OVER THE LAST quarter-century, we've watched the President Street station, a historic site in the outbreak of the Civil War, shrink. Twenty-five years ago, it was a long, wooden shed in the old rail yard at President and Fleet streets near Little Italy.
Over the years, there was a fire and then a roof collapse. But there was always, always a corps of history buffs who appreciated the significance of the place, and they worked to save it. Somehow, the station survived the wrecker's ball.
The stout, remaining section of the station became Baltimore's Civil War Museum in the spring of 1997, and it had a successful run as a tourist attraction for several months. (More than 18,000 people visited the museum in its inaugural year, according to the museum's volunteer director, Shawn Cunningham).
Then, in the fall of 1997, we saw the first signs of the monster - Inner Harbor East. Once planned as a new Baltimore neighborhood of rowhouses and retail businesses, the area around the President Street station is now a big-shouldered extension of the downtown business district, with hotels and office buildings. And the President Street station, already physically diminished by years of neglect be- fore its transformation into a museum, looks smaller than ever - a little brick carriage house surrounded by an imposing high-rise hotel and a parking garage.
It has been victimized by the most dull-headed architectural consideration - that is to say, none - and three years of Inner Harbor East construction have made the museum virtually unapproachable. (The number of visitors has plummeted in the last couple of years to less than half its 1997-1998 gate.)
The end of all that is in sight, I suppose, and some day soon the Civil War Museum might even benefit from the construction of the nearby hotels. But before this wonderful future arrives, I thought I would just make this observation about the way the President Street station has been treated in the recent past by the powers that be. I hope some other historic Baltimore site might be spared a similar squashing.
What's the significance of the old station? It was the site of the first bloodshed of the Civil War.
On the morning of April 19, 1861, a week after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, the 700-man 6th Massachusetts Regiment arrived at President Street, where 31 train cars were to be uncoupled and pulled by horses along Pratt Street to Camden Station - the one near what's now Oriole Park - where the troops were to continue their journey south.
As the caravan moved west along Pratt Street, the volunteer soldiers were confronted by an angry mob of stone-throwing secessionists. Shots were fired. It's believed that at least nine civilians and three soldiers died in the fighting along a one-mile stretch of Pratt Street - the first casualties of the war.
There's evidence that a second skirmish, between a Baltimore mob and Pennsylvania volunteers, occurred alongside the President Street terminal several hours after the famous Pratt Street riot. In the second fight, at least five of the Pennsylvanians died and 13 were wounded.
The station also played a role in the flight of slaves to freedom. "The museum has a fabulous story to tell," says Cunningham.
Despite its struggle during the last three years, the museum will somehow survive. I hear there will soon be a major announcement that could give the place a boost. Overshadowed by those imposing buildings in Inner Harbor East, it's going to need all the help it can get.
Where's his straight man?
Did you hear Peter Angelos on the radio last week? Can someone tell me when the Orioles majority owner started to sound like Joe Piscopo doing Frank Sinatra?
Angelos: "I think $72 million to [Mike] Mussina is plenty of money to Mussina." Yeah, and I think a quarter-billion to Angelos (from the state's settlement with Big Tobacco) is plenty of money to Angelos.
Angelos: "I guaranteed we're going to rebuild our bullpen." Yeah, and I promised to wallpaper the living room.
Angelos: "We think there are times when [sportswriters] are wrong just like we know there are times when we're wrong." Peter Angelos has been wrong about something?
Trees show their stuff
If I were you, I'd take a ride to Western Maryland this weekend and get a dose of the awesome colors in the mountains of Garrett County. "With above-average rainfall this year, trees are happy, [and] the fall color display should be excellent," says Mike Galvin of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service.
It's already getting there and, based on my observations near McHenry and Grantsville late last week, the colors should hit a peak in the next few days. That's perfect timing for the annual Autumn Glory Festival in Oakland.
Expand the parade
If I had to create a new balloon for the Thanksgiving Parade, I think I'd do one in the shape of Tony Siragusa.
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