& Company


Making Money, Making Love in Old Baltimore, Footnotes Included *

by Matthew-Daniel Stremba

"To write love-letters is human. But to preserve them that they may one day from a witness stand add to the gayety of multitudes is downright philanthropic."

—from an editorial, The Baltimore American, June 1904.


Is anyone writing them nowadays?

You know, the ones you stick in an envelope and paste postage stamps on? ** Rare things, I know. And imagine coming across such paper data dated from the Days of Easy Epistolary Activity — why, that's like tripping into a time capsule. Actually, I remember finding in the basement of our Baltimore row-house a packet of letters written in 1947. What excitement that produced. This piece, however, is not about those letters.

This story takes its life from a different set of letters — intimate pages penned in 1902-03 to and from one Tom, who had relocated to the city from his farm on Maryland's Eastern Shore to augment the family income. It was also by accident I came across this correspondence.

I was at the Central Pratt tracking the story of Baltimore's 1904 mayor. In the newspaper record covering the last week of his life, I happened upon a court case that went to trial Monday 23 May 1904 — the parties in the case having nothing at all to do with Mayor McLane. It was a grand diversion, and material for another story!


A real Baltimore trial. Sallie E., the plaintiff vs. Annie R., the defendant in a civil suit. Sallie sued to establish that her husband's spousal affections had been alienated from her, and that it was all Annie's fault. Annie's lawyers argued there was no evidence to substantiate the allegation. In fact, they contended, Mr. Thomas E. was actually the aggressor, and Annie, a widow, was — in her ensuing infatuation with him — the real victim. A love story that had been over a year in the making took little more than three-and-a-half days in court that May week before a long weekend.

The task I set for myself — capture the real story from newspaper accounts of the court doings and then work it for telling to small audiences — required shearing off details that, though delicious, would torture the rhythms of orality. Here in the paragraphs below, however, for lovers of early 20th-century stuff, I pick up a few of those cuttings and dust them off.


Imagine trying to get away today with generalizing in the manner of The Sun reporter when he commented: "All the parties to the suit are past the first flush of youth. . . " Then he really gets himself in trouble: Sallie E. "an attractive-looking woman with grayish hair confessed to 46 summers on the stand." (A bit of a misplaced modifier there: her testimony did not take 46 years to complete.) In The American Sallie E. is "quite good looking" and in The News "a handsome woman, . . . [who] gave her testimony in a clear and distinct voice." The Herald seemed to draw a connection between the hair and the quality of her testimony: "Her hair is gray ... and she is a good witness." (Mencken, city editor at The Herald then, let that pass.) ***

What did it mean in 1904 to describe a woman as large? The American said Annie R. was "a large woman and good looking." The Herald: "a large woman with a dark complexion." The Sun, silent on stature, adds "very black hair and brilliant eyes, with rather marked features."

Thomas E. is "not what one would call a handsome man," remarked The American. The Sun got specific: "He does not resemble the conventional hero of romance, being tall and somewhat stooping and with a long, pointed, reddish beard," adding: he "sat behind [his wife's] counsel ... looking somewhat bored by the proceedings."

What the ladies wore into court certainly must've been important to all Baltimoreans following the disclosures of the private lives of Sallie and Tom and Annie. Sallie E., "was stylishly attired in black" [The Baltimore News]; more specifically, "black dress and hat, black gloves and a light veil" [The Herald]. The other woman, Annie, "wore a black dress, a big black hat and a long gold chain."

These fashion notes alone conjure up a very different world. And where these days do you see folks fanning themselves with implements made for just that purpose? When Mrs. E. returned to the stand on the second day, she "fanned herself with a big palm leaf fan." Her husband, Thomas E., was variously depicted as "calmly waving a big blue fan back and forth in front of his face" [The Herald] or as "busy with" it [The Sun].

Was late May 1904 already the start of a typical Baltimore summer — Tom "frequently wiping the perspiration from his forehead" — or was it the heat of suffering that trial? None of the lawyers had cool words for Tom.


That first day of the trial, The News, an evening paper, was able to scoop all the next day's morning papers – the first to bring into print the epistolary intimacies, declaring "space forbids that all of them should be printed."

The morning after, The American reported that as the plaintiff's attorney, Rufus W. Applegarth, was giving "a dramatic effect to the reading of the love letters," Annie R. sat "with a few women friends and frequently whispered to them," and the newspaper opined that "Mrs R., the author of them, apparently did not mind" their being read in open court. The Sun instead noted that while the plaintiff's attorney "quoted at length from the letters ... Annie stared at the jury as if hoping to find some clue as to the verdict."

Mrs E., who was on the witness stand at the time, "sat with averted face, her head down and her cheeks suffused with a rosy tint." The News said she "covered her face with her hands."

Her husband, on the one hand, "appeared nervous and fidgety" [The American]; while on the other, he "listened attentively to his wife's testimony and sat at ease, with the exception of a nervous twitching of his eyelids..." [The Herald]. By Wednesday, the man having sat "for six hours in the same seat ... glanced freely about the room and appeared to be at ease" [The Herald], while another reporter described him "furtively watching judge and jury" [The Sun].

Poor old Tom. Shabby treatment in the press and in the courtroom. That the affair began in a church only made the barbs richer. Look at what Alonzo Miles, one of the widow's two defense lawyers is quoted saying: "Mr E. had no affection for his wife when after leading a prayer meeting one night, he was making love to Mrs R. the next day." (The usage "making love" apparently didn't signal everything it does today.) "Here's a man who has broken the heart of one woman trying to break the heart of another." Annie's other lawyer Arthur Pue Gorman, Jr. told the jury: "A man is a hypocrite who can teach the principles of the Savior, and, at the same time, deceive a woman" [The Herald].

The Rev. Mr. Harry D. Mitchell, the former pastor of Bethany church, where Tom and Annie worshipped and apparently began their thing, is pictured in The American as having been "an interested listener" during much of the testimony," but during the reading of Annie's letters he "covered his face with his hands, as though mortified at the expressions of love being poured forth by one of his parishioners toward a married man...." ****


The American informed its readers that all the newspapers were indeed presenting censored versions of the letters, printing only what was "printable," there being parts much warmer than the "warm" excerpts published. When I regaled my own Bride (who else would be my first audience?) with these materials including the editorial notice about their publishing much less than the complete record of this affair, Barbara wondered if I could "find the full court testimony, maybe, in state archives somewhere."

Ah, if only there were always archives somewhere that could lead me to all the material that would fill in all the gaps of all the stories I've ever been tracking. If only.*****


* Earlier Version.

Originally an audience handout at mid-1990s presentations of MDS's story, "Sallie, Tom, and Annie: Making Money, Making Love In Old Baltimore"; appears here in re-edited form, 2004.

** Postage stamps.

Does any e-mailer really know what the postal rate is these days? In 1904 a first-class letter went for 2 cents, a rate that held from 1883 to 1917, when it went to 3 cents. In 1919 they reduced the rate back to 2 cents! That Golden Age for writing real letters lasted until 1932.

*** The Herald.

When in 1906 The Herald folded, Mencken had been briefly managing editor, promoted from city editor after the Great Fire. Suddenly jobless, he was, it goes without saying, a prize catch for The Sun.

**** Bethany Church.

That church building still stood last I saw it in 1996 — mute then both to the one-hundred-year-old adultery and to the Methodist creed it once hymned.

***** An Afterword (January 2004).

  1.  How did Sallie's suit turn out? It's been 7 or 8 years since I've had occasion to do this story for an audience, the last a congenial bunch of Baltimore County Library volunteers.
  2.  If you're keen on Sallie and Annie, let me know and, upon settling back in the USA, I'll inform you as to when I might be in a get-up-in-front-of-the-folks mood.
  3.  Is there anyone with any tales to tell me about early 1900s' characters, Rufus W. Applegarth, Alonzo Miles, Arthur Pue Gorman, Jr., the Rev. Mr. Harry D. Mitchell? Anyone know any Eastern Shore Earecksons? Let me know.
  4.  And if you liked this story, treat yourself to TOD HALL AT CITY HALL and HARRY & BLANCHE and LUNCH WITH EDGAR ALLAN POE.

< < Stories & Stuff