The Tragic Voyage of the Evening Sun Newsboys Band

Ombudsman

January 23, 1994|By ERNEST F. IMHOFF

Ginger Glindemann and Judy Martin, old friends from another day, walked around Loudon Park Cemetery in southwest Baltimore at Christmas and noticed there was no holiday wreath this year at the Evening Sun Newsboys Band Memorial.

''Where's the wreath?'' Ms. Glindemann asked shortly thereafter. got smaller and smaller and this year, there's none. Other people have noticed this, too.''

Actually, it's been several years since The Sun put a Christmas wreath at the monument and flowers there on July 4, the anniversary of a grim and famous Chesapeake Bay disaster, 70 years ago this year.

The two women grew up in Lansdowne, which buries many of its dead at Loudon Park. Between them, they knew at least 100 people buried there. Though they live elsewhere now, they still occasionally stroll the vast cemetery grounds remembering where they used to run and play near H.L. Mencken and other tombstones.

They are not related to the newsboys but they recall that for years The Sun provided flowers and greens to honor them after they died on the steamer Three Rivers. Ms. Glindemann, of Baltimore, and Ms. Martin, of Arlington, Virginia, became attached to the legend and the greens.

It was a different time in 1924. Boys actually delivered the newspapers, unlike today when crime and competition for boys' (and girls') time help dictate that newspapers are delivered by adult men and women, called independent carriers. The carriers are not Sun employees, but distributors delivering and collecting in full-time jobs.

(Today's adult Sun carriers, by the way, were praised by more than 50 readers who told the ombudsman and others they got their Suns delivered on time, while many didn't get their mail during the icy road conditions and record-breaking bitter cold this past week. ''He's a terrific newsman, very conscientious,'' said Ruth Goldfinger, of Baltimore county, of her carrier, Chanan Singh, in a typical call.)

Newspaper promotions were more flamboyant in the old days. The Evening Sun newsboys formed a band in 1922 and became a popular company promotion. John Philip Sousa led one concert, and Babe Ruth led them in an original tune, ''Battering Babe.''

Dozens of bay steamers with staterooms plied the Chesapeake, and the boys traveled the Mid-Atlantic states with Evening Sun headlines reporting, for example, ''Newsboys Delight 4,000 at Salisbury.'' They never played where admission was charged. One familiar stop became the Chesapeake Bay workboat races in Crisfield, Somerset County.

The night of July 4, 1924, the 59 band members and Sun officials were returning with others from Crisfield. Their 1,100-ton boat, en route from Harborton, Virginia, to Baltimore, was a steel-hulled wooden sidewheeler built at the Maryland Steel Company in 1909. The $125,000 boat was named for the Potomac, Patuxent and Rappahannock rivers, where it often sailed.

Near the mouth of the Patuxent, off Cove Point in Calvert County, the boat's saloon caught fire and spread, first on the port side.

It was close to midnight. H. Graham Wood was a 14-year-old boy on the steamer Middlesex, which was sailing north from Virginia when it came upon the burning wreck and screaming passengers. Young Wood had ridden the Three Rivers himself )) on the Chesapeake.

''The Three Rivers was really afire,'' recalls Mr. Wood, 84, who lives with his wife Florence in Roland Park.

''It's hard to remember, but I was on the deck with my father. He had been down in Virginia rafting loblolly pines. The blaze was so bright. It was scary. People were on the boat and in the water. Smoke was everywhere.

''I've always had the most vivid memory of something I saw that night. The freight deck was the first deck above the water line. It had iron bars running vertically. One of the deck hands was caught behind those bars. His hands clutched the bars. I couldn't hear him, but I saw him. He was trapped there.''

Some Evening Sun newsboys became heroes that night, helping others get off the Three Rivers and onto the Middlesex and the Alleghany, another rescue vessel. The fire, with 10 dead, became a major news story, partly because of the newspaper's connection to the dead.

A cigarette was cited as the possible reason for the Three Rivers fire, but the exact cause was never determined. By all accounts, the crew and passengers ''behaved admirably'' in averting further loss of life, unlike many sea disasters. Capt. Spencer B. Hall organized the evacuation, was the last man off the boat and saved a little girl from drowning.

Five adults (two of them listed in The Sun as ''Negroes'') and five newsboys died on the Three Rivers. The newsboys were Walter Clark Millikin and Thomas A. Pilker Jr., both 13; Vernon E. Jefferson and Lester Alfred Seligman, both 15; and Nelson A. Miles, 17.

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