The Darkroom

A (very) Baltimore Christmas garden

For my first Christmas in 1950, my father built the miniature village we Baltimoreans call a garden, a Christmas garden. A few years earlier the coal furnace had disappeared from our basement and there was now room for our club cellar.

Soon the annual garden grew on plywood tables dressed with fountains, lakes, turtles and goldfish and trains.

Lots of trains.

A couple uncles joined in and the Kelly garden was now an established tradition. My mother, a good bargain shopper -- she found a couple of sets substantially reduced at the Hochschild Kohn department store -- and put up quite a fight to get them when a salesperson tried to snag them before the store officially opened. My grandmother made the green skirting around the platform base. We made mountains from old window shades and spray paint.

I played and played with the trains over throughout the holiday season and watched the 1958 Colts-Giants championship game with my father on a television alongside the garden.

As I got into my teens, and had some sets of my own trains, I built smaller gardens but there was always one in the house in December.

In 1990, after finally getting my once wet basement dried out, I took the original 1950 platforms and expanded the operation.

While I once took everything down in January, I stopped and left the basic setting up permanently. Joseph Walters, a Parkville birdhouse builder, and his son, Donald Booker, became my structure builders. Charles Hughes, of the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, remains the chief electrician of the seven separate loops.

On a cold winter morning, when the day’s responsibilities need postponing a few minutes, I descend into the train cavern and start firing up the engines.

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