Dec. 8, 1940. Hitler has just bombed five London hospitals. At Fort Meade they are hammering together new wooden barracks for incoming recruits. The Lyric Theatre management is planning a benefit concert honoring the 80th birthday of Henrietta Szold, Zionist leader and founder of the Hadassah movement.
Around 13 W. Mount Vernon Place in Baltimore, all is astir. Antique dealers' trucks are pulling up in front of the huge town house mansion with its columned porch and enormous plate-glass windows. An auction is being readied to dispose of the belongings of the late Mrs. Henry Barton Jacobs, one-time queen of Baltimore society.
Mary Frick Garrett Jacobs and her mansion had long held sway in these parts, and nobody questioned her social eminence as the Mrs. Astor of Maryland. After the death of her first husband, Baltimore & Ohio Railroad tycoon Robert Garrett, she had married Henry Jacobs, the physician who had attended Garrett during his fatal disease.
Now, a decorous four years had passed since the very wealthy Mrs. Jacobs had died and that December week in 1940 the curious were about to charge, 4,000 strong, into her mansion for a look at the goodies.
Everything was to go under the auction hammer. "From the smallest porcelain doll to the Elizabethan paneling of the dining room, from the silver platters to the suits of tilting armor, the mansion was jammed with such items of inestimable value as to make one wonder if real people had ever lived in it," wrote a rapt Sun reporter. For 25 cents, you could see it all on exhibition. If you came to the auction ($1.10 admission), you would get a dollar back if you bought something.
Sam Pattison Auctioneers would move the thousands of mansion items as New York's Parke Bernet auction house stood by cooperating in the sale.
The Sun's reporter took one look at the loot crowding dozens of rooms and noticed that "there was a fair sprinkling of detectives in subdued evidence" but that the "magnificent oriental rugs were hardly noticed by the visitors."
It took three days to clean out the place, with the $77,675 in proceeds going to Mary Frick Garrett Jacobs' charities: the Garrett Hospital Fund and Uplands Episcopal Home.
Most items sold would bring in $30 or $40, but there were also things that moved at what amounted to sizzling prices in this last and least-pinched year of the Great Depression.
Visitors oohed and aahed over items like Mrs. Jacobs' Japanese brown lacquer carrying chair, her artworks and the eclectic riot of her possessions, things Gothic, Renaissance, baroque and rococo, as well as things from the Tudor, Elizabethan, Louis XV, Empire, Georgian, Chinese, Louis XIV and Queen Anne periods.
The mayor's son, Carle Jackson, and his wife, the diva Rosa Ponselle, purchased the majority of the glassware, and M. S. Shapiro paid $375 for 13 hand-painted Copeland dinner plates. A tablecloth 21 by 18 feet brought $200. Then they brought out the whole nine yards, a piece that long and five yards wide, done in rose point and torchon lace. L. M. Hendler, the ice cream king, bought it for $225.
A Limoges dinner set went to J. M. Nicodemus for $110. Acting for the boards of both the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Gallery, Philip Perlman bid successfully for some of the mansion's more authentic treasures, including a 15th century Madonna and child in the form of a folding screen for $700 and a 17th century terra cotta statue of Venus for $440.
Jane J. Cook bought a portrait of Queen Henrietta Maria of England, for whom Maryland was named, and presented it immediately to the Maryland Historical Society. One of the smallest sales of the day brought in $10 for a marble bust of John W. Garrett, Mrs. Jacobs' father-in-law and the famed president of the B&O Railroad. It was bought by a Mr. Kirby.
Soon after the auction, the mansion opened as a funeral home. Today it is the Engineers' Club. *