Rockaway Beach Volunteer Fire Department
Grand Fish Fry
(Hoffman’s Lounge, Bobby B’s)
Sunday, August 31, 1958
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Essex, Maryland by Jackie Nickel
Rockaway Beach Volunteer Fire Department
Grand Fish Fry
(Hoffman’s Lounge, Bobby B’s)
Sunday, August 31, 1958
Rockaway Beach Volunteer Fire Department Crab Feast
Sunday, June 29th, 1958
Decker’s Garden (Hoffman’s Lounge, Bobby B’s)
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.
Rites Set For J. H. Nickel, Former Operator Of Gayety
(The Baltimore Sun, 4/8/1971)
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.
By Joe Nawrozki (Baltimore Sun, 12/27/1995)
Marian S. McKew, who owned the Gayety Theater on Baltimore’s Block as strip tease and burlesque shows faded into the twilight, died Saturday (12/23/1995) of cancer at Franklin Square Hospital Center. She was 81.
The Block landmark at 405 E. Baltimore St. — which opened two years after the Great Baltimore Fire in 1904 — was owned by her father, John H. “Hon” Nickel, a German immigrant who operated the theater from 1914 until his death in 1951.
Her father managed the burlesque house in its salad days when featured performers included Phil Silvers, Gypsy Rose Lee, Jackie Gleason and Ann Corio and a young Marian Nickel learned to keep the books while attending the Institute of Notre Dame in downtown Baltimore.
“My mother was very insulated from everything that went on,” said Mrs. McKew’s daughter, Jacqueline Nickel of Rockaway Beach in eastern Baltimore County.
“She often told me her father wouldn’t let her out of the office to sort of protect her.”
When Mr. Nickel died in 1951, he turned over ownership to his daughter and his son, John H. Nickel Jr. Mrs. McKew bought out her brother in the late 1960s and sold the theater outright in 1976.
The building now houses an adult film and magazine store.
“When you mention the Gayety, it brings all sorts of memories forth,” Ms. Nickel said.
“But even when she was most heavily involved, she went to the theater’s office three times a week to keep the books and write out checks to the workers. That was it.
“While she had this business, she did the Hutzler tea room every Wednesday, bowled, had a life that was totally out of the realm of The Block.”
Still, some private embarrassment was shared within the family over her mother’s job.
At St. Bernard’s parochial school in Waverly, Jacqueline Nickel remembered, a nun asked students what their parents did for a living.
“I told the sister and my classmates that my parents owned a theater,” she said. “Later, at Notre Dame Prep, I wove around the truth by telling everyone my mother and father were in real estate, which they were.”
She remembers that her parents took her to Mass at St. Vincent DePaul Roman Catholic Church on Front Street every Sunday, then to Baltimore Street where her mother looked over the previous night’s receipts.
Mrs. McKew was born in the Nachmann Hotel near Baltimore Street and Market Place, a stopover for baggy pants comedians and dancers who traveled the country’s burlesque circuit. The hotel was owned by her father, who parlayed his business savvy into ownership of several other properties, which eventually became known as The Block.
“My grandmother died when my mom was 13 so she really became the lady of the house with all the responsibilities to my grandfather and her brother,” Ms. Nickel said.
Mrs. McKew married John F. Moore in 1941 and he managed the nightclub downstairs from the Gayety. Mr. Moore died in 1962 and she married Francis J. McKew in 1964. Mr. McKew died in the early 1970s.
By the time Mrs. McKew came into sole ownership of the Gayety, the flavor of the old house was disappearing. Strip tease and racy one-liners became valentines from another day.
Her managers booked Irma The Body, Tempest Storm and Chili Pepper in the 1960s and although those dancers attempted to keep bump and grind alive but, suddenly they were almost too tame for that era’s sexual revolution.
Mrs. McKew was one of the founders of the Rockaway Beach Improvement Association and enjoyed ceramics at Essex Senior Center. Before she became ill, she enjoyed cooking sour beef and dumplings from scratch.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 9 a.m. tomorrow at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Roman Catholic Church, 1704 Eastern Ave. in Essex.
Other survivors include three grandchildren.
By Jackie Nickel (Avenue News, 11/26/2006)
On Sunday, Nov. 26, 2006, Mrs. Mae Beck greeted over 100 guests at her 100th birthday party wearing a gold locket well over 100 years old. “My father gave it to my mother on their wedding day,” related the lovely lady of honor as she caressed the gold heart pendant worn on a gold chain around her neck.
The heart was a fitting symbol for the centenary celebration which saw long-time friends and colleagues greet Mae at the pastel decorated hall of Back River United Methodist Church. Mae’s thick silver hair framed her smiling face as son Danny and daughter-in-law Joyce, who organized the party, stood by her side. Mae was a vision in rose wearing a two-piece lace suit tailored by her friend Marie Rogers.
A few days after the 100 candles were blown out and all the cards and gifts put away, Mae Beck took time to look back on her remarkable life.
Mae Velte’s father Charles was a farmer raising crops on 150- acres known as White House Farm at the head of Browns Cove as well as transporting the produce to market in Baltimore City. Trips up the oyster shell-paved Back River Neck Road were tiresome but exciting, by horse and buggy and later by Model T, traversing “land that was nothing but woods,” recalls Mae. You’d go past the Page property, which later became the maintenance area of Rocky Point Golf Club; next came Wildwood Beach where Mae’s father often delivered strawberries to a large home at the end of the road. Waiting on the veranda, which surrounded the home, was a petite woman whose home, Mae later found out, was a brothel – one with a very famous and frequent visitor.
A little farther up the Neck was Evergreen Lane with a home and land owned by Edward Nicholson, a gentleman farmer. Next were several large tracts surrounding what is now known as Diffendal or Airport Road owned by General George Brown, the son of Alexander Brown of the Baltimore financial firm Alex. Brown & Sons. The Browns spent summers at the house which in the winter served as a hunting (or “ducking”) lodge.
Traveling up the Back River peninsula, Mae and her brothers often visited blacksmith Frank Ruff who lived behind his shop at the corner of Back River Neck and Holly Neck roads. Pounding on a huge anvil, the “smithy” crafted horseshoes and wagon wheel rims. “We used to watch the iron glow red hot and the sparks would fly,” recalled Mae.
A big gum tree at the same location served as the mounting post for all the mailboxes of the neighborhood. Roy Norris was a deliveryman for what then was called the Rossville Post Office. The mailman traveled by horse and buggy to drop off letters at Back River Neck’s makeshift collection site.
The farmland surrounding what is now called Somogyi Lane was owned by the Schluderburg-Kurdles who owned Baltimore’s successful Esskay Meat Co. Mae remembers cows with bells around their necks feeding in the pasture there, while getting fattened up presumably for slaughter.
Several “colored” families lived in the area of the old schoolhouse, now known as Cheery Day Nursery, recalls Mae. The Smith brothers had a log cabin near the first Back River School and Uncle Cal Miles and his family lived close by the old Dvorak egg house. The Kirby family lived at the Holly Neck intersection while the Brown clan owned several parcels farther up the peninsula.
Aunt Levy Brown was a midwife who helped deliver many local babies. Since Ebersberger’s store at the intersection of Turkey Point and Back River Neck Rds. was the closest telephone, Mae’s brother Charles went there to call Dr. Mace when his brother Edward was about to be born. As Dr. Mace prepared to travel from Rossville (now theFranklin Square area) by horse and wagon, Charles went on to get Aunt Levy who got there in time to help with the delivery.
Mae’s mother, Mathilda, was a sickly woman despite bearing six children. And Mae, being the only daughter, held much of the responsibility of the day-to-day operations of the farm household. But throughout her six years of schooling and many years of cooking, cleaning and other chores, Mae took great delight in roaming the wilderness that was Back River Neck, one of the earliest developed peninsulas in BaltimoreCounty.
Past the Mattheu and Schenning farms, and next to Back River Church was a two-story house that once was owned by a fisherman named Hughes, recalls Mrs. Beck. Still standing and renovated, it is one of the oldest houses in the area. Then came Cape May with a picnic grove owned by the Shivers family and a little farther on, a swimming club for African Americans called Twin Pines.
While the Velte children traveled three miles each way to school from the lower end of the peninsula, their two teachers rode by electric rail one hour each way on a car line that originated at Baltimore and Holliday Sts. At Josenhans Corner they disembarked and were transported by horse and buggy to the school. A crowd often waited to board the car heading back into the city where they then would transfer to other locations.
Josenhans Corner housed a bar and general store as well as a hall where May sometimes attended dances and “socials” on Saturday evenings. One of her brothers would drive them in the family’s horse and buggy, guided by the light of kerosene lanterns mounted on the sides. While the horses were stabled on the lower floor of Academy Hall, which still stands at the site, the wooden dance floor echoed with the dancing feet of young men and ladies.
But back at the farm, there was plenty of work to be done before socializing. Mr. Velte sold produce at the Light St. wholesale market and brought home 200-lb. barrels of flour and sugar to last the winters. Mae remembers a huge snowstorm, which occurred on Feb. 22,
1922, that brought snow up past the farmhouse windows. The family huddled in with kerosene lanterns and woodstoves. Outside was the pump and outhouse, but the family was prepared with an inside commode. They had to thaw frozen water for the household and use planks to plow their way out. In the fall they lined the roads with cut saplings to make “corduroy” paths for better traction.
The Veltes killed, smoked and salted pigs each November to last through the harsh winters. They also had chickens, ducks, and guinea hens in the barn along with potatoes, carrots, turnips and red beets. Mae helped “put up” apples, peaches and strawberries. “It was nothing but hard work.”
Often there was sickness. Some of the home remedies Mae remembers for a bad cough were a swallow of goose grease or juniper tar mixed with sugar.
Winters were long, punctuated by few visitors. But the neighborhood received regular calls from a Jewish man named Mr. Silverman who came by every six weeks or so to purchase fur pelts. He carried a trunk on his back filled with clothing offered for trade. Mr. Silverman sometimes spent the night with neighbors while waiting for the muskrat trappers to return with their goods.
Mae and her brothers often traveled down Holly Neck or Turkey Point where Mae’s friend Mabel Daniels lived. Down Holly Neck Rd., Cedar Beach was one big tract owned by “the flour people,” the Ruhl family; the Shaefers had an apple crusher from which delicious cider flowed; Dan Homberg owned almost all the farmland on Holly Neck; and the Foehrkolbs owned Breezy Point bathing beach at the end of the road.
Summertime on the peninsula was like paradise with clean, clear water to swim and fish in. You could see the soft crabs on bottom and scoop them right out of the water by hand, says Mae. As the young girl grew into a beautiful young woman, she developed an even closer relationship with the river, becoming the wife of waterman and championship trap shooter Franklin Beck.
(Next week, Part Two.)
“Be a roughneck for once and ride down to Back River,” he suggested. “There’ll be rough stuff there if you want it, but you’ll he safe enough if you’re good.”
By H.L. Mencken (The Baltimore Sun, 7/23/1911)
”HEY, wait a minute there! Who you shovin’, Bo! Where boutsya walkin’ at, them’s my feet! Take yer time, Sport, plenty more cars! You shove yer elbow at me once more an’ I’ll bounce you one on the conch! Come on, conductor, give him two bells! Let’s go!”
Ding, ding! They’re off. Hanging on the footboard, clinging to the bumper, standing up between the seats, sweating copiously and all thirsty, the crowds start every night from Holliday and Baltimore Streets for Back River, where the rancous-voiced vaudevillians sing and dance to the accompaniment of gurgling beer and popping corks.
Rough they are, some of these crowds, and trouble looks sometimes imminent. But a close study of the frequenters of the Back River resorts shows that in spite of all their rough end ready business they are a pretty good-natured throng. Half the time when they talk fight they let it go at that, for all are seeking fun and diversion and they don’t mean half they say.
A trip to Back River is worth taking. Once there were two young men standing at Baltimore and Holliday streets watching the crowds board the cars. One of the men was a chap who knew the last names of half the bartenders in town and could tell unhesitatingly where a drink could be had on Sundays. The other was a gentleman, for he never drank too much, and the pleasures of the plain people did not appeal to him.
The pushing, surging throng fighting for a toe hold on the crowded cars interested him. He wanted to know why they shoved each other so and why they were so keen on getting to Back River. He had never been there, so the other suggested that they take a ride and follow the crowd.
“Be a roughneck for once and ride down to Back River,” he suggested. “There’ll be rough stuff there if you want it, but you’ll be safe enough if you’re good.”
So they plunged in with the rest of the mob, squirmed their way through and succeeded in getting aboard the car. They joined In the pleasant persiflage considered ethical on a Back River car, let their fellow passengers walk on their feet, did a little elbow and foot work themselves and were perfectly contented and happy. Everybody was growling at everybody else, and all enjoyed it very much.
The Back River cars run out Lexington street, turn down Caroline street to Fairmount avenue and thence through Highlandtown to the Eastern avenue road and then on to Back River. It is a long and tiresome ride through the city, but when the car reaches Highlandtown the things that are said make the ride worth while.
Somehow or other everybody says something sarcastic about Highlandtown as the car runs through, which shows ignorance, because Highlandtown is a perfectly good place and full of excellent people.
When the car gets to Eastern avenue and leaves the place where the Bay Shore cars slant off on their straight line, the motorman lilts up a good speed, and a cool breeze sweeps through the car. The people on the footboard take a firmer grip and yell to the motorman to go as far as he likes. The motorman jacks up the controller handle a little more and the car bounces merrily on.
OUTPOSTS OF THE MECCA.
Pretty soon the outposts of the Back River resorts are passed. They are roadhouses and on the porches and at the tables under the trees are coatless ones drinking beer to their hearts’ content. A few drop off the car at these places, but most of the crowd stays on, for they’re bound for the parks which make Back River famous. Past Prospect Park, Liberty Park and the ball grounds, that have received so much attention from the pulpit, the car goes until this side of Back River is reached.
There used to be a wagon bridge over Back River, but that has been torn down and a new concrete structure is being built. So the only way to get across the river is to take the car. At this side there are not so many garish lights, but the car almost empties itself.
The places of those who get off are quickly taken by those who have already visited the resorts there and are finishing up the trip by going to the parks. They crowd on as if the car was the last to be run for a year, but they’re all jolly and when they walk over somebody’s feet they act as if they are sorry it happened.
Now we come to a really pretentious place. It is ablaze with electric lights and there are a whole lot of attractions. There are two towering roller coasters on which the reckless ride, there is a shooting gallery, an every-time.you-hit-the-baby-you.get-a-good-cigar arrangement, a couple of ring-throwing devices, a carrousel and several other gentle amusements for the guileless.
But nobody stops for them, and the young man who had never been to Back River before wondered where the crowd was going. He, and his companion followed along until they found themselves in a big shed filled with little white tables, among which strong-armed waiters were rushing bottles, while a thirsty crowd spent its time absorbing moisture and listening to a song from a stage at one end.
Coatless gents who were not interested in the show sought to beguile the “kiddos” who strolled aimlessly around. Fancy of dress and dainty of face were these pretty girlies, but they had an eye open to the main chance and a man who looked as though one bottle of beer would be his limit was passed by stonily. If a live wire who made a noise like real money invited the ladies to sit down they accepted his invitation graciously and the world moved pleasantly on.
The waiters belong to the regular type of park servitors. Most of them look as if they do prize fighting as a side line and all have an efficient appearance. Few of them are fat and none is unduly thin. They look clean-cut and strong, and putting down trouble is one of their specialties. It would never do to “start anything” when they’re around, for the rash person who thought he could clean the place out would never finish it.
You don’t have to wait long to be served at Back River. As soon as you find a vacant table and take your seat a waiter in a blue shirt and an apron, with a bottle opener dangling from his belt, is at your side. He leans over, with one foot back in the pose of a discus thrower, and he’s off as soon as you give him your order.
In a remarkably short time he is back with about a dozen bottles on his tray. You get yours and he passes on, distributing his cargo to the people surrounding you. That is the way he and his mates do business. They waste no time in idle running back and forth, for they get the orders in a bunch and bring them all along at one time.
All around are people industriously drinking. To sit at a table with nothing in front of you is akin to treason, and nobody does it. They know that the proprietor is not in business for his health. So back and forth the waiters ply and they are seldom empty-handed.
“Where’s that rough stuff you were talking about?” asked the man who had never before been to Back River.
“There isn’t any around,” replied his friend. “See that guy with the cap and the blue coat? His job is to see that nobody gets ugly, and he’s got all this bunch of husky waiters to help him preserve peace. It would be unhealthy to ‘start anything’ here. Anybody who wants a fight would have to go out in the road to get it.”
Illegal stills made eastern Baltimore County a destination during roaring twenties
by Keith Roberts (Essex-MiddleRiverPatch, 12/13/2010)
The 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibited the manufacture, sale, or transportation of “intoxicating liquor” (as defined by the enabling legislation “The Volstead Act”).
It was ratified and took affect in 1919. Unbeknownst to those who encouraged prohibition, it created an entirely new industry and gave birth to an era which was to be known as “The Roaring Twenties.” Bootlegging, moonshining, and speak easy’s became the businesses where the money was to be made.
For baby boomers such as myself, our only knowledge of this era is that of watching Robert Stack portraying Elliott Ness on the TV show “The Untouchables.” In my mind I can still hear “Elliott” yelling “Rico, Youngblood”
Although most of the action associated with prohibition took place in major cities like New York and Chicago, rural areas such as southeastern Baltimore County were not immune. The largely undeveloped lands in the Back and Middle River Necks had dense forests which provided an excellent cover for those inclined to operate and hide their moonshine stills.
Back and Middle Rivers themselves turned into exceptional highways for the transportation of the finished product.
Continue reading “Underground Moonshine Industry Thrived in Middle River During Prohibition” at Essex-MiddleRiverPatch.