A Christmas garden mystery: Just what was the Dill Co.?

December 13, 2003|By JACQUES KELLY

WHILE IN the dentist's chair this week, I eavesdropped on the patient in the next cubicle who was chattering away about her family. This being Baltimore, and the pair of us living here forever, I knew every name she dropped. Not only did I recognize them, but her family members attended schools with my mother, father, uncle and two cousins.

I don't think there comes a day when Baltimore doesn't reassert itself as the small town it is.

But there are times when this city drives me crazy. For years now, I've been trying to crack the mystery of the well-made, cardboard Christmas garden houses imprinted with "Dill Co., Baltimore, Maryland" and a monogram that says "Dilco Toys." When I exhume them from their storage boxes for display this time of the year, I grow inquisitive. What is the story behind these miniature villages?

(For the record, they are not the handmade houses, often covered in glittering mica, created and sold by members of the city Fire Department, who used their fabrication as a source of revenue for the gardens they once set up in so many of their firehouses.)

No, my mystery houses have a name on the bottom and appear to have been made in the 1930s. They were obviously mass-produced because they turn up in fairly numerous quantities. Their architectural styles are not particularly Baltimore.

Many of them do bear a slight resemblance to cottages in Beverly Hills, Mayfield or Arcadia in Northeast Baltimore. But if I had to describe them, I'd say that they look more like the faux Spanish villas you often see in classic Laurel and Hardy short comedies.

I've checked my collection of city directories for clues about the Dill Co. name and have come up empty. So, after about 15 years of December frustration, I'm going to put the question out to Sun readers. What was Dill Co.? Did any of you ever work there?

I ask this because of what I had to say in this space last week. I thought that my great-aunt Cora's recollections of the old Schwarz toy store on Charles Street were unique. I was wrong.

Early Monday came a call from Jean Malkmus, who lives in Lawyers Hill. She spent many happy days at a Schwarz abode, an ivy-covered, ancient stone home on Old Annapolis Road owned by Elsa Schwarz Evitt, daughter of the owner of the final Schwarz Baltimore toy emporium.

She confirmed the artistic nature of the toy-selling family and told of how her friend Elsa made jewelry and worked in copper. Interestingly enough, she does not recall the house being filled with toys, only a few lead soldiers on a deep window sill overlooking the Magothy River.

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