O, say how did our baseball team get its name?

January 27, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

Ever wonder how the Baltimore Orioles got their name?

After the bird, yes. But that is only a small part of the saga. A clue to the origins of the team's name can be found at the Enoch Pratt Free Library's Central Branch. A small brightly lithographed rectangle of thin cardboard was tucked into a recent show of the treasures and oddities this venerable institution houses. The pasteboard piece was about the size of a baseball card.

"Come to our Oriole carnival, Oct. 10, 11 and 12, 1881, Noah Webster & Co., clothiers, West Baltimore Street," read the printed text on the card.

The card was pasted in a scrap book-type album along with dozens of other Victorian-era advertising pieces known to collectors as trade cards. They were small giveaways that merchants handed out to promote their wares, services and good name. The trade card was always eye-catching and printed in bright hues.

There is nothing about a baseball team on this card. The carnival it promoted was called the Oriole Festival. It was about clean water.

In October 1881, the first dam at Loch Raven on the Gunpowder River was dedicated. This source provided much of the city's drinking water.

In November 1874, the citizens of Baltimore had approved a referendum for a 12-foot-wide, 7-mile-long water tunnel to be dug from the Gunpowder to Lake Montebello on Harford Road in what is today the Mayfield neighborhood. This feat of engineering cost $4.7 million.

On Oct. 10, 1881, Baltimore celebrated the arrival of good drinking water with a huge Baltimore Oriole Festival. The Battle Monument at Calvert and Fayette streets was transformed into a gigantic fountain from which 1,200 water jets spouted and a triple-cascade flowed through a miniature tunnel at the end of the old Court House.

Mayor Ferdinand Latrobe and city water engineer Robert K. Martin formally started the operation by turning on the fountain and cataract in the presence of thousands of onlookers. Estimates said the city paid host to 150,000 visitors. Some of them presumably patronized Noah Webster's clothing emporium, a well-known retailer of garments that distributed many of the trade cards preserved in the Pratt collection.

Merchants, hotelkeepers, railroads and oyster-house proprietors fared well from the three-day event. People spent money. Baltimore got a good name. An enterprising festival committee resolved to do it again next year.

"Representatives from more clamorous and more pretentious rival cities were overwhelmed with surprise and amazement at so unexpected a revelation of our wealth and power," said the official program of the 1882 event.

So, on Sept. 12, 13 and 14, 1882, the second Oriole Festival was held. Sept. 12, the day on which Baltimore normally celebrated its defense of the city against the British in the War of 1812, was declared Military Day. Visiting firemen, the salvage corps and the Maryland National Guard marched in their finest uniforms from Broadway to Druid Hill Park.

Sept. 13 was Lord Baltimore Day. Some 75 of the port's most seaworthy tug boats, "beautifully and artistically decorated," made a circuit of the harbor then sailed down the Patapsco to Fort Carroll and met someone dressed as a Calvert family nobleman. One of the tugs carried him back to the foot of Broadway at Fells Point, "where his lordship will disembark amidst the salvos of artillery, ringing of bells and blowing of whistles."

Sept. 14 was Mystic Day, when 36 floats moved through the city's streets. Each of the floats had themes -- Rex, "the king of the carnival who enjoys the delights of the Elysium," Comus, Zenobia, Rama and the Ocean, Joan of Arc, Sappo, Cleopatra and the Empress Josephine. A committee of the Mystic Order of the Oriole supervised their artistic quality.

Once again, the hotels were packed and the railroads put on extra coaches and sold excursion fares to the Monumental City.

By this time, the Oriole Festival was getting wide recognition. By 1883, the first Oriole Park, a baseball exhibition ground at Greenmount Avenue and 25th Street, was christened. The team appropriated the name from the Mystic Order.

The Oriole Festival did not fare as well as the team and its name. The carnival died out. The team's name, however, stuck.

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