State Establishment Parties Night Away Holiday Approaches, War Seems Far Away

December 06, 1991|By James Bock

On Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor -- an obscure U.S. base in the territory of Hawaii -- was ravaged by a Japanese attack.

The devastating surprise assault lpropelled the United States into World War II, forever changing the face of the globe.

From Dec. 1 through Sunday, The Sun is publishing recollections of the days that encompassed Pearl Harbor, and recalling the lives and times of Marylanders on the eve of cataclysm.

Maryland's political establishment partied on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The Annapolis armory was draped in red, white and blue bunting and arranged to resemble a flag-bedecked cafe for the first Assembly Ball. A Baltimore orchestra supplied the swing, and 800 politicians, family, friends and hangers-on tried out their fox-trot and rumba.

Annapolis Mayor William McCready, who had lighted the town Christmas tree that evening, said the Assembly Ball should be an annual affair and remarked grandly that "Annapolis has been noted for its entertaining qualities since the days of George and Martha Washington."

Maryland's political leaders in December 1941 were all Democrats, but they were generally conservative and skeptical of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal -- and not above sniping at one another.

Gov. Herbert R. O'Conor, 45, elected in 1938, was a former whiz-kid Baltimore state's attorney. He had been a popular, middle-of-the-road politician for nearly See MARYLAND, 10A, Col. 1MARYLAND, from 1Atwo decades. An able manager, he had been quick to create a high-profile Maryland Council of Defense in 1940 in response to FDR's call for emergency preparedness.

Earlier that Saturday, the governor had announced a state salvage campaign to collect scrap metals, wastepaper and rags -- "essential raw materials we need in our all-out effort to defeat Hitler."

That afternoon, the governor's wife and daughter each christened a new Liberty ship at the Bethlehem-Fairfield shipyards. For the first time, the nation was to produce one of the freighters every day in December 1941. That production was scheduled to double by mid-1942.

Baltimore was in the hands of Mayor Howard W. Jackson, an insurance man and fiscal conservative serving his fourth and final term as mayor. Mayor Jackson's $59 million budget for 1942 cruised through the City Council that week. It featured a 20-cent cut in the property tax rate, to $2.65.

A born storyteller with a remarkable memory for names, Mayor Jackson was often at odds with Willie Curran, a clever defense lawyer described by historian George H. Callcott as the "last of the citywide bosses, and the most brilliant."

Nor was Representative Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., a Baltimore congressman and future three-term mayor, any fan of fellow Democrat Jackson. "I am no stooge for his political machine," D'Alesandro said.

... nTC APOLITICAL BALTIMORE society was busy with badminton. The sport, a highly popular winter substitute for tennis, drew 2,000 spectators to the Johns Hopkins University gymnasium in a Saturday night benefit for the British War Relief Society.

The hot new movie (Baltimore had more than 100 theaters) was "The Maltese Falcon," starring Humphrey Bogart. "Definitely a superior specimen of screen detective fiction," said The Evening Sun.

It was also a Saturday for Christmas shopping. The Howard Street department stores were packed. Dine at the Colonial Room on Hutzler's fourth floor and "you will hear your favorite carols on the Hammond organ with the lovely Christmas chimes."

The Sears at North Avenue and Harford Road, the first major store outside the downtown shopping district, presented an animated Dumbo circus in its huge front window and children's train rides in the parking lot. The greatest novelty was the parking lot itself, which offered drivers unparalleled convenience.

The shoppers came in their Packards and Studebakers, LaSalles and Hudsons, DeSotos and Nash-Lafayettes, Fords and Chevrolets. Depression-weary Marylanders finally had money to spend, thanks to the

boom in defense work. For those who didn't, Household Finance charged 2 1/2 percent monthly interest on unpaid balances.

READING THE ADS (culled from The Sun and other Maryland newspapers):

Don't Be Broke Xmas, See Mme. Del Roy, World's Greatest Spiritual Advisor. 1311 E. Monument St.

Voluptuous Zorita in her famous dance "The Wedding of the Snake"! 2 O'Clock Club, 414 E. Baltimore St.

Betty Simonoff & Co. "Live and Laugh," grand new vaudeville show plus Yiddish film. Cinema Theater, North and Pennsylvania Avenues.

... EVEN WELL-INFORMED Marylanders underrated the Japanese threat. "Concerning our ability to hold our position against the use of force by Japan there can be no doubt," The Sun editorialized late that week. "Our position in the Pacific has never been stronger than it is now. . . . Our island bases are prepared for any emergency."

Washington correspondent Frank R. Kent told readers that the conventional wisdom in the capital was that "we would be able to defeat Japan decisively in three months."

The Sun said cautiously Dec. 6 that "certainly the surface indication is that Japan, at the moment, wants us to believe in her expressed desire to continue negotiations." If they thought about it at all, most Marylanders believed Japan wasn't ready to fight.

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