"Let us confess it to one another, Baltimore is a good old town," announced H. L. Mencken on April 18, 1910, in a short comment in the very first edition of The Evening Sun.
As The Evening Sun goes to press for the last time today, we continue to marvel at the good old town that molded this newspaper. Whatever distinction The Evening Sun holds in newspaper history it shares with the city that nourished it. Baltimore gave this paper 85 years of daily headlines and, more important, its unmistakable character and its distinctive flair.
"The cobblestones are rough -- but they might be tin cans," Mencken wrote 85 years ago. "The taxes may be high -- but out of every dollar collected fully 95 cents is spent honestly and fully 40 cents intelligently. In New York the politicians take 50 percent, and then half. And the City Council -- a thick-headed, hunkerous, ignorant lot? Maybe so! Maybe so! But in Pittsburgh, the Councilmen are thieves."
That irreverence, that insight, that love of home with its warts and everything were woven into the heritage of The Evening Sun from the very beginning. Sure, Baltimore has its problems. Always has, always will. But what a place to cover! And unlike some other cities rich with news, Baltimore is a place with a big heart, a city rich with politicians and real people, with characters and character. Energy and verve, brawn and brains, quaintness and charm and eccentricity, rakes and solid citizens alike -- Baltimore has all the raw ingredients for rich newspapering. It always will.
When alumni and friends of The Evening Sun gathered last weekend to say a long goodbye to the paper, they came back from all over -- up north in Connecticut and Vermont and Rochester, N.Y., down south in Durham and Atlanta and Miami, out west in Montana. They also came back from other newspapers and from other walks of life -- broadcasting, book writing, lawyering, teaching, stock brokering, homemaking. What drew them was the sense that this newspaper and this city gave them not just a setting to build their careers but also a home to nurture their hearts.
The Evening Sun has always reveled in a looser, less serious image than its morning sister newspaper. Ten years ago, when the afternoon upstart celebrated 75 years of covering Baltimore, some staff members produced a video spoof entitled "Little Big Paper" that highlighted the differences in style and image between the two daily newspapers, which then were still very much in competition with each other.
The improbable plot of the video revolved around a seamy murder in Fells Point. As was usual in those days, both papers dispatched reporters when word came of a body discovered in the back of a '79 Cutlass. The intrepid Evening Sun team was dispatched by "staff car," a dented, decrepit station wagon belching noxious fumes.
The morning Sun reporter arrived by limousine. A uniformed chauffeur rushed around to open the door, and the Sun man stepped out, removed his gloves and asked for his notebook and pen. Need we add that the drama concluded with The Evening Sun reporters, by hook and crook, mining the story for sensational headlines several days in a row. Sassy and brassy, never stuffy, Evening Sun staffers traditionally rejoiced in their differences from the staid and stolid morning Sun.
For newspaper people, daily deadlines become addictive. The adrenalin of another deadline rush becomes part of the pace of life. And if there is the constant reminder that even the liveliest story is soon yesterday's stale news, there is also the happy consolation of knowing that whatever the day's failures, tomorrow brings a chance to redeem all sins.
Alas, there are no more tomorrows for The Evening Sun, no more chances for glory -- nor possibilities for infamous headlines like the one on April 15, 1912, which proclaimed "All Titanic Passengers Are Safe."
It's been a great run these 85 years. Today we say farewell to the city that nurtured us for the better part of the 20th century. Baltimore will endure long after The Evening Sun has set. But we are sure that whenever this city's history is recounted, in academe and in barrooms, The Evening Sun will be remembered.
Today marks an end, but for the Sunpapers of Baltimore it is also another beginning. Come Monday morning, a new Sun will rise, better than either of its predecessors. That's our promise -- hold us to it.