The qualities of Carrolls Reunion: Gathering highlights family's features -- from noses to penchant for saving.

September 21, 1997|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

While 127 members of the fabled Carroll family spread out for lunch yesterday on the lawn of the Homewood mansion at the Johns Hopkins University, museum curators and tour guides looked on at a distance and observed in reverent tones, "There's the Carroll nose."

The facial feature they believed they spotted on the grandchildren belonged first to Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1831), Maryland's esteemed signer of the Declaration of Independence who lived so long he laid the cornerstone of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

The Carroll lineage endures today through his prolific line -- 1,248 known descendants -- who fill 24 single-spaced pages of a family genealogy. The name is so respected that it turns up in the name of a Maryland county, on roadside markers and on dozens of schools, roads, streets and creeks.

Carrolls from as far away as Asia and New York City's Ozone Park converged on Homewood, a grand and stylish country house constructed in 1801 on what is today the grounds of Hopkins' Homewood campus at Charles and 34th streets. They were joined by dozens of Maryland Carrolls, who still live in ancient family homesteads.

"We're celebrating what the Carrolls stood for in Maryland -- family, faith and freedom. They stood for freedom of choice, assembly and conscience," said Charles Carroll Carter, a Washingtonian who heads the restoration effort at the Carroll house on Duke of Gloucester Street in Annapolis.

"The Carrolls used to be farmers and lawyers. Today they seem to be bankers and doctors," said Robert Goodloe Harper Carroll 3d, a Pratt & Whitney vice president who lives in North Palm Beach, Fla. He grew up on a Howard County farm owned by his family since the 1700s and said a cohesion remarkable for its affection and strength bonds the blood members together.

"We are a tremendously tight family. As children, we swam together, we went to church together," he said.

Christiana Wittenborn, who flew in from Singapore for the gathering of her Carroll cousins, put that unity another way: "The Carrolls have the ability not to take ourselves too seriously.

"Everybody likes each other a lot. The family is essential. And we hold on to things. The Carrolls are great hoarders. We keep things clothing, books, silver, furniture. I was married at the Basilica [of the Assumption in Baltimore] in my great-grandmother's wedding dress. It wasn't my idea to start saving. I learned it within my family," she said.

While there are Carrolls who live in Rodgers Forge in Baltimore County, Carrolls in Annapolis, Carrolls in Ruxton, Cockeysville and Ellicott City, there is also the branch who visited Baltimore from Europe.

It was at those tables where the guests spoke French. And those guests who carry titles of European nobility.

These European Carrolls are descended from Anita Carroll, a 19th-century family member whose brothers included a Maryland governor, John Lee Carroll, and a Confederate Army officer, Robert Goodloe Harper Carroll. Anita married a French nobleman, and her line thrives today in various manor houses along the French-Belgian border and in the outskirts of Brussels.

Her descendants, including the Countess Elizabeth de la Boessiere-Thiennes and her sister, Countess Nathalie, lunched on chicken sandwiches and lemon bars.

"I can understand the difficulties of restoring an old building. My chateau is of the Directoire period [the 1790s] and it too requires much upkeep," said Countess Nathalie as she pointed toward Homewood. Her estate is in Sebourg, near the French-Belgian border.

The two sisters' mother, known within the family as the Baroness, spent part of Saturday walking from table to table in a tent under a canopy of tulip poplar trees just beyond Homewood's north entrance. Hopkins students, on their way to the library or the "Beach," the lawn on the mansion's south side, seemed oblivious to the gathering.

The Baroness' grandson, Marc-Eric Janssen, 31, is a London-based banker, though he, too, maintains a residence, La Garenne, some 12 miles from Brussels.

His impressions of Maryland were favorable indeed.

On Friday, he and his sister, Gaelle, and brother, Kosta, visited the Basilica of the Assumption at Cathedral and Mulberry street, constructed by another illustrious family member, Bishop John Carroll.

"It was an honor to be received by Cardinal Keeler. He is very charismatic. He is also a nice man," Janssen said.

One component of the Carroll reunion was the 13 grandchildren of Mary Clarita Carroll, one of the family's many matriarchs, who lived until 1961 at another Homewood, a Howard County estate.

"We all loved to ride -- we called it hacking -- especially on Thanksgiving morning. There would be the blessing of the hounds and we'd take off. Those who couldn't ride went along in a beat-up World War II Jeep.

"Those Thanksgivings were important. With grandmother's permission, you would bring a guest." Robert Carroll said. "If the outside person survived the family at one of those meals, he or she could be admitted into the family by marriage,"

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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