Church honors the dead at historic cemetery

May 28, 1991|By Robert A. Erlandson

For more than a century, Green Mount Cemetery was the burial place of Baltimore's rich and powerful, nearly 1,500 of them members of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, and yesterday the church remembered.

When Carl F. Bessent, of Guilford, Emmanuel's historian, found himself "the only living person" in Green Mount last year on Memorial Day, he vowed "next year will be different; Emmanuel Church will be here."

It was. More than 60 parishioners turned out in yesterday's heat for a Memorial Day tribute -- not to warriors fallen in battle -- but to two of the 11 rectors who have led Emmanuel since its founding in 1852, 13 years after the cemetery opened.

Then they sought the cool shade of full-leafed oak and maple trees among the grave markers near the rugged stone St. Andrews Society monument to dead Scots to spread their blankets for an old-fashioned church picnic.

"Why have a holiday without fellowship?" Mr. Bessent remarked.

For the 72-year-old former national president-general of the Sons of the American Revolution, it was his debut as a tour guide. He called it "Greats of Emmanuel in Green Mount."

And he had fun leading his group along the tree-shaded roads as he pointed out graves of interest among the 60,000-plus in the 68-acre walled cemetery.

Among them were: A. S. Abell, founder of The Baltimore Sun; Johns Hopkins, he of the university and hospital; Enoch Pratt and Moses Sheppard, who founded a library and a private mental hospital between them; William and Henry Walters, of art gallery fame -- and Betsy Patterson Bonaparte, Napoleon's rejected sister-in-law.

The infamous also have their place. John Wilkes Booth, Lincoln's assassin, is buried in Green Mount, and Mike Tuitt, the supervisor, said his grave is the most asked about of all.

As the pilgrimage progressed, Mr. Bessent proved an entertaining raconteur, with anecdotes about many of the famous people whose graves he pointed out, such as Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston, who had ordered that no one attend him to the cemetery. As his family stood, bewildered, trying to figure how to get his coffin from the carriage to the grave, six of his former soldiers marched over the hill and did the job. "They disobeyed orders and that's how they got him buried," Mr. Bessent said.

Then at the extreme northern edge of the city at Greenmount and North avenues, Green Mount never discriminated in accepting burials but a grave plot cost $100, a lot of money in the 19th century, Mr. Bessent said.

"The people buried here had the money. A lot them are Scotch-Irish who came here with nothing and made a lot."

Many of those fortunes were grounded in the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, Mr. Bessent said, adding that "the bankruptcy of the B&O in 1895 marked the decline of Baltimore. Look at Baltimore before and after 1895."

Yesterday held special interest for Elizabeth Worcester, of the 5200 block of Falls Road.

A descendant of Robert Oliver, the merchant whose former estate the cemetery occupies, Mrs. Worcester said, "I think it's a splendid idea. Baltimore has so much history, and there's so much to see here. I'm really glad we came today."

Emmanuel's rector, the Rev. Thomas Culbertson, said Mr. Bessent is researching the first full-scale history of Emmanuel Church, and yesterday's "unique' Memorial Day jaunt "ties in with the history of our church."

Green Mount is a vast display of Victorian funeral sculpture, mausoleums, ornate crosses, angels, urns, obelisks and classical statues, as well as simple inscribed grave markers and tombstones.

The marble tomb of Johns Hopkins is covered with a plastic shield to protect the ornately sculpted flowers and stalks of wheat from further erosion from acid in the atmosphere.

After a couple of hours of inspecting graves, Mr. Bessent's group, and one led by Wayne Schaumberg, a teacher who leads walking tours of Green Mount for the City Life Museums, met at the Whitridge family plot -- which contains the grave of Olivia Cushing Whitridge, who died at age 2 in 1839 and was the first person buried in Green Mount.

Dr. Culbertson -- dressed for the occasion in green polo shirt, khaki shorts and white athletic shoes -- recalled the Rev. James Houston Eccleston, the fourth rector, as one of America's earliest traffic victims. His horse-drawn carriage was struck by an automobile and he died April 1, 1911, the rector said.

Dr. Culbertson prayed, one hand on the sculptured Celtic cross that marks Mr. Eccleston's grave, as a wreath of boxwood greens tied with red, white and blue ribbons was placed.

As the group continued, interspersed with Mr. Bessent's observations, it reached the granite and marble hillside mausoleum where the Rev. Henry VanDyke Johns, Emmanuel's first rector, was entombed in 1859. After brief prayers, a beribboned wreath was laid against the iron door grill.

"It was very different. Many of us really enjoyed reading the old headstones" and it could mark the start of a new tradition, of Emmanuel's congregation doing something together on Memorial Day, said Pat Jones, of Dickeyville, the church's social worker.

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