One of those Essex urban legends that my late mother Jackie Nickel was never able to verify concerned the existence of a secret African-American speakeasy/nightclub/picnic pavilion/swim club off of Back River Neck Road in Essex. There’s the remnants of a gravel road with a chain linked across it leading to dense woods. But no remnants of a nightclub or picnic pavilions or anything to suggest that this was once an exclusively black summer getaway in Essex. I’ve searched newspaper archives for years and finally got lucky searching the Afro-American. It existed — The Jolly Four Park! Other than ads there are no mentions other than a report of a drowning that occurred during a Fourth of July weekend. And considering that it was the 1930s in Essex, that drowning may have been somewhat suspicious…
THINK BODY OF SWIMMER WAS 4TH REVELER
(Baltimore Afro-American, 7/15/1933)
One more tragedy has been added to those the fourth of July celebration around Baltimore with the finding of the bathing-suit-clad body of an unknown man floating in the water of Hog Pen Creek, near Middle River, Wednesday.
The body of the man, who had evidently drowned or died while swimming, was found the day after the Fourth, floating atop the water of the little creek near Middle River about 1:30 the afternoon by four white men who saw the body from the shore. It was removed to the Baltimore County morgue at Towson for identification and had not been identified Thursday afternoon.
Weighed 200 Pounds
When found, the body was clothed in a bathing suit only, and reported as being that of a man about 200 pounds in weight, five feet six inches tall. The hair was of a copper color and closely cropped.
Ring Only Identification
The only means of identification worn was a gold signet ring with the initials “R.C.” inscribed.
It was said at Waters Grove, near Stemmers Run, and about a mile from where the body was found, by Mrs. M. Waters, that if the man had been a member of the large party attending a picnic at the grove on the day before, his clothes would have been left there. No trace of clothing could be found, she said.
There was another picnic at another shore front place, the Jolly Four Park, Mrs. Waters said but she had heard no reports of anybody’s being missing from that place.
Beliefs of neighboring persons that the man had entered the water on July 4, the day before, were expressed because the body was floating and from first examination had not been decomposed by the elements.