February is the perfect time of year to share a memorable love story and fall in love with a beautiful building. Please join us on Sunday, February 15 for a Valentine’s Day tradition—the Mount Vernon Love Stories Valentine’s walking tour with volunteer guide Jamie Hunt! Jamie’s tour weaves together stories of trysts, true loves and everything from Benedict Arnold to Al Capone. It’s a real treat and we hope you can join us.
We are always looking for places to tour so, if you have ideas, we’d love to hear from you. You’ll see from our calendar of upcoming tours that we are continuing to branch out with new spring tours planned for Ellicott City and Havre de Grace, so any and all ideas are welcome! Don’t forget, membership support includes discounts on tours and early access to our spring 2015 Baltimore by Foot tours—including walks with local experts in Pigtown, Mount Washington, Hampden and more.
Thank you to Ron Cassie for a detailed and thoughtful take on the legacy of the successful student sit-ins at Read’s Drug Store that took place 60 years ago this month. Check out the full story for more details on the long history of civil-rights student activism by Morgan State students or learn more about our exciting new partnership to document historic places connected with Baltimore’s Civil Rights heritage.
A few days later, the front page of the January 22, 1955, national edition of The Afro-American newspaper ran a short story, datelined Baltimore, with the headline “Now serve all.” Read’s, which had 39 area stores, had suddenly decided to desegregate, with the article citing a “sit-down strike” at its “largest store in the heart of the city, the day before the change of policy was announced.” …Baltimore Heritage director Johns Hopkins (distant descendant of the Johns Hopkins) says it was during the late 2000s, when demolition of the Read’s building was formally proposed, that the story of Read’s began to come to life again. He believes the location of the building and its historic sit-ins are central to understanding the city’s complicated record regarding racial prejudice—nowhere more obvious than at Howard and Lexington. The city’s beloved department stores—Hochchild’s, Stewart’s, Hecht’s, and Hutzler’s (“where Baltimore shops!”)—all maintained some form of segregation until 1960 or later.
“When it really hit home for me, what this building and block represent, was when a class of eighth graders and a class of ninth graders came out on separate field trips during demonstrations a few years ago,” Hopkins says. “Their reaction was very powerful. You could see what it meant to them to know that story and to be there, where it happened. It’s one of the few physical places like that in existence in Baltimore. It’s not the Taj Mahal, but landmarks like this draw kids in, and they get interested in learning about that history.”
Thank you once again to everybody who volunteered with us, came on a tour with us, and made a financial contribution in 2014. With you, we are able to work more than ever preserving Baltimore’s historic places and revitalizing our historic neighborhoods!
As we head into the new year, we put together a short video to say thank you for participating, volunteering, supporting, and being a part of all of our work for Baltimore and our historic places. We’re pleased to feature three of our partners this year: Jennifer Robinson and the Friends of Patterson Park, Gary Rodwell and the Coppin Heights Community Development Corporation, and Paula Hankins at the Carroll Museums and Shot Tower. Each is working hard to preserve our rich history and revitalize our neighborhoods, and we are proud to call them partners.
Earlier this month, Maryland Traditions recognized Baltimore’s famous painted screens and the stewards of this unique rowhouse art at the 2014 ALTA Awards. Please enjoy a few photographs from the evening by Edwin Remsberg Photographs and join us in congratulations Elaine Eff and all of the screen painters who sustain this tradition today! Read on for more details about this essential Baltimore tradition.
The Painted Screens of Baltimore is one of the most iconic and well-known living traditions unique to Baltimore City, celebrating its 101st birthday this year. Rooted in the vibrant neighborhoods of early 20th century East Baltimore, where they dotted the streets of endless row homes, the screens provided a decorative means of ensuring privacy: the painted exteriors “trapped” the vision of onlookers, preventing them from seeing inside. Such privacy was especially important during the warmer months when open windows provided much-needed ventilation. This clever invention is credited to William Oktavec, a storeowner on the East side from the Czech Republic (as it is known now).
While Oktavec painted his first screen in 1913, the tradition continues today through a variety of forms – from window screens to fly swatters and outdoor patio furniture – that reflect an evolution of innovations and tastes. Roughly a dozen screen painters, many of who have learned from the older generation, including John Oktavec, William’s grandson, are active in teaching the skills and meanings to younger enthusiasts.
In 1985, the Painted Screen Society was founded by folklorist Elaine Eff, co-founder of Maryland Traditions and author of The Painted Screens of Baltimore: an Urban Folk Art Revealed, and Dee Herget, who has been painting screens since the late 1970s, having learned “the secret” from the “old masters” of the time. The Society is active in promoting the living tradition to the public through demonstration events, classes, and museum and gallery exhibitions, and has helped to keep it alive within the city and beyond.