Echoes of Prohibition

A Fell’s Point building still bears a potent reminder of Prohibitionist days.

Prohibition is a nearly forgotten time in Maryland history, despite the still-visible paint on the side of a Fell’s Point building urging residents to “Vote No.” But, hidden under floorboards and behind walls of the city can be found many remnants of a time when the whole city of Baltimore seemed to collectively reject a federal law.

The Lord Baltimore Hotel, when it transferred ownership from Radisson’s, knocked down a wall during renovation of their ceremony hall, only to find a secret room filled with 1920’s and 30’s era silverware and dining dishes. Though the alcohol had long since disappeared, it seems some cautious hotel owner had kept the room a secret just in case the law should return.

Meanwhile, in Druid Hill, a basement bar boasts its ties to Prohibition as a half-bar half-speakeasy. In fact, the whole of Fell’s Point is littered with basements with claims, whether right or wrong, to having once played the part of an illegal bar.

The Owl Bar is largely unchanged since its early 20th century beginnings.

And no conversation about Baltimore’s Prohibition-era past could be complete without mentioning the Owl Bar, whose connections to those dark times are so wrapped up in legend and rumor that it is impossible to say what’s true and what’s false.

What we do know with certainty is that the Baltimore population, including many officials, opted not to stop drinking at all. There were multiple occasions where mobs of residents came together to violently stop police or federal agents from taking their alcohol, which was being semi-openly shipped into town by train into Camden Station. The mayor himself set to “accidentally” making his own wine by leaving his grapes outside and not preventing their fermentation.

Clearly, Baltimore was and a wet city. It will be interesting to see, as more work is done on excavations and inspections, what else we find lurking behind faux walls in city buildings.

The Lost Towns Project

Maryland is unique for its deep and special connection to history, which reaches all the way back to 1634 when the colony was founded. Though sites like Fort McHenry, the Washington Monuments (Frederick and Baltimore), the Antietam Battlefield, and many others may be hard to miss, there’s still a lot left to uncover.

Luckily, there is a way. The Lost Towns Project has been working in the state for years, uncovering lost settlements, homesteads, and native villages all across Anne Arundel County. In a world with too few archaeologists working for too little money, a group like this is vital for keeping us connected to our shared cultural heritage.

The Lost Towns Project may be one of Maryland’s most important historical organizations. It connects passionate historians and hobby-historians with professional archaeologists. By signing up, you’ll be able to join them on digs or spend time in the lab sorting artifacts. They are always looking for more volunteers, and the organization has been vital in uncovering countless artifacts from the colonial era of Maryland’s history.

From their Facebook page: “Join us as we help scholars, students and citizens rediscover the archaeology and history of Anne Arundel County, Maryland– and beyond.”

If you’re interested in working with the Lost Towns Project, reach out to them by phone at 410-222-1318.

New Discovery Reveals Old Dispute

Archaeologists working along the Tiber in Ellicott City recently discovered “a treasure chest” of historical documents dating back to the earliest years of the area’s European settlement. Though most of the recovered papers deal with land grants, ownership, and inheritance, one in particular gives us a glimpse into colonial-era feuds. Two familiar names are mentioned vying for ownership of the land around the Tiber for “milling and… planting.” The two men, “Mr. Ellicott,” from whom the town gets its name, and “Mr. Gravele,” who some feel points to the local “Graveleigh” legend.

The dispute, according to the document, had escalated into theft of “diverse cattle” from Gravele’s farm, though it is unclear if this was actually done by Ellicott. Jim O Connor, the lead archaeologist at the site, told us “[w]e don’t know who this actually is- though I’m sure there are a lot of people who secretly hope it’s the infamous Graveleigh character.” O Connor, for his part, seemed not to take the possibility very seriously.

The “Graveleigh Legend” refers to the Howard County local legend dealing with a family of that name who lived at some point in the woods around main street Ellicott City. As the story goes, they were responsible at various points of history for the disappearances of dozens of young children. For many high school students, the myth has led to late-night excursions into the woods in search of evidence of the invisible killers.

Historical sources, though, have not been kind to the stories. It first appeared on record in a 1976 school newspaper publication about the legend. Previous to that, the records make no mention of a Graveleigh family or disappearances of children. But if the Gravele of this week’s discovery really is the same name- then who knows what will be found next?

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