One man's view of old Baltimore

Jacques Kelly

May 08, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

Earl R. Greaver now lives in Albuquerque, N.M., after a long career in the Air Force.

But the retired major grew up in the Riderwood-Ruxton-Bare Hills section of Baltimore County, once worked for Hutzler Brothers department store and has definite ideas about just what makes an old-fashioned Baltimorean.

Somehow he got a copy of a Jan. 2 column, "Idiosyncracies that make a Baltimorean a Baltimorean." The memories apparently tumbled back and he wrote a long letter, telling of the Baltimore he once knew.

Away he went, detailing everything from the best beer to the best crabcakes, from the best places to swim to what sports were like here before the presence of the Colts or the major league version of the Orioles:

"We knew Baltimore when the place to go on the weekend evenings was Marty's on Fayette Street, near St. Paul," Earl Greaver wrote. "That was before Bernie Lee was a kid bartender there. We surveyed the scene from Munder's Grotto out THE Belair Road. Those with savvy enough to con the old man out of the car on weekends might even go out the Falls Road to the Valley Inn to have an ale or two and even bet on the whippets that ran on one of Maryland's first dog tracks.

"Farther out Falls Road [if your sport coat was classy] and you had more than a dollar in your pocket, the Greenspring might be honored by your presence. We rode the streetcars all night long on hot summer nights and played games transferring and checking and begging the conductor for another check or transfer. If he refused, we hitchhiked home.

"We swam at Bay Shore, Beaver Dam, Lake Roland and occasionally at Meadowbrook in Mount Washington. In summer, we truly sweated out the Kent Island Ferry on the way to Ocean City. We had bull roasts at the Arundel Boat Club and were 'escorted' from the grounds of the Maryland Yacht Club. We drank Gunther's, Free State, Arrow, National Boh, National Premium and that foreign beer, tried by very few -- Rolling Rock.

"There wasn't a bad crab cake in the city but the better ones, of course, were in your neighborhood: John Hofmeister's Tavern in Govans, just north of Belvedere Avenue on the York Road, the Govans Grill, just past the car house, or Haussner's or Marty's. Rossiter's on South Hanover Street had Miller Brothers beat for taste."

To Mr. Greaver, the city may have been called Baltimore on maps but as an entity "it did not exist in the minds of most of us."

"Baltimore was Govans and Waverly and Hampden and Mount Washington and Pimlico and Walbrook and Highlandtown and Westport and Pigtown and all the pleasure clubs, a uniquely local phenomenon, competed at crab-eating, softball-playing and similar activities.

"We went to Carlin's Park and Gwynn Oak Park as our Disneyland. There we could see our local favorites box or wrestle. Baltimore had a hockey team. Mount Washington's Wolfpack ruled the lacrosse world. Oriole Park was at 29th Street and Greenmount Avenue. The Baltimore Colts were not yet a team.

"You'd drive 10 miles from the city to Emerson Farms in Brooklandville to eat the world's best freshly made ice cream. People hung a crepe on the door at the top of the steps to show there was a death in the home."

He even remembers the shoes and the shoe polish.

"You wore white shoes that always required a new coat of liquid whitening," he wrote. "Saddle shoes came on the scene and you blew $3.15 at Thom McAn's to own a pair so you could wear them when you went on the 'moonlight' down the bay. The men belonged to the 110th Field Artillery Regiment in Pikesville or the 5th Regiment in Baltimore or the 104th Medical Company, 29th Division.

"People bought 50-cent bags of coal for Franklin stoves or had blue anthracite delivered to the home and shoveled onto a chute leading into the cellar.

"We were threatened with going to reform school should we not -- what else? -- reform. Worse than that was the much feared threat to be sent to 'The Cut.' That was Jessup's Cut, the Maryland House of Correction at Jessup.

"All summer long, we went 'down the shore' irrespective of the shore's location. The annual City-Poly football game was a must. Guys caddied at the Baltimore County Club off Falls Road in Roland Park, at Bonnie View, at Five Farms, at Elkridge and Rodgers Forge and then we played golf at Mount Pleasant. The girls got a job wherever they could -- with C&P Telephone, F.W. Woolworth, Read's Drug Stores, High's ice cream and the department stores.

"Bucky Jeffra, the brother of world champion Harry Jeffra, was the counterman at the Little Tavern in Pimlico behind Lombardi's Bar. His five-cent hamburgers seemed better than any of the others."

Thanks, Mr. Greaver. Few could have said it better.

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