Sun and fun inspired `Wish you were heres'


Book: Postcard collection recalls the days when steamboats took revelers to play on the beach and swim in the waters of Ocean City.

November 24, 2001|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

As they have in two earlier books, Hampden residents Bert and Anthea Smith are again taking readers on a Technicolor postcard perambulation to the resorts that once spanned the Chesapeake Bay from the Susquehanna Flats to Cape Henry, Va.

A Day on the Bay, recently published by Johns Hopkins University Press, recalls a time when crowds carrying picnic hampers and portmanteaus jammed aboard white-painted, paddle-wheeled excursion steamboats with names like the Louise, Emma Giles and Dreamland for a day on the bay or traveled to resorts like Bay Shore Park, closer to Baltimore, aboard streetcars of the United Railways and Electric Company.

With their walking-beam engines rhythmically throbbing up and down, the steamboats carried day-trippers to such resorts as Tolchester, Chesapeake Beach, White Crystal Beach and Betterton. The excitement aboard began to build as these destinations came into view over the horizon.

The Smiths take us into this vanished world of purples, oranges, browns and greens with vintage cards drawn from their collection of more than 4,000. At the same time, their book serves as a mini-history of the postcard - the one affordable souvenir of the day that found its way into family albums as a record of a place visited and of a happy time.

"Wish you were here," "Say, this place is the real thing," or "The food is good," were frequently expressed sentiments scrawled in fountain pen to friends, lovers and family members back home telling them how much fun they were missing.

Cards in the early part of the last century were hand-tinted copies of photographs and were mainly of German origin. World War I ended the era of hand-tinted cards when linen cards began to appear; they were later replaced by the photographic variety we know today.

Noted postcard publishers with examples in the new book include Albertype, Rinn, and Tichnor. Examples from local Baltimore publishers include Ottenheimer, Traub, the Baltimore News Co., Cann and Hugh Gwynn.

"Among my most treasured postcards are those from the clear blue waters and sandy shores of the Chesapeake Bay of long ago," Bert Smith writes in the book's introduction.

"In these favorite cards the sun is always shining, and lucky vacationers are swimming, sailing and even dancing on the beach. In the years before World War I, proper ladies with parasols promenade along crude wooden boardwalks, and families amble ashore with heavy picnic hampers and children in tow, anticipating an afternoon of shade and cool Bay breezes. The sporty side-wheelers from which they have just disembarked idle in the background, the invisible crew already preparing for the return to Baltimore," he writes.

After steamboat whistles summoned happy revelers back to pierheads for the return voyage to Baltimore, some sunburned and weary passengers eased their way into deck chairs, while others chose to foxtrot or waltz on deck under the moonlight to the musical rhythms of live shipboard orchestras.

Until the advent of the Annapolis-Claiborne ferry service, which allowed motorists to take their cars aboard the Governor Emerson C. Harrington and later the John M. Dennis and the Albert C., Ritchie, passengers bound for Ocean City steamed across the bay on the Cambridge, which departed from Pier 8 Light Street. Once on the other side at Claiborne, in Talbot County, they boarded the steamcars of the Baltimore, Chesapeake and Atlantic Railroad, which swayed through stands of aromatic loblolly pines en route to the cool breezes of the Atlantic Ocean resort.

The colorful cards show crowds swimming, or riding roller coasters and merry-go-rounds at amusement parks or the Little Jumbo miniature steam railroad at Pennyland at Tolchester.

The one regret the authors had was finding no postcards showing the popular African-American resorts of Highland Beach (founded by the son of Frederick Douglass) and Carr's Beach.

This was also the grand era of resort architecture: airy hotels and rooming houses with broad porches for older people who took their leisure in rocking chairs while the younger set took to canoes, archery, fishing, crabbing and other pursuits.

Included in the book are some wonderful examples, including the Hotel Chamberlain and the Sherwood Inn, both in Old Point Comfort, Va. The latter was a four-story, turreted Edwardian confection with awnings hung from every window to keep its vast interior rooms and guests cool.

Children's camps were once found along the bay, including the now defunct Camp Calvert on Breton Bay, operated by the Xavierian Brothers and billed as "the summer paradise for boys." One camp from the postcard period is still in operation. To this day Camp Whippoorwill on the Magothy River near Pasadena is the summer home for Girl Scouts. Its camp song still echoes:

Tall Pines loom dark o'er the campfire,

The Magothy River is misty and blue,

Moonlight steals over the water

And Camp Whippoorwill - we're singing to you.

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