Flower Mart's fate in question

Civic League leaders won't say if this year will be last for festival

April 17, 1999|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

From 1911 to 1999, virtual bookends of the 20th century, the Flower Mart has been part of Baltimore's spring, but it remains to be seen whether the Mount Vernon Place tradition will carry on in the 21st.

"Celebrating the End of an Era," this year's theme, sounds an autumnal note, suggesting that the volunteers of the Women's Civic League are ready to discontinue their sponsorship of the almost-annual rite.

The 1999 Flower Mart will feature the famous lemon with peppermint stick confection, arts and crafts, a petting zoo and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke on a carriage ride to a ribbon-cutting ceremony. It will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. May 12. The rain date is May 13.

Liz Godwin, the league president, declined to say yesterday whether the title spelled the end of the Flower Mart as the city has known it.

"It doesn't mean we will or we won't," Godwin said.

League member Marie C. Henderson, who suggested in a letter to The Sun last month that this year's Flower Mart would be the group's last, said several of the members had expressed the view that they had reached "the age and the time in their life where they had to make a decision."

The aging membership of the women's league is known for its unfailing energy, even among those in their 70s and 80s.

The prospect of losing the Flower Mart, where ladies of all ages wear hats and gentlemen wear snap-brim fedoras or tweed caps, gave one regular, Jamie Hunt, 35, pause.

Hunt, executive director of the Mount Vernon Cultural District, said, "You do lose a connection with the past and the grace and charm of the women who organized this."

Through the years, he added, "They never asked for applause or kudos, just did year after year. I can understand taking a well-deserved break."

Hunt and league president Godwin concurred on a clear social phenomenon: It is increasingly difficult to recruit volunteers for an organization such as the Women's Civic League, which keeps a one-woman office in a restored 1790 brick house where Baltimore's second mayor, Thorowgood Smith, once lived by the Shot Tower.

"We do not get members like we used to," Godwin said. "Both people have to work. It's a different ballgame nowadays. They don't have the time to join."

The same is true for other organizations: "Look at the Boumi Temple and the Junior League," said Godwin, who said she has been a league member for "only 35 years."

The Flower Mart has skipped years and taken a hiatus before. There have been 82 in 88 years. Riots disrupted them in the early 1970s, said league historian Phyllis Eckels, an 87-year-old former school teacher. There was no Flower Mart in 1996, when organizers wearied of the enormous undertaking.

The next year, Godwin took it upon herself to chair the 1997 festivities: "I didn't think the city could do without a Flower Mart myself."

Laurie Schwartz of the Downtown Partnership described the flower fair as "a Baltimore institution" and expressed hope that another sponsor could be found to continue the tradition.

Carol K. Purcell, the Flower Mart chairwoman, said more will be known about the event's future Thursday, when league officials and Schmoke make a statement at City Hall.

Pub Date: 4/17/99

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