West Baltimore Street Stories

For the first assignment of the semester we all took a few pieces of the 1500 block of West Baltimore street to research… and find a place story. I had 1535-1538. The address that led to my place story was 1536 West Baltimore street where the Knoop brothers started their venture in the United States around 1870… the trail of this place story runs cold in the 1940s. The next step in my research will be to find ways to update this narrative and connect it more to the Baltimore we know today.

PLACE STORY: 1536 West Baltimore street

The Knoop brothers were three melancholy Germans who kept a grocery-store at the northeast corner of Baltimore and Gilmor streets, opposite Thiernau’s. It was a dirty place, and we never patronized it, but my brother Charlie and I often lifted apples, sweet potatoes, turnips, etc., from the baskets which stood outside. The Knoops made money, invested it in the coal business, and died rich. In my boyhood only one of them was married. When he died his widow married one of his brothers. –H.L. Menken, Happy Days, 1880-1892

In the 1880s one-quarter of the residents of Baltimore city had “recent German roots.” So it was unremarkable that the Knoop brothers arrive in the 1860s as part of the German migration to the city. The Knoop brothers first owned a farm where cows often strayed and the eldest brother Johann Henry (John H.) Knoop would put advertisements for a reward for their return. By the 1880s brothers John and Frederick, the one Knoop brother who eventually returned to live in German, had built a “handsome store and dwelling” three stories and made of pressed brick at the northeast corner of Gilmor and Baltimore Streets. The Baltimore Sun reported in 1881 that these two stores were among six along West Baltimore that left the area “considerably improved.”
The oldest brother John was an important businessman in West Baltimore as shown by his public protest with other local businessmen in 1889 “against the proposed abandonment of the Mt. Clare Shops for the construction of Engines and Cars” and later in 1901 in testifying along with many local women against saloon opening on the 800 block of West Baltimore street. The most important role John Knoop played in the local business community of West Baltimore street was his role in founding and serving at the president of the The Merchants and Mechanics’ Perpetual Building Association of West Baltimore in 1893.
When John H. Knoop died in 1902 he left most of his estate and West Baltimore businesses to his younger brother George C (Gevert Claus) Knoop. These included the Firm of Knoop Bros., the coal and wood business conducted under the name of John H. Knoop & Co. at 6 North Gilmor street, the interests in the business of Knoop Hardware Company, 1536 West Baltimore street, shares in the Mechanic’s Permanent Building Association, interests in properties 1512, 1514, 1536 and 1538 West Baltimore street and 1517 and 1506 to 1538 Montrose street, interest in the farm known as Dorsey Hill, on Edmondson avenue, a tract of land of 19 acres near Franklin road, and finally interest in real estate in Germany inherited by him from his parents. John Knoop was never married, however, he left $4,000 (a sizable sum in 1902) and numerous ground rents to Miss Anna Augusta Kontner, a German American woman who lived nearby. Allmer Knoop was born in 1846, just two years after his older brother John.
Allmer Knoop was a grocer who ran the brothers’ storefront where a young H.L. Menken “lifted apples, sweet potatoes, turnips” from the binds outside. Allmer died a year after his slightly older brother John in 1903 and was listed as a “well known grocer” in West Baltimore and “beloved husband” of Freda (spelled Freda, Frieda, and Frida in the Sun) Knoop. In his will he left his estate to his wife and some money to nieces and nephews in German, and “made no provision for his brother, Gevert Laus [George] Knoop, of Baltimore, as the latter has been sufficiently provided for by succeeding the testator in business in 1879 and by the will of the testator’s deceased brother Johann Henry Knoop.” Less than eighteen months later in 1904, Allmer’s younger brother (by seven years) George married his widow Frieda.
George Knoop focused on running the family businesses, especially the Knoop coal company. Racial segregation became a hotly contested topic for white neighborhoods in Baltimore in the early twentieth century, leading to the nation’s first racially restrictive zoning ordinance being passed in 1911. George and Frieda Knoop moved, along with many other German American in West Baltimore to the county. The Knoops moved to a cottages on a couple of acres off of Beechwood avenue north of Edmondson avenue in Catonsville. It was in this county cottage that George C. Knoop died suddenly in 1914 after returning from a day of meetings in the city where he seemed in good health. According to the Baltimore Sun, “When about to leave for home he became ill and his condition grew so much worse that on arriving at his home he had to be carried from the car.” The coroner listed heart disease as the cause of death. George Knoop was 61 years old at his death and he was survived only by Frederick Knoop of German, the last Knoop brother who had much earlier returned to his country of birth.
In 1940, Charles R. Knoop sold the three story store-front building at 1536 W Baltimore street and the adjacent building at the corner of Gilmor St. to an investor represented by the broker Parker W. Frames, thereby ending the story of the “three melancholy Germans” who helped to build up the bustling businesses along West Baltimore street in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century.



Stories from the City’s Southwest…


“I love the history… It’s a lot of stories here and a lot of history. I think that it would be beautiful if we can document all of this history or find ways of just going back and documenting the past 40 years.”

— Curtis Eaddy

Events and Marketing Manager, Southwest Partnership

A Journey Through Hollins is a free, public event hosted by UMBC students in the “Preserving Places, Making Spaces in Baltimore” public humanities course taught at the university’s downtown classroom in the Lion Brothers Building. Join us on Saturday, May 12 at 2pm for an open house & zine release + Story Map website debut. The first 50 people who attend receive a free public history zine based on the students’ research on the past, present, and future of the Hollins Market area.

At 3pm we depart for a walking tour of the neighborhood led by Curtis Eaddy of the Southwest Partnership. The tour will end at 1116 Hollins Street for an open mic at Hollins Place, a new restaurant that recently opened in the neighborhood. All are welcome.

During the spring semester, students read about and researched the history of the area. Each student researched a specific decade using local newspapers, such as the Baltimore Sun, Afro-American, and Jewish Times, and pieced together a narrative. Students went on a walking tour of the neighborhood led by Curtis Eaddy before choosing a historic building to research using newspapers, deeds, as well as archival research and photos. Students wrote profiles on past vendors or current entrepreneurs in the area for the Stories of Sowebo newspaper. The newspaper was part of artist Malaika Clements’ Neighbor Lights programming in Hollins Market on Friday, April 6. The Light City newspaper and the zine for our event were both designed by Markele Cullins (Visual Arts, UMBC).

Back (left): Curtis Eaddy (Southwest Partnership), Liz Ridinger (B.A. American Studies), Zachary Utz (M.A. Historical Studies – Public History), DeAndre Bright (B.A. American Studies, Education), Jonathan Portuesi (B.S. Biological Sciences & Entrepreneurship minor), Anthony Portuesi (B.S. Biological Sciences & Entrepreneurship minor), Jameka Wiggins (Chemical Engineering), Terece Young (B.A. American Studies & Sociology) Front (left): Sydney McCain (B.A. American Studies, Education), Elizabeth Piet (B.A. American Studies, Education), Lia Adams (M.A. Applied Sociology), Professor Nicole King (American Studies)

After Light City (and spring break), student research shifted to attending events and interviewing local residents and business owners for their public history zine on Hollins Market.

Join us on Saturday, May 12 for A Journey Through Hollins and see this wonderful southwest Baltimore neighborhood and what the students learned this semester… EVERYONE IS WELCOME.


When I first moved to Baltimore over a decade ago…
I remember playing ball on the sidewalk of Hollins street
I remember exploring the Market and getting a chicken box from Jack’s, still unaware that it was a chicken box
I remember driving late at night to Zella’s, one of the few pizzeria’s with really yummy pizza.
Now, eleven years later….
I realize that my early presence in the neighborhood was connected to the process of development
I realize that the Market is now threatened by the impending revitalization efforts of current developers
I realize that small businesses, like Zella’s, can resist urban renewal efforts and still succeed

— Lia Adams (UMBC graduate student, Sociology)

Learning from Lexington Zine Launch + Open Mic

On Saturday, December 7, 2017 Baltimore had its first snow of the winter season… and the Learning from Lexington students hosted their Zine Launch + Open Mic. We had 50 zines along with entertainment and food, including a delicious cake. We got all of our food and drinks from the Lexington Market to support the vendors. Our drinks, plates, napkins, etc. came from Herling’s Grocery Basket and were very affordable. The pizza came from Italian Stallion and the cake from Berger’s Bakery.

The open mic was hosted by by poet and MC Meccamorphisis. We gave out all of our 50 free public history zines to those attending the celebration in the Lexington Room at the Market. Below are some photos from the event. Photography by Kimberly Zerfas.

Thanks to Jessica Berman and Courtney Hobson of UMBC’s Dresher Center for the Humanities for hiring the photographer and to BreakingGround for funding the inaugural Baltimore Traces Fellows program where UMBC alumni returned to share their skills of audio recording, research, and interviewing with the current students.

For the spring 2018 semester, my AMST 422/682 Preserving Places and Making Space in Baltimore students are working on researching the historic Hollins Market neighborhood where UMBC’s downtown classroom at the Lion Brothers Building is located… more to come!

The Zine Has Hit the Streets

Volume 1 of the Learning from Lexington zine has hit the streets, folks.

How will the zine affect our “on the streets” interviews?

For a prime example of the “on the street” model of interviewing you can listen to the spring 2016 podcast Word On The Street produced by Shira Singelberg and Andy Holter… “Bring the Recs back!” “It all begins and ends with the people… it all begins and ends with us.” “There’s a lot of love here.”

Visual Arts major and graphic designer Markele Cullins did a solid job of pulling things together to feature the students research. The zine includes a selected timeline including some memorable past vendors (James and Eliza Herndon) and places (Tubbs Restaurant and Lounge) as well as how the Market has changed because of fire, development, and politics. The most useful aspect of the zine is a summary of the changes planned for Lexington Market.

Do you know about the changes planned for Lexington Market?

We have been taking the zine to the streets not only to get the word out about the potential changes… but also to listen to how people feel about those changes.

Last Wednesday’s class (Oct. 25) we took the zine to the Market to begin our field work. We had done a few interviews on the previous Monday but ran into some trouble with security about recording. Once we explained we had secured permission from Stacey Pack, we were good. So, when we saw Stacey in the Market we got some business cards, which we refer to as “get out of jail free” cards. One of the issues certain people have is with Market security. For example, how the Market “rules” do not allow people to sit down on the first floor of and people are rushed to finish their food. There’s a 30 minute time limit posted by the only seating area (located in the upper level of the arcade). Why doesn’t the market want people to sit, to linger, to enjoy and linger in the space? We have some ideas. But…

Our focus for the next few weeks will be talking to people “on the streets” as well as in offices… we are also interviewing Robert Thomas, Baltimore Public Market, Inc. executive director, this week. Markele is interviewing his grandfather about his memories of Lexington Market. To really explore an issue you have to talk to everyone possible… from the boards rooms to the streets.

If you want a zine or (even better) if you have a Lexington Market story to share, email us at baltimoretraces@gmail.com.

See y’all in the streets.

October 25 class “debrief” at Alewife

The ups and downs of public humanities projects… on “research” Monday

Mondays are my research days; however, as chair of my department and while working on a complex class project with my students, I must take a broad definition of “research.”

This morning began grand. I walked the ten minutes from my house to meet my students as they prepared for their first day of fieldwork. As Christina and I were waiting for the other students LM security approached and told us that we could not sit up here (we were on the second floor of the Arcade) if we have not purchased food, which seems a bit “problematic” within a “public” market space to me… and especially since we had not even been sitting there for five minutes before being approached. I politely told the security guard that we were waiting on more people who were joining us and I was about to go and purchase food and drinks. She was cool with that.

So, I ran down stairs and got some Konstant’s coffee (the best!) and four doughnuts from the Berger’s booth (AMAZING… and Berger’s is really busy in the morning). I saw Stacey Pack, the communication manager and friend to our class, with a film crew. She said that the Market was working on “telling their own story” in a short film. Wonderful! The more stories (past and present) we can tell about the Lexington Market at this moment of impending change the better. However, if we have “learned” anything about the history of the Lexington Market it is that it has always been changing with the city and that change has always been contentious. Change is hard.

Last weekend when I read many of the numerous news tidbits in the Sun on the LM in the 19th century, I noticed how some contemporary issues have existed for well over 100 years. Going back to at least the 1830s street harassment of “ladies” was an issue around the Market. Bustling city streets are a great amalgamation of our shared humanity. From 6:30am to closing at 6pm the Market and its environs are some of the most lively and beautiful places in all of downtown. Humanity is on display and it is glorious.

As I bolt back up the stairs with coffee and donuts, Adam and Liz have arrived. I make sure they have all they need and tell Christina that I put two batteries in the zoom recorder case since the power was a bit low. Adam remarks, “You know it takes four batteries, right?” No. I did not know that… because having student teachers (like Christina and Adam) take numerous Baltimore Traces courses and then return as fellows means that they know more about certain aspects of our project than I do. We all learn from one another. Making mistakes is often the best way to really learn something. Okay, four batteries… got it. Adam always has his recorder and a dozen batteries in his gear bag any way. We won’t even speak about what I did to the earphone cord Adam fixed for me last semester :O

With a delicious cup of Constant’s coffee in my hand, I walk home to get back to my “research.” After answering emails and putting out the little fires that always seem to flare up on a Monday morning right before advising season begins, I write Calvin (another Traces fellow) to get the files to make the final zine edits. Simple, right? Let’s just say it does not go well.

Something I can work on (other than navigating photoshop and the Adobe suite better) is delegating responsibilities to the students/fellows. I have to let the control of the final steps (always the most difficult) go sometimes and let the project really be the students’ project.

Well folks… that’s my “research day” when I am teaching a Baltimore Traces course. Remember my advice: Don’t work too hard!

Next week: Do they get zine 1 to press before Wednesday’s class? What are the next steps for fieldwork? And, will Professor King ever actually understand the Adobe suite? And why is everything always so complicated?

UPDATE… Markele Cullins is a brilliant designer and we got the first volume of the zine completed in time for Prof. King to make the 5:30pm shuttle home… YAY! Go Team.

Expanding Humanity: Seeing Traces

During our last class, I clarified that our main goal this semester is to “Learn from Lexington” as outsiders/students and present our research on what we have learned to the public at the end of the semester. We are exploring the history, culture, and stories of the market and need to be upfront and ethical in our work. We do not want to cause or solve problems, or even offer solutions or make interventions or changes. We want to explore, document, and learn and then share with the public.

In class we discussed the history and role of zines. We learned from Chole Arnold’s A Brief History of Zines in Mental Floss (November 19, 2016) that the first zines were science fiction fanzines from the 1930s, which speaks to the role of zines in sub/counter cultures in the U.S. The community of science fiction zine writers and readers even successfully fought to save the Star Trek television show from being cancelled in 1968. We also discovered, by following links and confirming with Lindsey Loeper in Special Collections, that UMBC holds an extensive archive of these early science fiction and fantasy zines. There is power in building community around zines as seen by their role in punk and riot grrl subcultures of the 1980s and 1990s. Jenna Wortham’s New York Times article from February 28, 2017 Why the Internet Didn’t Kill Zines explores that power in today’s oversaturated media culture. Zines also connect to the (tenuous) survival of print in a city like Baltimore where a digital divide (inequitable access to digital culture) still exists.

Shakar Mujukian (producer of a zine about queer and trans Armenians) told Wortham via email “just because technology can fully replace something doesn’t mean it should” and described zines as the “precursors to personal blogs” (which have been in decline over the past decade). Here’s an especially relevant section from Wortham’s article:

Devin N. Morris, who edits and publishes 3 Dot Zine, told me that he sees self-publishing as a political and radical act. He’s a young queer artist from Baltimore, and the zines he creates reflect that experience and create a historical narrative that otherwise would be ignored. For him, the act of creating a zine is more about defining his reality on his terms and legitimizing it than it is about the novelty of making indie media and distributing it. It was a sentiment I heard from almost every zine creator I spoke to. Morris, who recently hosted an indie-press fair at the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, said that zines have a way of encouraging people to have “inspiring interactions in real life.” He described a hunger to physically interact beyond simple likes or direct messages. Social apps weren’t made to inspire that desire; they were created so that there would be no need.

Wortham’s last line is especially relevant for the goals of the “Learning from Lexington” project: “The internet is especially adept at compressing humanity and making it easy to forget there are people behind tweets, posts and memes.” Indeed, urban redevelopment projects are also “especially adept at compressing humanity” and forgetting that there are actual people attached to even an old an imperfect building (like the LM). The “human connection” comes from taking a blank space built in 1952 and giving it a sense of place from years of interaction and use. The Baltimore Traces project is committed to documenting these traces left on the landscape and to critically engaging the past as a productive way to think about the future of a city. When we went down below the Market into the Tubbs night club and deeper down into the catacombs, we were in a sense going back in time by inhabiting a place long gone… but not forgotten.

Both the series of public history zines the students are working on and the podcast they will create from the voices of individuals who are kind enough to share their time and their stories with us will be a pause in the movement of these traces of the past through the act of cultural documentation. That is why students are reading Folklife & Fieldwork: An Introduction to Cultural Documentation (American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, shared by Michelle Stefano) for our next class.

The real goal of this course, and public humanities courses in general, is to expand humanity and to make sure we never forget the people behind the traces written on a place. While expanding humanity may seen lofty and huge… it is really only another way to say that we want to learn… and then share… some traces people left on a place. This semester that place is the Lexington Market. And the fact that the building will be torn down within the next three to five years, does not mean that it does not matter. There will still be many traces left behind. We hope to add to the collection…

Preserving Places, Baltimore Traces Reunion… with pizza and ghost signs

During week 4, I invited back students from previous public humanities courses to meet with the current fall 2017 cohort.

Current students and fellows presented their plans for a public history zine, podcast, and event to the “old heads” for feedback and advice.

Afterwards we all walked a couple of block to Zella’s Pizzeria to break bread. Thanks to our visiting UMBC alumni:

Michael Stone (AMST 680, spring 2016) Public History M.A. ’16

Andy Holter (AMST 680, spring 2016) Public History M.A. ’17

Courtney Hobson (Dresher Center & Public History M.A.)

James Berbert (AMST 356 & 422) American Studies B.A. ’17

Katie Hern (AMST 422 spring 2014 + “Preserving Places) American Studies B.A. ’14 +

Master in Social Work UMB ’17

…and Dr. Kate (Drabinski) my co-editor, previous co-teacher, and current shuttle buddy (she did not stay for pizza!?!)

On the way back to the car, students posed with a ghost sign overlaid with photography located by the Hollins Market.

There are dozens of ghost signs that populate the area around Lexington Market and the Howard Street corridor of the westside of downtown Baltimore… they are symbolic of how the past lingers and how you can see the evocative traces of human history written on the landscape if you really look closely.

Until next week… here’s the white board:

Whiteboard put together by Kate Drabinski, Natalia Panfile, and Nicole King in June 2017.

Learning from Lexington Tour

To really understand a place you have to experience it.

On Wednesday, September 13 the “Learning from Lexington” team met on the second floor of theLexington Market’s arcade and then had a tour from the Market manager Stacey Pack.

Stacey Pack shares the history of Lexington Market with the group as Baltimore Traces fellow Adam Droneburg records.

Pack took students into the Lexington Room where we will have our December “Learning from Lexington” event on Saturday, December 9 at 2pm. We will listen to a brief student produced podcast on the rich history of the Market with a focus on the issue of change and how the public, both patrons and vendors, feel about these changes. We are envisioning the event as a cultural documentation of the life of a place and as a way for the public to discuss the importance of the Market in their lives and how they envision change working for the public. Students are also working on a public history zine on the market’s past. Understanding the past is important to understanding the present and processing how places and communities move into the future.

Stacey took the group outside to show the old bell that was ceremoniously rung to start and close business each day. We crossed Paca Street and looked at the stall numbers on the sidewalk along Lexington Street as Stacey explained how long the market once stretched.

Students look down from the windows of the Lexington Room to the stall in the East Market.

The redevelpoment for a “new” Lexington Market (more on that later) include a plan to reopen Lexington Street, but as a pedestrian area rather than a street for car traffic. Currently Lexington Street ends at the Paca Street entrance to the East Market and begins again on the other side of the market building at the Eutaw Street entrance. It was highly controversial in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century when the market, originally a host of outside stalls where farmers and then produce sellers or butchers would sell their wares in covered stalls, was planned to be converted into an inside space with its own free standing building. As students have seen, while reading and compiling more research from the Baltimore Sun and Afro-American to add to Eli Poussson’s (Baltimore Heritage) Lexington Market: A Collection of Sources, change has long been a point of public contention regarding the Lexington Market. The vendors and some of the public fear change from the outside market into an inside market. Now the plan to tear down the current market building, which was built in 1952 with the arcade added in the 1980s, to open up space for a potential park and “farmer’s market” outside vending is in a way change for the future and a return to the historic outside stall model, abet one refashioned in the twenty-first century style of trendy “farmer’s markets” and “food markets.”

We can learn so much from Lexington Market about the city, urban space, and how power works in public spaces because it has changed with the times while maintaining its own distinct sense of place and identity directly connected to the life of a downtown… our city, Baltimore. The new changes are trying to make our market more like the Eastern Market in D.C. or Reading Market in Philly. These cities are both around the corner and completely distinct from Baltimore in many ways.

One of the highlights of the tour–one where we all had to sign release form before entering–was the catacombs. The catacombs are accessed by going through Tubbs, a restaurant and nightclub that operated under the market until … I believe Stacey said 1989 (and there was a violation for go-go dancing in 1988) but Baynard Woods, author of the longform profile of the market The Battles of Lexington for City Paper in April 2015 says he remember signs for events inside Tubbs dating to 2003. It seems like we should look more deeply into the history of Tubbs a strange ghost-like place of different times. The catacomb were “discovered” in 1951 when constructing a parking lot. The spaces below Tubbs are dark, cold, and have the old arch stonework of Baltimore basements. These spaces were used to cure meat and to bootleg whiskey… and there are stories that slaves were “stored” by their owners at the Lexington Market. That would make the history of the catacombs even more dark and nefarious. Stacey states that organizations have been interested in reviving the catacombs; however, with only one entrance, the space is not up to fire code.


We leave the dark and dank below ground space back into the daylight and walk across Paca street and into the light…

 Fellow interviews Stacey Pack… while ghost professor lurks in the background. I find this picture symbolic of the role of the professor in applied research courses that are civically-engaged in the communities of Baltimore… background.

More to come on our adventures and upcoming event soon.

Learning about Lexington: Whose Market? Why Change?

With so many functions, meanings, and users, many of them at odds, the market was a contested space and a microcosm of the city and its people: diverse and vibrant, growing and changing, and buffeted by the convulsive forces of slavery, capitalism, and democracy.

— Robert Gamble, “The City That Eats: Food and Power in Baltimore’s Early Public Markets”


Looking through the Baltimore Heritage list of articles on the Lexington Market (LM) published in the Baltimore Sun from 1878 until 1990 (over a century) shows how impending changes to the historic market has long caused controversy. As a society, we are apprehensive about change. And for good reason. Change produces discomfort and fear.

Stall owners fear for their livelihood. Customers fear a hike in prices or a shift in products they depend on or places they frequent with ease and familiarity. Politicians fear chaos… rats, trash, crime, and always an image problem. However, change is going to continue to happen… always, until humanity is destroyed. We must deal with that. What we should fight is change where we lose control, lose something valuable and irreplaceable, like a truly democratic public space that sustains the culture and the distinct identity of a city, or when the change is based in consolidating power or oppressing people.

For the second week of class, I hope we can begin to articulate the goals of our projects, which will change as we better understand what people are thinking on the ground and in the market and environs. While we are partnering with the Lexington Market and Baltimore Heritage, public humanities programming is really for the public. In our case, the amalgamation of people on the street surrounding the market. Who is this city-owned public market for if not the residents of this city? The city runs on taxpayer dollars, so the real owner of the market are the residents of Baltimore city.

For my contribution to our collective research endeavors for this week, I read articles on the LM from Baltimore’s Afro-American newspaper. I limited my search to articles (always losing something, like fascinating ads, etc. … 272 total hits) and sorted the 67 result from oldest to the most recent (1908-1985) because I like to read through history, and occasionally look at the page view in the pdf options for larger context of the historical period I am reading about.

In the early 20th century the articles mention the LM as a spot on Lexington Street between Eutaw and Pearl Strs. visit, shop, or been seen. A 1928 “Around Town” column describes a Saturday at the LM that could be today: “As many come to see old friends and strut on parade, as to fill empty baskets with the weekly pay envelope.” A brief 1913 article “Ladies are Now Out to Land Good Fish” jokes that the women of the Auxiliary Rod and Gun Club have tea rather than “likker” in their flasks while fishing, perhaps leading to the fact that no woman needs to stop by the LM to buy fish as fishermen “are said to do.”

The Afro presents a picture of the ways of everyday life for African Americans living in Baltimore during the early 20th century, from produce dealers to hucksters and to the “old-timers” shopping in the market as much for socializing as for food. There’s even a recurring column on a nameless “Old-Timer” O.T. as he shops and talks politics and gives no-nonsense advice. There are also columns like “Judge, Good Morning!” covering petty crime, which the bustling LM is host to from its inception to today. From stealing chickens, oranges, or a beating from a man to a woman who asked him to marry her, crime reports at the LM are common.

There’s also a host of article on African American entrepreneurs ranging from artisans and artists (the itinerant card writer and philosopher from South Carolina) to the hucksters (the liniment faker with rattlesnake oil) during the early 20th century. There’s also portraits of figure like Dr. James E. Herdon a produce stall owner who is also “one of the city’s most successful citizens. Herdon’s death is reported in the Afro in 1961 and he ran a produce stand in the market since 1903, which is 57 years–the same amount of time he was married to his wife Eliza Burwell. I want to know more about this man and his life. The James and Eliza Herdons of the past are the reason I am interested in social history… and the stories places hold. [Also, Earl Bernard Green “Papa Earl” who was a founder of the Arch Social Club, the second oldest social club for African Americans, who also operated a produce stall at the LM.]

There are accidents from a man cut by a meat cutting machine to someone slipping on a banana peal to fancy ladies who had their fur coat and dresses sliced as they walked through the stalls. Many people are jailed for begging or tragically frozen to death while trying to stay warm in the outdoor stalls during the great depression. And there’s always the characters, like the legless dancer who works in a butcher shop (the big time) in the market but aspires for fame and fortune based on his dancing abilities despite losing both his legs in the great blizzard of 1898 to frostbite. Humanity, in all its vast forms, is on display at the Lexington Market in addition to the produce, meats, and sweets.

Racial, ethnic, gender, and class conflicts abound like the great-grandmother who read the Afro diligently for over 45 years who told a reporter in 1936 that she “traced her dislike for Italians to an experience at the Lexington Market some years ago when a fruit dealer tried to stab a boy who was loitering near his stall.” An article reporting that Blumberg’s Department store opened in 1928 and caters especially to “race women” shows the segregated nature of downtown. However, the LM also blurred the lines of race in some ways. This challenge to the segregation and apartheid in Baltimore is illustrated by Acorn Manuel (aged 113 in 1984) who told a Afro reporter: “Everybody did their shopping there [LM]. That was downtown and black and white …anybody who could afford to had a stall.”

Yet the final article in the database on the LM shows the intensification of racial segregation during the 1980s when Baltimore was bleeding industry and manufacturing jobs and white and middle class African American residents migrated to the suburbs. Even the city’s football team, the Baltimore Colts, left in the cover of night in 1984. In a 1985 column by Elizabeth M. Oliver “The devil wears a white jumpsuit” the author criticizes the “nasty, sneaky ways” whites avoid civil rights legislation as put all in on maintaining white supremacy. The LM offers a prime example of such social evils in the fact that the “so-called World Famous Lexington Market has but one black merchant, a tiny one, among over 300. The market has an enormous black trade amounting to millions of dollars. Some years ago the AFRO helped a black merchant get started in there…” The man’s stall was vandalized not once but three times. Oliver writes: “Later we learned that there is a certain circle of merchants, vendors who have been in the market for over 100 years, Italians, Germans, Greeks, etc. who band together to keep out ‘invaders’ and those persons include black merchants.”

In these trouble times we should remember that economics cannot be detangles from racial injustice in this city. This was true when the Lexington Market was built over 200 years ago. It is true today. It will probably be true for the next generation, unless something seriously changes. That is the kind of change I can get behind.

Next week’s blog: Fun with Sanborn maps

Garden Gala – Sunday, May 18 @ 2640 Space

Garden Gala: Bringing the Green Back To Filbert Street

2640 Space, 2640 St. Paul Street, Baltimore, MD

May 18, 2014 from 4 – 9 pm


UMBC students are working with Jason Reed, the director of a non-profit community garden and educational space, to host a fundraiser for the Filbert Street Community Garden of Brooklyn-Curtis Bay on Sunday, May 18 from 4 to 9pm.  The event will be at 2640 Space in the Charles Village neighborhood of Baltimore (2640 St. Paul Street, Baltimore MD 21218).

The fundraiser includes food, music, history, art, silent auctions, raffles, and more to raise money to create the new garden manager position for this important Baltimore non-profit organization. Students in Professor Nicole King’s “Preserving Places” American Studies course and Professor Steve Bradley’s “Imaging Research Center Fellows” visual arts course worked together on planning this event as the culmination of their semester-long work with the garden.

The Filbert Street Community Garden is a conservation project, educational space, and food farm located in the Curtis Bay neighborhood of South Baltimore. In the past two years the garden has held 24 community workshops, logged 10,000 volunteer hours, provided 500 garden classes both during and after school, served over 600 local students, and produced and distributed over 3,000 pounds of fresh produce in the community. Residents need a garden because the area is a food desert, which means there is limited access to fresh produce locally.

Aaron Henkin of WYPR’s The Signal will MC the event.

Folk musician Jennie Williams will start off the evening’s musical performances at 5pm. Then Filbert Street garden director Jason Reed’s band Her Fantastic Cats. Next  we welcome local acts from Brooklyn-Curtis Bay, including female hip hop duo Double Impact and hip hop artist  Baby Boy. We will finish up the night’s line up with local Baltimore folk musicians Haint Blue and Bobby E. Lee & the Sympathizers .

Food is provided by Dynamic Strategies Catering, which is a small woman owner catering company owned and operated by Idalee Wagman DiGregorio and Lisa Hillring. They specialize in small to medium sized functions and prefer to use local seasonal ingredients and get many of their proteins from the Wagman family farm located in south central Pennsylvania. Relay Foods will have a table to talk about their healthy food delivery options in the Baltimore region.

We will also have a silent auction of an array of great finds from local Baltimore businesses and a raffle for gift cards for many great prizes. All ticket holders receive two raffle tickets with the cost of admission.

Tickets can be purchased online at: http://www.missiontix.com/gardengala. Ticket prices are: $20 general admission, $10 for students or Brooklyn-Curtis Bay residents, $5 for children 10 and up, and free for kids under 10. There will be a silent auction of art and exciting items donated by local businesses.

A student produced radio series on the voices of residents of Brooklyn-Curtis Bay (Baybrook) and Sparrows Point communities will air on the Marc Steiner Show WEAA (88.9) at 9am the week leading up to the event (May 12-16). The radio series in a collaboration with American Studies folklorist-in-residence and program coordinator for Maryland Traditions, the state’s folklife program, Michelle Stefano’s class on ethnography and Bill Shewbridge’s “Media and Communication Studies Fellows” courses. Never before have four different courses collaborated on a project of this magnitude at UMBC.

If you’d like more information about this event and associated projects or have any questions, please contact Dr. Nicole King:

Department of American Studies
University of Maryland Baltimore County, UMBC
1000 Hilltop Circle – Fine Arts Bld. 458
Baltimore, MD 21250
(410) 455-1457 OR (202) 345-6250 (cell)


These Projects are funded by a Breaking Ground Grant from UMBC