Childhood memories are so crucial to all of us. It’s the yardstick we use to measure the rest of our experiences in life.
When I was growing up – back before the earth’s crust cooled – Christmas meant hanging lights on the outside of the house as well as decorating the inside. The warm glow of C-7 and C-9 colored bulbs lit up our windows and doors, and sometimes the bushes in the front. The decorations were just enough to let the world know we were waiting for the Christmas fun to begin.
Some neighborhoods did more. When we lived in Northeast Philly, St. Vincent Street was the place to go. Half of the houses on the block got together and pooled their light recourses for a super display of Christmas cheer that attracted walkers and drivers alike from all over the city. It was probably visible from outer space.
Fast forward to now in Baltimore and you have the same thing in a section of town called Hampden. Ride – or better yet walk – down 34th Street in the Hampden neighborhood any night between Thanksgiving and the Epiphany and you see both sides of the street decorated with a real Bawlmer-ese flair. Welcome to the Miracle on 34th Street, Baltimore style.
|34th Street, Hampden, Baltimore, MD|
This miracle has a back story to it. Back in the late 1940’s, the Carl Hughes family, in the first house on the block, decided to go hog wild decorating for Christmas. They didn’t want to do it alone, and enlisted their neighbors to get involved. As years passed, the owners of the houses on both sides of the street worked together to light up the winter nights with holiday decorations. It was written into sales agreements for houses on both sides of the street, that participation is mandatory.
Now it was my turn to experience the miracle. I wondered if it would bring back the memories from PhillyChristmases past.
The streets near 34th Street were full of people walking around after dark, with no fear at all. Families, groups of friends, couples – all walked around the neighborhood on a chilly December evening that my friend and I chose to visit.
As we approached the corner, the familiar smell of hot dogs hit my nose. Where there’s a crowd in Baltimore, there are usually some street vendors, although the city controls the number of vendors to keep traffic flowing. We saw a warm glow in the night sky from all the lights along one block of the street. Traffic crawled, so it was safer to walk down to the street from the “Avenue”, a.k.a., 36th Street.
|Turn the corner to the first house on the block...|
|...and feast your eyes, and ears.|
We turned the corner and the little kid in me jumped up and down. So many light displays! A feast for the eyes and ears too, as many houses included piped in music with their display. Each house took a different theme and decorated to the max. Some houses opened their doors for neighbors to walk through and see the inside decorations. Many themes were truly Baltimore. Some were one of a kind – I mean, where else will you find a Christmas tree made of hub caps and welded angels? Or Nattie Boh in lights? Or Santa greeting children from his Harley? Or the ode to the Maryland Film Commission? Or the Baltimore Ravens?
|Nattie Boh - mascot for National Bohemian Beer, a local brew|
|Guess what gets filmed in Baltimore? Yes, these series.|
|Can't have Christmas without the Ravens|
|Drop box for letters to Santa|
|Doll collections on display only at the holidays|
|Decorations set on the front porch|
|And I got a hippopotamus for Christmas!|
|Houses decorate with themes - this one is "Peace"|
|Old LP collection put to use - Kids, these are vinyl CD's|
|Hubcap tree with lots of welded art around it|
|Marylanders love their crabs and all that goes with it|
Now, 34th Street in Hampden is a tourist destination. The street decorations have been featured on the Travel Channel and HGTV, to name a few. This year, a Japanese production company was filming on 34th Street for Japanese television. Baltimore’s miracle will have international exposure!
And the miracle happens each year…
|Had to add a New Orleans touch, thanks to the last Ravens Super Bowl win|
If you want to see the Hampden lights, check online at http://www.christmasstreet.com/ to see pictures of this year’s displays and get directions. Top your trip to Hampden off with dinner at one of the many great restaurants on the “Avenue”, like Café Hon.
|Front of Cafe` Hon - some great food and atmosphere|
Parts of this blog are reprinted from “A View from the Passenger’s Seat”, Arden on the Severn Newsbuoy, January 2015, by Marge McGugan.
Photos are the property of Marge McGugan. No reuse or reprinting without permission.