The voice on the telephone was upbeat and enthusiastic. Two words printed here had made the lady's day: Darley Park.
It was a Saturday and I was trying to get the weekend's chores completed. The lady, let's call her Jane Darley, wanted to talk about an old Harford Road beer garden-amusement park that flourished maybe 90-plus years ago.
According to a family story, some of her ancestors went there and had a bit too much Gottlieb Baurenschmidt and Strauss beer (old GBS). This imbibing got them in trouble, but not nearly as much fame as it imparted in family legend. The story of the day the boys got tipsy at Darley Park refuses to die.
She was responding to a brief mention made here a week ago. I wrote that one of my ancestors once visited Darley Park and returned home with a large ceramic pitcher as a wheel-of-fortune prize. The pitcher's still in use.
The brief conversation about Darley Park made me realize the importance of the seemingly little detail dropped into a column about old Baltimore.
In my 25 years of writing tributes to a vanished or vanishing way of life here, I have realized that it is these minutiae that count.
It's that tiny pungent fact dropped into the larger story that makes someone's day, scores the mental home run.
And sometimes, that home run is scored on an error.
Robert J. Dvorak, who lives in Arnold, spotted a boo-boo a few weeks ago.
I was rattling on about the various restaurants in the Hutzler Brothers' department stores in and around Baltimore. I stated the Eastpoint store had a dining spot called the Cloverleaf Room, a name that recognized the Baltimore Beltway.
Mr. Dvorak spotted the error, noting that Eastpoint opened in 1956. The Beltway was completed in stages and was not a reality that early. The cloverleaf referred to was at North Point Road and Eastern Avenue, which I've heard called the first true automobile cloverleaf in this area.
Now watch it. I'm not sure. Was it absolutely the first cloverleaf? The first on the east side? I do not know.
Perhaps it is because Baltimore still has an absolutely-set-in-its-ways population that the past remains a part of daily reality. This is a hard concept for outsiders to grasp. Old-time Baltimoreans would rather dissect the past than crystal-ball the future. Late-breaking news is fine, but vintage history is sublime.
Not long ago, the Nordstrom department stores opened an outlet at Towson Town Center. The opening weekend was highly promoted and attracted both the curious and the shoppers.
I was standing in the Nordstrom basement store called The Rack as hundreds of bargain hunters swarmed the aisles. People were trying on garments and untidying the shoe displays. It was a retail carnival.
A little voice chirped through the din of this store-opening hoopla. It was a woman of advanced age. She had come for the show, but apparently was a little put off by the clatter and commotion around her.
"This reminds me of Bernheimer's basement," she called out to her friends.
I could not believe my ears. Here we were in 1990s Towson. Bernheimer's basement was last open in 1927.
The woman was quite accurate. Nordstrom's basement selling area did bear comparison with the old Howard-Lexington-Fayette streets store, Bernheimer-Leader. It's just that I never expected to hear that comparison uttered. Welcome to vintage Baltimore.
I should have learned this lesson by now: Drop the names of seemingly obscure movie theaters, bowling alleys and ice cream parlors into columns.
Let's call these citations the Darley Parks of Baltimore.
These are the places that the official histories may have overlooked. Yet when you drop names like George Doebereiner's bakery on North Avenue, Schwaab's bowling lanes and soda fountain in Waverly, Cooper's ice cream parlor in South Baltimore or Temple's of Hamilton, you jog the memories of longtime Baltimoreans.
If you really want to start people pulling their hair over history, ask what was the name of Hutzler's fanciest women's dress salon? What was its second fanciest?