Abe Sherman: an unforgettable bookstore owner and war hero
You are a Baltimorean from way back if you shopped at Abe Sherman’s downtown newsstand and felt Abe’s eyes boring into the back of your head while browsing. He’d toss you out in a heartbeat if he thought you had mistaken the newsstand for a library.
He was famous for his crusty demeanor, but few of us knew that he was a respected war hero. Sherman served in Maryland’s 175th Regiment in both World Wars, rallied his fellow soldiers during the Normandy Campaign and stubbornly turned down military promotions.
With the help of his World War I veteran’s bonus, Sherman opened his first newsstand at the foot of the Battle Monument at Fayette and Calvert streets in 1919. It was wildly successful. Sherman sold publications from around the world. His regulars included the who’s who of Baltimore’s political, social and legal worlds. Many customers didn’t get out of their cars: they drove around the circle, reached out to purchase a paper and motored on.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Sherman jumped at the chance to reenlist as a private, despite the fact that he was 43 years old with a successful business and a young family. During the Normandy Campaign, a German force surrounded the 175th command post. Exposing himself to enemy fire, Sherman vociferously rallied his fellow soldiers to repel the attack. After the war he returned to Baltimore and picked up where he left off.
For years, though, city officials chafed at the ramshackle look of Abe’s business at the foot of one of the city’s most celebrated monuments. Sherman clashed with the city about their plans to move his newsstand a few blocks away. Finally, a local beer company stepped in and provided $11,000 to fund a gleaming glass and aluminum structure.
In November 1964, Abe’s Newsstand reopened for business on his original spot. Baltimore Mayor Theodore McKeldin borrowed money from a bystander and purchased the first paper. The occasion was worthy enough for then-comptroller Hyman Pressman to share one of his legendary poems:
This is truly beautiful, Abe,
Treat it tenderly, like a babe.
Protect it from all passing trucks.
It cost eleven thousand bucks.
In 1970, Sherman moved his business to the southwest corner of Park and Mulberry streets. Rock-and-roll as well as the peace movement had descended upon Baltimore. Sherman was one of the first city vendors to stock music magazines, posters and buttons that promoted peace and music.
To be sure, his grumpy demeanor scared off a few hippies and beatniks. Legend has it, though, that if he took you for a serious customer, he made sure to find just the right publication in his deep stock.
On his 80th birthday, Major General Edwin Warfield presented Sherman with the State of Maryland Distinguished Service Cross for his leadership in Normandy.
Abe Sherman died of cancer in 1987. He is buried in Mikro Kodesh Beth Israel Cemetery on Bowleys Lane.
In July 1991, Governor William Donald Schaffer and military officials dedicated the Abe Sherman dormitory at the Maryland National Guard’s Montrose Reservation. The area is now the location of Camp Fretterd Readiness Center.
Sources and more reading:
Camp Fretterd, GlobalSecurity.org, accessed 09/06/18
Abe Sherman's Shack Attack, WYPR, by Gil Sandler, April 18, 2014
Abe Sherman’s Newsstand, izi.Travel, unknown date, accessed 09/06/18
The Maryland National Guard, a History of Maryland’s Military Forces: 1634 – 1991; accessed at the Maryland Museum of Military History on 4/10/18