Elise H. Cheslock, 91, associate of H.L. Mencken

June 22, 1999|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Elise H. Cheslock, who opened her kitchen and home to renowned Evening Sun journalist H. L. Mencken and other members of the famed Saturday Night Club, died Saturday of heart failure at Sinai Hospital. She was 91.

Since the mid-1980s, Mrs. Cheslock, a charming woman with a welcoming demeanor, had resided in Belvedere Towers Apartments in Roland Park.

At the Cheslock home on Sulgrave Avenue in Mount Washington, she and her husband entertained some of the most prominent members of Baltimore's literary, medical, legal and cultural community during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

Her husband of 55 years, Louis Cheslock, had been a faculty member of the Peabody Conservatory of Music for 60 years and a charter member of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. He was the last surviving member of the Saturday Night Club when he died in 1981.

Before and after Prohibition, the Saturday Night Club met in the Rennert Hotel, and at Schellhase's and Haussner's restaurants. But during Prohibition, members gathered in one another's homes to drink home-brewed beer and dine on such German fare as Liederkranz cheese, Ganse-Klein, beef tartare, German potato salad and rye bread and pumpernickel.

After the wives of the members complained about being excluded from the stag affairs, members created a Sunday Night Dinner Club and meetings were rotated among members' homes.

Mrs. Cheslock had fashioned a table lamp from an oversized Piels beer bottle and she crowned it with a parchment shade covered with several beer labels. The lamp became a sort of guest registry after H. L. Mencken suggested that guests sign it. He was the first to do so and in his characteristic hand wrote, "H. L. Mencken. August 28, 1950."

"It didn't bother her at all that my father spent every Saturday night with the club," said her son, Barry Cheslock of Arlington, Va. "She liked the members and especially H. L. Mencken and his brother August."

"Each of the Saturday Night Club members had his own special character, each very different from the others, but with a common interest in music, good food, beer and the joy of living," Mrs. Cheslock wrote in an article in Menckeniana several years ago, the Mencken quarterly published by the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Even after Mr. Mencken had a stroke in 1948 and the Saturday Night Club disbanded in 1950, the Cheslocks continued to entertain the Menckens and visit them at the brothers' Union Square rowhouse.

"She and her husband were frequent guests at Mencken's home at 1524 Hollins St.," said Charles A. Fecher of Baltimore, author and editor of Mencken's diary, which generated controversy when it was published in 1989.

"She was one of the last surviving people who knew the brothers well and was full of stories about them," said Mr. Fecher, who edited Menckeniana for 14 years until he retired this year.

Mrs. Cheslock, who was generous with her time with authors writing and researching Mencken's life, also was a valuable consultant during the restoration of the Mencken House in the early 1980s.

Mencken House, which opened in 1984, was formerly part of the failed City Life Museums and is now shuttered, its fate uncertain.

"The house was not feminine or masculine," Mrs. Cheslock told The Evening Sun in 1984. "It was comfortable and charming and both Henry and August went out of their way to make guests feel comfortable."

In the early 1980s, she donated to the Enoch Pratt's Mencken Room a valuable collection of items, including her husband's unpublished Saturday Night Club diary, an audiotape of a 1951 visit to the Cheslock home, clippings and beer steins that had been owned by Mencken.

"She was a very gracious, kind and generous woman who was always a pleasure to talk to," said Vincent Fitzpatrick III, author and Mencken Room curator. "She was always very informative when it came to speaking about Mencken and the Saturday Night Club."

"She will be greatly missed by those of us who are interested in H. L. Mencken," said Arthur J. Gutman, longtime president of the Mencken Society, of which she was a member.

The former Elise Hanline was born and raised on Brooks Lane near Eutaw Place and graduated from Western High School. As a student at the Peabody Conservatory, where she studied dance and voice, she met her future husband. They were married in 1926.

Mrs. Cheslock enjoyed flower arranging and had been a member of the Country Garden Club, where her arrangements won many blue ribbons. She was also an avid reader and traveler.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. tomorrow at Sol Levinson & Bros. Inc., 8900 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville.

In addition to her son, she is survived by a sister, Celeste Cohan of Myrtle Beach, S.C., and several nieces and nephews.

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