Take it, ye Children of Baltimore Town

November 09, 1996|By Antero Pietila

THE YEAR-LONG celebration of the 200th anniversary of Baltimore's incorporation will take place in 1997. But the first bicentennial event will be held next Friday and Saturday. It is a history conference that focuses on such topics as changing schools, highways, housing, neighborhoods and the African-American community. (Call 837-5340 for information).

The last time Baltimore threw a truly big birthday party was in 1929, when the city celebrated the bicentennial of its founding.

The year was eventful: In February, Chicago gangsters gunned down seven rivals in the ''St. Valentine's Day massacre.'' Thomas Wolfe published ''Look Homeward Angel'' and William Faulkner ''The Sound and the Fury.'' And a former secretary of the interior was sentenced to a year in prison for accepting a $100,000 bribe -- a lot of money in those days -- in what became known as the ''Teapot Dome scandal.''

Historic pride

Baltimore celebrated its anniversary on September 13 and 14. Thirty-five floats depicted such memorable moments as the founding of Baltimore Town in 1729, the establishment here of America's first gas company in 1817, the introduction of the first Linotype machine in 1884 and the nation's first electric car the following year. Choirs sang an anthem:

Building and growing,

Heaving and sighing,

Humming and turning and sailing and flying,

From wharf and from rail,

From Harbor and trail,

The fires of our forges are weaving a tale

Of Progress.

On October 29 Wall Street crashed. The Great Depression was on.

The hyperbole of the 1929 bicentennial was quite amazing by today's standards. Each of the floats had an attached poem. An ode hailed the police department (''Seek ye elsewhere, from shore unto shore/For finer policemen than in Baltimore''), the fire department, the department of education (''The schools of Baltimore for long/Have been the standards for our neighbors''), the health department and public works.

This is how the ode ended:

Take it, ye Children of Baltimore Town,

Take it in glory,

Lift it in might,

Lo, 'tis your standard,

Make it your light!

Let it shine on your hills of Tomorrow.

Times have changed

It is unlikely that too many stanzas of such doggerel will be heard during next year's bicentennial. Times and tastes have changed.

The reason that we have a detailed description of the festivities during Mayor William F. Broening's reign is that the Baltimore Municipal Journal published a commemorative album of more than 300 pages. Sixty-seven years later its articles, pictures and advertisements make fascinating reading.

This was a time when big national brands had not yet become the dominant market force and the local economy showed a great deal of variety. Krause's sold its soft drinks in bottles very similar to Coca-Cola's; Kennel Gardens Inc. of Elkridge offered for sale 83 breeds of dogs, 41 breeds of rabbits, 18 breeds of Guinea pigs and 30 breeds of pigeons.

The Afro-American declared that 39 years after its founding it had become ''the largest Negro weekly in the world owned and operated in its own plant by Negroes.''

Then there was Kallotheneion, ''expert hair dressers.'' Its ad promised ''Trained Nurses in Charge of Our Baths'' and ''Informal Luncheon Served.''

Baltimore clearly was a thriving place in that September. According to an ad, the city's population was about 830,000.

That's about 130,000 more than today.

Antero Pietila writes editorials for The Sun.

Pub Date: 11/09/96

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