Long have I extolled the virtues of the great Dundalk-Patapsco Neck Historical Society. Its immense service to Greater Dundalk aside, what I really love about the society is how it helps me.
Just when I think I have found a question so maddeningly obscure that no sane person could possibly help me answer it, there they are stating matter-of-factly, “Yeah, we’ve got a file on that.” And even on the eerily few times they cannot help me, they generally point me in the right direction, sometimes with a chilling accuracy. (Sometimes, they’re really scary).
So I was delighted but not surprised when something at the Center Place museum was called to my attention. I was shown what looked like just a pile of old magazines. Upon closer inspection my curiosity intensified.
The publication at issue was titled The Pioneer and bore the subheading “A news magazine for Dundalk — St. Helena — Lorraine Park — Edgemere — Sparrows Point.” The first issue I could find in the stack was dated April 8, 1938, and bore a picture of a Pan Am seaplane on the cover. Curiouser and curiouser.
Now, it has always been my contention that Dundalk, for all its unincorporated status, is a fully-fledged American town with all the accouterments pertaining thereto (we even have our own country club). As such, it is absolutely essential that we have our own news outlet dedicated exclusively to the comings and goings of Greater Dundalk.
Not to blow our own horn, but since 1969 this role has been filled by The Dundalk Eagle. I had assumed that, prior to 1969, Dundalk news had been covered by The Community Press (started in 1933), which lost its local focus when it merged with The Baltimore Countian by 1950 (there was also the short-lived the Dundalk Eye in the 1980s and the Dundalk Times, successor of the CP-BC, but, as part of a chain, it quickly lost its local focus as well).
But I now held in my hands another local publication I had never heard of. It was a beautiful magazine, printed on glossy paper and containing just what it advertised: the news of Dundalk, St. Helena, Lorraine Park, Edgemere and Sparrows Point (the publication added Balnew soon after its first edition).
I did some checking. It turns out that this magazine is kept on microfilm in the Maryland State Archive’s newspaper collections. But the historical society had the real deal, and after sorting the copies chronologically I discovered that the April 8, 1938, edition was indeed the first issue.
The magazine began with a charming editorial under the headline “We make our bow.” It begins, “It is with some trepidation, we confess, that our youthful aspirant for journalistic honors makes its debut.” Alas, I mourn the passing of the 1930s, an era when real journalists actually wrote like me.
Anyway, the staff box on page 3 listed (in order of appearance), business and advertising manager Paul M. Beckwith, circulation manager Paul Herr and editorial staff Ross Herr, Paul Beckwith, Robert Wilson and Mrs. Carl W. Hull. The editorial office was 71 Admiral Blvd., Mr. Beckwith’s home.
The magazine came out weekly and contained in its few pages the type of news and information only a true local publication can provide. Amid the ads for Dundalk Florist, Norris Used Cars, Community Cab and Twin City Coal (one ton of heating coal for $1.50) appeared pieces on local politicians, car accidents, burglaries and parades, editorials calling for one-way streets in Old Dundalk and a sidewalk along Dundalk Avenue next to Logan Field (an issue that raged for months until the county government acquiesced) and community updates for the American Legion, Moose, Boy Scouts, Rotary Club and local churches.
Read’s drug store (now Rite Aid) always advertised on the back cover.
Magazine covers included the Pan Am seaplane (for some reason for two consecutive weeks), the Dundalk Fire and Police station, the Dundalk School, weddings, sporting events and the Esso Baltimore, a 13,000-ton oil tanker built at Sparrows Point.
All in all, The Pioneer was a local news magazine par excellence. It was a fount of useful information. For example, I learned that the movie lineup for the Strand in the week of May 8, 1938, included Edward G. Robinson in “A Slight Case of Murder,” Jimmy Durante and the Three Stooges in “Start Cheering” and Shirley Temple and Randolph Scott in “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.”
It also raised something of a mystery. One article reported the grand opening of the Dundalk Country Club in Turner Station. Even the folks at the historical society hadn’t heard of this one. If you have, let me know.
Alas, The Pioneer did not survive 1938. Mr. Beckwith, its founder, went on to serve a term in the Maryland House of Delegates from 1946 to 1950, but his gem of a publication lapsed into obscurity.
In its few months of publication, however, it shone an appreciated light on a vibrant community. Its staff unapologetically covered Dundalk for what it is: a true hometown rather than a mere suburb of Baltimore, and a voting block to be reckoned with in the county and the state. And so we remain, whether we know it or not.
(first published 2004)