Baltimore Glimpses: Rum's the word

December 17, 1996|By Gilbert Sandler

DID THE EGG-NOG you served (and were served) at Baltimore holiday parties a generation ago really taste, well, different? Or is that just ''good old days'' talk?

No, it's not just talk, It's true.

During holiday seasons from the '20s through the '60s, Baltimoreans had a secret ingredient for their egg-nog: Hendler's Old Fashioned Egg Nog Ice Cream.

In those days Hendler's was the biggest, most famous ice cream name in Baltimore. Their egg-nog ice cream was the principal ingredient in the egg-nog that smart Baltimore hostesses made and served at holiday parties.

A bit of an edge

Albert Hendler, the son of founder Emanuel Hendler, explained the secret that created the reputation: ''Our egg-nog ice cream was already flavored with pure rum when you bought it, so you started your recipe with a bit of an edge.''

Hendler's, here in Baltimore, was the only ice cream company in America to have a liquor license for the blending of liquor in the making of ice cream.''

But as for egg-nog made with Hendler's ice cream this New Year's Eve? Well, in its memory, sing one last brave chorus of ''Auld Lang Syne.''

***

If you are dreaming of a white Christmas in Baltimore this year, forget it. The last white Christmas in Baltimore was in 1966. Since then, it's been wet and it's been warm; we've seen cold and we've seen ice.

But we have not seen snow, real snow. So if you have in mind waking to the kind of white Christmas Irving Berlin set to words and music -- it just doesn't happen in Baltimore.

But it happened in 1966.

Christmas that year was on a Sunday, and all day Friday and into Christmas Eve, snow was predicted for Christmas Day. A storm was sweeping up the Carolinas and Virginia.

Double the panic

As is our custom in Baltimore when snow is predicted, panic set in. And since it was already the time of the year for last-minute-shopping panic, the panic was doubled. Howard Street, then among the most popular Baltimore shopping streets, was bedlam. a reporter taking in the scene recorded one shopper's sentiments: ''This is nuts! Get me outta here!''

As Christmas Eve approached the weatherman's prediction grew firmer and more precise. Snow would start in the early hours of Christmas Eve; when the children looked out Christmas morning, he predicted, they would see the footprints of Santa's reindeer in the freshly fallen snow.

This time the weatherman called it right. A snowstorm with 30-mile an hour winds whipped across the state Saturday morning and snow fell throughout the day. Baltimoreans got up Christmas morning to see eight inches of snow, bringing December's total that year to a record 19.3 inches.

Christmas tease

In other years we have had teasers. In 1969, a light sprinkling of snow; in 1970, all of half an inch; in 1975, one tenth of an inch; in 1976, three tenths of an inch. In 1989, the snow that had fallen weeks earlier by Christmas Day had turned into dirty ice. Not exactly what Irving Berlin had in mind. And the past five years, as any tot with a sled will tell you, not a single, serious snowflake has graced Baltimore on Christmas Day.

But if so many people remember so many white Christmases in Baltimore, as they insist they do, why are there no more of them?

***

If there were to be a single memory of an elegant New Year's

Eve in Baltimore -- one snapshot to paste in an album, one souvenir of the occasion -- it would have to be New Year's Eve in the Charles Room of the Belvedere.

The Charles Room these days is reserved for private parties. But from the 1940s into the '60s, the Charles Room of the Hotel Belvedere was open to the general public and was the place to be on New Year's Eve -- all crystal and music, crinoline and crepes, music and flowers and champagne.

''All the beautiful people were there, every New Year's Eve,'' said Lou Ginsberg, who led one of the most popular of the bands to play society affairs. One New Year's Eve during the Belvedere's glory days, ''I was playing on the 13th floor, with Jimmy Abato's band in the Grand Ballroom, but I knew the great Don Bestor, nationally famous, was playing in the Charles Room downstairs. So at intermission I went down to see him and asked for a job. He gave me one!''

Corporal from Corsica

The decor of the Charles Room matched the sophistication of the dance music, and of the dancers. ''The motif is decidedly Empire,'' a society story in The Sun reported. ''Ceiling and wall panels are in the blue associated with the 'Little Corporal from Corsica' [Napoleon]. Entablatures, architraves and projecting frieze, done in white, lend a lofty feeling to the room. The great, magnificent chandeliers, suspended from the heights of the midnight-blue ceiling, sparkle in regal splendor.''

You cannot in all of the new Baltimore find a way to re-create the ambience of the Charles Room on New Year's Eve. The ornate decor and the history and the grip of tradition make the Charles Room the jewel box where an era keeps its memories safe.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from. . . .

Gilbert Sandler writes from, and about, Baltimore.

Pub Date: 12/17/96

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