They've wiped us off the map


December 24, 2006|By LAURA VOZZELLA

National Geographic has news for Baltimore: You're Nowheresville. The magazine with the yellow borders and voice of earthly authority has just tucked a pullout world map inside its pages, and in it, Baltimore gets a big, fat cartographic snub.

Idaho Falls, Idaho (pop. 51,000), rates a little black dot. Yuma, Ariz. (pop. 89,000), gets a shout out, too. But Baltimore, pop. 635,815? Good ol' Natty Geo never heard of the place.

Sure, Charm City sits in a crowded corridor, where it's hard to squeeze in much more than state capitals. And yes, Annapolis made the cut.

But wiping Baltimore off the National Geographic map is unthinkable because for years - decades and decades, actually - the city appeared there not once, but twice. Baltimore showed up where you'd expect, on the East Coast of the United States. And again, by implication, in the lower right-hand corner: "Printed by A. Hoen & Co."

The printer, at Chester, Chase and Biddle streets in East Baltimore, was "the premier cartographic printer in the U.S.," said Townsend Hoen, whose forebears started the firm in 1835. The company printed National Geographic maps from the time the magazine started making them - around the 1940s, Hoen believes - until the mid-1970s.

And when Hoen did the printing, Baltimore got its due.

"I don't think we even had to give it a second thought," he said. "Of course it was there. After all, their cartographic editors had to come to Baltimore to OK the press run. If there was any doubt, they could consult their own maps to see where it was."

National Geographic took its business elsewhere in 1976. The magazine planned to more than double its circulation, and the Baltimore printer couldn't handle that volume, Hoen said. The company closed four years later.

Hoen doesn't blame the magazine for the demise of the family business, where he was president from 1969 until the doors shut in 1980. He said he just couldn't compete with nonunion shops.

But Hoen doesn't mince words about the Charm City omission.

"I think they've made a gross error," he said. "I think the city hasn't slipped. I think their typographic and cartographic editors have slipped."

Hey, pick up the phone!

Baltimore has shrunk significantly since the days when Hoen printed National Geographic maps.

In 1976, the Census Bureau estimated the city's population at 837,600. The most recent estimate puts it at 635,815.

Is that why the city no longer merits a dot?

I called National Geographic's map division to try to find out. Nobody there bothered to return a call from The Nowheresville Sun.

A graveside Christmas

It's Christmas Eve, and for lots of people, that means last-minute shopping, gift wrapping, cookie baking and hall decking. A handful in Baltimore squeeze in one more activity: visiting the grave of Johns Hopkins.

While surely a bummer for the wealthy merchant, Hopkins' death on Dec. 24, 1873, was a boon to Baltimore and beyond. He left $7 million to start the hospital and university that bear his name.

"Without Johns Hopkins, I don't think the city of Baltimore or the state or the world would be what it is," said Ross Jones, who organizes the Christmas Eve pilgrimages to Green Mount Cemetery. The first was in 1973, to mark the 100th anniversary of Hopkins' death. Today's ceremony begins at 10 a.m.

Usually 10 to 20 people show. Some are distant relatives of Hopkins. Others are connected only through his namesake school or hospital. They lay a wreath, hear a few words about Hopkins, then get on with their busy days, said Jones, university vice president and secretary emeritus. It's not a bad turnout, considering everything else on the holiday plate.

Said Jones: "It's a heck of a time to ask anybody to go to a cemetery."

Ouch! That still smarts

Sun staffers should have a gathering of their own, to mark one of the darkest days in the paper's history: It was scooped, 133 years ago tomorrow, on news of Hopkins' death.

The paper had only itself to blame, for failing to tell the difference between Yuletide drunks and a guy with a hot tip.

"On Christmas Eve, the Sun had a skeleton staff and the door of the newsroom was locked to keep out holiday well-wishers, particularly celebrants," according to Harold Williams' book, The Baltimore Sun, 1837-1987. "Hopkins's physician sent a servant with a note to the Sun announcing the death, but he was turned away. ... The servant walked across the street to the American, where he was assured he had come to the right newspaper."

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