Thursday, May 16, 2019

Fugitive Documents and Black Lives: Ernie Dimler’s Collection

Fugitive Documents and Black Lives: Ernie Dimler’s Collection

Ernie Dimler is a man on a mission. Ernie is a collector of glassware related to 19th and early 20th century industry in Maryland with an emphasis on drug companies, drugstores and apothecaries. He has the conscience of an Archivist and a Conservator who wants to display, and accurately interpret and care for his collection.

Ernie maintains a fascinating museum atop the Bromo Seltzer Tower in Baltimore where he displays his blue bottle collection and tells the history of the man who built the tower while curing Americans of the their headaches, a man who owned the Emerson Hotel where Woodrow Wilson stayed when he was nominated for President of the United States.

In the course of seeking out the documentation of the Emersons, and the bottle and related industries in Baltimore, Ernie ran across a trove of documents on Ebay that were from a large collection of Baltimore City records acquired by a well-known local collector, Whitey Mansberger, in the 1970s (40 bags for $50). Whitey’s life was well chronicled in the Sun and the Evening Sun by such well-known reporters as Earl Arnett, Douglas Birch, Jacques Kelly, Michael Olesker, Isaac Rehert, Fred Rasmussen, and Tracy Rozhon.[1] Sadly the City refused to purchase the documents back from Whitey and they were sold to collectors all over the country only to begin re-appearing on EBAY in recent months.

The Sun, October 24, 1976

What Ernie has acquired so far includes the details of the City’s contracts for repairing the city schools (white and ‘colored’), garbage and waste collection, details of contracts with the Water Board, and many letterheads and checks issued to individuals who had business with the city including providing goods and services to Bayview Hospital, all dating from the late 1860s to as late as 1901.

In the course of casting his net, Ernie has also captured some remarkable items relating to the city’s history including what is likely to prove a very rare and valuable letter from a Free Black living and working in Baltimore from at least 1840 until after 1850.

The letter is written by G[eorge] Osborn, Baltimore, to Bennett Osborn in Harford County telling him that there is no market for his ‘axeltrees’. An axeltree is made of wood or iron (the first iron axeltrees were patented in England in 1695) and are the principal axles that run between the wheels of a carriage or cart. While he could not sell the axletrees, Osborn did buy the saw Bennet wanted and billed him for it and its freight to Harford County. The details of George Osborn’s life are to be found in the census records for Baltimore City and the City Directories between 1840 and 1850. Presently it is not known what happened to him and his family after 1850, but ‘colored’ Osborns continue to appear in the City directory in the neighborhoods where George lived.

If the identification of the author of this letter is correct, it is a very rare item that documents the literacy and the entrepreneurship of a Free Black in Baltimore before the Civil War. While there are several very good secondary works by historians Bettye Gardner, Ralph Clayton, Hilary J. Moss, Christopher Phillips, Seth Rockman, Stephen Whitman, and more recently Martha S. Jones, concerning the community as a whole, little has been written about the lives of individuals and their families who formed the core of the Free Black population from carters, caterers, and domestic servants to night soil workers. Letters like this along with the in depth studies of neighborhoods from the family, tax, probate, land, and legal records provide the opportunity to not only know more, but to better understand the manifold contributions the Black community made to Baltimore’s story.

As to the recovery of the Mansberger collection, Ernie Dimler deserves high marks for his devotion to and investment in retrieving what the City allowed to be thrown away of its history. Buried in the details of those records are the interactions of named individuals who had business with the city, a history that is not only of interest to their descendants, but to those who wish to know about the services that the city provided from water to waste removal and school construction for both black and white in an increasingly segregated city following the Civil War.

[1] See: Earl Arnett, ‘Whitey’ Mansberger--A connoisseur of Historical Junk.” Baltimore Sun, November 15, 1969, “Whitey Mansberger Loves Good People.” Baltimore Sun, December 4, 1970, and “A refined collector of odds, ends will eventually find ginseng.” Baltimore Sun,, November 10, 1975, Douglas Birch, “Lease on life leads to vacation colony.”Evening Sun, August 9, 1984, Jacques Kelly, “Found 1874 check paid for City Hall plumbing.” Baltimore Sun, October 16, 2010, and Fred Rasmussen, “A proud connoisseur of historical junk.” Baltimore Sun, October 24, 2010.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Laurel Cemetery (1852-1952)

Resurrecting Laurel Cemetery, 1852-1952, 39.317453, -76.578094

Detail from Bromley Atlas of Baltimore City, 1896, plate 19, image courtesy of Johns Hopkins University

Laurel Cemetery was a non-denominational graveyard modeled on Victorian cemeteries that were designed to be bucolic parks. It was set on the side of a hill with steep inclines on either side, still visible today. Initially the economic, social and religious elite of Baltimore’s Pre-Civil War Free Black community was buried there, although after 1872, Mount Auburn Cemetery on the west side of the city provided competition..

Laurel cemetery, designed by a prominent local architect, was meant to be a place of perpetual care and so it was stated in the ‘deeds’ to each of the lots. Unfortunately the deeds had no legal standing and few of the lot holders were aware that the cemetery had been condemned.. Perpetual care was discarded with reckless abandon when the cemetery was taken for non payment of taxes and sold for a song ($100). With the permission of the legislature it was agreed that the graves and gravestones would be moved to a field in Carroll County owned by one of the new purchasers, while the site of Laurel Cemetery on Belair road was developed as a shopping plaza featuring a Two Guys store. Not all the graves were moved, and today the Carroll County site is a tangle of brush and broken stones where volunteers have documented 815 graves or gravestones..

An account of the loss of the graveyard and the recent archaeological efforts to document it appeared in the British newspaper The Daily Mail in March of 2018:

'Grim secret of a Baltimore mall parking lot:

How at least 5,000 forgotten bodies were left behind when an old cemetery was taped off overnight and bulldozed to make way for a new development

Opening in 1852, Laurel Cemetery served as the resting place for thousands of African-Americans as Baltimore's first non-sectarian graveyard. It was a popular burial ground for several decades, but it fell into disrepair. By the 1950s, residents dumped trash on overgrown property and wanted the cemetery removed because it had become an 'eyesore' . The property owners filed bankruptcy and it was sold off to developers who moved an estimated 300 bodies, despite relatives protesting. But experts say they left at least 5,000 bodies behind to be bulldozed and paved over to create a parking lot and shopping center. Archaeologist Ronald Castanzo found human remains on the property, including the top of a tombstone poking out from a grassy area that was not paved over.


PUBLISHED: 11:22 EST, 6 March 2018 | UPDATED: 13:28 EST, 6 March 2018''

Parts of the cemetery were sold off for a gas station in the 1920s after an unsuccessful court case to prevent the sale. There is currently a used car lot on the site of the main entrance and administration building. The coordinates 39.317453, -76.578094 lead to a current google map and view of the site.

In a posting on juliopkny (View posts) provides an undocumented overview of the story of Laurel Cemetery and points to the pioneering work of Ralph Clayton, who with Alma Moore, provided the first incomplete listing of burials and a well documented history of the death of Laurel Cemetery.


By juliopkny

On July 14, 1852 the Laurel Cemetery was incorporated and a charter was filed under the name of "The Laurel Cemetery of Baltimore" on land purchased on Belle Air Avenue (now Gay Street) from a wealthy Land Owner. The land had been used for years as a burial ground for servants of local merchants and land owners including Johns Hopkins. Laurel Cemetery became the first black non-sectarian cemetery for the exclusive use of Blacks.

During the Civil War the Federal Government was faced with the problem of where to bury Black union Veterans with honor. Portions of cemeteries were seized and converted to national cemeteries, in many cases without the consent of the owners. "Laurel Cemetery was no exception. More than 230 Black Civil War veterans were interred in the cemetery between September 1863 and February 1866."

In 1911, while widening Belle Air Road the City, without the permission of the Federal Government disinterred the remains of the Civil War Veterans from the Laurel Cemetery. The remains were re-interred at Loudon National Cemetery on Frederick Road.

Sometime around 1920 a road (Elmely Avenue) was constructed on the southern bounds of Laurel. Not long after the new tenants moved into their homes they began dumping their refuse over their fences into the cemetery. This along with the lack of proper care from the cemetery owners, led to the demise of one of the most beautiful cemeteries the Baltimore area had ever known. Efforts for a solution to Laurel's problems continued for the next four decades.

In a group of legal maneuvers conducted by city law officials and a group of real estate operators who had formed a corporation, to buy the cemetery for themselves. In 1958, aided with the help of legislation initiated by Marvin Mandel, leader of the city delegation to Annapolis, and later governor, the corporation acquired title to the cemetery and through a complex land acquisition purchased Laurel Cemetery for the sum of $100.00.

The corporation then purchased 4 1/2 acres of farmland on Hodges Road in Carroll County renaming it Laurel Cemetery, and supposedly re-interred 200 of the approximately 7,000 bodies believed to have been buried at Laurel Cemetery. Even as the bodies were being removed a funeral was taking place in the cemetery (1957). In 1962 a Two Guys Department Store and parking lot was constructed on the site. A year later the assessed value was $229,660 for the land and $426,000 for improvements. Today Laurel Cemetery is a tangled mass of woods surrounded by a development of expensive homes!

See also "Black Baltimore - - 1820 - 1870; By Ralph Clayton.

It is the goal of the BAAHGS-Agnes Kane Callum Chapter to resume Ralph Clayton and Alma Moore’s work on the burials at Laurel Cemetery, transcribing and compiling a roster of all burials at Laurel prior to its closure in 1952. The objective is to provide an on-line index of burials similar to that which is available for Mt. Auburn Cemetery. In addition, biographies will be written of those interred in Laurel to the extent that biographical information can be found. In that way the perpetual care that was promised but abandoned by 1952 will be provided virtually and those who were interred there not forgotten.

The magnitude of the task is considerable. Volunteers will have to work their way through about 860,000 images of death certificates on 264 reels of film (MSA CM1132 for 12/1874 through 12./1952). How many burials there were at Laurel remains to be seen, but the most active period will probably prove to be prior to 1920 for which there are 143 reels of death certificate images.

The story of the cemetery and its role in the Black Community is one that deserves such attention, from the graves that were robbed by the caretaker and sold to area medical schools for dissection, to the first race riot in Baltimore County the only victim of which was buried there, to the annual memorial services at the graves of Black Veterans of the Civil war, and to the dedication of monuments to religious leaders such at Bishop Payne at which Frederick Douglass spoke. The lives of those buried there matter and it is time they are resurrected from the oblivion to which a few greedy developers consigned them.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Policing Baltimore in 1862

Policing Baltimore During the Civil War: a Significant Find

Ed Papenfuse, Maryland State Archivist, retired

In 1860, when the Baltimore City Police department was taken over by the State of Maryland in the aftermath of election fraud, mob violence, and alleged corruption, every effort was made to record the daily activities of the officers on the beat and to account for not only their actions, but also any occurence that was thought to be disturbing the peace of the community.[1] A standard format for recording was devised and each police district station was given blank volumes in which the desk clerk recorded the required information. Overseeing the consequences of any alleged criminal activity was a magistrate assigned to the station who determined any fines and any further legal action such as referring the matter to a grand jury, incarceration, or sending adult vagrants and abandoned babies to the almshouse.

Fortunately for students of local history and crime generally most of the dockets kept by the desk clerk have survived for the late nineteenth, early 20th century and are available for research at the Maryland State Archives, but for the intervening years from 1860 until then, the records have not survived except in rare instances.[2]

Until just recently, only one ledger, that for the Eastern Police district for 1863 (encompassing Fell’s point) was known to exist.[3] Thanks to the concern of a public official who salvaged another from a flood of a storage room as it was about to be thrown into the dumpster, another one for the Middle Police District (1862) has surfaced, and was presented by his family to the Baltimore City Historical Society for preservation and public access.

Family members of the public official who salvaged the police docket (shown on the left) and participated in the Baltimore City Historical Society workshop celebrating its importance at the Baltimore City Archives on March 26, 2019. The Volume is now a part of the Baltimore Historical Society’s Collection at the Baltimore City Archives (BCA MS 32-2).

The newly discovered middle district police docket covers the period from the night of the 7th of May 1862 until the 27th of March 1863. The middle police district (also known as the Central Police District) encompassed the very center of the city at a time when it was occupied by Union troops and with a population that was divided in its sympathies in regard to the secession of the Southern states. It extended from the then northern boundary of the city (North Avenue) to the harbor.

Detail from an 1880 Charity map showing the Middle District Police District,

courtesy of the author’s collection. Note that the office on the map is the \

Charity office and not the police station

On March 26, 2019, the Baltimore City Historical Society sponsored a workshop on the significance of the contents of the Middle Police docket for 1862, and as a thank you to the family that preserved it from the dumpster. While there are many historically important topics that could be addressed using the docket including the crime rate, the administration of justice, and the functioning of the police at the most basic local level, the emphasis of the workshop was on what could be learned about the round the clock activities in the neighborhood as recorded by the police who worked two shifts, day and night. Led by the former State Archivist and authoritatively informed by Matt Crenson who has recently published an political history of Baltimore soon to appear in paperback, attention was drawn to a number of stories to be found in the volume including the capture of several runaway slaves (Maryland would continue to be slave state until the fall of 1864), the charges of drunk and disorderly conduct brought against literally hundreds of soldiers listed by name and unit, treasonous behavior by supporters of the South, and murder.[4]

Source of photograph:; source of original not known or noted.

For the time covered by the 1862 Police Docket, the Police Station was located at the South East Corner of Saratoga and Holiday Street. The station was known as the Central Police Station, while the District was called both the Middle (as on the docket) and the Central Police District. Detail from 1879 Sanborn Insurance Map of Baltimore, Peale Collection, Maryland Historical Society

A few examples of what can be learned about life in the neighborhoods of the Middle Police District from the perspective of the police include:

  1. enforcing City Ordinances and State Laws as the related to speeding on city streets, throwing snowballs, begging, and selling short weights of butter at the city market. John Cull, a boy, was charged with begging on the street and committed to the House of Refuge by Magistrate Hiss on January 26, 1862.
  2. coping with the abandoned, the poor and the indigent including the insane. Jenny Scharff was charged with insanity and committed to the Almshouse on the night of May 18, 1862. “At one o’clock [a.m. in the morning of August 28, 1862] as officer Joseph E. Hamilton was making his rounds he found a market basket with a white male child neatly dressed on the steps of 185 Aisquith Street and brought it to the station house and it was properly cared for until an opportunity afforded to send it to the almshouse.”
  3. enforcing gambling laws. On Saturday July 5, 1862, fifteen policemen raided the house of Samuel Root on Forrest Street, near Gay and arrested 17 men (including Root) who were playing Keno. All were also charged with being enemies of the U. S. Government and Samuel Root was held for a hearing by Magistrate Hiss.
  4. responding with the fire department to fire alarms. For example “Between 3 & 4 O’clock [on June 24, 1862] a bed was discovered on fire at no. 4 Bank Street which gave rise to the alarm from box no. 21. It was set on fire by 3 children being left in the house alone. The door had to be broken open to put the fire out. The parties occupying the house named Bragman.”
  5. arresting for disorderly conduct, wife abuse, drunkenness, and a wide range of illegal behavior. Drunken behavior was by far the the most frequent offense, but domestic quarrels were often recorded such as John Pattison, colored, abusing his wife. Magistrate Hiss dismissed the case.
  6. arresting spies, deserters, and for public displays of support for Jeff Davis and the Confederacy. By June of 1862 it was illegal to display a “Secession Flag” in public. Apparently that is what Mary A. Clendenen, a millner at 110 Lexington did. Judge Hiss permitted her release on $500 bail and a fine of $.50 on June 28th, 1862.
  7. capturing runaway slaves (Maryland was still a slave state until November 1864). On May 31, 1862, Isaac Brown, colored, was charged with being a runaway slave of Hamilton Stump who lived at the corner of Paca & Lombard street. He was held in the lockup for a hearing.
  8. arresting thieves and pickpockets. Sarah Murphy was charged with stealing two pair of stockings, the property of A. Levi, no. 59 Baltimore Street. After a hearing she was discharged by Magistrate Hiss, presumably after paying a fine.
  9. enforcing the city and state’s ‘black code’. On the night of the 18th of December, 1862, eleven people were arrested by six police officers and “charged with having a Ball without having a white man in charge, at the house of Benjamin Carson, colored, no. 103 Ensor Street. Committed each for the peace” by Magistrate Hiss and presumably fined.

Throughout the docket the principal presiding magistrate was Charles D. Hiss, who began his political/judicial career as a Know Nothing and ended it as a Democrat. Hiss had control over what to do with those who were brought before him. Most were dismissed with fines, but in the more serious cases, they were referred the Grand Jury and to the Courts for further action. It was the fines and the money found on prisoners brought before him that got Hiss into trouble. On the first of June 1863, Silas Wright, a negro, was arrested and brought before Magistrate Hiss, accused of stealing “certain bank notes and promissory notes,” Magistrate Hiss dismissed the charge and set Wright free, but not before he had the contents of Wright’s pockets delivered to him, which he in turn decided to keep for himself. The individual who claimed the bank and promissory notes attempted without success to get the money back, but Hiss refused, and was criminally charged with stealing them, a decision that was upheld by the Court of Appeals.[5] Without the subsequent volume it is not possible to determine for certain if Hiss continued in his post despite his misdemeanor conviction. According to the City Directories he remains in Baltimore until his death which may have been about the time of the 1904 Baltimore fire, although no record his decease could be found. His subsequent career was as a landlord of bawdy houses and ‘collector’. His last known address (1900 Baltimore City Directory) was at 1144 E. Lombard Street which was in the path of the 1904 Baltimore fire.

The docket is a rich source of neighborhood history as well as a significant source for the study of crime and criminal behavior in Baltimore City. It is to be hoped that it and the other sources for the police and criminal history of the city will be placed on line by the Baltimore City Archives and the Maryland State Archives for virtual access by researchers which will greatly facilitate our ability to research and write about the city’s colorful past.

[1] CRENSON, MATTHEW A. BALTIMORE: A Political History. [S.l.]: JOHNS HOPKINS UNIV PRESS, 2019, 230-231.

[2] The Maryland State Archives holds the following police dockets. They are itemized in the Guide to Government Records by their series designation. For the Middle District see MSA C2109.

JAIL (City Criminal Docket, Index) C2060, 1855-1899

JAIL (City Criminal Docket) C2057, 1832-1899

JUSTICE OF THE PEACE (Criminal Docket) C211, 1821-1852

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Central District) C2117, 1885-1960

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Central District) T2296, 1893-1960

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Consolidated) C3065, 1873-1955

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Consolidated) T2212, 1873-1916

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Eastern District) C2111, 1863-1959

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Eastern District) T2271, 1863-1959

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Middle District) C2109, 1870-1884

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Middle District) T2297, 1870-1884

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Miscellaneous) C3075, 1902-1956

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Northeastern District) C2110, 1876-1878, 1900-1952, 1956-1959

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Northeastern District) T2264, 1900-1960

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Northern District) T4883, 1900-1961

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Northwestern District) C2112, 1876-1959

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Northwestern District) CM1260, 1881-1900

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Northwestern District) T2277, 1876-1959

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Southeastern District) C2115, 1959-1961

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Southeastern District) T2280, 1959-1961

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Southern District) C2113, 1867-1960

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Southern District) T2278, 1867-1960

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Southwestern District) T4880, 1901-1959

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Western District) C2114, 1959-1961

POLICE DEPARTMENT (Criminal Docket, Western District) T2279, 1959-1961

[3] See Maryland State Archives C2111 for the earliest Eastern District Docket which encompassed Fells Point. It can be viewed online only at the Maryland State Archives in Annapolis.


[5]Charles D. Hiss vs. State of Maryland, Maryland Reports (1868) 34, pp. 556-562.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Reflections on the Early Records of the Baltimore City Police Department and the Future of this Blog

Often it is images that trigger our interest in the people and places of Baltimore. The historical images on such Facebook sites as Baltimore History- Baltimore City Historical Society and Baltimore Old Photos are of good examples. The stories behind those photographs deserve a permanent platform for fuller explanation and access, especially for those who would like to move beyond the initial excitement of discovery and memory that historical images inspire.

Photograph of Carnegie Hall at Morgan College (now Morgan State University) by Jackson Davis, 1921 November 3. Courtesy University of Virginia, 330943.

Some who post on the Facebook pages, such as Eli Pousson, do provide further commentary through websites from which the images are drawn. For example this photograph of Carnegie Hall, Morgan College on the Baltimore History- Baltimore City Historical Society Facebook page leads to an in depth study of civil rights in the city on a Baltimore Heritage web site.

Similar treatment should be given an album entry in Baltimore Old Photos for November 1, 2015, focusing attention on the police, inhabitants, and the neighborhoods encompassed by the Northeast district.

The outlines of the Northeastern Police district

are shown in a detail from this 1880 map (editor’s collection).

The original police station for the Northeastern Police district is now owned by Johns Hopkins University, and is today the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics at 1809 Ashland Avenue.

Hopkins Berman Institute Of Bioethics

the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics at 1809 Ashland Avenue

The early police dockets for the Northeastern district which contain a running narrative of neighborhood events that are not all criminal, are available at the Maryland State Archives:



(Criminal Docket, Northeastern District)

1876-1878, 1900-1952, 1956-1959


Series Description

This series of Criminal Dockets, Northeastern District was maintained and compiled in whole or in part while the Baltimore City Police Department was a state agency. For a general introduction to the history of the Baltimore City Police Department, see Also, for additional information, see the following privately maintained website:*/

In preparing this posting of Remembering Baltimore, I came upon another blog of Baltimore history that is no longer active, and may eventually disappear from the airways like many other blogs and websites. The domain name,, like that of Yahoo’s GeoCities, is already owned by some entity offshore, and is no longer linked to David Mantione’s[2]

As a service to my readers, this posting of Remembering Baltimore is devoted to a review of what was published in In addition, two posts relating to the history of the police in Baltimore are reprinted here as complements to a new article on Detective Tom Gorman, one of the first police detectives appointed to the newly reorganized Baltimore Police force (1858) whose duties took him all over the city, including the Northeastern District.

In an earlier version of this blog I was overly optimistic with regard to when some articles were scheduled to appear, and even doubted at times that the blog would last more than a year (it didn't). I have concluded, however, that as long as there continues to be an interest in the approach to the history of Baltimore City as reflected here, I will continue to publish the topics previously announced.

For example the Now and Then column, will return in a future issue with an essay on the Johns Hopkins Colored Asylum on West 31st Street, its ‘inmates’ (a term used by the U.S. Census Bureau), and its neighbors across the street.

Recently travel in New Zealand and Hawaii has also brought to my attention the neglected stories of three wartime connections to Baltimore,

  • a mother from New Zealand, working as a maid in Baltimore whose son died in the Dardanelles during the First World War,
  • a baker’s assistant, born and raised on Lombard street, who took some of the most important photographs in the history of the Battleship Missouri and whose parish has disappeared without a trace, save a once impressive Roman Catholic church,
  • a New Zealand born graduate of City College who died in Vietnam, and whose name is carved into two walls of remembrance, one in Auckland and the other in Washington, D. C.

Also I will follow through on Is There a Doctor in the House, a story about an MD/inventor/lyricist, Dr. David Newton Emanuel Campbell who lived and had his offices on North Carey and McCulloh streets. In the meantime, the best site to begin any study of Doctors who practiced, or were educated in Baltimore prior to 1920 is Medicine in Maryland, a website created and maintained by Nancy Bramucci Sheads.

I encourage readers to submit essays of their own to, and to communicate with me by the messaging system you will find to the right just below the masthead on this blog.

If you have a story to share about neighbors and their neighborhoods, or any other short narrative (500-700 words) related to the history of the city, send it to Contributions are welcome, as are suggestions for future issues of the Remembering Baltimore. Note that if you include graphics with your submittals, be sure to cite sources. Note also that if you place your graphics within the text of your essay using Word or a generic word processing program such as that provided by Google Drive, it will make it much easier to publish in this newsletter/blog.

Until next time …

Ed Papenfuse

Editor, and former State Archivist of Maryland

From The Charm City History Blog:

As a service to the readers of Remembering Baltimore a synopsis of the table of contents of is provided here along with a reprinting of two posts related to the history of the Baltimore Police Department. The essay titles are hyperlinked to the original entries.

"A Little Treasure Chest from Baltimore's Attic"

Table of Contents:

The Cost of Breaking the Law in Baltimore -

125 to 200 Years Ago

By David Mantione

Baltimore City Hall (c1900)

Detroit Publishing Company


One would be surprised as to what you might get arrested for in violation of Baltimore City Ordinances between 125 and 200 years ago in Baltimore City. Public law in early Baltimore City was written and enacted in response to the pressing issues of the day (health, safety, wrongs against individuals and public property) as was the case in many developing cities within the United States and around the world. Current Baltimore City laws and ordinances have citations deriving from City Code as far back as 1879.

What follows is a collection of offenses from the period of 1801 to the 1870s, along with associated fines for violating the ordinance or code. It has been determined from actual Baltimore City Ordinance of the period or from court judgments and/or arrests as noted in Baltimore Sun legal articles. So as to impress upon today's reader the magnitude of the fine, each of the fines for offense are indicated by value in today's U.S. dollar.

1801 (as noted in Ordinances of the Corporation of the City of Baltimore)

  • Driving a carriage, caravan, wagon, sleigh, cart, etc in the middle (as opposed to the right side) of the street - FINE, $14
  • Cock fighting of any kind within the City Limits - FINE, $271
  • Gun or pistol which is willfully and needlessly shot or discharged within the City - FINE, $68
  • Bringing damaged coffee, hides or other damaged or infected articles into the city limits, by land or water - FINE, $4,070
  • Operating the performances or exhibitions without a license (See below, for license cost): - FINE, $13,565

Licenses were required for the following: Circus or theatrical exhibition - $109 / performance; Rope or wire dancing, or puppet shows - $136 / week; Musical parties for gain - $68 / week; All other public exhibitions - $27 / week

1840s (as noted from Baltimore Sun Public Notice, Court Judgments)

  • Washing salt sacks in a tub placed under a pump in public - FINED, $37 plus costs
  • Throwing rubbish into the street and permitting it to remain there - FINED, $22 plus costs
  • Permitting wood to remain upon a wharf longer than 2 days - FINED, $5.50 daily / foot of ground
  • purchase or sale of wood without a license - FINED, $44 / each cord sold

1850s (as noted from Baltimore Sun, Public Notice of Court Judgments)

  • Throwing stones in public - FINED, $27
  • Running wagons without license numbers - FINED, $27-$50
  • Improper conduct in the presence of ladies - FINED, $121
  • Throwing a nuisance in the street - FINED, $27

1860s (as noted from Baltimore Sun, Public Notice of Court Judgments)

  • Allowing a ten-pin alley to be used after 11 o'clock at night - FINED, $252
  • Exposing unsound meats for sale - FINED, $504
  • Bathing in the Jones Falls - FINED, $17
  • Boys were arrested for jumping upon one of the Philadelphia Railroad cars while in motion - FINED, $17
  • Running against and breaking a city lamppost - FINED, $85
  • Throwing nauseous liquors on the street - FINED, $85
  • Immoderate driving in the street - FINED, $85 plus costs
  • Gambling on Sunday - FINED, $85 plus costs
  • Permitting gambling on premises - $510 plus costs
  • Carrying on a distilling business on McElderry's wharf without a license - SENTENCED TO PAY FINE OF $3,236 AND IMPRISONED UNTIL PAID. [Of interest: Within 6 months, the convicted, Thomas Carr, received a pardon from the President of the United States, which remitted the fine and he was immediately released]

1870s (as noted in Ordinances of the Corporation of the City of Baltimore or Baltimore Sun)

  • Killing or attempting to kill, or in any manner injure or molest sparrows, robins, wrens, or other small insectivorous birds in the city of Baltimore, to include their birdhouses - FINE, $85 per offense
  • Playing cards on Sunday - FINED, $24
  • Carrying a concealed razor on his person - FINED, $72

These are in interesting contrast to EXISTING ordinances within the City of Baltimore:

  • Tossing, throwing, flinging any object capable of being thrown or used as a projectile (excluding paper wrappers) on the playing field or arena, official or any member of the team at a sporting event - FINE, up to $1000 or imprisonment up to 12 months (misdemeanor)
  • Playing, singing, or rendering the "Star Spangled Banner" anywhere publicly in the City of Baltimore, except in its entirety in composition, separate from any other melody. Likewise, it cannot be played for dancing or as an exit march. - FINE, not more than $100 (misdemeanor)
  • Sell, give away or dispose of a "toy cartridge pistol" within the City Limits of Baltimore - FINE, $10.
  • To discharge or fire a "toy cartridge pistol" - FINE, $2.
  • Unauthorized by any person not of the Department of Public Works within the City Limits of Baltimore to remove recyclable materials from designated containers without approval from the owner or operator of the recycling operation - FINE, up to $500 (misdemeanor)

"Reddy the Bull" Predicted Baltimore Motorists' Disgust in Traffic Lights

By David Mantione

City Traffic, Early 1920s

Within years of the automobile being introduced to Baltimore City streets, the issue of traffic had become a major problem where both patrolmen and/or traffic signals were used to control movement at congested intersections. Besides cars and trucks, traffic included street cars (vehicles traveling on rails) and horse-drawn vehicles. While they all obeyed a general principle of staying to the right on two-way roads, beyond the confusion at busy intersections, it was becoming outright dangerous.

Baltimore City Policeman with

Semaphore, circa 1920


As was the case in many bustling cities of the day, at first, whistle blowing and arm waving patrolmen attempted to provide order to the chaos. As early as April 1915, the Baltimore City Police Department had traffic police officers operating 'newfangled' signals upon long poles (or semaphores) having narrow paddles which were painted red on two sides with a bold white "STOP" - they were first trial implemented at the corner of Park Heights and West Belvedere Avenues. Traffic policemen operating semaphores were widely used for a period of five years and often removed depending on the perception of their merit as opposed to the sole whistle and wave of patrolmen.

Gen. Charles D. Gaither

Baltimore City Police

Commissioner (1920-1937)

On June 1st, 1920, a man by the name of Brigadier General Charles D. Gaither, previously commander of the First Brigade, Maryland National Guard began his duties as the Governor-appointed first Baltimore City Police Commissioner. Called "The General," he took Baltimore City traffic seriously and would personally drive through downtown city streets observing the manner in which traffic was handled, especially during rush hour.

By July 1921, under his direction, the Police Department placed fourteen six feet high "lighthouses" on concrete bases which were intended to warn motorists of dangerous curves and bends at night. The flashing lights in the lighthouses were fueled by acetylene tanks (see photo, below and left) - red flashing indicated places where people had been killed, yellow for dangerous curves or bends where caution must be exercised, and green was for danger at intersections where slow, careful driving should be exercised to the right.

The earlier days of traffic lights and warnings resulted in disgruntlement by drivers and even beasts. Prior to placing the traffic lights on streets with protective bases, they were continually run over by motorists refusing to stop. On October 16, 1923, the Baltimore Sun reported that a certain Jersey bull by the name of Reddy had created a riot in the middle of the congested intersection of Bryant and Pennsylvania Avenues while being led to slaughter. A heard of 40 bulls were being driven down the avenue where automobiles stopped in obedience to a blinking red light, but not Reddy who saw it as a challenge and proceeded to charge it. In the charge, a truck struck and broke its leg before he could reach his "enemy." Unfortunately, agents of the SPCA needed to kill the Reddy earlier than his originally intended fate.

Acetylene Traffic Beacon

General Gaither refused to bring "automatic" electric traffic signals to Baltimore City until the Fall of 1925 since he felt that devices on the market prior to then were inefficient in regulating and safeguarding traffic, effectively still in experimental stages. On St. Patrick's Day of 1926, all semaphores at congested intersections between the north-south Gay and Greene streets and east-west Center and Pratt streets were replaced by automatic electric signals, interestingly controlled by one manned traffic tower - all changing at exactly the same time. The Baltimore Sun further reported that thoroughfares like Cathedral and St. Paul streets and Mount Royal, North and Pennsylvania avenues would be operated independently by a traffic tower on each thoroughfare controlling all signals on that street.

Native Baltimorean, Charles Adler, Jr. (1899-1980) and Sound-activated Traffic Light - Adler Invention

Automatic signals were a change for motorists as they were used to patrolmen hesitating changing a semaphore against an aggressive driver. In contrast, with automatic signals, drivers would know that the signal won't hesitate and that drivers in the opposing direction would move the instant they saw their green signal. Savings were envisioned from reduced manpower, yet for a period policemen were stationed at intersections until motorists and pedestrians were educated to the necessity of observing the signals. Initially, the colors used were RED for stop, WHITE for change, and GREEN for go.

While these traffic lights were "automatic" to motorists, they were still controlled by a patrolman located in a tower. True automatic traffic signals were actually invented by a gentleman by the name of Charles Adler, Jr. who was native to Baltimore. An avid inventor, he invented a sound-activated traffic light (see figure, above, right), pavement traffic light sensors, and a list of many other inventions. For all those motorists passing through Baltimore City streets, beware of camera activated ticket lights. Charge those traffic lights like Reddy the Bull and, while you won't meet his similar fate, you will be certain to receive a citation - you just won't have Charles Adler or General Gaither to blame for it. (Sources: Baltimore Sun Newspaper articles, and