Remember how much I love to go to historic sites to do research? It’s even better when I can do so with great friends and food and drink is involved!
While researching for Notes of Love and War, I wanted to visit the Baltimore Streetcar Museum to actually ride on a 1940s era streetcar (which I did but that’s a story for another time). I invited my dear friends to meet me and my husband for lunch and then go to the museum. She asked around for recommendations since she lives in Maryland and we found ourselves going to the famous (or infamous) Owl Bar at the Belvedere Hotel in downtown Baltimore.
I didn’t know anything about the Owl Bar but I had heard of the Belvedere. It’s an elegant and distinguished building catering to the elite of society. If you’re interested in its history, you can read more and see some photos of it here. In fact, many celebrities have stayed at the hotel and probably dined at the Owl Bar while there.
Before going into the bar for lunch, we paused to look at the Celebrity Wall. The wall features photos of the many celebrities who had visited. Now, the fact that celebrities were so prone to frequent the site made me wonder whether my father might have also gone to the Owl Bar when he was in town visiting my mother before they married, or perhaps upon occasion after they married and settled down in the area. See, my dad has met a host of celebrities in his life. Bob Hope, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jack Benny, and even Clark Gable and Vivian Leigh who starred in Gone with the Wind to name a few. In his 1999 memoir, Through the Lens, he even included a section where he listed the ones he remembered meeting.
So I can only wonder if he might have gone to the famous Owl Bar to check out who he might see. I wish I could ask him about it, but he passed in 2011. So many questions I would love to have answers to after delving into his personal correspondence a couple of years ago! But just pondering the possibility while looking at the pictures started me realizing that I may indeed be walking where he might have been. A chill swept through me at the thought, one that would be repeated several times that day.
I can imagine the Owl Bar would have drawn him in with its intrigue. See, it was a speakeasy during Prohibition. Apparently, they kept two owl figures on the bar. If they were lit, then alcohol was available. A silent yet effective way of letting the patrons know whether it was safe to order a beer or whiskey. We enjoyed our meal and the experience of the bar. I’m glad we went and I’d go back (but they’re currently closed until further notice). It was rather fun to try to imagine the place filled with people (at lunch time there weren’t that many people in the bar) all having a good time with music perhaps playing. It was the kind of place I could see my dad clearly feeling at home.
While the Owl Bar and the Belvedere are not included in Notes of Love and War, it did provide me with a feel of the city and its surroundings. I hope my sense of the environment and imaginings about what it might have been like in the 1940s during WWII is conveyed throughout my story. Let me know after you read it, won’t you?
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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.