The life and times of Baltimore opera diva Rosa Ponselle, who would have turned 100 this year, was recalled recently with the release of a U.S. postage stamp.
Also included in the release of famous opera performers was a stamp honoring Lily Pons, the French-born coloratura who died in 1976.
In addition to her fabulous voice, Pons had another distinction -- having a Maryland post office named for her.
In 1932, the tiny Frederick County post office of Lilypons opened for business.
"It was a dot on a map, because nobody has ever been quite sure what to call it. Lilypons, Md., was never a city, town or even a hamlet," said The Evening Sun in 1986.
"It is now what it has always been: one frame building surrounded by a small cluster of ponds nestled into a peaceful crook of the Monocacy River eight miles south of Frederick. Its only inhabitants have been rare goldfish and beautiful blooming waterlilies."
A fan's idea
The idea for the post office at Lilypons was the brainchild of opera buff George Leicester Thomas, whose favorite performer was Lily Pons.
Thomas, with his brother, Lee C. Thomas, had established Three Springs Fisheries in 1917, a Frederick County mail-order fish and aquatic-plant firm.
The Thomas brothers considered "Lily Ponds" and "Lily Pons" for the name of the fourth-class post office that officials later combined into one word: Lilypons.
The post office was established in the back room of the headquarters building where George Leicester Thomas happily stamped all outgoing packages with the distinctive postmark: "Lilypons, Md., the only post office in the world especially named for an opera singer."
Today, even though the business changed its name in the 1970s to Lily Pons Water Gardens, and is still located in the same frame clapboard building, it no longer has its post office.
In 1963, during a period of cost cutting, the Postal Service discontinued the Lilypons postmark and combined its functions with the nearby Buckeystown post office. A plaque commemorating the tiny post office was mounted on the building in 1986.
"Even though it's been gone for years, I just received a letter the other day addressed to Lilypons, Md., with no ZIP code and it got through to me," said Charles E. Thomas, grandson of George L. Thomas and chief executive officer of the business.
When the new post office opened, Frederick countians were excited to learn that Lily Pons planned to visit and preside at the dedication June 21, 1936.
"My parents drove to Baltimore to pick her up at the railroad station. They had a state police escort, with sirens wailing all the way up the old National Pike to Frederick," Thomas said recently from his office.
Arriving in Frederick and on her way to the Francis Scott Key Hotel, Pons was gratified to see a movie marquee announcing her new Hollywood picture, "I Dream Too Much," which gave her billing over co-stars Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball.
She had brought debonair orchestra conductor Andre Kostelanetz for all of Frederick to inspect. She eventually married Kostelanetz in 1938 after he proposed 13 times.
"I can't recall the exact combination of her room numbers at the hotel but they added up to 13, which was her favorite number," recalled Thomas.
She toured the city's historic sites, which included the Barbara Fritchie House, and was photographed waving from a second-story dormer to the crowds below. She visited the Francis Scott Key Memorial and sang "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Gov. Harry W. Nice, U.S. Sen. George L. Radcliffe and Rep. David J. Lewis of Cumberland accompanied Pons on a tour of the 150-acre garden -- which was in full bloom -- as thousands of Marylanders looked on.
" 'I can't tell you how thrilled I am to at last see Lilypons,' Miss Pons said, addressing a throng of 3,000 who gathered at a grandstand above the ponds to formally welcome her," reported The Evening Sun.
She told them that as a child she had read about kings measuring their wealth by the number of heads of cattle and slaves they owned.
"How much more charming it is for me to describe the wealth of my namesake city in terms of thousands of lovely lilies," she said.
She later stepped aboard George L. Thomas' red canoe and slowly drifted across the pond, gathering waterlilies, some of which she took home and planted at her Connecticut estate.
"The County Commissioners also dedicated that day the Lily Pons Bridge across the Monocacy River, which was later swept away by Hurricane Agnes in 1972," said Charles E. Thomas. Another bridge was built and rededicated to Pons in 1986.
According to Thomas, confusion continued over use of the opera singer's name when Frederick County authorities changed the name of Criss Ford Road to Lilypons Road.
However, signs identified the road as "Lily Ponds Road," and it took several more years before the signs were corrected to Lilypons Road.
Pons returned again in 1938 and for years afterward sent her Christmas cards and publicity material to Lilypons to be postmarked.
Bowed out in 1972
Her last performance was in New York in 1972 with the New York Philharmonic, and she sent the Thomas family tickets for box seats.
"She kept in touch with us over the years and it was a thrill to see her backstage one last time," Thomas said.
In honor of Pons, Thomas' company this year began offering a vibrant pink, 100-petal waterlily, appropriately named the Lily Pons.
"Most lilies only have two dozen petals," said Thomas, "and there is only one other 100-petal lily in the world and that's the Temple sur Lot.
"It's a good bloomer and will bloom between May and September."
Pub Date: 10/05/97