Party time!

Rae Rossen

September 12, 1991|By Rae Rossen

SEPT. 12 warrants a special place in Baltimore history. It's Defender's Day, of course, commemorating the successful defense of the city against British invaders in 1814 (and Francis Scott Key's penning of the "Star-Spangled Banner"). It's also H.L. Mencken's birthday.

But few know that the city's 200th anniversary pageant, perhaps the biggest party in Baltimore history, commenced Sept. 12, 1929. The entire city geared for patriotic hoopla. As a Baltimorean temporarily relieved of the Depression's burdens, you could (for minimum expenditure) revel in a birthday extravaganza on land and sea and in the air.

Arising early that Thursday morning, you hop the trolley for a solemn unveiling of a tablet and flag holder at John Eager Howard's grave in Old St. Paul's Cemetery. If you reach City Hall Plaza by noon, you hear the City Hall bell, aptly named "Lord Baltimore," peal 200 times, calling the assembly to order.

But before listening to the dignitaries emote, you witness the release of 100 carrier pigeons, dispatched with messages of peace and good will to President Hoover and mayors of "great cities." Six bronze tablets, each marking the original boundaries of Baltimore, are presented and accepted at six downtown locations. Theodore R. McKeldin, then secretary to Mayor William F. Broening, accepts the final tablet at the Daily Record Building. Next, a four-division military parade, representing the Army, Navy, Maryland National Guard and related service groups, passes for your review. At Patterson Park, municipal games await with 400 competing athletes.

Another street car ride trundles you to Fort McHenry. There, under the direction of the Society of the War of 1812, ceremonial addresses and a parade by the 12th Infantry battalion hold your attention.

If your neck can withstand hours of skyward peering, you gawk to your heart's delight at top-flight aviation acrobatics and, later that night, a breathtaking fireworks pageant recreating the British attack on Fort McHenry.

Sleep late on Friday before trotting off to the Municipal Stadium for a Municipal Band concert and the Festival Play with a cast of more than 3,000 children honoring the 100th anniversary of public schools in Baltimore.

For an activity more adult-oriented, at Fort Howard there's the unveiling of another bronze tablet marking the Stricker Battery. Gov. Albert C. Ritchie, Broening and others address the throngs.

It goes on and on: a huge parade Friday night, a pageant of municipal history at Municipal Stadium the next day, a concert featuring a 1,000-voice male chorus, a street carnival at City Hall Plaza, Sunday-afternoon sacred music at the stadium (for sinners who slept through church). What a weekend!

Looking back on it, perhaps the 1929 blast was a way of escaping the Depression. Perhaps it was compensation for the year 1829, when a cholera epidemic curtailed elaborate centennial.

I wish I could call on the bicentennial pageant planning committee to arrange the celebration of my birthday, which is also today. But alas . . .

Rae Rossen writes from Randallstown.

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