Readers have sharp eyes, questions

March 01, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

One of the best aspects of this job arrives in the mail each day. Skeptics who believe the art of letter writing is dead need only visit my mailbox.

I remain amazed at the details that newspaper readers catch, comment upon and correct. Here's the current batch of observations, questions, corrections, additions and pieces of Baltimore wisdom:

Some bogus information caught the sharp eye of Robert G. Burnham Ludwig, of the 3000 block of N. Calvert St. He refers to the column about the Oriole Festival staged in the streets of downtown Baltimore during the 1880s.

". . . Wasn't the store mentioned in the piece Noah Walker, rather than Noah Webster. The store was noted for the statue of George Washington which stood in a niche above the front doors. . . .

"I can remember that my grandmother was somehow associated with some of the Walker clan -- long since out of business but she spoke of their firm fondly. Indeed, she may have worked there as a young woman."

I stand corrected and must have been dreaming of Noah Webster (1758-1843), the lexicographer who gave us the dictionary.

Baltimore's Noah Walker was a store keeper who went into business in 1826 and who had a statue of George Washington mounted on the facade of his building at Baltimore and Grant streets. In the 1890s, his heirs gave the likeness to the city. Today, it stands in Druid Hill Park. Merchant and library benefactor Enoch Pratt donated its pedestal.

The Oriole Festival made an impression on Evening Sun columnist H.L. Mencken, who describes the night of Sept. 13, 1883, in the first paragraph of his book, "Happy Days."

"At the instant I first became aware of the cosmos we all infest I was sitting in my mother's lap and blinking at a great burst of lights, some of them red and others green, but most of them only the bright yellow of flaring gas."

Charles J. Johnson, of the 2132 Parksley Ave., recalls growing up in Southwest Baltimore on West Pratt Street near the sights, sounds and smells of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad's Mount Clare Shops. He poses some difficult questions:

"The boys from the neighborhood used to take the 'free excursion' boat from the foot of Broadway. What was the name of that boat? What park were we taken to?

"Has anyone ever heard of a neighborhood soup kitchen near the corner of Pratt and Callender streets?

"The woods around Waterview Avenue had an old German beer garden at the spot that is today's Cherry Hill. What was this place's name?

"Name the building on the island created by Redwood and Liberty streets and Hopkins Place, where we would go with a parent to get a work permit to drop out of school at age 14 as I did," Johnson asks.

These are not the easiest questions. The Free Summer Excursion Society boat may have been the F.C. Latrobe, an old steamboat that broke up ice in the harbor and Chesapeake Bay during the winter and provided children's day trips during the warm weather months. Does anyone else have any suggestions?

Teresa R. Kreiner, of Craftswood Road, Catonsville, wrote to say she enjoyed the column headlined "Places change, but the names remain the same."

"I have a few items which I think deserve a place on your list. One is the MVA (Motor Vehicles Administration) which many people still like to call the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). Another are the Rite Aid drug stores, which still get called Read's all the time. And I still think of the Lighthouse Restaurant on Park Avenue as 40 Fathoms. And I refuse to refer to any place as the USAir Arena! Shane's sub shops will always be Harley's to me."

How right you are Teresa. Now, does anyone have the recipe for Harley's special sauce?

A gentleman from the Hill neighborhood in Highlandtown said he disagrees with putting the plural on Baltimore City Hospitals, the old name for the Francis Scott Key Medical Center. "That may be its old correct title, but people around here called it City Hospital with no S."

James Heggie, of Baltimore, has his own nomination for a place that has another name, one that nobody uses. "Can you believe it," Heggie said, "the official name is the Maryland Division of Pre-Trial and Detention Services? But everybody still calls it the City Jail."

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