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)
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)
…and here are a few images of good cheer from the Maryland Historical Society’s collection of photographs. Happy Holidays!
Eighty years before Governor Martin O’Malley was attending conventions, enjoying the national spotlight, and entertaining thoughts of a presidential run, another Democratic governor from Maryland was poised to make a run at the presidency. Albert Cabell Ritchie (1836-1936) ran the state for 15 years and was the first Maryland governor to be re-elected by popular vote. By 1932 he had won four gubernatorial elections, been a leading voice of opposition to Prohibition, and become a major contender for the Democratic party’s nomination for President, again. Four years earlier, he lost his party’s nomination to West Virginia’s John W. Davis who previously lost the 1924 election to Republican incumbent Calvin Coolidge. (Ritchie also had an eye on the presidency in ’24.)
On June 23, 1932 before a reported throng of 80,000 supporters, Ritchie told the crowd gathered at Mount Royal Station to see him entrain for the DNC, “I am still just one of you… subject to all the same impulses and fallability.” The following day the governor was greeted “like a conquering hero” by thousands in Chicago, according to The Baltimore Sun.*
Barely a week had passed before Ritchie ran into the force that was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In Chicago, Ritchie contended with the likes of New York’s Al Smith and Texas’ John Garner for his party’s nomination. Despite not getting that nomination, Ritchie supported FDR and was even rumored to have his name thrown in the hat for Vice President. It was thought that he would make a good counterbalance to Roosevelt. But it was Garner, who was then serving as Speaker of the House, who prevailed and received the VP slot. By the end of the first New Deal (1934), Ritchie was denouncing FDR as a radical set to overthrow the American way.
Things only got worse for the governor. An outspoken opponent of the New Deal, Ritchie began losing support from within his own state party. With many Marylanders suffering the effects of the Great Depression and a widely publicized lynching on the Eastern Shore that further tarnished his reputation, Ritchie began to lose popularity throughout his state. In 1934 he lost a fifth bid for Governor to Republican Harry Nice, who exploited the rumblings within the state’s Democratic Party and attacked Ritchie as the boss of a corrupt machine who had overstayed his welcome.
Today some Marylanders may only know the name Ritchie as that of a highway or coliseum, but the “Ritchie Era” in Maryland (1919-35) is fertile ground for researchers of all stripes. MdHS’s Special Collections department holds the strongest collection of Ritchie materials in existence: the Ritchie Papers, 1915-1936, MS710 (over 75 scrapbooks, notebooks, and diaries, notes for speeches, etc.), pamphlets, printed addresses, position papers penned by Ritchie, and more. (Joe Tropea)*The Baltimore Sun, June 24 & 25, 1932. p.1.
Brown, Dorothy. “The Election of 1934: the ‘New Deal’ in Maryland,” Maryland Historical Magazine 1973 68(4): 405-421.
Chepaitis, Joseph B. “Albert C. Ritchie in Power: 1920-1927”. Maryland Historical Magazine 1973 68(4): 383-404.
Search 100 years of Maryland Historical Magazine
“Election Recollection” is a series we’ll run from now through January’s Presidential inauguration (or so). Here we’ll feature political/election-related items from MdHS’s photograph, manuscript, and ephemera holdings.
This first installment takes us back to the Roaring Twenties, a time when Marylanders were, for the most part, as committed to state’s rights as they were committed to their opposition to the Eighteenth Amendment, which established Prohibition.
Staunch supporter of the wet cause Albert C. Ritchie was sworn in for his third term as Governor of the state of Maryland on January 12, 1927. He did not wait long to start campaigning for the office of President as evidenced here in this photo from MdHS’s Hughes Company photo collection. (Joe Tropea)