Hearing voices of founders, slaves

Tour gives sample of sites, sounds along Baltimore's Heritage Walk

October 23, 2006|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

Drink two glasses of Madeira wine, and take a cold bath every morning. Ride a horse for 10 to 12 miles, and hit the hay by 9 p.m. Develop good reading habits, and don't waste time on frivolity.

Those were the words of advice from Charles Carroll of Carrollton, signer of the Declaration of Independence, as he led a group of visitors through his home.

Follow those guidelines, and you too might live a long life, said Louis Collins, a restorationist and self-described scholar with a passion for history, who assumed the role of Maryland's "last aristocrat" yesterday at the Carroll Mansion on Lombard Street.

The mansion was the starting point for a living-history tour - an abbreviated version of a 20-site route that makes up Heritage Walk, a 3.2-mile pedestrian trail of historic sites that starts at the Inner Harbor and runs through Jonestown and the city center. Marked with bronze discs in its sidewalks, the walk aims to draw Baltimoreans to their city's history - and a part of Baltimore that often goes unexplored, said Krista Green, assistant director of Historic Jonestown Inc., an association of community groups, cultural institutions and businesses in the Jonestown area.

"We've got all these great institutions just right here, and people aren't coming," Green said. A $5,000 grant from Free Fall Baltimore enabled Heritage Walk to host Living History Weekend this weekend. Green hopes the program and other events at Jonestown establishments will open Baltimoreans' eyes to the abundant sights in the neighborhood.

Yesterday, a dozen or so people were led through a handful of rooms in the mansion - the drawing and dining rooms and library - as they listened to Carroll's story and asked questions.

"Has anyone tried to dissuade you from marrying your cousin?" asked Herb Nassau, 67, a visitor from Paramus, N.J. Nassau was referring to Carroll's marriage to relation Mary "Molly" Darnall, who bore seven children before her death.

"Not at all," replied Carroll, whose white hair was pulled into a ponytail. "Molly is a very, very sweet lady. I often thought myself, had I had the seven children, I would have been dead myself."

Carroll's appearance was just one of a few presentations during the two-hour tour from the Carroll Mansion to the Jewish Museum of Maryland, the Phoenix Shot Tower and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture on Pratt Street.

At the Jewish Museum of Maryland, an actress portraying a Ukrainian immigrant stepped out to greet the group.

"At 17, I left home and family ... to come to a new land. A land of golden opportunity," said the actress, Katherine Lyons, in accented English. She had pulled a headscarf over her black, pinned-up hair and wrapped a flowered shawl around her shoulders to portray Ida Rehr, who emigrated from her village in 1913.

She recounted Rehr's story, from her escape from pogroms in Ukraine to her two-week journey in the foul-smelling belly of a ship. She did it all to make a better life in America, she said.

"My children and my children's children shall know freedom," Rehr told her audience, before wishing them "mazel tov" and sending them to their next stop, the Phoenix Shot Tower.

For tour participant Harvey Aefsky, 55, of Columbia, Rehr's story struck a chord: His father's parents were also from Ukraine, he said, and came to the United States about 1918.

At the African-American history museum - the final stop - the group heard a message similar to Rehr's in its emphasis on freedom, this time from a slave. Dressed in a long blue skirt and apron, her head wrapped in a scarf, Shindana Cooper portrayed a woman who walked to freedom with Harriet Tubman on the Underground Railroad.

"To this day, people don't know that Maryland is the last southern state going North," Cooper said. "They don't know that they're still in the South."

She then told her audience of a girl's escape from slavery - and the signals slaves developed to alert each other when they were planning a meeting or about to flee.

"We had signal songs," Cooper said. "You know about those signal songs, don't you? ... You know it, I want to hear you sing it."

The group was silent, uncertain.

"Oh, when the saints ... " Cooper began to sing. The tour's participants laughed and readily joined in, singing the tune.

Many of those on the tour said it was a fine way to learn some history.

"It's great," said John Segall, 58, who came with his wife, Gloria. "You forget about history in your day-to-day life. But when you get an opportunity, it just rings some bells."

A Baltimore native, Segall said the tour reminded him of his civics classes in school.

"It's a good thing to support all the institutions in Baltimore," Gloria Segall added. "You really don't take the time to be a tourist in your own city. ... It's right in your own backyard."

That's the message Historic Jonestown hopes more Baltimoreans will catch onto, Green said.

arin.gencer@baltsun.com

More information can be found at www.heritagewalk.org.

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