Bells (Nostalgia from Bygone Streetcar Days)
By Jerry D. Kelly
From a Baltimore Transit Company's Transit Topics Issue
Pioneers are usually conscious, though they may not be aware of their pioneering. When the old man with the long beard swings his scythe, most pioneers stop pioneering.
Not so, however, with a certain horizontal passenger who first tried on September 1, 1901, a new transit service. He had no idea of the novelty of his position. He had been dead for two days before making the inaugural trip in that elegant new trolley, "Dolores."
To a city accustomed to parlor cars, swank trolley smokers and fancy open jobs, "Dolores" brought a new era. She was our one and only funeral car and she came in the days when we "railroaded." In those times, brother, if you wanted to get anywhere, you trolleyed. A horse is a nice, friendly sort of beast, full of love, loyalty and oats, but he has only one horsepower under the blanket. No Pimlico pony could show much speed with a five passenger hack hung on behind. So it was, in those days, that when Uncle Whatzis died on Broadway, you either buried him in Greenmount or you spent the day at his funeral. Consider that all funerals moved at sedate pace and that all the horses carried capacity loads-you can see that procession made three miles an hour with a tail wind. An excursion to Loudon Park required cushions, time and patience.
Then, too, if Uncle Whatzis inconsiderately shoved off for other worlds in mid winter, those hacks were cold as he. While frozen mourners shivered at the graveside, drivers repaired to the nearest gin mill for antifreeze and the trip home was fraught with unpredictable aspects. Into this problem, amid the cheers of suburban cemetery proprietors, stepped the super-service boys of the then-new United Railways. "Dolores" was their answer to an undertakers prayer.
For this purpose they selected the finest of ten fine double-truck ears built in 1897 by the La Clede Car Company for the Baltimore and Northern Electric Railway, which had shown fine service characteristics. Upon this car, the old masters at the shop lavished their greatest care. When she emerged from rebuilding she was a glory to behold! From her Union Standard No. 1 walk around trolley to her enameled and striped 27 G E-1 trucks, she gleamed in black and silver. From coupler to coupler, she was fitted with every modern feature. The deceased and principal object of art was stowed, coffin and all, in a zinc-lined casket vault, through the plate-glass door of which the casket displayed its elegance and costliness. Atop the casket vault inside the car was a shelf with a guard rail, where floral tributes were placed to be ogled through two large windows.
Opposite the casket were eight seats for the chief mourners, arranged like two Pullman sections and separated from the passenger compartment by a carved mahogany and frosted glass partition. The passenger section was provided with twelve leather-upholstered walk over cross seats and folding chairs were available for use in the aisle if the need arose. To convey the deceased from home to car and from car to grave, a folding, four-wheeled, rubber-tired carriage was provided, on which the pallbearers trundled the late lamented while appearing to carry the casket.
Electric heaters warmed the car in winter, art bronze light clusters brightened gloomy days and electric call bells summoned the conductor with ice water from the built-in cooler. Window tops were etched with frosted drapes, while black shades and curtains could be drawn across the glass. In short, no expense was spared to make her the finest ear on city rails, equal to Philadelphia's famous "Hillside," or San Francisco's gloomy "Descanso." Her name, the Spanish word for "sorrow," caught the public imagination.
On those occasions when an old Pikesville Confederate veteran was laid to rest in Loudon Park, "Dolores," bearing the body, family and honor guard, was followed by one of the parlor cars, usually dignified "Lord Baltimore" whose fifteen wicker chairs and sofa were deemed more expendable than the mahogany furnishings of "Maryland" or the too cheery yellow of "Chesapeake."
For all this elegance and service, the charter fees were modest. Between city points and return, the rate was $20.00. To Back River, Catonsville, Curtis Bay, Hamilton, Lorraine, Overiea, Pikesville, Towson or Woodlawn, $22.00. Round trips to Ellicott City, Middle River, Reisterstown or Sparrows Point, $25.00. To other points outside Baltimore, $5.00 to $I5.00 extra.
In addition to the wages of motorman and conductor, included in these rates, was the attendance of a special Company funeral expert, resplendent in polished high hat. That topper was a Company asset (account 42-?) and hung for twenty years on a peg in the office of the Schedule Department, to be carefully dusted and brushed before being donned by J. Edward Morris, who generally accompanied "Dolores" on her social jaunts. Between engagements, the prima donna herself queened it over all the other cars at Park Terminal, carefully waxed and gleaming, with super elbow grease and Solarine devoted to her nickel trim.
On those occasions when she sallied forth during the "flu" epidemics of World War I, little dusting wasn't necessary. She wasn't idle that long. At times there were so many calls for her that "Lord Baltimore" was pressed into service as a substitute and attained a mortuary reputation second only to the queen. His lordship, though, had no display case and was for that reason, far less popular with undertakers and the public.
Never did "Dolores" serve in more dignity than on one trip to Druid Ridge Cemetery. John Mifflin Hood, military general and former president of the Western Maryland Railway, died in 1919 while chief executive of the United. Accompanied by "Lord Baltimore," "Maryland" and "Chesapeake," she helped Company officials to bear the Big Boss to his last resting place.
Then times changed. With the coming of the internal combustion age, increased use of motor hearses and limousines plus the tendency toward simplicity in funerals conspired to cut demand for her services and we do not hear the old girl at her trade after 1923.
For five years "Dolores" contemplated her career, but she was no longer groomed as before. Sister cars of her B& N family were still singing on the rails, while she lay idle. True, they were no longer the honored smokers and six had been destroyed in 1919, but three, converted to utility cars, were yet in service: 3607 and 3731 riding the line and 5013 blocked up on ties, inside the yard at Belvedere Car House.
In 1930, it was decided that she had lived out her years and her body was offered to the Park Board for use as a hobby shop, but the Board did not warm to the proposition. Her destruction was ordered and the torch accordingly applied at Carroll Park in August. Her metal remains were sold as scrap and it is to be hoped that her bones rest at the bottom of the peaceless Pacific, "At Rest." No, "Dolores" is no more, but she rolls on in recollection, her memory an honored tradition of long gone leisurely days.
(Reprinted with permission from the Baltimore Streetcar Museum's quarterly newsletter, The Live Wire.
Copyright 1999, The Baltimore Streetcar Museum, Inc. All rights reserved.)
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