A monument is rescued from the march of progress

May 29, 2004|By Jacques Kelly

I WAS OUT on one of my early walks this week when I spotted a construction crew from the venerable iron works of G. Krug & Sons. There, at the northwest corner of Mount Royal Terrace and North Avenue, the guys were restoring cast-iron ornamental cannonballs around the base of the city's Mexican War Monument.

Who knew Baltimore had a monument to William H. Watson, a Baltimorean who was a West Point graduate and who died in the Battle of Monterey?

The monument historian William S. Rusk tells us that after Watson's death, he was given a military funeral of considerable pomp and is recalled in James Ryder Randall's poem, Maryland, My Maryland.

The monument, like so many in Baltimore, got moved because it was in the way of automobile traffic. It originally stood near the Maryland Institute College of Art, but when upper Howard Street, fresh with new paint and graffiti, was cut through and built in the middle 1930s, the monument took a four-block trip northward, where it now reposes, behind some trees and the stately Druid Hill Park entrance gates.

Presumably the ornamental cannonballs, once grouped on granite bases around the memorial, never made the trip. Where the originals went is one of those unsolved urban mysteries.

Calvin Buikema, a long-time Mount Royal Terrace resident and former head of city parks, came up with a supply of antique cannonballs (these were never intended for military use) for the project. He and a neighbor, Dan Sellers, underwrote the $3,000 restoration. They also hope to fix the mortars at the base of the 1903 memorial.

According to the history books, the monument is 32 feet high and was the work of Maryland Institute-Rinehart School of Sculpture's Edward Berge. It was given by the Mexican War Veterans, a group that must have dug deeply into their pockets some 50-odd years after the 1846-1848 conflict. There are bronze plaques on its base memorializing the names of fallen heroes.

Other developments on Mount Royal Avenue are not as happy as the Watson Monument. The wreckers have now polished off the street's Odorite Building, several blocks to the east. It's now a depressing hole and will doubtless be replaced by a new, bland building, in the style of so many of the other new, bland Mount Royal Avenue replacement structures.

So it's good to see someone taking a positive interest in a landmark on this wonderful, if traffic-battered, street.

In fact, the Mount Royal Terrace people, ever a tenacious group, have claimed discarded monuments of Baltimore's past. When the beautiful Calvert Street Bridge over Jones Falls was axed up when I was a child, one of the stone classical female sculptures was moved to Mount Royal Terrace, where it now reposes in peaceful sanctuary.

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