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Bromo Tower: 1912

Baltimore, Maryland, circa 1912. "Baltimore waterfront and skyline." Dominated by the Emerson Tower at left, better known as the Bromo-Seltzer Tower, surmounted by a giant, 20-ton Bromo bottle. 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.

Baltimore, Maryland, circa 1912. "Baltimore waterfront and skyline." Dominated by the Emerson Tower at left, better known as the Bromo-Seltzer Tower, surmounted by a giant, 20-ton Bromo bottle. 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Co. View full size.


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I remember it well

We saw the Bromo Tower when we toured Camden Yards in the spring of 2019! And also the beautiful Pandora building, 250 West Pratt.

Bananas, Oysters and Smokey Joe

Baltimore is a hot and humid city so when we were young (late 1940s & early '50s) we would head to this area on our bikes to catch a cooling breeze and hope the banana boat was in so we could watch the stevedores unload it near Pratt and Light and maybe catch a snake hissing it's its way out of a bunch.

Farther down Pratt was docked a Baltimore Skipjack loaded with all manner of seafood and oysters from the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the if asked politely we could con the hand there to shuck us an oyster. We young Baltimoreans were a brave bunch.

Over on Pier 5 on Light Street was the home of the intrepid and much loved icon Smokey Joe. You might not hear her but you sure could see her steaming up the Patapsco from Love Point. The ferryboat known more commonly as Smoky Joe than by its real name, the Philadelphia, steamed three times a day for 16 years from Pier 5 Light Street across the Chesapeake Bay to Love Point.

By the time it was retired in 1947, Smoky Joe had managed to sail into the hearts of Baltimoreans and those on the Eastern Shore.

Described as a “Dumpy double-ender,” the boat earned its nickname because of the telltale trail of black coal smoke that belched from its two tall funnels (reduced to one after an 1935 refit). The ferry was a perpetual smudge on the city’s skyline.

Another fond memory of Pratt and Light area is the Wilson Line’s Bay Belle, which would ferry you across the Chesapeake Bay to the bay beach towns of Betterton and Tolchester. In the days before the Bay Bridges were built this was a way to escape the heat and humidity while seated on the forecastle of a boat steaming across the Bay.

All the above just reside now in the memories of Baltimoreans of the 1940s and '50s, since the whole place is now gentrified and one can't go into a long closed bar owned by a big and sassy lady at Pratt and Light who had with the language of the seamen who patronized her place. Oh yes, she could cuss but if she heard you cuss you had to put a dollar in the cuss jar which went to the Little Sisters Of The Poor on Calvert Street.

Details, Details

What's up there? Click to embiggen.

What's that building to the left of the tower?

The one with the substantial external framework visible. Could that be a refrigeration/icemaking building, with the structure holding up the cooling towers?

The other thing I note is most buildings over maybe 8 stories have at least one water tank on the roof. Fire protection, water pressure in the structure, or both?

Coal Barges

Loading that ferry steamer with wheelbarrows of coal sure looks like a hard day's work.


Was one of the great cure all medicines that actually survived the Pure Food and Drug Act and is still available today. For a very long time it was used for everything from upset stomach to a popular cure for the "morning after" blahs. There is a story about the famous comedic actor WC Fields who reportedly staggered into the dining car one morning on a train, obviously hung over from a night in the bar car. The steward asked if he could get Mr. Fields a Bromo, to which he replied; "No. I couldn't stand the noise."

Inner harbor

You'll still find ships in the Inner Harbor of Baltimore, notably the USS Constellation--but they're not going anywhere. (Sadly, the same has recently become true for the larger Port of Baltimore, we hope temporarily.) The Inner Harbor area underwent a hugely successful redevelopment as a tourist destination in the 1970s and 80s. The focus today tends toward sports (Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Ravens' stadium), gambling (Horseshoe Casino), and lots of condos.

The Basin

This was known as the Basin to the Baltimore of 1912. All the low structures fronting the water are facing Light Street, still a major north/south route. Most of the upper end of the Light Street waterfront was rebuilt after the Baltimore Fire of 1904. The low clock tower in the left foreground is part of the office and terminal of the Baltimore Steam Packet Company, the "Old Bay Line". This was the starting point for lines to the Eastern Shore of Maryland as well as Washington and Richmond. The Old Bay Line would survive until 1960/61.

Note the men with wheelbarrows hauling coal into the fuel bunker of that first boat. Labor was cheap in 1912. Maybe someone who knows his steamboats can identify some that we are seeing here.

What a headache!

The Bromo-Seltzer clock remains, but the 51-foot bottle and its equipment (it rotated!) had to go because of structural concerns. By 2002 the tower was empty, but it was refurbished into the Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower, providing artist's studios/shops and a Bromo-Seltzer museum.

Giant stepladder?

I'm wondering about the structure, apparently made of wood, either part of a ship or standing on the dock, against the background of the further State Tobacco Warehouse, below and left of the word State -- anyone know what that is?

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