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Merriment reigned at holiday season Celebration: In 1896, Baltimoreans had a white Christmas, shopped at the last minute and enjoyed Christmas gardens.


On Dec. 23, 1896, Baltimore was hit by a wet, heavy snow, which no doubt added to the impending Christmas merriment. The forecast was for northeasterly gales and more heavy snow.

Street railway companies brought out for the first time that season their big snowplows, and The Sun reported that the snow on the trolley wires caused "vivid splutters of electricity as the cars passed under them."

Postmaster Warfield at the Baltimore Post Office, commenting on the volume of seasonal mail, reported that "children nowadays are as trusting as in the years gone by, and are still firm believers in the ubiquitousness and obliging disposition of the genial old soul, Kriss Kringle."

"The day before Christmas witnesses the grand culmination of the shopping festival of several weeks that always precedes the greatest holiday of the year," said a newspaper editorial.

"And so the last day of Christmas shopping is generally more lively and exciting than any that have gone before. Today is not likely to prove an exception to the general rule, and the closing hours before old Father Christmas rings up the curtain on his familiar but ever delightful drama of love and good-will will be attended by the customary scenes of good-natured bustle and joyous activity."

Boisterous Christmas Eve crowds, in an annual ritual known as ** the Lexington Street Carnival, gathered to see in Christmas.

Inharmonious sounds

"For hours a mass of merry-makers armed with every conceivable instrument capable of producing ear-splitting, inharmonious sound, poured into this thoroughfare from Charles Street to Eutaw Street, surging backward and forward in impenetrable waves of humanity that overflowed the sidewalks and filled the streets," reported the newspaper.

While Baltimoreans set aside worries about home rule for Cuba, agricultural exports and the Interstate Commerce Commission, they anxiously read a story that detailed Queen Victoria's family Christmas at Sandringham Castle.

"With a household containing three hundred servants, the distribution of gifts always implies a great deal of labor," reported the newspaper.

"Looking abroad over the face of the world this Christmas morning, we see much to the taunting question of those who look upon the dark side of life -- Where is peace on earth, and where is good will among men? Wars have not ceased, nor can we say that they seem likely to do so in our time," said The Sun in a Christmas editorial.

"It would seem to be a hard task indeed, quite beyond the performance of even the most cynical nature, to remain untouched and unmoved by the kindly sympathies that are seeking expression today in so many beautiful forms," concluded the editorial.

L Observance of the day wasn't confined to cozy, warm parlors.

"There was great sport at Electric Park yesterday afternoon. Never in the history of pastimes in Maryland has such a scene been witnessed. On the lake at the north end of the course hundreds were at all times skating. On the racetrack the horses were contending and indoors the bowling, billiards and pool games were enjoyed by all. This was the first occasion in the memory of the oldest of the several thousand spectators upon which such events were held on Christmas Day in this State," reported The Sun. Electric Park was on Belvedere Avenue near Reisterstown Road.

The newspaper also reported that a large number of men were applying for work, food and shelter at the Friendly Inn. "Many of the men are of good habits who are out of work, penniless and homeless. The directors of the Friendly Inn Association anticipate that unless provided for they will beg, steal or become criminals and be a menace to the community."

Nurses and physicians at the Johns Hopkins Hospital took patients to the Assembly Hall, where the children were given gifts by Santa Claus and older "inmates" were given "rolling chairs."

St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church at Lombard and Wolfe streets celebrated Christmas morning high Mass with the church illuminated by electricity for the first time, while the "Inmates of the German Orphan Asylum, Aisquith Street near Orleans, had a good time yesterday. The halls and walls were decorated with evergreen and in the playroom there was a large tree," said The Sun.

Christmas garden

Baltimore's interest in Christmas gardens was as vibrant then as now. The newspaper reported that Dr. George A. Strauss, of 9 E. Montgomery St., had a "novel decoration in the parlor of his house."

While on a hunting trip to Parkton, Strauss had been so taken with the beauty of the village that he "reproduced it in miniature for his children. At the base of a gaily ornamented tree, supposed to be just outside Parkton, is the representation of the village, with the hills, houses and winding roads."

On Dec. 26 The Sun said, "The bright and happy faces which were seen on the streets, in the churches, and at the theaters bore testimony to the joy which takes possession of All Christendom on this greatest day of the year and which for a few hours at least makes the whole world kin. And now for a prosperous New Year and a Merry Christmas in 1897."

Pub Date: 12/22/96

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