War-time Baltimore as seen by the old 'News Post'

January 17, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

It's not hard spending a long winter evening reading a curious new book about Baltimore.

This paper-bound publication is composed of 160 newspaper pages (complete, but reduced in size) reproduced from the old Baltimore News-Post from March 4, 1939 to December 24, 1945.

It is not merely a rehash of screaming Hearst headlines. Local news, sports, society, comics, movies, theater, advertisements and editorial pages are included in "Baltimore in World War II," a $14.95 book published by Historical Briefs of Verplanck, N.Y.

In retrospect, the actual news of World War II seems abbreviated. Could it be that precise combat reports were heavily censored? And fuzzy Associated Press pictures of war damage in Berlin do not tell us much.

What is clear, however, is the quality of optimism in the old news pages: "War shadow fails to dim brilliance of opera audience." Was it a scheme to create a high standard of wartime morale or just that people were not as jaded 50 years ago?

This is not a publication that people will seek for any kind of orderly version of the events of the war years. It is, however, a newsprint look at the home front, how Baltimore lived a half century ago. It's a wonderful confusion of information that mixes reports of Nazi retreats with half-tone ads for Hess shoes, Brager's basement and Beckers' pretzels. Van Johnson, Jose Iturbi, Judge Eugene O'Dunne, Rodger H. Pippen, Tommy D'Alesandro, Louis Azrael, Pope Pius XII and William Randolph Hearst come in for a lot of newspaper ink too.

This was clearly a booming era for downtown night clubs as well as neighborhood bars and clubs. On Saturdays during this era, the News-Post carried a page devoted to adult entertainment.

Charles Street dominated the uptown trade. The Club Charles, (Charles and Preston streets) was the biggest deal. Occasionally you'll spot a publicity photograph of a very young Dean Martin or Jan Murray. More often the performer is someone like Cora Walsh, described in an ad as the "charming lady of accordion and song" at the Blue Room of the Hotel Arundel (Mount Royal and Charles).

There was live music at the Blue Mirror, 929 N. Charles, the Band Box, 1309 N. Charles, Doc's at 1817 N. Charles St., El Patio, at the southeast corner of St. Paul and Madison, and at the Chanticleer, Charles and Eager.

In the neighborhoods, servicemen and their dates packed Carl's Nite Club, 3316 Keswick Road in Hampden, the Earle Club, 12 S. Patterson Park Ave., the Madison, Madison and Chester streets, Warren's Uptown Nite Club, Fulton Avenue near Pennsylvania, Kibby's Lucky Number Nite Club (711 Poplar Grove St.), the Dutch Mill Supper Club, 6615 Harford Road, Strickler's, 6800 Harford Road, Nolan's Nite Club, Wilkens Avenue and Monroe Street, Waverly's Sweeney's and the Dutchman's at 32nd and Greenmount, and Nate & Leon's, the popular restaurant-delicatessen, open all night at 850 W. North Ave.

The book also provides another service. All 69 Baltimore neighborhood movie house are listed, from the Aero (Middle River) to the Westway (5300 block of Edmondson Ave.). Along the way are the Astor (Poplar Grove at Edmondson), the Eureka (404 S. Fremont), the Nemo (4815 Eastern Ave.) and the Ritz (1607 N. Washington St.).

A separate listing, called the Movie Clock, detailed another 10 downtown film houses -- the Century, New, Keith's, Times, Stanley, Parkway, Hippodrome, Little, Mayfair and Roslyn.

The prices quoted in old newspaper ads always create talk and comparison. Consider this: The Food Fair chain offered a dozen soft crabs for 55 cents in June 1940.

Some of the stories and pictures tell only a fraction of what Baltimore must have been like during those frenetic years. One whole page, composed of 21 separate ship-christening, champagne-smashing photos, gives an ideal of how busy the city's ship yards were during November 1943 when 21 new Liberty Ships slid down the ways at Bethlehem-Fairfield yard. No wonder there were so many help-wanted ads for laborers and so many pictures of the local war effort.

The book is loaded with sports trivia, especially about the International League Orioles. We learn, for example, the Orioles drew approximately 99,000 in paid attendance to all the games played at old Oriole Park on 29th Street near Greenmount in the 1944 season before the stands were destroyed by fire that July 4.

This fact is not as important as the assault on Corregidor, but it still makes for some interesting reading.

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