Even though we lived in the same neighborhood and worked in the same building, there was a time when I regarded Ernie as “the opposition.” Ernie was an Evening Sun man, and I was a morning Sun guy. Hard though it is to believe nowadays, there was an era in the 1980s when competition between the two daily newspapers was fierce. Members of these rival newspapers might exchange pleasantries but not story ideas or leads.
The Sun, with its foreign bureaus and large Washington contingent had the reputation of being lofty, if boring. The Evening Sun had the raucous, scrappy spirit of an underdog. Once when The Sun was dubbed as one of America’s top 10 newspapers, wags on The Evening Sun reacted by wearing t-shirts that read, “Evening Sun: One of America’s Newspapers.”
Ernie, with his joyful demeanor and his ”Hi Babe” salutation, epitomized the spirit of the Evening Sun. He was an editor who enjoyed his job and by example, reminded the room that newspapering, despite its hassles, could be fun.
Ernie called guys “Babe,” a moniker that seemed unique to denizens of this city. I thought this habit might be connected to one of Baltimore’s famous ballplayers, Babe Ruth. I tried to interview Ernie for a column in the morning Sun I was writing about “Babeness.” He wouldn’t talk to me about it. Old divisions, I guess.
I got to know Ernie better during fishing trips to Tilghman Island. Riding with a carload of guys headed to the Eastern Shore, Ernie regaled us with tales of his adventures with Bill Burton, the Evening Sun outdoors writer who was once described as “having a lot of bear in him.” According to Ernie, when traveling with Burton you stopped for refreshments at various watering holes along the way. Then on the return trip you accompanied Burton as he reappeared at these establishments, threw some freshly caught fish in their kitchens, hollered “Burton” and departed.
Ernie was fair-minded. When the papers merged in the early 1990s, he was given a handful of management duties, including ombudsman. This assignment, responding to complaints from readers about coverage, was pretty much a thankless job but he handled it with grace. He didn’t always agree either with the complainers or the reporters and editors who had handled the stories at issue. But thanks to his years of experience, Ernie knew when journalists took shortcuts, or as he used to say “angled a story” to make it seem better. He also wasn’t shy about criticizing bosses when he thought their moves shortchanged readers.
Ernie was fit and occasionally walked from his Bolton Hill home to the newspaper building at Centre and Calvert. I missed him on those walks but would see him and his extended family at Bolton Swim and Tennis Club. He reveled in telling how when their first grandchild was born his wife, Hilda, got behind the wheel and rocketed up to New England to see the new arrival, setting speed records along the way.
Ernie told me that when he was as an earnest young reporter for the Middletown Press in Connecticut, he learned a valuable lesson from an editor about collegiality. Late in the day, he was pecking at the typewriter when the rest of his colleagues had repaired to the local watering hole. The editor came up to Ernie and told him “Stop typing, start drinking.” He obeyed his boss. Years later at the end of the workday in Baltimore if Ernie got thirsty, he would phone co-conspirators and announce they had a pending appointment with King Gambrinus. This was code for meeting for beers at the old Baltimore Brewing Company on Albemarle Street.
For more memories of Ernie Imhoff, click here.
– Rob Kasper