Glorious Glauber's leaves only sweet memories

City Diary

May 08, 2002|By Patricia Montley

Patricia Montley is a free-lance writer who lives in Lutherville.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues and events in Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

Tell me it isn't true that on April 25, Ruxton Chocolates, maker of Naron and Mary Sue, Easter egg supplier to Wal-Marts and Rite Aids, devoured the cherished chocolate of my childhood, the mettle of my midlife, the solace of my soon-to-be senior years.

Even as a preschooler, I appreciated the ritual: the careful opening of the white box, the delicate folding back of the stiff wax paper, the reverent inhaling of the cloying sweetness, the visual cornucopia of rich brown shapes.

And I knew by heart what inner delight each shape and the mysterious rune atop it signified: butter creams and cherries, raisin clusters and turtles, coconuts and caramels, sponges and nougats, and my personal favorite: peppermint. Whence this exotic familiarity? How did I get to be this luckiest kid on the block?

Because my grandmother, Frances McCoy, hand-dipped chocolates for Glauber's. Others might boast of rich and powerful ancestors. Of Mayflower arrivals. Of landed lords and ladies. Of cultured gentry. Of self-made entrepreneurs. Let them. I knew better. For me, home was where the chocs were. Not your store-bought bars or bagged been-arounds. But fresh, dipped-that-day, taste-bud-exploding chocolates.

And my teachers were the luckiest in the school, for didn't they -- while their envious colleagues pretended to be grateful for dreary white handkerchiefs -- get Glauber's at Christmas?

But Easter! That was the day. My be- ribboned basket, padded with paper "straw," was crammed with treats: smooth chicks hefty as baseballs and lambs with bubbled brown fleece; rabbits pulling carts of jelly beans; chocolate eggs the size of baked potatoes, filled with peanut butter or -- just for me -- peppermint cream.

And, as a special reward for my Lenten privation, a cross emblazoned with lilies. As surely as 40 days is a long stretch without sweets, this bounty was a foreshadowing of what the Last Judgment would be for the Just ... and the Disciplined.

My grandmother, who died a couple months shy of her 100th birthday, told me several years earlier on the flowered sofa in the tiny living room of her West Baltimore rowhouse, "I wish I could go back to work. We had such a good time, us girls in Miz Glauber's kitchen."

I pictured Miss Dolly and Miss Bessie in their hairnet halos as Miss Frances told me stories of her days in the Hanover Street store, founded by John Henry Glauber in 1876. She worked there in the 1930s until John Henry's son, Howard, moved the manufacturing to his home on Regester Avenue in Idlewylde.

The streetcar didn't go out that far. So Howard picked up the dippers at 10 a.m. on York Road and Dunkirk Road and drove them to his two-story white Victorian home, where they worked till 10 p.m. They had breaks for lunch and dinner, prepared by his wife, Miriam.

My grandmother remembered the time they were so engrossed in a radio soap opera that the chocolate boiled over and, though it made a gooey mess, they couldn't keep from laughing.

By the '50s, machines had replaced the dippers and Glauber's had stalls in Lexington, Cross Street and Hollins markets. Over the next decades, under the leadership of Howard's sons, Howard Jr. and Kenneth, the candy business expanded to include greeting cards and made the transition to the malls: Yorkridge, Perring Plaza, Eastpoint, Towson Town Center, Harford, Security. There was even a four-year stint at the trendy Brown's Wharf in Fells Point.

But overhead at the mall stores was high, and by the time Miss Frances had her last visit with Kenneth Glauber in 1999, the business was no longer growing. Cards were pricey, and young mall-crawlers either didn't send them or relied on e-cards. For some health-conscious folks, candy was no longer the treat of choice. And the final straw: After 125 years as a family operated business, the Glaubers had no "family" willing to take up the chocolate torch; the fourth generation had chosen other pursuits.

I wondered what pursuits -- surely not medicine, education, law, the ministry -- could possibly be as noble a calling as providing that decadent, divine creature-comfort that hotwires the body and soothes the soul.

Today's writer

Patricia Montley is a free-lance writer who lives in Lutherville.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues and events in Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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