The news flashed before your eyes Ticker: Plans to revive blinking bulletin board downtown comes a half-century after the last one came down.

Way Back When

November 21, 1998|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

As a youngster, Baltimore attorney Peter Angelos recalled the other day, he was fascinated with The Sun's "old ticker" that blinked out breaking news in lights outside the newspaper's old Sun Square building at Baltimore and Charles streets.

Angelos, who is renovating the former Hamburger's building at Charles and Fayette streets, the future home of the Johns Hopkins University Downtown Center, says he hopes to install a similar 24-hour message system on the building's facade.

If it happens, it will be the first time in almost 50 years that Baltimoreans will be able to glance up, like New Yorkers habitually do in Times Square, to see public service announcements and news bulletins in flashing lights.

While not the geographic center of the city, the intersection of Baltimore and Charles streets has always been the emotional heart of the city. It's where the street numbers begin and the dividing line for north and south Charles Street and east and west Baltimore Street. It was once a major streetcar junction for cars of the Nos. 1, 2, 11 and 25 lines.

When The Sun's old Iron Building at Baltimore and South streets fell casualty to the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, the newspaper was forced to erect new offices. That building. at Baltimore and Charles streets, opened in 1906.

In recognition of its stately new tenant, a city ordinance on Dec. 12, 1906, christened the intersection Sun Square, which quickly established itself as a gathering place for Baltimoreans to observe and celebrate major events.

During the 1920s and 1930s, a popular Sun Square attraction was the World Series scoreboard -- also called the "baseball board" -- attached to the side of the Sun building.

A telegrapher at the game would send a play-by-play account to The Sun. Johnny Neun, an International league manager, would describe the action over a loudspeaker, while a pantograph moved a white ball hung on fishing line to indicate where the ball was hit.

"A man on base was indicated by a white light," wrote Harold A. Williams in his 1987 history, "The Baltimore Sun 1837-1987."

"Behind the scoreboard was a bell that was struck once for a single, twice for a double, three times for a triple, and four times for a home run," he wrote.

He noted that it was not uncommon for "mischievous motormen" to clang their bells as they passed, arousing unwitting crowds to a fever pitch.

The first electric news sign, which The Sun variously identified as a Trans-Lux, Sun Flash Board or an "electric bulletin board," was installed, prophetically enough, in November 1941, just in time for World War II.

Baltimore poet Amy Grief wrote a tribute to the new sign titled "Lines To The New Revolving Electric Bulletin On The Sun Building." It read, in part:

All hail, letters one by one

Revolving bright, against The Sun,

Ye glitter as ye give out gloom,

And sparkling, ye presage our doom ...

So,' standing with reluctant feet,'

Where Baltimore and Charles Street meet,

Agape we read you, Sir, dire and graphic.

There, in the midst of thundering traffic,

We see the world's no field of clover ...

-! No wonder if We Get Run Over!

In 1943, a second installation was made at Eastern Avenue and Conkling Street in Highlandtown; a third sign was installed on a ++ building on the northwest corner of Charles Street and North Avenue in 1945.

"Hundreds of shoppers in the Highlandtown business area yesterday got the world news as fast as it flowed into The Sun office over the wires from all corners of the world," reported The Sun.

"They operate on a tape, upon which news bulletins are perforated by a special machine as soon as the news reaches the Sunpaper offices. More than 840 separate light bulbs are fitted into the curved signs to form characters and letters through the action of a bank of electric relays set in motion by the perforations on the transmission tape."

The use of all three signs was discontinued in 1950, when the newspaper moved to its present building on Calvert Street. The old building was torn down in 1964 to make way for the Morris Mechanic Theater.

A 1950 Sun editorial bidding goodbye to the historic corner, said, "Farewell to the Sun Square traffic cop, to the Savings Bank of Baltimore, to the Hansa Haus, to the B&O, to the place where all the parades passed, where The Evening Sun Newsboys Band played Sousa marches, where the first election returns used to be flashed upon a white sheet by a magic lantern, where World NTC Series were played upon a mechanical scoreboard, where Billy Barton ran the Grand National through a loudspeaker, where the ends of two world wars and the doom of national prohibition were celebrated. To all this and the perfume of printers' ink in Sun Square, good-by!"

Pub Date: 11/21/98

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