Review of book, Baltimore: A Not So Serious History, by Letitia Stockett

Ms. Stockett, a Baltimore teacher in 1926, was successful at giving a cultural view of how Baltimore, Maryland came into existence in her book, Baltimore: A Not So Serious History, published in 1997 by Johns Hopkins University Press.   The book is rich in imagery and detail.  Her tour of the Baltimore region is presented in flashbacks by neighborhoods and street intersections.

She began on Charles Street at Mount Vernon Place and wrote of specific historic details covering  the years 1500 to 1900.  When she was finished with an intersection or neighborhood, she went on methodically to the next.  There was a great deal of overlapping and repetition which I appreciated.  This helped to connect different events and people.

What I really liked was Ms. Stockett’s style of telling the story as if it were hot news or local gossip—the kind of telling where you wished you were a fly on the wall to be able to hear it for yourself.

I loved her anecdotes about real Baltimore citizens’ and visitors’ personal relationships and lives.  Hetty Cary was a famous female Confederate spy.  The Peabody family’s original name was Boadie and they were from Ireland (even Ms. Stockett admitted the lineage from the Celtic “wild woman”, Boadicea, was questionable).  Betsy Patterson, Baltimorean, married Jerome Bonaparte without Napoleon’s permission, and was refused entrance to France in her pregnant condition.  John Wilkes Booth, assassin of President Lincoln, had a proud family lineage in Baltimore.  Russia requested and got American engineers to build railroads for the Czar.  Fires, riots, inventions, songs, art, and yellow fever bouts were also detailed.

The other thing I liked was her imagery of how the region looked from trees like the locust “with their heavy ivory perfume” to the origin of the Jones Falls.  But, there were also times when you couldn’t tell if the quotes were hers or someone else’s.  There was mention also of terms and names that were left unexplained, as if she assumed that you knew those things.  In Ms. Stockett’s opinion, something historic always had to be destroyed for progress to come.

However, no other religion except Christian (in a time of freedom of religion) or any other race except white accomplished anything by Ms. Stockett’s account.  Now she was a feminist when it came to women’s accomplishments during and after women’s “days of their servitude” as eye candy and property, otherwise there is nothing politically correct about Ms. Stockett’s book.

She had definite opinions of races and ethnic groups in this 1997 edition, which I assume reflected the attitudes of her day.   American Indians attacked Baltimore or were represented as wooden Indians in front of tobacco stores.  African Americans yelled “deviled crabs” at Lexington Market or were represented as wooden hitching posts for horses.  I’m sure I’m fair in saying that minorities were accorded perhaps 10 phrases in the whole book, mostly derogatory.    I would be interested in reading her original book.

Written by Rosa L. Griffin

 

 

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