Room isn't big enough for all 60 governors

Glendening portrait arrival means farewell, Harrington

January 10, 2003|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,SUN STAFF

ANNAPOLIS - Emerson C. Harrington has left the room.

He - his likeness, anyway - had been here as long as anyone, hanging, like those of other recent governors, from the centuries-old walls of the governor's reception room in the State House.

Under Harrington's slightly bemused gaze, new governors' portraits have come, old governors' portraits have gone, and some governors' portraits have come and gone and come again. As one might expect in a room that mixes politics and portraiture - both exercises in vanity, arguably - there have been a few little controversies over the years, and a whole lot of spackling and hammering.

With the unveiling yesterday of Parris N. Glendening's official portrait, another more local ritual continued as well: the moving of the portraits.

Maryland, since statehood, has elected 60 governors, and there is space on the reception room walls for only a fifth of them. As a result, the exhibit, around since the 1970s, includes the most recent dozen or so governors, arranged in reverse chronological order.

"When you get too many in there, they look scrunched," said Elaine Rice-Bachman, curator of the state Commission on Artistic Property.

So, with the scheduled hanging of an outgoing governor's portrait - usually immediately after he leaves office - comes a shuffling in the reception room. All other portraits are moved down a space, and the oldest governor in the room is removed, destined for a less prestigious spot or, worse yet, storage.

This time, when the dust cleared, it was Harrington who was gone - onetime school teacher, governor from 1916 to 1920, Democrat, backer of Prohibition and, if his official portrait is any indication, a man with inordinately large hands.

Ostensibly, the portrait shuffle should come every four to eight years, depending on whether a governor is re-elected. But, with governors getting indicted, exonerated, deemed un-wall-worthy or once again wall-worthy, the moving of the portraits happens more often, and sometimes less often.

When Marvin Mandel's second term was interrupted in 1977 by a racketeering conviction, work on his portrait had not begun - and it wouldn't until 16 years later, after he was exonerated. In 1993, it was finally put up.

Blair Lee III, who finished Mandel's term, serving as acting governor, never made the governor's reception room. His portrait can be found in the "Lieutenant Governor's Hallway."

Spiro T. Agnew, the former governor who resigned as Richard Nixon's vice president amid an investigation into kickbacks, was removed from the exhibit by Gov. Harry Hughes in 1979 but returned by Glendening in 1995. In fact, Glendening, saying it was not the state's place to sanitize history, had Agnew's portrait returned to the room even before he put up the portrait of his predecessor, William Donald Schaefer.

Glendening delayed its hanging nearly a year "just out of spite," Schaefer says. "Real governors make sure the portrait is put up immediately. You put the new portrait up and then move one out. That's how it's done.

"It was typical of him," added Schaefer, who has had a long-running feud with the departing governor. "Unfortunately, I'll be beside him for eternity now."

Actually, it could be for as little as 44 years. After the terms of Robert L. Ehrlich and 10 more governors, Schaefer's turn would come - assuming the state continues to display gubernatorial portraits in the same manner - to leave the room.

The rearranging of the portraits - whether done during a simple transition, to avoid embarrassment or to correct the historical record - is not as simple as moving everybody down to the next nail. Because the portraits are of varying sizes - they usually have to be re-centered, the old holes spackled and new ones drilled.

After three decades of hanging and re-hanging governors, it's getting harder to find a secure part of the wall in which to sink a nail. The governor's reception room is in the oldest part of the State House, built in the 1700s. The room is used for ceremonies, press conferences and meetings. When not in use, it is not regularly open to the public.

Three of the room's walls are dedicated to governors. The fourth features portraits of King Charles I of England; his queen, Henrietta Maria, whom Maryland is named after; George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore; and a fireplace with fake logs.

Squeezing the portraits into the room has gotten even more difficult due to the tendency of governors to want a bigger portrait than their predecessor. Since the 1970s, the portraits have been steadily growing.

"That happens to be true, and you can extrapolate your own meaning from that," said Rice-Bachman.

Mandel's portrait is bigger than Agnew's. Hughes' is bigger than Mandel's. Schaefer's is bigger than Hughes'. None, though, are as large as the portrait - now in state archives storage - of Thomas Holliday Hicks, governor during the Civil War. It is nearly 6 feet wide and 9 feet tall.

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