Heading downtown, via Memory Lane, with 'Pop' Monaghan

Jacques Kelly

October 11, 1991|By Jacques Kelly

I never knew what to expect when my grandfather announced we'd be going downtown.

Edward Jacques Monaghan was a monumental Irishman who seemed to greet all Baltimore on a first-name basis. We would take the No. 8 streetcar, the only form of public transportation he trusted. "Pop" would salute the motorman like they were lost friends. He would do the same as we walked downtown. Few people were sour enough to resist his salutations.

The part of downtown that Pop visited was the old financial district -- Baltimore, South Redwood and Calvert streets -- busy and sooty. Over the din could be heard the whistles of traffic cops. Buildings sported broken neon tubing and old Civil Defense signs.

Pop's lunch routine never varied. Like so many men of his generation, he preferred the old Horn & Horn restaurant at Baltimore and Guilford. His routine was to have an early snack. He sat at table on classic bentwood chairs. He preferred a certain waitress, a small woman with a thick German accent. He generally ordered the chicken pot pie and, for dessert, Jello that was made in three precisely cut color stripes of red, green and yellow. Pop loved it. He was also very partial to Horn's homemade ice cream.

On one trip downtown, I spotted an ad for a Dr. Pepper soft drink and dared to bring up its name. It was an innocent reference, but Pop launched into an attack on the beverage which was then so popular in the South. He claimed its maker was a major backer of Prohibition, which denied him his right to drink Maryland rye.

Pop was a coin collector when this country had real silver coins. He got his coins from banks, dealing only with those whose vaults survived the Baltimore Fire of 1904. He was particularly found of the vault in the old Maryland Trust Co. at Calvert and Redwood. He'd enter the front door with the confidence of a major stockholder.

Pop had pet tellers, who were quick to recognize "Mister Monaghan." He might buy -- or exchange -- 50 silver dollars, which he dutifully carried home in a velvet Seagram's Crown Royal purple pouch. If the teller was pleasant, Pop slyly dipped into his pocket and produced a candy bar or memo book as a gift.

A second later, while still standing on the bank's marble floor, Pop would be denouncing that "louse," Franklin Delano Roosevelt, because the president had done in the gold standard 20 years before. Pop never did like rich liberals.

As with the streetcar, Pop's entry into Lucas Brothers stationery store was equally chatty. He regaled salesmen with jokes and stories. Often, he left with only a tablet of paper and a fresh bottle of Sheaffer's fountain pen ink -- green only, please. When writing, Pop used only lead pencils he'd sharpened with a pen knife or a specially patented type of Jenkins fountain pen made only in Baltimore, which took skill and care to handle. He had clear, graceful handwriting that was this instrument's match.

Weighed down with the loose silver, and probably a few rolls and dimes and quarters, which I helped carry in my pockets, we'd catch the No. 8 home. Every time that bouncy car bobbed on its springy tracks, the pair of us clanged like bells.

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