For many, a decade to forget. In Baltimore, moments to remember.

  • Michael Phelps wins the 100-meter butterfly at the Beijing Olympics. He would later win an eighth gold, breaking Mark Spitz's record of seven in a single Games.
Michael Phelps wins the 100-meter butterfly at the Beijing… (Getty Images )
December 27, 2009|By Jill Rosen | Baltimore Sun reporter

What do we call this decade? The Ohs? If you say that out loud it sounds like a certain baseball team. The Aughts? What's an aught? In a practical but infinitely more gloomy choice, Time magazine settled on "The Decade from Hell."

And maybe it was. A new national poll found that most Americans have nothing nice to say about these last 10 years, whatever you call them.

We reached new depths of national tragedy on a September morning in 2001. After Hurricane Katrina, we learned that the kind of chaos that ensues after a natural disaster in a Third World country can happen here.

We lost our sense of security, to say nothing of our retirement savings accounts.

We filled our spare time watching neighbors compete on reality shows. We Googled. "Friend" became a verb.

In Maryland, we shared all of those things with the nation even as we experienced the decade in a way that was uniquely ours.

A train derailed, setting off a toxic fire in a tunnel beneath Howard Street in Baltimore. A packed water taxi capsized in the harbor. A deadly sniper had people crouching as they pumped gas.

On Broadway, a chorus sang "Good Morning Baltimore." On HBO, the city couldn't have looked bleaker. Redemption came in the shape of a football.

Whether they were the Ohs or the Aughts, whether we want to remember or quickly forget, let's take a look back at the years 2000-2009: The things we lost. What we gained. The tragedies we couldn't bear to watch and the moments that brought us together.

Thrill of victory, poignant goodbye

Thousands of people skipped work and some even kept their kids home from school. In a chilling January rain, they lined downtown streets and sank into the mud of Memorial Plaza - all for a glimpse of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, a silver obelisk with the power to warm Baltimore's collective soul.

All of those kids and many of their parents were too young to remember the city's last Super Bowl win, 30 years earlier. With the Colts long gone, the city needed another hit of victory, craved it - a jolt of civic pride, an affirmation, a legacy.

That Super Bowl euphoria in the winter of 2001 helped dull the pain as a wrecking ball started to swing on 33rd Street. Despite impassioned last-minute pleas, lawsuits and accusations that officials would be desecrating a monument to war veterans, demolition crews did their work on Memorial Stadium. It fell slowly, brick by brick, bleacher by bleacher, forcing old Baltimore to consign the landmark to memory, along with all the home runs and touchdowns there.

An industry in its death throes

For hundreds of years, the oysters and crabs at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay sustained countless Eastern Shore livelihoods and became a state symbol. Out-of-towners who thought about Maryland thought about savory crab cakes, steamed bushels and the peppery bite of Old Bay.

As certain as the tide, money would come in for fishing, for picking, for seafood processors and restaurants - enough to build homes and raise families. But that way of life increasingly seemed all but over as oyster and blue crab populations dropped lower and lower, hitting crisis levels.

Regulators tried to encourage species comebacks with tight harvesting restrictions. Still, crab counts plummeted. Pollution and drought made a dire situation worse.

Destination crab houses began serving crabs caught in more prolific waters on the other side of the planet. The Eastern Shore, meanwhile, began looking for a future in tourism, retirees - and marketing of the sugary, multilayered Smith Island cake.

The crab might still be Maryland's iconic image, but it's a bit of false advertising.

Another act for the cultural scene

The economy did the arts no favor. The volatile stock market and then the decade-ending recession wreaked havoc on endowments and grants, and left many ticket-buyers thinking they'd better cut back on luxuries.

But there were happy endings, too.

After a death scene more prolonged than any Hollywood melodrama, The Senator, the last of Baltimore's old-time movie houses, was auctioned off. And Landmark Theatres opened a multiplex with cushiony seats and bar service at Harbor East.

It was over for the blocky and dour Mechanic Theatre, for years the signature destination for theater-goers in the region. A few blocks over, however, the restored Hippodrome Theatre opened, a gleaming, gilded beauty with room for bigger productions.

Baltimore lost its opera company, but the hiring of energetic conductor Marin Alsop infused new life into the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. With more affordable tickets, pop culture references and a recording nominated for a Grammy, Alsop fought to shake off the symphony's stodgy image.

Factories bow to brain trusts

In the 1950s, a third of those who worked in the area used their hands to make cars and cans, soap and sugar, tools and spices. But that steel-solid manufacturing core was barely holding on by the dawn of this decade.

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