Newsletter of
The Maryland State Archives

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The Archivists' Bulldog
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, Wilmington, 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 
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The Archivists' Bulldog 
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SC 5181: St. Andrew's Society of Baltimore, 1806-1915. Minute books, St. Andrew's Society of Baltimore, ca. 1806-ca. 1915. Restricted. 

SC 5184: Woodhams Collection, 1772-1809. Photocopies of transcripts of sixteen letters written by Henrietta Hill Ogle [1751-1815], First Lady of Maryland 1798-1801. Letters were written to an unnamed uncle and relate to family health, visits, and some politics, including the visit of French General Turreau in November 1804. Restricted.