The city's 78th annual Flower Mart languished under a chilly spring rain at Mount Vernon Square yesterday where the petunias dripped like wet tissues and hundreds of crab cakes went unsold.
The event, marking the beginning of Baltimore's spring every year since 1911 -- with the exception of a few years during World War I and the racial unrest of the 1960s -- was a disappointment for many vendors who came to sell flowers, food and crafts.
At lunchtime the temperature hovered at 55 degrees. Visitors could see their breath while walking the cobblestones in the square under Baltimore's Washington Monument.
The fair, which on sunny days in past years drew as many as 40,000 people, had only a sparse crowd yesterday.
Bertha Pinder of the Women's Civic League, chairwoman of the fair, said, "I kept hoping the weatherman was wrong."
But the Flower Mart has never been canceled because of rain, and she decided to go ahead with it.
"You're doomed if you do, doomed if you don't," she said.
The Flower Mart was founded to help local garden clubs show off and sell their home-grown seedlings. But over the years, it evolved into a food mart sprinkled with garden clubs that sold plants they had obtained commercially.
Yesterday, traditional Baltimore foods were offered for sale -- crab cakes, Italian pastries from Little Italy and lemon-peppermint sticks.
A sign advertising one imported delicacy -- Philly cheese steaks -- puzzled a fair-goer.
"What's a Philly cheese steak?" a young man asked his friend. "Is it a submarine sandwich?"
In a small booth along Charles Street, the city's forestry division sold saplings from the acorns dropped off the famous Wye Oak, the nation's largest white oak tree, growing in Talbot County.
They also gave away loblolly pine seedlings to promote city tree planting.
The Mount Washington Garden Club sold herbs, black-eyed Susan -- the state's official flower -- and other annual bedding plants.
Sue Rubinstein sold used books from the Brandeis University book sale. They were covered from the rain by plastic tablecloths.
Mary Langley sold unusual crafts by a New Jersey artist. The crafts are made from wood decorated with replicas of animals -- with fake fur remnants -- and surrounded by live bromeliads.
The civic league, which usually sells 3,000 crab cakes on a sunny day, estimated by early afternoon that it would unload only 650.
Throughout, the civic league women were optimistic.
By early afternoon, civic league veteran Geri Broccolino, who has worked on 30 Flower Marts, was excited to hear that Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. had ordered 100 lemon-peppermint sticks.
She walked the slippery streets in a pink raincoat and a floral umbrella, undeterred by the weather.
"We just have to roll with it," she said.