A slice of history at a Hopkins site From 19th century: Two cemeteries -- one for the wealthy, the other for the indigent -- were discovered side by side this summer by archaeologists on a Johns Hopkins Hospital cancer center construction site

September 26, 1995|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,SUN STAFF

Archaeologists have found two long-forgotten graveyards, one for some of Baltimore's most prominent families and the other for the city's desperately poor, sideby side under a construction site at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The early 19th-century cemeteries were discovered early this summer as archaeologists began digging at the site. Since then, about 275 graves have been found, and by one estimate the once-hallowed ground may yield the fragmentary remains of as many as 1,000 individuals.

City and state archaeologists say the discovery might produce important new evidence about the health, diet and culture of Baltimoreans, black as well as white, living in the early years of the American republic. One compared it with the discovery, in 1991, of the 18th-century African Burial Ground in lower Manhattan.

Hopkins officials hope to begin construction soon on their $97.7 million Comprehensive Cancer Care Center at the site, which for about the past 35 years has been a parking lot. But before Hopkins can begin digging the foundation, it must, under state law, remove and rebury the remains.

Because Hopkins is receiving state aid for the center, it must also consider the effect of the project on the historic property. In negotiations with state officials, the hospital has agreed to pay for a forensic anthropologist to examine some of the bones.

Sally MacConnell, vice president of facilities for Hopkins Hospital, said she hoped to coordinate construction at the site around additional excavations "so that the building itself will not be significantly delayed." The 146-bed center is scheduled to be finished in early 1998.

"We're very excited about the possibility of building a new cancer center, which we very much need," Ms. MacConnell said.

She said she couldn't estimate the cost of removing, studying and reburying the remains until she knows how many there are. Another Hopkins official said the price tag would be "substantial."

The planned anthropological study offers a rare chance to compare and contrast the health, diet and demographic mix of a city's elite with its underclass, said Beth Cole, administrator of archaeological services at the state's Maryland Historical Trust.

"There are very few opportunities to look at two populations like this," she said.

L Only selected remains will be examined by an anthropologist.

Louise E. Akerson, archaeological curator of the Baltimore City Life Museums, said the eastern edge of the site, used for burials from 1797 to 1836, was part of one of the city's three potter's fields -- the last resting places for the homeless and the indigent. It may, she said, contain a significant number of slaves.

The bulk of that graveyard, Ms. Cole said, probably was destroyed in the 1960s when Hopkins built a high-rise parking garage.

There were some surprises. "There's evidence they were burying people in coffins at the potter's field, which you don't always find," she added.

Besides bone fragments, excavators have recovered pieces of decayed coffins, clay pipes and a fragment of headstone.

Hopkins has hired Redd Funeral Services of Baltimore to rebury the remains, Ms. MacConnell said. The hospital will provide separate caskets for the bones from each grave, and the remains will be reburied at Oak Lawn Cemetery.

A monument, perhaps a bronze plaque, will be erected as a memorial.

Analysis of the remains should take about a year, Ms. Akerson said. Then the rest of the bones will be reinterred.

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