Squarely on the front porch

A newsboy calls out the daily headlines in the shadow of what was the Baltimore Trust Co. Building in 1938.
A newsboy calls out the daily headlines in the shadow of what was the Baltimore Trust Co. Building in 1938.(unknown, Baltimore Sun)

Seven decades later, retired Baltimore Circuit Judge Thomas Ward still remembers the details of his Baltimore Sun paper route, calling the Windsor Hills terrain "horrible."

For $2.40 a week, 4 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., Monday through Saturday, he walked. His final paper of the morning went to a house far distant from the street, deep within Gwynns Falls Park.

"I was hoping they would stop taking the paper, but it never happened," says Ward, now 85.

Early-morning darkness shrouds most paperboys and girls, granting a little anonymity. Yet some former Sun carriers have grown up to be among Baltimore's best-known residents. Today, the system for delivering papers has become much more sophisticated than when they were kids. Yet they recall the experience (mostly) fondly, saying it imparted early lessons in life.

"I cannot think of a job where a 12-year-old had to be as consistently responsible," says restaurateur Tony Foreman, 46, who delivered morning and Sunday papers throughout northwest Roland Park from age 12 to 14. "The imminent possibility of screwing up was very present. I lived in that neighborhood, and the subscribers knew where I lived."

The co-owner of Charleston, Petit Louis, Pazo and Cinghiale says the route taught him the necessity of being punctual and collecting on bills. "The experience made it easier for me in all the jobs I had afterward," he says.

J. Scott Watkins, 47, a local actor who has done voiceovers for the Discovery Channel and appeared on "The Wire," was apprenticed at 8 years old on a route around the old Memorial Stadium in Ednor Gardens.

"The underhanded softball pitch seemed to work better than the overhanded hardball," he said. "We nearly broke a few windows, too. It was like shooting baskets. It was required the paper be placed squarely on the front porch."

Delivering a paper "taught you to complete a job," he says.

Baltimore author and historian Gilbert Sandler, 89, was a bona fide newsie, selling Sun and News-Post papers in the afternoon on streetcars. He says Cab Calloway once told him he worked the same streetcar route: "We would board at Park Circle, carrying papers in a brown strap, slung across a shoulder, and walk up the aisle. I'd go all the way to Pimlico," he says. "I'd say, 'Hey, getcha Sun, News-Post h-e-e-e-e-e-re!"

There were occasional perks for paperboys — sometimes a quarter or a dollar from a subscriber. When one canceled during a World War II housing shortage, Judge Ward's mother lost no time hurrying to the Talbot Road apartment and renting it.

Ward earned $2 more by delivering the weighty Sunday papers, which he carried in a canvas sling supported by a heavy leather neck strap hung over his right shoulder. "To this day," he says, "I have two different sizes of sleeves."