Cruising on the harbor

Baltimore Glimpses

January 03, 1995|By Gil Sandler

IF GOV. WILLIAM Donald Schaefer has his way, Baltimore's harbor will soon resemble a scene from the old TV show "The Love Boat," complete with loved ones waving to passengers leaving or arriving aboard cruise ships.

The governor wants to develop a port of call for cruise ships at the foot of Caroline Street, at the site of the old Allied Chemical plant, not far from Inner Harbor attractions. Under the governor's plan, the state would purchase the 1.2-acre site adjacent to the old chrome works plant to construct a cruise ship terminal at a cost of about $50 million.

Currently, 17 cruise ships dock at Dundalk Marine Terminal's Berth 5, which had been used by freight carriers and has few amenities desired by passenger liners. It's also located far from downtown.

Some Baltimoreans who were around in the 1930s will recall when cruise ships made regular runs to the Inner Harbor.

Up until 1950, cruise ships of the Merchant and Miners fleet provided cruises north to Philadelphia, Providence, Rhode Island, and Boston; and south to Miami, Savannah, Ga., Jacksonville, Fla., and Havana, Cuba. For years, Merchant and Miners cruises left Pier 9 on Pratt Street every Tuesday and Friday at 6 p.m. Five ships made up the luxury fleet. The southern cruises were heavily promoted as "a passport to a magic sunshine, of warmth and beauty surpassing summer's loveliest fantasy." Passengers typically occupied themselves by playing cards and shuffleboard and reading.

One of the ships was the legendary Dorchester. During World War II, the ship was hit by a torpedo and sunk. Four chaplains of three faiths gave up their life jackets to save others aboard the ship. The chaplains went down with the Dorchester.

Beginning in 1931, Baltimore's cruise business took on an international flair with cruises to Europe offered by the Baltimore Mail Steamship line. The maiden cruise, on July 2, 1931, received a big Baltimore send-off, including a ceremony on the harbor in Canton. A band played and several hundred people cheered as Mayor Howard W. Jackson presented the steamship's captain with a beautiful silver service -- tray, urn, coffeepot, teapot, cream pitcher and sugar bowl. Later that evening, the City of Baltimore cruise ship set off for Europe.

There were four other ships in the fleet: City of Havre, City of Norfolk, City of Newport News and City of Hamburg. The trip took more than 18 days and the round-trip ticket cost $180. One of the vessels departed Baltimore for Europe each week.

Among the passengers departing on the City of Hamburg in 1937 was Samuel S. Strouse. "There wasn't much to do aboard," he recalled. "None of the entertainment you find on luxury cruise ships today. During the day, you sat out on the deck and read. In the evening, you moved inside and read."

The steamship line operated until 1938 when the worsening political situation in Europe forced an end to the service. Early in World War II the Navy bought all five ships. The City of Havre was sunk in the Pacific; the rest wound up in the scrapheap.

But one souvenir of those glory days of Baltimore's Inner Harbor cruise ship lines has been saved. It is the silver service presented to the City of Baltimore that long ago day in Canton. The complete service is still in storage at the Maryland Historical Society.

Check it out, Governor Schaefer, and let's get that silver service aboard for the first bon voyage reception of the first cruise ship to leave Baltimore harbor in a long time.

We hope you're aboard to play host at the reception and to pour!

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