For fans of libraries and archives who harbor a special place in their hearts for Maryland history, Maryland Public Television’s Chesapeake Bay Collectibles is a treasure trove! A Mid-Atlantic version of Antiques Roadshow, Chesapeake Bay Collectibles is a great starting point to explore the best of our region’s history. This 2011 episode features a couple of antiques specific to Baltimore, embodying some colorful parts of its fascinating past.
First up is a relic from the infamous Great Baltimore Fire, which ripped through the city in February of 1904. A stack of melted eyeglasses, grabbed by the owner’s grandfather, bears witness to the destruction of the blaze.
Over the course of two days, the fire, which started in a dry goods store, decimated the downtown areas around Camden and the Inner Harbor. Baltimore’s narrow streets accelerated the spread, resulting in a towering blaze that could be seen as far away as Washington, D.C. Aid from the Capitol proved to be useless as the couplings for the fire trucks did not fit the hydrants in Baltimore. Eventually, firefighters from Philadelphia and Delaware would join the battle. A February 7, 1904 issue of the Sun Metrogravure, the Baltimore Sun’s weekly pictorial magazine, covered the destruction, and can be requested here in our special collections.
Next we’ve got the Betsy Patterson music box, a beautiful piece named after a woman commonly referred to as “The Belle of Baltimore”. The daughter of an Irish immigrant who eventually became the second richest man in Baltimore, Elizabeth “Betsy” Patterson was beloved for her grit and risque fashion. Perhaps most famous for her short-lived marriage to the younger brother of Napoleon I, Patterson enjoyed a brief stint in Europe during which she was forbidden from touching French soil. A number of tomes celebrate Patterson as the heroine of Baltimore, including Glorious Betsy, being the romantic story of the Dixie belle who defied Napoleon, by Arline De Haas and Rida Johnson Young, currently available in UMD’s collection in the Maryland Room.
For more on Patterson, check out the Traveler’s Narratives series of the Maryland Manuscripts collection, which includes William Pickney’s account of her Atlantic journey in 1804.
While we at Hornbake Library have finished celebrating MPT’s 50th anniversary, our digital archives of their offerings continue to entertain and educate viewers of all stripes. Chesapeake Bay Collectibles is a great jumping off point for exploring the rest of our digital collections – a treasure hunt that you can do from your couch! Matching items from the show with resources in our collections demonstrates the web-like nature of our holdings: each object speaks to another! From rare books to antique maps, UMD’s special collections build out the context around each object and provide the opportunity for creativity in search. It’s a great reminder that our holdings can be applied for learning in a ton of different ways. Be sure to check out our next installment on MPT, where we check out Wolf Trap, and the amazing cultural events that you can enjoy from home.
Emily Moore is a second-year MLIS student with a background in art and theory. In addition to her role as a student assistant at Special Collections and University Archives, she works as the Archival Assistant at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.