Readers continue to reminisce about the 1950s lamplighters

Some remember the gas hissing through the mantles

August 26, 2011|Jacques Kelly

A few weeks ago, I recalled a summer night in 1950s Baltimore when the gas street lamps came on as the sun set. Obviously, judging from my mail, others shared the experience of old lamplights:

"I grew up on Calvin Avenue and we had a lamplighter for one lamp on the southwest side of the street," wrote Bob Ludwig. "Those several street lights closer to Greenmount Avenue had already been electrified, likely because of their proximity to what was then a really thriving business area. I recall that the single gaslight was put on a timer about 1939 or 1940. I remember a lamplighter every night when I was a little kid."

James Genthner of Timonium recalls a detail I missed in my years of gas lamp observation: "The gas lamps had a wonderful sound of hissing gas going through the mantles."

Ted Lingelbach of Parkville reports, "It was only the smaller streets that were still lighted by gas lamps. My aunt and uncle lived on Holbrook Street a couple blocks east of Green Mount Cemetery and there was a gas street lamp directly in front of their house. They had to keep a small step ladder in their living room, as during World War II air raid alerts it was their job to douse the lamp when the sirens sounded and relight it after the all clear sounded."

Ed Christian Mattson, who wrote me earlier this year about his aversion to shad roe, said, "In the area of Jefferson and Robinson streets in East Baltimore the lamp man came around in the early evening as dusk approached and lighted the gas lamps. I know because sometimes when he went around the corner, we climbed up and pulled the lever and turned them off."

Barry L. Zimmerman saw the show of gas in Northwest Baltimore: "Along Grantley Road, a residential street, there were still gas lanterns in use. They were mounted on green-painted tapered steel poles. I distinctly remember a canister inside the globe assembly; it was about the size of a standard round Morton salt container. I imagine that is where the control mechanism would be located as natural gas was probably fed directly from underground piping."

He adds: "A bit of irony here. I spent 46 years in the lighting fixture business, mostly commercial lighting, and my business sold thousands of decorative lantern and pole assemblies. We never sold a gas lantern."

Zimmerman worked for the General Lighting Corp.

John Rekus of Ruxton said his grandfather was a lamplighter. "My grandfather Frank Balzano was the last lamplighter in Baltimore. I used to help him wash globes as he did the lamps on Old York Road at Cold Spring," he said.

Finally, the last word on lamplighters: "We are the company that manufactured those street lights that we all remember. The fixture that was most popular in Baltimore is called the Boulevard No. 36 and is still one of our most specified fixtures today," writes Michelle Stonier of North Branford, Conn.

"I was born in Baltimore and raised in Baltimore," Stonier writes. "I remember sitting on my great-grandfather's steps in East Baltimore watching the lamplighter do his work.

"When I was a child, my father worked for Penn Globe, specifically, the Welsbach Lighting Division, which was located on Greenmount Avenue. I can remember visiting the Baltimore factory with my father and watching the ladies assemble the cloth [gas] mantles. The company moved to Connecticut in the early 1970s and soon thereafter, my father purchased the company.

"We remain in Connecticut and are now the Pennsylvania Globe Gaslight Company. We continue to manufacture natural gas lighting, but the majority of our sales are in the electric."

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