Stories Worth Repeating Final Issue

June 30, 1996|By Jacques Kelly

Why is it people have saved 40-year-old copies of Sun Magazine?

For the everyday reader, Sun Magazine published what seemed to be definitive stories on local lives, customs, antiquities and manners. Its pages explained Washington County farm life to rowhouse dwellers in Baltimore, while showing Hagerstown residents the Baltimore tradition of painted screens.

It educated readers on the Chesapeake Bay and its watermen, on the charming customs of old Baltimore (Christmas gardens and the Flower Mart, for example) and dedicated entire issues to local history -- the 1904 Fire, Colonial Annapolis, Mount Vernon Place.

In its 50-year history, Sun Magazine informed readers about a Baltimore and a Maryland that were at times familiar and at times unknown. And that is why it has been so hard for some people to part with their copies. Giving them up would be like giving up a part of themselves, or a part of Baltimore or Maryland history.

There have been so many purely Baltimore and purely Maryland stories in Sun Magazine over the years that it's a hard task to select a few classic examples, but here are a handful we'd like to share with you:

A Giant Among Us

On Jan. 9, 1955, the magazine began a two-part series on the Port of Baltimore. Here's part of the lead article, written by reporter Richard K. Tucker:

Sometimes, in an early morning fog, the giant lies misty and half-hidden. At first there is only the gray-green of the water, the flash of a light, the warning sound of a bell.

Then, beyond the thin curl of foam at the bow, beyond the stolid white seabird that perches on the close red channel marker, the giant rises slowly, and sprawls against the sky and shakes the smoky mist from his limbs.

... The giant is a port named Baltimore. He sprawls along 40 miles of Patapsco tidewater shoreline, fed by all the seas of the world. He is sometimes untidy, sometimes rough, but he is rich.

... In the evening, as the men walk from the great ships into the tangle of water-front streets, the city sees the dusky Lascar, the quiet Oriental, the Frenchman in his beret, the sturdy, pink-cheeked Scandinavian, the Englishman whose ancestors may have sailed with Drake.

Brother, Can You Spare ...

The magazine often featured stories on people with curious habits and eccentric ways. Ralph Reppert detailed the "Dime Man" on Jan. 30, 1955:

"In 1918 William Joab King began saving dimes. He had no particular purchase in mind. He just decided that he ought to be saving something. With the dimes he has collected since then, he has bought:

Four cars.

Two delivery trucks.

A $650 furnace for his house in Lansdowne.

A $450 sewer system for the property.

A $350 hothouse.

A $320 renovation for the garage.

And he has plenty of dimes left over -- several pounds of them -- hidden here and there around the house where he can draw on them as he needs them.

Bullish on Baltimore

Another individual seen as eccentric in 1955 was Herman H. Diers, who came to Baltimore each week to look at old gaslights, locomotives and painted screens. Richard K. Tucker profiled him on Aug. 21, 1955:

On a Saturday morning not so long ago, while the usual collection of tourists and sightseers were converging on Washington, a tall, lean graying Washingtonian named Herman H. Diers slipped quietly down to the Capital's Union Station and escaped -- as usual -- on a train for Baltimore.

Less than two hours later, happily removed from the world of tourists, diplomats, briefcases and massive slabs of neo-classic architecture, he strolled through Baltimore's Broadway market area, looking as delighted as a child suddenly projected into a fairy tale.

Hucksters crowded the narrow street between the old wooden market walls and the teeming sidewalk. Sailors from France and Greece rubbed elbows with stout Polish-American housewives homeward bound with bulging market bags.

... Herman Diers waved a hand over the tangle of humanity like an art connoisseur explaining a Pieter Breughel painting.

"You'd never see anything like this in Washington," he said. "People seem more human here. They'll stop and talk with you even though you're a perfect stranger. Over there it's nothing but people with briefcases running back and forth."

... At 56, Mr. Diers has been making weekly visits to Baltimore for more than 30 years. ... He doesn't come to visit anyone in particular, just to walk around and look.

Unbeatable Biscuits

The magazine regularly featured stories depicting Maryland scenes that were vanishing because of changes in technology or population shifts. One-room schools, blacksmiths' workshops and small village post offices fit this category.

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