ON Wednesday morning, Nov. 11, 1964, a crowd gathered at the foot of the Battle Monument at Fayette and Calvert streets. The Southern High School band played "Baltimore, Our Baltimore." Milling about were Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin, City Council President Thomas D'Alesandro Jr., Comptroller Hyman A. Pressman, people who worked in the area and a gaggle of lawyers, politicians and judges.
All this for the dedication of a newsstand? That's right, but this was no ordinary newsstand. It was Abe Sherman's glass and aluminum stand (with built-in light fixtures and radiant heat).
The journey to this point in Sherman's history -- and the city's -- had been long and circuitous. It began in 1919, when Sherman opened his first stand on the very spot. Over the years, Baltimoreans grew to love the stand and rely on it, and Sherman prospered. He sold newspapers and magazines from all over the world, advertising at one point that all 48 states were represented among his printed wares.
But then problems arose. The city fathers wanted to dress up the park around the Battle Monument, and there was no place for Abe in the plans. Some said his stand looked like a Hooverville shack covered with newspapers and magazines. Contributing to what came to be known as "the Sherman problem" was a Baltimore tradition: driving by, grabbing a paper from Sherman and paying for it -- without stopping. Sherman's critics said it was dangerous and an impediment to smooth traffic flow at one of the city's major intersections.
In 1963, Sherman agreed to have his stand moved to the sidewalk on the northwest corner of Fayette and Calvert streets, but that was not satisfactory, and Sherman was clearly unhappy. An irascible sort to begin with, Sherman commented, "Hell, I got more business there from the pigeons." He wanted his old spot back.
Finally, a compromise was reached. Local architects would sponsor a contest for the best design for a new Abe Sherman's. It would be back at the old place, but it would be aesthetically pleasing. Schaefer Beer came up with $11,000 to build it. And so about a year later the new glass and aluminum Abe Sherman's came into being. It was dedicated on Veterans Day, 1964.
Not everybody was happy. The Society of 1812 called Sherman's presence near the monument "rank commercialism." Flag House members called the stand "a desecration of our war dead."
Nevertheless, there it was. Mayor McKeldin stepped up to buy the first paper. (Claiming he was broke, he had to borrow the money from a bystander.) "It's the Taj Mahal of newsstands," he said. Sherman responded grumpily: "I guess it's better than the old place."
The comptroller read one of his poems:
This is truly beautiful, Abe,
Treat it tenderly, like a babe.
Protect it from all passing trucks.
It cost eleven thousand bucks.
Sherman stayed in the new stand until 1970, when he became ill and could no longer work. His doctor said it was pneumonia. Sherman said that was wrong: "It was the smog. I couldn't stand it!"
So in 1971, after half a century, Sherman left the Battle Monument and migrated to Park and Mulberry. He died in 1985. The store closed a few years later.
And another of Baltimore's genuine characters departed.