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Baltimore Timeline


1904  -  Feb. 7, Sunday. Baltimore Great Fire. The fire burned for 30 hours,  destroyed 2,500 businesses and left 35,000 workers without jobs. A match or cigarette had been dropped in the Hurst Building. Soon the fire met combustible material and this 5-floor building was ablaze. A wind from the southwest blew embers as far north as Lexington Street. Later the wind rose to 30 mph. A train brought extra fire hoses from Washington which did not fit Baltimore hydrants. The fire spread south to Pratt Street, at the harbor; then turned east toward Charles St. Mayor McLane had an idea that dynamiting some buildings might create a firebreak.


 This strategy failed. Fire Crews came from as far as New York but were delayed by a derailment. By Monday morning the docks had burned along the harbor. Eventually a fire line was established along the Jones Falls. But the fire smoldered for weeks. Eighty-six blocks were in ruin. The financial loss was huge. Five firemen lost their lives.
1904 Mayor Robert M. McLane, Mayor of Baltimore, shoots himself
(or was shot) to death in his home at 29 W. Preston Street. The death officially was ruled a suicide. The mayor had seemed depressed about the fire's destruction of his  city.  Yet he had just returned with his wife from a pleasant lunch engagement.  Some believe that the mayor's wife shot her husband to death. The young mayor (born 1867)  was a newlywed at the time of his death. He had married Mary Van Bibber on May l4, 1904, two scant weeks before the fatal shot was fired. The shooting occurred May 30, 1904.  Mayor McLane is buried in Greenmount Cemetery.  An ongoing Baltimore mystery.

1910 Bromo Seltzer Tower - When the Bromo Seltzer Tower was erected at Lombard and Paca Streets in 1910, it was the tallest building in Baltimore! Atop the present tower sat a 51-foot blue lighted Bromo Seltzer bottle. The inventor of that nostrum, Isaac Emerson, had its factory at that location. The bottle was removed in 1936. The 4-faced clock was built by the Seth Thomas Clock Company.  Our hope is that one day all the 4 faces of the clock will show the same (and accurate) time.

1920 (April 22)  Lady Aster visits B'more, arriving at Mt.Royal Station to the welcome of hundreds, to attend a meeting of League of Women Voters. The Garretts were her hosts.

1939-Armistead Gardens was constructed for people coming to Baltimore to work in war industries. Additions were built in 1941. Many street names are names of airplane parts, e.g. Left Wing Drive.

1941 December 8 - Baltimore played a very active part in World War II, with its Glenn L. Martin plant in Middle River, Bethlehem Steel and the Fairfield shipyard. The first of the Liberty ships, the SS Patrick Henry, was constructed here. Camp Holabird trained soldiers who would be working on military vehicles. Two large businesses, Bendix and Black and Decker, employed men and women in the war effort. Wars are harbingers for great societal changes, and such was the case in Baltimore. Many women worked in defense-related industries. When the war ended,  some of these women wanted or needed to remain in the work force.

As a port city along the east coast, Baltimore was vulnerable. Baltimore practiced black outs and brown outs. Dark window shades had to be purchased. Suddenly margarine was taking the place of butter. People bought white chunks of margarine with a dot of red dye in the center, and worked the package with their hands until the dye was dispersed throughout, restoring of customary yellowish color. Small red and blue tokens had monetary value. In 1943 the government minted bluish zinc pennies.

1944 - July 4 - Old Orioles baseball park at Barclay and 29th Streets burned down.

Postwar - A time of change as Baltimore adjusts to postwar economy. Large numbers of African Americans migrated from the south in search of jobs and better living conditions.

1947 (October 27) The first television station appears in Baltimore, channel 2, WMAR. It was a chilly evening, but here and there across the city people were crowded around store windows displaying the new technology. TV was already in nearby areas. A month earlier, 3.9 million fans had watched the first telecast World Series, Yankees vs. Brooklyn Dodgers.  Naturally the Yanks won. On October 5, President Truman gave the first Presidential Address. Later, ch. l3, (WAAM) and ch. 11, (WNBC) came to the city. Some of the earliest shows were Original Amateur Hour, Howdy Doody and Meet the Press.


1953- African-Americans in Baltimore have sit-ins at downtown lunch counters to integrate them. At the Read's drugstore counter at Howard and Lexington, Black people were given their cola drinks in paper cups. Other customers got glasses. The May Company department store had a luncheonette on Howard Street which it tried to keep pristine white. A sit-in occurred at this luncheonette. The 1950's were the heyday of the large downtown department stores: The May Company, Hochschild's, Hutzlers, Brager-Gutman's, Stewart's. Lexington Street at Howard was the scene.

1954 - Major League Baseball comes to Baltimore; the old St. Louis Browns become the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles' record that first year was 54-100. Bob Turley was their fastballing ace pitcher. Don Larsen, who went on to fame with the Yankees in his World Series perfect game two years later, compiled a record of 3 wins, 21 loses for the O's in '54. Other players on the l954 roster: Clint Courtney, catcher; Eddie Waitkus, Bob Young, Billy Hunter, Vern Stephens, Cal Abrams, Chuck Deering. Jimmy Dykes was the manager.

1955- September. Schools integrate. Unlike the case in many of the Southern states, the integration itself was without violence. But afterward, nothing constructive happened. De facto segregation remained; white flight occurred;  Baltimore's schools struggled.

1963-"School Prayer" is removed.. Some years earlier, in Baltimore, Madalyn Murray (OHare), a social worker for the Baltimore City Dept. of Social Services, went out with a few friends for drinks. During the course of the evening, Madalyn, I'm told, came up with her course of action to "remove prayer" from schools. Madalyn, a divorcee, lived in a modest Northwood home at the time. She had two sons in the schools. She had two cats named Marx and Engel. The local court judge, J. Gilbert Pendergast, dismissed her original petition, but Madalyn and her lawyer Leonard Kerpelman ran the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court where they prevailed.

What did prayer mean to the public schools? I can only speak for my experience. I was a student in a Baltimore County high school the year of racial integration. One sad looking Black teenager appeared in my homeroom. Even though we had no classes in which this homeroom traveled as a group, the teacher, a Mrs. Bell--whom I do not remember ever being pleasant--told us to elect homeroom officers: president, vice-president, etc. etc. and chaplain! With no kind intentions in mind, the class immediately elected this unknown Black teenager to be chaplain. Mrs. Bell asked the boy to step into the hall and whirled on the class furiously, saying that if this was anyone's idea of a joke, they would pay for it. She demanded a new vote. Same result. The new student got up and attempted a bible reading. Because of discomfort or because of the pitiful school he might have come from, he could barely read. There was no more prayer in the homeroom that year!

1966 - George P. Mahoney campaigns for Governor on the motto "Your Home is Your Castle," which put in context of the times had anti-Black undertones. Mahoney lost the election. Republican Spiro Agnew is elected Governor, in one of his typical giant career leaps (from School Board to Baltimore County Executive to Governor of Maryland to Vice President of U.S. under Richard Nixon, to jail).

1967 - Gene Burns comes to talk radio in Baltimore, WCBM, replacing John Stupak. He was bright, knowledgeable, and talked sensibly on the issues of the day. However, Mr. Luskin, a prominent civic leader, offered Burns a (paid) trip to the Middle East. On his return, Burns seemed at least sympathetic with the position of the Palestinians, not the Israelis as Luskin likely expected. Burns soon disappears from the evening WCBM talk show. His replacement, Alan Christian, remained a Baltimore radio personality for years although IMHO he did not have the same sharpness of repartee that Stupak or Burns had. He was harder to heat up into a good argument.( Note: 2002 Burns is named one of the "25 Greatest Radio Talk Show Hosts of All Time" by a trade publication of the talk radio industry.

1968 - April 4. Riots erupted, first in Washington D.C. and a day later in Baltimore, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Shortly after the fires died out, Spiro Agnew, Governor, invited Black civic and religious leaders to a meeting. As usual Agnew put his foot in his mouth, criticizing militant Blacks as "circuit riding, Hanoi visiting, caterwauling, riot inciting, burn American down types of leaders." Large numbers of attendees walked out of the meeting.

Ongoing: 1960-2000's  Between the 40 years of 1960 -2000 the population of Baltimore City dropped from 900,000+ to  about 650,000. It seems to be holding steady at the latter figure. There was once much hope for an upward turn in the city.  Some "dollar houses" were made available along Sterling Street and in Otterbein for people who had about $30,000 -$40,000 more to restore them. There was a new group of urban homesteaders. Neighborhoods like "Ridgeley's Delight" sprung up. Federal Hill and Canton gentrified, for better or worse.

 Some nasty things hit the city. HIV came down from New York, basically in the needle drug-using population. Some children were born with HIV/AIDS. The devastation of crack cocaine swept up a number of solid citizens  along with  large numbers of people who were already poor and desperate. The teenage lieutenants of the crack cocaine turf wars were much more violent than their predecessors who ran the heroin market. By some estimates a huge percentage of young city males are serving either bail, jail or parole. Incarceration of women became much more common, so that many children were without their mothers. About 7.5 percent of houses in Baltimore's hardest-hit neighborhoods stand vacant.  Thus as we look at Harborplace, new baseball and football stadiums, and a huge surge to promote tourism, these other facts must be kept in mind.

1976- April. Charles Hopkins enters the City's temporary City Hall at 26 S. Calvert Street with a gun, killing City Councilman Dominic Leone Sr. and wounding several others. Found not guilty by reason of insanity, he spent the next 30 years in mental hospitals. Margaret Mudge, a volunteer for Mary Pat Clark, ducked under a desk when the shooting started. (Hopkins was said to be angry with the city for closing his restaurant).


1980  Harborplace opens. Baltimore seemed to be undergoing a renaissance with the opening of fancy restaurants and boutique shops in Harborplace. Indeed the place has attracted many persons, both from Baltimore and nearby venues. Downtown could again become a destination, as well as a serious tourist attraction.

1986 January - Jeffrey Levitt goes to prison for his role in the Old Court Savings and Loan Scandal. His wife Karol drew 15 weekends in jail for overspending allowance.



1986 (May) Pride of Baltimore, the 137-foot clipper ship, sinks; 4 crew drown.

1987 Clarence (Du) Burns is first Black mayor; Kurt Schmoke, lst elected Black.

1989- March 29. The Baltimore Colts leave town in the middle of the night, moved by team owner Robert Irsay to Indianapolis. The team and all of its records, memorabilia and equipment sneaked out of town while Baltimoreans slept. People remain furious to this day.


1995 - July 3. Death of Charlie Eckman, sports announcer and regular on radio sports shows. Charlie was flamboyant, loud, brash, with a bigger than life personality. The old Baltimore News-American said that he was as Baltimore as beer and crab cakes. Charlie was a man-about-town and could often be found on the once vibrant corner of Charles and 25th Streets.

2000-March 17 - Joseph Palcynski  initiates a 97-hour police standoff, holding hostages. While this item could be on the "haunting murders" part of this site, it seems more of an archetypal Baltimore event. Technically the "action" was in the Bowley's Quarters neighborhood, east of the city line. Palzynski, an unemployed electrician, had a long history of domestic violence and prison. In 1992 he had generated a l6-hour police standoff in Idaho, so the Baltimore County police knew that ferreting out Palzynski  from the house where he was holed up would be no easy chore. He now had even less reason to give himself up since he had proceeded to kill 4 people within the month. (Their "crime" was harboring his estranged girlfriend).

During the incredible standoff, police had moved dozens of neighbors to a shelter. People were forbidden to enter the neighborhood. On March 21 two adult hostages doped Joe with Xanax and sneaked out a window, leaving behind their l2-year-old son. The media talked of little else. Finally the police charged in. Joe took 27 rounds and died at once. The underdog mentality of some people began to show as they questioned the police action. Other ramifications followed. A 48-year-old woman who had purchased Joe's weapons was packed off the prison and was also socked with a civil lawsuit from relatives of the murder victims.  The hostages who escaped filed a lawsuit against the police, claiming that they had been unprotected beforehand. This pair were ostracized for leaving behind the l2-year-old son. The boy did emerge physically unscathed.

Circa 2000, 2001 The Implosions of the high-rise "projects." Hollander Ridge, a public housing unit consisting of a 22-story high rise for seniors and a large number of town house units, was controversial even during the early 1970's planning phase. First: The city stuck its poor as far away from the center as it possibly could, a no-man's land at the far eastern border off I-95, and accessible by one specially directed bus line. Second: The middle class community of Rosedale wanted nothing to do with this "neighbor," even wanting a gated barrier. By August 2000 the crime-ridden project, where the elderly were said to be fearful of leaving their unit, was ripe for demolition. 

      Hollander Ridge Goes Down

One might be wondering about now, what goes on in the heads of city planners, and whether such extensive construction as Hollander Ridge should not have a longer lifetime than under 30 years. Many other high rise public housing projects were imploded around this time: Flag House, 3 buildings of 11 floors each, Feb. 2001;  Broadway Homes, 22 floors, August 2000.  Murphy Homes also got its 200 pounds of dynamite. This writer could not begin to address the complexities of how, at one time, it seemed "good" to stick people into these kinds of "projects;"  the units'  almost certain transitions into warrens of drugs and crime, and no way for anyone to protect the large majority of the residents who are law-abiding. Maybe the idea never was "good." (L. Old Nurses' Residence of the once City Hospitals, also a victim of implosion).

It seems worth comment that the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health noted on January 31, 2001, that serious health hazards could befall anyone who breathed in the particles which were the products of these implosions. Jan. 31 falls before Sept. 11, 2001).

2004 June 17  Steven Harold Oken was executed by lethal injection for a killing rampage in 1987 which was seemingly triggered by a domestic situation with his wife.  At 2 days old, Oken was adopted by a respected Jewish family, owners of a pharmacy on Broadway in E. Baltimore. (There was actually a time when many small independent corner drugstores graced the streets of Baltimore). Oken's adoptive mother gave birth to 2 children after she adopted him. As a teenager, he reportedly was quite troubled by not knowing who his birth parents were.

2001 April 21 Memorial Stadium 33rd Street, demolished.

2005- March. Death of Chuck Thompson, famed Orioles' announcer, age 83.

September 2006 -  William Donald Schaeffer, octogenarian,  loses Democratic primary. Schaeffer had become Mayor of Baltimore in 1971, later Governor of Maryland, finally State Comptroller. Schaeffer, capable and choleric,  was beloved by many, especially those who never had to sit in a meeting with him.  He grew embarrassingly politically incorrect. He once turned his wrath on a fast food worker who spoke English as a second language.  When the powerful bully the powerless, they lose the respect of this writer. I'd better say no more because I don't want the man at my front door.

2007 - August 21. In baseball, not football!! -The Texas Rangers rout the Baltimore Orioles 30-3, becoming the first baseball team in 110 years to score 30 runs in a game.
2007 - Sheila Dixon becomes the first Black woman to be elected Mayor of Baltimore.

January 2010 Two Actual Deaths and One Political Death
        RIP - A. Robert  Kaufman, political activist. (Actual death on Christmas Day 2009). Well-known socialist, general provocateur, pain in the neck and oft time failed candidate for political office, champion of the downtrodden. Felled from the aftermath of a mugging, two years earlier, by a member of the "underclass" such as Kaufman spent his life fighting for.
        RIP -John Gach, bookseller, who with his father hearkened back to an older Baltimore book world (the dusty shop, cats sleeping in the stacks, knockdown prices for quality used books, and staff engrossed in arcane conversation)
       Jan. 6 -Mayor Sheila Dixon, convicted on one count of theft (misuse of gift cards) resigns as mayor..