An elegant, awful party at The Sun

WAY BACK WHEN

Back Story

December 22, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

It was a simple gesture by Paul Patterson, president of the A.S. Abell Co., publisher of the Sunpapers, to bring a little Christmas cheer to the wives and children of the paper's war correspondents, who were away from their families and overseas reporting on the progress of World War II.

The three McCardell girls, Mary Ann, 13, Abby, 10, and Tilly, 4, and their mother, Nancy A. McCardell - the daughters and wife of correspondent Lee McCardell, who was covering Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army in Europe - were invited to the 1944 party that was held in the old Sun building at Baltimore and Charles streets.

"They were trying to make up for the fact that our fathers were away at war. One year, they had Evening Sun reporter Margaret Dempsey, who later married Jim McKay, go out and buy us presents; and another year, Roy Merriken, a staff photographer, took our pictures," said Mary Ann McCardell, now Mary Ann Daily.

"They sent what looked like a fancy block-long chauffeur-driven limousine to our home on Wilmslow Road in Roland Park, that took us to Sun Square dressed in our Sunday best. The two Day boys, sons of Price Day, and Mark Watson's two daughters, Susan and Ellen, were also in the car," Daily recalled.

"When we got to the boardroom, I remember Paul Patterson's granddaughter, Polly Patterson, was there with her nanny," she said.

The party was held in the newspaper's book-lined boardroom, which exuded a heavy, masculine, elegant air that probably overwhelmed the youthful participants - and probably intimidated their parents.

It was redolent with dark mahogany paneling and oriental carpeting. Illumination came from sconces that incorporated an engraved fragment taken from the ancestral shield of Cecilius Calvert, Lord Baltimore, and were topped with dainty linen shades. Leaded stained-glass windows blocked out views of nearby buildings and rooftops.

Partygoers were seated in oversized chairs drawn up to a heavy, dark-stained board table, set with starched Irish linen, that divided the room and looked as though it had been lifted from a public room off one of the swaying Teutonic steamers of the North German Lloyd Line.

"It was just awful, and mother was so afraid we'd misbehave," recalled Daily, a Roland Park resident.

Party fare for the children was petit fours and ices in the shape of strawberries. As they ate or ignored them, a young man played holiday music on an accordion.

"We had never seen such beautiful things before because we were children of poor Sun reporters," she said, with a hearty laugh. "Tilly refused to eat hers."

"A quartet of singers who looked as though they had been dragged off the street sang. They really were seedy-looking," Daily said.

Santa Claus distributed expensive gifts that her parents could not have afforded to all of the assembled guests, Daily recalled.

"Abby and I got books, and I think Tilly got a huge doll or a stuffed animal that was as big as she was," she said.

While the quartet continued singing, H.L. Mencken poked his head into the room to see what was going on.

"I really don't remember Mencken initially being there, but Mother said he looked in and said, `These kids are having a terrible time,' and then he left," she said. "Of course, the three of us didn't know who the hell Mencken was and continued having an awful time."

Mencken, who had gone out and purchased a Santa Claus mask, returned shortly and began singing with the quartet.

"I don't recall Mr. Patterson being there, but I do remember his granddaughter wearing patent leather shoes, which were impossible to get during the war because of rationing - but she had them," Daily said.

"We didn't have a car, and once we finished eating, the chauffeur took us home," she said. "It had been an awful time."

"The following year, my father was home for Christmas. He came back to Baltimore in May 1945 after the war had ended in Europe," she said.

"We didn't know he was coming, and when we heard a knock on the door, Abby opened it, and said, `My father is home!'"

McCardell, who had been away from his family and Baltimore for three Christmases, and whose Christmas letters to his children were printed on the front page of The Evening Sun during the war years, was assistant managing editor of the paper at his death in 1963.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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