'The world's only continuously perfumed waterfront'

Baltimore Glimpses

January 11, 1994|By GILBERT SANDLER

THERE are spectacular plans for the unfinished Inner Harbor. Included are a canal from the harbor to Market Place, an outdoor nautical museum, a children's center, a new sports complex in the former BG&E power plant and the Christopher Columbus Center now abuilding.

But for Glimpses' money, the harbor will not be complete until there is in the air the aroma of spices emanating from what used to be the McCormick Building at Light and Lee streets. That fragrance was made up of a mystic, rich and heady blend of cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper, and it wafted over the area sometimes 24 hours a day, from the day the building opened in 1921. It helped define Baltimore.

Everybody who lived here and people who visited talked about the aroma. When the Tall Ships visited in 1976, according to one news report, "The spice-laden air made known the McCormick presence to half a million visitors but not with the emphasis a senior officer thought sufficient. Flinging open the harborside windows, he ordered the cinnamon processors to full operation. Fans strategically located by the windows blew the cinnamon-scented air out to the visitors, and the aroma blanketed the area like a spindrift in the wind."

The Sun commented that the continuing aroma gave Baltimore "the world's only continuously perfumed waterfront." (McCormick took full marketing advantage of the aroma. For years its annual report was laced with the smell of spices.)

Susan Abbott has worked for McCormick & Co. for 23 years. She's now vice president for quality assurance and can be said to be responsible for helping create the storied McCormick aroma.

Ms. Abbott's explanation of the romantic phenomenon runs to the scientific: "It's an evaporation process that turns oil into a light gas. That gas, or aroma, came out of every opening in the building -- window frames, ventilators, open doors. People always told me they could recognize the cinnamon, but the others -- sage, pepper, cloves -- got blended together for them."

She's referring to the downtown plant, now a parking lot. But that came to an end in 1978 when McCormick fled to the suburbs with a lot of other people and businesses, and the Inner Harbor building was razed.

But that aroma! Will we ever get it back? Don't laugh. This newspaper once proposed, and seriously, too, that some sort of system be devised to create the aroma artificially and once again pump it into the air of the Inner Harbor. The results, The Evening Sun argued, would renew historic tradition and sharpen our memories of Baltimore.

Ms. Abbott says, "The same aroma that used to drive everybody crazy in the city now does the same thing for people in the county, all up and down York Road. But to tell the truth, I miss Light Street and the city."

We miss you, too, Ms. Abbott, and your heavenly, tantalizing aroma of ground spices that used to waft through the air as far north as Memorial Stadium. It was a little sniff of heaven.

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