Looking Back On The Familiar Faces Of Baltimore's Market Scene

November 24, 2007|By JACQUES KELLY

There's something reassuring about repeated wandering through the stalls of Baltimore's farmers' and municipal markets. The faces behind the stands and stalls seem to remain the same, but, of course, they do not. I'll miss two of my market friends who died in the past few weeks.

I knew Chuck Stoecker as a mainstay under the expressway near Hillen Street -- and in Waverly as well. Chuck had an opinion on everything and could talk so much that some Sundays I detoured around him until I had time to spare. He had a great impish smile and would always slip me a few extra tomatoes or cucumbers. On occasion, he would give me too many string beans. An ardent Republican, he loved politics and didn't care whom he offended.

Stan Edmister was known to his many customers as the Mushroom Man, who sold his grilled mushrooms on the 32nd Street side of the Waverly market. He was not really a farmer -- although he grew up on a farm. He loved the land and by all accounts was an incredible cook.

Stan was a complex fellow; some described him as resembling Howard Roark, the hero-architect in the novel The Fountainhead. Stan was a Maryland Institute College of Art graduate, thoughtful, a man who gave much back to the city he adopted. He was also flinty and argumentative. He wanted the best for Baltimore. He was the kind of single-minded activist who would cause a city bureaucrat to lock and bar the front door. He was not given to compromise.

Stan was one of the people who helped Charles Village more than three decades ago. As a young sculptor, he came up with an amazing playground at Calvert and 26th streets. It was full of climbing towers and swinging tire tractors, pulleys and ropes. Parents drove their children to let off steam here. It put that corner on the map. Over the years, Stan's playground got dumbed down and was arguably made safer, but there was no changing the idea that Stan wanted Baltimore to be a great place to live.

Speaking for market faces, I've been looking over a recently published book, Baltimore's Lexington Market (Arcadia Press). The author, Patricia Schultheis, combed through the files of many archives, including the old News American materials housed at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her tribute -- historic photos accompanied by detailed captions -- captures the essence of the people who worked year after year selling the things Baltimore loves, such as horseradish, grated coconut, buttermilk and cuts of meat known only to accomplished butchers. It is almost a yearbook of those market faces that were once as familiar as a schoolteacher or boss.

Within its pages is a photo of Ella Bell, who worked the Ortmueller's taffy stand when I was a child. Her candy was delicious -- not at all like saltwater taffy. Hers was rock hard (it had to be broken with small hammer) and could rip out a filling faster than a dentist. I was a fan of the molasses version -- it was incredibly inexpensive. Even though the cost was all of 22 cents, Miss Bell would always set down a free sample on the counter.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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