I’ve shared previously about the excellent history book I used as research for writing Notes of Love and War. Within the pages of Home Front Baltimore was mention of the arabbers (pronounced ay-rabbers) in Baltimore. These merchants were new to me, but apparently not to my brother who still lives in Maryland. So I did some more research to learn more about them, and let me tell there is much of interest surrounding these unique men.
All they need to bring merchandise, produce, meat/fish, home furnishings, or any other portable item to the people of the city was a horse, a colorfully decorated wagon, and sturdy shoes. From what I read, arabbers were in many major cities along the eastern seaboard of America beginning in the 1800s. They were very important for residents who couldn’t travel to a store or who may have been ill. After all, the store came to them, along with a cheery conversation with the men and perhaps a friendly pat for the horse. The horses are usually bedecked in plumes or feathers, with jangling harness. The men developed their own individual “look” for their wagons and created a catchy attention-grabbing jingle that would help the customers know who was approaching their front door. The residents know and trust these salesmen, too.
Here’s a short snippet where the arabbers are mentioned in Notes of Love and War:
“Audrey half-jogged down the crowded sidewalk, weaving past people bustling along wrapped head to toe, scarves and gloves barriers against the cold. The melodic chant of an arabber drifted over the murmur of conversation around her. A patient horse in jingling harness pulled the man’s colorful wagon, piled with heads of broccoli and cauliflower as well as lemons and grapefruit. She smiled at the black man leading the horse by its bridle, a jaunty plume between the animal’s ears. Rae, in her silver muskrat fur coat and black beret, waited at the corner for Audrey, tapping one pump-clad foot.”
There are still arabbers in Baltimore today. Not nearly as many as leading up to World War II and throughout the middle of the 1900s. A quick search as I was preparing to write this blog also revealed how important a role they are playing during this pandemic. They are distributing not only food to those who can’t go to the store for one reason or another, but also information on how to prevent transmission of the virus.
There was a photographic exhibit last year, too, that attracted many visitors. And you can view a photo gallery at the Facebook page for the Arabber Preservation Society. These men and their horses have provided a vital service to many for generations, and I’m glad I included them in the city description within my novel to help preserve their history and bring awareness of their service to my readers.
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Audrey Harper needs more than home and hearth to satisfy her self-worth despite being raised with the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. Working as a music critic for the city newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland, during the Second World War, she’s enjoyed both financial freedom and personal satisfaction in a job well done. When she uncovers evidence of German spies working to sabotage a secret bomber plane being manufactured in her beloved city, she must choose between her sense of duty to protect her city and the urgings of her boss, her family, and her fiancé to turn over her evidence to the authorities. But when her choices lead her and her sister into danger, she is forced to risk life and limb to save her sister and bring the spies to justice.
Set against the backdrop of the flourishing musical community during the 1940s in Baltimore, Notes of Love and War weaves together the pleasure of musical performance with the dangers of espionage and spying.
Check out the free sample (3 chapters) at https://claims.prolificworks.com/free/2A18n3Gj