Cassandra 'Sandy' Christian, bartender at the Whistling Oyster, dies

Cassandra “Sandy” Christian, a local bartender recalled as a free spirit with a sympathetic ear, died in her sleep of a heart attack July 6 at her Dundalk home. She was 73.

Born in Baltimore and raised in O’Donnell Heights and Pimlico, she was the daughter of James “Mox” Toy, a railroad worker, and his wife, Virginia Parlett Colgan, a nurse at the old St. Joseph’s Hospital on Caroline Street.

She was a 1963 graduate of Mount Saint Agnes High School, and attended the University of Baltimore.

“My mother was a free spirit,” said her daughter, Elizabeth Ann Purkey of Baltimore. “As a young person she parked cars around Pimlico race track at the Preakness, and was a tap dancer. She loved the local recreation center. She met her husband at the Woodstock concert in 1969.

“She was fiercely independent and strong-willed,” said Ms. Purkey. “She could relate and listen to anyone.”

Ms. Christian was a resident of Abell Avenue and was working at Harry’s Bar on Lancaster Street in Fells Point when another local bar owner had a vacancy. The opening was at the Whistling Oyster on South Broadway, a tavern that was making a transition.

“When I bought the Oyster I was a teacher at the Park School and the bar was a locals bar, and not quite a stag bar,” said Robin Stevenson, a Baltimore resident. “It was a little bit rough, but all the patrons became like a family.”

“I had a barmaid working Friday nights and she left, and Sandy was working around the corner. It was about 1973 or 1974. She came to the Oyster and stayed 20 years,” said Ms. Stevenson, now the former owner of the Whistling Oyster.

“We raised our kids together,” she said. “I never had a sister, but I did have a sister with Sandy. It was a beautiful friendship.”

Ms. Christian became a fixture at the bar. She helped arrange art openings, poetry readings and a chili cookoff. She was also part of the team that worked with local clergy to select a needy family adopted by the bar at Christmas.

“Sandy was a mainstay at the Oyster as it became a family bar, a family of locals and neighborhood visitors,” said Ms. Stevenson. “She knew their faces and what they drank.”

Ms. Purkey said her mother described herself as a “liquid engineer” of beverages. She told patrons “get over yourself” if they complained too much.

Local lore suggested the Whistling Oyster’s 18th-century building had a ghost. Ms. Christian reported seeing two men enter the bar one night, then disappear.

“She believed it,” said Ms. Stevenson.

After the bar changed hands in 1994, Ms. Christian moved to Nacho Mama’s on O’Donnell Street in Canton.

“Miss Sandy was a real gem in the Nacho family,” said Jackie Falter McCusker, owner of Nacho Mama’s. “She was the queen of the one-line jokes and was a classic tender of the bar. When she told a joke, she had you hanging on every word. She could be sarcastic too. Everyone loved her.”

Friends at Nacho Mama’s said she was a mentor to new staff and enjoyed introducing hires to the routine of a busy bar and restaurant. They also recalled her contagious, loud laugh.

She was a golfer, she ended her career in part time work in the concession stand — known as The Shack — at the Clifton Park Golf Course. The course was frequented by some of her former patrons.

Friends said Ms. Christian was a reader and made weekly trips to the library. She liked murder mysteries.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at the Duda-Ruck Funeral Home of Dundalk, 7922 Wise Ave.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include a son, George Michael Tukey of Morgantown, W.Va.; a brother, James Toy II of Whiteford; four sisters, Joan Kefauver of Elkins, W.Va., Katy Szymanski of Easton, Mary Virginia Schindhelm of Baltimore and Lyda Toy of Gainesville, Fla.; and three granddaughters. Marriages to George Michael Tukey and Fred Christian ended in divorce.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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