Marty Flynn, defender and bard of his neighborhood

January 24, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

His real name was Martin E. Flynn but everybody in the old Southwest Baltimore neighborhood called him Marty, maybe Mister Marty if they were under 12.

This elfin Irishman was the lyrical bard of the neighborhood, a man who so loved some of the most gritty streets in this city. He died Thursday at age 77.

Marty could be one great scrapper, who fought many a loosing battle for a cause he championed. He had many saints and some foes too. Among his favorite targets were pretentious and stingy people.

He brought down a packed City Council chamber audience one night when there was a proposal to enlarge the Union Square historic district. Marty opposed the bill as being too high hat. He took aim at a woman who was lobbying for the bill: "She's a fiddle with one string." The audience exploded in laughter.

But Marty loved neighborhood history and founded the Mount Clare Circle Improvement Association in the 1970s to give the neighborhood a "psychological boost." While he fought the Union Square district enlargement, he pushed to have his beloved St. Peter the Apostle Roman Catholic Church placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The venerable brick church at Poppleton and Hollins streets was Marty's sacred temple. He knew every piece of its granite and brick. In his telling, the church was not merely a fine high altar of white marble or dazzling stained-glass windows. To him the parish remained her people. Often this translated into the Irish families who filled its pews since the 1840s. For decades he trained the St. Peter's altar boys. They turned out in force at his funeral Saturday. Marty believed that no high Mass procession was complete without at least one red-haired altar boy.

Marty's sense of humor delighted in the human condition. He once spotted a woman's name in a playbill for a 1915 parish play: "[She] became the Gorgon-behind-the-guichet just inside the entrance to the old Mercy Hospital and to whom you had to prostrate yourself at bill time."

Marty observed another pair: "George Farley and Harry Echle were the pillars of St. Peter's until the great migration to St. Martin's (Fulton and Fayette) when some of the families moved up on the hill where they once again resumed their stature. George Farley and Harry Echle went into the funeral business together, but Harry, probably seeking the prestige and security only a bank could give, went with the First National. He undoubtedly died a $100 a week bank clerk. George Farley died a millionaire."

His writing came naturally. And he always recalled the advice given by the Sisters of Mercy, his teachers at St. Peter's Parochial School. "They told us to write as well as Paul Broderick did," he recalled. The man Marty was told to emulate went on to become The Evening Sun's city editor.

Here is a single Flynn sentence from a 1979 history he penned to describe the Mount Clare neighborhood of his youth in the early 1920s:

"If neighborhoods have distinctive signs, that for Mount Clare would have to be sounds -- a continuous arpeggio that began with the command of the early morning whistle, carried on by the murmur of cooped pigeons; the cry of the coal rackers of 'Cheez it, the dee-dee' warning of the approach of the railroad detective; loud cheers, or wrangling, at the afternoon scratch ball games around the grain elevator at Pratt and Poppleton streets; the lowing of cattle herding down Ramsay and Carey streets from the Union Stockyards out Wilkens Avenue; the squeals of delight as the pigs driven the same route or from the railroad siding where Montgomery Ward now stands (and the equally shrill squeal of the escaped piglet as though he knew what fate awaited him at Mr. Schluderberg's emporium on Cross Street); the echoing cry of 'Who got an egg' on egg-picking time at Easter, mostly in the area of Serbian people, whose identity, regrettably, is almost lost; the joyous clamor at the Walters Bath House on Saturday afternoon; the deep roomph-roomph interspersed with musical bell sounds as the locomotives puffed in and out of the roundhouse and repair shops; the reverberating pound of the mammoth steam hammer in the [railroad] blacksmith shop along Carey Street."

It is hard to forget this singular individual. He'd round up kids along streets in Southwest Baltimore that the police don't like much to patrol. Everybody seemed to know Mr. Marty and his yellow Volkswagen micro-bus. Its sliding door was always open to transport them to some picnic or the upper deck seats at Memorial Stadium on Holy Name Night. Or at the old City Fair, where Marty had his Mount Clare booth. It was not stuffed with neighborhood propaganda. Instead, he filled the booth with chairs and a jug of ice water.

"Come in, sit down, rest your feet," Marty would say, then start telling those great stories.

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