Artifacts revive shared memory at show of city's Jewish history

Jacques Kelly

May 22, 1992|By Jacques Kelly

Who would have ever thought that a 40-year-old sugar cube from a Read's drugstore soda fountain would be enshrined in a serious exhibition of Baltimore history?

Little details like this enliven the delightful new show "Fertile Ground, Two Hundred Years of Jewish Life in Baltimore" at the Jewish Historical Society's Lloyd Street headquarters in East Baltimore.

It doesn't take long for a viewer to become fascinated and beguiled by this large room full of everyday objects known to many a Baltimorean. It's a show about life and people, customs and traditions. It unlocks a lifetime of memory for anyone who ever rode in a Hutzler Brothers elevator, lunched on a sardine sandwich at Nate's and Leon's or strolled along the boulevard that is Eutaw Place.

Organized by curator Barry Kessler, the exhibit is built around a series of historical vignettes. He has reconstructed a Eutaw Place parlor, an East Baltimore kitchen, a department store counter, a Lombard Street market scene and a delicatessen. A large kiosk presents a comprehensive time line of Baltimore Jewish history.

Its printed panels tell us that the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation first met in 1829 at Bond and Fleet streets and that Jack Pollack founded his Trenton Democratic Club some 99 years later.

The hundreds of artifacts that Kessler has assembled speak the loudest. His section called "A Genius For Selling" has the Read's sugar cube, as well as a cigar box from that well-known drugstore chain. There's a yellow and black toy Hochschild Kohn & Co. delivery truck, an Isaac Hamburger coat hanger, ads for Goldenberg's, Gomprecht & Benesch and Schleisner's stores, a yardstick from Himelfarb Brothers and a 1940s sales slip for a hat charged one August day.

A star attraction is a magnificent china cabinet commissioned by the Hutzler family for the 1888 opening of the Palace Building, the family's cathedral of salesmanship at Howard and Clay streets.

The proper tone of the Howard Street department stores contrasts with the hustle and noise of the atmospheric old Lombard Street market, with its pools of live carp and crates of clucking chickens. There's a neon sign, "Tulkoff's Hot Horseradish," and several wooden chicken crates that once saw service on the Lombard Street pavement. All that's missing is a loaf of Stone's bakery rye bread.

The East Baltimore kitchen has its scrubbed linoleum floor, a samovar, coal stove, mousetrap, rolling pin for homemade noodles and silver kiddush cup. There's also a wood ice box and porcelain sink.

Many a person can still recall the taste of the menu's No. 3 corned beef sandwich at the fabled Nate's and Leon's delicatessen, North and Linden avenues, an institution that properly called itself "Baltimore's favorite eating place."

The feel of the bustling deli comes back with the brilliant neon signs preserved from this house of lox, chopped liver and tongue. Accompanying the deli's exhibit is this note: "Its heady aromas, constant din, mouthwatering dishes, motley clientele and charismatic owners made it a citywide landmark." In the 1940s, a Nate's and Leon's hot dog was 15 cents, chopped herring and lettuce 20 cents and cold borscht and sour cream 30 cents.

The exhibit is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursday and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. at the Jewish Historical Society, Lloyd and Watson streets.

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