Catonsville: Then and Now
David Ditman recalled scenes and stories of Catonsville the way it used to be when he was a kid
David Ditman wasn't sure he wanted to entertain before he'd had his first cup of coffee, but as about 20 people gathered on the second floor of Atwater's at 8:30 a.m. Sunday morning, Ditman slid easily into telling stories of his childhood in Catonsville.
Two of Ditman's usual Sunday morning group were there, John McSwenney and Ray Forton. Unfortunately the impetus for the slide show, Norm Schluff, had to be out of town. Patti Rosen arrived with a copy of Ditman's 1979 chapbook entitled Mail Delivery by Trolley, which he wrote to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of mail delivery by streetcar. This natural storyteller and local historian is in his 27th year teaching history at Howard High School.
When asked about how the presentation came to be, Ditman laughed.
"This thing has taken on a life of its own. It just started out with me planning to share some pictures I had with some friends that I get together with at Atwater's on Sunday mornings."
Ditman asked Ned Atwater if he could bring in a slide projector, and Atwater said, "Oh man, that would be so cool! We'll announce it on the website."
Ditman created the slide show in the mid-1990s as a fund-raiser for the trolley trail between Frederick Road and Catonsville Junction. It contained pictures of Catonsville from the 1950s and '60s compared with the same scene at that time.
Many of the slides came from the Streetcar Museum in Baltimore or from local photographers who had documented the last run of the trolley in November 1963.
The Catonsville trolley line ran from Towson, downtown to Fayette Street and west out Frederick Road, veered north at Milestone 7 to travel the last one-half mile to the terminus at Edmonson Avenue. There the motorman would reverse the seats and change the pole and the car would begin its return, stopping at every street corner on its 17 mile journey, an hour and 20-minute ride.
The first slide showed the No. 8 streetcar headed towards Baltimore just this side of Paradise. Images continued: across the beltway bridge, past the Tollhouse, by the Alpha lunch room. By this time members of the audience were adding their memories of going for ice cream at Father's Gay Nineties, buying cherry coke or classic comics at Moss's, or spending a Saturday afternoon without parents at the Alpha Movie Theatre.
A rousing applause followed the end of the show and people flocked around Ditman to ask questions. Rebekah Kaufman, the librarian at Catonsville Elementary School, said that she loved hearing the stories.
"I've lived here for 20 years, but I still feel very much like a newcomer."
This event was a celebration of the power of memory for a tight-knit community. John McSweeney, who grew up with Ditman, said, "Catonsville is like the Hotel California. You can check out but you can never leave."
For those who had a hard time leaving Atwater's after the slide show, Ned Atwater provided good luck Hoppin John soup in his signature tiffin boxes.
More than one person said that Dave Ditman would have to do this again.