Historic photographs

This tag is associated with 7 posts

Lost City: The Sulzebacher House

Sulzebacher House, ca 1865, MdHS, CC956.

Sulzebacher House, ca 1865, MdHS, CC956.

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 directoriesa 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.

Baltimore Street, 900 block west, looking east, 1920, Hughes Company, MdHS, MC6284. A sign for the New Aladdin Theater is visible in the center of the photograph.

Baltimore Street, 900 block west, looking east, 1920, Hughes Company, MdHS, MC6284. A sign for the New Aladdin Theater is visible in the center of the photograph. (Click to enlarge)

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.

Sun Spot Advertisement, 1949, Hughes Company, MdHS, PP30.254-49.

Sun Spot Advertisement, 1949, Hughes Company, MdHS, PP30.254-49.

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.”***

Baltimore Street, 900 block west, looking east, 2013, Photograph by Google.

Baltimore Street, 900 block west, looking east, 2013, Photograph by Google.

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)

900 block, West Baltimore Street, corner of Amity Street, 2013, Photograph by Google.

900 block, West Baltimore Street, corner of Amity Street, 2013, Photograph by Google.

Footnotes:

 *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)

***Kelly, Jacques, “Nicholas D. Karavedas, beverage producer, dies,” The Baltimore Sun, October 19, 2010. 

****”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)

http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/9958

http://www.fireserviceinfo.com/history.html

http://mises.org/journals/jls/3_3/3_3_6.pdf

Antoinette in the Air: Hubert Latham and His Historic Flight Over Baltimore, 1910

Hubert Latham (1883-1912) BCLM- Halethrope Aviation Meet-1910-Mdhs-MC1985-1

Hubert Latham (1883-1912), photographer unknown, ca. 1910, MdHS, MC1985-1.

Hubert Latham was almost the first person to fly an airplane over the British Channel. If the French aviator and adventurer was discouraged when his first attempt came up short, he never showed it. As he bobbed in the waves waiting to be retrieved by a passing vessel, Latham casually smoked a cigarette in the cockpit of his wrecked Antoinette.* Adventure was his business, and keeping a cool head was a prerequisite in the daredevil profession. Although he failed to be the first to reach the White Cliffs of Dover his flight proved to be historic in another way. He had completed the world’s first landing of an aircraft in the sea.

Fate worked against him once again in July, 1909, when gusty conditions delayed his next Channel crossing attempt. Latham and his crew went to sleep in the wee hours of July 25, 1909 at their camp near Sangatte, France, hoping to try and make history the next morning. Little did they know that rival aviator  Louis Bleriot (1872-1936) and his team had been closely monitoring the weather as well as the activity at Latham’s camp. Around 2 am, Bleriot’s crew found a break in the wind, and decided it was now or never. They hastily prepared their man and ship (bearing his namesake The Bleriot XI) for takeoff, and at daybreak Bleriot took flight.** Thirty-six minutes and thirty seconds later Bleriot made a hard landing above the White Cliffs near Dover Castle in England and received the £1,000 purse. He became the first man to fly over the Channel, and Latham was left sharing a forgotten corner of history with Buzz Aldrin and Antonio Salieri as just another famous almost.***

Hubert Latham from The [Baltimore] Star. Jesse Cassard Scrapbook- 1883-1946-MdHS-MS 223

Hubert Latham in the cockpit of his Antoinette monoplane. Taken from The [Baltimore] Star. Jesse Cassard Scrapbook, 1883-1946, MdHS, MS 223

But, a daredevil doesn’t live for accolades alone, so Latham’s story did not end there. Air shows and aerial competitions were becoming more and more popular across Europe and America. Lots of prize money, advertising opportunity for Antoinette engine, and risk remained to satisfy the adventurer’s hunger. The field of aviation was still in its infancy, so plenty of records remained to be set. Latham throttled his plane high into the air and set altitude records in Reims, France, and in Mourmelon-le-Grand. According to legend, he became the first to fly an airplane backwards, when against better judgement, he flew into a gale during a competition in Blackpool, England in 1909. The next year he became the first person to hunt wild fowl from an airplane while at a competition in Los Angeles.

In 1910, a variety of record setting opportunities presented themselves, including an extremely enticing (not to mention lucrative) offer in Baltimore. To coincide with the airshow in nearby Halethorpe, the A.S. Abell Company, owners of The Baltimore Sun, offered a $5,000 prize for any aviator who would “give all the people of [Baltimore] an opportunity to witness the most remarkable scientific triumph of the present age.” The chosen aviator would dazzle the crowds by flying high above the city. If this feat was accomplished, according to a November 2 Sun article, Baltimore would be “[the] first city serving as the setting for a charted aerial voyage over [its] housetops.” A November 23 article further described the event as “[the] first time a bird-man has traversed the air over a course laid out for him beforehand, with turns and curves and changes in direction, so that the entire population can see the exhibition.”  Later, the clarification was added concerning the type of flight—it was the first “heavier than air machine” to fly over a large American city. Besides the scientific breakthroughs of the time, it was also a remarkable age for advertising. The opportunity for the Sun to educate and entertain the public, while at the same time promoting their paper, made the $5,000 purse seem rather small under the circumstances.

Jesse Cassard Scrapbook, MS 223, MdHS

Latham’s historic flight shares pages in this scrapbook with clippings about the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904 and the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Jesse Cassard Scrapbook, 1883-1946, MdHS, MS223

Though these superlative statements are obviously a bit vague, they certainly raise some questions. The significance of the event in terms of potential danger and shared communal experience cannot be overlooked. A crash over water or into an open field was one thing, but an engine failure or crash over a large population center meant certain death. At the same time, more than a half million Baltimoreans would be able to witness the flight—the air show would come to them without travel or the cost of a ticket. For most spectators, this would be their first look at an airplane; they would share this collective glimpse into the future. 

Even though Latham had a history of crash landings (and wrecked in two of his next three flights), the reward outweighed the risk and he accepted. The advertising opportunity for the Antoinette engine, the prize money, recognition, and of course, the thrill of the flight were all too much for the daredevil to pass up. In addition, a $500 reward would be tacked on by Ross Revillon Winans (1850-1912) if Latham would complete one small side mission.

Ross Revillon Winans (dates) PVF- Ross R. Winans-1886-MdHS

Ross Revillon Winans (1850-1912)  Ross R. Winans, 1886, MdHS, PVF.

Ross R. Winans was grandson to the Baltimore railroad pioneer, mechanic, inventor, and benefactor, Ross Winans (1796-1877).  Unlike his grandfather, Ross R. Winans was more  gentleman of leisure. He lived much of his luxurious life in a French chateau far away from his home town.**** Tragedy struck Ross R. Winans in 1907 when his wife Mary, son William, and daughter Beatrice, all died in the span of six months. He and his son, Thomas, arranged to accompany the bodies on a cargo ship from Europe and make a permanent return to Baltimore. At the last minute, Thomas disembarked and disappeared with a Spanish dancer; the father-son relationship was never salvaged. Ross R. returned to his hometown a recluse. He was rarely seen or heard from until 1910 when he placed a letter to the Sun offering Latham an additional $500 to alter his flight path so that he would circumnavigate his house at 1217 St. Paul Street. Winans was bed-ridden and didn’t appear to have much time left in life. He would only have the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the monoplane if Latham plotted a course low over the skyline on the rear, or east-facing, side of his house, where he could look out the window from his bed. Latham graciously accepted the prize money, and agreed to loop around 1217 St. Paul as part of the exhibition.

Hubert Latham taking off from the Halethorpe air show in his Antoinette monoplane. BCLM-MC1985-2- MdHS

Hubert Latham taking off from the Halethorpe air show in his Antoinette monoplane. Halethorpe Aviation Meet, 1910, BCLM, MdHS, MC1985-2

So at 12:16:45 pm on November 7, 1910, Latham and his fifty-horsepower Antoinette took off from Halethorpe and began his plotted path over the city. Bells rang out across the city as workers were released from Wise Brothers, R.M. Sutton & Co., Torsch packing, and other businesses and industries, for a long lunch to watch the exhibition. People converged to the rooftops of The Sun Building, the B& O building , the Courthouse, and the balcony around the City-Hall dome. Even patients at Johns Hopkins pressed their faces to the window in anticipation of the low swoop-by promised by the bird-man.***** Latham flew over Fort McHenry, northwest to the American building on Baltimore Street, back east to Patterson Park, north to North Avenue, west to Eutaw Place, back east to Mount Royal Ave before turning northeast to circle Druid Hill Park, south to St. Paul street where he maneuvered into view of Winans’ bedroom window- circling the property, and southwest to the Sun Building before heading back to Halethorpe. Twenty-five miles and forty-two minutes later Hubert Latham landed safely back at Halethorpe. Latham sat in the cockpit with the propellor running while he smoked a cigarette, before finally being hauled by mechanics into the hangar. With flair for dramatic, Latham said, “Not a word until I have eaten lunch,” to the throngs of reporters anxiously waiting to speak to the hero.

Latham's flight path over Baltimore on November 7, 1910. The yellow arrow represents the photo at the bottom of the post, and the blue arrow indicates where he circled around Ross R. Winan's mansion. The Indiana Jones effect was photoshopped on top of a Commisioners for Opening Roads, General Map of Baltimore, 1911 from our map collection.

Latham’s flight path over Baltimore on November 7, 1910. The yellow arrow represents the photo at the bottom of the post, and the blue arrow indicates where he circled around Ross R. Winan’s mansion. The Indiana Jones effect was photoshopped on top of a Commisioners for Opening Roads, General Map of Baltimore, 1911 from our map collection.

Latham and his flight were fondly remembered in Baltimore for many years. According to a Sun article from June 4, 1911, bellboys, chambermaids, and clerks working at the Belvedere refused to spend the autographed $1 tips that he passed out to all the help during a tour of the building. To many Baltimoreans, the historic flight held a place in their memory on par with the sinking of the Titanic and the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904. They would never forget where they were when Latham made his historic flight over the city.

Latham continued to fly, participating in air shows in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and in Europe before resuming his world travels. Having studied indigenous cultures in Indochina and Abyssinia (Ethiopia), hunted game in Somaliland (Somalia), and travelled throughout East Asia, it was not surprising when he returned to his wanderlust habits in late 1911. It came as tragic news to Baltimoreans and the French people alike when they learned he had been gored to death by a water buffalo while hunting in the French Congo, though vague reports of a more suspicious death circulated. (Eben Dennis)

The impetus for this post was the photograph below, which was recently donated to our library by the Ross County Historical Society in Ohio after it was deemed outside the scope of their collection.  In cataloging this new acquisition we are given the chance to highlight both an interesting side note of Baltimore history, while at the same time showing the cooperation that often exists behind the scenes in libraries as they not only actively collect items within the scope of their mission, but seek homes for orphaned items which are more suited elsewhere. 

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Hubert Latham flying over the corner of Broadway and Bank Streets as he headed northwest towards the American Building (see yellow arrow on map) Baltimore-Airplanes-Hubert Latham, 1910, MdHS SVF – Medium Photos

Footnotes

*The Antoinette engine was originally developed by Léon Levavasseur whom supplied Latham with engines during his stint as a speedboat racer.  Later, after Latham was inspired by performances by Wilbur Wright (who was trying to sell an engine of his own) he sought out a company that would train him as a pilot to promote their product. In the meantime, Levavasseur had formally established the Antoinette Company (based off the precursor engine from the speedboats) and happily obliged Latham’s request. He quickly mastered the engine and became the company’s top pilot.

**Latham and his crew tried to get up quickly after Bleriot, hoping to pass him, but by the time they were ready the weather had turned for the worse once again.

***Latham made a second attempt to cross the British Channel and failed once again, this time coming up just a few miles short after his Antoinette suffered from engine failure.

****A large chunk of his inheritance came from a Winans Locomotive contract that his father and grandfather made with the Czar of Russia to equip the new Moscow – St. Petersburg line in 1842.

*****Evidently Latham’s flight, which fluctuated in up to 3,000 feet, reached its lowest point of 400 feet near the hospital, where the patients claimed to be able to see his face.

Newspapers

“Hubert Latham’s Tips Sacred.” Baltimore Sun, June 4, 1911.

“Latham sees Mr. Winans:…….Looks for Landing in River, Carroll or Patterson Parks or Open Ground.” Baltimore Sun, November 5, 1910.

“Hubert Latham the Man, Daredevil of the Air….” Baltimore Sun, November 8, 1910.

“Latham Hunts Ducks in Airship.” New York Times, December 23, 1910.

“Latham in Antoinette Wreck: Frenchman has Remarkable Escape from Death at Frisco.” Baltimore Sun, January 11, 1911.

“Flying Over Baltimore: Latham’s Remarkable Feat as it Appeared to a Texas Newspaper.” Baltimore Sun, November 23, 1910.

Pioneer Chartered Trip: Aerial Voyage of Latham….” Baltimore Sun, November 2, 1910.

“Mr. Ross Winans Offers $500: Sick in His Home, He wants to See the Great Flight.” Baltimore Sun, November 1, 1910.

“Ross R. Winans Dead.” Baltimore Sun, April 26, 1912

See Also

Dielman-Hayward File, Maryland Historical Society

Howard Cruett Wilcox/Halethorpe Air Meet Collection, 1910, PP139, Maryland Historical Society

Jesse L. Cassard Scrapbook, 1883-1946, MS 223, Maryland Historical Society

BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/8080077.stm

Forgotten aviator: Hubert Latham by Barbara Walsh http://www.hubertlatham.com/

Paul Henderson Collection: Who or Where?

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 jferretti@mdhs.org. 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 specialcollections@mdhs.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.

“Facing the Masks”: Masked Mystery Solved

"The White Masks Inspecting a Prisoner at Detective Headquarters,"

“The White Masks Inspecting a Prisoner at Detective Headquarters,” Hughes Company Photograph Collection, unknown photographer (possibly James W. Scott), ca.1909, MdHS, PP8-585 / Z9.584.PP8.

Last week we reached out for help understanding a photograph, and wow, did we get it. Our photo from the Hughes Company collection traveled far and wide. The image, known then as “Detective room, Police Department,” was not only a headscratcher, but also a Rorschach Test of sorts. Different eyes saw different things happening. Speculations, observations, and facts, sent via e-mail and comments, ranged from thinking it was initiation ritual to a theatrical production still. The majority who weighed in felt that what’s depictied is a police line-up. Within less than two day’s time enough evidence mounted to reasonably argue that it is a police line-up.  Whether or not it was staged or the real thing is one of the few questions left unanswered.

We now know to call this photo “‘The White Masks’ Inspecting a Prisoner at Detectives Headquarters.” The first info to arrive came from Bill Zorzi, a former Baltimore Sun editor and writer/producer/actor of The Wire. In an early afternoon e-mail to this writer he wrote:

“At first I thought it looked as if it might be a courtroom—which they used to have in the old police station houses—given the paneling and the brass bar. Then I counted the masked men, which totaled 15—too big for a jury (even with alternates) and too small for a grand jury. Then I thought, hmmm, I bet this is the forerunner of the ol’ police lineup… before 2-way mirrors…”

Zorzi followed his e-mail with another containing ten articles from The Sun. But before his second transmission arrived, commenter Bill Lefurgy, archivist/digital preservationist at the Library of Congress, quoted a Sun entry titled “Sleuths Have Mask System: First Prisoner Subject to Ordeal Turns Pale,” from July 29, 1908:

“…the Baltimore Detective Department initiated a ‘mask system’ that ‘enables detectives to examine crooks without being recognized.’ The description is of masks ‘of the ordinary white dominoes with white muslin covering the lower part of the face,’ worn by 20 detectives; the detective captain is described as unmasked….”

The article details how a young pickpocket, Hymen Movitz (18 years old) faced 20 masked detectives, turned pale, and clutched at the brass rail in our photo. Now we know when the practice was first implemented in Baltimore. Our photograph was taken after July 1908.

Several articles in the historic Baltimore Sun (accessible for free via ProQuest if you have a Pratt Library account) detail the story behind our photo. The paper has since posted some images of these articles on their DarkRoom blog. Sherlock Swann, whose collected papers are available at the MdHS Special Collections Department, was appointed president of the Police Board in 1908. Well known and highly regarded for his tenure as the Burnt District Commissioner after the Great Baltimore Fire of 1904, Swann is apparently the first head of police to actually put serious effort into the job.

bertillon_bureau

“Operations and Photographing Department—Bertillon Bureau,” History of the Baltimore Police Department, 1774-1909 by Clinton McCabe, Pratt Library, Md. XHV8148.B21M2.

In March 1908, Swann traveled to New York City to school himself on the operations of a big city police department. One of the many practices he brought back with him was a ritual known as the “facing of the masks.” This practice was developed by Inspector Byrnes of New York in the mid-1880s. It was presumably a preventative measure. Masks were employed on the speculation that some career-minded criminals might have themselves arrested simply to learn the faces of detectives, thus adding to their skills and value.

In what seems a rather intimidating practice, police would parade detainees about to be released due to lack of evidence before detectives wearing the white masks seen above. It was all part of the daily morning routine. In New York the practice was done on a much larger scale involving up to 100 detectives. Officially, the line-up was held so that detectives could learn the features and mannerisms of individuals who would surely be passing through their doors again and again. However, one can’t help but speculate this was as much as a shaming/intimidating ritual as a useful law enforcement practice, especially considering that a photography department existed even at Baltimore’s small Bertillon Bureau. Each arrestee had already had his picture taken for the “Rogue’s Gallery.”

By 1911, the NYPD had abandoned the masked line-up for being time consuming and wasteful of the detectives’ time.* These factors didn’t stop the Baltimore police from using it for many years.

HIstory of the Baltimore Police Department, 1774-1909 by Clinton McCabe, Pratt Library, Md. XHV8148.B21M2 (below), an earlier edition held at MdHS above.

History of the Baltimore Police Department, 1774-1909 by Clinton McCabe, Pratt Library, Md. XHV8148.B21M2 (below), an earlier edition held at MdHS (above).

The most definitive piece of evidence we received was sent in by Jeff Korman of the Maryland Department at the Enoch Pratt Library. He identified the photo from a book in the Pratt’s collection, History of the Baltimore Police Department, 1774-1909 by Clinton McCabe. The photo, Korman said, appeared on page xvii. This came as quite a surprise to me, as the MdHS library has an earlier edition of the book without the photo. (HBPD 1774-1907)

The following day I went to the Pratt and met with Korman. He showed me the five different editions from their holdings, earlier ones like ours without the photo and later editions with the detectives faces obscured by a gilt stamp to protect their identities. We are now able to identify two of the three unmasked men. The moustached man on the far left is Detective Joseph E. Coughlan. Two spaces down and slightly turned to his left is Sergeant, Detective Harry P. Schanberger. They’re probably not wearing masks because they were the brass of the department and did not have to do undercover work.

Whoops, redaction!

Whoops, redaction! History of the Baltimore Police Department, 1774-1909 by Clinton McCabe, Pratt Library, Md. XHV8148.B21M2 (below), an earlier edition held at MdHS (above).

All the information above dates our picture between 1908-09. It’s the only photo of its kind in our Hughes Collection. We may never know the identity of the African-American man on the riser. We may never know if he was arrested or if this was a staged demonstration for a photographer. But we have heard from enough voices who agree that this image is at once disturbing, perplexing, and stunning. It speaks volumes about our recent past.

MdHS would like to thank everyone who shared the photo, sent comments, clues, and criticisms, and enjoyed helping. (Joe Tropea)

*A New York Times piece from Feb. 9, 1914, “Police Line-up Is Resumed Today” details the discontinuation of the practice before it was reinstated in a modified form—less detectives—some three years later.

Sources and further reading:

The Baltimore Sun

“Colonel Swann ‘At School,'” Mar. 14, 1908: 14; “Col. Swann Returns,” Mar. 16, 1908: 7; “Must ‘Face the Masks,'” May 6, 1908: 12; “Sleuths Have Mask System,” July 29, 1908: 12; “Police Use Spotlight,” July 31, 1908: 12; “His Record on Police Board,” Apr. 21, 1910: 14; “Line-up of Crooks Stopped,” Aug. 13, 1911: 2; “Alleged Thief Silent,” Dec. 7, 1913: 7.

McCabe, Clinton, History of the Baltimore Police Department, 1774-1909 available at MdHS and the Enoch Pratt libraries.

Masked Mystery

What do you think is going on in this photograph? Hughes Company Photograph Collection, unknown photographer (possibly Gaither Scott), MdHS, PP8-585 / Z9.584.PP8

What do you think is going on in this photograph? “Detective room, Police Department,” Hughes Company Photograph Collection, unknown photographer (possibly James W. Scott), ca.1910, MdHS, PP8-585 / Z9.584.PP8

Last month we solved a longstanding photograph mystery that we never expected to solve, that is until we rolled up our sleeves and actually tried. Modern digitization technology, more precisely the ability to zoom deep into a photo or negative to see details previously unavailable to the naked eye, coupled with searchable newspaper databases make solving these puzzles much easier today. But this time out, we have a longstanding photo mystery that we can’t solve on our own. Having exhausted every resource we could muster, from searching historic newspaper databases to asking historians and journalists (we even tried asking federal archival investigators who visited us during the Landau theft case), we still can’t say with any degree of certainty what’s going on in the disturbing photo above. Yet its imagery evokes such strong feelings, conjuring up images of Jim Crow, the Klan, and lynching, we can’t give up trying to understand it—so we turn to crowd sourcing.

Why are two of these men not wearing masks?

Why are some of these men not wearing masks? Is that a telephone between the shoulders of the two men in the middle? Would there have been a telephone in a court room?

Immediately several questions come to mind: What is happening to this man? Why are the men wearing masks? Are they police officers? Are they a jury? Stare a little longer and other questions arise: What year would this be? Why are two of the men seen above not wearing masks? Why does the African-American man seem so calm?

Why so calm, or is it diginified?

Not a drop of sweat. Despite what’s going on behind him, this man does not appear worried. How do you interpret his expression?

Here’s what we do know

This photo is labeled “Detective room, Police Department.” However, in the archival world, you quickly learn not to take random descriptions as gospel. It’s part of the Hughes Collection*, one of our largest collections of photographs. James F. Hughes, whose first appearance as a commercial photographer in the City Directory was in 1877, founded the company. He owned the company until his widow sold it to an employee, James W. Scott, in 1903. The Hughes Company primarily did work for Baltimore area businesses, corporations, governmental agencies, and occasionally private individuals.

MdHS’s records indicate that this photo was taken sometime around 1910. Several pieces of evidence corroborate this date. From the lighting fixtures to the suits and hats the men are wearing, this appears to be the early twentieth century, pre-WWI. Additionally, the original medium for the image is an 8 x 10 inch glass plate negative. Glass negatives preceded film negatives. They first appeared in the mid-nineteenth century, but went the way of the dinosaur in the early twentieth century as less fragile celluloid film was introduced. The one item that could answer the “when” question is just a bit too out of focus to help: a newspaper left on a table and opened to an advertisement page:

detail4_pp8.585

The date is not visible on this newspaper in the foreground, but we can see that Joel Gutman & Co., which operated from 1852 to 1929, offered mens shoes from $2.79 – $4. These seem to be pre-1920s prices.

Given the approximate date of the photograph, we can safely assume that James Scott, or someone who worked for him after he took over the Hughes Company, took the picture. We know that the company commonly did work for the City of Baltimore. What we don’t know is why a Hughes photographer was at this location on this particular day. There’s also the matter that this room looks far more like a courtroom than a police detective room. Was the photographer there to take promotional pictures for the police department or court system? The shot seems somewhat staged, as if the men were assembled quickly for the shot. Note that three of them are not wearing masks, two on the left and one on the right in a doorway. Anonymity was not crucial for all of the men in the picture. There are fifteen men wearing the very distinctive masks. Could this be a jury with three alternates? Are they witnesses? A staged demonstration might also explain the calm look of the man on the riser. It’s also worth noting that he’s a fairly handsome man and zooming in closeup reveals no sweat on his brow. Additionally he appears to be wearing a wedding ring. What does any of this mean?

One final clue to point out: If this is a detective room or a court room, how do we explain the object behind the head of the man to the right of the man on the riser? What little we can read of it says, WM. J. C. DULANY CO. PUBLISHERS. Is it a calendar or broadside? The photo vexes us at every turn.

Why would this poster hang in a police department or court room? Detail

Another clue? This is an interesting place to hang a calendar or broadside in a police department or court room. And aren’t these masks peculiar?

Educated guesses

One prominent local historian** suggested that this image represents an initiation ritual for the first black detective of the Baltimore City police force. This seemed a reasonable guess, except that the date range of the collection is 1910-1926. Considering that glass negatives were not used much after the nineteen-teens and that we had never heard of an African-American detective in segregated Baltimore this early, we were left wondering.

The theory was quickly taken down by a veteran journalist who visits the library frequently. “There were no black officers on the force until 1937. Violet Hill Whyte was the first one,” said our source. “African-Americans weren’t even put into uniform until 1943,” he added. The first African-American men hired by the Baltimore Police arrived in 1938. They were Walter T. Eubanks Jr., Harry S. Scott, Milton Gardner, and J. Hiram Butler Jr. These men were not allowed to wear police uniforms for another five years. Even if this were a photo from as late as 1926, which is highly unlikely, it predates the arrival of African-Americans on the force by twelve years.

Left with more questions than answers, we turn to you, our readers. What do you think?

Please share this, leave comments, or send us an e-mail. (Joe Tropea)

This story has been updated.
* There are two sections of the Hughes Collection. The first section, known as PP8, covers dates ca. 1910-1926. This section of the collection consists mainly of vintage glass plate negatives with some vintage prints and film negatives. The second section of the Hughes Collection, called the Hughes Studio Photograph Collection, is known as PP30, and covers dates ca. 1940-1956.
** The names of those who took guesses on the photo prior to this writing have been kept anonymous.

“To die is gain”: Memory and the U.S.-Mexican War in Maryland

mc2484_snapshot

The Watson Monument created by sculptor Edward Berge is flanked by captured Mexican mortars. Corpus Christi Church can be seen in the background here at its original location at Lanvale Street and Mount Royal Avenue. In 1930, the monument was moved to Reservoir Hill—what was then the entrance to Druid Hill Park—because of a planned extension of Howard Street. This photo shows what is now an underpass that engineers felt would not have held the weight of the monument. William Watson Monument, ca. 1906, MdHS, MC2484.

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)

Plumbeotype of Lieutenant Colonel William H. Watson, undated. CC2873, Works on Paper, MdHS.

Plumbeotype of Lieutenant Colonel William H. Watson, undated, MdHS, CC2873.

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)

"The Fall of Major Ringgold at the Battle of Palo Alto," drawn by T.H. Matteson, engraved by H.S. Sadd, Small Prints, MdHS.

“The Fall of Major Ringgold at the Battle of Palo Alto,” drawn by T.H. Matteson, engraved by H.S. Sadd, MdHS, Small Prints.

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)

"Colonel William H. Watson" by R. H. Sheppard, c. 1848.

“Colonel William H. Watson” by R. H. Sheppard, c. 1848, MdHS Museum.

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.

Brevet Major Samuel Ringgold was killed in the Battle of Palo Alto. Small Prints, Ringgold, Major Samuel, MdHS.

Brevet Major Samuel Ringgold was killed in the Battle of Palo Alto. Ringgold, Major Samuel, undated, MdHS, Small Prints.

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)

Another view of the monument.  William H. Watson Monument. Mount Royal Avenue, John Dubas, MC9072.

Another view of the monument. William H. Watson Monument. Mount Royal Avenue, John Dubas, MC9072.

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)

The Watson Monument as it appears today. Photo by Flickr user Littlesam.

The Watson Monument as it appears today in Reservoir Hill. Photo by Flickr user Littlesam.

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.

Footnotes:

1. We use the term “U.S.-Mexican War” in this post instead of the common “Mexican-American War” because the term “American” can refer to a person from North or South America. The war was solely between the United States and Mexico.
2. To Mexican War Heroes,” The Baltimore Sun, September 22, 1903; The Baltimore American, September 22, 1903.
3. Ibid.; “To Mexican War Heroes,” Baltimore Sun, September 22, 1903.
4. Baltimore American, September 22, 1903.
5. Historian Jacques Le Goff noted, “[m]emory, on which history draws and which it nourishes in return, seeks to save the past in order to serve the present and future.” Michael Kammen agreed, noting that critics of public memory complain about how societies use memory to manipulate the past in order to mold the present. Jacques Le Goff, History and Memory, trans. Steven Rendall and Elizabeth Claman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), 99; Michael Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory:  The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture (New York: Vintage Books, 1991), 3.
6. An excellent source on the complex chain of events leading to war is Richard Bruce Winders, Crisis in the Southwest (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources Books, 2002). Much of the context discussed in this section owes to Winders’s discussion of the war. Also, for background on Mexico’s perspective of the conflict, see Timothy J. Henderson, A Glorious Defeat: Mexico and Its War with the United States (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007).
7. J. Thomas Scharf, History of Maryland, vol. 3, 1812-1880 (Hatboro, Pennsylvania: Tradition Press, 1967), 221-2; John S. D. Eisenhower, So Far from God: The U.S. War with Mexico, 1846-1848 (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 2000), 80.
8. Robert W. Johannsen, To the Halls of the Montezumas: The Mexican War in the American Imagination  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 124; “The Late Major Ringgold,” Baltimore Sun, May 28, 1846.
9. Scharf, History of Maryland, vol. 3, 221-2, 227; John R. Kenly, Memoirs of a Maryland Volunteer (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Company, 1873), 115, Eisenhower, So Far from God, 77-80; Charles J. Wells, Maryland and District of Columbia Volunteers in the Mexican War (Westminster, Maryland: Family Line Publications, 1991),  6.
10. Johannsen, Halls of the Montezumas, 85.
11. Other Marylanders died during the Battle of Monterey. For instance, Sergeant George A. Herring, of Baltimore, also fell during the attack on the Tannery. When Sergeant John Axer tended to him, Herring gasped, “go on boys you can not do any thing for me & when you get to Baltimore tell them I Died game.” Captain Randolph Ridgely survived the battle, but died in the battle’s aftermath. In Monterey, the streets had been made with basaltic rocks, of which many made up barricades in hopes of slowing up the U.S. advance. During a horse ride, Ridgely’s horse stumbled upon a basaltic rock, throwing Ridgley off in the process. When he landed, his head struck a sharp corner of another basaltic rock. Kenly, who had been with Ridgely thirty minutes prior to his accident, stated with shock that he “had parted with him not an half-hour previously, in the full enjoyment of life, health, and strength, and now I could not realize that though living he was unconscious.” John Axer to an unidentified recipient, October 2, 1846, Special Collections (Baltimore:  Maryland Historical Society), MS 1507; Wells, Maryland and District of Columbia Volunteers in the Mexican War, 5; Kenly, Memoirs of a Maryland Volunteer, 160-3; Johannsen, Halls of the Montezumas, 85.
12. Senator James A. Pearce, Speech of Mr. Pearce, of Maryland, on the Ten Regiment Bill, delivered in the Senate of the United States [January 13, 1848] (Washington, D.C.: John T. Towers, 1848), 15, Special Collections (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society), PAM 1814.
13. For a good summary of the treaty negotiations, see Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of the United States, 1815-1848 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 800-811.
14. For more on the impact of the war on the United States, see Howe, 792-836.
15. Johannsen, Halls of the Montezumas, 108, 130.
16. Ibid.
17. The phrase came from Philippians 1:21-23 in the Bible, but the phrase also starts off Reverend Henry V. D. Johns’ sermon of Lieutenant Colonel Watson. Henry V. D. Johns, D. D., A Sermon Preached on Sunday, January 19, 1847 at the Request of Gratitude Lodge, No. 5, I.O.O.F as a Tribute of Respect to the Memory of Three of Their Members, W.H. Watson, G.A. Herring and J. Wilker Who Fell in the Mexican War (Baltimore: The Lodge, 1847), 7-8, Special Collections (Baltimore: Maryland Historical Society), MP 3.J46S 1847.
18. According to the Constitution’s fifth by-law, “The President shall have power to fine any member for misconduct during the meetings or parades of this Association, and command members misbehaving immediately to leave the room or ranks during parade or muster — such fine not to exceed one dollar for any one breach of conduct — and should any member of this Association misbehave himself, or be guilty of improper conduct, either in this Association or any other place, he shall be expelled from this Association upon a two-third vote of all the members present at any regular meeting hereof.” Constitution and By-Laws of the Association of Maryland Volunteers in the Mexican War, by-law 1st,  Special Collections, MdHS, Baltimore; Constitution and By-Laws of the Association of Maryland Volunteers in the Mexican War, by-law 5th,, Special Collections, MdHS.
19. John R. Kenly, Papers, Special Collections (Baltimore: MdHS), MS 507, Box 1.
20. During the early-nineteenth century, the Bunker Hill monument gained national popularity, prompting the Chief Justice of Rhode Island to comment, “O! let us build monuments to the past.” The Civil War further fueled the popularity of monuments. For instance, the popularity of monuments was closely associated with the Lost Cause ideology. The majority of Lost Cause monuments had been initially erected in cemeteries, following the belief that “‘a memorial of a lost cause’ should ‘not be a triumphal memorial.  Placed in the City of the Dead, and near the entrance, the sight of it cannot fail to call back the memory of the sad history which it commemorates.’” According to historian Gaines Foster, from 1865 to 1885, seventy percent of southern monuments had been erected in cemeteries. Public monuments also enjoyed popularity in the North after the Civil War. To illustrate, David McConaughy, head of the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association (GBMC), understood that battlefield memories sacralized the landscape while also drawing visitors. By 1895, the GBMC had supervised the placement of 320 monuments. Kammen, Mystic Chords of Memory:  The Transformation of Tradition in American Culture, 69, 71; Gaines M. Foster, Ghosts of the Confederacy:  Defeat, the Lost Cause, and the Emergence of the New South (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 40-1; Jim Weeks, Gettysburg: Memory, Market, and an American Shrine (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), 20, 60-1.
21. The Baltimore American article noted that, if the City Council appropriated $5,000.00 for the monument, “it will not be difficult to increase the total to $10,000 or $12,000, with which a fitting monument could be erected.” “Request for Contribution,” James D. Iglehart Papers, Special Collections (Baltimore:  MdHS), MS 2384, Box 1; “Veterans of the Mexican War,” Baltimore American, July 1, 1900; “Lieut. Col. William H. Watson,” Baltimore Sun, 12 August 1902.
22. “Request subscriptions from the citizens of Baltimore,” James D. Iglehart Papers, Special Collections, MdHS, MS 2384, Box 1.
23. Edwin Warfield to James D. Iglehart, February 26, 1902, James D. Iglehart Papers, Special Collections, MS 2384, Box 1; “Request subscriptions from the citizens of Baltimore,” James D. Iglehart Papers, Special Collections, MdHS, MS 2384, Box 1.
24. “Still Fighting for Their Country,” Baltimore American, February 6, 1899; “The Vote on the Treaty,” Baltimore American, February 6, 1899.

Further reading:

Monument City Blog, “Col. William Watson Monument in Reservoir Hill.”
Cindy Kelly, Outdoor Sculpture in Baltimore: A Historical Guide to Public Art in the Monumental City, JHU Press, 2011.
MS 2674 Paine Mexican War Diary, 1846-47, Allen Paine, MdHS Special Collections.

The Death of Sport

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?

Mysterious photo no. 1. Scroll to the end of the story to see no. 2. Animals Elephant 1900 (Hanging), SVF.

Mysterious photo no. 1. Scroll to the end of the story to see no. 2. Animals Elephant 1900 (Hanging), SVF.

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 [1941] 33-34.)

Frank C. Bostock

Frank C. Bostock, the “Animal King.” Image taken from eBay. This tag sold for nearly $400!

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.

The only known photo of the Cyclorama which housed Bostock's Zoo until it burned to the ground in Jan. 1901. Unknown photographer.

The only known photo of the Cyclorama which housed among other things Bostock’s Zoo until it burned down in January 1901. Unknown photographer, Sunday Sun Magazine, April 18, 1965.

“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.

The Hanging of Sport by Tom Barg

“The Hanging of Sport” by Tom Barg, The Baltimore News, June 8, 1900, page 12.

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.**

Bostock's Zoo After the Fire

The only known photo of the remains of the Cyclorama building a.k.a. Bostock’s Zoo. Unknown photographer, Sunday Sun  Magazine, August 2, 1953.

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.

Two bears and a camel. Residents of the Baltimore Zoo at Druid Hill Park. Reference imagess, photographer unknown, ca. 1927, MC7785-1 and MC7785.

Two bears and a camel. Residents of the Baltimore Zoo at Druid Hill Park. Reference imagess, photographer unknown, ca. 1927, MC7785-1 and MC7785.

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)

SVF Animals Elephant 1900 (Hanging)

Formerly mysterious photo no. 2. Sport the elephant was euthanized on June 7, 1900.  Animals Elephant 1900 (Hanging), SVF.

* 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.