An earlier storm hit B&O Museum


March 01, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

When a portion of the snow-laden roof of the B&O Railroad Museum gave way during the Presidents Day snowstorm, covering historic locomotives and cars with tons of rubble and iron trusses, it wasn't the first time that the renowned collection of railroad equipment had been assaulted by the elements.

The collection was assembled by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It was shown again at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and later became the core exhibits for the famous Fair of the Iron Horse, which celebrated the B&O's centennial in 1927.

Between Sept. 27 and Oct. 15, 1927, more than 1.3 million visitors passed through the gates of the fairgrounds at Halethorpe to witness the B&O's moving pageant of humanity, locomotives, cars and decorated floats.

The fairgrounds had been specially built to stage the pageant, and its Hall of Transportation Building became the collection's storage site once the fair ended.

But in the early evening of Aug. 13, 1935, dark clouds began gathering over Baltimore.

At 6 p.m., the wind rose to 60 mph as a horrific gale accompanied by lightning, rain and hail roared through. The temperature, which had been hovering near 92, immediately dropped 20 degrees.

The storm killed 18-year-old Katherine Leila Lipscomb when lighting hit the kitchen of her home in Alberton, Baltimore County. Three others in nearby Granite were struck by lightning but survived.

Thousands of dollars worth of crops were ruined in Baltimore, Howard and Anne Arundel counties, while a shed filled with hay on New Cut Road near Ellicott City was struck by lightning and burned to the ground.

In Baltimore, the steeple of St. Brigid's Roman Catholic Church, at Hudson Street and Ellwood Avenue, was whacked by lightning that blew particles of slate onto the street below.

Youngsters raced through Riverside Park collecting the carcasses of 300 starlings and sparrows that drowned in the torrential rains, while boys ran out into the streets to gather up watermelons and tomatoes that had been liberated by the wind from a stall in the Cross Street Market.

The storm seemed to reserve special ferocity for the B&O's Hall of Transportation Building, causing the 500-foot-long, 100-foot-high structure to collapse with a great roar.

"Last night it lay in almost complete wreckage, with smoke stacks of some of the oldest locomotives in the country sticking through the roof and an unestimated amount of damage caused to the museum pieces inside," The Sun reported.

"B&O officials were unable to approximate the damage, but said that besides the destruction of the building, its collapse undoubtedly had destroyed models, pictures and other exhibits which made up what was once regarded as the most complete and authentic exhibition of railroading in the country," the newspaper said.

"The Pangborn collection of wooden models of early locomotives, which stood along the west wall of the destroyed building, was crushed by the falling roof and was said by authorities to be a total loss," The Evening Sun reported.

Falling timbers and girders destroyed a model railroad while the "roof, which in some places was torn from the hall by the wind which swept down upon it from the Northwest, caved in upon rows of old historic locomotives which were lined up in the center of the long building," the newspaper said.

Railroad officials credited the heavy, steel locomotives, lined up in the center of the $100,000 building, with propping up the collapsed roof and saving older and more fragile engines from damage.

The Tom Thumb, Atlantic, York and Thomas Jefferson steam engines and several double-decked Imlay coaches escaped serious damage, and workers salvaged a quarter of the Pangborn Collection of prints, depicting the growth of railroading in the United States. The prints were estimated at the time to be worth between $200 and $500 each.

Workers using block-and-fall gear raised and removed metal trusses and girders from the roofs of locomotives and passenger cars while trucks carted away loads of brick and broken glass.

Once freed from the destroyed building, the collection was moved to Bailey's Roundhouse at the foot of South Howard Street, below Camden Station, where it was later opened to visitors.

After Bailey's was torn down in 1953, the collection moved to the present site, the 22-sided roundhouse at Pratt and Poppleton streets. It was opened to the public that year by Gov. Theodore R. McKeldin.

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