Celebrating September, 131 years ago

Posted on September 7, 2020 by

A blog post by Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

Continuing my new tradition of blogging about things we can’t do this year, here’s a blog post about parades!

Parade floats for Uriah A. Pollack’s furniture store, Baltimore, September 1889. Gift of Jerome Schimberg. JMM 1990.18.4.

In the late 19th century, the City of Baltimore hosted an annual fair at Pimlico. Though known as the “State Fair,” it was actually one of several such “state fairs” held in various locations; today’s Maryland State Fair is generally held to be the descendant of the one that began in Lutherville in 1878, with which the Pimlico Fair merged in 190. At any rate, when this photo was taken in 1889 the event at Pimlico was called both the Maryland State Exposition and the September Festival. The week-long event, opened by President Benjamin Harrison, included racing, expositions of agricultural and household goods, concerts, livestock sales, a fireworks show, a ball, military demonstrations, a “parade of labor organizations,” and on the first day, a “Civic and Industrial Parade.”

This card includes both a “programme” for the Festival events on one side,, and an advertisement for Pollack’s store on the other. Looking to update your home? Pollack’s “shows the latest and handsomest designs in Parlor Suits, Fancy Chairs and Rockers, Divans, Reception Chairs and Couches, Chamber and Dining Room Suits in Mahogany, Oak, Walnut and Cherry, Hall Racks, Cheffoniers [sic], Cabinets, China Cases, Book Cases, Music Cabinets, Pedestals, Tables, &c., &c.”  Need a mattress, or a chair reupholstered? Pollack can also help you out! Gift of Jerome Schimberg. JMM 1990.18.6.

It was this first-day Civic and Industrial Parade in which Mr. Uriah A. Pollack’s store was represented by what the Baltimore Sun, in its comprehensive article (“HERE ARE THE FLOATS – They Will Appear Today – History and Trade Illustrated,” September 9, 1889), called “two wagons in line, containing parlor and bedroom furniture.” Other shops rated much more exciting and elaborate newspaper descriptions of their floats, but happily for us we have this photo to help us appreciate Mr. Pollack’s work and wares, despite the Sun’s reticence.

Here we see that two sturdy wagons have been festooned with bunting, rosettes, and advertising banners, and topped with draped and wrapped pergolas. The horses are sporting branded blankets and festive headdresses. American flags are dotted here and there.

And lest you forget what Pollack’s sells, each wagon has some actual furniture inside as well: looks like some fancy chairs in the first, and … I’m not actually sure what’s in the second one, but it has some nice molding or inlay, and there’s a fellow standing in it… maybe a bed without a mattress?

Hopefully, participating in the 1889 September Festival Parade was helpful to Mr. Pollack’s business. He grew up working in his father’s mattress factory in East Baltimore, and later turned his hand to upholstery; he opened his eponymous furniture store in 1847, and after his 1897 death his son-in-law took on the business. The shop eventually added clothing to its wares, and in the 20th century operated several branches (later rebranding as Pollack-Blum’s) until it went out of business in 1982.

Pollack’s Furniture Store, Howard and Saratoga Streets, circa 1905. Gift of Jerome Schimberg. JMM 1990.18.2.

I came across the parade photo in January or February of this year, did a little research and connected it to the 1889 parade program, and decided it would be more appropriate to write about the photograph closer to Labor Day … little realizing that instead of tying the post to parades and celebrations held around the state, I would instead be writing about how we are not having parades and celebrations around the state.

Most Maryland counties chose to cancel their fairs this year due to the ongoing pandemic, including my personal favorite, the Montgomery County Agricultural Fair. The Maryland State Fair, which would have concluded today, was replaced with a “modified” online version, only the second time in 142 years that it has not been held in person. The Town of Kensington has canceled their 53rd annual Labor Day Parade; Greenbelt, their 65th; and Gaithersburg, their 82nd (like the State Fair, it has only be canceled once before, in both cases due to World War II).

My Facebook ‘memories’ keep popping up to remind me of parades and fairs from the past few years that I’m missing this time around – thanks, social media – and I can only hope that in September next year, we’ll be able to return to our end-of-summer festivities. I could use a good parade right about now!


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