The purpose of this blog is to post essays on neglected aspects of Baltimore City history intended to demonstrate how underutilized archival resources can be mined to recall the forgotten lives and neighborhoods that were once a vibrant component of the City of Promise. Only by knowing who we were and why, and allowing our lives to be guided by that knowledge, can we fulfill the promise of what we can and ought to be.
Location of Laurel Cemetery. Detail from Frank A. Gray. New Map of Baltimore, 1876. Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 1427-1-28.
Laurel Cemetery was incorporated on July 14, 1852 “a resting place for colored persons.” Located in the 2300 block of Bel Air Road near a proposed (but not final) location for the Johns Hopkins University, the cemetery consisted of 25 acres with entrances on Gay Street extended and on Eastern Avenue.
The ground is handsomely located, with a commanding eminence, and contains about twenty-eight acres. It will be neatly laid out and surrounded with a permanent wall, with handsome gateways, public chapel, reception room and keeper’s lodge. The great necessity of an appropriate place of sepulture for the exclusive use of the colored population has long been felt, and we doubt not that Laurel Cemetery will in every way supply this want.
– The Sun (Baltimore) 16 August 1851: 2
The cemetery was the pride of the Black community and was the final resting place of numerous prominent community leaders.
In 1870, military and civic organizations participated in Memorial Day ceremonies in the cemetery honoring Black Union soldiers buried there as well as celebrating the ratification of the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution. An estimated 240 black Civil War veterans were buried in Laurel Cemetery and their graves were routinely decorated for Memorial Day for many years.
In 1886, Issac Jones, a grave digger at the cemetery, was convicted of grave robbing. After his conviction, Jones admitted to robbing over 200 graves and “…that it afforded him much amusement to see the people go out to Laurel Cemetery and plant flowers on graves that had no occupants.”
By the 1920s, the cemetery fell on hard times. The absence of a perpetual care fund meant that fund for the maintenance of the cemetery were insufficient to keep the grounds well-tended. As the cemetery became run-down, neighbors began using the grounds to dump refuse. In time, the city received complaints that the cemetery was a health and safety hazard, being a haven for vagrants and criminals. The cemetery had become so overgrown that family members had to clear a path to visit the graves of family members.
In the 1950s, efforts were made to clean up the cemetery, but a series of legal actions by the city’s Law Department resulted in the cemetery being destroyed without the permission of the legal lot owners. Although the NAACP initiated litigation to preserve the rights of the lot owners, the long legal battle resulted in the closure of the cemetery in 1958 and the removal of a portion of the remains to a cornfield in Carroll County. The land was sold to developers and a shopping center was built on the site. Although an several thousand people were buried at Laurel Cemetery, it appears that only the remains of two hundred were moved to the Carroll County site. It is assumed that the remainder are still buried under the parking lot of the shopping center.
SOURCES: “Laurel Cemetery” Sun (Baltimore) July 12, 1852; Ralph Clayton, Black Baltimore 1820-1870 (Westminster: Heritage Books, 1987): 41; “Robbing Graves” Sun (Baltimore) December 4, 1885; “Decorating Soldier’s Graves–The Observance and Ceremonies To-Day” Sun (Baltimore), May 30, 1870.
Find A Grave – Laurel Cemetery (current site in Johnsville, Carroll County, Md.)
A partial list of burials at Laurel Cemetery derived from obituaries in the Afro-American and Sun newspapers can be found in Ralph Clayton, Black Baltimore 1820-1870 Westminster: Heritage Books, 1987. This listing also includes names of those whose remains were moved to the new cemetery in Carroll County.
Announcement of a new burial ground, “designated for the use of the colored population of the city.” — “Laurel Cemetery,” Sun (Baltimore) 16 August 1851: 2.
Consecration of the new burial site, including a voluntary by the Sharp Street and Bethel Church Choirs, prayers by Rev. R. S. Killen and Rev. Samuel W. Chase, sermon by Rev. Thomas H. Stockton, and benediction by Rev. Nathaniel Peck. — Advertisement, Sun (Baltimore) 18 October 1851: 2
Cemetery established as “a resting place for colored persons, situated on the eastern side of Gay street extended, about 300 yards beyond the Baltimore cemetery. The ground comprises about 25 acres, most located, having two entrances on Gay street extended, the rear binding on the contemplated Eastern avenue, and easily accessible. A very substantial rail fence already encloses the grounds, which are laid off into seventeen areas, each capable of receiving several thousand bodies.” — “Laurel Cemetery” Sun (Baltimore) 12 July 1852
Mausoleum and gate house are built and the grounds have been laid out with gravel walks.
Already several hundred lots have been purchased, and over a hundred interments taken place. In some instances the lots are enclosed with ornamental railings of cast iron, and handsome marble slabs marking the resting place of the deceased.
— “Laurel Cemetery,” Sun (Baltimore) 9 June 1854: 1.
Notice in Baltimore Sun that 250 shares of Laurel Cemetery offered at auction by Baltimore Exchange by F. W. Bennett & Co., Auctioneers. — Advertisement, Sun (Baltimore) 10 November 1857
Notice in the Baltimore Sun reporting verdict in favor of the plaintiff for $869 in the case of Solomon H. Phillips vs. the Laurel Cemetery. — “Proceedings of the Court” Sun (Baltimore) 6 March 1858: 1
Notice in the Baltimore Sun “To the Colored People of Baltimore” that the Laurel Cemetery office has moved to the west side of Courtland Street, two doors south of Saratoga. “Lots and Burials at Reasonable Rates.” — Advertisement, Sun (Baltimore) 26 October 1858
Funeral of the Rev. Samuel W. Chase, a Presbyterian minister buried in Laurel Cemetery. — “Funeral of a Colored Clergyman” Sun (Baltimore) 1 April 1867: 1
Robert Mills, age 67, died on December 15th and was buried in Laurel Cemetery the following Wednesday — Obituary, Robert Mills. Sun (Baltimore) 18 December 1867
Advertisement in the Sun by J. K. Emory offering a $2 reward for return of a book left in the Gay Street cars that contained the names of lot owners in Laurel Cemetery. — Lost and Found. Sun (Baltimore) 9 July 1869
Celebration in Laurel Cemetery honoring Union soldiers buried at the cemetery. Military and civic organizations that participated in the celebration of the ratification of the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution marched in procession on Belair Road to the cemetery. Address by A. Ward Handy after decoration of the graves. — “Decorating Soldier’s Graves–The Observance and Ceremonies To-Day” Sun (Baltimore) 30 May 1870
Advertisement in the Sun offering $3 reward for return of deed to Lot No. 2 in Area C of Laurel Cemetery lost on the 17th. Deed originally in the name of William Paraway, then transferred to B. Laws, then to Mary J. Bowser. — Lost and Found. Sun (Baltimore) 27 October 1870
Execution of James West in Baltimore and Levin Palmer in Towsontown. West was convicted of the murder of Annie Gibson with a hatchet while she was lying in bed. After his execution, West was buried in Old Cathedral Cemetery. Levin Palmer was convicted of the rape of Mary Sengle, a young German woman. After his execution, Palmer was buried in Laurel Cemetery. — “Gallows Scene in Maryland: Execution of Two Colored Men.” Sun (Baltimore) 23 August 1873
Article in the Sun announcing preparations by members of various African American associations for celebrations on June 1st, when the graves of soldiers and sailors buried in Baltimore will be decorated with flowers. “The chief point will be Laurel Cemetery, Belair road, where the largest number of colored soldiers and sailors are interred.” — “Graves of Colored Soldiers and Sailors.” The Sun (Baltimore) 9 May 1874
Final arrangements made during meeting held at the Douglas Institute for the decoration of the graves of African American soldiers on June 1st. The gates of Laurel Cemetery will be opened at 10 o’ clock to avoid a rush and Police Marshal Fray suggested that families be sent out as early in the day as possible. — “Decorating Colored Soldiers Graves.” Sun (Baltimore) 20 May 1874
An estimated 8,000 people in Laurel Cemetery during the formal ceremonies to honor Union dead. Address by Professor Langston, acting president of Howard University. Afterwards, “Johnson’s band played the Star Spangled Banner.The duty of strewing flowers on the graves, some three hundred in number, was then entered upon. This completed, the clubs formed into line and marched from the cemetery and thence to the city. The cars of the Gay street line were taxed to the fullest extent of their capacity in transporting the colored people to the city. Among those who walked there was some confusion shortly after the great crowd poured out of the cemetery into the Belair road, but there was no serious disorder.” — “Colored Soldiers’ Memorial Day” Sun (Baltimore) 2 June 1874
C. H. Gross, an African American hack driver, was run over when he got down from his seat to adjust a portion of the harness. The horses bolted and Gross was dragged two blocks. The hack was part of a funeral cortege that was traveling from Orchard street to Laurel Cemetery. Gross was taken to Washington University where he was treated by Dr. Reynolds. He was not expected to survive his injuries. — “A Hack Driver Run Over.” Sun (Baltimore) 14 August 1874
Funeral of Henry W. Martin, aged 76, who died the previous Saturday, was buried in Laurel Cemetery. Martin was a trustee and a fifty-year member of Sharp Street M. E. Church. — “Funeral of Well Known Colored Man” Sun (Baltimore) 20 September 1876
Funeral of John H. Camphor, who was shot and killed by William Cornish at the oyster house of Francis J. Ruth. Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — “The Funeral of John H. Camphor” Sun (Baltimore) 5 October 1876
Sixty-eight lots are deeded by the Laurel Cemetery Company of Baltimore to the U.S. Government in area No. 1 of the cemetery where a number of soldiers have been buried at the expense of the government. — “Brief Locals” Sun (Baltimore) 21 March 1877
Funeral of James Wilson from Tessler Street M. E. Church. Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — “Brief Locals” Sun (Baltimore) 5 May 1877
“A colored man living in the western part of Hamburg street attempted to commit suicide with a pistol yesterday morning, on account of the lost of $80 while attending decoration celebration at Laurel Cemetery, but was prevented by policeman Gibson, who took the weapon away.” — “Brief Locals” Sun (Baltimore) 1 June 1877
Archibald Nicholson, known to be nearly 100 years old, died of old age on the previous Thursday and was buried in Laurel Cemetery. “He was a body servant of Mr. Daniel Bowly, at “Feuilly” on the Belair road, three miles from the city, and in the war of 1812 was with his brother captured by the British army, but escaped at night. Since he gained his freedom he has been cared for by descendants of his former owners, who bore the expenses of his funeral.” — “An Old Man.” Sun (Baltimore) 9 March 1878
Funeral of Enoch Cummings, late president of the trustees of the Centennial M. E. Church. Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — Funeral of a Colored Man.” Sun (Baltimore) 10 May 1878
Funeral of Ida Black who was shot the previous Tuesday in Anne Arundel County by Rose Stewart. Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — “Ida Black” Sun (Baltimore) 5 July 1878
Funeral of Charles Johnson, aged 16, who drowned the previous day. Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — “A Colored Bootblack Drowned” Sun (Baltimore) 22 August 1878
Funeral of William E. Wilson¸”an active politician among the colored voters of the fifth ward.” Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — “Funeral of a Colored Politician” Sun (Baltimore) 29 April 1879
Funeral of Theodore Vessey, an employee of the Sun. Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — “The Funeral of Theodore Vessey” Sun (Baltimore) 6 May 1879
Triplets born to the wife of George H. Hawkins (a boy and two girls) died and were buried together at Laurel Cemetery. — “Birth and Death of Triplets.” Sun (Baltimore) 7 July 1879
“A child of Caleb Johnson, colored, No. 20 Smith street, died on last Tuesday¸and was taken to Laurel Cemetery Thursday morning for interment, but the colored undertaker, who had been paid $3 for the burial of the child, got drunk, and failed to have the grave dug, so the corpse had to be taken back home. Yesterday morning the family again raised money enough for the burial.” — “Get Drunk and Spoiled Funeral” Sun (Baltimore) 12 July 1879
Funeral of Susan Lawrence, shot dead by Frank Brogden. Interment in Laurel Cemetery. “A large crowd of curious persons, both white and colored, gathered about the house as the time for the funeral approached, and there was a general expression of sentiment against the man who shot her.” — “Buried at Laurel Cemetery” Sun (Baltimore) 21 August 1879
Alice Moore and her daughter Josephine Moore are arrested on suspicion of causing the death of Josephine’s infant child. Testimony showed the Alice Moore, aged 40, and her daughter, aged 17, lived in a small house back of Laurel Cemetery, on Loney Lane. — “Charge of Infanticide” Sun (Baltimore) 4 September 1879
Case of State vs. Alice Moore was tried in Baltimore County Circuit Court. Jury returned verdict of not guilty and the defendant, as well as her daughter who had been detained as a witness, were discharged. — “Trial for Murder and Acquital” Sun (Baltimore) 10 October 1879
Funeral of Isaac Johnson, “the colored man who lost his life on Saturday in the vain endeavor to rescue from death the two white men, C. R. Smith and R. A. McCauley, who were suffocated on a night-soil barge.” Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — “The Tragedy on the Patapsco” Sun (Baltimore) 17 February 1880
Riot occurs at Laurel Cemetery at the close of ceremonies for decorating the graves of Union soldiers buried at the cemetery. The affray arose out of the part of a refusal on the part of a colored man to pay for drinks obtained for himself and friends at a bar opposite the entrance of the cemetery. Chief of County Police Joseph A. Neumeyer is of opinion that the disturbance was premeditated on the part of those originating it, as some colored men were heard to say an hour and a half-before the fight commenced that they had come out to “clean things,” and intended to whip the county police if they interferred.” Charles Morsell was killed by one of the rioters who was shooting indiscriminately.
The body of Morsell was placed in a vault in the cemetery, and remained there until yesterday morning, when it was brought into the city and taken to the residence of his grandmother…. His funeral took place in the afternoon from the house of his grandmother…. The remains were interred in Laurel Cemetery.
— “The Laurel Cemetery Riot” Sun (Baltimore) 6 June 1880
Funeral of Thomas Jackson, many years a messenger in the treasurer’s office of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad at Camden Station. Interment at Laurel Cemetery. — Sun (Baltimore) 7 April 1882
Funeral of Harrison Waters, fireman, killed in the boiler explosion at A. H. Sibley’s mill, corner of Fremont and Pratt streets. Interment at Laurel Cemetery — “Burial of the Victims of the Boiler Explosion” Sun (Baltimore) 17 April 1882
Funeral of Dr. William S. Barnes. Interment at Laurel Cemetery. — “The Funeral of Dr. Wm. S. Barnes” Sun (Baltimore) 23 October 1883
Funeral of Frank Henson. Interment at Laurel Cemetery. “The Monumental City Guards, in full uniform, commanded by Capt. Wm. Spence, with a band of music, headed the procession.” — “A Colored Military Funeral.” Sun (Baltimore) 18 May 1883
Memorial day ceremonies at Laurel Cemetery included decorating 240 graves of soldiers. “There were fully three hundred colored persons present from the city. At night the memorial services were repeated in the halls of the three colored posts of the city, and addresses made by prominent members of the posts and others.” — “Decoration Day. Flowers Strewn on the Graves of Men who Died for Their Country.” Sun (Baltimore) 31 May 1883
Funeral of Rufus Thomas, who was shot at Irving Park. Interment at Laurel Cemetery. — “Funeral of the Victim of the Irving Park Shooting” Sun (Baltimore) 19 January 1884
Funeral of Charles F. M. Mallory. Interment at Laurel Cemetery. — “The Funeral of Mr. Charles F. M. Mallory” Sun (Baltimore) 22 December 1884
Funeral of Abraham Wayman, age 25, youngest son of Bishop A. Wayman of the African M. E. Church. Interment at Laurel Cemetery. — Sun (Baltimore) 21 March 1885
James E. Johnson and John H. Taylor are arrested for grave robbing at Laurel Cemetery. They say that they are “employed at the university.”
Officer Baker says that the robbery of graves there has been going on a long while¸ and such complaints had been made of it and he was instructed to keep a strict lookout for depredators.
— “Robbing Graves” Sun (Baltimore) 4 December 1885
The health department has ordered warrants for the arrest of Theodore Locks, colored, an undertaker of East Baltimore, charged with burying a colored child without obtaining a permit; and also for the arrest of the superintendent of cemetery, charged with allowing an interment to be made without the necessary permit. Locks and the superintendent are both to have a hearing today at the eastern station-house.
— “Burial Without a Permit” Sun (Baltimore) 19 January 1886
Funeral of Elizabeth H. Bishop, wife of William H. Bishop, Sr. Interment at Laurel Cemetery. — “A Well-Known Colored Woman” Sun (Baltimore) 6 August 1886
Funeral of Charles Cephas who was shot and killed by William Boggs. Interment at Laurel Cemetery. — “The Killing of Charles Cephas” Sun (Baltimore) 25 November 1886
Issac Jones, convicted at Towsontown for grave robbing, was delivered to the Maryland Penitentiary. Jones was the grave digger at Laurel Cemetery. “While on his way to the penitentiary on Wednesday, it is stated, he told Deputy Sheriff Briscoe Brown that he had robbed over 200 graves, and that it afforded him much amusement to see the people go out to Laurel Cemetery and plant flowers on graves that had no occupants.” — “A Grave Robber’s Deeds” Sun (Baltimore) 30 April 1886
Funeral of Daniel T. Ringgold, waiter of the Maryland Club. Interment at Laurel Cemetery.
Funeral of Mrs. Eliza Jane Gillis. Interment at Laurel Cemetery. — Sun (Baltimore) 18 July 1887
Funeral of John S. Glasgow, aged 55 years. Interment at Laurel Cemetery. — Sun (Baltimore) 15 September 1887
William Thomas charged with shooting George Hinson on Gay street near Washington street. “Thomas and Hinson were both following a band of music that had attended the funeral of James Jackson, colored, at Laurel Cemetery, on Belair avenue.” — “Shot on Gay Street” Sun (Baltimore) 9 April 1887
Funeral of Ellenora C. Clark, daughter of Wilton T. Clark. Interment at Laurel Cemetery.– “Colored Girls Acting as Pall Bearers” Sun (Baltimore) 27 June 1888]
Funeral of William Chester, who had been shot by Sergeant Hogan while resisting arrest. Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — “Followed to His Grave by Only a Few Friends” Sun (Baltimore) 13 September 1889
Funeral of John A. Fernandis. Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — “Funeral of a Well-known Colored Man” Sun (Baltimore) 28 February 1890
The adorning of the graves of the colored soldiers in Laurel and Sharp Street Cemeteries was assigned to Lincoln and Guy Posts. In Laurel Cemetery, on the Belair road, there are buried about forty soldiers, and in the Sharp Street Cemetery about thirty.
— “The Duty Performed by Committees – Dodge Post at Cross Street Hall”
Sun (Baltimore) 31 May 1890
Funeral of George Murray, said to be 115 years old. Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — “Man Dead Who Is Said to be 115 Years Old” Sun (Baltimore) 11 August 1890
Funeral of Daniel C. Chase, employee of the Sun. Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — “Funeral of Daniel C. Chase” Sun (Baltimore) 9 October 1890
Funeral of Eli Williams, who was murdered by his wife. Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — “Record of Deaths and Burials” Sun (Baltimore) 20 October 1890
Advertisement of funeral of Anthony Armstrong. Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — “A Prominent Colored Man’s Death” Sun (Baltimore) 18 November 1890
Funeral of Isaac Myers.
The throng was so dense around of the doors and stairways [of the church] that the family and relations of the dead man were over half an hour getting into the church, and only succeeded then after the Knights Templar had opened a way through the crowd.
— “A Throng at the Funeral of Isaac Myers” Sun (Baltimore) 30 January 1891
Rev. Robert Francis Wayman buried in Laurel Cemetery. — “Summary of the News” Sun, 5 August 1891 — “Deaths and Burials” Sun (Baltimore) 5 August 1891
Funeral of William Wirt Lanaham. Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — Obituary, William Wirt Lanaham, Sun (Baltimore) 6 January 1892
Funeral of Philip Ringgold. Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — “Other Deaths” Sun (Baltimore) 2 November 1893
Funeral of Rev. W. C. Lawson, aged 57 years. Interment in Laurel Cemetery. — Obituary, Rev. W. C. Lawson, Sun (Baltimore) 20 November 1893
Will of William E. Mathews file directing his executor to purchase a double burial lot in Laurel Cemetery and to erect a suitable monument. — “A Colored Man’s Request” Sun (Baltimore) 7 May 1894]
Ella Jones, only daughter of Mrs. Jones, died February 2nd and buried the following Tuesday afternoon in Laurel Cemetery.
— Afro-American, 15 February 1896]
Agnes R. Dare, infant daughter of Mrs. Mary A. Warren Dare, died on April 8th and was buried on the 10th in Laurel Cemetery. — Afro-American, 18 April 1896
Belair-Edison Improvement Association calls cemetery “a health menace, and a disgrace to a city the size of Baltimore.” — “Cleanup Drive On at Cemetery” Afro-American (Baltimore) 3 July 1948
Despite efforts by the Laurel Cemetery Improvement Association to clean up cemetery, Board of Estimates approves the use of the site for construction of a white public housing project. The Baltimore Housing Authority insists that they were unaware of clean-up efforts when they suggested the site for 300 housing units. — “Laurel Cemetery Site Approved for Housing” Afro-American (Baltimore) 17 September 1949
Landscaping work delayed when worker hired to do the job fails to show up. John G. Kaufman, director of the cemetery corporation recently fined $150 by Magistrate Helen E. Brown in Housing Court on charges of failing to fill in sinking graves and destroy weeds at the cemetery. — “Laurel Cemetery Work Delayed Again” Baltimore Afro American, 24 July 1951
New Laurel Cemetery and McKamer Realty Co. sued for $60,000 by Mrs. Blanche Watts, charging that cemetery officials moved the bodies of Mrs. Watt’s family and she does not know of their whereabouts. — “Laurel Cemetery is sued for $60,000” Afro-American (Baltimore) 24 October 1959