At Christmastime, Hampden stages its own miracle on 34th Street.
West 34th Street, between Keswick Road and Chestnut Avenue, is an electric midway of good cheer, a brilliant show of Christmas lights.
"There's never enough Christmas," says Robert Hosier, who organizes the show. By profession, he's a computer technician who enjoys getting his Christmas lights out of storage during the 90-degree days of September.
The job of putting up the lights on each row house on both sides of the block started two weeks before Thanksgiving. Residents climbed roofs to drape strands of lights over the street, making it appear that electric necklaces have been strung from house to house.
Porches, cornices, rooftops and windows blaze like the Las Vegas Strip. The only things that don't glow on 34th Street are the door mats.
FTC This year, residents of the block joined together and had a banner wishing visitors a Merry Christmas strung over 34th Street.
Darlene Hughes Hosier, Robert's wife, grew up in the house on 34th Street with the most lights. She said her parents always decorated with exterior electric lights. "It was a custom that grew," Darlene Hosier said, recalling that money from her first paycheck went for an outdoor Santa.
After the Hosiers married, they began giving each other animated Christmas dolls which now sit on their front porch. They have elves, grandmothers, Santas and snowmen. There's an outdoor train and stereo speakers that broadcast Bing Crosby and the Andrew Sisters singing Christmas favorites. Santa, in his sled, seems to fly over the alley alongside the Hosiers' house.
On a hardware store roof across the alley from the Hosiers', there's a lighted Nativity scene.
The display of lights doesn't go unappreciated.
"One man came up on the porch and handed me $20," Robert Hosier says. "I said I didn't want to take it. I meant it. He became so emotional he went away and bought a bottle of champagne and gave it to me."
The Hosiers encourage passers-by to sign a guest book that's left on their front porch throughout the Christmas season. "People drive up from out of state. There's one carload that comes up from Fredericksburg, Va., every year," Darlene Hosier says.
On New Year's Eve, the Hosiers set up an electric ball, sort of like the one in New York's Times Square, that descends at midnight. Then Robert Hosier, with a diaper over his clothes, --es along the block, welcoming the New Year with neighbors.
Hampden is not unique. The Christmas spirit is evident in other parts of metropolitan Baltimore.
The electric lights suspended over Eastern Avenue in the Highlandtown business district are marvelously reminiscent of the 1950s and small towns and their Main streets. Old streetcar poles hold candy canes. Bells and stars blaze over the street.
In Dundalk, the featured attraction of the Christmas garden at the Wise Avenue Volunteer Fire Department is a Lilliputian version of the Granite tree stump fire.
In West Baltimore, Freda Grim, a Ten Hills resident, tells a classic Baltimore Christmas story. Some 40 years ago, she was in charge of building the mountain for the Christmas garden in the basement of her house. There were bridges and trestles for electric trains and a miniature, papier mache Alps.
"It was a beautiful mountain the train ran through," she says.
A few days after Christmas one year, Biddle, her pet gray striped cat, crawled inside the cozy mountain for a nap. While Biddle slept, one of Grim's two sons descended the cellar steps, innocently turned on the Lionel train transformer and set his express highballing over the trestle and through the mountain. He had no idea of the cat's whereabouts.
"Vesuvius erupted. Biddle shot out through the paper and didn't come back in the cellar for months," Grim says. "We still talk about the Christmas when the mountain blew."