Blob’s Park: Joyful Music and Breath-taking Dancing

Posted on October 24, 2007

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Someone ought to write a song, probably a polka. Call it There Used to be a Dance Hall Right Here. Write it to mark the closing of Blob’s Park, a Maryland cultural institution for generations. The band will go silent and the dancing will stop next year.

It must be true, because the Maryland Gazette’s Staci L. George and The Baltimore Sun’s Julie Scharper both got the news directly from the Eggerl family. Katherine Eggerl Peters, niece of Max Blob and proprietor of the Jessup dance hall and beer garden for more than 50 years, died in April of complications from a stroke. She was 89.

Max Blob opened his Jessup farm to German friends from Baltimore on weekends in the 1930s. Immigrants came for fellowship and recreation, first Germans and then others. By the early 1940s Max Blob’s place was an established weekend enterprise, run by his niece and her husband with help from family. The farm is next to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway at Route 175, making easy access from Baltimore even before beltways and interstates.

Most of my memories of Blob’s Park are from the 1980s and early 1990s. Crowds came to Blob’s Park for German food and fellowship. They came for the beer. They came for the music, and most of all, they came to dance! They came by the hundreds to hear live music from the house band on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. Mostly they came from Baltimore, but busloads traveled from far and wide when Blob’s Park hosted popular out-of-town bands.

The dance hall is big as an airplane hangar, with row upon row of long, tablecloth-covered tables stretching in every direction. An adjacent outdoor pavilion is nearly as big. On Oktoberfest weekends, both venues were packed to overflowing with festive crowds and multiple live bands.

Blob’s Park is a place to go in groups. Church groups and extended families filled long tables. Children and teenagers mingled on the wide dance floor with adults and spry old folks, especially on Sunday afternoons. What a dance floor! What music! What dancing! As big as the dance floor was, it was usually full.

Blob’s Park is all about polkas and fast German waltzes and Austrian-Bavarian folk dances. Couples circle the dance floor in an exhilaration of skipping, turning polkas and dizzying, turning waltzes. Slow dancers, stay to the inside. Fast polkas and waltzes are joyfully breath-taking. At top speed, the dance focuses your being and suspends awareness of problems. Bartenders provide free pitchers of ice-water for over-heated dancers. After a brief timeout, you get up and dance some more. Even with the focus on polkas and waltzes, the house band, The Rheinlanders, manages to work in a swing dance, a rumba, a fox trot, a cha-cha and a slow country ballad in nearly every set. Sometimes even a tango.

At least once an evening the band leader calls for a Paul Jones mixer. Women join hands in a big circle in the middle of the floor. Men make a bigger circle. The women and the men circle in opposite directions. At the sound of a loud whistle, everyone stops and dances with the person opposite. You can meet and dance with a lot of partners that way. There were always a few men who were masterful leaders, and showed beginning ladies how to follow like Ginger Rogers. Shy young men danced with beautiful women. What a concept! What community!

You can’t write about Blob’s Park without mentioning the Chicken Dance. I won’t try to describe it. You had to be there. People don’t have outrageous fun like that any more, except at a place like Blob’s Park. Come to think of it, there is no other place like Blob’s Park.

The dancing continued til 12:30 on Friday nights, maybe later on Saturdays. By closing, the children and the parents had long since gone home. Only the most tireless dancers were still moving. The Rhinelanders played one last dance, maybe a romantic number. And then everyone joined hands in a big, swaying circle to sing God Bless America.

Was there ever a better dance hall than Blob’s Park? — Bernie

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