Friday, December 26, 2014

406 West Conway Street

While conducting my research on Babe Ruth, I was always on the look out for old photos of his father's saloons especially on Camden Street and Conway Street, but never ran across any.

Recently I came across the attached photo looking down at Camden Station from the Bromo Seltzer Tower.  I contacted the B&O Museum (the source for the photo) and was sent a digital copy.  I also understand this photo is on display near the 8th floor elevators of the warehouse at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

What interested me, were the buildings west of the warehouse (today the outfield bleachers and playing field of the Orioles). Ruth's Conway Street saloon can be seen about a third of the way from the bottom of the photo along the right edge.

I copied an image from a 1914 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map and inserted it next to an enlarged section of the photo showing the saloon.  I placed it upside down to aid comparison between the photo and map. One can easily identify the unusually shaped warehouses across from the saloon on both map and photo.  One of the buildings is identified as a Paper Warehouse on the map, and the word "Paper" is visible on a painted sign in the photo at the same location.

Although the saloon appears to be directly across the 4 story tall building on the map, not the back of the 6 story paper warehouse as shown in the photo - the photo was taken from the Bromo Seltzer Tower at the northeast corner of Lombard and Eutaw Street, skewing the angle.

A store and dwelling on Conway Street east of the saloon can also be identified on both the photo and map.

Although it is not the clearest image; it is taken from above; and it shows the side of the saloon along Little Paca Street, not the front on Conway Street; the building circled is definitely Ruth's Conway Street saloon.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Ten New Babe Ruth Facts

Since the following narrative is a bit long, I am presenting these ten bullet points highlighting new facts about Babe Ruth's early life in Baltimore:

  • Babe Ruth's grandfather was an inventor who held five patents.
  • Babe Ruth's first home was on the outskirts of Baltimore not in the vicinity of Camden Yards.
  • Babe Ruth did not grow up living over a saloon from birth; his father first owned a saloon when he was six years old.
  • The Baltimore branch of Jacob Ruppert's Brewery was seven doors from Babe Ruth's father's saloon on Camden Street [The Ruppert family owned the New York Yankees from from 1915-1945]. 
  • Babe Ruth was the product of a broken home; his parents divorced in 1906 when he was eleven years old.
  • Babe Ruth's mother, Katie, had a drinking problem; she may have been an alcoholic.
  • Babe Ruth's father, George, appears to have cared more about running a bar than caring for his family.
  • Babe Ruth's name first appears in the Baltimore Sun as a participant in a minstrel show at Saint Mary's Industrial School when he was thirteen years old.
  • Babe Ruth is listed in the 1915 Baltimore City Directory as a ballplayer living at 552 West Conway Street.
  • The bar fight that led to Babe Ruth's father's death may have been related to an earlier dope selling incident at his father's saloon.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


     One hundred years ago Babe Ruth became a professional baseball player.  In February 1914, he left Baltimore’s Saint Mary’s Industrial School to join the Baltimore Orioles of the International League.  That year he pitched for the Orioles, Providence Grays and the major league Boston Red Sox.  Although he was an excellent pitcher, Babe Ruth is best known as a home run hitter especially during the years he played for the New York Yankees from 1920-1934.  He was the greatest power hitter and the highest paid baseball player of his era, when baseball was truly America's pastime.  In 1936, Babe Ruth was one of five players elected as a charter members of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

     As a local Baltimore historian and baseball fan, I have long been interested in Babe Ruth’s early years in Baltimore.  Although dozens of Babe Ruth biographies have been published, his life prior to 1914 has not been well-documented.  Within the past few years, the historical Baltimore Sun has been indexed on ProQuest (available online to local public library card holders).  This great resource has provided new information on Babe Ruth’s Baltimore family.  Through newspaper articles, court records and other resources, I have been able to uncover new facts about Babe Ruth’s early life in Baltimore. 

     Just in time for the 100th anniversary of the start of Babe Ruth’s professional baseball career, I am presenting my research on this blog – making it available for all.  My title for this project is:  A Broken Home at Camden Yards:  Babe Ruth’s Early Life in Baltimore.  It is presented in ten parts, after a brief introduction.  I have provided references for my research and have also produced some illustrations highlighting Baltimore places linked to Babe Ruth and his family. 

     Readers should be aware that some of Babe Ruth’s story is adult in nature and at times presents negative aspects of his family.   In order to understand the man Babe Ruth became, I feel it is necessary to explore the circumstances of his childhood and the past he overcame to become a great ballplayer and famous American. 

     One biographer, Leigh Montville, calls Babe Ruth “the patron saint of American possibility.”  I hope that youngsters today living in unfortunate circumstances can be inspired by Babe Ruth’s accomplishments overcoming a troubled youth.

     Thank you for taking the time to time to read this blog. 

     Fred B. Shoken
     Baltimore, Maryland

Thursday, December 26, 2013


A Broken Home at Camden Yards:  Babe Ruth’s Early Life in Baltimore

     By Fred B. Shoken

                There are dozens of biographies about Babe Ruth.  Most sum up his youth in a few paragraphs.  His parents owned a saloon, worked long hours and couldn’t control their rambunctious child. Babe’s mother, Katie, was often sick; she had eight children but only two survived beyond infancy.   His father, George, sent Babe off to Saint Mary’s Industrial School, a live-in reformatory, when Babe was only seven years old.  Babe Ruth spent much of his childhood and teenage years in an institutional setting until he signed a professional baseball contract at the age of nineteen. 

His mother died when he was seventeen while he was at St. Mary’s.  His father lived to see the beginning of his baseball career, but was killed in a fight outside of his bar when Babe was 23.  Before the 1918 baseball season was over, Babe’s immediate family was gone except for one sister, Mary Margaret – known as Mamie.

                Once Babe Ruth became a great ballplayer, sports writers and later historians vainly searched for details of his youth, but Babe was always vague about his family background.  Robert W. Creamer describes Babe’s early years as follows in the classic Babe Ruth biography Babe: The Legend Comes to Life, “The first twenty years of Ruth’s existence are a shifting mélange of elusive facts, erratic data, supposition and unsubstantiated invention.  There are few hooks to hang things on, but mists of ignorance obscure concrete knowledge until late in February 1914, when he came out into the world and became a professional baseball player.”  Leigh Montville in his Ruth biography, The Big Bam, describes Babe’s formative years as a fog, “the biggest mysteries in the life of George Herman Ruth … are front-loaded and frustrating … There are no stories of a mother, none – good or bad or madhouse crazy … There are few stories of a father …”

                One vital fact of Babe Ruth’s youth has remained hidden for more than a century – Babe Ruth was the product of a broken home.  His parents divorced in 1906 when he was eleven years old.  The story of their divorce is one that no child would wish to tell.  The divorce and other aspects of his home life may help explain why a young Babe Ruth first roamed the streets of Baltimore and later lived life on his own terms outside of society’s norms.

Chapter 1

Family Background

Babe Ruth’s paternal grandparents were John Anton Ruth (1844-1897) and Mary E. (Strodtman) Ruth (1845-1894).  Both were born in Maryland of German heritage.1 John’s parents were born in Prussia, and Mary’s parents were born in Hanover.  

John A. Ruth installed and repaired lightning rods for most of his life.  He was physically strong and a shrewd businessman.  In 1871, he repaired a weather vane and lightning rod on the Gail and Ax Building at Light and Barre streets fronting Baltimore’s harbor.2  The work required erecting a scaffold above a cupola 165 feet off the ground and removing a broken vane weighing fifty pounds.  A newspaper article entitled A Lofty Performance stated:  “These aerial performances always draw crowds of spectators.”  On the day the article ran, Ruth took out a classified advertisement in the Baltimore Sun stating:  “ATTENTION – TO THE PUBLIC – J. A. RUTH, PRACTICAL LIGHTNING ROD ERECTOR, 290 Sharp Street, Baltimore. Fifteen years experience in all kinds of Rods.”  If the advertisement was accurate, Babe’s grandfather had been working on lightning rods as early as twelve years of age.  In October 1880, Baltimore celebrated its 150th anniversary with a huge procession showing its industrial progress.  Babe’s grandfather participated in the celebration.  On a horse drawn wagon, he displayed a house with steeple surmounted with lightning rods and side pictures of Benjamin Franklin flying a kite in his electrical experiment.3  

In 1880, John A. Ruth was 36 years old and his wife Mary was 35.  Census records list their five children at the time:  Elizabeth (age 15), John (age 12), George (age 8), Augusta (age 5) and Mary (age 1).4   A daughter and two more sons were soon added to the family:  Annie (born in 1880), Joseph (born in 1883) and William (born in 1884).   The eldest son, John, married in 1889. 5   By 1893, there were three grandchildren.  The second eldest daughter, Augusta, married William E. Brundige, a paper hanger, in 1891.6  Sadly, in February 1893, 14 year old Mary, the fifth child of John and Mary Ruth died.7  The following year, on January 15, 1894, the grandmother of Babe Ruth and the matriarch of this large family also passed away.8

The elder Ruth was a prolific advertiser in the Baltimore Sun during the 1880s and 1890s with regular classified advertisements for his lightning rod business.  The business was advertised at several different locations in southwest Baltimore:  1223 Scott Street, 665 Haw Street (now Melvin Drive) and 622 Frederick Avenue extended.  In September 1884, John A. Ruth was awarded Patent No. 305,020 for inventing an insulator for lightning rods.9 As early as 1890, John’s eldest sons, John Jr. and George, were employed in their father’s lightning rod business.10

Ruth’s lightning rod shop on Haw Street was condemned and taken by the City of Baltimore in the early 1890s to extend Penn Street to Columbia Avenue (now called Washington Boulevard) and to install a needed sewer line through the property.11 Haw Street , now Melvin Drive, is located within a block of Emory Street.  From 1888 until 1904, an upholster named Pius Schamberger lived at 216 Emory Street with his family.  Perhaps the proximity of Ruth’s lightning rod shop to Schamberger’s residence is how Pius’ daughter, Katie, met John A. Ruth’s son, George. 

Both Pius Schamberger (1833-1904) and his wife Johanna Schamberger (1836-1900) were born in Baden, Germany.12  By 1880, the Schamberger’s had five children, Joseph (age 21), Johanna (age 15), William (age 11), Mary (age 9) and Katie (age 6).  The Schamberger family may have had some health issues; two of the children are listed as “paralysed” in the 1880 Census.  Three of their children, Katie, Annie and Gustav, were to die before age 40.

            Pius Schamberger lived primarily in the neighborhood of today’s Babe Ruth house on Emory Street immediately southwest of downtown Baltimore.  Prior to being an upholsterer, he sold liquor.  In his listings in Baltimore City Directories in the 1870s, the word “beer” is found where a person’s occupation is usually provided.  Despite his name, Pius had a few scrapes with the law.  In March 1874, he was fined $20 and costs for selling liquor on Sunday, a violation of the so-called “blue laws.”13 In the prior year, he had been arrested for allowing gambling with cards in his house at No. 385 West Pratt Street (later known as 643 West Pratt Street – today a small parking lot around the corner from the Babe Ruth Museum).  He was fined $10 and costs by Justice Nugent. 14   After these brushes with the law, perhaps he stuck to upholstery.

1 U. S. Census Records 1880; Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland; Roll 503; Page 489D; Enumeration
  District 171; Sheet 16
2 Baltimore Sun “A Lofty Performance,” July 1, 1873, p. 2
3 Baltimore Sun, October 12, 1880, p. 5
4 U. S. Census Records 1880; Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland; Roll 503; Page 489D; Enumeration
  District 171; Sheet 16
5 Baltimore City Court of Common Pleas, Marriage Index T 2426 - 86, BK 2 JTG 1880-90, Folio 377
6 Baltimore City Court of Common Pleas, Marriage Index T 2426 - 13, BK 3 JTG 1890-92, Folio 51
7 Baltimore Sun, February 14, 1893, p. 4
8 Baltimore Sun, January 17, 1894, p. 4
9 Baltimore Sun, September 11, 1884, p. 4
10 1890 Polk's Baltimore City Directory, p. 1042-1043
11 Baltimore Sun, August 28, 1890, p.6
12 U. S. Census Records 1880; Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland; Roll 503; Page 200B; Enumeration
   District: 153; Sheet 10
13 Baltimore Sun “Proceedings of the Courts” March 7, 1874, p. 5
14 Baltimore Sun, February 24, 1873, p. 4

Chapter 2

George, Katie and the Babe

On June 24, 1894, George H. Ruth (1871-1918) and Katie Schamberger (1873-1912) married.1 He was 23, and she was 21.  It is likely that Katie was 7 weeks pregnant at the time.  A son was born 7½ months after the wedding on February 6, 1895 at Katie’s parent’s house, 216 Emory Street.  Named after his father, George H. Ruth, Jr. would later become known to the world simply as “Babe.” 

Did George marry Katie because she was pregnant?  Why else would a Lutheran (George) marry a Catholic (Katie) at Fulton Avenue Baptist Church?  Yet Babe would have a Catholic baptism at St. Peter the Apostle Church on March 1, 1895 with his aunt, Lena Fell (Katie’s sister) as godparent.2

                After the marriage, Babe’s father is listed in Baltimore City directories at 622 Frederick Avenue (extended) where John A. Ruth moved his family in the early 1890s.  The house on Frederick Avenue was far removed from Emory Street where Babe Ruth was born.  It is a frame house at Frederick Avenue and Font Hill Avenue cater-corner from Mount Olivet Cemetery.   Babe Ruth lived there during the first two years of his life on the western outskirts of Baltimore nearly two miles from the waterfront.  The house was remodeled into a church in the 1920s and still stands (although vacant in 2013).  It is now known as 2819 Frederick Avenue.

Installing and repairing lightning rods was the primary business of Babe’s grandfather, but he was also an inventor.  In addition to the patent he received for a lightning rod insulator in 1884, he received four patents between 1888 and 1896:  one for a new type of wagon, one for a fastener for garments, and two for safety casings for oil and gas stoves.  He advertised his garment fastener in the Baltimore Sun stating, “To Motormen, Conductors, Police and others that have outdoor employment.  Use J. A. Ruth’s Fastener for plackets of garments.  It will keep the cold and wind out and save you from the grip and many other sicknesses.  It is like a stove in front of your clothing.  Apply at 622 Frederick Avenue Extended.  Make your tailor put it on for you.”3

It is doubtful that John A. Ruth profited from his other inventions as he remained in the lightning rod business until his death in 1897. The house at 622 Frederick Avenue extended also included a saloon – but land records indicate the saloon was run in conjunction with the Twenty-first Ward Industrial and Social Club, incorporated in 1893 by five businessmen including John A. Ruth and his eldest son, John    Jr.4  An agreement filed in Baltimore City Land Records turned the property over to the social club including fixtures, chandeliers, tables, chairs, glassware, decanters, buffets and spittoons.5  In return, the club employed Ruth as a caretaker, paid rent for the premises and allowed his family to occupy the living quarters.  Around the same time, the two oldest Ruth brothers, John and George had other business dealings.  They unsuccessfully bid to produce tin licenses for the City of Baltimore in 1894.6

                Shortly before Babe Ruth’s second birthday, his paternal grandfather, John Anton Ruth died on January 31, 1897.7 The executor of Ruth’s estate, his brother-in-law, Herman Strodtman, sold the house on Frederick Avenue, divided up the proceeds evenly among the surviving children and became the legal guardian of his minor children, Annie, Joseph and William.8 In 1898, Annie Ruth married Milton C. Brundige, a first cousin of William E. Brundige who had married Annie’s older sister, Augusta, seven years earlier.9

George and his oldest brother, John, continued to run the lightning rod business their father had started.10 Like their father, they ran regular newspaper advertisements announcing themselves as the successors to their father’s business.  The two brothers bought adjoining row houses at 339 and 341 South Woodyear Street in southwest Baltimore just west of the B&O Railroad’s Mount Clare Yards.  The houses had deep lots stretching to Carey Street on the east.  The lightning rod shop was built behind the houses with access to Carey Street.  A newspaper article, “Death From The Skies,” discussed lightning rods and the dangers from lightning strikes.11   The article provides a quote from Babe’s father, “Lightning rods should be placed upon country houses and tall buildings in the city.  An unpainted metal roof with down spouting and good connection throughout is sufficient, provided that the highest points, as the chimneys, for instance, are also coppered …”

Although some biographies state that Babe Ruth grew up in a saloon environment since infancy, between 1897 and 1901 (when Babe was age 2-6) he lived in a predominately residential working class neighborhood.  His father and uncle were self-employed in a building trade.  Their lighting rod shop was on the premises, so they worked close to home.  Babe’s Uncle John and Aunt Mary lived at 341 South Woodyear Street next door to George, Katie and the Babe at 339 South Woodyear Street.   By 1900, John and Mary had five children:  Nellie (born in 1890), Lottie (born in 1892), John A., Jr. (born in 1893), Mammie (born in 1896), and William E. (born in 1899).  George and Katie shared their house with George’s sister, Annie, and her husband, Milton C. Brundige, a teamster.  Annie and Milton had a daughter, Ellen who was born in 1899. 12

Within these two adjacent rowhouses, young Babe Ruth, lived with his parents, two aunts and two uncles, and six cousins – all within 5 years of his age.  Two other uncles, an aunt, and two cousins (both born within a year of Babe) lived two blocks away.  Babe’s Aunt Augusta Brundige, lived at 308 South Norris Street with her husband, William and two sons William E. Jr. (born in 1895) and John A. (born in 1896).  Uncle Joseph, Augusta’s 17 year old brother, who was a varnisher lived with his sister on Norris Street. 13

The 1900 census indicates that Katie was the mother of three children, but only one lived.  Babe had a baby brother, Augustus, who was born on March 15, 1898, but died at the age of 1 year and 1 day.14  While Babe Ruth’s autobiography mentions an older brother, John, this is unlikely since Babe was born 7 ½ months after George and Katie were married.  It is possible that another sibling was born between Babe and Augustus, but died shortly after birth.  In her book, The Babe and I, Claire Hodgson Ruth, wrote “Mamie tells me that John was younger than Babe and died when Babe was an infant.”15 Babe’s sister, Mary Margaret (Mamie) was born on August 2, 1900.  She is the only sibling of Babe to survive infancy and lived in Maryland until 1992.  Mamie also stated she had a twin sister who died in infancy.16

Fifty-six, two-story row houses were built in the 300 block of South Woodyear Street in 1885.17 Field books of the 1900 census provide a snapshot of the neighborhood.   Over 250 people lived on the block with many young children around Babe’s age.  Most of the households were made up of a father and mother, several children with an in-law and/or a boarder here and there.  The heads of households were primarily employed in blue collar work or were craftsman:   laborers, iron moulders, carpenters, cabinet makers, hucksters, boilermakers, painters, machinists, marble cutters, etc.  Mount Clare Yards of the B&O Railroad was just a block away.   Surely many Woodyear Street residents were employed there. 

Nearly half the households had some German background, but there was a smattering of Irish ancestry as well.  Not a single African-American lived on Woodyear Street in heavily segregated turn-of-the century Baltimore, but one resident had Cuban ancestry. 

Each of the four corner houses of the block housed grocery stores:  two were located on the north end of the block at the intersection of Woodyear and McHenry streets, and two on the south end of the block at Woodyear and Ramsay streets.  A bakery operated on the street, five houses south of the Ruths.  Families lived over the grocery stores and the bakery.  One resident of the block is listed as a saloonkeeper in the 1900 census, but there were no saloons on Woodyear Street. 

Babe Ruth spent his early childhood years on Woodyear Street living in a house, not rooms over a bar.  It was not the rough waterfront neighborhood that most biographies describe.  Babe was surrounded by an extended family that no doubt watched over the growing Ruth clan to keep youngsters out of trouble.  Large families lived in close proximity.  Corner stores catered to local residents.  Recreational opportunities abounded at Carroll Park, a few blocks to the southwest across the nearby railroad tracks.  But Babe’s living environment was soon to change.

For reasons unknown, in February 1901, shortly after Babe’s sixth birthday, his father sold the house on Woodyear Street and left the partnership with his brother in the lightning rod business.18 George Ruth, Sr. bought a saloon at 426 W. Camden Street, a block away from Camden Station and the recently built Camden Yards Warehouse.   

In the early 20th century, Babe’s parents were constantly on the move, primarily living over bars in the general neighborhood of Camden Yards.  In comparison, Babe’s Uncle John bought back his brother’s former house, 339 South Woodyear Street, in 1902 maintaining two houses for the extended Ruth clan.  He lived in the house at 341 South Woodyear Street until his death in 1932.19   The home stayed in the Ruth family until 1969, when it was sold by a surviving son-in-law ending more than seven decades of the Ruth family occupancy on the street.

1 Babe Ruth - The Dark Side by Paul F. Harris, p. 23
2 Babe Ruth - The Dark Side by Paul F. Harris, p. 4
3 Baltimore Sun, October 21, 1895, p. 3
4 Baltimore Sun, June 17, 1893, p. 10
5 Baltimore City Land Records, Liber JB 1451, Folio 523, June 17, 1893
6 Baltimore Sun, January 18, 1894, p. 8
7 Baltimore Sun, Feburay 3, 1897, p. 4
8 Baltimore Sun, Feburay 9, 1897, p. 3
9 Baltimore Sun, March 24, 1898, p.10
10 Baltimore Sun, March 20, 1897, p. 3
11 Baltimore Sun, July 31, 1900, p. 7
12 U. S. Census Records 1900; Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland; Roll 617; Page 15A; Enumeration
   District 262; Sheet 15
13 U. S. Census Records 1900; Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland; Roll 617; Page 10B; Enumeration
   District 262; Sheet 10B
14 Baltimore Sun, Death Notice of March 17, 1898. 
15 "The Babe and I," by Mrs. Babe Ruth, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey:  Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1959 p. 41.
16 "Babe's Sister" People Magazine, September 16, 1985, vol. 23, no. 12
17 Baltimore Sun, November 24, 1885, p. 4
18 Baltimore Sun, February 4, 1901, p. 11
19 Baltimore Sun, February 14, 1932, p. S9

Chapter 3

Babe at Camden Yards

The 400 block of Camden Street differed greatly from the working class residential environment of Woodyear Street.  Retail, residential, manufacturing and transportation uses stood side-by-side on a busy downtown street.  Streetcars ran directly in front of the saloon connecting southwest Baltimore with downtown and other neighborhoods.

The block was bounded by Eutaw Street on the east and Paca Street on the west.  On Camden and Eutaw streets, meat packing and cold storage warehouses located in close proximity to Camden Station.   Swift & Company and Armour Packing Company were at the southwest corner of Camden and Eutaw streets.  Three additional cold storage warehouses stood on Eutaw Street.  Other businesses on 400 block of Camden Street included the Crescent Chemical Company, Charles J. Summers canned goods, Citizens’ Express package deliveries and William J. Tickner and Sons, undertakers.1

George Ruth’s saloon stood at the northeast corner of Camden and Paca streets.  Seven doors away was the Baltimore Branch of Jacob Ruppert’s Brewery headquartered in New York.  When Jacob Ruppert died in 1915, his son, Jacob Ruppert, Jr. took over the family business.  Babe Ruth would become well acquainted with the younger Ruppert nearly twenty years later.  In addition to the brewery, he would own a professional baseball team – the New York Yankees.

                Sanborn maps show two saloons in the 400 block of Camden Street.  Twice during one week in March 1902, the owner of the saloon at 402 West Camden Street was cited by the police for selling liquor on Sundays.2  Another bar around the corner on Eutaw Street was raided at the same time on the same charge.3 In 1908, the Colored Law and Order League, an early twentieth century African-American citizen’s group that pressured the city government to enforce liquor laws, conducted a study in the vicinity of Ruth’s establishment.4 In a two block area that took in both sides of streets from Pratt Street to Camden Street and Paca Street to Howard Street, the group identified 36 saloons!

In 1900, residents on and near the 400 block of Camden Street included recent immigrants from Germany, Russia, and Italy.  A Chinese resident operated a laundry around the corner on Eutaw Street.  Although the area was described as a poor, white neighborhood in the Colored Law and Order League study, many African Americans lived in small alley streets.  The Ruppert Brewery extended north to a narrow alley, Dover Street.   A three-story house, 413 Dover Street, also included a stable and wagon shed for the brewery.  In October 1899, the building collapsed, possibly due to the kicking of horses in the stable.5   An African-American family that lived above the stable had to be rescued by the Fire Department.  Although family members were in a state of shock and suffered severe cuts and bruises as a result of the collapse, miraculously the eight residents from age 3 to 65 survived.  Dover Street to the north of Camden Street and Perry Street to the south were predominately African-American. 

In the mid-nineteenth century, a slave jail was located at the southwest corner of Eutaw and Camden streets (near the site of today’s Babe Ruth statue).6 Slaves were held in several private jails in the immediate vicinity of the railroad station prior to being sold further south.  The infamous slave jails were finally closed by Union Army forces during the summer of 1863.  For a time during the Civil War, the former slave jail on Camden Street was converted into the office of the Army provost.

In July 1900, a strange incident took place one-half block north of 426 West Camden Street.   The telephone company was attempting to install a pole at the corner of Paca and Dover streets, when residents complained that it would block the sidewalk forcing people to walk in the street.  A saloon owner at this location attempted to stop the work and was manhandled by telephone company workers.  Later neighborhood women stood in the hole dug by workers to prevent them from erecting the pole.  During the commotion, a twelve year old boy from the neighborhood, Benjamin Sipes, was allegedly kicked in the face by one of the workers.7   Police officers were called out to restore calm in the neighborhood.  An injunction was filed to prohibit the erection of the pole and court hearings held to settle the dispute.8 The Ruth family would not arrive in the neighborhood until nearly a year later, but Benjamin Sipes and his family would later impact Babe Ruth’s family.

The building at the northwest corner of Camden and Eutaw streets was a tenement house, known as the “Black Rabbit.”  In 1902, the fire escapes attached to the front and side of the building were cited by the Building Inspector as being in an unsafe condition.9 Most residents were made to leave, but a newspaper article of August 8, 1902 describes a fight among the last residents, “Sgt. Harry Hopwood and Patrolman Edward Lucke were attracted yesterday afternoon by a great commotion in front of the ‘Rabbit.’   Screams and curses were mingled with blows as the two officers charged upon some ragged men and women who were fighting furiously at the entrance.  All hands were arrested.” 10

Pig Alley which ran from Dover Street to Camden Street directly west of Eutaw Street was infamous for a crime that took place 15 years prior to the arrival of Babe Ruth on Camden Street.11  In 1886, an elderly white woman, Emily Brown, who had fallen on hard times due to drinking and drug abuse rented a room from an African-American resident of Pig Alley.  Brown had once been a seamstress, but later resorted to begging.  Most of the money she received went to her drinking and drug habit and she fell behind on her rent.  Another border of the house, Anderson Perry, was a janitor at the University of Maryland medical school.  He conceived a plan to kill Emily Brown and sell her body to the medical school for $15 (the going rate for cadavers needed by medical students for dissection).  Perry convinced two associates, John Thomas Ross and Albert Hawkins, to commit the murder while he was on hand to receive the body at the medical school.  In her room on Pig Alley, Ross struck Emily Brown in the head with a brick and stabbed her.  Hawkins helped deliver her body to Perry at the medical school.  The nature of her injuries aroused suspicion and the police were contacted.  Soon the plot unraveled, and all three were arrested.  Only Ross was convicted and executed for the crime.   The horrendous nature of the murder made it one of the most infamous of its time.

Such was the neighborhood, where Babe Ruth’s father decided to operate a saloon and raise his two young children.  A liquor license application for Ruth’s saloon at 426 West Camden Street was recorded in a Baltimore Sun advertisement of April 13, 1901.12 Two years prior to Ruth’s ownership of the saloon on Camden Street, a trustee’s sale of saloon fixtures took place.  The notice of the sale on March 24, 1899 provides the following description of items to be sold:  one bar counter and rail, one beer pump and fixtures, one bar buffet, six tables and set of chairs, one kitchen range and utensils, one furnace heater, and all the glassware, and stock of wines, liquors and cigars contained in and upon the premises.13 It is likely that the Ruth saloon was similarly equipped.

Eleven days after Ruth’s liquor license application was advertised, a local brief appeared in the Baltimore Sun:  “George H. Ruth, who keeps a saloon at 426 West Camden Street, was fined $10 and costs yesterday by Justice Poe, charged with allowing minors to play pool and billiards in his place.”14 Was that Babe playing pool in his Dad’s saloon?  It didn’t take long for Babe’s family to get into trouble in their new Camden Yards neighborhood.

           In addition to running the bar, Babe’s father also carried on an active social life.  He was a member of a Bohemian Social Club, Spolek Veselych Hochu or Jolly Brothers Club.15 At the third annual ball which took place November 11, 1901 at the Germania Maennerchor Hall (a few blocks to the north at Lombard Street near Eutaw Street) George H. Ruth was on the dance committee.16 Perhaps the reason he left his brother and the lightning rod business to start a bar was because George was a “Jolly Brother.”  He just wanted to have fun serving up drinks and good times at this own place instead of climbing up on other people’s buildings to install lightning rods.  His family would just have to adjust to their new surroundings.

1 Baltimore Sun, April 26, 1899, p. 7
2 Baltimore Sun, March 11, 1902, p. 7
3 Baltimore Sun, March 3, 1902, p. 10
4 Work of the Colored Law and Order League by James H. N. Waring, 1908.
5 Baltimore Sun, October 23, 1899, p. 10
6 "A Bitter Inner Harbor Legacy: The Slave Trade" by Ralph Clayton, Baltimore Sun, July 12, 2000
7 Baltimore Sun, July 25, 1900, p. 10
8 Baltimore Sun, July 26, 1900, p. 7
9 Baltimore Sun,  May 3, 1902, P. 9
10 Baltimore Sun,  August 8, 1902, p. 7
11 "Blood Money" by Bremmer Jensen, Baltimore City Paper, March 18, 1898
12 Baltimore Sun,  April 13, 1901, p. 11
13 Baltimore Sun,  March 18, 1899, p. 11
14 Baltimore Sun,  April 24, 1901, p. 6
15 Baltimore Sun,  December 26, 1901, p. 6
16 Baltimore Sun,  November 12, 1901, p. 7