Gil Sandler's Baltimore Stories | WYPR

Gil Sandler's Baltimore Stories

Friday 7:46 am and 9:38 am

Gilbert Sandler is one of Baltimore's most-read and well-known local historians. For more than thirty years, through his articles in the Baltimore Sun, the Baltimore Jewish Times, National Public Radio and his books and lectures, he has shown Baltimoreans, through anecdote and memory, who they are, where they have been and, perhaps, where they are going. He was educated in Baltimore's public schools and graduated from Baltimore City College; in World War II, he served in the United States Navy as a ship-board navigator in the Pacific. He is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and has a master's from Johns Hopkins.

Archive prior to December 2014.

Poetry and Parkway

Aug 25, 2017
Alessandro Bonvini/flickr

Up into the 1970s, Baltimoreans could tune in on their radios to station WCAO at midnight and listen to—poetry! It was an hour of readings, to the accompaniment soft organ music, originating from the Parkway Theater on North Avenue.

“The last reading of the last night of the poetry hour read here comes a time to say the song is through.”

And for Baltimore’s first lat and only poetry hour it was.

Exodus and Johnny Pica

Aug 18, 2017

On the moonless night of February 9, 1947. A shadowy melodrama was being played out on the Lancaster street dock and aboard the ship moored to it. Boys were to be seen loading the ship and with munitions. They were boys from Little Italy and from the Jewish Community Center—recruited off the basketball court of the Jewish Community Center together, at work, not realizing it, founding a country.

Penn Station Wedding

Aug 11, 2017
Nick Kenrick/flickr

Something unusual was going on in Baltimore’s Penn station on the afternoon of July 25, 1943.  In the frenetic war years, the station was an around- the-clock scene of soldiers and sailors arriving and departing and loved ones greeting with hugs of welcome or farewell. But today was different—there was a wedding planned! In the station! A wedding like no other in the history of the armed forces of the United States….

Cat Rodeo

Aug 3, 2017
M&R Glasgow/flickr

On the evening of July 12, 1929, a small crowd was gathered at the entrance where Howard and Biddle streets and Linden Avenue meet. They stood staring at unexpected “Closed” signs on the door to the Market.— “due to a problem with mice.” And so began the Great Baltimore Cat Round Up. The scheme, to turn cats loose to do what cats do to mice, turned out to be an embarrassing failure. The Market management blamed the cats.

Dolly Flap

Jul 28, 2017

On the evening of January 6, 1967, the scene outside the Mechanic Theater at Baltimore and Charles streets was a busy one! It was opening night and the show was no less than the smash Broadway hit, "Hello, Dolly." Hollywood starlet Betty Grable was slated to play the part, although in the world of show biz, Carroll Channing owned the part. Behind the scenes, war broke out! So who played Dolly opening night of the Mechanic? Here's the story. 

Schaefer Reenactment

Jul 21, 2017

In 2001 on the 20th anniversary of the Grand Opening of the National Aquarium and of Mayor Schaefer's promise at the time: "If that aquarium isn't finished by August 8, I will personally jump into the seal pool." The aquarium did not open on time and the mayor did jump in the seal pool, but the 20th anniversary of the event ran into unexpected problem. 

Jimmy Wu's Fortune

Jul 14, 2017

James Fong Wu came to Baltimore from Canton, China, as a boy. Out of high school he found wok in a Chinese restaurant and soon became a partner, and then, owner. The name of the restaurant was the New China Inn but because of Jimmy Wu's personal popularity it became "Jimmy Wu's." At his retirement dinner well-wishers recognized his many accomplishments--including one that surprised them. 

Gil tells us why you don't hear "Baltimore, Our Baltimore" ring out at Orioles games, or anywhere, really. 

Symphony Farewell

Jun 30, 2017
Shiva Shenoy

The Lyric Theater on the night of May 27, 1982 was historic. The Baltimore Symphony patrons were there to say goodbye—the Symphony’s concert this night was scheduled to be its last in the Lyric. Succeeding concerts would be at the newly opened Meyerhoff. But the goodbye proved to be far more poignant than any had expected…

On the Saturday night of July 7, 1937, crowds are making their way along the Light Street below Pratt to Pier 5, there to board the moonlight excursion boat, the Bay Belle. The boat would go down as far as Fort McHenry and then turn around and come back to Pier 5, an hour or so later.

But on its way past the Hull street wharf in Locust Point the boat would pass a gang of six or seven-year-old boys frolicking on the pier, watching the Bay Belle slip by. They had their own way of greeting the passengers on the boat, and this is the story of that special way.

This episode aired in July 2015. 

It’s easy and comfortable ride for Baltimoreans to get from Highlandtown on the east side of the harbor to Locust Point on the west. But up through the late 1940s ferry boats carried hundreds daily, from one side of the harbor to the other. And during WWII shipyard workers aboard created the first, last, and oldest establishment floating crap game in Baltimore. 

William Warby/flickr

Out on Dulaney Valley Road at Dance Mill Road, a yellow school bus turns into a narrow road. In minutes, the school children-- as thousands did before and after —disembark. They have come this day in 1955 to Cloverland Farms—to see cows milked! But in 1981 the milking barn closed---leaving subsequent generations of children believing, this story goes, that maybe chocolate milk comes from brown cows.


Jun 2, 2017

On July 7, 2007, Baltimoreans whose habit it was to look up nine stories to the top of the Bromo Seltzer tower to check the time on one of its four clocks --  facing east,  west, north, south—were bewildered. The clocks were out of sync, one with the other, and showing different times. The story--when Baltimoreans didn’t know the time of day!


May 26, 2017

On the afternoon of December 18, 1999, watched anxiously in auctioneering house in Timonium, as the auctioneer rattled off the artifacts for sale from the once and famous and now defunct Haussner's restaurant - weeks earlier a reigning queen at Eastern Avenue and Conkling streets. In the end the memories of thousands of lunches and dinners and of millions of dollars of artwork and 73 years of Baltimore times winds up in a ball of twine - on display in an antique shop on Fells Point.

​This episode originally aired March 2016.

Women Jockeys

May 19, 2017
Karen Hosler/flickr

On the afternoon of May 18, 2013 at the Preakness at Pimlico, a horse named Mylute came in third. She was ridden by Rosie Nepravnik—the only female jockey in this race. How a woman jockey got be right in there with all the male jockeys, in what was historically, an all-male society, is a Baltimore story. 


May 12, 2017
Paul Kurlak/flickr

In October of 1955, Reuter’s Moscow newswire was crackling: A painter of genius had just been discovered in America. The artist-subject, a Baltimorean, had been soaring to fame and recognition world-wide; for the originality of her paintings. When the word came out revealing at long last who she was, this same admiring audience was stunned. Who was she?

Birds, Sox, Hex

May 5, 2017
Ian S/flickr

On a day in late September, 1975, two men sat in the cockpit of small plane about to take off from BWI Airport for a four day trip to Nairobi in Africa and back.  They were off on a strange and historic mission: to get a witch doctor to put a hex on the Boston Red Sox. What is this weird story all about? 

In 1938, Baltimoreans crowded Dundalk ave. and welcomed the American hero and aviator, Douglas "Wrong Way" Corrigan. Baltimore Mayor, Howard W. Jackson, staged the event to promote the city and, in particular, Baltimore's hot steamed crabs.

Eli Hanover

Apr 21, 2017
J Dimas/flickr

Eli Hanover was a grizzled, ex-boxer who ran a gym over the Jewel Box Night Club down on the old and now infamous Block in East Baltimore. He had a dream: to train the boxers who would make Baltimore America’s center for boxing. Fighttown Baltimore, he called the dream. But it never happened. The dream died with the dreamer. 


In the 1950,s in the days when there were two Baltimore’s—one white and the other Black, there were two Easter Parades. For the white community, Charles Street; for the African American, Pennsylvania Avenue.. The high fashions for the high occasion came almost exclusively from the Charm Center fashion store; and Avenue Easter Parade strollers agreed; you couldn’t have the parade without the store.

Easter Parade on Charles Street

Apr 7, 2017

Up until the late 1950s there was, every year going back nobody really knows how far, an Easter Parade on Charles Street. It started at the Washington Monument, and ended on 33rd Street, and 1959 turned out to be the last year for it. The story of the decline and fall.

Organ Grinders

Mar 31, 2017
Maryland Historical Society

Up through the 1940s Baltimoreans knew it was spring when they saw the organ grinders and their monkeys appear suddenly on the street corners of downtown. One such organ grinder was Luciano Ibolito, and his monkey’s name was Julia. And this is the story of how together they would usher spring in Baltimore.

Joe Howard

Mar 24, 2017

On December 2, 1968, in the Baltimore City Courthouse, Joseph Howard, the very first African American ever to be elected to a 15-year-term as a judge serving on the Supreme Bench of Baltimore, was being sworn in. But before the afternoon was over, the newly appointed judge would have an experience that as a Judge he did not expect.

Creative Commons

The year is 1929. Baltimore is sharing in the good life of the Roaring Twenties, until October 29, when the stock market crashed and the lights went out. The day marked the beginning of a decade known as the Great Depression. Author Gil Sandler narrates a history he wrote of the Great Depression, as it was lived out in Baltimore.

They were years of sorrow for white and black, young and old, rich and poor. One out of four were out of a job and couldn’t find one.. Paychecks stopped, as did payments of rent and mortgages. Families were evicted from their homes. Money to buy groceries was scarce. Banks failed; some shut their doors forever, taking with them the life savings of depositors.

Though times were dark, people found ways to get through them. And survive them. 

Gil tells this history with small stories that made up the big story-- through to the end of the Depression era in the late 1930s.In the end, you will hear how the Great Depression of the 1930s has affected our lives profoundly—down to today.

The Moon Is Blue

Mar 17, 2017

On the afternoon of July 11, 1953, the Chairman of the Maryland Board of Movie Censors emerged from the viewing room, the fifth floor of the Equitable Building on Calvert Street, and made an announcement that shook the town: the Board would not allow the movie “The Moon Is Blue” to be shown. What happened next was historic.


Mar 10, 2017
Maryland Fisheries Service/DNR

Motorists driving north on Charles during March of 1989 were delighted to see, off to their right, high on the two story building at Biddle, a sign, “The Run Is On!” That sign appearing in late March every year was cheering: a favorite Baltimore dish was again available at Danny’s Restaurant—boneless shad and shad roe. But Danny’s is closed, there is no longer public notice that it’s shad season in Baltimore.


At precisely five minutes to 5:00 on December 31, 1959 at Walters’ Public Bath House No. 2 at 900 Washington Boulevard, a man was taking the very last shower in the very last public bath house in Baltimore. It was 5:00 exactly when he shut down his shower he shut down, too, the era of public baths in Baltimore.

Ethel Ennis,  the Baltimore vocalist with the buttery-soft voice, was born in Baltimore but enjoyed international renown performing in London and Paris and cities around the world—and received many tempting invites to live in any one of them. Yet she chose to come home to live and work in Baltimore. She explained, “You don’t have to move up by moving on. You can bloom where you were planted.” And so she did.

"Strawberry Time"

Feb 17, 2017
Ewan Traveler/flickr

Gil tells us about a time before WWII when strawberries were grown and picked by Baltimoreans.

Mechanic Life and Death

Feb 10, 2017

On the night of January 16, 1967, the sidewalk under the marquee of the Mechanic Theatre at Charles and Baltimore streets was the scene of bright lights and cameras flashing and celebrities working the crowd. The occasion was the Grand Opening of the Mechanic—which would close after three years, stay dark for two years and reopen nine years later in n 1976. It closed for the last time in 2004—after 37 years, As they say in show biz, not a bad run.