West Baltimore was once a densely packed, vibrant neighborhood full of theaters, local businesses, and industry. Drive down many of the streets today and you’re likely to see a vacant lot or a boarded up row house on nearly every other block. But even an empty field has a history. The tiny, off-kilter house pictured to the left is one of the oldest houses in West Baltimore. Or at least it was circa 1865 when the photograph was taken. Like many of Baltimore’s historic structures it has been lost to time and the march of progress. It is now the site of a vacant lot. Built in the mid-1700s, the two-story wood frame house was located at 930 West Baltimore Street, two doors west of Amity Street. The property is known as the Sulzebacher house. The name is most likely a corruption of Sulzbach; according to the Baltimore city directories, a currier named Peter Sulzbach occupied the residence for a few years in the 1840s.
The house is of typical design for a mid-eighteenth century home in Baltimore. The gable roof may point to the construction of the home in the 1760s or 1770s; by then “gambrel roofs had fallen out of favor and most frame houses were a full two stories in height, with gable roof, with or without dormers.”* The building’s obvious tilt was characteristic of structures “located on streets built to match a since-altered street grade.”** Visible on the second floor is a fire insurance seal. Also called a fire mark, these iron, copper, or lead emblems indicated that a specific insurance firm paid a volunteer fire department to protect it – Baltimore’s first paid fire department was established in 1859, but the fire seals often remained left on the buildings. The Sulzebacher house survived for over 150 years, no mean feat for a wood frame house from that period. Sometime before 1911 the house was razed – the structure is not visible on the 1911 edition of the Sanborn fire insurance atlas – and replaced by a three-story barber shop.
The house at 932 West Baltimore Street, the edge of which can be seen in the photograph, may have been even older. Built in the same period, it had a much larger frontage than its neighbor at 930. The original structure was razed just a few years prior to the Sulzebacher house to make way for a motion picture theater. Both 932 and 930 West Baltimore Street appear to have caught the eye of rival theater owners. At around the same time that James W. Bowers was pursuing the properties at 932, A. Freedman had similar designs on 930. Freedman apparently lost the contest, because the only theater that debuted was Bower’s Aladdin Theater, which opened its doors to the public near the end of 1909. Advertising itself as “West Baltimore’s finest motion picture house,” the Aladdin theater seated about 400 patrons.
Between 1910 and 1938 the theater changed both ownership and names a number of times. In 1917 J. Louis Rome purchased it and renamed it the New Aladdin. The following year it came under the control of C.E. Nolte and his partner, Baltimore-born movie mogul Frank Durkee, whose Durkee Enterprises owned or controlled a large number of the movies houses in Baltimore, including the Ritz, the Palace, the Arcade, and the Senator. In 1930 the theater became the New Queen. It was open for less than a year, perhaps closing from the effects of the Great Depression. Then from 1933 to 1938 it operated as the segregated Booker T. Theater. This was the last of the property’s run as a host for cinematic productions – in 1942 it was converted into a plant for the New Gold Bottling Company, a soft drink manufacturer.
The New Gold Bottling Company was founded in 1925 by Greek immigrant Dionicios Karavedas. The company went on to produce Sun Spot, a popular orange flavored soft drink, whose advertisements boasted that it was made with real orange juice. During the 1950s and 1960s, the beverage, which retailed for a nickel, could be found in neighborhood stores and confectionaries throughout the city. The riots of 1968, which hit West Baltimore particularly hard, led to a decline in business for the soft drink manufacturer. In an odd change of direction, Dionicios’s son Nicholas, who took over the company after his father retired in 1960, began producing a sugar detecting beverage alongside his sugar enhancing ones – in the 1970s, he was involved with developing a product known as GTTS (Glucose tolerance testing solution) that detected the presence of gestational diabetes in pregnant women. Through a new company, Custom Laboratories, Inc., Karavedas went on to become the “the largest supplier of glucose testing solutions in the country.”***
By the 1980s, the beverage companies were still producing their dissimilar drinks on West Baltimore Street. But the city had its own plans for the site. In the mid-1980s it began purchasing properties on both the 900 and 800 blocks of West Baltimore Street for a proposed redevelopment project.
By 1992 the Karavedas owned companies were the remaining holdouts. According to a Baltimore Sun article from that year, the beverage companies were “the last tenants on a block the city has been clearing for as-yet unspecified housing or commercial redevelopment use.”**** By 1998, they had relocated across the city to Highlandtown. Twenty years later the 900 block of West Baltimore street, now owned by the University of Maryland, still remains undeveloped, a field of grass surrounded by a mixture of boarded up row homes, storefronts, University of Maryland medical buildings, and vacant lots. (Damon Talbot)
*Hayward, Mary Ellen & Frank R. Shivers Jr., ed., The Architecture of Baltimore: An Illustrated History (Baltimore: JohnsHopkinsUniversity Press, 2004), p. 9.
**The Passano Files, Baltimore Street (928, West)
****”Boondoggle on Baltimore Street,” The Baltimore Sun, March 16, 1992.
Sources and further reading:
”Boondoggle on Baltimore Street,” The Baltimore Sun, March 16, 1992.
The Dielman-Hayward File, Karavadas, Dionicios
Hayward, Mary Ellen & Frank R. Shivers Jr., ed., The Architecture of Baltimore: An Illustrated History (Baltimore: JohnsHopkinsUniversity Press, 2004)
Headley, Jr, Robert Kirk, Exit: A History of the Movies in Baltimore (University Park, Md: Robert Kirk Headley, Jr., 1974)
Headley, Jr, Robert Kirk, Motion Picture Exhibition in Baltimore: An Illustrated History and Directory of Theaters, 1895-2004 (London: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2006)
Jones, Carleton, Lost Baltimore Landmarks: A Portfolio of Vanished Buildings (Baltimore: Maclay & Associates., 1982)
Kelly, Jacques, “Nicholas D. Karavedas, beverage producer, dies,” The Baltimore Sun, October 19, 2010.
Life Magazine, December 24, 1965
The Passano Files, Baltimore Street (928, 930-932, West)
The Paul Henderson Photograph Collection contains over 6,000 photographs of mostly unidentified African Americans from ca. 1935-1965. When the Paul Henderson: Baltimore’s Civil Rights Era in Photographs, ca. 1940-1960 exhibition opened in 2012, several people from the media asked why it was important for MdHS to identify the people Henderson photographed in and around Baltimore. If you’ve ever looked through a family album and asked yourself, Who is that with so and so? or thought, I wish this person was around to ask who or where this was taken, you can sympathize with an archive’s desire to identify people and places in a historical record like a photograph. Library professionals have an obligation to the materials housed in their repository and to tell their stories to the fullest degree possible. Though most librarians are quite knowledgeable about the collections they serve, it is nearly impossible to be an expert on all the wide ranging topics covered in their holdings. For this reason librarians often function as facilitators, bringing their collections to the communities they document.
Most of the more famous individuals Henderson photographed (Lillie May Carroll Jackson, Paul Robeson, Governor Theodore McKeldin, Bayard Rustin, Senator Verda Welcome, to list but a few) have already been identified. Now MdHS is focused on putting names to the faces and places that aren’t so familiar.
To start the process of collecting names of people and places, underbelly will feature some of Henderson’s photos and we invite you to look, share, and comment. For this edition of the Henderson Who or Where? series, we present two curious photographs that were shot in September and October of 1948.* They were labeled “Group of ladies” and “Taking a picture.” Looking closely at the two photographs, you can see a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and almost everyone who is pictured is female. Click to enlarge the photographs.
If you think you know who is featured in the photographs or where the photographs were taken, please respond via the Henderson Collection Survey. If you have questions, please feel free to email email@example.com. To view more of Henderson’s work (including many more unidentified photos), learn about the exhibition, and to view Henderson videos, please visit the Paul Henderson Photographs Blog. All 6,000+ of Henderson’s negatives as available as public reference photographs through the MdHS Library. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. (Jennifer A. Ferretti)
Jennifer A. Ferretti is a MLIS candidate at Pratt Institute in New York City. She is the former Curator of Photographs & Digitization Coordinator at MdHS and curated the Paul Henderson exhibition which is ongoing. She continues to volunteer for MdHS and maintains the Paul Henderson Photographs Blog. Follow her on Twitter @jennydigiSILS.
*There have been discrepancies with the dates provided by the original repository of the collection (Baltimore City Life Museum). Read more about how MdHS came to house the collection on the Henderson Photographs blog.
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.
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.