Modern tribe explores a storied cemetery

Users of the site Yelp tour Baltimore's Green Mount Cemetery

November 16, 2013|By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun

Past mournful statues with age-darkened faces and along the graves of railroad barons, Civil War generals and an infamous assassin, wound a small group who had connected through a most modern forum – the website Yelp.

About a dozen people tramped through Green Mount Cemetery on Saturday afternoon in an informal tour organized by members of Yelp, a site best known for hosting reviews of restaurants and other local attractions.

Jamie Schott, 38, organized the tour of the cemetery, which has captivated him since he moved to the adjacent Station North neighborhood a few years ago.

"This is one of the most overlooked places in the city," said Schott, a social worker.

His fiancee, Aine Farrell, 47, said Schott had spent days wandering through the 68-acre cemetery and had occasionally gotten lost among the 65,000 graves.

Schott led his fellow Yelpers through the steep hills of what had once been the estate (named Green Mount) of Robert Oliver.

When Baltimore tobacco merchant Samuel Walker purchased the estate in 1838, the surrounding land was considered rural, since it abutted what was then the northern border of the city — North Avenue.

The cemetery was modeled after Boston's Mount Auburn Cemetery, where Farrell, a Massachusetts native, spent a lot of time when she was a teenager.

Green Mount Cemetery, which, like Mount Auburn, was designed to feel like a park, was nearly empty Saturday afternoon except for the small tour group. A few crows rasped overhead, and the voices of the group rebounded from mausoleums.

Alex Nastetsky, 30, a programmer from Hampden, said he had long been intrigued by the cemetery's massive stone gate, but had never before entered.

"I figured it would be interesting inside and it certainly is," he said.

The tour was, in Yelp parlance, an UYE, or an "Unofficial Yelp Event." That means that it was organized by a user of the site, as opposed to its staffers, explained Yelp's local senior community manager, Elsa Medhin.

Medhin, or Elsa M., as she is known on the site, plans monthly events for some of the site's top users, who are known as the Yelp Elite. Recent outings have included a party at the Hard Rock Cafe and a Day of the Dead party aboard the Inner Harbor's Urban Pirate ship.

The unofficial Yelp events allow site users a chance to show others a favorite landmark, restaurant or bar. Schott, a history buff, said he had thoroughly studied the cemetery to prepare for the tour.

He led the group to some of the cemetery's most famous inhabitants: Johns Hopkins, the Quaker merchant whose gifts founded both the university and hospital that bear his name; Robert Garrett, the founder of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad; and Arunah Shepherson Abell, who started the Baltimore Sun.

The cemetery is marked by diversity both in its inhabitants — Catholics, Jews and Protestants are all buried there — and in its markers. Deeply patinaed statues brood over some graves, while others are illustrated by Celtic crosses or well-worn angels.

One of the most unusual headstones marks the grave of Elijah Bond. It resembles Bond's famous invention, the Ouija Board, and contains the alphabet, the sun and moon, and, at the bottom, the words "Good bye."

The group lingered the longest at the cemetery's most infamous resident, John Wilkes Booth, who fatally shot Abraham Lincoln in Washington's Ford's Theatre in 1865. An obelisk marks the grave of his father, actor Junius Brutus Booth.

Although John Wilkes Booth's grave is not marked, the group, according to custom, placed pennies bearing Lincoln's face on what they believe to be the assassin's stone.

Alexandra Crosby, 25, an Annapolis artist, considered putting a penny on the stone, then decided against it.

"I don't want any bad ju-ju," she said.

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