Much accomplished, much left undone THE EVENING SUN SETS AT 85

September 15, 1995

"Some day," proclaimed H. L. Mencken in the first edition of this newspaper, "we'll abolish the Orphans' Court, find a satisfactory School Board, deodorize the harbor, establish those steamship lines to South America, repeal the blue laws, give the Johns Hopkins a couple of millions and let the girls vote. Some day, too, we'll provide ambulances for the injured, instead of hauling them to hospitals in patrol wagons."

As The Evening Sun goes down, we look around at proof that things can indeed get better. The harbor is not just deodorized; it draws tourists from around the world. We've gone beyond ambulances for the injured to helicopters that rush accident victims to a world-class Shock Trauma facility lauded for its miracles in saving lives. "Girls" not only vote these days, they also hold office. Steamships plow the seas between Baltimore and ports in South America.

Of course, some things never change. Johns Hopkins has gotten much much more than "a couple of millions," but it's always hungry for more -- as is every other academic and cultural institution in the region. We still fret about the school board, while the schools themselves sometimes seem to be in terminal crisis.

And the Orphans' Court? Our modern equivalent is a disgrace to democracy. Only recently, after more than a decade of hearing juvenile cases in Baltimore and sounding the alarm to no avail about conditions there, Judge David B. Mitchell asked for relief and moved on to adult court. A lesser person might not have lasted 10 months in this thankless job where most decisions leave someone unhappy.

How bad is juvenile court? Closed hearings are held in a series of rooms along a first-floor hallway of the Clarence B. Mitchell Courthouse. The corridor provides the only waiting area. It is dark. It is dirty. It is noisy. It stinks.

Children whose only crime was being born into a family that meets every definition of dysfunctional wait alongside teen-age thugs who are successfully climbing the rungs to become adult felons.

Babies, unaware they are the stake in a custody fight, cry as public defenders shout out the names of clients they don't know from Adam. Plea options are discussed in dank corners where conversations attempt but fail to remain private.

It's not the only disgrace left in Baltimore by any means. And not even our successes can be taken for granted. The port needs even more business with South America, as well as every other region of the world. Shock Trauma is not a luxury this state can take for granted. School reform is a slow and tedious process. Colleges and universities, museums and theaters, the zoo and symphony -- for each of these a couple of million dollars would only begin to assure their health.

So as The Evening Sun sets today, we salute an improved but still far from perfect world.

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