Rockaway Beach Volunteer Fire Dept. 1952 Fish Fry

Rockaway Beach Volunteer Fire Dept. Fish Fry
Sunday, August 31st, 1952.
Decker’s Grove, Turkey Point Road, Essex, Baltimore, Maryland.
Home movie from the Nickel Family Archive.

Posted in 1950s, Essex / Middle River, Fall, Home Movie, Nickel Family History, Rockaway Beach | Leave a comment

How Kunigunda Claus got to the North Pole, a Christmas tale

By Jackie Nickel, 12-20-2006

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Rudolph, you know the elves, by their jobs if not by their names, and of course you know Santa Claus. But behind every good man like Santa, there’s a wonderful, devoted, hardworking woman, and at the North Pole that woman is Mrs. Claus, a beautiful lady about whom little has been written. Until now, that is.

We were lucky enough to run into some cousins of Mrs. Claus while in Canton, the heart of Baltimore’s early German settlement, a couple weeks ago. The Foertshbecks and Foehrkolbs, the Hombergs and Hofferberts, the Klausmeiers and Krannebitters, the Wilhelms and Winterlings – they all knew Kay Claus’s family going way back to the Black Forest of Germany where she was born. Although everyone calls her Kay, Mrs. Claus’s real name is Kunigunda, a good old German name. Kunigunda Weinerschnitzel.

Kay’s family owned a lumberyard in Bavaria and when her mother died of pneumonia at an early age, Kay took over the task of raising her 11 brothers and sisters and helping run the family business as well. Tragically, one early December day, her Papa was killed in a timbering accident and Kay was left all alone to care for her siblings. There was very little to celebrate that Christmas Eve.

After the children were tucked into their beds, Kay sat down next to the tall fir tree decorated with fruit, nuts, and paper garland and began to weep. Just a young woman herself, she missed her Mama and Papa and had no idea how she would be able to support a family. She heard a swoosh as Santa’s sleigh landed on the roof and hid behind the tree as handsome, young Santa slid down the chimney. Kay watched as he delivered more presents than ever before, scattering them all around the tree until he came to the place she was hiding.

“Kay,” Santa said peering through the branches. “I know what a struggle you are having. I will help you care for the little ones. Each year I will bring enough coats and clothes and mittens – and toys too – for the whole family. And for you, there will be special things too. It’s the least I can do for someone so good and pure of heart.”

All year long, Santa looked forward to his Christmas visit with Kay and she no longer hid, but sat down with him to enjoy the milk and homemade gingerbread cookies she had prepared. As anyone could see, there was a gleam in their eyes and a spark between them. At last, one year, when Kay’s brothers and sisters were almost all grown up, Santa asked for Kay’s hand in marriage.

“Next year, Kay, I would like for you to go back with me to the North Pole and be my wife,” Santa expressed on bended knee. “You are the most beautiful person I have ever known and I have fallen in love with you.”

Kay’s cheeks turned extra rosy and her eyes welled with tears as she accepted the beautiful red ruby ring Santa presented in a velvet box. “Oh, Santa, of course I want to marry you. But what about the children?”

“The younger ones can come with us,” Santa replied. “They can learn from the elves how to make toys or help with the reindeer and sleigh. I love you all and want you with me always.”

“Next year,” said Kay. “I need time to prepare.” A woman needs time, you know.

So for the next 12 months, Kay and her family and friends prepared, packing up things she would need in the North Pole. Although she wore her ruby ring proudly, some didn’t believe it was really from Santa. Some just didn’t believe in anything at all. But Kay believed with all her heart that it was the goodness in the world coming through Santa’s love that was calling her to the North Pole. And on the following Christmas Eve, she waited with her younger brothers and sisters for Santa’s final visit.

Santa, of course, had to make the trip to Kay’s house the final stop of the night. He needed an empty sleigh to be able to carry his bride-to-be and her siblings to their new home. And to be honest, he was a bit nervous, having been a bachelor all his life. Asking someone to take on the duties and name of Mrs. Santa Claus was a lot to request of a young woman.

And Kay was nervous too, uprooting her family and moving to a strange and faraway land. But she was in love and she knew her job would be to help spread love and joy and Christmas spirit throughout the world. What more could anyone hope for?

It was a foggy night and Santa was running a bit late with his deliveries. He was a bit sooty too, having gotten stuck in a few damp chimneys. But when he arrived at Kay’s house, all the soot and fog magically disappeared and the stars shone brightly, illuminating the winter sky. Kay and her family said goodbye to their house and loaded their things into the sleigh as snowflakes fell gently around them. Santa helped Kay into the front seat beside him, tucked her in with a warm coverlet and knew this was his partner for life.

As they dashed away into the cold, clear night, Kay smiled as she waved goodbye to her old life and the town below. The next day she and Santa were wed in a big North Pole ceremony and celebration with all the elves and reindeer joining in. And now every year, on the day after Christmas, Santa and Kay Claus take a sleigh ride to mark their wedding anniversary. They fly very high so no one ever sees them, but checking on Kay’s family still in the Black Forest, and also on those whose descendants have moved to America. The Clauses pay special attention to Highlandtown and Canton, to Essex and Middle River and Perry Hall and Parkville and Rosedale and even White Marsh where a lot of new families now live. They check up on all of us, in fact, each and every one – because we’re all one big family you know.

Well, that’s the story of how Kunigunda Weinerschnitzel became Mrs. Santa Claus that I learned while talking to folks in East Baltimore. Kay and Santa are continuing their mission of spreading Christmas spirit all year long while living happily ever after with the reindeer, elves and some of Kay’s nieces and nephews – little Weinerschnitzels – at the North Pole. They all send their love, and so do I. Merry Christmas!

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R.I.P., Marian McKew (1995)

By Jackie Nickel (The Essex Times, January 4th, 1996)

As many of you know, my mom, Marian McKew, died of lung cancer two days before Christmas, 1995. First, I want to thank everyone who visited the funeral home, sent flowers, cards, food, Mass cards and called to express sympathy. It’s such a tribute to her character to have so many express their love for her. My sons and I were deeply touched by your kindness as we were by her love. Special thanks to my pal at The Sun, Joe Nawrozki, for the beautifully written obituary. For those of you who missed it, I’d like to tell you a little bit about my mom.

Marian Sophia Nickel (she hated that middle name) was born on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dec. 8, 81 years ago. She was named appropriately after the Blessed Mother Mary. Although her mother modernized the name to Marian, her dad always called her Mary.

After losing her mom to pneumonia at the early age of 14, Marian became somewhat of a mother herself, caring for her younger brother Buddy and looking after her beloved dad, “Hon” Nickel, who owned the Gayety Theatre in the heyday of burlesque. She assumed so much responsibility early on that carried over throughout her life.

Marian, the daughter, took business courses at the Institute of Notre Dame so she could help run her father’s business. Marian, the sister, looked after Buddy until his death 25 years ago. Marian, the wife, was loving in her care in sickness and in health. Marian, the niece, cared for the aunt and uncle who helped raise her in their senior years.

But it wasn’t until she became a mother and grandmother herself that she got the chance to put all her nurturing spirit into action.

She gave birth to me, her only child, in 1942 and devoted herself to motherhood, with that unconditional love only a mother can know. Deprived so young of her own mother’s presence, Mom devoted herself to providing me with everything she missed out on after her own mother died, both physically and emotionally.

Education was the key to all success, she believed, and Mom made sure I got the best even when times were tough — sending me to prep school at Notre Dame of Maryland and to campus life at College Park.

Although she was a devoted mom, she surely outdid herself as a grandmother. With three grandsons presented to her in a five-and-a-half-year period, Mom truly got to practice her maternal expertise, becoming a substitute father in many instances as well. Scott, John and Mike stayed out of trouble, they say, only because they were afraid “Mom Mom” would find out. Once again, she stepped in to ensure her boys would be well educated, through parochial school, private high school and college. In later years, Mom began to reap the rewards of her efforts, seeing not only me, but also her grandsons develop successful careers. She was especially encouraging and proud when I made the move, in the midst of her illness, to The Essex Times.

With mom’s responsibility came strength. She carried her family and friends through many crises. Sustained by her faith, Marian lived by the words of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

She has imparted her strength on her family and friends, along with the courage and wisdom of that prayer. But more importantly Mom has at last reaped the reward of true serenity in the heavenly home she surely earned. She continues to look over all of us with a mother’s love, not only her daughter, grandsons, daughter-in-law, godchild and cousins, but her friends as well.

Her Women’s Club who affectionately called her “mother,” her closest friends, Jennie and Angela, her neighbors, who looked on her as the matriarch of the community, and her many other friends feel her loss but have gained her strength.

Mom promised me a year and a half ago when we learned she had cancer that she would not die until she knew I was strong enough to go on without her. But I and my children, our family and friends are not without her — Mom’s presence is more powerful than ever as she continues to watch over us, as alive and loving in our hearts as she was in our lives.

Posted in Marian Nickel McKew, Obituaries, Tributes | Leave a comment

Christmas 1969

“We didn’t go to the mall to visit Santa in 1969. We went to the volunteer firehouse. Rockaway Beach VFD held a yearly Christmas party for local kids. That’s me in my bubble head wig, my three boys, and Santa Steve Woomer.” — Jackie Nickel

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When the smallest voice speaks the loudest, be thankful

By Jackie Nickel (11/20/2006)

Sometimes you have to look pretty hard for something to be thankful
for and then the simplest thing comes along and you realize how lucky
you are. Such was the case last week when I was called for emergency
babysitting duties with my little grandson Thomas.

Tom is a rambunctious three and-a-half year old now and attends
preschool/daycare with other kids his age. Early last week he took a
tumble into the corner of the sandbox and wound up getting three
stitches above his right eye. Tom was very brave during the emergency
room visit, according to Daddy, and Mommy stayed home with him the
next day to be sure he was OK. The following day though, Mommy and
Daddy thought Tom needed an extra day at home and asked me to come to
their house to watch him. So I headed out in the dark at 6 a.m. the
next morning, exhausted from days of research and running around with
lots more work to do on my Essex history book revisions. Work can
wait, however, when it comes to my only grandchild. They’re little for
such a short while you know.

I arrived at the door and there was Thomas in his Spiderman pajamas
with a bruised and swollen eye, accented all the more by a slanted
line of black stitches that looked just like those drawn on cartoon
characters. “Hi, Tom,” I said. No answer; the little patient was
engrossed in an old Spiderman episode on TV. “No bandage?” I asked.
No, replied Mommy, the doctor said to leave it off today. “Hi, Tom,” I
said again. Still no response from the kid rolling around on the sofa.
“You’re supposed to be taking it easy today,” I reminded him.

With his budding shiner, Tom looked like the caricature of a burglar
as seen in old-time cartoons. All he needed was one of those black
“crook” caps and a sack slung over his shoulder, I thought. Still no
hug or greeting for Mom Mom though. Oh well, he was still feeling a
little under the weather.

Tom played with his trucks and dinosaurs as he insisted on playing the
same Spiderman DVD over and over. Nothing I said could convince him to
watch CNN, Home and Garden or the Food Network. But then, at least he
was being quiet and not rough-housing and my job was to make sure he
wouldn’t reinjure his eye.

We had peanut butter sandwiches and split a banana for lunch as
Spiderman played for the 20th time. Tom made sure I knew the
difference between Lizard Man and the Green “Gobbelin” as he
pronounced it. “Is he like a turkey gobbling?” I asked. “No, Mom Mom;
you’re silly,” said Tom. “It’s only pretend.”

I vegged out on the couch wishing for C-Span or the Weather Channel as
rain beat against the sliding glass doors and I visualized how high
the tide must be back home. Tom decided to dump a huge box of Legos on
the floor in front of me as Spiderman shot more goopy webs from his
wrist on the television screen. “This is a car,” Tom said of a
three-foot tower of Legos with four small wheels at the bottom.
“That’s a very tall car,” I observed. “This is the dangerous part,”
Tom replied pointing to a hollow spot at the bottom. “Oh, OK.”

I was almost dozing off when I heard the small voice. “I love you, Mom
Mom.” Huh? Tom was working intently on the top-heavy Lego car and not
even looking at me. “I love you,” he repeated. I wanted to hear it
again, this spontaneous expression of affection. “How come?” I asked.
“Because I just love you,” answered Tom so matter-of-factly.

It took me two hours to get home that evening because of the big rain
storm. Traffic crawled along the beltway and the glare from headlights
on the wet roadway strained my tired eyes. But I had a smile on my
face the entire ride home just replaying in my mind those precious
words of unconditional love.

So despite hard luck and health problems of the past six months, you
see how much I have to be thankful for? May everyone be so lucky – to
have such a small voice speak to your heart when you least expect it.
Happy Thanksgiving!

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Shaking hands with a lucky leprechaun

By Jackie Nickel (3/13/2005)

“Mo-oo-om!” my son sighed rolling his eyes at me Saturday evening at
Pizza John’s. I’d embarrassed one of my kids again.

“What?” I asked giving him a sharp stare.

“You might have insulted that man!”

“Insulted him?” I retorted. “He probably felt complimented!”

“But you don’t kno-o-ow…”

“I don’t know?” asked I, sarcasm dripping from my tongue. “If I don’t
know the people in this community and how they’ll react then nobody

“OK,” my son admitted. “Maybe we’ll find the pot o’ gold.”

I had been enjoying pizza and root beer with my son, daughter-in-law,
21-month-old grandbaby Thomas and one of his aunts. We were
challenging Thomas’s St. Patrick’s Day vocabulary with words like
“leprechaun, rainbow and pot o’ gold” and our little genius in a
highchair was promptly repeating. “Happy Day!” he says for
Valentine’s, birthdays and St. Pat’s ‹ one phrase fits all.

When Tom got bored he started shaking his head in a vigorous “NO”
until he made himself dizzy, which he sometimes likes to do. He
finally hit his chin on the table and let out a wail. Mommy picked Tom
up to soothe him as Daddy got the portable DVD player out and popped
in “Nemo,” Tom’s favorite.

Finally we resumed eating, discussing the prospects of finding good
corned beef for St. Paddy’s Day. I was facing the restrooms when
glancing up from my pizza I saw a splash of Kelly green. “Look, it’s a
big leprechaun!” I announced, nodding to the rear of the dining room.
“OK, Mom,” my son dismissed as the girls glanced back. Tom was still
immersed in Nemo.

The leprechaun was a middle-aged man in a bright green Natty Boh
shirt, lots of shiny green beads around his neck and a tiny green
derby hat perched atop his balding head. As he walked toward the exit
he had to pass by our table and I was not about to let a leprechaun
pass by without at least shaking his hand for good luck. And to show
appreciation to him for walking through Pizza John’s in that outfit as

I reached out and touched the man’s arm and told him I loved his
outfit, adding, “Look, Tom, it’s a big leprechaun!” Tom was mesmerized
by Nemo so I pushed the DVD player aside and forced him to meet the
leprechaun who by then had removed his jacket so we could get a better
look at his shirt. I told Tom to “Shake hands with the big leprechaun”
and he put his little hand out on cue. The man happily shook Tom’s
hand as well as mine, and revealed “Now you’ll find the pot o’ gold”
as he left smiling.

Then came the “Mo-oo-om!”

So what was embarrassing about the incident?

“He could’ve been offended that you called him a BIG leprechaun,”
offered my son.

“Well, he WAS big!” I stated emphatically.

There’s a certain confidence that comes with age and that includes
being comfortable with stopping a leprechaun, big or little, and
asking him to shake your hand. I just wish I’d had my camera. Happy

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Rockaway Beach Grand Fish Fry, 1958

Rockaway Beach Volunteer Fire Department
Grand Fish Fry
Decker’s Garden
(Hoffman’s Lounge, Bobby B’s)
Sunday, August 31, 1958

Posted in 1950s, Fall, Home Movie | Leave a comment

1958 Rockaway Beach Crab Feast

Rockaway Beach Volunteer Fire Department Crab Feast
Sunday, June 29th, 1958
Decker’s Garden (Hoffman’s Lounge, Bobby B’s)

Posted in 1950s, Home Movie, Nickel Family History, Summer | Leave a comment

Like Bluefins from the Bay, Nobles of the Hardshells Survive

By Jackie Nickel (10/28/1982)

The day was hot, the beer was cold, and the steamed crabs were large and well-seasoned on an August afternoon in 1935 when the first gathering of the Ancient and Honorable Nobles of the Hardshells took place at a shorefront home in Rockaway Beach at the end of Turkey Point peninsula.

Now, almost 50 years later, despite the passing of most original members, the group survives as one of Baltimore’s oldest independent social clubs. Composed today almost entirely of tavern owners, and beer and liquor salesmen, the organization was born from an idea originating in a bar in the Waverly section of Baltimore City, according to Richard K. Coggins, one of the oldest members.

“Gus Rauh had his tavern at 29th and Greenmount. On that hot day in August, Gus took a small group of his customers down to his home on Rockaway Beach in Middle River. He prepared crab cakes, crab soup, jumbo hard crabs, corn on the cob, sliced tomatoes, and cold beer. When the group arrived at Rockaway Beach, they proceeded to enjoy the food and beer in a nice breeze on his front lawn. Gus had a beautiful home on the beach right across from the Baltimore Yacht Club,” Coggins relates in a short history of the group.

The group of guests was so pleased with the excellent food, cold beer, and lovely scenery that they could not express their appreciation enough. However, one of the guests, Million B. Crandall, was a top public relations man who had handled promotional work for many of Hollywood’s film stars and studios. With his promotional experience and trigger mind, he quickly organized the group into an organization. He called it “The Hardshells,” named after the big jumbo crab Gus had served. He started out by having the president called “The Imperial Jumbo” and Gus Rauh was elected to that office. The group elected someone to the office of “Back Fin” and someone else to the office of “Claw”. They then formed a line, took a live crab, and paraded down Gus’ pier and threw the crab overboard, announcing that they hoped it would produce bigger and better crabs for a future party.

“Gus was so enthused over the crab party and Milt Crandall’s loose-knit organization called “The Hardshells” that he planned all winter to have another gathering in 1936. On that occasion, he invited about 20 customers and friends to the feast. The second party was equal to or better than the first and Gus was again elected “Imperial Jumbo,” adds Coggins to the tale, which he documented a few years ago at the request of newer members who were unfamiliar with the club’s illustrious beginnings.

Older residents of the beach community still remember the colorful processions as each summer’s festivities seemed to surpass the preceding one.

Marian McKew, daughter of deceased Imperial Jumbo Hon Nickel, owner of Baltimore’s Gayety Theatre, reminisced about the Hardshell Crab Feasts of years past.

“My father would get all dressed up, usually in white, and come out to get my approval before leaving for the party. By the time the men paraded out on Gus’ pier decked out in Uncle Sam hats and red, white, and blue crepe paper, they were all feeling pretty good. Quite a few of them would wind up in the river along with the crabs and I can still remember dad coming home in his white suit damp and streaked with red and blue dye.”

In the early years of the group, some members were from walks of life other than tavern-related ones. A few were Gus Rauh’s Rockaway Beach neighbors, such as Fred Kraus, a Lexington Market butcher, now deceased. Many worked in government jobs. Richard Coggins, 72, now the historian of the group, is a commissioner on the board of the State Accident Fund. Edward Starkloff, a past secretary, is a retired employee of the state and president of Md. Classified Employees’ Retirement Chapter.

Continuing the story of the formalization of the Hardshell organization, Coggins explained, “In 1937, Frank Breiting, one of the first Hardshells, produced the Cup that is still given to each new Imperial Jumbo to place in his tavern for the year he serves. It was decided that only tavern or restaurant owners be named to the office of Imperial Jumbo. That would keep it out of politics or from someone trying to use the club for personal gain.” But the Hardshells counted many politicians among their friends and were joined in their festivities by such notables as Congressman George Fallon.

After Gus Rauh’s death some years ago, the group held their crab feasts at Baltimore Yacht Club for a time before moving the affair out of the Essex area. This year’s event was held at Jerry D’s Saloon on Harford Road. Although monthly meetings are not part of the club’s agenda, two other social affairs besides the crab feast are held each year, Ladies Night in November (which sees the installation of the new officers) and an oyster roast in March along with the Summer feast are paid for by the annual membership fee of $50.

“Strangely enough, not many members In recent years have been from Essex.” quoted Bart Byrnes. The new secretary the organization, Byrnes has been Hardshell for almost 25 years. He is employee of Carling National Brewery.

Gordon L. Dorer, president of the group, lives in Rossville but operates his tavern Angle Inn, on O’Donnell Street. Incoming president, James Dimitri, who will be installed next month, owns an establishment on Falls Road. The only local innkeeper who has been a member in recent years is Will Faber, owner of Yacht Club Inn on Holly Neck Road. The August crab feast was held at his place for three years before moving to a city tavern last summer.

“Membership was agreed at origin to be limited to 99″ Coggins recalled. “It was really plus one counting Milt Crandall,” he added. It is now around 90 and new people are brought in through invitation of present members only.

James (Bart) Byrnes, secretary, is encouraging new recruitment in his correspondence to the membership. But as in the ecology of the bay, not everyone can become a Hardshell, and even fewer an Imperial Jumbo.

Nevertheless, just as the blue-finned crustaceans have survived and preserved their species in the area of the bay, so has the gala group that bears the name Hardshells.

Click to enlarge:

Posted in Essex / Middle River, Holidays, July 4th, Rockaway Beach | Leave a comment

RIP Gayety Theatre’s John H. “Bud” Nickel, Jr. (1971)

Rites Set For J. H. Nickel, Former Operator Of Gayety
(The Baltimore Sun, 4/8/1971)

John H. "Bud" Nickel, Jr.

Funeral services for John H. Nickel, Jr., who with his sister owned and operated one of the city’s landmarks, the Gayety Theater and Nightclub on The Block, will be held at 10 A.M. tomorrow at the Connelly funeral establishment, 300 Mace Avenue, Essex.

A requiem mass is being delayed until 8.30 A.M. Monday at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, Essex, because of Holy Week.

Bud Nickel, as he was known on The Block, died Tuesday at the Veterans Administration Hospital on Loch Raven Boulevard. He was 53.

Leading Burlesque House

“I don’t have much heart to go down to The Block anymore. The flavor of it has been gone for me since the Gayety Theater burned on the first day of Christmas week,” he wrote in an article for The Sunday Sun in May, 1970.

The Gayety was not founded by his father but it became one of the nation’s leading burlesque houses under his management. Ann Corio, Margie Hart, Blaze Starr and the Carroll Sisters were some of the strippers that appeared there. Some of the comedians that appeared on its stage were Phil Silvers, Jackie Gleason and Red Skelton.

The theater was bought by the elder Nickel in 1910. Eight years later the son was born and he helped there as a youngster. After graduating from Calvert Hall, be began selling tickets and soon was helping to book acts.

Sister, 2 Sons Survive

“A thousand people filled the Gayety—orchestra seats, balcony and boxes—and we sold out quite often. The place was open seven days a week…” the almost six-foot, 235-pound operator wrote.

He and his sister, Mrs. Marian Nickel McKew, took over the building in 1951.

Born in Baltimore, he served in the Navy during World War II.

Besides his sister, he is survived by two sons, Robert G. and John H. Nickel 3d, both of Baltimore.


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