'Moonlights' brightened nights

Remember When

July 21, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

"Let's take a moonlight," proclaimed The Sun in 1946, of those mini-voyages that were once respites for Baltimoreans escaping the searing summer heat of the city.

They were also popular backdrops for waterborne romances as young people curled up on deck chairs with old or newfound friends of the opposite sex while others danced away the night in the boat's ballroom.

Jacques Kelly, elsewhere on this page, discusses the joys still to be found in such a cruise today.

In the early evening, passengers hustled down to Pratt and Light streets, the foot of Broadway or Fells Point, by streetcar or auto, and boarded the Emma Giles, Dreamland, Tred Avon, Louise, Kitty Knight or Bay Belle.

A long blast on the whistle signaled sailing time as the ship's engines began their low rhythm far below as hundreds of shuffling feet went up and down stairs or jockeyed for position at the rail to watch the city's skyline fade away.

"In these days of summer weather," said The Sun in 1921, "the veteran excursionists of Baltimore, particularly the young veterans of the romantic 'moonlight,' division, are beginning to yearn for the days when the steamers begin their voyages again."

Victor J. Strickline, writing in the Sun magazine in 1973, recalled the days when he boarded "moonlights" with his ukulele and sang away the evenings, much to the joy of other excursionists.

"With the youngster set in the 1920s, the Louise was THE place to be. It was the living, laughing, singing spirit of the time. The boys and girls who paid 50 cents at the foot of Broadway for a four-hour ride out to Baltimore Light and back dressed the same, spoke the same language, and had the same idea of a good time."

Henry Hyde, a Sun reporter declared in a 1927 story that the "main purpose and the sufficient reason for 'moonlights' is to provide a pleasant place for you and your sweetie to sit very close together on the upper deck and watch the moonlight -- if any -- and forget the real world."

All this enthusiasm fed on hot dogs, candy, gum and soft drinks dispensed by a white-jacketed steward who busily attempted to keep up with the crowd's demands.

"You've never seen jitterbugging unless you've watched 200 hepcats shagging in a bay boat's ballroom," advised The Sun in a 1946 report.

The era of the moonlights finally came to a close in 1962, when the amusement park at Tolchester closed and the Wilson Line removed the Bay Belle from service.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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