Nonagenarians recall their day of Old Glory

September 15, 1994|By JACQUES KELLY

The date was Sept. 14, 1914. All the eyes in Baltimore were fixed on Fort McHenry. It was the 100th anniversary of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

It was the day of the Human Flag. Thousands of school children, dressed in either red, white or blue, assembled on the side of a small hill near the fort's walls. They formed a living flag.

A few years ago, a Human Flag survivors club was formed to hold a reunion for the original participants. All eight of those able to make it met yesterday at the fort.


Let's call the group the Human Flag Octet:

* LaVerne Horton Beckstrom Smith, 90, was the third from the top in the flag. She was then a student at School 35 near the northern end of the Hanover Street Bridge in South Baltimore.

"There were 6,500 people in the flag. My mother said it was the most impressive sight she ever saw.

"Then something unplanned happened. Someone stood up. Then more stood up. It looked as if the flag were waving.

"After it was over, we each received a photo signed by Mayor Preston.

"I was in the red part and my mother made me a Little Red Riding Hood-style, cloth cape and hood. I kept it and my children used it for dress up. It's in the attic now. I guess it looks ratty," Mrs. Smith said.

* Gladys Cooper Stavely, 90, lives in Church Home, Bond Street near Fayette Street. She was 10 in 1914 and attended public school No. 99, the Columbus School, on Washington Street just above North Avenue.

"I was at the old Eastern High School [North Avenue and Broadway] when the Armistice was called in 1918. We were all hanging out the windows and marched across North Avenue and down Charles [Street]. Everybody gathered at the Sun Building," she said.

* Bertha Albeiker Zorn, 93, went to School 68 on Millington Lane. She grew up on the westside's old butchering district. Her father had stalls in the Cross Street, Hanover and Lexington markets. In 1994, as in 1914, she had on red, white and blue.

* Mildred Gorsuch Gipe, 92, went to school on Monroe Street. She was in the Human Flag's blue field. "The mothers sewed the parts together. They came to us already cut out," she said.

* Ella Napier Baker, 94, lived on Eden Street in East Baltimore. Her father was a police lieutenant. She was dressed in white. For her return to Fort McHenry, she wore lace around her collar and a cameo pin.

* Jeannette Peters Wetzelberger, 94, grew up in Oldtown and went to the school at Orleans and Aisquith streets that had served as Eastern High School.

"We would walk to a school in Little Italy to practice. We also met at the Fifth Regiment Armory, but on Sept. 14, we walked to the foot of Broadway, to the old ice breaker boat Latrobe to Fort McHenry. We got a sandwich to eat," she said.

* Sallie (Lillian) Edwards Shaumloeffel, 94, went to Oliver Cromwell School and lived on Boone Street. She wore a blue cape in 1914.

On Wednesday, she was accompanied by four generations of her family, including Samantha Lind, her great-granddaughter, who will be 1 year old tomorrow.

Mrs. Shaumloeffel lives in Chase, drives a car, mows the lawn and trims the hedges.

"My neighbors have a fit when I get the mower out. I bought one to ride but I didn't like it and gave it to my daughter. I did give up fishing and crabbing this year. It was just too hard to get in and out of my boat," she said.

* Mary Simon Dettmar, also 94, lives in the Westminster House at Charles and Centre streets. She left the Ridgely Street public school after the eighth grade, got a work permit and sewed BVDs in a factory.

She did not think much of this job and got a teaching certificate from Johns Hopkins University. As a teacher, she was paid half of what she made at the underwear plant. "Then I got married," she said.

The Human Flag Octet enjoyed a lunch of fried chicken, potato salad, slaw and iced tea. Dr. Edmund Beacham helped get them together. The lunch was prepared and served by William and Grace Goedeke, who live in Valley Meade.

"My mother Ruth and Aunt Ruth were both in the flag. They are both dead now and I wanted to do something in their memory," said Mr. Goedeke. The octet is looking forward to next year's reunion.

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