarier. Think it’s made us all realize we’re lucky to be on a street where we know each other and can help each other out.

TALLEY: I feel great. I mean it’s just lifted my spirits. Sometimes I get up in the morning with a sense of foreboding. And when you read the accounts of so many people died in nursing homes and stuff. Controversy around whether we should be staying at home. It’s just really unsettling, but for some reason the simple act of going out on the porch and howling a little bit kind of makes me feel better.

KIVLIGHAN: The howling is something we actually look forward to, and you feel somewhat of a release. We’ve all been affected somehow by this. So, you can let a good howl out, you feel a little bit better, you know things are gonna get better. It’s just gonna take some time.

An amused family watches from their front porch.
Credit Mike Tripp

GEREN: It is therapeutic. [Laughs] It really is. This activity that started out as just a kind of a fun idea … There’s something to it. Something profound. I hope we keep doing it.

TALLEY: It’s such a simple thing to do. Howling requires a little bit of courage to get outside of yourself and not be embarrassed about somebody seeing you do that. I think it’s therapeutic and affective in that regard.

[Neighbors finishing their howl for the evening]