`Balamer' diarist `Mr. Peep,' John Goodspeed, dies at 86

September 12, 2006|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,sun reporter

John Goodspeed, the former Evening Sun columnist who collected examples of the city's linguistic train wrecks and christened the mispronunciations Baltimorese, died Sunday of pulmonary fibrosis at his Easton home. He was 86.

From 1950 until he stepped down in 1967, Mr. Goodspeed chronicled the city, its habits and people in "Mr. Peep's Diary," a weekday column that appeared under a sketch of the Baltimore skyline. He claimed to have walked every street in Baltimore at least twice in his quest for often-quirky vignettes.

He regularly measured snowfalls in Bolton Hill's Jenkins Alley to calculate a snowflake count for the 91.93 square miles of Baltimore - "the Queen City of the Patapsco Drainage Area." He often picked up news tidbits at Martick's bar on Mulberry Street, and quoted Rose, whom he described as "the girl bartender."

"He was a master at the unusual, a consummate newsman whose `Peep's Diary' was remarkable journalism, really never equalled," said former state Sen. Julian L. Lapides, a former Bolton Street neighbor.

In 1960, Mr. Goodspeed published the pamphlet A Fairly Compleat Lexicon of Baltimorese, which included among its 130 entries such classics as fahr/fire, arhn/iron, arnjoos/orange juice, authoritis/arthritis, Druidl/Druid Hill, Murlin/Maryland, paramour/power mower, tarred/tired, warn/wiring and the classic zinc/sink.

Mr. Goodspeed readily spoke his mind. He once said that crab meat and seafood in general smelled bad and that he preferred the submarine cold cut sandwich popularized by the late Harley Brinsfield to a crab cake or soft crab sandwich.

"By the way, one word I do not think is Baltimorese at all is `hon,' h-o-n. Because I've heard `hon' in Texas, in New York, Chicago a lot and in New Orleans," he said in a 2000 Sun interview. "That's four places other than Baltimore. It's almost always spoken by women, usually working class, but not always, sometimes they're educated women, too. But I don't think it should be Baltimorese."

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, he earned a bachelor's degree in journalism at Texas Christian University in 1941, the year he moved to Baltimore to work as a tool-and-die inspector at the old Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River.

"He got off the train from Fort Worth at Camden Station and started walking. He ended up at a boarding house at 1200 Cathedral St., where the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall is now," the 2000 article on him said.

"The landlady in the first place I lived said she had to `wrench some dishes in the zinc.' I had to figure that out. I'd never heard `wrench' used for rinse or `zinc' used for sink."

In 1948, Mr. Goodspeed parted ways with the aircraft plant, where he said he hated working.

"I was laid off, along with about 20,000 people, all at once, right before Christmas. Beautiful," he told a Sun reporter.

"I pounded the streets for three months trying to find work; finally The Evening Sun hired me." He took over "Mr. Peep's Diary" when Jacob Hay, the staffer who had been writing "Peep's" irregularly, was called back into the Army for the Korean War.

Mr. Goodspeed wrote "Peep's" five days a week for nearly 15 years, then three times a week for a year or so. His column took its name from the 17th-century London diarist Samuel Pepys, whose name is pronounced "Peeps."

"I loved doing Peep's," Mr. Goodspeed said "I walked around the city in the morning. When I was younger I'd walk 10 miles, get a lunch, come in and write it up. Later I had a lot of stringers. People ratting on their friends is what it was."

Mr. Goodspeed collected Baltimorese snippets in his column for nearly a decade before he published the lexicon.

He became an expert on the city's linguistic transgressions. He said that proper pronunciation of Baltimore is "Balamer" - "Bal as in Balmoral, not bawl as in a crying jag. The middle `a' is very faint."

He said he based his style "partly on The New Yorker, the way it used to be in the front, "Talk of the Town," and partly on Punch magazine," the British humor publication.

Mr. Goodspeed walked the streets of Baltimore to come up with such notes as this in 1960: "In the 800 block of Park avenue, a painter hung a sign that read `Wet Yet' on a freshly painted stair grill and explained that the message is much more psychologically effective than `Wet Paint,' which tempts people to test the paint with their fingers to see if it's dry yet."

Mr. Goodspeed left The Evening Sun in 1967 and went on to edit the Carroll County Times for a year and the Towson Times for another year. He wrote copy briefly for an ad agency and was heard on the old WFBR-AM radio. He also worked in public relations at the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn, where he retired in 1985.

Mr. Goodspeed appeared on The Critics' Place on Maryland Public Television from 1974 to 1986, reviewing books. In 1990, after moving to the Eastern Shore, he reviewed books for the Easton Star Democrat.

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