At the corner of Saratoga and Liberty Streets, people will find an unassuming parking lot. While this parking lot does not appear interesting at first glance, this lot used to be the center of political life as well as a ritzy tourist attraction.
In 1885, Robert Rennert founded the enormous Rennert hotel which boasted six stories and 150 personal rooms. Inside, Rennert filled the hotel with elaborate decoration adding everything from marble and fresco, to the use of Edison’s electricity. The construction of the Rennert Hotel filled Baltimore city officials with hope and pride; through the opening of the hotel, Rennert sought to promote the growth of the city. Even up to the year the hotel closed in 1939, the Rennert continued to serve their staple traditional Maryland dishes such as the essential Maryland crab cake and the Chesapeake Bay diamond-back terrapin.
While the Rennert Hotel’s dazzling decor is impressive, it is important to remember the workers which made the hotel operate smoothly. Henry Cummings, the Rennert Hotel’s head chef during the late nineteenth century, helped to upkeep the hotel’s culinary reputation. Henry Cummings was a self-made man. The son of former slaves, Cummings went on to be the head chef at the Rennert and ran a catering business. Mr. Cummings specialized in the cooking and preparation of terrapin. In Mr. Cummings’ obituary published in the Baltimore Afro American in late 1906, Mr. Cummings’ culinary notoriety is highlighted: “He prepared, dressed and shipped terrapins to Philadelphia, New York, Washington, and to different parts of Europe.”