Linthicum portrait reaches its subject's alma mater NORTH COUNTY--Linthicum * Ferndale * Brooklyn Park * Pumphrey

April 09, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

It took 13 years for John Charles Linthicum to persuade his fellow Congressmen to declare "The Star-Spangled Banner" the

national anthem.

But it took 97 years and a quirk of fate to get his portrait hung at his alma mater -- Towson State University, where a hall housing the university's College of Liberal Arts already had been named for him.

Yesterday, the late Mr. Linthicum and his descendants, including 86-year-old nephew Sweetser Linthicum, were honored at a reception at TSU's alumni house, where the portrait now rests.

"It was a lovely reception and all the relatives showed up," Sweetser Linthicum said. "I know the portrait's going to be in good hands now. I really feel good about that."

The portrait had hung in Washington, along with portraits of other members of the House of Representatives, where Mr. Linthicum, a Democrat, served from 1911 until his death in 1932.

What happened to the portrait after it was displayed in the House of Representatives is still a mystery, although the Linthicums note that portraits are routinely rotated and sometimes sold.

"About three years ago, I got a call in Tucson from Dorr Tippers [a family friend] out on Gibson Island, and he said a Baltimore auction house was going to auction off a portrait of Congressman Linthicum and he thought I should know," recalled Seth H. Linthicum Jr., 73, another nephew of the late Mr. Linthicum and a resident of Tucson.

Seth Linthicum immediately called his cousin Sweetser, who had always been interested in genealogy. Sweetser Linthicum gathered his two sisters and assorted family members and went the auction.

"Sure enough, they had the portrait on the wall, but no frame," he said, noting other long-lost Linthicum relatives came to the auction "in case no one else did, to keep the portrait in the family."

The auctioneer would not say who was putting the painting up for sale.

Seth Linthicum's brother-in-law, Paul Wildman, was put in charge of the bidding and fended off a minor challenge from a nonfamily member. An artist, Mr. Wildman also was put in charge of repairing the painting.

Seth and Sweetser Linthicum paid "a substantial amount" for the portrait, and for two years it hung in the latter's home in Linthicum, the suburb named for his forebears. But last year, the cousins began wondering what would become of the portrait in the future.

"We had several other places under consideration, but I said, well, J. Charles loved Towson State because it was the first college he graduated from," Sweetser Linthicum said.

J. Charles Linthicum, TSU Class of 1886, served in the General Assembly from 1903 until 1911. He also earned degrees from the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland law school.

"But of all the schools he loved Towson best," Sweetser said. "He and Helen [his second wife] gave quite a bit of money to the old school, and he was instrumental in moving it out to Towson, where it is today."

J. Charles had no children. Of all the nephews, Sweetser perhaps felt closest to his uncle.

"I got out of college in the Depression years, and he told me about a job as a guide in the [U.S.] Capitol building. We gave tours at 25 cents apiece, and at the end of the day the guides would divide up the money," Sweetser Linthicum recalled.

"Then I talked to him about going to law school at Georgetown University, and he financed me. I paid him back, but he was that kind that made loans to people and never expected to be paid back."

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