While writing a previous post that looked at the debate over the oldest house in Baltimore, a coworker introduced me to another longstanding Baltimore debate. After reading the post, my coworker gently chided me for the use of “Fell’s Point” rather than the correct “Fells Point.” Not being a native Marylander, I was unfamiliar with the argument over the little mark of punctuation, or the fact that its use, or absence, can elicit such strong feelings. Just within the last dozen or so years, the debate has been addressed in the pages of The Baltimore Sun, City Paper, and Baltimore Magazine, with various theories proposed. A 1999 City Paper article, for instance, states that Fells Point is spelled without an apostrophe, because it’s not a mark of ownership, but rather “the plural of ‘Fell,’ presumably in honor of the two brothers.” (The two brothers being English Quakers Edward and William Fell) The reaction got me curious, so I decided to do a little digging of my own, to see if a brief history of the apostrophe could be charted.
In 1730, English carpenter William Fell arrived in Maryland and purchased a plot of land overlooking the Northwest branch of the Patapsco River. The small 100-acre tract, called Copus’s Harbor, soon became known as Fell’s Prospect. The success of his younger brother Edward, who settled in Maryland a few years earlier and set up a successful store on the east side of Jones Falls, convinced William to make the trip across the Atlantic. Both William and Edward figured prominently in Baltimore’s early history – in 1732, Edward and a group of settlers founded a town they called Jones’s or Jones Town, after David Jones who first settled the area around Jones Falls in 1661.
When William died in 1746, he left his settlement and business interests to his son Edward, who in 1763, laid out the town that bears his family’s name. Needing residents and revenue for his new venture, Edward placed an advertisement in the January 14, 1762 issue of the Maryland Gazette newspaper notifying those who had submitted their names for the right to purchase lots in his new town that their “Lea[s]es are now ready to be filled up…” In what is probably one of the earliest printed references to the Point, the land is described as being near “Baltimore-Town, Maryland, on a Point known by the Name of Fell’s-Point.” (Note the liberal use of the hyphen, a common stylistic choice in the period.) Four years later, Edward’s wife Ann placed another ad in the Gazette, this time threatening legal action against new residents of the town for unpaid debts. The ad retains the apostrophe but dispenses with the hyphen.
The Maryland Gazette, the state’s first newspaper, set a precedent that most other newspapers from the period followed. Early papers published from the Point continued to use the apostrophe, including the Fell’s Point News-letter and Mercantile Advertiser (1835), and The Courier and Inquirer (1836). The neighborhood’s first newspaper, the Fell’s-Point Telegraphe (1795), retained Edward Fell’s original use of the hyphen as well.
The Baltimore Sun, founded in 1837, also utilized the possessive apostrophe until changing course early in the twentieth century. A keyword search through the Enoch Pratt Library’s online database of The Baltimore Sun from 1837 to 1985 reveals the usage of “Fell’s Point” almost exclusively throughout the 1800s. (Fells’ – the plural possessive form of Fell – can also be found on occasion.) It appears that sometime in the early decades of the twentieth century, the paper made a decision to switch to “Fells,” although “Fell’s Point” can still be found in articles as late as 1985.
Within decades of the founding of the community, however, references to the Point that omit the apostrophe could be found scattered through manuscripts and government documents. In 1773, Fell’s Point was incorporated, along with Jones’s Town and Baltimore Town, forming the City of Baltimore. Three years later, the first census of what was now the neighborhood of Fell’s Point was taken. The apostrophe is eliminated. Members of the Fell family were also not overly concerned with using the possessive when referring to their own town; a June 29, 1769 land indenture for the sale of “Lot 90” in “Fells Point” to a Robert Harrison of Dorchester County is signed by Ann Fell. Edward consistently omits the mark in a record of his business transactions from the period.
The preferred usage of early historians of Maryland and Baltimore was “Fell’s Point.” One of the earliest histories of the city, Thomas Griffith’s Annals of Baltimore, published in 1824, doesn’t reference either “Fells” or “Fell’s” Point, but “Fell’s Prospect” does appear within its pages. Historian Thomas Scharf, in his History of Baltimore City and County, published in 1881, the standard reference work on Baltimore through the mid-twentieth century and still one of the best sources on the history of early Baltimore, uses “Fell’s Point” throughout. By the twentieth century though, the balance had tipped and today both forms can be found in equal measure in scholarship on the city.
Although newspaper publishers and historians remained generally loyal to Edward Fell’s original use of the possessive apostrophe through the nineteenth century, cartographers have omitted it from their work from almost the beginning. In 1792, Frenchman and self-styled geographer A.P. Folie produced the first printed map of Baltimore – and employed the apostrophe. Most subsequent nineteenth century maps however, including Fielding Lucas Jr.’s, Plan of the City of Baltimore, drafted under the direction of the state legislature of Maryland and the mayor and city council of Baltimore in 1822, omit the apostrophe. An identically titled map produced in 1882 by Englishman Thomas Poppleton and commissioned by the city, uses the same designation. The Poppleton map remained the standard reference map for Baltimore until the publication of the Bromley Atlas in 1896. Today, the ubiquitous Google maps has replaced its printed predecessors as the leading geographical resource, and it too omits the apostrophe.
An appeal to the federal government to provide resolution to the debate is no help, as the government began eliminating the possessive use of the apostrophe for geographic names on most maps and signs in 1890. The following is the official stance of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, the organization charged with overseeing U.S. naming conventions:
“Since its inception in 1890, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has discouraged the use of the possessive form—the genitive apostrophe and the “s”. The possessive form using an “s” is allowed, but the apostrophe is almost always removed. The Board’s archives contain no indication of the reason for this policy…Myths attempting to explain the policy include the idea that the apostrophe looks too much like a rock in water when printed on a map, and is therefore a hazard, or that in the days of “stick–up type” for maps, the apostrophe would become lost and create confusion. The probable explanation is that the Board does not want to show possession for natural features because, ‘ownership of a feature is not in and of itself a reason to name a feature or change its name.’”
As of 2013 only five natural features have official license to use the possessive apostrophe. These include Martha’s Vineyard, granted permission in 1933 after an extensive local campaign, and Clark’s Mountain in Oregon, which received the blessing of the Board in 2002 to “correspond with the personal references of Lewis and Clark.” The federal disregard for the apostrophe applies only to geographic names. According to Board’s website,
“[a]lthough the legal authority of the Board includes all named entities except Federal Buildings, certain categories—broadly determined to be “administrative”—are best left to the organization that administers them. Examples include schools, churches, cemeteries, hospitals, airports, shopping centers, etc. The Board promulgates the names, but leaves issues such as the use of the genitive or possessive apostrophe to the data owners.”
Other administrative branches of the U.S. government have followed suit. In 1969, “Fells Point” was added to the National Register of Historic Places, the U.S. government’s official list of the nation’s historic sites worthy of preservation, becoming the first area in Maryland recognized as such. Although you’ll find subject entries on the Library of Congress’s list of authority headings for both “Harper’s Ferry” and “Harpers Ferry” as well as “Pike’s Peak” and “Pikes Peak,” you won’t find reference to “Fell’s Point.” If you’re going to cite a source according to Library of Congress standards then “Fells Point” is the proper designation.
Today, “Fells Point” is by far the most common and popular usage. Most modern newspapers, including the Gazette: The Fells Point Newspaper (now defunct), City Paper, and The Baltimore Sun, use it. The Baltimore City government also endorses “Fells.” For Google, the ultimate arbiter of popularity in the internet era, it is no contest—a Google search for “Fells Point” generates some 2.5 million hits; “Fell’s Point”, on the other hand, produces a meager 300,000. Although vastly outnumbered, there are still a few groups that continue to carry the banner for the apostrophe including The Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fell’s Point and the Fell’s Point Residents’ Association. In 2009, Baltimore Magazine joined the minority, switching its allegiance from “Fells” to Fell’s.”
Although “Fell’s Point,” the grammatically correct and first choice of founder Edward Fell will probably continue to be used, it may eventually disappear. With the U.S. government, the Baltimore City government, and most importantly, the Google juggernaut, all aligned against “Fell’s Point,” its future looks bleak. And while people have been omitting the possessive apostrophe for hundreds of years, the internet has greatly accelerated the practice. In recent years the debate over the increasing decline of the apostrophe has become a major issue in Great Britain, with some cities removing the offending mark from street signs. In 2001, some concerned folk even established an Apostrophe Protection Society. When British book seller Waterstone’s, dropped the apostrophe from its name in January of 2012, the chairman explained that “it was a matter of simplifying the name to suit its digital presence.” At this rate, we may see the apostrophe go the way of other rarely seen punctuation marks like the hedera or the snark. Perhaps the possessive apostrophe will be just one more thing our Intel-equipped descendants will mock us for. (Damon Talbot)
Sources and Further Reading:
Francis, G. Gardner, Fell’s Point bicentennial jubilee. 1730-1930. Two hundredth anniversary (Baltimore: The Weant press, 1930)
Greene, Susan Ellery, Baltimore: An Illustrated History (Woodland Hills California: Windsor Publications, 1980)
Papenfuse, Edward C. and Joseph M. Coale III, The Hammond-Harwood House Atlas of Historical Maps of Maryland, 1608-1908 (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982)
Scharf, Col. J. Thomas, The Chronicles of Baltimore, (Baltimore: Turnbull Brothers, 1874)
Scharf, J. Thomas, History of Baltimore City and County (Baltimore: Regional Publishing Company, 1971)
On an auspicious afternoon in late September 1903, a crowd of Baltimoreans converged onto the intersection of Mount Royal Avenue and Lanvale Street to witness the symbolic-laced unveiling of the William H. Watson monument. The monument, erected by the Maryland Association of Veterans of the Mexican War, honored Marylanders who lost their lives during the U.S.-Mexican War.(1) Taking place on the fifty-seventh anniversary of Lieutenant Colonel Watson’s death during the Battle of Monterey, spectators watched as aged survivors of the war took their places on the grandstand. Meanwhile, they also laid eyes on the over ten-foot statue, draped in the flag that had shrouded Watson’s corpse as it left Mexico. The most symbolic moment came when Watson’s last surviving child, Monterey Watson Iglehart, walked towards her father’s likeness and unveiled the statue. The unveiling by Iglehart, born on the day her father died, was the highlight of a ceremony that included speeches from U.S.-Mexican War veterans, politicians, and other dignitaries.(2)
“[E]nduring object lessons”
The unveiling partly served as an opportunity to describe the bravery of Marylanders who fought in Mexico. At the same time, it also provided an opportunity for dignitaries to discuss the monument’s impact on public memory. In presenting the Watson Monument to the city of Baltimore, Louis F. Beeler, president of the Maryland Association of Veterans of the Mexican-American War, talked about the proud record of the state’s war veterans. He also talked about how the monument, finally realized after fifty years of planning, served to honor all the Marylanders who died fighting for their country.(3) Among all the speakers, Edwin Warfield, president of the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland, spoke most clearly of the monument’s long-term role in shaping public memory. Warfield believed that “[m]onuments are enduring object lessons, pointing the rising generations to the services of their fathers, and pressing home to their minds great events and epochs in the history of our country.”(4)
The Watson Monument recognized the importance surrounding the U.S.-Mexican War experience, while simultaneously interpreting the past in an effort to shape the present.(5) By highlighting the valor and honor of Baltimore’s U.S.-Mexican War heroes, like Watson and Brevet Major Samuel Ringgold, the Maryland Association of Veterans of the Mexican War allowed the public to view the veterans as heroes of a conflict which greatly benefited the United States, as opposed to participants in an unjustifiable land grab. Watson and Ringgold’s deeds illustrated the sacrifices that came with the United States’s mission of spreading democracy. The monument thus provided “enduring object lessons” that enabled Baltimoreans to shape contemporary circumstances. Given the theoretical similarities between the U.S.-Mexican War and the United States’s imperialist endeavors of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, the monument offered implicit support to national endeavors in the Caribbean.
“The bands which unite our country…”
Today, the monument blends into the scenery of west Baltimore. The war that it commemorates has faded from memory, especially on the East Coast.
Tensions between Mexico and the United States, which had brewed for years, boiled over after James Polk was elected president in 1844, with a promise to annex Texas. Texas was then an independent republic, having broken away from Mexico in 1836. Mexico did not recognize Texas independence, considering it instead a rebel province, much like China considers Taiwan today. Worse, even if Mexico was willing to negotiate away its claim to Texas, a border dispute existed. Texas claimed the boundary at the Rio Grande. Mexico claimed the traditional boundary, the Nueces River, 100 miles north.
When it became clear that Texas would enter the United States, President Polk sent General Zachary Taylor with an army to the edge of the disputed zone. Then in early 1846, Taylor’s army advanced to the Rio Grande. Meanwhile, Mexican troops crossed the Rio Grande. Since both armies were in the disputed zone, both could claim that blood had been shed by the other in its own territory when hostilities broke out at Palo Alto and Resaca de la Palma on April 25, 1846. When word of the fighting reached Washington, President Polk immediately asked Congress for a declaration of war, stating that Mexico had “shed American blood on American soil.” Mexican president Mariano Paredes could make a similar claim. Congress complied, and declared war.(6)
Brevet Major Samuel Ringgold became the first prominent Marylander to die during the war. During the Battle of Palo Alto, Ringgold became mortally wounded when he had both thighs “torn out” by a Mexican cannon ball. He died on May 11, 1846, in Port Isabel, Texas.(7) Ringgold’s death muted the joy Baltimoreans felt in the aftermath of General Taylor’s victories. Flags throughout the city flew at half-staff, as did all the flags that adorned the ships in the Baltimore Harbor. Buildings within the city were draped with black crepes. Poignantly, the Baltimore Sun noted that Ringgold’s “fate so sad, his fame so brilliant, has awakened a lively interest in all that relates to him, especially in this city, where it is now apparent that he was known only to be loved, and where his memory will continue to be affectionately revered.”(8)
For the next year and a half, Mexican and U.S. armies battled across Mexico. After Resaca de la Palma and Palo Alto, Taylor’s armies advanced through northern Mexico. The Battle of Monterey, fought on September 21-24, 1846, came at a cost of losing Lieutenant Colonel William H. Watson. During fierce street fighting, Watson had his horse shot out from under him. He rose, and, while trying to lead his troops in an attack against Mexican forces, he received a musket shot to the neck which killed him instantly. According to Charles J. Wells, Watson’s death represented “one of the great tragedies of the day for the Baltimoreans.”(9)
Watson died instantly, but his stature grew as stories surrounding his death emerged. According to historian Robert W. Johannsen, “[t]he dying moments of fallen soldiers were told and retold in the war’s literature, and their last words were offered as evidence of the patriotic ardor of the men in Mexico.”(10) Watson, already wounded, had been urged to retreat. He refused, stating that, “[n]ever will I yield an inch! I have too much Irish blood in me to give up!”(11)
The war was not without opposition. Senator James Pearce of Maryland, for example, questioned President Polk’s motives, and believed that the United States could not rule over such a large expanse of land: “[t]he bands which unite our country, if stretched so far, must inevitably snap.”(12)
But opposition to the war faded as General Winfield Scott’s army moved from Vera Cruz to Mexico City in 1847, occupying the “halls of the Montezumas” in September. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed on February 2, 1848, ended the war, with Mexico ceding the northern portions of its territory to the United States for $15 million.(13)
The war had a significant impact on the United States. In addition to the United States gaining a quarter of its continental footprint—all or parts of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and Kansas—that conflict provided the final tinders for an issue that would ignite into civil war scarcely a decade later: slavery.(14)
Over time, the memory of the war’s controversy faded, and Marylanders, like people in the rest of the United States, united to commemorate the conflict and its veterans.
“To die is gain”
Death catapulted Marylanders like Ringgold and Watson into the realm of American heroes. The U.S.-Mexican War, according to Johannsen, led to the appearance of a new group of individuals who would help the nation “celebrate deeds of courage, daring, and leadership.” For U.S. soldiers, one of the quickest ways to achieve hero status was through death on the battlefield.(15) Ringgold had already been considered a hero before Americans, and Marylanders, received word of his death. In death, Ringgold reached the highest stage on the scale of heroism. He became a “true Chevalier ‘sans peur, sans reproche,’—the Bayard of our army.”(16)
Similarly, death enabled Watson to achieve the status of an American hero. Reverend Henry V.D. Johns, D.D., stated that “[t]o die is gain.” As Reverend Johns declared in a sermon to honor Watson, G. A. Herring, and J. Wilker, Johns continued, “[n]o earthly honor, my brethren, can be placed upon the summit of that glory, which common consent of all ages and nations, is assigned to those who die in the lawful service of their country; and for this reason—that no arm of mortal can reach that elevated point.”(17) Ringgold and Watson’s heroism helped define the way Marylanders would remember the U.S.-Mexican War.
Maryland’s U.S.-Mexican War veterans returned home and formed the Association of Maryland Volunteers in the Mexican War by 1849. In forming the veterans’ association, the veterans were “desirous of perpetuating the recollection of their services and the memory of their deceased comrades.” The group imposed fines or recommended expulsion for members who failed to comply to the organization’s rules of acceptable behavior.(18) Furthermore, the association also relied on symbolic imagery to achieve the objective of preserving positive memories of the U.S.-Mexican War, relying on images that reminded people of the heroism of its members. For instance, during the eighth anniversary of the Battle of Monterey, John R. Kenly received “a gold ring enclosing a miniature of Col. Wm H. Watson, by the Servicemen of the Baltimore Battalion and DC and MD Regiment in war with Mexico.” Watson’s image probably did not need much explanation for people living in Baltimore in 1854.(19)
The association’s efforts received a boost from an important piece of poetry written during the Civil War. After the Sixth Massachusetts Regiment fired on a mob of Baltimoreans in April 1861, James Ryder Randall penned a poem that condemned the North, urging Marylanders to stand up and repel the invaders. Titled, “Maryland, My Maryland,” the poem referenced several of the state’s prominent historical figures, including Ringgold and Watson. Randall wrote, “With Ringgold’s spirit for the fray,/With Watson’s blood at Monterey . . ./Maryland! My Maryland!” The poem spoke to Ringgold and Watson’s bravery, and, when set to the tune of “Lauriger Horatius,” the poem ultimately became the Maryland state song in 1939.
Yet, the association sought to solidify the memory of the U.S-Mexican War through the construction of a monument. Monuments had gained increasing popularity in the United States prior to the Civil War. During the post-Civil War era, monuments became increasingly popular for commemorating the past as the nation struggled to create a new United States reunited after the Civil War.(20) Plans to erect a U.S.-Mexican War monument in Baltimore began in 1890. The association formed a twelve-man committee to raise funds. Led by Louis F. Beeler, Joshua Lynch, and James D. Iglehart, the committee lobbied city, state, and private contributors to cover the estimated $10,000 cost of the monument. The city appropriated $5,000 in July 1900. Meanwhile, the state appropriated an additional $3,000, which, with interest, rose to $3,600.(21)
The remaining balance for the monument came from private contributors. In seeking private donors, the association’s fundraising efforts sought to gloss over any dissent of the U.S.-Mexican War, focusing instead on the war’s overall benefits. One undated request informed potential subscribers that the successful completion of the U.S.-Mexican War “added so much valuable territory to the United States, wherein was found the gold and silver mines which [gave] our country its financial standing.” The request paid minor attention to the political dissent which surrounded the war, not even providing the reasons for political dissent.(22) As a result, the association received contributions from people like Edwin Warfield, president of the Fidelity and Deposit Company of Maryland. The association also received an additional $800 in private contributions, which covered the costs associated with changing the monument’s location from the triangular intersection of Liberty and Fayette Streets and Park Avenue to the intersection of Lanvale Street and Mount Royal Avenue.(23)
The political undertones in the request for subscriptions connected the Watson Monument to U.S. foreign policy during late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Given U.S. activity in the Caribbean, and the monument’s connection to the U.S.-Mexican War, the memorial presented a counterpoint to the overall anti-imperialist sentiment that existed in Baltimore during the period. Prominent Baltimore politicians like Senator Arthur Gorman refused to support the peace treaty with Spain unless it included an anti-expansionist amendment. Moreover, the Baltimore American expressed opposition to U.S. policy in the Caribbean, describing U.S. fighting in the Philippines as “our violent departure from the doctrine of the ‘consent of the governed.’”(24) The Watson Monument, on the other hand, offered a symbol of the U.S. mission to spread democracy to distant lands in order to uplift inferior peoples.
The Watson Monument provided the crowning achievement in the association’s efforts to memorialize the U.S.-Mexican War. With Watson standing tall, his sword resting peacefully at his side, the monument attested to the valor of Maryland’s U.S.-Mexican War veterans. The monument also attested to the sacrifice, with plaques containing the names of the Marylanders who died during the war.
However, the Watson Monument represents a political statement in favor of U.S. actions in Mexico and the Caribbean, highlighting the controversies surrounding U.S. policy. So the next time you are in West Baltimore and drive past the Watson Monument, or start humming “Maryland, my Maryland,” remember Watson and Ringgold, but also remember the history of Maryland’s complicated relationship with its nation’s southern neighbors. (Richard Hardesty and David Patrick McKenzie)
Richard Hardesty is a doctoral student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. In the summer of 2009, his article, “‘[A] veil of voodoo’: George P. Mahoney, Open Housing, and the 1966 Governor’s Race” appeared in the Maryland Historical Magazine. Richard previously contributed “Maryland Ahead by (Clarence) Miles,” which appeared on this blog on November 15, 2012. He is currently examining the role the Orioles played in the urban redevelopment of Baltimore.
David Patrick McKenzie is a doctoral student at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, and a working public historian. He is studying the relationship between the United States and Latin America, particularly in the early 19th century. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect those of any organization with which he is affiliated.
After responding to an advertisement placed in local papers by the Park Commission seeking to buy a large plot of land for a public open space, Lloyd Nicholas Rogers (1787- 1860) sold the Druid Hill estate for $121,000 in cash and $363,027 in city stock. Though the cantankerous Rogers tried to back out of the deal late, claiming the city lacked the authority to issue bonds outside the official city limits for the purchase, Mayor Swann, in one of his many questionable abuses of power, got the deal pushed through.
Perhaps Mayor Swann saw the writing on the wall concerning the city’s water supply issues, when during the Druid Hill Park inauguration ceremonies he stated that:
“…In addition to numerous springs heading in all the principal ravines, and furnishing a liberal supply of water for ordinary wants, the close proximity to the Jones’ Falls, and the great receiving reservoir of the city, gives assurance that the most extensive arrangements may be safely made for the lakes and fountains at a comparatively trifling expenditure. A resort to artificial supply is always to be preferred in a park, where the volume of water cannot be relied upon from natural flow….[Then upping his flowery poetic waxings, continued]…the soft and trembling shadows of the surrounding trees and hills as they fall upon a placid sheet of water, and the brilliant light which the crystal surface reflects in pure sunshine, mirroring too, at times, in its resplendent bosom, all the cerulean depth and sunny whiteness of the overhanging sky, give it almost a magical effect in a beautiful landscape.”
In 1864 the city began to utilize the natural geography of Druid Park as they made their “cerulean” vision a reality. A deep ravine formed by a stream that traveled southeast from the boat lake toward the Jones Falls was selected as the site for the new reservoir. Civil engineer Robert Martin developed plans and constructed a giant wall of mud that became the largest earthen dam in America (at that time). Steam excavators were used for the first time in the city to move 500,000 cubic yards of earth. The dam itself consisted of a water tight clay core, or puddle wall, surrounded by steep banks of soil, and was supported by a stone wall laid in cement running the entire length of the dam. Earthen banks were laid in thin layers and pressed by horse drawn rollers. When completed in 1871, the dam supported a reservoir that covered 55 acres, reached a depth of 94 feet (averaging 30 feet), and sat at an elevation 217 feet above mid-tide. Towering over the surrounding park at a height of 119 feet, the dam was 750 feet long, with a width of 600 feet at the base tapering up to 60 feet at the top.In 1864 work started on the reservoir, and by 1865, seven 30-inch pipes were taking water in and out of the reservoir: three from Hampden, three to Mt. Royal, and a drain pipe. Things didn’t necessarily go smoothly…
The year work on the dam began in Baltimore, the whole world read about the horror of the Dale Dyke reservoir in Sheffield England, where flooding from the spring thaw caused the dam to fail. Eight hundred and fifty-five million gallons of water rushed through the valley at 18 mph, killing 244 people. The public saw eerie similarities between the earthen dam in England and the new dam in Druid Park. Though Dale Dyke was at a higher elevation, the new reservoir in Baltimore was in much closer proximity to the population center and held a greater amount of water. In addition, when water was drawn off from the reservoir in 1866, it was confirmed that the seven pipes traveling through the base of the earthen dam had buckled and collapsed under its weight. The broken pipes at the bottom of the dam posed the risk of significant leakage that would compromise the integrity of the earthen structure. It appeared that a complete overhaul of the dam was necessary.A board of experts consisting of engineers Isaac Ridgeway Trimble (1802-1888), Charles Pratt Manning (1817-1886), and John H. Tegmyer (1822-1901) were appointed by the city to see if the new dam in Baltimore posed a similar risk to the catastrophe in England. The board concluded that they saw the “impossibility of failure from anything like similar causes” because the puddle wall had been constructed properly and the banks had been sufficiently compacted. Most importantly, the board proposed to replace the seven broken pipes with five new mains enveloped in stone arches that would not penetrate the puddle wall, exiting through the south side of the dam. Over 140 years later the dam has continued to hold strong, and in 1971 it was named a National Historic Civil Engineering landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Ultimately $1,000,000 was spent to repair the cracked pipes, and the reservoir was reduced to holding only 429 million gallons of water (as opposed to the initial goal of one billion). By 1871 Druid Lake was complete.** Over the next four years a west high service reservoir was added at a height of 320 feet above mean tide to service areas at higher elevations in the northwest part of town. By 1872, faced with more serious droughts, the city once again realized its supply of water was not sufficient, and finally turned its eyes towards the Gunpowder. Ironically, the $700,000 difference between the projected cost and the cost after the repairs was almost identical to that saved by selecting the waterworks on Jones Falls over the much higher volume project on the Gunpowder River. (Eben Dennis)
* The “park tax,” as it was known, would dwindle to 12 percent in 1874, 9 percent in 1882, 3 percent in 1932, then disappear completely.
**The resulting body of water had been known during the first half of its construction as Lake Chapman, after Unionist Mayor and head of the Water Board at the time, John Lee Chapman (1811-1880). Since much of Chapman’s tenure as mayor was characterized by the bitter partisan feuding of the Civil War period, it came as little surprise when his Democratic successor, Robert T. Banks (1822-1901), and the City Council voted unanimously to change the name to Druid Lake just four months after he left office in early 1868.
Bowditch, Eden and Draddy, Anne. Druid Hill Park : the Heart of Baltimore (Charleston, SC: History Press, 2008.)
Cox, J. Journal Proceedings of the First Branch City Council of Baltimore (Baltimore, 1866.)
Coyle, Wilbur F. The Mayors of Baltimore (Baltimore, MD : reprinted from the Baltimore Municpal Journal, 1919.)
Hall, Clayton Coleman. Baltimore: Its History and Its Peoples (New York: Lewis Historical Publishing Co., 1912.)
Howard, William Travis. Public Health Administration and the Natural History of Disease in Baltimore, 1797-1920 (Washington, DC: Carnegie Institution, 1924.)
Inauguration Ceremonies and Address of Hon. Thomas Swann on the Opening of Druid Hill Park, October 19, 1860 (Baltimore, Md: Bull and Tuttle, 1860.)
Passano File, H. Furlong Baldwin Library, Maryland Historical Society.
Scharf, J. Thomas. History of Baltimore City and County (Baltimore, MD: Regional Publishing Company, 1971.)
Weishampel, Jr., J.F.. The Stranger in Baltimore: A New Hand Book, Containing Sketches of the Early History and Present Condition of Baltimore, with a Description of Its Notable Localities, and Other Information (Baltimore, 1866.)
“The Park.” Baltimore Sun, June 16, 1860.
“Mayor’s Message.” Baltimore Sun, January 5, 1865.
“Local Matters.” Baltimore Sun, January 18, 1865.
“Local Matters.” Baltimore Sun, March 4, 1865.
“Local Matters.” Baltimore Sun, November 5, 1867.
“Committe on Water Investigate the Circumstances….” Baltimore Sun, November 12, 1867.
“Local Matters.” Baltimore Sun, March 18, 1868.
“Baltimore Water Supply.” Baltimore Sun, August 25, 1869.
Baltimore City Services History http://cityservices.baltimorecity.gov/dpw/waterwastewater02/waterquality3.html
Among the many mysterious photographs in MdHS’s collections, two of an elephant stand out as particularly unsettling. Buried in the Subject Vertical File, an artificial collection that was compiled throughout the years, in the Photographs and Prints room is a folder labeled “Animals–Elephant–1898–Hanging.” In this folder rests two tattered and faded turn-of-the-century prints of an elephant being hanged. (They’re pretty disturbing, so we’ve saved the more disturbing of the two for the end of this post. Scroll to the bottom at your own discretion.) We’ve long wondered what the two photographs could possibly represent. Who would hang an elephant? Why hang an elephant as a public spectacle? And what would the Humane Society, which had been operating in the United States since 1866, have to say about this?
One persistent rumor floating around the library goes that the elephant was hanged to death as punishment for killing or harming a handler. Noted skeptic H.L. Mencken, then a rookie journalist writing for The Baltimore Herald, covered the event, which as it turns out actually took place on June 7, 1900.* Mencken unfortunately adds to our confusion in his memoir, Newspaper Days 1899-1906, where he wrote offhandedly about the episode in a passage on the tenacity of press agents:
“The [incident] I remember best was the hanging of a rogue elephant, for I was assigned to cover it. This elephant, we were informed, had become so ornery that he could be endured no longer, and it was necessary to put him to death. Ordinarily he would be shot, but Bostock [the elephant’s owner and well-known animal showman], as a patriotic and law-abiding Englishman, preferred hanging, and would serve as the executioner himself.” (Newspaper Days 1899-1906  33-34.)
In part Mencken’s memories were accurate. Frank Bostock, the owner of Bostock’s Zoo or Wild Animal Show as it was alternately known, was an Englishman and he did in fact oversee Sport’s hanging. The rest of Mencken’s memories, undoubtedly jumbled over time, do not align with the facts.
Part of the confusion can be explained by the fact that, as disturbing as it sounds, there were actual punitive elephant executions in the early twentieth century. Topsy the elephant was electrocuted to death in 1903 for allegedly killing three men—one of them a severely abusive trainer who reportedly fed him a lit cigarette. Thomas Edison even filmed Topsy’s gruesome execution for posterity. The fact that electricity and moving pictures were relatively new and novel inventions can only partially explain why Edison would have filmed this horror. In 1916 Mary the elephant was hanged for allegedly killing her trainer. The heavily doctored photo evidence of this murder pales in comparison to the photos of poor Sport.
After searching through microfilm of Baltimore’s major newspapers at both the H. Furlong Baldwin and Enoch Pratt libraries, the mystery of the photos is now solved and it’s unlike anything I could have expected. The truth of Sport’s sad tale is as follows.
In 1900 when crowds still got excited about world fairs and expositions, Frank Bostock, internationally known as a top animal trainer in Paris, London, New York, and Chicago, was transporting his Wild Animal Show from New York to Baltimore. Bostock, known as “the Animal King,” had recently started a zoo at the old Cyclorama building at Maryland and West Mount Royal Avenues, now the site of University of Baltimore’s Gordon Plaza. (Baltimoreans today also know this as the plaza where the Edgar Allan Poe statue sits.) The Cyclorama building once housed a giant painting of the Battle of Gettysburg, but by the 1880s visitation slowed and the art was removed. Before Bostock took over, the building served as a roller rink, a bike riding school, and as a venue for evangelical revivals.
“Bostock’s Zoo would not have been anything like what we think of today as a public zoological garden,” says Dr. Nigel Rothfels, author of Savages and Beasts: The Birth of the Modern Zoo. Though many of his animals were trained, most were simply stored in cages as they would have been in circus menageries at the time. Bostock was also involved in the Elks’ Exposition located at North and Greenmount Avenues. The Elks planned to open their attraction in June. It was to include a veritable greatest hits of the 1893 World Columbian Exposition: Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, Barnum’s Circus, an exact reproduction of the Chicago World Fair Midway, and Bostock’s Wild Animal Show which replaced Hagenbeck’s Zoo in the Baltmore midway.
In mid-May 1900, on a train bound for Baltimore, somewhere in New Jersey, two of Bostock’s elephants, Jolly and Sport, began to roughhouse. By all accounts this wasn’t unusual for the two pachyderm friends, but on this day and on this train there were grave consequences. Sport backed into the door of his boxcar, which gave way to his considerable weight, and was ejected from the moving train. According to The Sun, “He emitted a terrible scream that drowned the locomotive whistle and the clatter of the train and startled the brakemen into instant activity.” His spine irreparably damaged and unable to get up on his own, Sport was lifted by a derrick back onto the train to continue his trip to Baltimore.
Once at his destination, veterinarian Dr. Robert Ward examined Sport and advised ending the animal’s life as the most humane option. The recommendation opened a debate on methods. A precision rifle shot to the brain was ruled out as too risky in the case of a miss. Poison was deemed too dangerous as some believed elephants could go violently out of control, harming or even killing those nearby. The final choice came down to hanging by rope or electrocution, the latter ruled out at the last minute for unspecified reasons. Most accounts portray Bostock and his staff as highly distraught over the loss of Sport and firmly in favor of hanging as the least horrific form of execution. He even took care to consult with the local Humane Society who agreed that hanging was the most merciful way to end Sport’s suffering.
In a strange twist of fate, further misfortune beset Bostock’s enterprise when Jolly mysteriously dropped dead the day before the hanging. According to his handlers, Jolly, a seventeen-year-old Indian elephant had been very depressed since his friend Sport’s accident. On Tuesday evening Jolly was given half a gallon of rye whiskey, on Bostock’s orders, in an effort to lift his spirits and the following morning died within minutes of his daily exercise routine. Heart failure was the diagnosis.
When the day arrived to end Sport’s suffering, Baltimore newsmen flexed their typewriters. “Misfortune of elephantine proportions” began the account in The Baltimore American. The Baltimore News led the morning with the least accurate headline on the matter, “To Be Electrocuted.” The Herald‘s cub reporter Henry Mencken went on in true tabloid style, “Like a common murderer, James W. Sport, the Asiatic elephant of the Bostock Midway Carnival Company, was hanged… at the Bolton freight yards of the Northern Central Railway, where he had been incarcerated since his condemnation.”
Accounts differ on the extent to which Sport suffered. The Baltimore American reports that he went quietly, “…if [Sport] felt any pain after the first tightening of the fatal noose, it was not discernible.” But The Sun and Herald told of how he “trumpeted wildly” and “struck dismay to the hearts of those about him.” Most agree that he was gone within nine minutes, hanged from a freight yard derrick able to support his two tons of girth. An estimated two thousand spectators gathered for the hanging, some on rooftops. At first authorities attempted to hold the crowds back, but the Bolton Street yards proved too porous. Despite Mencken’s retelling in his memoir, there seems no proof that Bostock or any promoter touted the hanging beforehand. No tickets were or could have been sold given the freight yard venue and it seems unlikely that it was a stunt to promote Bostock’s business, already operating in the confines of the wildly popular Elk’s Exhibition.
Jolly and Sport were taken to the Elk’s grounds where their remains were sold to local furriers Messrs. Dumont & Co. of 318 Light Street. An autopsy revealed that Sport’s spine was broken, confirming that a mercy killing was in fact the kindest thing to do for him. Nothing revealed why Jolly met his end. Although young for an elephant, zoo-kept elephants during this time period often only lived just seventeen to nineteen years.**
Business resumed as usual for Bostock who still had two elephants left, Big Liz and Little Roger. But it didn’t go on in Baltimore for much longer. On a freezing cold night at the end of January of the following year, Bostock’s Zoo caught fire due to faulty electrical wiring located in the ceiling and burned to the ground. Some 300 animals including lions, polar bears, pumas, jaguars, monkeys, and others perished in the flames. Bostock refused to open the pens to free the animals at the expense of the public, but that did not stop rumors of wild animals running amok from flying around the city. It was a gruesome thing that the picture at right cannot even begin to capture. Despite the carnage, many old enough to remember have fond memories of Bostock’s as evidenced in the old “I Remember…” series the Sunday Sun Magazine used to run in the inner cover. Bostock left Baltimore for New York City and in 1904 the animal king opened Bostock’s Arena at Dreamland in Coney Island. It too burned down, along with the rest of Dreamland, in 1911—the day after he reportedly sold his interest in the business.
Bostock’s short-lived Baltimore enterprise operated concurrently with the Baltimore Zoo, though the latter got its start at Druid Hill Park in 1876 by an act of the Maryland state legislature. Newspaper men and advertisements of the day used the term zoo to refer to both, but we should not mistake them as similar entities. Bostock was a showman who trained and worked his animals for entertainment purposes. He regularly moved exotic stock around the country, not unlike a traveling circus. Although news accounts portrayed him as a man who cared deeply about his livestock, this should be weighed against the fact that some of his animals, like Jolly, were valued at $10,000. But neither should Bostock be remembered as a man who sold tickets to an elephant lynching.
Similarly we should not put the Baltimore Zoo on too high a pedestal. By the 1890s, the public zoological garden boasted a modest collection including sheep, deer, camels, monkeys, an alligator, and some birds.*** The Baltimore Zoo, which did not become the Maryland Zoo in name until 2004, grew its collection at a much slower pace. It didn’t get its first resident elephant until 1924. Her name was Mary Ann and she is reportedly buried somewhere on the Druid Hill grounds. While the public zoo provided somewhat more stable environments for its animals than Bostock, zoological practices in the 1900s were still lacking by today’s standards.
The tale of Sport’s untimely demise was reduced to the words “elephant 1898 hanging” on a mislabeled photograph folder. Inaccurately remembered by a famous newspaper reporter, the elephant that apparently never hurt anyone could have been remembered as a rogue or killer of man as rumors and mistakes innocently become facts—such is history. Mencken, writing his memoir some forty years later, would certainly have more clearly remembered Sport’s hanging had he reviewed his own coverage in the pages of The Herald. Today thanks to microfilm and historic newspaper scanning, we are able to piece together what really happened to Sport. (Joe Tropea)
* Accounts in the following major newspapers confirm that these photos are from 1900, not 1898: Baltimore American, Baltimore Morning Herald, The Baltimore News, The Baltimore Sun, and The New York Times. Unequivocal proof is found in the Baltimore American of June 8, page 12, where a nearly identical photo to the one above can be seen. This article is based on accounts in the above mentioned publications from June 6-8, 1900.
** Mott, Maryann, “Wild Elephants Live Longer Than Their Zoo Counterparts,” National Geographic News, December 11, 2008. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/12/081211-zoo-elephants.html
*** Hoage, R.J. and William Diess editors, New Worlds, New Animals: From Menagerie to Zoological Park in the Nineteenth Century.
Special thanks to Dr. Nigel Rothfels and The Maryland Zoo for invaluable help and guidance with this article.
Sources and further reading:
Jensen, Brennen. “Beastly Night,” City Paper, July 2, 2003.
Hoare, Ruth Mohl. “I Remember … The Enchanting Old Bostock Zoo,” Sunday Sun Magazine, October 2, 1960.
Mencken, Henry Louis. Newspaper Days 1899-1906 (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1941.)
Rothfels, Nigel. Savages and Beasts: The Birth of the Modern Zoo (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 2002.)
Shaffer, F. Ward. “I Remember … When Fire Swept Bostock’s Zoo,” Sunday Sun Magazine, August 2, 1953.
“Rare & Vintage: Souvenir of Frank Bostock’s Coney Island”
Vannorsdall Schroeder, Joan. “The Day They Hanged Mary the Elephant in East Tennessee,” May 1, 1997.
Half a block north of where Fell, Thames, and Ann Streets intersect just east of the heart of Fell’s Point, stands a nondescript rowhouse that, at first glance, has little to distinguish it from the other brick rowhouses in the neighborhood. But a closer look at 812 South Ann Street reveals a front facade that is noticeably different from its neighbors. Named for its builder and first resident, the Robert Long House, completed circa 1765, is the oldest surviving residence in Baltimore.
But wait, less than three miles to the west stands another seemingly out of place structure and candidate for oldest residence in Baltimore, the Mount Clare House. An 18th century colonial mansion perched incongruously on a hill overlooking Carroll Park and the modern city now surrounding it, the Mount Clare House was built by Charles Carroll, Barrister, a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and one of Maryland’s first state senators. Sources differ on the exact time frame of the building’s construction. Some claim construction began as early as 1756; others as late as 1763, but most place the completion date around 1767.
The two properties could not be more dissimilar—one a modest rowhouse, the other a Georgian-style mansion built on what was, at the time of construction, a sprawling plantation estate of some 1000 acres. Robert Long, a merchant who hailed from York, Pennsylvania, was one of the earliest settlers of Fell’s Point (originally known as Fell’s Prospect), founded in 1730 by William Fell, an English Quaker. In 1764, Long began construction on his property on Ann Street and then apparently abandoned the project within the year. According to the Annals of Baltimore, published in 1824, it was said that Long had “persuaded Mr. Fell to lay off that part of the town, commenced some improvements at the corner of Ann and Thames Streets, moved to the country and left his building unfinished.” Long and his family soon returned though, occupying the property from 1765 to 1781.
Rather than adopting the architectural style of his newly adopted home, Long constructed the house in a style found in the southern regions of his native state, with the shed dormer and pent roof the most noticeable architectural features setting it apart from the typical Baltimore rowhouse. The house was originally built with only two floors—the third floor and attic that are seen in the circa 1930 photograph were added sometime in the mid to late 1800s. The home was set to be torn down by the City of Baltimore in 1969, until the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fell’s Point stepped in and acquired the property in 1975. The group then set about restoring the property to its original appearance. Today the group maintains its office in the residence and offers daily tours of the house and garden.
The Mount Clare House has more prosperous origins. In 1732, Dr. Charles Carroll, the father of Charles Carroll, Barrister, purchased 2,368 acres of land west of the recently established Baltimore Town. He called the property Georgia Plantation. Carroll eventually sold all but 800 acres of the original purchase to the Baltimore Iron Works, of which he was part owner. His son, Charles Carroll, Barrister, inherited the property in the late 1750s. Mount Clare was built as his summer residence, and was named in honor of his sister and grandmother.
Following Charles Carroll’s death in 1783, the estate remained in the possession of the Carroll family until 1840. Between the years 1840 to 1860 all of the original outbuildings on the plantation were destroyed, leaving only the main house remaining. During the Civil War, the house served as a quarters for Union soldiers. In 1865, a group of Germans leased the house and used it as a beer garden until 1890, when the City of Baltimore purchased the house and the remaining 70 acres of land. The city also purchased an adjoining tract of land and merged the properties into what is now Carroll Park. In 1917, the National Society of Colonial Dames in Maryland took over operations of Mount Clare and opened the site to the public as a museum. The group continues to offer tours of the home today.
So which dwelling is officially the oldest in Baltimore? Answering this question seems to be an ongoing debate, with both print and web sources yielding conflicting views. The Mount Clare House is variously described as: “the oldest colonial-era structure in Baltimore”; “the oldest extant colonial building in Baltimore”; “Baltimore’s oldest house”; “the oldest home in Baltimore City”; and “the oldest house in Baltimore City.”
The Robert Long House is billed as: “the oldest residential house in Baltimore city”; “the oldest surviving city house in Baltimore”; “the oldest existing residence in Baltimore”; “Baltimore’s oldest surviving residence”; “Baltimore’s oldest surviving urban residence”; and “the oldest standing residence in Baltimore City.” One publication goes so far as to state that the structure is the “oldest surviving urban residence within the boundaries of the original Baltimore Town,” though Baltimore Town, founded in 1729, did not amalgamate Fells Point until 1773. Mount Clare, on the other hand, did not become part of Baltimore City until at least 1822; a map from that year shows the western boundary of the city extending just over six blocks beyond the estate.
It seems that a distinction can be made. If the date that construction commences on a property is used as the basis for determining the age of a residence, then the Mount Clare House is the oldest. If date the house was completed is given more weight, than it’s the Robert Long House. Either way you choose to look at it, Baltimore has some pretty old houses. (Damon Talbot)
Sources and Further Reading:
Annals of Baltimore, Thomas Waters Griffith (Baltimore: W. Wooddy, 1824)
Historic Baltimore: Twelve Walking Tours of Downtown Fells Point, Locust Point, Federal Hill, and MountClare, Priscilla Miles, (Baltimore: Priscilla Miles, 1987)
Images of America: Fell’s Point, Jacqueline Greff (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2005)
MountClare: Being an Account of the Seat built by Charles Carroll, Barrister, upon his Lands at Patapsco, Michael F. Trostel (Baltimore: National Society of Colonial Dames of America in the State of Maryland, 1981)
The Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage, 60th Anniversary, 1937 – 1997, Maryland House and Garden Pilgrimage, (Baltimore: Printed by Reese Press, Inc.,1997)