Tinkering with time's winged chariot

Baltimore Glimpses

April 06, 1993|By Gilbert Sandler & Mike Bowler

ON the morning of April 27, 1948, daylight-saving time finally came to Baltimore permanently after years of indecision and false starts. The transition went relatively smoothly, although there were a number of reported tardinesses at church services that Sunday and latenesses for work the following day.

The city's love-hate relationship with DST went back many years before '48. Nor was the city alone in its vacillation. City, state and nation at one time comprised a crazy-quilt pattern of DST and standard time. It made train and work schedules a nightmare and had people in adjacent communities going to work and bed and eating dinner at different "times."

Congress had approved DST as early as 1918, and Baltimore had had daylight-saving time during both world wars and for four years in the '20s. But the public always was fickle about saving daylight. Some thought it was a communist plot. A dairy farmer declared that it made his cows nervous and affected the quality of their milk. The transition, particularly in the spring when an hour of sleep is "lost," does physically affect many people.

In 1930, Baltimore voters rejected daylight-saving time, but they reversed themselves 16 years later. A year and a half after that referendum, DST was here to stay.

Some merchants at first refused to set their clocks ahead, and a few church services were thrown into disarray. The Rev. Leslie Bowling, pastor of Grace Baptist Church, The Alameda and 32nd Street, said his attendance plunged, and 35 pupils were an hour tardy for Sunday School. At another church downtown, it was the minister who failed to get himself to church on time.

We haven't heard the last of day light-saving time. Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., is sponsoring the Daylight Saving Time Extension Act of 1993, which would extend DST for three weeks, one in the spring and two in the fall, a move that would allow more kids to do their Halloween trick-or-treating in the daylight. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that extending DST year-round would save 200 lives, and people suffering eye diseases are among those who advocate setting the clocks ahead permanently.

Another scheme would extend DST only in the fall and only in the Midwest and East, so that election polls could close at once throughout the continental United States. This would prevent the phenomenon of Californians knowing the results of presidential elections before their own polls close.

Daylight-saving time comes and goes routinely these days. And the older we get, the more we wonder what happened to all that daylight we saved.

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