We come to you today with a heavy heart. Yesterday afternoon Gilbert Sandler, the great writer and raconteur died, after a long illness.
No one knew Baltimore or wrote about its charms, its quirks, and its characters as well as Gilbert Sandler. He was a gifted and spirited story teller, with a great ear for the rhythm and the arc of the stories he told, whether or not he was writing a book, a newspaper column, or reading one of his popular Baltimore Stories here on WYPR.
He began his career as a radio personality in 2003. Long before that, he had found his voice as a writer. Now, at the age of 80, he discovered his voice as an actual teller of tales. In all, he produced about 175 Baltimore Stories, with which he has delighted us every Friday morning for more than 15 years. Each one was beautifully and masterfully designed, with a graceful arc, and, very importantly, an abiding respect for the many quirky and colorful characters he introduced us to...
Because so many Gilbert Sandler Baltimore Stories were about funny and often oddball people and events, it’s easy to overlook how important they are as documents that enlighten our understanding of our town in a fast-changing and tumultuous period in our history. In telling the individual stories of the people who populated and animated Baltimore from roughly the 1920s through the 1970s, Gil provided a window into the collective soul of our city, and like all great story-tellers, in so doing, he provided a window into our own souls, too.
Gil’s stories were rife with vigor and energy and surprise. A seasoned hand at writing for print, in his ninth decade, Gil quickly learned how to write for the listener, not just for the reader. He understood naturally the particular potential for magic that can occur when a human voice connects with a human ear, and with a human heart.
Gil connected with people from a very early age. He always said that he had been on the streets of Baltimore since he was five years old. That was in 1928. He fell in love with the city as a child, and he stayed in love with it until the moment of his last breath yesterday afternoon. He called his particular approach “Urban Journalism.” He was fascinated with the sinew and pulse of our city and the various paths that people took to fame, or infamy. And he wrote about all of his subjects, famous or not, with an unfailing decency and a deep and unmovable respect for their dignity.
The great writer E.L. Doctorow once said that stories are important because they “propose life as something of moral consequence.” Gil understood this viscerally, and with unbounded compassion. In telling the stories of people and events in our community, Gilbert Sandler told the story of the 20th century, and how Baltimore shaped, and was shaped by, the American story.
Over the last several years, my wife Linell and I and our friend Bonnie Legro delighted in having dinner with Gil and his dear friend, Sue Hess. We would ensconce ourselves at various restaurants, and inevitably, the evenings would end with singing. Often, but not always, these impromptu concerts delighted our fellow diners. We sang song after song from the “old days,” the ballads and romps and ditties from the time that Gil had come of age. He loved to sing, and he loved to be in the middle of the mix.
Gil sang the way he wrote, with glee and a broad smile and the warmest of hearts. Last year, while he was recording one of his Baltimore stories, he treated our director and engineer Luke Spicknall to this song:
"I've stayed around, and played around, this old town too long.
Summer's almost gone, yea, winter's comin' on.
I've stayed around, and played around, this old town too long,
And I feel like I've got to travel on..."
Gilbert Sandler has now, to our great sadness, traveled on. His Baltimore Stories have ben archived at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, and we will continue to air them, for the foreseeable future, every Friday morning here on WYPR. After the holidays, we’ll share with you a longer remembrance of our dear friend, here on Midday.
Gilbert Sandler was 95 years old.