Charles J. Henn, father of quadruplets

Births received national attention for family of bookbinder and World War II veteran

  • Charles Henn Jr. (center) and his wife, Dorothy Henn, shortly after their quads were born in December 1946 at St. Agnes Hospital. The couple gained national attention.
Charles Henn Jr. (center) and his wife, Dorothy Henn, shortly… (Baltimore Sun 1946 )
April 02, 2011|By Jacques Kelly, The Baltimore Sun

Charles J. Henn, a Catonsville bookbinder and World War II veteran who became the subject of national attention in 1946 when he fathered quadruplets, a 1-in-600,000 medical chance, died Monday of lung disease at Summit Park Health and Rehabilitation in Catonsville.

He was 92.

The story of the quads drew President Harry S. Truman's daughter to the Henns' Catonsville home along with newsreel photographers and reporters from Life, Look and the Saturday Evening Post.

The news broke in November 1946 when an X-ray taken at the Medical Arts Building on Cathedral Street predicted the births — an event eagerly awaited in Baltimore for nearly a month before the quadruplets were born.

Mr. Henn said at the time he had $30 in savings, and he and his wife were living with his parents on Bloomingdale Avenue in Catonsville.

"Don't worry about it. We'll get along," he told his wife in an Evening Sun account.

Mr. Henn, who was born in Baltimore and raised on Stafford Street and in Halethorpe, attended Irvington Elementary and Gwynns Falls Junior High School and dropped out of Mergenthaler Vocational School in the ninth grade so he could help support his family. He was the eldest of nine.

In May 1941, he was drafted into the Army. A staff sergeant in an infantry division, he was wounded twice in a half-hour while fighting at the Siegfried Line in Germany during World War II.

He was sent to Maastricht in the Netherlands for surgery and then shipped to England for two more operations. He spent four months in a military hospital and was sent back to the front the week the war ended in Europe. He carried shrapnel in his right thigh throughout his life. He was classified as 60 percent disabled, family members said.

While in England, he met his future wife, Dorothy Geast, at a Red Cross dance. They married in London, and their first child, a son, was born in a converted castle outside London. She and their first-born sailed aboard the Queen Mary and arrived in Baltimore in 1946.

"Returning home from the war was very much of an experience. Meeting his English wife when she arrived in this country five months after he did, with the son he had never seen, was even more of an experience," an Evening Sun article said.

In the early evening of Dec. 22, 1946, Dr. Thomas S. Bowyer delivered the quadruplets at St. Agnes Hospital. Three boys arrived first. A girl, Joan Mary, was the last. Born two months prematurely, they lived to be healthy adults.

The Baltimore Sun's account said the first baby arrived at 6:45 p.m. and the last at 7:40. Mr. Henn had come to the hospital earlier in the day and was surprised to find his wife's room empty. He was taken to the delivery room, where he found her reading a book.

"Here's at least one girl for the Henn family," his wife was quoted as saying at the time of the births. She then asked for a cup of tea.

The next day, a Monday, he was given a day off by his employer. At 1 p.m., Mr. Henn went on a local radio show and was given a $100 bill, a ham, a wristwatch, a washing machine and four gold rings for the babies, among other gifts.

Donations came in from milk companies. Sam Pistorio, a builder, constructed a Cape Cod house on Park Drive for the Henns at cost. Mr. Henn had paid earlier for the land.

"The news reporters were bad enough, but when Margaret Truman, the president's daughter, arrived with a bunch of Washington society women, it was too much. There were fur coats everywhere. I thought the house would collapse," said a son, John Henn of Halethorpe, who was born before the quads.

News articles said Mr. Henn made about $200 a month working at Monumental Printing and later at the John D. Lucas Co. He set up machinery for magazine printing.

"We were never poor, we were never rich. We able to take one-week vacations at Rehoboth Beach," his son said.

Mr. Henn retired about 30 years ago and spent time in Virginia Beach, where he enjoying fishing at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. He also enjoyed hunting.

His wife died Dec. 22, 1986, on the 40th anniversary of the quads' birth.

"My mother always hated the publicity," John Henn said. "She was a private person."

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the Sterling-Ashton-Witzkie Funeral Home, 1630 Edmondson Ave. in Catonsville.

In addition to his son, survivors include three sons, Thomas J. Henn of Colorado Springs, Colo., Donald J. Henn of Sparrows Point and Bruce Henn of Towson; four brothers, Albert Henn and Walter Henn, both of Baltimore, and Edward Henn and John Henn, both of Florida; two sisters, Margaret Gorman and Mary Haver, both of Sykesville; 13 grandchildren; 13 great-grandchildren; and three great-great-granddaughters. His daughter, Joan Mary Henn, died in 2000.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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