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Christmas wasn't so different Festivities: In 1898, Baltimoreans ate sumptuous feasts, went to church, set up colorful holiday displays and generally made merry.


On Christmas Eve in Baltimore in 1898, Baltimore society figures, clubmen, financiers, business and professional men gathered with their escorts for the annual Merchants' Club luncheon.

In a setting overflowing with holly, mistletoe and potted plants, guests made their way to two long tables "laden with delicacies."

"Saddles of fine West Virginia mutton, Carroll County and Virginia turkeys, plumb and done to a savory brown, chines, spiced oysters, turkey olio and other equally tempting things were spread. Large bowls filled with exclusive brews of various punches occupied positions of prominence," reported The Sun.

For all its glamour, the annual feast was just one more way in which the Baltimore of a century ago chose to ring in the winter holiday.

"With the clanging of the church bells early in the morning the town awoke yesterday to Christmas," reported The Sun on Dec. 26. "Then that cheery greeting,'Merry Christmas,' and the hearty response, 'Same to you,' started on their annual round of good-will, sounding joyfully in hundreds of homes, ringing out on every street, permeating the highways and the byways, the cars, the churches, everywhere, until it became as universal as the Christmas spirit."

Despite the day being cloudy and slightly raw, The Sun said, "Yet the weatherman says that this is the normal Christmas weather; that folks don't know what they are talking about when they speak of a clear, cold, crisp Christmas, with snow and sleighbells, fur robes and roaring fires, but that Christmas has to be taken as it is, and that it is dutiful to be merry, inspite of murky skies."

As family members and friends exchanged gifts, "the small children immediately began the effort to make themselves sick on candy and other holiday confections, to toot their horns, beat their drums and break their toys" said the newspaper.

After 11 a.m. church services, Charles Street, Park Avenue and North Avenue were filled with "bright-faced girls and their escorts" as they promenaded wearing Christmas gifts of new ties and coats. "At night many Christmas trees were lighted up and families gathered around them. The churches were again well-filled at night," said The Sun.

While in the harbor, foreign vessels lying at anchor "had strings of flags strung over them which hung in folds, without wind enough to straighten them. Goose took the place of the American turkey on most of the tables on shipboard," said the newspaper.

The Sun reported that "Mr. Frederick M. Kipp, 410 South Ann Street, has at his home a novel display in the way of a Christmas tree and garden. The garden represents scenes in Cuba during the recent war, and the work has been well-executed." Kipp had recreated in his parlor the charge of Col. Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders up San Juan Hill.

"Colonel Roosevelt is represented in full uniform, mounted upon a magnificent charger. The Spaniards are entrenched behind earthworks and wire fences. Among the soldiers can be seen the members of the Red Cross Society, with stretchers and ambulances, caring for the wounded. A short distance away can be seen General Garcia with his Cuban soldiers indifferently looking on at the fight."

The garden, which measured 13 feet long by six feet wide, was illuminated with numerous gas lights.

Another less violent garden, perhaps, was that of Dr. Henry C. Spetzler, of 1018 Druid Hill Avenue, who with the aid of "mechanical contrivances" recreated the Relay House on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad in Relay.

In a Christmas editorial, The Sun said, "The season is one for all mankind, rich and the poor, the high and the lowly, if they are inspired by the sublime sentiments of Christ. His unselfish devotion to the welfare and happiness of mankind."

Pub Date: 12/19/98

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