Look up, Baltimore baseball fans! You’ve come a long way.
The origin of baseball in Baltimore is a ridiculously complicated affair. Scant photographic evidence remains and accounts in newspapers, which used nicknames for teams and players as often as they did proper names, leave behind a murky, hard-to-follow record.
By the 1870s there were already a handful of defunct Maryland base ball* clubs with names like the Excelsiors, the Marylands, the Pastimes, the Monumentals, etc. Keeping track of who they were, where they played, where they packed up and left town to play before coming back under another team name is a chore difficult for the most earnest of sporting historians. Add to this mess a game so loosely organized that it was impossible to even agree on a national champion until 1894. A little research on the subject yields a solid argument for keeping things simple, so here goes…
Meet your Lord Baltimores a.k.a. the Yellow Stockings a.k.a the Baltimore Canaries, so called for their bright yellow uniforms. These dandies wore thick silk shirts—instead of the usual flannel—emblazoned with the Calvert arms, wide white belts, and snazzy yellow and black argyle socks.
The year was 1872. Out of the ashes of Waverly’s Pastime Base Ball Club, which started fielding amateur players as early as 1861, came the Lord Baltimores. When the team played well, fans called them Lords. When they didn’t win, fans were more inclined to call them Canaries. They were the city’s first professional team under the auspices of the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, but they were its second professional team overall.
The honor of being Baltimore’s first professional base ball club went to the Marylands who in the late 1860s defected to Fort Wayne, Indiana when wealthy businessmen there flashed some cash and convinced them to stay while the team was in town for a game. After a brief dalliance as the Fort Wayne Kekiongas, half the team returned home to Charm City to form the Lords. Not surprisingly the team was plagued from the start with rumors that they threw games.
In their three seasons of existence (1872-1874), the Lord Baltimores played their home games at Baltimore’s Newington Park, which was located between Baker and Gold Streets. There are no known photographs of the venue, though with the help of G.M. Hopkins’ Atlas and the Sachse Company’s “Bird’s Eye View…” we’re able to get some idea of when and where the park stood. Newington Park was located on Pennsylvania Avenue “extended” in West Baltimore.
The club’s most popular player, Lipman Emanuel “Lip” Pike (1845–1893),** was also the first Jewish major leaguer. Known as the “Iron Batter,” the left-handed batsman was a homerun king at a time when dingers were only an occasional treat. A noted speedster, Pike was no stranger to the inside-the-park homerun and had a reputation for racing any challenger for a cash prize. On August 16, 1873, he reportedly raced a horse named “Clarence” in a 100-yard sprint at Newington Park, and won by four yards with a time of 10 seconds flat, earning him a cash prize that would amount to about $5,000 today).*** While in Baltimore Lip Pike ran a cigar store on Holliday Street near Fayette. His financial prospects outlived his team’s.****
Finishing their first and second seasons in second and third place respectively, the future of the Lords club was looking bright. But the Panic of 1873 caught up with the team’s financiers. Funding dried up and the team they fielded in 1874 was a disgrace. They ended their final season 9-38, 31.5 games behind the first place Boston Red Stockings. (Joe Tropea)
* Prior to 1890, baseball was written “base ball.”
**Baseball Almanac, United Press International. October 9, 1986.
*** Joseph Siegman, Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall Of Fame, 2005.
**** Lip Pike played and managed teams up and down the East Coast after the Canaries went kaput. When his baseball days were over he ran a haberdashery that became a well-known hangout for baseball enthusiasts. In 1893, he died of a heart attack at age 48 and was buried in his native Brooklyn, N.Y.
James H. Bready, Baseball in Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins Press, 1998.
Paul Batesel, Players and Teams of the National Association, 1871-1875, McFarland, 2012.
Glimpses Into Baseball History blog, “Early Baltimore Baseball, Part 16,” http://baseballhistoryblog.com/2055/early-baltimore-baseball-part-16/
West Baltimore was once a densely packed, vibrant neighborhood full of theaters, local businesses, and industry. Drive down many of the streets today and you’re likely to see a vacant lot or a boarded up row house on nearly every other block. But even an empty field has a history. The tiny, off-kilter house pictured to the left is one of the oldest houses in West Baltimore. Or at least it was circa 1865 when the photograph was taken. Like many of Baltimore’s historic structures it has been lost to time and the march of progress. It is now the site of a vacant lot. Built in the mid-1700s, the two-story wood frame house was located at 930 West Baltimore Street, two doors west of Amity Street. The property is known as the Sulzebacher house. The name is most likely a corruption of Sulzbach; according to the Baltimore city directories, a currier named Peter Sulzbach occupied the residence for a few years in the 1840s.
The house is of typical design for a mid-eighteenth century home in Baltimore. The gable roof may point to the construction of the home in the 1760s or 1770s; by then “gambrel roofs had fallen out of favor and most frame houses were a full two stories in height, with gable roof, with or without dormers.”* The building’s obvious tilt was characteristic of structures “located on streets built to match a since-altered street grade.”** Visible on the second floor is a fire insurance seal. Also called a fire mark, these iron, copper, or lead emblems indicated that a specific insurance firm paid a volunteer fire department to protect it – Baltimore’s first paid fire department was established in 1859, but the fire seals often remained left on the buildings. The Sulzebacher house survived for over 150 years, no mean feat for a wood frame house from that period. Sometime before 1911 the house was razed – the structure is not visible on the 1911 edition of the Sanborn fire insurance atlas – and replaced by a three-story barber shop.
The house at 932 West Baltimore Street, the edge of which can be seen in the photograph, may have been even older. Built in the same period, it had a much larger frontage than its neighbor at 930. The original structure was razed just a few years prior to the Sulzebacher house to make way for a motion picture theater. Both 932 and 930 West Baltimore Street appear to have caught the eye of rival theater owners. At around the same time that James W. Bowers was pursuing the properties at 932, A. Freedman had similar designs on 930. Freedman apparently lost the contest, because the only theater that debuted was Bower’s Aladdin Theater, which opened its doors to the public near the end of 1909. Advertising itself as “West Baltimore’s finest motion picture house,” the Aladdin theater seated about 400 patrons.
Between 1910 and 1938 the theater changed both ownership and names a number of times. In 1917 J. Louis Rome purchased it and renamed it the New Aladdin. The following year it came under the control of C.E. Nolte and his partner, Baltimore-born movie mogul Frank Durkee, whose Durkee Enterprises owned or controlled a large number of the movies houses in Baltimore, including the Ritz, the Palace, the Arcade, and the Senator. In 1930 the theater became the New Queen. It was open for less than a year, perhaps closing from the effects of the Great Depression. Then from 1933 to 1938 it operated as the segregated Booker T. Theater. This was the last of the property’s run as a host for cinematic productions – in 1942 it was converted into a plant for the New Gold Bottling Company, a soft drink manufacturer.
The New Gold Bottling Company was founded in 1925 by Greek immigrant Dionicios Karavedas. The company went on to produce Sun Spot, a popular orange flavored soft drink, whose advertisements boasted that it was made with real orange juice. During the 1950s and 1960s, the beverage, which retailed for a nickel, could be found in neighborhood stores and confectionaries throughout the city. The riots of 1968, which hit West Baltimore particularly hard, led to a decline in business for the soft drink manufacturer. In an odd change of direction, Dionicios’s son Nicholas, who took over the company after his father retired in 1960, began producing a sugar detecting beverage alongside his sugar enhancing ones – in the 1970s, he was involved with developing a product known as GTTS (Glucose tolerance testing solution) that detected the presence of gestational diabetes in pregnant women. Through a new company, Custom Laboratories, Inc., Karavedas went on to become the “the largest supplier of glucose testing solutions in the country.”***
By the 1980s, the beverage companies were still producing their dissimilar drinks on West Baltimore Street. But the city had its own plans for the site. In the mid-1980s it began purchasing properties on both the 900 and 800 blocks of West Baltimore Street for a proposed redevelopment project.
By 1992 the Karavedas owned companies were the remaining holdouts. According to a Baltimore Sun article from that year, the beverage companies were “the last tenants on a block the city has been clearing for as-yet unspecified housing or commercial redevelopment use.”**** By 1998, they had relocated across the city to Highlandtown. Twenty years later the 900 block of West Baltimore street, now owned by the University of Maryland, still remains undeveloped, a field of grass surrounded by a mixture of boarded up row homes, storefronts, University of Maryland medical buildings, and vacant lots. (Damon Talbot)
*Hayward, Mary Ellen & Frank R. Shivers Jr., ed., The Architecture of Baltimore: An Illustrated History (Baltimore: JohnsHopkinsUniversity Press, 2004), p. 9.
**The Passano Files, Baltimore Street (928, West)
****”Boondoggle on Baltimore Street,” The Baltimore Sun, March 16, 1992.
Sources and further reading:
”Boondoggle on Baltimore Street,” The Baltimore Sun, March 16, 1992.
The Dielman-Hayward File, Karavadas, Dionicios
Hayward, Mary Ellen & Frank R. Shivers Jr., ed., The Architecture of Baltimore: An Illustrated History (Baltimore: JohnsHopkinsUniversity Press, 2004)
Headley, Jr, Robert Kirk, Exit: A History of the Movies in Baltimore (University Park, Md: Robert Kirk Headley, Jr., 1974)
Headley, Jr, Robert Kirk, Motion Picture Exhibition in Baltimore: An Illustrated History and Directory of Theaters, 1895-2004 (London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2006)
Jones, Carleton, Lost Baltimore Landmarks: A Portfolio of Vanished Buildings (Baltimore: Maclay & Associates., 1982)
Kelly, Jacques, “Nicholas D. Karavedas, beverage producer, dies,” The Baltimore Sun, October 19, 2010.
Life Magazine, December 24, 1965
The Passano Files, Baltimore Street (928, 930-932, West)
The Paul Henderson Photograph Collection contains over 6,000 photographs of mostly unidentified African Americans from ca. 1935-1965. When the Paul Henderson: Baltimore’s Civil Rights Era in Photographs, ca. 1940-1960 exhibition opened in 2012, several people from the media asked why it was important for MdHS to identify the people Henderson photographed in and around Baltimore. If you’ve ever looked through a family album and asked yourself, Who is that with so and so? or thought, I wish this person was around to ask who or where this was taken, you can sympathize with an archive’s desire to identify people and places in a historical record like a photograph. Library professionals have an obligation to the materials housed in their repository and to tell their stories to the fullest degree possible. Though most librarians are quite knowledgeable about the collections they serve, it is nearly impossible to be an expert on all the wide ranging topics covered in their holdings. For this reason librarians often function as facilitators, bringing their collections to the communities they document.
Most of the more famous individuals Henderson photographed (Lillie May Carroll Jackson, Paul Robeson, Governor Theodore McKeldin, Bayard Rustin, Senator Verda Welcome, to list but a few) have already been identified. Now MdHS is focused on putting names to the faces and places that aren’t so familiar.
To start the process of collecting names of people and places, underbelly will feature some of Henderson’s photos and we invite you to look, share, and comment. For this edition of the Henderson Who or Where? series, we present two curious photographs that were shot in September and October of 1948.* They were labeled “Group of ladies” and “Taking a picture.” Looking closely at the two photographs, you can see a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and almost everyone who is pictured is female. Click to enlarge the photographs.
If you think you know who is featured in the photographs or where the photographs were taken, please respond via the Henderson Collection Survey. If you have questions, please feel free to email email@example.com. To view more of Henderson’s work (including many more unidentified photos), learn about the exhibition, and to view Henderson videos, please visit the Paul Henderson Photographs Blog. All 6,000+ of Henderson’s negatives as available as public reference photographs through the MdHS Library. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. (Jennifer A. Ferretti)
Jennifer A. Ferretti is a MLIS candidate at Pratt Institute in New York City. She is the former Curator of Photographs & Digitization Coordinator at MdHS and curated the Paul Henderson exhibition which is ongoing. She continues to volunteer for MdHS and maintains the Paul Henderson Photographs Blog. Follow her on Twitter @jennydigiSILS.
*There have been discrepancies with the dates provided by the original repository of the collection (Baltimore City Life Museum). Read more about how MdHS came to house the collection on the Henderson Photographs blog.
Last week we reached out for help understanding a photograph, and wow, did we get it. Our photo from the Hughes Company collection traveled far and wide. The image, known then as “Detective room, Police Department,” was not only a headscratcher, but also a Rorschach Test of sorts. Different eyes saw different things happening. Speculations, observations, and facts, sent via e-mail and comments, ranged from thinking it was initiation ritual to a theatrical production still. The majority who weighed in felt that what’s depictied is a police line-up. Within less than two day’s time enough evidence mounted to reasonably argue that it is a police line-up. Whether or not it was staged or the real thing is one of the few questions left unanswered.
We now know to call this photo “‘The White Masks’ Inspecting a Prisoner at Detectives Headquarters.” The first info to arrive came from Bill Zorzi, a former Baltimore Sun editor and writer/producer/actor of The Wire. In an early afternoon e-mail to this writer he wrote:
“At first I thought it looked as if it might be a courtroom—which they used to have in the old police station houses—given the paneling and the brass bar. Then I counted the masked men, which totaled 15—too big for a jury (even with alternates) and too small for a grand jury. Then I thought, hmmm, I bet this is the forerunner of the ol’ police lineup… before 2-way mirrors…”
Zorzi followed his e-mail with another containing ten articles from The Sun. But before his second transmission arrived, commenter Bill Lefurgy, archivist/digital preservationist at the Library of Congress, quoted a Sun entry titled “Sleuths Have Mask System: First Prisoner Subject to Ordeal Turns Pale,” from July 29, 1908:
“…the Baltimore Detective Department initiated a ‘mask system’ that ‘enables detectives to examine crooks without being recognized.’ The description is of masks ‘of the ordinary white dominoes with white muslin covering the lower part of the face,’ worn by 20 detectives; the detective captain is described as unmasked….”
The article details how a young pickpocket, Hymen Movitz (18 years old) faced 20 masked detectives, turned pale, and clutched at the brass rail in our photo. Now we know when the practice was first implemented in Baltimore. Our photograph was taken after July 1908.
Several articles in the historic Baltimore Sun (accessible for free via ProQuest if you have a Pratt Library account) detail the story behind our photo. The paper has since posted some images of these articles on their DarkRoom blog. Sherlock Swann, whose collected papers are available at the MdHS Special Collections Department, was appointed president of the Police Board in 1908. Well known and highly regarded for his tenure as the Burnt District Commissioner after the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, Swann is apparently the first head of police to actually put serious effort into the job.
In March 1908, Swann traveled to New York City to school himself on the operations of a big city police department. One of the many practices he brought back with him was a ritual known as the “facing of the masks.” This practice was developed by Inspector Byrnes of New York in the mid-1880s. It was presumably a preventative measure. Masks were employed on the speculation that some career-minded criminals might have themselves arrested simply to learn the faces of detectives, thus adding to their skills and value.
In what seems a rather intimidating practice, police would parade detainees about to be released due to lack of evidence before detectives wearing the white masks seen above. It was all part of the daily morning routine. In New York the practice was done on a much larger scale involving up to 100 detectives. Officially, the line-up was held so that detectives could learn the features and mannerisms of individuals who would surely be passing through their doors again and again. However, one can’t help but speculate this was as much as a shaming/intimidating ritual as a useful law enforcement practice, especially considering that a photography department existed even at Baltimore’s small Bertillon Bureau. Each arrestee had already had his picture taken for the “Rogue’s Gallery.”
By 1911, the NYPD had abandoned the masked line-up for being time consuming and wasteful of the detectives’ time.* These factors didn’t stop the Baltimore police from using it for many years.
The most definitive piece of evidence we received was sent in by Jeff Korman of the Maryland Department at the Enoch Pratt Library. He identified the photo from a book in the Pratt’s collection, History of the Baltimore Police Department, 1774-1909 by Clinton McCabe. The photo, Korman said, appeared on page xvii. This came as quite a surprise to me, as the MdHS library has an earlier edition of the book without the photo. (HBPD 1774-1907)
The following day I went to the Pratt and met with Korman. He showed me the five different editions from their holdings, earlier ones like ours without the photo and later editions with the detectives faces obscured by a gilt stamp to protect their identities. We are now able to identify two of the three unmasked men. The moustached man on the far left is Detective Joseph E. Coughlan. Two spaces down and slightly turned to his left is Sergeant, Detective Harry P. Schanberger. They’re probably not wearing masks because they were the brass of the department and did not have to do undercover work.
All the information above dates our picture between 1908-09. It’s the only photo of its kind in our Hughes Collection. We may never know the identity of the African-American man on the riser. We may never know if he was arrested or if this was a staged demonstration for a photographer. But we have heard from enough voices who agree that this image is at once disturbing, perplexing, and stunning. It speaks volumes about our recent past.
MdHS would like to thank everyone who shared the photo, sent comments, clues, and criticisms, and enjoyed helping. (Joe Tropea)
*A New York Times piece from Feb. 9, 1914, “Police Line-up Is Resumed Today” details the discontinuation of the practice before it was reinstated in a modified form—less detectives—some three years later.
Sources and further reading:
The Baltimore Sun
“Colonel Swann ‘At School,'” Mar. 14, 1908: 14; “Col. Swann Returns,” Mar. 16, 1908: 7; “Must ‘Face the Masks,'” May 6, 1908: 12; “Sleuths Have Mask System,” July 29, 1908: 12; “Police Use Spotlight,” July 31, 1908: 12; “His Record on Police Board,” Apr. 21, 1910: 14; “Line-up of Crooks Stopped,” Aug. 13, 1911: 2; “Alleged Thief Silent,” Dec. 7, 1913: 7.
McCabe, Clinton, History of the Baltimore Police Department, 1774-1909 available at MdHS and the Enoch Pratt libraries.
Last month we solved a longstanding photograph mystery that we never expected to solve, that is until we rolled up our sleeves and actually tried. Modern digitization technology, more precisely the ability to zoom deep into a photo or negative to see details previously unavailable to the naked eye, coupled with searchable newspaper databases make solving these puzzles much easier today. But this time out, we have a longstanding photo mystery that we can’t solve on our own. Having exhausted every resource we could muster, from searching historic newspaper databases to asking historians and journalists (we even tried asking federal archival investigators who visited us during the Landau theft case), we still can’t say with any degree of certainty what’s going on in the disturbing photo above. Yet its imagery evokes such strong feelings, conjuring up images of Jim Crow, the Klan, and lynching, we can’t give up trying to understand it—so we turn to crowd sourcing.
Immediately several questions come to mind: What is happening to this man? Why are the men wearing masks? Are they police officers? Are they a jury? Stare a little longer and other questions arise: What year would this be? Why are two of the men seen above not wearing masks? Why does the African-American man seem so calm?
Here’s what we do know
This photo is labeled “Detective room, Police Department.” However, in the archival world, you quickly learn not to take random descriptions as gospel. It’s part of the Hughes Collection*, one of our largest collections of photographs. James F. Hughes, whose first appearance as a commercial photographer in the City Directory was in 1877, founded the company. He owned the company until his widow sold it to an employee, James W. Scott, in 1903. The Hughes Company primarily did work for Baltimore area businesses, corporations, governmental agencies, and occasionally private individuals.
MdHS’s records indicate that this photo was taken sometime around 1910. Several pieces of evidence corroborate this date. From the lighting fixtures to the suits and hats the men are wearing, this appears to be the early twentieth century, pre-WWI. Additionally, the original medium for the image is an 8 x 10 inch glass plate negative. Glass negatives preceded film negatives. They first appeared in the mid-nineteenth century, but went the way of the dinosaur in the early twentieth century as less fragile celluloid film was introduced. The one item that could answer the “when” question is just a bit too out of focus to help: a newspaper left on a table and opened to an advertisement page:
Given the approximate date of the photograph, we can safely assume that James Scott, or someone who worked for him after he took over the Hughes Company, took the picture. We know that the company commonly did work for the City of Baltimore. What we don’t know is why a Hughes photographer was at this location on this particular day. There’s also the matter that this room looks far more like a courtroom than a police detective room. Was the photographer there to take promotional pictures for the police department or court system? The shot seems somewhat staged, as if the men were assembled quickly for the shot. Note that three of them are not wearing masks, two on the left and one on the right in a doorway. Anonymity was not crucial for all of the men in the picture. There are fifteen men wearing the very distinctive masks. Could this be a jury with three alternates? Are they witnesses? A staged demonstration might also explain the calm look of the man on the riser. It’s also worth noting that he’s a fairly handsome man and zooming in closeup reveals no sweat on his brow. Additionally he appears to be wearing a wedding ring. What does any of this mean?
One final clue to point out: If this is a detective room or a court room, how do we explain the object behind the head of the man to the right of the man on the riser? What little we can read of it says, WM. J. C. DULANY CO. PUBLISHERS. Is it a calendar or broadside? The photo vexes us at every turn.
One prominent local historian** suggested that this image represents an initiation ritual for the first black detective of the Baltimore City police force. This seemed a reasonable guess, except that the date range of the collection is 1910-1926. Considering that glass negatives were not used much after the nineteen-teens and that we had never heard of an African-American detective in segregated Baltimore this early, we were left wondering.
The theory was quickly taken down by a veteran journalist who visits the library frequently. “There were no black officers on the force until 1937. Violet Hill Whyte was the first one,” said our source. “African-Americans weren’t even put into uniform until 1943,” he added. The first African-American men hired by the Baltimore Police arrived in 1938. They were Walter T. Eubanks Jr., Harry S. Scott, Milton Gardner, and J. Hiram Butler Jr. These men were not allowed to wear police uniforms for another five years. Even if this were a photo from as late as 1926, which is highly unlikely, it predates the arrival of African-Americans on the force by twelve years.
Left with more questions than answers, we turn to you, our readers. What do you think?
Please share this, leave comments, or send us an e-mail. (Joe Tropea)
While writing a previous post that looked at the debate over the oldest house in Baltimore, a coworker introduced me to another longstanding Baltimore debate. After reading the post, my coworker gently chided me for the use of “Fell’s Point” rather than the correct “Fells Point.” Not being a native Marylander, I was unfamiliar with the argument over the little mark of punctuation, or the fact that its use, or absence, can elicit such strong feelings. Just within the last dozen or so years, the debate has been addressed in the pages of The Baltimore Sun, City Paper, and Baltimore Magazine, with various theories proposed. A 1999 City Paper article, for instance, states that Fells Point is spelled without an apostrophe, because it’s not a mark of ownership, but rather “the plural of ‘Fell,’ presumably in honor of the two brothers.” (The two brothers being English Quakers Edward and William Fell) The reaction got me curious, so I decided to do a little digging of my own, to see if a brief history of the apostrophe could be charted.
In 1730, English carpenter William Fell arrived in Maryland and purchased a plot of land overlooking the Northwest branch of the Patapsco River. The small 100-acre tract, called Copus’s Harbor, soon became known as Fell’s Prospect. The success of his younger brother Edward, who settled in Maryland a few years earlier and set up a successful store on the east side of Jones Falls, convinced William to make the trip across the Atlantic. Both William and Edward figured prominently in Baltimore’s early history – in 1732, Edward and a group of settlers founded a town they called Jones’s or Jones Town, after David Jones who first settled the area around Jones Falls in 1661.
When William died in 1746, he left his settlement and business interests to his son Edward, who in 1763, laid out the town that bears his family’s name. Needing residents and revenue for his new venture, Edward placed an advertisement in the January 14, 1762 issue of the Maryland Gazette newspaper notifying those who had submitted their names for the right to purchase lots in his new town that their “Lea[s]es are now ready to be filled up…” In what is probably one of the earliest printed references to the Point, the land is described as being near “Baltimore-Town, Maryland, on a Point known by the Name of Fell’s-Point.” (Note the liberal use of the hyphen, a common stylistic choice in the period.) Four years later, Edward’s wife Ann placed another ad in the Gazette, this time threatening legal action against new residents of the town for unpaid debts. The ad retains the apostrophe but dispenses with the hyphen.
The Maryland Gazette, the state’s first newspaper, set a precedent that most other newspapers from the period followed. Early papers published from the Point continued to use the apostrophe, including the Fell’s Point News-letter and Mercantile Advertiser (1835), and The Courier and Inquirer (1836). The neighborhood’s first newspaper, the Fell’s-Point Telegraphe (1795), retained Edward Fell’s original use of the hyphen as well.
The Baltimore Sun, founded in 1837, also utilized the possessive apostrophe until changing course early in the twentieth century. A keyword search through the Enoch Pratt Library’s online database of The Baltimore Sun from 1837 to 1985 reveals the usage of “Fell’s Point” almost exclusively throughout the 1800s. (Fells’ – the plural possessive form of Fell – can also be found on occasion.) It appears that sometime in the early decades of the twentieth century, the paper made a decision to switch to “Fells,” although “Fell’s Point” can still be found in articles as late as 1985.
Within decades of the founding of the community, however, references to the Point that omit the apostrophe could be found scattered through manuscripts and government documents. In 1773, Fell’s Point was incorporated, along with Jones’s Town and Baltimore Town, forming the City of Baltimore. Three years later, the first census of what was now the neighborhood of Fell’s Point was taken. The apostrophe is eliminated. Members of the Fell family were also not overly concerned with using the possessive when referring to their own town; a June 29, 1769 land indenture for the sale of “Lot 90” in “Fells Point” to a Robert Harrison of Dorchester County is signed by Ann Fell. Edward consistently omits the mark in a record of his business transactions from the period.
The preferred usage of early historians of Maryland and Baltimore was “Fell’s Point.” One of the earliest histories of the city, Thomas Griffith’s Annals of Baltimore, published in 1824, doesn’t reference either “Fells” or “Fell’s” Point, but “Fell’s Prospect” does appear within its pages. Historian Thomas Scharf, in his History of Baltimore City and County, published in 1881, the standard reference work on Baltimore through the mid-twentieth century and still one of the best sources on the history of early Baltimore, uses “Fell’s Point” throughout. By the twentieth century though, the balance had tipped and today both forms can be found in equal measure in scholarship on the city.
Although newspaper publishers and historians remained generally loyal to Edward Fell’s original use of the possessive apostrophe through the nineteenth century, cartographers have omitted it from their work from almost the beginning. In 1792, Frenchman and self-styled geographer A.P. Folie produced the first printed map of Baltimore – and employed the apostrophe. Most subsequent nineteenth century maps however, including Fielding Lucas Jr.’s, Plan of the City of Baltimore, drafted under the direction of the state legislature of Maryland and the mayor and city council of Baltimore in 1822, omit the apostrophe. An identically titled map produced in 1882 by Englishman Thomas Poppleton and commissioned by the city, uses the same designation. The Poppleton map remained the standard reference map for Baltimore until the publication of the Bromley Atlas in 1896. Today, the ubiquitous Google maps has replaced its printed predecessors as the leading geographical resource, and it too omits the apostrophe.
An appeal to the federal government to provide resolution to the debate is no help, as the government began eliminating the possessive use of the apostrophe for geographic names on most maps and signs in 1890. The following is the official stance of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, the organization charged with overseeing U.S. naming conventions:
“Since its inception in 1890, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has discouraged the use of the possessive form—the genitive apostrophe and the “s”. The possessive form using an “s” is allowed, but the apostrophe is almost always removed. The Board’s archives contain no indication of the reason for this policy…Myths attempting to explain the policy include the idea that the apostrophe looks too much like a rock in water when printed on a map, and is therefore a hazard, or that in the days of “stick–up type” for maps, the apostrophe would become lost and create confusion. The probable explanation is that the Board does not want to show possession for natural features because, ‘ownership of a feature is not in and of itself a reason to name a feature or change its name.’”
As of 2013 only five natural features have official license to use the possessive apostrophe. These include Martha’s Vineyard, granted permission in 1933 after an extensive local campaign, and Clark’s Mountain in Oregon, which received the blessing of the Board in 2002 to “correspond with the personal references of Lewis and Clark.” The federal disregard for the apostrophe applies only to geographic names. According to Board’s website,
“[a]lthough the legal authority of the Board includes all named entities except Federal Buildings, certain categories—broadly determined to be “administrative”—are best left to the organization that administers them. Examples include schools, churches, cemeteries, hospitals, airports, shopping centers, etc. The Board promulgates the names, but leaves issues such as the use of the genitive or possessive apostrophe to the data owners.”
Other administrative branches of the U.S. government have followed suit. In 1969, “Fells Point” was added to the National Register of Historic Places, the U.S. government’s official list of the nation’s historic sites worthy of preservation, becoming the first area in Maryland recognized as such. Although you’ll find subject entries on the Library of Congress’s list of authority headings for both “Harper’s Ferry” and “Harpers Ferry” as well as “Pike’s Peak” and “Pikes Peak,” you won’t find reference to “Fell’s Point.” If you’re going to cite a source according to Library of Congress standards then “Fells Point” is the proper designation.
Today, “Fells Point” is by far the most common and popular usage. Most modern newspapers, including the Gazette: The Fells Point Newspaper (now defunct), City Paper, and The Baltimore Sun, use it. The Baltimore City government also endorses “Fells.” For Google, the ultimate arbiter of popularity in the internet era, it is no contest—a Google search for “Fells Point” generates some 2.5 million hits; “Fell’s Point”, on the other hand, produces a meager 300,000. Although vastly outnumbered, there are still a few groups that continue to carry the banner for the apostrophe including The Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fell’s Point and the Fell’s Point Residents’ Association. In 2009, Baltimore Magazine joined the minority, switching its allegiance from “Fells” to Fell’s.”
Although “Fell’s Point,” the grammatically correct and first choice of founder Edward Fell will probably continue to be used, it may eventually disappear. With the U.S. government, the Baltimore City government, and most importantly, the Google juggernaut, all aligned against “Fell’s Point,” its future looks bleak. And while people have been omitting the possessive apostrophe for hundreds of years, the internet has greatly accelerated the practice. In recent years the debate over the increasing decline of the apostrophe has become a major issue in Great Britain, with some cities removing the offending mark from street signs. In 2001, some concerned folk even established an Apostrophe Protection Society. When British book seller Waterstone’s, dropped the apostrophe from its name in January of 2012, the chairman explained that “it was a matter of simplifying the name to suit its digital presence.” At this rate, we may see the apostrophe go the way of other rarely seen punctuation marks like the hedera or the snark. Perhaps the possessive apostrophe will be just one more thing our Intel-equipped descendants will mock us for. (Damon Talbot)
Sources and Further Reading:
Francis, G. Gardner, Fell’s Point bicentennial jubilee. 1730-1930. Two hundredth anniversary (Baltimore: The Weant press, 1930)
Greene, Susan Ellery, Baltimore: An Illustrated History (Woodland Hills California: Windsor Publications, 1980)
Papenfuse, Edward C. and Joseph M. Coale III, The Hammond-Harwood House Atlas of Historical Maps of Maryland, 1608-1908 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982)
Scharf, Col. J. Thomas, The Chronicles of Baltimore, (Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers, 1874)
Scharf, J. Thomas, History of Baltimore City and County (Baltimore: Regional Publishing Company, 1971)