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.

On December 12, 1935, the great Sergei Rachmaninoff gave a performance at the Lyric. That same night, a young African American pianist named Ellis Lane Larkins gave his own show across town at Douglass High School. The next morning, The Baltimore Sun's music critic wrote that Rachmaninoff was not at his best. He should have been at Douglass High: no less than Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt was  there to hear Larkins.

The great flu that struck Baltimore was so deadly, contagious and debilitating that it pretty much shut down the city--schools, movies, department stories, even hospitals. But life went on for two determined and inventive young lovers who, each down with the flu and confined to their beds blocks apart, found a way to keep up their romance.

On Sunday afternoon, September 13, 1964, crowds of teenagers were circling the Civic Center, where the Beatles were set to play. They tried every ruse they knew to get through the gate without a ticket. One dressed herself in costume and told the guards she was the Beatles' personal maid and that they must let her in--the Beatles were expecting her. But the policeman in charge was no novice. 

In 1941, the Baltimore wholesale fish market on Market Place was hectic, noisy and wet. It was also filled with buyers of fish and crabs. The seasoning used for steaming those crabs was ho-hum - some would say boring - until a man named Gustav Brunn came along with the mystical combination of spices. Now known as Old Bay seafood seasoning, its formula is secret to this day.

On Sunday morning, February 7, 1904, the great Baltimore fire swept through downtown. It turned everything in its path to ashes. The only way to stop the fire's continuing destruction, firemen concluded, was to knock down whatever lay in the fire's path--thus giving it nothing to burn. The strategy put Thomas O'Neill's department store in line to be destroyed, but the Irishman had other plans.

On the night of January 6, 1965, the great Count Basie gave a performance at the Royal Theatre on Pennsylvania Avenue, then the most popular movie and stage show theater serving the African American community. The audience cheered and clapped and danced in the aisles and when the show was over, drifted out onto the street. They knew they had just heard the end of another of the Royal's big band stage shows. They also heard the end of an era.

In the 1960s, Baltimoreans were dancing the new Twist, caught up in the national craze. The wild and out-of-control dancing was, according to Chief Officer Horan of the Baltimore Fire Safety Divisions, creating safety hazards. He tried his best to get the mess straightened out. He failed - and some think only because he wasn't himself invited to twist with the dancers.

On the night of December 1, 1939, regulars of Baltimore's once-famous Rennert Hotel, then at Liberty and Saratoga streets, gathered at the bar to say goodbye to the old place. Among the group was H. L. Mencken. Though they had many fond memories of the Rennert, the farewell evening didn't work out quite the way the regulars had planned.

In the 1930s, so many kids were "hooking in" to the old Oriole Park at 29th and Greenmount that Orioles management decided to take firm action: they let the kids in free. With that face-saving gesture, they admitted defeat and started the "Knothole Gang."

Baltimoreans in 1936, walking about downtown, could sense that there was something different about the city.

By 1955, Keith's Theater on Lexington Street had been in decline for years. Management was looking into ways to close it. To their surprise, a lead act on their stage, Bill Haley and his Comets, did the job for them...in a way nobody could have suspected. 

In 1938, a 30-year old aviator landed his plane in Ireland. Upon deplaning, he said that he had been headed for California. He became a national hero and was feted in Baltimore - with surprising results.

To control traffic flow at one of the world's busiest intersections, Baltimore City used a horse named Bob and policeman named Bill. They were stationed at Pratt and Light streets as late as the 1970s. They kept traffic moving - in their own way!

In April, 1973, the Lord Baltimore Hotel staged a grand opening and served exotic dinner fare never before seen on the same table. The results were not exactly what the management had in mind.

  

Carl Pund, a young boy from West Baltimore, entered the Baltimore City yo-yo contest in 1964. The winner was to be awarded a trip to Disneyland. Carl won the championship, but he didn't win the trip.  A story of a winner's luck gone bad...

The sudden appearance of a dazzling new body of work by an unknown Baltimore artist caused an international stir in 1955. When the artist was discovered to be a chimpanzee, this same international art community was quite surprised--and not a little embarrassed.

There were so many mice in the old Richmond Market that the merchants, frustrated by the failure of all previous attempts to eradicate the pests, tried loosing cats throughout the market. But that scheme failed, too. The cats, it seemed, misunderstood the mission.

 The story of the song nobody knows: Baltimore City's "song" was written by a Sun paper reporter who wrote poetry on the side.

During a memorable week in 1933, President Roosevelt closed all the banks to prevent a bank run and to bring stability to a reeling Depression economy. Area cities and businesses could not meet their payrolls - except for Baltimore City, which in another day and time had all the money.   


The story of the young girl from the Baltimore City public schools who came very close to being America's champion speller in 1955.

An unknown artist living in a broken down house on a little-traveled street decided to paint the front of his house pastel blue. He stunned his neighbors, started a city-wide trend and changed the look of the city.

After a gifted, young African American singer from Baltimore landed the part of "Bess" in George Gershwin's opera "Porgy," the opera was renamed "Porgy and Bess." She was that good. Along the way, the history of American music changed, too.

During WWII, Baltimore's Penn Station was a busy, frenetic point of arrival and departure for thousands of servicemen and women.  The station had a lot going on within it - including perhaps what was the first wedding ever to be performed in a railroad station.  A lot of soldiers and sailors got to kiss the bride!  

Two ex-baseball players sitting in a duck blind on the Eastern Shore, see a flight of ducks take off and scatter upwards.  The moment proved inspirational, and brought into being "duckpin bowling".  It changed an industry and a national pastime. 

Gone With The Wind

May 2, 2014

Lexington Street, between Charles and Liberty streets was one of Baltimore's busiest, boasting a department store and three theaters.  One theater was The Century - where the Baltimore premiere of "Gone With The Wind" was shown.  It turned out that this busy and storied street with all its memories, would, like the era depicted in the movie, be a victim of time - and, be "gone with the wind...".    

The story of the very first radio station to broadcast in Baltimore is lost in the dustbin of Baltimore history - never to realize the full recognition it deserved.  That's because the father of the young builder of the station threw the station out - his son's most promising and historic creation!   

Abe Sherman's (unsightly, some thought) newsstand was located in the pocket park on Calvert Street at Lexington Street. City Hall leadership thought Abe's shack-of-a-newsstand didn't fit into the new Baltimore renaissance and started a war to have him and his shack removed.  But Abe fought back - and won. 

When President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died in 1945, his funeral train passed through Baltimore's Penn Station - but only a few people were allowed to stand trackside and bid final farewells.  Among the onlookers was Congressman Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr and 12-year-old Franklin Delano Roosevelt D'Alesandro.  

When Congressman Tommy D'Alesandro, Jr. married Nancy Lombardi, Little Italy - where they were both born and raised - became one vast, day long party of wining and dining.  A little too much of it caused Tommy and Nancy to change their honeymoon plans!  

In 1946, Hochschild Kohn's department store decided to install automated elevators - dismissing the operators, management thought, forever.  But when the automatic elevators were installed and the operators dismissed, the management was in for a very big surprise. 

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