Jeanette Wetzelberger, 105, flag event participant

June 15, 2005|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Jeanette Wetzelberger, who at age 103 was evacuated from her longtime Middle River home during Tropical Storm Isabel, died in her sleep Thursday at Ivy Hall Assisted Living. She was 105.

Born Jeanette Peters in an Oldtown rowhouse at the corner of High and Low streets, she graduated from the eighth grade at Public School 116, then at Aisquith and Orleans streets.

"She remembered explicitly participating as a red stripe in the Living Flag celebration at Fort McHenry," said her daughter-in-law, Lorraine Koenigsmark Wetzelberger of Middle River. "She told me how Mayor James Preston presided that day, and she was one of 6,000 children from the sixth, seventh and eighth grades."

Jeanette Wetzelberger also recalled how she arrived at Fort McHenry. She sailed across the harbor aboard the municipal ice breaker, a steamboat called the Latrobe.

"She made many, many visits back to the fort for reunions of the original participants," her daughter-in-law said. "It was really an important feature of her life."

According to a memoir she dictated when she was in her early 90s, Mrs. Wetzelberger could remember cleaning oil lamps daily and scrubbing marble front steps. Her childhood home had no central heat, bathrooms or electricity. She also recalled the Bel Air Market, attending St. John's Roman Catholic Church and enjoying the annual April Fool's trick when firefighters at Engine Six would glue pennies to the sidewalk and watch pedestrians try to pick them up.

As a young woman, she worked at a candy stall at the Northeast Market on Monument Street. Mrs. Wetzelberger dipped chocolates and shook milkshakes by hand - and recalled having to keep the stall open late to accommodate State Theater customers.

While at the market, she met her future husband, William Wetzelberger Sr., who drove a delivery truck for his family's sausage and meat-packing business, Wetzelberger Brothers, founded in the early 19th century.

They married in 1921 and lived on Ellwood Avenue before buying what was then a summer house on Wilson Point in Middle River in 1936. More than 20 years ago, Mrs. Wetzelberger began living on the water year-round.

"In the summer, she had a keg of beer, steamed crabs, Wetzelberger hot dogs, corn on the cob and company all the time," her daughter-in-law said.

Her sons and grandchildren moved nearby.

Although Mrs. Wetzelberger lived on the water, she never learned to swim. She had a driver's license but did not operate a vehicle.

After her husband's death in 1962, Mrs. Wetzelberger lived independently until Isabel struck.

"I put her to bed that night and thought there would be no trouble - just another high tide," said her son, George Wetzelberger, who is in his 53rd year of making sausage and is employed at Caribbean Products in Hampden.

When the waters rose during the September 2003 storm, she was evacuated in an inflatable raft operated by a Baltimore police officer who lived in her neighborhood. The flooding heavily damaged her home, and she could not return to it. She moved into a nursing home.

Services were held Saturday in Essex.

In addition to her son, survivors include two other sons, William Wetzelberger Jr. of Middle River and Elmer Wetzelberger of Rosedale; nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. A son, Robert Wetzelberger, died in 1992.

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