34th Street Lights, 2008 December 5. Courtesy mkriedel/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND)

Holiday house tours, Hampden heritage and the Mayor’s Christmas Parade

The holiday season has arrived and historic places are at the heart of how our city celebrates! This Saturday, you can explore the grand mansions of Reservoir Hill and Bolton Hill on the Mount Royal District Poinsetta Tour. Next weekend, you can discover the handsome rowhouses around Union Square for the 29th Annual Christmas Cookie Tour. Not to be outdone, Charles Village offers their 6th Annual Snowflake Tour of historic houses on December 21.

So among all these contenders which neighborhood can boast the most seasonal cheer? No one can top Hampden with the lights on 34th Street and the Mayor’s Christmas Parade coming up this Sunday, December 7. Last winter, volunteer and Greater Hampden Heritage Alliance organizer Nathan Dennies talked to long-time parade organizer Tom Kerr about the history of the event and came back with this story.

Photo of Tom Kerr, c. 1980. Courtesy the Greater Hampden Heritage Alliance.
Photo of Tom Kerr, c. late 1970s. Courtesy the Greater Hampden Heritage Alliance.

William Donald Schaefer approached Tom Kerr, head of the old Hampden Business Association, in 1972 to organize the Mayor’s Christmas Parade. The parade would be Schaeffer’s answer to the Hochschild-Kohn Toytown Parade which drew thousands of spectators for thirty years on Thanksgiving Day, but stopped running in 1966. Schaeffer wanted the parade to be held downtown but Kerr insisted on having it in Hampden.

Kerr hoped the parade would bring positive attention to Hampden. The Mount Vernon Mill Company closed its last remaining mill in Hampden-Woodberry that year, marking the end of the textile industry in the area. The first parade was far more modest than the department store extravagance of the Toytown parade. Kerr was only able to secure a single Santa Claus float and six marching bands. Nonetheless, the parade drew a large crowd and was considered a success. As of 2013, Kerr has been organizing the event for forty-one years.

Every year the parade elects a Grand Marshall. Past prominent figures to hold the title include baseball legend Brooks Robinson in 1978, and more recently, John Astin, famous for his role as Gomez in The Addams Family. Schaeffer made a number of appearances as mayor and came back as Grand Marshall after becoming governor. In 1980, spectators were baffled to see his yellow Cadillac moving toward Thirty-sixth Street without him. The convertible left while he was giving a speech and he quickly darted across the street, ran through an alley, and ducked under a police barrier to cut off the ride for his own parade.

Find the end of the story on Explore Baltimore Heritage. You can enjoy Hampden history and a special holiday celebration next Friday with the Greater Hampden Heritage Alliance Christmas party and fundraiser! Tickets will help support the adaptation of the new self-guided walking tour brochure into a tour for Explore Baltimore Heritage along with a traveling exhibit on Hampden history. Learn more details and register today. Please share your own ideas on how to celebrate the holidays with history in the comments.

Poly and Western Marching Bands, 4 December 2011. Photo courtesy Spinstah/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).
Poly and Western Marching Bands, 4 December 2011. Photo courtesy Spinstah/Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

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