Group marks anniversary of Johns Hopkins' death

Relatives, employees of school, hospital leave pennies at his grave

December 25, 2003|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

On his way to an important fund-raising meeting a few years back, Mike Morsberger decided to stop off at Green Mount Cemetery to visit the grave of Johns Hopkins, founder of the university and hospital.

Morsberger, director of development for the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, was about to ask a donor for a $1 million gift and felt he could use a little luck.

"I drove by the cemetery every day coming to work, and that morning I decided to stop in, looking for some help," Morsberger recalled. "I left a penny on his marker, and later that day I got the million dollars."

Since then, leaving pennies at the foot of the marble marker for Hopkins, who died Christmas Eve 1873, has become a whimsical good luck gesture.

Morsberger and a few of his colleagues left eight pennies yesterday after he and a group of about 15 Hopkins university and hospital officials, some retired, met to continue another tradition -- visiting Hopkins' hilltop gravesite on the anniversary of his death.

In a driving rain, they stood beneath umbrellas and raised their voices above the rain pounding the pavement nearby and told stories of Hopkins' life as if they had all known him.

"Most of us don't know much about our ancestors because we don't care, and by the time we get interested, all the old people with the knowledge start to die," said James E.T. Hopkins, 88, great-great-nephew of Johns Hopkins. "So I think it is a good idea for people to come together like this and remember him."

Ross Jones, a Johns Hopkins University vice president emeritus, started the Christmas Eve visits in 1973, the 100th anniversary of Hopkins' death. The group doesn't meet every year, but Jones says he hopes it will.

"You can never forget someone like this, and I just think it is important to do this," Jones said.

At the brief ceremony, Jones related a little-known fact about Hopkins, a banker who contributed land he owned for a hospital and a university.

"Johns Hopkins made his own whiskey," Jones told those gathered, who laughed. "It was called Hopkins' Best."

A few of those present yesterday will be back May 19, Hopkins' birthday, for another event. They'll do much the same as they did yesterday, only they will probably bring cake, sing "Happy Birthday" and bring a bottle of whiskey with a fake label that reads "Hopkins' Best."

"His legacy is set forever," said Morsberger, who also takes part in the birthday gatherings. "This is just a small thing we can do to remember him."

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