The Story Behind a Surprise Find

Measuring less than two inches by one inch, this Baltimore City streetcar ticket was left in a book, presumably as a bookmark. Using convenient items as bookmarks isn’t all that uncommon, right? We use store receipts, gum wrappers, or trusty Post- It Notes to mark our pages all the time, but usually they are discarded once the reader is finished with the book. So, why is this ticket so fascinating? Because it was left as a bookmark for almost 125 years, its survival opens a window into the past.

Photo of a streetcar ticket from the Baltimore and Curtis Bay Railway Company
The Baltimore and Curtis Bay Railway Company ticket

Baltimore’s streetcars granted city-dwellers easy and affordable access to the city and to its suburbs. Many of these lines provided opportunities for downtown shopping and to enjoy green spaces for outdoor activities.

What can we deduce from our streetcar ticket? We know our passenger was traveling near Charles Street and Fort Ave., and we know that this person was taking the Curtis Bay Line to or from Curtis Bay on Sunday May the 13th in 1894. Given the location, we can assume that our passenger was either headed from downtown or on their way to Jack Flood’s Resort. If travelling in one direction, our rider could be returning from an innocent day of shopping. If traveling in the other direction, however, they may have been taking in the pleasures of an amusement park, which could have included some risque entertainment. Since most stores were closed on Sundays, the latter seems the most likely.

Map of Transportation Facilities for Baltimore and Vicinity
Transportation Facilities map of Baltimore

It was not uncommon for streetcar lines to attract weekend riders with family-friendly fun. Many of the lines terminated at locations offering performances, parks, picnic areas, beaches, or other forms of recreation. Curtis Bay, south of the city, was a bustling area for beach activities from the late 19th to early 20th century, but most particularly known to be the location of Jack Flood’s Resort. This not-so-family-friendly spot was comprised of several attractions: a small hotel, a dance hall, and theatre headlining burlesque and vaudeville shows, but it was notoriously known for its beer garden and pub brawls. What makes us believe that our passenger was traveling to and from Flood’s? Well, Flood’s allowed drinking on a Sunday, despite a city ordinance, proscribing such activity.

Analyzing a piece of paper ephemera, like this ticket, is a great way to kick-start an understanding of everyday life of those in the past. They provide a glimpse of a moment frozen in time. I was able to use the information on the ticket together with historic maps, postcards, newspapers, and government information about the streetcars to start sketching a narrative about the interests and activities of an anonymous Baltimore resident from 125 years ago.

Have any interest in getting to know what else Special Collections has in its keeping, like the postcard images above? Want to know if there is anything there that may help to enhance your paper or project? Just stop by! Our Librarians and Archivists are eager to help!

Post by Sara Baum, graduate student in the Historic Preservation Program, part of the University’s School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation.

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