Takoma Park's Emblematic Rooster

The Washington DC area has plenty of monuments and grand statues, to be sure. But my hometown of Takoma Park, that eccentric bohemian enclave just north of the District in Maryland, has one that stands out from the rest: A life-size bronze likeness of a rooster on a pedestal, which thrusts his feathered chest jauntily at passers-by, as if it owned the town. Which, in fact, he once did.

The statue, created in 2000 by local sculptor Normon Greene, pays homage to an actual fowl--known as Roscoe by Takoma Park residents--who jauntily roamed Takoma Park's streets during the 1990s, wild and free, in defiance of Montgomery County animal control officials and local city employees who fruitlessly tried to capture him. Memorial to Roscoe the Rooster, Takoma Park. Credit: Patrick J. Kiger

As David Montgomery's 1997 Washington Post profile of the bird detailed, Roscoe's origin--other than that he hatched from an egg--remain shrouded in mystery. One story had it that he was an escapee from a cockfighting ring, while another maintained that he had fled from an illegal henhouse that some residents had once kept in their yard, in violation of the city's housing codes. In any case, Roscoe simply showed up around 1989, and took over the town.  Rising a few hours before dawn, he would awaken from his roost in the yard of a local home and serenade residents with some robust crowing. Then, he would begin his long day of roaming Takoma Park's streets, mooching handouts along the way, and stopping traffic whenever he felt like it. As Montgomery described the scene: 

He struts very slowly. His hard yellow claws click on the asphalt. His florid double chin shakes with self-importance. He looks portly, prosperous, expensively dressed. He could be impersonating a U.S. senator -- or maybe those guys are only impersonating Roscoe.

To some who were awakened by Roscoe at an ungodly hour, or else had to wait while he strolled across the asphalt in front of their bumpers, Roscoe undoubtedly was an annoyance. A Takoma Park city official once offered a bounty of $100 to anyone who could catch the bird, but no one ever collected--in part, perhaps, because they would have run afoul (excuse the pun) of Roscoe's many sympathizers. In a city whose Fourth of July parade has featured pranksters dressed as nuclear warheads or doing precision drills with push mowers, many were thrilled by the bird's insouciance and blithe disregard for authority. (In some ways, he was our version of Tampa Bay's Mystery Monkey, who for years similarly evaded capture.) But Roscoe also had a compassionate side. As this Gazette.net article details, Roscoe often could be seen sitting on a porch with an elderly resident, and when the man died, some thought that the Rooster seemed depressed.

Unfortunately, after a decade in which he became emblematic of Takoma Park's free-spirited ambiance, in February 1999 Roscoe was the victim of a hit-and-run.  30 or so mourners attended a memorial service for the bird, who subsequently was eulogized by Takoma Voice writer Mike Tidwell: "With each crow, he reconnected us, however briefly, to a world more sane and simple." Local residents, including a poultry anti-cruelty group, raised $5,000 to commission to erect the permanent memorial to Roscoe. Residents still celebrate the bird by dressing him up in knit scarfs and hats, and a popular neighborhood restaurant now bears his name.

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