Where They Ain't|
The Fabled Life And Untimely Death Of The Original Baltimore Orioles
by Burt Solomon
Free Press, 1999 | Buy the book
from Chapter 4 | BALTIMORE'S GRANDEST PARADE (1894)
The crowd had swelled around the ticket windows in front of Union Park, a ballpark that looked every bit as unprepossessing as the residential neighborhood in which it sat, with brick row houses on all sides. The front of it was a broad wooden wall twelve feet high, with ornamental lettering, opposite vendors' stands that the crowd swallowed up.
The game was set for four o'clock, but by three the management ceased selling tickets for the grandstand. And still the chimes of the silver quarters never let up. The green eyeshades in the box office grew tired of counting the money, and the gatekeepers were grateful for the turnstiles that kept out the ticketless cranks. As it was, 15,235 ticket-holders passed through -- the mightiest crowd ever to watch baseball on a Baltimore grounds. It was thousands more than when Union Park opened in 'ninety-one and even more than for the game against the St. Louis Browns back in 'eighty-seven as the two nines battled for the American Association lead.
So great was the crush that the management opened a gate that sent a torrent of ticket-holders pouring into the farther reaches of the outfield, where two hundred policemen corralled them behind hand-held ropes. Maybe a thousand other rooters watched the proceedings for free -- boys clustered around the knotholes or high up on telegraph poles or sedentary cranks who claimed a few square feet on a nearby rooftop. A row of houses lay just beyond the center field fence and others alongside each foul line. Students from the Woman's College of Baltimore (renamed in later years for the Rev. John F. Goucher, its second president) huddled with their teachers on the roof of the Latin Building to ogle the boys of spring. Even the distant rooters could catch the languorous strains of the orchestra in the ballpark, playing "Be Kind, for They Are Orphans."
Inside, Union Park looked fancier than ever, having been gussied up over the winter. The balcony of the double-decked grandstand was yet to be finished, but orange and black bunting was strung along the upper tier. Lines of flags connected the poles overhead. The grandstand was a profusion of black and white, the men in their frock coats and derbies. The unusually large contingent of ladies showed off their spring millinery, their silks and satins, their bustle skirts and their hourglass dresses with billowy sleeves.
Harry von der Horst had lavished complimentary tickets on the men who mattered in the city -- the mayor, the governor, a congressman or two, the state's attorney, judges and capitalists and preachers and politicians -- thirteen hundred altogether, each for admission of the holder and a guest. Baltimore was stratified by class and calling, as any city was, but not so much in the ballpark. Judges sat by mechanics, merchants by laborers, bosses by clerks. Out by the bleachers, on a rough pine fence only two inches wide, a Charles street swell in a top hat and a Prince Albert coat perched next to an urchin whose shoes needed new uppers and soles. On the sun-bleached benches along the right field line, ragamuffins squeezed next to Fauntleroys in velvet, the sons of Africa by the scions of Europe.
"For the time being, caste was forgotten," the city's Republican newspaper rhapsodized the next morning, "and all were sons of one father."
The cranks had matters more mundane on their minds. "Beer, ginger ale, lemonade, cigars, peanuts, cigarettes," the vendors in the bleachers cried. "What is it, gents? Wet your throats so ye kin holler." Only soft drinks were sold in the grandstand, but in the bleachers the brewed stuff flowed. Or the rooters could buy the sausage-like sandwiches that the city's German-Americans had known as Weckers and had bought at the Baltimore ballgrounds for years. The stands were filled as well with the harsh smell of strong tobacco, as almost everyone seemed to be puffing on a cigar or a meerschaum or a thin cheroot or a cigarette. Out by the flagpole inside the center field fence, the black scoreboard for the other League games still had nothing to say.
From Where They Ain't: The Fabled Life And Untimely Death Of The Original Baltimore Orioles Copyright © 1999 by Burt Solomon. Reprinted with permission.