Military personnel and family members are buried at Baltimore… (Barbara Haddock Taylor,…)
The hauntingly beautiful greensward that straddles the city and Baltimore County lines along Frederick Avenue was dedicated 71 years ago this month. Called "Little Arlington," Baltimore National Cemetery is where Boy Scouts were to arrive this evening to begin the Memorial Day custom of placing small flags on all the graves of the military veterans and their spouses interred here.
Their graves are marked with uniform white tablets arranged in rows reminiscent of military formations. No one gets a larger stone; all are equal. They curve along the hills that seem to descend in the general direction of the Patapsco River. The effect is both theatrical and sobering, a dignified tribute to those who served their country.
I observed work crews keeping the place immaculate, orderly, military in bearing. I could not find a headstone out of place. A line of 1950s brick rowhouses just outside the property reminded me this is a very Baltimore place. Every so often, a visitor arrived; some sought help finding a grave; others knew just where their people rested. They paid their respects and gained the solace this place provides.
One morning this week, as I stood at a stone overlook, I thought of the name of the name of the estate that used to occupy this space — Cloud Capped. The May clouds were indeed capping the hill and seemed to touch the old oaks that make Baltimore National the remarkable place it is.
I located a holder of the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest service award, whose name and act of heroism were new to me. He is Loddie Stupka (his name is also given as Frank Laddie Stupka), a Spanish-American War veteran who remained in the Navy after that conflict. In January 1903, as a fireman first class, he was aboard the tug Leyden when it went aground on rocks off Block Island, R.I., during a storm.
His 1946 obituary in The Baltimore Sun said that rescuers were unable to get the crew off the large iron-hulled tug, which was being knocked around in a heavy sea. "Mr. Stupka volunteered to be strapped to a heavy door and thrown overboard with a rope to which could be attached a breeches buoy. Mr. Stupka was successful and all aboard were saved." He saved 28 lives. The tug was a total loss, and its commanding officer was subjected to a military inquiry.
After receiving the honor, Stupka lived for years on Barclay Street near Lafayette. He became an auto mechanic and worked for the post office. When he died, his services were held at the old Tickner's funeral home at North and Pennsylvania. He then made the final trip out Frederick Avenue. His wife, Rosanna, rests alongside him.
Baltimore National Cemetery was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1941, although work on it began after the federal government purchased Cloud Capped from grain merchant Blanchard Randall in 1936. The Cloud Capped house was the Randalls' summer residence and was so large it might have been a hotel. The Randalls lived large. Their winter residence was 8 W. Mount Vernon Place, the location of today's Mount Vernon Club. Blanchard Randall was also a guiding force behind the construction of the Baltimore Museum of Art.
The Randalls indulged their taste in Baltimore antiquities. News articles say that when an early 19th-century building was being demolished, they had its columns, ironwork and pieces of marble brought to the gardens at Cloud Capped. And in the 1930s, when their old mansion house was demolished, parts of it were incorporated into the home where the cemetery director now lives.
The Randall family is represented in the cemetery. Elizabeth "Bessie" Randall Slack is buried here with her husband, Dr. Harry R. Slack Jr., who served in the Johns Hopkins Medical Corps in France during World War I. She also worked in rehabilitation of injured military people and was a military social worker. As the daughter of Blanchard Randall, she doubtless wanted to rest on the grounds where she had spent her childhood summers.