For the past twenty-one years for Maryland Day, the State Archivist and the Director of Education at the Maryland State Archives judge an essay/web site contest for the Maryland Colonial Society. Mrs. Lois Jones of the Maryland Colonial Society provides the topic and the Society contributes cash prizes. The contest is open to any interested Maryland high school student, and teachers are encouraged to use the contest as a class assignment. Readers are encouraged to contact the Archives about teachers who might be interested in promoting the contest next year.
Following are remarks by Dr. Edward C. Papenfuse at the presentation this year, held at the Mitchell Courthouse in Baltimore:
It has been my pleasure for over two decades now to judge the Maryland
History Essay contest for the Maryland Colonial Society, and to bring these
annual ceremonies to a close by introducing the winners. It is in the hands
of students like these that our future lies. The more we can do to instill
in them and their peers an appreciation of the past, and the importance
of that past to
guiding us through the perils of the present, the brighter our prospects for the future will be.
Permit me to first congratulate our Mayor, Martin O' Malley, on being
recognized by the society as Maryland of the Year. As
Professor Ron Hoffman has pointed out recently in a monograph and in the three volume edition of the papers of Charles Carroll
of Carrollton, the Irish have always played a significant role in the shaping the course of Maryland history. Even at the beginning,
George Calvert not only held an Irish peerage, from which our city derives its name, but with his son Cecil, made friends with the
Irish Catholic gentry like the the Carrolls, pulling them into his scheme for a colony in the new world free of religious intolerance.
In light of the Mayor's strong emphasis on making Baltimore a
safer place to live and work, and his boundless enthusiasm for its
promotion and renewal, it is only fitting that this year's essay topic focused on the men, women, and institutions that have fearlessly
guarded the property and the citizenry of Baltimore. Each year in the fall the contest begins with the eloquent prose of Lois Jones.
This time she wrote:
Amid the tragic memories of September 11 which
surround the New York Trade Center Ground Zero and the
Pentagon, the incomparable bravery of firefighters and police who lost their lives saving others is a towering example
of selfless courage. Their shared history in this tragedy ascends to newer and greater heights, now justly recorded
for posterity and forever inscribed upon the hearts and minds of the entire world. Along with this modern
achievement in bravery and expertise, the past history of firefighting and law enforcement in Maryland, beginning in
the l760s, carries its own shining shield of dutiful constancy and innovative progress. These 240 years are indeed
worth reviewing, as the past contributes immensely to the future. Thus, our topic for this year's contest is "The
Constant Guardian...Maryland Firefighters and Police in Review"
Her challenge was taken up in earnest by George Kropp, a teacher at
Calvert Hall College High School, who clearly inspired his
class to focus on Baltimore's response to its own great disaster, the fire of 1904, a topic that another, recently deceased
Marylander of the Year, Harold A. Williams knew well. Hal Williams, recipient of the 1988 Marylander of the Year award, set
the standard for Kropp's students to follow in his 1954 classic "Baltimore Afire." He would have enjoyed meeting these students
and reading their essays. He probably would even have had some advice for the Mayor (as an historian and as a former editor of
the Sun): make the city's history of overcoming adversity, such as the story of the aftermath of the fire of 1904, be a blueprint for
its future, both from the standpoint of avoiding mistakes and offering hints to the future.
Of the dozen essays submitted by George Kropp's students, two stood
out. One was a web site produce by Justin Yan, who has
a remarkable talent for integrating appropriate graphics within an easy to follow narrative structure. Our hope is that he will
continue to develop the site, something perhaps the city might like to sponsor as a city-wide endeavor to bring the rich historical
and archival heritage of our community on line. The other was a short essay by Greg Bramble that focuses on the technology
necessary to fight a fire, in particular the need to have a readily accessible water supply with sufficient pressure to reach the heart
of the conflagration. As one of Greg's sources points out, when
additional fire units arrived from all over
the country, including New York, Philadelphia, Annapolis, Wilimington,
Chester, York, Altoona, and Harrisburg, they were rendered useless because their fire hoses could not be attached
to the fire hydrants. "If there had been nozzles enough, we could have flooded the burning district," he Baltimore Fire
Chief said afterward, for at no time was there any shortage of water. Instead, 1,526 buildings and all electric light,
telegraph, telephone, and power facilities in an area of more than 70 city blocks (140 acres) in the business district
were razed before the fire burned out, 30 hours after it began.
With all the destruction that occurred, however, fortune did shine on
the people of Baltimore that cold February morning in 1904.
The fire began on a Sunday which means that no one was at work downtown. As a result only one life may have been lost. I say
may, because as Hal Williams points out:
The man reported dead - a lumber yard workman
- was said to have been driven by flames into the harbor where
he drowned-- may have been imaginary. There were conflicting reports on his name, age and address, and police
never did recover the body.
I would like to offer one caution to Greg and to all George Kropp's
students of the great fire, however. In writing history we
sometimes need to challenge accepted 'truths.' Greg accepts the conventional wisdom that the fire hydrant in use in Baltimore in
1904 was too difficult to maintain and its lack of standardized thread meant that fire pumps and hoses lent by other cities could
not be used. I would like to suggest that this gives Baltimore inventor James Curran a bad rap. His hydrant, patented in 1870,
was a fully functional device that had innovations copied by other major cities such as Chicago (which had its own disastrous fire).
Curran's problem was, and perhaps to some extent, still is, Baltimore's problem: that many of the good ideas that have their origin
here are often not marketed well elsewhere to the benefit of Baltimore's economy. The argument could be made that if the other
surrounding cities and towns that sent their equipment to help Baltimore fight its fire had only had the good sense to adopt
Curran's hydrant, connectivity would not have been a problem and more of the commercial district of the city might have been
But enough of historical speculation. It is my pleasure to present the
2002 Maryland History Essay Awards to Justin Yan and
Greg Bramble of Calvert Hall College High School, who, if they choose, may indeed have the last word this morning. A special
award goes to George Kropp and his whole class for their combined interest and efforts.