After long shining, Evening Sun sets amid tears and laughter


September 13, 1995|By DAN RODRICKS

All I can say is, thank God the pope doesn't hit town till next month. There's been way too much excitement in Charm City, all balled into a couple of weeks, and I think I'm getting angina. First, we had Cal Week, in which all the supernatural forces of the cosmos blew into Baltimore, turned Camden Yards into Olympus, boiled the waters of the Patapsco and silenced all the cicadas. (No exaggeration.)

Now, it's Election Week, featuring only the most fascinating and hotly contested city primary in decades.

And there's something else, no less historic, about to happen: The company I work for is closing The Evening Sun. The last edition rolls off the press this Friday, 85 years after the first one did.

When I landed a job at The Evening Sun in 1976, I felt like the luckiest guy in America, next to Jimmy Carter. I loved the paper -- and the people who worked for it. Apparently, a lot of others felt the same way -- from celebrated alumni William Manchester, Jim McKay and Gwen Ifill to our resourceful librarians Phyllis Kisner, Dee Lyon and Diane Stratton. They and nearly 300 other members of the Evening Sun family gathered at Center Stage Saturday for the farewell, a combination wake and open-mike night. There were speeches, jokes, big roars of laughter, moments of silence and tears. What can I tell you? Men and women who work for newspapers get attached to them. This is a sad time for the Evening Sun diaspora.

A part of Baltimore

John Schulian worked for The Evening Sun back in the 1970s before stepping off the local for a sportswriting career that took him to Philadelphia and Chicago. He's now a TV writer in L.A. Twenty-five years ago, he found a gold mine in "human exotica" in Baltimore, and you can find evidence of how Schulian brought the guys and dolls of the '70s to life by looking up his byline in the Sun library. (Dee, Phyllis or Diane will get you clips.)

"We were at the Evening Sun because we wanted a page-one byline," Schulian wrote to us recently, "because we wanted to chase Mencken's ghost, because we wanted to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. The result was a paper we could be proud of although we rarely said so. In an age when self-congratulation was as despised as a flat tire on a rainy day, the only time we got full of ourselves was when we said we were better than those smug [expletive deleted] at The Sun. . . . The Evening Sun may never have been great, whatever great is, but it was honest, lively, well-written and tough-minded. Most important, it was more a part of Baltimore than any of its competitors ever were, and I hope that everybody who gathers to bid it farewell will shout that to the heavens."

Untimely death

George Neff Lucas wrote hundreds of "polimericks" that appeared on the "Other Voices" page of The Evening Sun. He wrote this for our farewell party the other night:

Let's hear it for readers who choose

Evening Sun's postmeridian news;

Eighty-five years of age,

Still fresh on each page,

/# It's too young a paper to lose.

Goodbye and hello

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Franklin wired us his Evening Sun memories: "The bunnies from the old Playboy Club dancing through the city room handing out press releases when I was trying to write a lead on deadline. . . . [Assistant Managing Editor] Ernie Imhoff talking on the red radio telephone, wanting to know why someone on the other end didn't know something yet. . . . Horace Ayers." Horace was a hard-working, hard-living reporter who died on the city room floor. As gruff as he was, he patiently listened to the lonely, sometimes delusional people who called the Evening Sun city desk to blither for several minutes. We called these regular callers "the hello people," because "hello" was the word that set them off. "Horace once told me that ZTC he figured we were all hello people," Franklin recalled. "I see him in his telephone headsets at 6 a.m. telling someone, 'No, ma'am, me writing a story about them won't make them go away; you've got to take your Thorazine. Then they'll go away."

Second opinion

There's a handsome old rowhouse in Mount Vernon that was renovated this year with lots of public dollars, courtesy of Kurt L. Schmoke, as a large sign bragged. By late summer, it had a tenant -- and a Mary Pat Clarke-for-mayor poster. . . . Mary Pat's Jeep Cherokee took a shot to the rear on the campaign trail Sunday -- and the driver of the other car was Sun reporter JoAnna Daemmrich. No one was hurt. While she waited on Franklin Street for a second car, Clarke worked the corner and shook every hand in sight.

Enthusiasm undampened

Overheard (off the lips of a teen-age boy) the other day on an MTA bus: "Cal Ripken, he's such a working man, he gets mad for a rain delay." . . . Sign outside First United Presbyterian Church, Westminster: "2,131 -- Cal, your faithfulness inspires us all!"

Inhale, exhale

File this one under "frantic pace of modern life." A friend -- a female friend -- was in the women's locker room in the Downtown Athletic Club the other day and picked up a Post-It note someone dropped. It had one word on it, written in neat block letters: BREATHE. Now that's a busy woman.

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