Month: September 2017

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