- Ben on Happy New Year, 1963
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Essex, Maryland by Jackie Nickel
“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, 7/23/1917)
”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.
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, 1996. 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.
by Jackie Nickel (Essex Avenue News, 7/25/2007)
Tammy Faye Bakker was on TV just prior to her death last week, seeming to want to earn the respect from us she did not achieve in life. While some accept her as an inspirational figure, I could not get out of my mind the pictures of her wailing next to her first husband Jim Bakker as he was hauled off to prison a few years ago. You can’t convince me she was not an accomplice in whatever financial crime he committed. I’m not judging on whether or not she earned enough credits to get through the pearly gates, just this incident for which she could be remembered. Maybe she did a lot of good in her lifetime to earn our respect, but it didn’t gain my attention, except for its entertainment value. 10 points for the false eyelashes, 10 points for the beehive hairdos of earlier years…
…And speaking of beehives, I can’ wait to see the new movie “Hairspray,” but nothing can ever beat the original version which was filmed inBaltimore. John Waters, director of the original movie, said on TV Sunday that John Travolta’s dialect in Divine’s former role sounds “part alien / part Bawlamerese.” From the clips I’ve seen I agree. One morning last week on TV, Travolta was bragging about his mastering of theBaltimoredialect, but in the footage I’ve seen he was way off – “Hon…”
…And while on the subject of “Hons,” I believe I have one of the area’s best / worst Bawlamer accents. Some words I can and do try to control; the rest seem to want to control me. It’s kind of neat though – my friends and I have used Bawlemerese in greetings for years: It’s “Hi, Hun.” We don’t say a pure “Hon.” So… Have a good week, “Hun.”
by Jackie Nickel (Essex Avenue News, 7/18/2007)
Well, I’m back again after another week’s break due to illness where Jean has aptly filled in this column space. And it’s time for an explanation to readers and fans of the Avenue… where has she been?
Well, I’ve been in and out of the hospital since the end of May being treated for a reoccurrence of the cancer that was discovered over six years ago. So many of you have experienced the disease yourself or within your family that I know you understand the feeling of learning “it’s back.” Hardly a day or ache or pain goes by without that dread but when you face the reality, you face the challenge.
I’ve had diagnostic and other surgery and have now begun chemotherapy at Franklin Square. To those docs and nurses, I am so grateful. What wonderful care I’ve received.
Next week I start my second round of chemo and while it’s not easy, there are tougher things I can think of. For me, the aftereffects following chemo were worse than the treatment. But I’m tough, hanging in there and keeping a positive attitude.
Already, I’ve been showered with cards, prayers and good wishes, even from folks I don’t know, from as far away as Ohio. How heartwarming is that! I’m on prayer lists as far away as Seattle, WA as well as included in local prayer groups – and I welcome them all!
I’m pretty weak as you might imagine so in the weeks I can’t get myself together enough to write, Jean will fill in. So please keep me in your thoughts and prayers and I’ll keep you updated.
Summertime TV: Being incapacitated for a few weeks brings more than a healthy opportunity to catch up on TV. Unfortunately, there’s nothing on in the summer. The one show I can usually rely upon for something new is Larry King Live on CNN at 9pm. Larry will have a couple nights of good guests each week, then resort back to topics surrounding Paris Hilton, wrestler Steve Benoit’s death, celebs in rehab, etc. You wouldn’t even know there’s a war going on in Iraq, a healthcare crisis in America, or a huge surge in violent crime.
I’ve also been watching a lot of home improvement shows which inspire me to get well soon and redecorate. Your body is like your home and when it needs to be fixed, ya gotta get it fixed! Take care now – and thanks again for your support.
(Md. Historical Society Photographs, 8/22/2012)
405 East Baltimore Street, Baltimore
John Dubas (fl. 1904-1973)
8 x 10 inch film negative
Baltimore City Life Museum Collection
Maryland Historical Society
By Jackie Nickel, The Avenue News, 7/4/2006
Following the excitement over the June 30 Marine Trades Fireworks Extravaganza, I’m focusing now on the real Independence Day, Wednesday, the 4th of July. Working folks will get a solitary day off from work in the middle of the week to celebrate the birth of our nation. This should be a relaxing day with family and friends, providing time for reflection, perhaps, on the true meaning of independence.
On this day in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress, triggering the 13 colonies on the road to freedom as a sovereign nation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in July 1776, the estimated number of people living in the newly independent nation was 2.5 million. The nation’s population on this July Fourth is 302 million.
The Library of Congress states on its web site that “Although Philadelphians marked the first anniversary of American independence with a spontaneous celebration, observing Independence Day only became commonplace after the War of 1812. Soon, events like ground-breaking ceremonies for the Erie Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad were scheduled to coincide with July 4th festivities.
By the 1870s, the Fourth of July was the most important secular holiday on the calendar. “Even far-flung communities on the western frontier managed to congregate on Independence Day. In an American Life Histories, 1936-1940 interview, Miss Nettie Spencer remembered the Fourth as the big event of the year. Everyone in the countryside got together on that day for the only time in the year.”
She continued, “There would be floats in the morning and the one that got the eye was the Goddess of Liberty. She was supposed to be the most wholesome and prettiest girl in the countryside — if she wasn’t she had friends who thought she was. But the rest of us weren’t always in agreement on that…”
Coincidentally, my neighborhood for years had a July 4th parade and we too chose a Lady Liberty, a beautiful young girl whom we decked out in full regalia. I fashioned the radiating crown out of tin foil and a gown was constructed from a draped white sheet. It was quite impressive. I still have a photo, in black and white, of me modeling that headpiece. It’s wonderful seeing our communities of today, like Wilson Point and Middleborough, reviving the 4th of July neighborhood parade complete with homemade noisemakers and decorated bikes.
Continues the dialogue of Nettie Spencer, “Just before lunch – and we’d always hold lunch up for an hour – some Senator or lawyer would speak. These speeches always had one pattern. First the speaker would challenge England to a fight and berate the King and say that he was a skunk. This was known as twisting the lion’s tail. Then the next theme was that any one could find freedom and liberty on our shores. The speaker would invite those who were heavy laden in other lands to come to us and find peace. The speeches were pretty fiery and by that time the men who drank got into fights and called each other Englishmen. In the afternoon we had what we called the ‘plug uglies’ — funny floats and clowns who took off on the political subjects of the day.”
We’re sure to see some “tail twisting” on our holiday this year, with national leaders and presidential candidates making speeches all over the country. It’s doubtful though that with the pressures of an immigration bill, there will be encouragement for “any one to find freedom and liberty on our shores.”
Nettie, God bless ‘er, concluded, “The Fourth was the day of the year that really counted then. Christmas wasn’t much; a Church tree or something, but no one twisted the lion’s tail!”
Independence Day will be over by the time you read this but it’s never too late to say God Bless and Happy Birthday, America!
Foundation work for a new firehouse for the Rockaway Beach Volunteer Fire Department has been started, and members hope to have the station in service by the time cold weather arrives.
They will do all the work on the one-story concrete block structure, which will have a tower for drying hose.
Organized three years ago, the company has about 100 active members.
Pending construction of a permanent station, their fire engine is housed in a converted double garage.
Charts H. Doing, county zoning commissioner, yesterday approved a commercial rating for the site of he new station, on the east side of Greyhound road at Turkey Point road. He stipulated that two-and-a-half times the area of the building shall be reserved for off-street sored by the firemen.
The Rockaway company protects the Back River Neck area south of Cape May road.
A. B. Fitzwater is fire chief, and other officers include John Neis, president; William Motschleidler, vice president; Fred Siegman, secretary: L. A. Sinclair, treasurer; William Flees, Charles Ziegler and F. L. Decker, trustees.
The new station will be financed from the proceeds of a series of crab feasts and bull roasts sponsored by the firemen.