Kemp Carroll Gatling, 89, managed Baltimore hotels

January 03, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Kemp Carroll Gatling, a former Baltimore hotelman who during his long career managed such well-known hostelries as the Emerson, the Lord Baltimore and the Stafford, died Saturday of a stroke at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. He was 89 and lived in Rodgers Forge.

During his 46-year career in the hotel business, Mr. Gatling combined genuine Southern hospitality with an unflappable disposition and willingness to please guests, whether the prominent or just ordinary travelers.

"He was a small man and well-tailored. He liked people, and in that business, you have to like people," said E. Nelson Wareheim Jr., of Baltimore, former president of the H.W. Wright & Co. wholesale liquor distributorship and a friend of 50 years.

Born in Conway, N.C., and raised in Portsmouth, Va., where he graduated from high school, Mr. Gatling was a great-nephew of Richard Jordan Gatling, who in 1862 designed the Gatling gun.

He began his career in 1927 as an "elevator boy" at the Monticello Hotel in Norfolk, Va. One of his first celebrity assignments there was handling the luggage of Harry K. Thaw, a Pittsburgh millionaire playboy who created a sensation in 1906 when he murdered architect Stanford White at the roof garden of New York's old Madison Square Garden.

The architect was a former lover of Thaw's wife, Evelyn Nesbit, who became known as "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing."

"He was strange but very polite," Mr. Gatling said of Thaw in a 1997 interview in The Sun.

Mr. Gatling arrived at the 425-room Emerson in 1936 as a room clerk. He rose through the ranks and was named manager in 1959. His tenure at the Emerson was interrupted by his service during World War II as a Coast Guard radar operator.

In 1963, he was named vice president and manager of both the Lord Baltimore, at Baltimore and Hanover streets, and the Emerson, which stood on the northwest corner of Calvert and Baltimore streets.

The latter closed in 1969 and was demolished in 1971.

The Emerson's unofficial historian, he liked telling guests about founder Isaac E. Emerson, whose development of Bromo Seltzer as a headache remedy turned him into a multimillionaire.

"One legend holds that he built the Emerson, `a hotel where I can wear what I want to,' after he had been asked to put on a coat he had taken off at the Belvedere on a hot day," Mr. Gatling said in a 1971 interview for The Sunday Sun Magazine.

Another favorite story concerned the Emerson's roof garden, presided over by the hotel's housekeeper, who arranged it with flowers and shallow pools containing lilies and tadpoles that matured into frogs.

"And this explains why, now and again, some mighty surprised people on the sidewalks, 17 stories down, thought frogs were dropping out of the sky. I heard that one hysterical woman had to fish one of the little green rascals out of her decolletage, but I didn't see it happen, so I cannot confirm the story," Mr. Gatling said in the magazine interview.

One of his prized possessions was a hotel register containing signatures of such guests as Charles A. Lindbergh, Mrs. Herbert Hoover, Warren G. Harding, Helen Keller and Alben W. Barkley.

The Emerson was local headquarters for the Democratic Party, and during her husband's 1960 presidential campaign, Jacqueline Kennedy stopped there.

"She was very charming. I remember her flopping on one of our big sofas in her suite and kicking off her shoes," Mr. Gatling said. "I later made a scotch and water for her."

In 1965, Mr. Gatling was named manager of the Stafford Hotel in Mount Vernon Place, a position he held until its closing and his retirement in 1973.

"I got to know lots of nice people during my career," he told a reporter. "Remember, when you're coming into contact with 200 or 300 people a day, and you do that over and over again, you've met a couple of million people during your lifetime."

Mr. Gatling's marriage to the former Magdalene Mary Myers ended in divorce.

A memorial service will be held at 10:45 a.m. Saturday at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 5701 Loch Raven Blvd.

He is survived by a daughter, M. Carroll Gatling of Hagerstown; a sister, Bruce Payne Kaufman of Lucedale, Miss.; and a niece.

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