A dark chestnut mare clip-clopped up Charles Street to the Washington Monument yesterday, trotting in a new era for Baltimore's Flower Mart.
The 1862 vintage carriage carrying Mayor Martin O'Malley and his wife, Katie, echoed the last 82 affairs, but it was clear the new organizers had produced one of the liveliest renditions of the annual rite, as thousands had gathered by lunchtime.
"See, this is what Baltimore can be. It's a good mixer," said Peggy Stansbury, a Federal Hill resident, gesturing at the scene, which included young artists sketching statues, fountains and the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church steeple.
In one departure, Katie O'Malley did not wear the usual flowered straw hat, but no one seemed to mind. In another, the recorded sounds of Santana serenaded the parade of people, including 74-year-old Carolyn Simmons, with her daughter Brenda Wilson, 52, and granddaughter Julie Wilson, 20.
Julie Wilson, a Mart flower girl in her younger days, won the hat contest for her purple and white creation. Simmons is a mainstay of the Women's Civic League, the original sponsor of the Flower Mart, which relinquished control of the event last year.
The new management, Flower Mart @ Mount Vernon Ltd., won praise for bringing the largest variety of vendors and services ever to the spring event, including a health expo that offered free blood-pressure tests by the Fire Department.
Under the sun, trees and towering marble, people agreed that they had never seen such a turnout at the Flower Mart. Central District police officers confirmed that but did not provide an official estimate of attendance.
"This is the largest I've seen," said Marguerite Hicks, 84, who attended with her cousin. After buying a caladium plant, the pair headed for the long line at the lemon-stick stand.
"That's the main thing, the drawing card," Hicks said.
A classroom of uniformed second-graders from Grace & St. Peter's Day School downtown arrived in search of "lemon sticks in particular, and just to enjoy the day," said their teacher, Terry Pierson.
Carl Young, 48, a truck dispatcher, brought his 17-month-old granddaughter, Morgan, and remembered when "I used to hook school to come. I like to see the ladies dressed up in their hats."
William Donald Schaefer, state comptroller and honorary chairman, looked in vain for his favorite flower, a late summer bloom. "There isn't a sunflower in this whole place," he said.
Marc Horowitz, co-chairman of the arts and crafts committee, said 75 booths displayed crafts, ceramics, antiques and beads from Maryland, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Holding a wrought-iron flamingo she intended to take home to Annapolis, Jeanne Escobosa said of the Flower Mart, "There's all kinds of new energy. It's revived."
On the stairs of the Peabody Institute, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., diving into a snack of funnel cake and lemonade, said, "You meet so many people you know."
In the rooms of the Engineers Club, Civic League members asked each other whether they missed the days of getting up at 5 a.m. for the Flower Mart.
"I have mixed emotions," member Bertha Pinder said later. "I wish we could have continued."