Lights, trains, shop windows, readings from Dickens -- 'tis the season

Jacques KElly

December 13, 1990|By Jacques Kelly

'There's no mistaking it's Christmas in Baltimore when . . .

The white lights detonate around the harbor. Even people who say they don't like Harborplace warm up to the Santa Claus house with the funny roof at Pratt and Light. And try the view from Federal Hill.

Fells Point takes on an incandescent glow at Christmas, thanks to a tree at the foot of Broadway. The shops are all decorated; it looks like a town square in a Christmas garden. For this season, horse-drawn carriages circle the Belgian-block-paved streets. People were having a merry time in their open-air conveyances.

For the weekends before Christmas, some of the merchants are dressing up in 18th century costume.

At the Admiral Fell Inn, actors read passages from Charles Dickens. The fire is going in the hearth and just when you think it's all too cute, you decide it isn't and have another cup of cider.

Fells Point is a splendid neighborhood for walking. Check out a little window in the herbalist's apothecary shop in the 1700 block of Thames St. The window displays an arrangement of osage oranges, lemons and magnolia leaves.

If you're not quite in the Christmas spirit yet, try one of the walking tours through this ancient neighborhood Saturday at 11 a.m., 1 and 3 p.m. Inquire at the Robert Long House, on South Ann Street, near Thames. If you're still not ready, visit the Broadway Market. Or, for that matter, tour any city market. Try not sampling a tangerine.

For those still addicted to window shopping, Charles Street, both north and south, is looking festive this season. My vote for best window goes to the Windsor Gallery, just south of the Hotel Belvedere. It's got motorized figures of a Pluto dog, vintage 1950. There's also a moving goat that opens and shuts a door. For some reason, the goat is dressed in a nightgown and carries a red lamp. It defies explanation.

Inside the shop are a large Mr. Peanut costume, various Coca-Cola props, and a Ronald McDonald, circa 1960.

Next door, the new Findings shop, associated with Rita St. Clair Associates interior designers, has a go-for-broke art deco front door fashioned of jazzy metalwork. It's worth a look.

For kilowatt power in decorations, try a visit to Hampden (Chestnut, Roland, Hickory avenues) and a home on Thetford Road in the Knettishall neighborhood near Loch Raven Village. The Mr. and Mrs. Santa on lawn chairs at Regester Avenue and Sherwood Road isn't bad either.

The Maryland Historical Society scores big in the antique toy and train field. Its Enoch Pratt Mansion, at the southwest corner of Monument Street and Park Avenue, has a gracious double parlor, now nicely encircled by a 1920s and 1930s Lionel standard-gauge train set. The train has been set up on the floor, along with some skaters on a mirror pond, a small station marked Ruxton and a platoon of World War I-era lead soldiers. There's also a Lionel Hellgate Bridge, named for its prototype in New York.

The other day, the locomotive Blue Comet was temporarily out of service, but a black steam locomotive was pulling a long set of freight cars around the room. The trains once ran at the home of the late Monsignor William J. Stricker, whose family lived on Hollins Street (facing Union Square), next door to H.L. Mencken. The society operates the trains every afternoon at 2.

There's also a pair of operating electric trains (one B&O, another Chessie System) in the windows of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. building at Lexington and Liberty streets. It's amazing the crowds these trains attract. All aboard!

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