Letter to Santa in 1913 from 12-Year-Old Turns Siblings Into Celebrities

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A heart-warming letter to Santa Claus sent by a twelve-year-old Brooklyn, Maryland girl on behalf of herself and her “little sisters” in 1913 went viral in a Turn-of-the-Century way that ultimately turned the septit siblings into national celebrities. The sisters’ Christmas story became a cherished memory for years in Brooklyn, and was revisited occasionally in the years that followed. It was also notable given how fast and far-reaching the story became when radio and newspapers were the only sources of national news — and long before the advent of television, social media, Facebook, Instagram and viral videos.

The letter was written by Ruth Schline, the eldest daughter of seven girls in a middle-class family. Penned on November 22, 1913, the letter didn’t ask for gifts, but rather asked for Santa to remember their parents and the less fortunate. The authenticity and tenor of the letter must have tugged hard at the heartstrings of an editor at the Baltimore Sun. The newspaper had already been publishing letters to Santa for years, but something about this one stood out. …

Gloucestershire Carpenter was the Patriarch of a Sawmill and Farming Machine

One of the most dominant land-owning families in turn-of-the-century Anne Arundel County Maryland emerged from a colonial-era carpenter who first set foot in America in Brunswick, New Jersey before staking a claim on the shores of Curtis Creek: the ageless Walter Pumphrey. The Pumphreys are a storied family in America who helped pioneer the American mid-Atlantic and midwest.

Walter, who arrived from England with meager resources aboard a Quaker ship immediately set out to carve a life in the new world. Although his resources were slight, he hailed from a proud family heritage. The family legend is that Walter was descended from 11th Century monarch King Richard III, according to family genealogist Larry Pumphrey, who for years published the Pumphrey Press, his genealogical newsletter that printed every morsel of news available about the family’s origins and evolution. Those King Richard assertions are cloudy, especially in Charlton Kings, Gloucestershire, England, where Walter was raised. …

Sibling Politicians, Merchants, Socialites and Farmers Made an Indelible Mark in Baltimore’s ‘South Patapsco’

The swampy region on the south shore of the Patapsco River known as “South Patapsco” was becoming an important peninsula to Baltimore’s farmers and merchants in 1671. Nearly two hundred years later this wilderness area would become Brooklyn, Fairfield and Curtis Bay, a section of Baltimore that became noted for its industrial prowess.

But long before the era of coal piers and shipyards Baltimore was a wilderness area that England hoped to turn into an agricultural bohemeth. Cecil Calvert, the 2nd Lord Baltimore, was granting large tracts of lands in this area to farmers he hoped would help turn Maryland into the agricultural power that Virginia had become. …

Epic Disaster Shook Curtis Bay with the Impact of a Tactical Nuclear Weapon

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The explosion of the Alum Chine from roughly two miles away in the Patapsco River.

One of the worst worst maritime disasters in Baltimore history occurred when a stevedore aboard the British cargo steamer Alum Chine accidentally set off a blasting cap in the ship’s hold that ignited 350 tons of dynamite on Friday, March 7, 1913. The resulting fire set off a series of earthshaking explosions in the Patapsco River that killed 33 men, injured another 60, and shook buildings as far north as Philadelphia.

The tragedy was borne out of impatience, clumsiness, and quarreling among the ship’s crew and stevedores (longshoremen) who were loading the cargo. Everyone was behind schedule on that bitterly cold morning. The ship, which was scheduled to depart for Panama later that day with explosives that would be used to help carve the Panama Canal, was still 150 tons short of its contracted load. U.S. Revenue Service and Customs inspectors had been aboard to approve the cargo and had already left. The remaining dynamite crates were being brought by railroad to Curtis Bay and ferried out to the freighter via small barges to its anchorage off Leading Point, just 2,000 feet from the Quarantine Station at Hawkins Point. …

Presbyterian Meeting House was the First Church in Brooklyn-Curtis Bay

Motivated by dissatisfaction with local church leaders and the great distance between their homes and the only Protestant church, residents of South Patapsco asked the Presbyterian Church of England for permission to start their own house of worship in the spring of 1714. A year later the Presbyterian Church at Patapsco was formed, making it the first church in the swampy, wilderness area called South Patapsco, which later became Brooklyn and Curtis Bay.

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Parishioners from the South Patapsco region of ther Province of Maryland congregated at St. Paul’s Parish near present day Dundalk in the late 1600s and 1700s. The illustration above of Trinity Church in Southport, Conn., is representative of the 18th century parishes that were erected in colonial America. (Illustration by Rev. Edmund Guilbert, D.D.)

Members of the congregation from the south side of the Patapsco River also lobbied church power brokers for a minister to tend the flock. After nearly a year — exceedingly fast by 18th century standards — the church granted the group’s request in the fall of 1715 and the first recorded church of any denomination rose in South Patapsco on the shores of Curtis Creek. …

Long-Lost Story Describes Fortune Seekers Digging Deep in Hawkins Point

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Pirates and privateers were a staple in the waters off Baltimore Town in the late 1600s and early 1700s. But did the legendary Bluebeard bury the spoils of his pirate conquests off the shores of Curtis Bay? Some turn-of-the century fortune seekers thought so and brought their shovels to find out.

The Curtis Bay–Bluebeard legend is buried in a lengthy June 6, 1910 article in the Baltimore Sun. In a story describing the “hive of industry” forming in Anne Arundel County’s Hawkins Point, the article discusses the area’s huge, but as-yet unrealized industrial potential, pointing to a newly erected sugar refinery, the bustling canning factories at Wagner’s Point, and the then-fast-growing empire of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Midway through that story is a reference to fortune seekers “who dug in Anne Arundel for the treasure of a pirate,” the Sun explained. “The bold, bad buccaneer was called Bluebeard, and he was reputed to have hidden his treasure on a farm of the Chappell estate, near where Fort Armistead now is. …

Prohibition became law in 1920, but Brooklyn and Curtis Bay had their taps turned off two years earlier

Two years before America’s torturous 13-year-long Prohibition experiment began in 1920, the United States’ War Department declared hundreds of bars, pubs, saloons, roadhouses, and resorts along the Patapsco River off-limits to servicemen and then took the extra step of closing saloons down entirely on short notice. Every drinking establishment in Curtis Bay, Fairfield, Masonville, and Brooklyn was shuttered. It came as a shock for local saloon owners and area residents, and there was no appeal process.

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The U.S. War Department established a five-mile “dry zone” perimeter in April 1918 around the Army Repair Depot at Colgate Creek in Dundalk, which included Curtis Bay and most of Brooklyn. Later it set another perimeter around the U.S. Army Munitions Depot in Curtis Bay, cutting off alcohol sales in those areas. The inset map is not from the era, but illustrates the reach of the dry zones.

In the early 20th century, northern Anne Arundel County was a playground of sorts for Baltimore’s working class and elite. While the city’s temperance movement and clergy kept city saloons and bars in relative check, people who wanted to freely imbibe and carouse could take a leisurely trip across the Long Bridge into Brooklyn and Curtis Bay and find all the drink they liked. That changed in the spring of 1918, when a concerned War Department began creating “dry zones” near military installations worldwide to tamp down alcohol-related incidents that, in its view, were harming wartime readiness. …

Burning Lava-like Flood from Oil Refinery Decimated East Brooklyn

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Plumes of blue-black smoke were spat out of a petroleum fire in the hamlet of East Brooklyn in Wagners Point on July 20, 1920, nearly a full day after the fire was started by a lightning bolt.

A bolt of lightning from a fast-moving summer storm was responsible for the most devastating fire in Brooklyn history on a July afternoon in 1920. The lightning bolt sparked an explosion and an intense blaze in two petroleum tanks on a 15-acre tank farm belonging to the U.S. Asphalt Refining Company near Stonehouse Cove. The resulting fire boiled the tanks over and sent a flood of burning crude oil rushing down Third Avenue, burning down 19 homes and leaving 39 uninhabitable in its wake. …

Lithuanian family persevered to achieve the American dream

By Mary Ann McCormick

A tall, sturdy building remains standing on the southwest corner of Church Street and Pennington Avenue in Curtis Bay. The once-proud building used to be a grocery for some, a daycare center of sorts for others, and a gossip fence for still many more. Griber’s Grocery Store held an iconic place and role in the evolution of the hamlet of Curtis Bay. It was the community’s gathering place.

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Griber’s Grocery Store on Church Street and Pennington (Courtesy of Griber Family Collection)

The Griber’s Grocery business didn’t start in this well-visited location. It began as a simple bakery on Cherry Street and Curtis Avenue in 1907. But Matewsz and Eva Griber, who had recently emigrated from Lithuania, wanted more than to simply rent a store for their business. They contracted with the Brooklyn, Maryland-based John H. Geis Lumber Company to have a new two-story building constructed in 1924. …

Baltimore established a facility at Hawkins Point to isolate the diseased and to screen ships from abroad

A deadly outbreak of yellow fever in Baltimore in 1793 set the stage for the creation of one of the city’s most important public health facilities: the Marine Hospital in Fairfield. A few years after it was constructed, the city realized it needed a hospital and detention center closer to the shore, so it built the Quarantine Station at Hawkins Point. From the mid-1800s through the 1960s, these facilities served as a critical way station for Baltimore-bound foreign ships looking for entry to the city’s harbor.

Yellow Fever Epidemic

The summer of 1793 was wet, hot, and muggy and created a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes in Baltimore, New York, Wilmington, and Philadelphia. The yellow fever death totals in Baltimore — then just a city of 15,000 — were high, with reports suggesting as many 150 fatalities per day on some days in August and September. …


Rik Forgo

Writer, editor and entrepreneur. Owns and operates Time Passages LLC, a independent book publisher near Annapolis, Md. Fan of history and classic rock music.

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