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A.T. Jones & Sons has kept Baltimoreans in costumes for more than 150 years, but now faces an uncertain future

The venerable North Howard Street theatrical costumer A.T. Jones & Sons Inc. that has kept Baltimoreans and environs dressed as ghouls, ghosts and other guises for more than 150 years, now faces an uncertain future since the death of its owner, George F. Goebel, 88, who was also a well-known magician and illusionist, earlier this month.

“We have been closed because of COVID-19 and I can’t see how we can continue doing business the way we used to. Our future really is uncertain,” said a son, Ehrich “Rick” Goebel, of Scotland, who is currently operating the costumer.

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The old Sunday Sun Magazine observed in a 1982 story that A.T. Jones was “the place where adult Baltimore comes to play dress-up,” whether it was as a Roman legionnaire, E.T., Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, harem girl, a knight in shining armor, Helen of Troy, or other characters drawn from history, opera, literature, sports, movies, science fiction, fantasy or any other category.

Perhaps its most famous and enduring creation was The Oriole Bird mascot costume.

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The business was established in 1868 by Alfred Thomas Jones, a painter and a North Carolinian, who came to Baltimore in 1861 to claim a painting prize from the Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts, which is today’s Maryland Institute College of Art, and was stranded in the city because of the outbreak of the Civil War.

A loyal Southerner, Jones made flags for the Army of Northern Virginia and smuggled them out of Baltimore under ladies’ hoop skirts.

“The federal agents, who knew what was happening, were too gentlemanly to look under the skirts, so the story goes,” reported The Sun in 1997.

Working as an art teacher, he began collecting costumes that ranged from Civil War uniforms to ball gowns. In an 1868 story in The Sun, the newspaper reported that, “Mr. A.T. Jones, No. 18 North Street, corner of Fayette, manufacturer and dealer in regalia, has on exhibition a case of elegantly finished articles in his line, consisting of jewels, regalia & [etc] designed for the use of the various secret orders.”

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Jones then began renting costumes from his collection for masquerade balls including one of the most famous in the city at the time, the Oriole Pageant, that was sponsored by the Order of the Oriole, during the 19th century. He then expanded his business to dressing theatrical companies, including actor Edwin Booth, who often donated props and costumes to Jones.

The Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 destroyed his original shop and with it went an estimated 25,000 outfits that were valued in pre-income tax days at $200,000. Also lost in the fire was a coat that had belonged to Benjamin Franklin that dated to the Revolutionary War.

The business, which was described by The Sun as an “emporium of make-believe,” later relocated to 823 North Howard St., and finally to 708 North Howard St., where it remains today.

Baltimore, MD-2/19/14 - George Goebel, 81, owner of A.T. Jones & Sons,Inc., began working at the costume company back in 1950 when he was in high school. Goebel had a successful career as a magician, but always kept his hand in the costume business. Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun Staff Photographer - #2515
Baltimore, MD-2/19/14 - George Goebel, 81, owner of A.T. Jones & Sons,Inc., began working at the costume company back in 1950 when he was in high school. Goebel had a successful career as a magician, but always kept his hand in the costume business. Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun Staff Photographer - #2515 (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun)

Successive Jones family members — Walter H. Jones Sr. , son of the founder, and then his widow, Lena, who was followed by their son, Walter H. “Tubby” Jones Jr. — continued to run the business, until it was sold in 1972 to George F. Goebel, who began working there in 1950.

Goebel kept the company’s name and made no changes.

“We’d never change it. Why would we if it’s been this way since 1868?” Goebel explained in the 1997 Sun article.

In addition to renting costumes to ordinary citizens, A.T. Jones, the second-oldest costumer in the United States, had customers that included not only theatrical, opera and movie companies, but the Gridiron Club. The longtime Washington journalism club, which has been a customer since 1888, turns to the firm each year to dress its performers in their show that spoofs Washington’s official political infrastructure.

When a Gridiron Club performer was dressed as pseudo Barbara Bush in a, ahem, very short dress, there was some concern she might be offended, but the irrepressible and beloved first lady, told the press that “she’d never looked better.”

“At A.T. Jones & Sons,” said Goebel, “you can be anything you want.”

The A.T. Jones and Sons costume company, founded in 1868, is shown in 1944. At the time, it had one of the largest and most varied assortment of costumes and props in the country — one could secure anything from a button to an elephant. This view shows only one of 17 rooms stuffed and jammed with articles.
The A.T. Jones and Sons costume company, founded in 1868, is shown in 1944. At the time, it had one of the largest and most varied assortment of costumes and props in the country — one could secure anything from a button to an elephant. This view shows only one of 17 rooms stuffed and jammed with articles. (A. Aubrey Bodine, Baltimore Sun)

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