Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Resurrecting Laurel Cemetery, a draft for comment and criticism

"Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" Resurrecting Baltimore's Laurel Cemetery

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?

Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?

Where have all the flowers gone?[1]

Figure 01. This sculpture of a young maiden about to spread flowers once graced the grave of William Johnson (1844-1910),

a prosperous Black coachman who may still be buried under the blacktop of a shopping center on Belair Road.

Its whereabouts is unknown. The arm to the right and the head above are from an identical statue over an unknown grave, probably in Tennessee. All that remains of the Johnson grave is the base lying in a neglected graveyard in rural Carroll County.

Sources: https://www.newspapers.com/clip/107576052/, https://www.flickr.com/photos/caving/18133630316/,

https://www.flickr.com/photos/caving/17927833882/ author’s photograph [2]

In 1895 Frederick Douglass died in Washington, D.C. His body was taken to Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester, New York and laid to rest. There in a bucolic setting he is remembered and visited, memorialized in a city where he had lived with his family for 25 years and where he published his newspaper, the mission of which was explained in the first issue:

It has long been our anxious wish to see, in this slave-holding, slave-trading, and negro-hating land, a printing-press and paper, permanently established, under the complete control and direction of the immediate victims of slavery and oppression…that the man who has suffered the wrong is the man to demand redress,—that the man STRUCK is the man to CRY OUT—and that he who has endured the cruel pangs of Slavery is the man to advocate Liberty.[3]

Frederick Douglass’s life and contributions are well known and the cemetery where he rests is a prime example of the garden cemetery movement that began in New England and spread across the United States beginning in 1831 with Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[4]

Figure 02. Death Certificate of John W. Locks (1819-1884)

http://guide.msa.maryland.gov/pages/item.aspx?ID=CM1132-23 certificate 73820

Eleven years before his death, Douglass traveled to Baltimore to attend the funeral of his friend from the days of slavery, a fellow caulker and member of the East Baltimore Mental Improvement Society that met at James Mingo’s frame house on Happy Alley in Fells Point. [5]

Mr. John W. Locks, a respected colored citizen of East Baltimore, died at his residence, 65 South Wolfe St., yesterday morning after a long and painful illness. The deceased was born in Baltimore, and after receiving a fair education learned the trade of ship-caulker. He gradually rose in his trade until he became foreman of the ship-yards of Charles W. Boose & Bros. and worked on the large ships in the days of the famous “Baltimore Clippers.” Since then he has been conducting a livery stable a few doors from his residence. For the past 12 years he has been president of the Chesapeake and Marine Railroad; he was also the first colored juryman in this State. He leaves a widow, his second wife, and two sons and one daughter. The funeral will take place on Monday afternoon from his residence, at which the Rev. L.J. Coppin, pastor of the Saratoga St. M.E. Church will officiate. Fred. Douglass was a warm friend of the deceased since his boyhood. (The Baltimore Morning Herald, 8 March 1884, pg. 4 col. 1)[6]

John W. Locks was buried in another bucolic setting, Laurel, a garden cemetery on Bel Air Road across from the garden estate of the late richest man in Baltimore, Johns Hopkins. Today Locks's grave is nowhere to be found, although what is known about him has been thoughtfully and ably written by a relative, Donna Hollie, a model for writing about the rest of those who were once interred at Laurel or whose bones remain there unmarked under the blacktop.

Laurel Cemetery was privately incorporated in 1852 intended for the use of the Free Black community of Baltimore City. By 1852 the Free Black community of Baltimore City had grown to nearly 26,000, of whom teachers, domestic servants, washerwomen, caulkers, liverymen, clergy, doctors, seamstresses, brick layers, masons, sailors and coachmen to name but a few of the occupations, saw the new cemetery as a place to be remembered, their graves cared for in perpetuity. They lived in a city in which slavery was legal, if declining, and which was dominated by 140,664 white citizens at a time when Free Blacks had only a few bare remnants of citizenship allowed them in the courts.[7] Despite the increasing restrictions placed upon where they could live, where they could travel, and what occupations they could fill, they continued to live lives of value and contributed in countless ways to the cultural growth and economic prosperity of the City. At the end of their lives they deserved the right to be remembered and appreciated for the lives they led.

While Mount Hope, and with it Frederick Douglass’s grave, remains a garden cemetery, owned and maintained by the city of Rochester, New York, the story of Laurel Cemetery on Belair Road would prove to be quite different. If, like Mount Hope, Laurel had begun as a municipal cemetery, it might have survived, but instead it was a private corporation that only whites could own, profit from, and dispose of as the law and the courts would permit. That was its undoing.

The creation of Laurel Cemetery on Belair Road was announced in the Baltimore Sun on August 18, 1851 and the opening ceremonies, following a postponement, were held in late October.[8] The three entrepreneurs who ventured their capital to purchase the land for an all Black equivalent of Greenmount Cemetery tested the response before they bought the land on September 1, 1851, and before they had enough investors to secure a charter from the State of Maryland. In the meantime they and their investors supported, and perhaps played a role in introducing the comprehensive legislation relating to charters that would prevent any charter for a similar cemetery being issued in the future to anyone other than white men.

Figure 03. Detail from the 1896 Atlas of Baltimore City, courtesy of Johns Hopkins University Sheridan Library

What prompted Frederick G. Hunt, Edward J. Richardson, and Silas M. Cochran to purchase the land across Belair Road from Johns Hopkins’s Clifton Estate from a canny but illiterate Baltimore County farmer and his wife is a matter of conjecture. There were already two cemeteries close by, Hebrew Cemetery (1830) and Baltimore Cemetery (1849). St. Vincents and Old Har-Sinai Cemetery would follow in 1853. The prospects of the Omnibus extending beyond Baltimore Cemetery, may have been a factor as well.

Figure 04. Composite details of notices in the Baltimore Sun for 1850 & 1851 and a Baltimore omnibus token, ca. 1851. Visitors to Laurel Cemetery would take the Omnibus to Baltimore Cemetery and walk the rest of the way to Laurel

Frederick G. Hunt (1811-?) was a failed coal merchant with a wealthy father-in-law, Peter Fahnestock. Frederick went bankrupt in 1847, losing his newly built townhouse and by 1850 moved in with the Fahnestocks where he is identified as a soap manufacturer. Perhaps it was the death of his wife, Josebah Fahnestock Hunt, on August 5, 1849, that inspired him to try a new line of business focused on the Black community. As he sought to remember his wife in poetry, he looked to make a profit from creating a place where the Black community could bury and remember their own.

Figure 05. Obituary of Josebah G. Hunt, Baltimore Sun, August 14, 1849

By his death in 1868 Edward J. Richardson (1803-1868) was a wealthy insurance agent who had begun business in Baltimore as a clothing merchant. How he came to be a partner with Frederick G. Hunt in the cemetery business is as yet unknown, but he had two Black domestic servants working in his household when he died, Elizabeth Lewis and Susan Winder, who may well have been buried in Laurel.

Perhaps the best known of the three men who created Laurel Cemetery was Silas Morris Cochran (1819-1866) who became a Unionist member of the Maryland Court of Appeals having defeated the secessionist chief judge, John C. LeGrand in the election of 1861. Judge Cochran was both a lawyer and inventor, having patented an improvement for the coupling of train cars. He was born in Windham, New Hampshire in 1819, and came to Baltimore in 1840 to study law with Z. Collins Lee, U. S. Attorney and Superior Court Judge. He entered the legal system of the State with his admission to the bar in 1843, at a time when it was the last bastion of equity for the Black Community, and he joined the ranks of those who advocated the abolition of the laws that sustained slavery and curtailed the civil liberties of the Black population of Maryland.[9]

While it is not known why all three decided to create Laurel Cemetery, they made one Baltimore farmer very happy in the process. In 1835 Thomas Burgan, Jr., bought the land that would become Laurel Cemetery for $915 and sold it to the three creators of Laurel Cemetery on the first of September, 1851 for $5,250 ($190,092.27 in 2022 dollars), 5.7 times what it had cost him. It is likely that the interest expressed in the project by the Black clergy and a white pastor at St. James, the Black Episcopal Church in Baltimore, plus the ability of a significant segment of the Black population who could afford the $2 for a family plot (plus burial and the cost of grave markers and monuments) was encouraging. Hunt and his associates were also undoubtedly inspired by the success of Greenmount Cemetery which opened in 1839 with the burial of two year old Olivia Cushing Whitridge, daughter of Dr. John Whitridge whose family had sold their estate on the north side of Belair Road just to the south of Burgan’s land for the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation Cemetery.[10]

In August of 1851, two weeks before they finalized their purchase of the Burgan property, a glowing description of the proposed cemetery appeared in the Baltimore Sun, perhaps planted there by the three speculators.

Figure 06. Baltimore Sun, August 16, 1851

Headlined a “New City of the Dead” Laurel Cemetery was to be 300 yards north on Bel Air Road from the Baltimore Cemetery on a lovely and commanding eminence. Besides the gates on Bel Air Road it was also to have an entrance on the proposed Northern avenue, today known as Edison Highway. The article claimed that Laurel consisted of 28 acres, enough for 12,000 grave sites, although the original purchase was for 17 acres, and only slightly more when properly surveyed. It was to be graded with graveled walks, avenues and squares designed to provide a “picturesque effect''.

The architectural improvements were to include an ornamental fence and a double gateway one of which was to be 10 feet wide, the other to be connected to a keeper’s lodge with a reception room for the accommodation of visitors, as well as a chapel for burial service and a mausoleum. Mr. Beldon, an “accomplished architect,” designed the buildings in the context of the beauty of the grounds.

Figure 07. Composite of a photograph of James Belden’s monument in Mt. Carmel Cemetery,

his advertisement from the Baltimore Sun, March 27, 1858, and a tracing of the plan for Mt. Carmel cemetery

provided by http://www.themareks.com/csm/photoalbum/images/cem-mtcarmelmap.jpg

James Belden (1808-1877), who is buried not too far away in Mt. Carmel Cemetery, which he also designed, was well known for his cemetery plans. He never married and left his estate to the son of his deceased Black housekeeper, Priscilla Thomas, both of whose graves are unknown, but in all probability are among the lost graves of Laurel.[11]

Figure 08. Copy of the Emory family’s plat of the layout of Laurel Cemetery, ca. 1916, owned by D. H. Emory,

showing the vacant land to the East that would sold off for building row houses

courtesy of S. J. Martenet & Co., Inc.

The only surviving accurate to-scale layout of Laurel Cemetery by James Belden as of 1916, is in the Martenet Company Archives. Its boundaries and relationship to nearby estates and the housing developments that would make its demise predictable if not inevitable, is clear from the official map of Baltimore in 1940.

Figure 09. Detail from the 1940 official map of Baltimore City

author’s collection

The Hebrew Cemetery and St. Vincent’s Cemetery, which Johns Hopkins permitted to be carved out of Clifton for a good price in 1853, managed to resist the insatiable demand for new subdivisions and shopping centers, including widening and paving Belair Road. Laurel, on the other hand, ultimately succumbed to both, selling a corner for a gas station that survives today as a “Family Auto” used car lot, and a three acre slice of land in 1940 on Loney’s Lane (Edison Highway) for the construction of row houses sold with groundrents. From these sales only the owners of the cemetery benefited, not the lot holders. In 1944 the official acreage of the cemetery after the row houses were constructed on the land the Cemetery sold, was 15.194 acres as shown on a survey by the Baltimore City Department of Public Works.

Figure 10. Courtesy of the Baltimore City Archives

Even before it had a charter Laurel cemetery was dedicated in an elaborate ceremony led by the most prominent Black Clergymen of Baltimore including those representing Bethel and Sharp Street churches.

Figure 11. Baltimore Sun, October 18, 1851

It was a stirling cast, most of whom would have plots at Laurel and would be buried there. Samuel Ward Chase, a prominent educator and preacher whose ministry extended as far as Portland, Maine and who led the delegation that presented a bible to President Lincoln, prayed for its success and was buried there in 1867. The story of his burial procession is typical of the crowds who once came to Laurel to bury their admired dead:

The Rev. Samuel W. Chase, who died at his residence, N0. 81 Leadenhall Street, on Wednesday last, was a Presbyterian minister, and had charge of a congregation in Baltimore. He was 67 years old [sic] and a past Grand Master of the colored Masonic Order and a high official in the colored Independent Order of Odd Fellows. The funeral ceremonies took place yesterday, March 31, 1867, at his late residence, and was numerously attended by nearly all the colored ministers of Baltimore, with portions of their flock. After the service at the house, a procession formed by the colored Masons and the Odd Fellows, who turned out in large numbers, in full regalia, to pay the last mark of respect to their deceased brother. Following them, were about 100 carriages, filled mainly with colored women. The procession proceeded to Laurel Cemetery, where the interment took place, according to the rites of the orders to which they belonged.

In his lifetime, he had a high reputation among his colored brethren and enjoyed the confidence of many white persons. The sidewalks of the streets, through which the procession passed, were lined with colored people, many of the male portion joined the procession, while numbers of women, also followed to the place of interment.

Baltimore Sun, April 1, 1867

Not all those who were buried in Laurel were well known, prominent citizens. Yet they were given decent burials with appropriate ceremonies and a crowd of mourners. Take for example the orphans at the Johns Hopkins Orphan Asylum. The Asylum had a plot in Laurel where ‘inmates’ as they were noted on the census, were buried.

Figure 12. Death Certificate of Theresa M. Cornish, Orphan from the Johns Hopkins Colored Orphan Asylum, http://guide.msa.maryland.gov/pages/item.aspx?ID=CM1132-110, certificate C46105

On a warm summer’s day in August 1911, Theresa M. Cornish, age 7, died of tuberculosis at Bayview Hospital where she had been taken from the Johns Hopkins Orphan Asylum, near what today is the Homewood campus of Johns Hopkins University. Her white casket with handles and plate cost $17, while transportation to her Laurel grave in a hearse followed by 2 hacks filled with mourners, came to $18.00. [12]

In January 1852 the Maryland Legislature revised the laws governing charters including those for cemeteries, permitting only white males to incorporate for the purposes of burying the dead.[13] To promote the Cemetery, even though it had not yet received its charter, Hunt on behalf of the owners “with a generosity unequaled” presented the family of Joseph Cephas with a free lot “in their beautiful ground[s].” Cephas had drowned while “heroically”attempting to save the life of a ‘lad’ at Frederick Street Dock. A number of prominent Black clergy officiated including Reverend Samuel Chase and and Reverend Darius Stokes presided at the mausoleum on the part of a number of associations who had followed the hearse to the cemetery including the United Division of the Sons of Temperance and the United Brethren.[14]

The following June 26th, a charter was issued to the Laurel Cemetery Company, consisting of the three original purchasers of the land, Robert C. Galbraith, J. N. McJilton (whte pastor of St. James Episcopal), Dr. Thomas Owings, and George W. Ziegler. The capital stock was three thousand shares worth $25.00 each, and was divided among the named incorporators who purchased them on time. The shareholders elected Frederick G. Hunt as president with offices at 10 West Fayette Street and hired Frederick Sturgeon as superintendent.

Figure 13. Baltimore Sun, July 21, 1852

On July 21, 1852 Frederick G. Hunt announced the incorporation of Laurel Cemetery. The principal avenues were graded and planted with shade trees. The mausoleum was finished and ready for the reception of bodies. The rest of the improvements were ongoing. The lots were a standard size, 8 feet by 10 feet, available at “a very moderate price, depending chiefly upon the location, a number of which have already been sold.” Hunt appealed to the stockholders to pay at once what they owed on their installment purchase of shares in order to pay for the improvements. In order to show off the cemetery, an Omnibus was ready in a few days to take prospective buyers out to see for themselves.

To promote the cemetery in 1852 a lot and tombstone were given to a Joseph Cephas who had given his life in an attempt to save a drowning child. The President and Directors put on an impressive ceremony with the Reverend Darius Stokes of Bethel presiding.

Figure 14. Baltimore Sun, February 4, 1852[15]

In the beginning, despite the good publicity and the efforts of the Black clergy, Laurel Cemetery did not prove to be as remunerative as its white shareholders had hoped. The press continued to tout its virtues, but the bills for constructing the necessary buildings and preparations of the grounds of the cemetery were slow in being paid. One builder even had to sue for payment, but by 1858 the debts were paid and the majority of the 1300 shares were sold anew to the Emory family who would remain the recipients of the profits for next sixty years.[16] By December 1852 with the Emory's in control, the Laurel Cemetery Company for the Colored People of Baltimore advertised that it was the only regularly chartered corporation of its kind in the city. “The grounds are eligibly situated, high and undulating, laid off with gravel walks, decorated with varieties of trees and shrubbery, and are perpetually dedicated to burial purposes. The company are entirely out of debt, and offer to sell Lots and prepare Graves for burials at reasonable rates. All who procure burials here are sure of an undisturbed resting place for all time to come”.[17]

When the Civil War came and finally Black troops were recruited to the effect of salvaging the Union and the abolishment of slavery, their dead from the battlefields of Virginia and from the hospitals in Baltimore were buried in Laurel. By 1868 Laurel was a National Cemetery for Black soldiers with separate plots of their own purchased and maintained by the War department.[18]

Figure 15. Author’s image of the Laurel USCT graves in Loudon Park Cemetery, Baltimore, which are

in the same order with most of their original tombstones as they were laid out at Laurel.

Not all Black soldiers from Baltimore were buried there. Some such as Alfred W. Handy and Charles Giles were buried in family graves or their own separate plots in Laurel. Handy’s grave and its monument would disappear with the conversion of the cemetery to a shopping center, and Giles’s monument would survive in pieces in Carroll county, but the graves of the other soldiers buried there by the Federal Government survived intact in neat rows at Loudon Park cemetery on the west side of the city with their original gravestones and in the order they were buried in Laurel. They were moved to Loudon Park following a civil disturbance at Laurel in 1880.

Figure 16. William M. Smith, "Officers 4th U.S. Colo[r]ed Infantry, Fort Slocum," April 1865

Medal of Honor winner Benjamin Fleetwood with two fellow Black Sergeants,

possibly Charles Giles and Alfred W. Handy

Courtesy of the Library of Congress, https://lccn.loc.gov/93505852

Alfred Ward Handy had been Benjamin Fleetwood’s best friend and co-founder of a literary magazine before the Civil War.[19] Fleetwood was awarded the medal of honor for his part in the war, while Alfred Ward Handy became a political activist for the Republican Party in Baltimore, dying in 1874. His funeral procession to Laurel was attended by a large crowd of onlookers, some of whom were more interested in spreading the wealth than celebrating the dead. As the Der Deutsche Correspondent, Baltimore’s German language newspaper reported, “three Blacks, John Simpson, Charles Feeman, and Harry Hooper” were arrested by the police for pickpocketing. Bail was set at a steep $500. Agnes Walker of no. 14 Etna Lane testified that while the “funeral of the colored man A. Ward Handy was in progress, she felt a hand in her pocket and recognized one of the wallets retrieved from the cesspool of the “Grant-Colfax House” as her own, still containing a few small silver coins”.[20]

Handy’s obituary received only a brief paragraph in the Baltimore Sun that he was “a Well-Known Colored Man--A Ward Handy, a colored man employed in the custom house, and who was well known in politics throughout the State … His funeral which took place from his dwelling, no. 38 Frederick Street, yesterday, was very largely attended. Several colored masonic and other orders of which the deceased had been a member accompanied the funeral in procession to the graveyard, where an address was made by Rev. Mr. Watkins of Bethel Church”.[21]

Figure 17. The Lyceum Observer edited by Alfred Ward Handy and Benjamin Fleetwood

before they joined the 4th United States Colored Troops

Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society

Alfred W. Handy’s mother, Ann Hutchins Handy, buried him in the family plot she bought for her family and at the age of 75, in 1875, was buried there as well. Her death certificate is among the earliest of the official records of burials at Laurel.[22] She had been a long time domestic servant in the household of one of Baltimore's wealthiest women who had given her a house rent free where she and Alfred had lived until they died. The day Ann Hutchins Handy died and was buried in Laurel, the house and the keys were taken back by the white family member who inherited it subject to Ann Hutchins Handy’s life estate, and immediately leased it to a Charles Castor, a Black mariner who subsequently was charged with disturbing the peace of the neighborhood.[23] Neither Ann Hutchins Handy’s grave nor that of Alfred Ward Handy has survived. All that remains is Ann Hutchin Handy’s death certificate and fragments of her life’s history recorded among the privately owned papers of her employer and probate records.[24]

After the Civil War, Laurel Cemetery became the scene of community remembrance on “Colored Soldiers’ Memorial Day” and of strident calls for improving the lot of the Black Community. In June, 1874 during ceremonies at Laurel attended by thousands, John Langston, acting President of Howard University and great uncle of the poet Langston Hughes, gave a rousing oration at Laurel Cemetery at Alfred Ward Handy’s grave, calling for equal rights and parity in all things with the “inflated white man”. After his speech 300 graves were strewn with flowers.[25]

Figure 18. Baltimore Sun, June 2, 1874, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/107579928/the-baltimore-sun/

Figure 19. Speech by John M. Langston at Laurel Cemetery, Baltimore Sun, June 2, 1874, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/107579928/the-baltimore-sun/

By 1880 the increasing pressure from the white community to suppress the Black Community and to deny equal access to education and military advancement led to a civil disturbance at Laurel which in turn led to the War Department removing the graves of the Black soldiers, except those in private plots, to Loudon Park Cemetery. As the Baltimore Sun reported on June 1, 1880, the usual crowd packed Decoration Day ceremonies were held at Laurel. The speaker of the day was Professor R. T. Greener who gave a stirring speech about the case of Cadet Whittaker who had been expelled from West Point because of ‘prejudice against his race’. While some denied it, the speech was followed by the first recorded race riot in Baltimore in which “Charles Morsell, colored, lost his life.” John H. Emory, one of the Trustees of the Cemetery called in the Baltimore County police, who in all probability shot Charles Morsell. Charles Morsell was buried at Laurel with great ceremony attended by a large crowd. In order to prevent such future assemblies, the War Department decided to move the Laurel National Cemetery graves of the USCT to Loudon Park to accompany White Union and Confederate dead, albeit in a segregated area of the cemetery.[26]

By 1918 the Emorys had lost control of Laurel Cemetery to speculators who cared little for maintenance \and sought to maximize profits even if it meant selling off pieces of the cemetery. In October 1918 the flu epidemic hit Baltimore with a vengeance. Bodies piled up at Mt. Auburn on the west side of the city awaiting burial and the army was called in to fill a mass grave when city workmen refused.[27] There were no similar notices for Laurel, but flu victims were buried there as well. Among them was a British West Indian immigrant, Rachel Collins, who had come to Baltimore by way of the Danish West Indies when the islands were purchased by the United States. She died in October 1918 of the flu. She had been followed to America by her daughter, Mary Unella Penn who buried her at Laurel in a plot she purchased in November 1918. Mary Unella Penn lived to 1939, having married well twice, including to one of the most prominent chefs in Baltimore. In her dying days she wrote to her family about her illness “while I am in my sound mind”, asking that the children be kept together and that the family would “always tell [the children] about their mother so that they will never forget me.” In doing so she cautioned that she not be buried in the family plot at Laurel with her mother because Laurel Cemetery was no longer a place to visit. Instead She mentioned Mt. Auburn Cemetery as her choice, but the family decided to bury her in well kept Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Brooklyn, Maryland where her grave is still visited by the family.[28]

By 1918 the value of the stock in Laurel had declined sharply to $2.50 a share from its original $25.[29] The Emorys who held the majority of the stock died off and control of the cemetery passed to speculators who only cared for extracting as much income as they could from a cemetery that was facing strong competition from Mt Auburn on the West side of the City. Initially Sharp Street and Bethel churches supported Laurel and the more affluent of their congregations were buried there along with their most prominent ministers. Sharp Street had had its own burial ground further South on Bel Air road prior to the creation of Laurel. After the Civil War when Mt. Auburn Cemetery was created on the West side of the city, the church sold the burial ground to developers, paying to have the graves moved both to Mt. Auburn and Laurel, but the majority of new burials of the more affluent Black citizens went to Mt. Auburn

In 1911 the cemetery lost its gate house, the imposing entrance to what had been intended to be a garden spot of eternal rest. It was destroyed by the expansion of Bel Air road.

Figure 20. official City Plat indicating the new path of Belair Road and the impending destruction of the Laurel Cemetery Gatehouse, 1911,

courtesy of www.martenet.com, sjm 10-72154, EVC 1653, Bel Air Road opening from North Avenue to 1888 City Boundary

The Emory owners profited mightily from the demolition of the gatehouse, receiving $10,000 from the city and plowing a portion of the income into a large reception building built by the family architectural firm of Emory & Nasser.

Figure 21. The Evening Sun, March 18, 1915, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/107580310/the-evening-sun/

The expansion of Bel Air Road proved to be only a temporary boon for the cemetery owners. In 1915 a fire engulfed the Chapel in the middle of the graveyard. With the expansion of Bel Air Road, came a road tax that the new owners, successors to the Emorys, failed to pay and which almost cost them their charter.

By the time of the burial of a prominent minister and Civil Rights activist, Reverend Harvey Johnson, in 1923, the Cemetery was beginning its steep decline with the grounds increasingly unkempt. In the photograph of the ceremonies at the unveiling of the monument to Reverend Johnson and his wife, Amelia, an accomplished author and writer, the deteriorating condition of the cemetery grounds is noticeable.[30] The manager of the cemetery, Charles Giles' son John, and the Afro-American attempted to defend the appearance of the grounds. The first reports in the Afro announced that the cemetery was in a deplorable state. “The gates were left open at night and cattle were allowed to roam at will over the graves, knocking down tombstones and devastating the lots. Shortly after the article appeared John Giles responded by blaming the lot owners claiming that lot owners fail to pay the maintenance fees and only visit when they bury relatives, while the Afro sent a reporter to inspect who found that it was in a “fairly good condition except for the northern end where weeds and brambles are overgrowing some of the lots. Here and there a stone was overturned and in a few instances the iron railings surrounding the lots had either fallen down or had been torn down”.[31]

To remain somewhat profitable to the stockholders, portions were sold off to developers. A controversial gas station was built on a corner of the lot adjoining the entrance on Bel Air road, and the western edge of the cemetery was sold for the building of row houses.

The last 35 years of Laurel Cemetery on Belair Road ( 1923-1958) are years of abuse and decay coupled with what today might be considered criminal intrigue by City employees to obliterate the cemetery and sell it for development at a great profit. At minimum it is a story of racial exploitation and disrespect of the dead as well as the living. The saga of connivance, collusion, and deceit by public employees was laid out in the pages of the Evening Sun and a futile effort was made in the courts to prevent its destruction and abandonment as a cemetery.[32]

Figure 22. Evening Sun investigation of the ownership of Laurel Cemetery,, 11/14/1958, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/107580611/the-evening-sun/

About all the court case accomplished was the transfer of tombstones, plus a few bodies to a remote site in Carroll County.

Figure 23. Carroll County: placing major monuments from Laurel Cemetery, 1958

East side of the central dirt road

Row 15-01 William E., Maria, and John Mathews

Row 11-01 James, Elizabeth, Mary J., and Hanna Jones[33]

Row 7-01 Carrie Weaver

Row 6-01 Reverend Harvey Johnson, Amelia Johnson, and Ellen Hall

Row 5-01 Charles H. Giles

Row 4-01 Joseph Thomas

The major monuments still intact at the time the Maryland Courts approved the removal of the cemetery and permitted the development of the land as a community shopping center wedged between two row house developments, were moved to a new site in rural Carroll county. There they headed neat rows of decipherable and indecipherable gravestones radiating out from a central dirt road.

Figure 24. Bishops Alexander Wayman (on the left) and Daniel Payne (on the right), with images below of the current location of their monuments at Mount Zion Cemetery and a Louis S. Diggs, a noted historian of the Black Community of Baltimore County.

Sources: https://thelionofanacostia.wordpress.com/tag/bishop-daniel-alexander-payne/, author’s photograph, and https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/baltimore-county/ph-at-lansdowne-cemetery-1008-20141105-story.html

Not all the surviving monuments from Laurel made it to or remained in Carroll County. Two of the most prominent Black ministers who promoted burials at Laurel and presided over ceremonies there were Bishops Daniel Payne and Alexander Wayman. Ultimately their monuments were cast against an outer fence of Mt. Zion Cemetery in Lansdowne, Maryland. It is not known if their remains accompanied them.

Figure 25. Dedication of the Bishop Payne Monument at Laurel Cemetery, May 21, 1894

Baltimore Sun, May 22, 1894

Even the monuments that remain in Carroll County are for the most part unconnected to the stories of the lives they were meant to celebrate and remember.

Examples are the stories of two individuals who were memorialized at Laurel Cemetery with two imposing monuments that in turn were moved to Carroll County, those of Charles Giles (Carroll County Row 5-01) and James Jones (Carroll County Row 11-01).

Charles Giles was a comrade in arms of Benjamin Fleetwood and Alfred W. Handy in the 4th United States Colored Troops. Giles was hired about 1880 by the Emorys to superintend Laurel Cemetery, which he did for 30 years until his death in 1910 when he was to be succeeded by his son who presided over the persistent deterioration of the grounds.

James Jones was Johns Hopkins’s coachman who at the death of his employer in 1873, was left a house and $5,000 (the equivalent today of $118,215).[34] His monument was among the tallest in the cemetery, topped by a grecian urn. It may even been visible from the tower at Clifton Mansion, as a reminder of his long-time service to the Emancipationist Johns Hopkins who gave the bulk of his fortune to care for the Black orphans of Baltimore, for a hospital open to all regardless of color, and a University that was supposed to occupy his garden estate.[35] Today the two monuments lay in ruins along a dirt path through an overgrown wooded lot between two housing developments in Carroll County.

Figure 26. Laurel Cemetery monuments and tombstones in Johnsville, Carroll County, Maryland.

Note the monument to Reverend Harvey and Amelia Johnson on the right


In the 1990s Elma Moore and Ralph Clayton began a disciplined campaign to unearth and resurrect the names of those who were buried at Laurel the preliminary results of which they published in the Flower of the Forest Black Genealogical Journal, 1984, volume 1, no. 3, 57-82. With the heightened interest caused by the archaeological work at Laurel Cemetery, Glenn Blackwell and a coterie of volunteers took up the work of mining the death records for Baltimore City even in the midst of a debilitating pandemic, thanks in part to the Maryland State Archives permitting the use of the records online. Because of the extensive and time consuming efforts of the volunteers culling the Death records, it is now possible, not only to memorialize the dead of Laurel in a fitting tribute at the site of Laurel Cemetery, but also to document individually and collectively the lives of those who were buried there.

Figure 27. Baltimore Evening Sun, Wednesday, January 2, 1991

It is not enough to remember the names or to mention them in passing for their appearance in the court records. It is not enough to simply mark their resistance to White domination, but to see those who were buried at Laurel Cemetery as three dimensional figures. It is essential that those who were buried there are remembered for their stories while living, assessing the contributions they made individually and collectively to Baltimore’s History.

Figure 28, Charity Govans death certificate, Maryland State Archives, Death Certificates, http://guide.msa.maryland.gov/pages/item.aspx?ID=CM1132-10, Certificate 28377

Charity Govans (Goviens) is not just a name on a death certificate who launched a successful court application for a travel pass to Canada that was granted retrospectively. She was an accomplished artist who achieved the recognition she deserved in Toronto Canada but whose work was rejected by the Maryland Institute solely because she was Black. Yet she returned to Baltimore as a washerwoman to join her husband where they purchased a home, keeping her artwork on her walls to her death as a reminder of both her accomplishments, and also what might have been.[36]

The history of the efforts of those first generations of Baltimore Free Blacks and their children buried in Laurel Cemetery deserves to be written not only as statistics with the mention of the efforts of a few individuals who led the struggle for citizenship and equality, but as dignified, accomplished human beings in that struggle. They not only had a right to call themselves American, equal to any other, but also to recognition individually and collectively for helping make America the “golden door” of refuge for all who entered, however they came, in their yearning to breathe free.

Figure 29. Maryland State Archives, Death Certificate for William Johnson, http://guide.msa.maryland.gov/pages/item.aspx?ID=CM1132-10, Certificate C29093

This essay began with the grave of William Johnson, distinguished coachman, who died in 1910. All that remains of his grave and the weeping maiden casting followers over his grave, is the pedestal with his name and his age (66). The graceful sculpture of the maiden spreading flowers over his grave has disappeared.[37] His body may still be under the pavement of the shopping center that occupies the site of Laurel Cemetery, but there may be a surviving photograph of him staring directly at the camera challenging the world to recognize his worth and the dignity of his commanding presence in and about town.

Figure 30. Composite of closeups of the coachman hired to drive a coach along

the tree lined streets of Baltimore and Washington, D. C.

Courtesy of the National Park Service, Frederick Law Olmsted, Project 2401


In 1909, a year before William Johnson died, Olmsted Brothers hired a coachman to assist in determining what trees to plant along the streets of Baltimore so as not to knock the hats off the coachmen who rode underneath them.. The coachman they hired would have been about the age of William Johnson and the records of the Olmsted Brothers in Braintree Massachusetts may prove that it was. After photographing him by the trimmed trees of Mount Vernon and Mount Royal station, he was taken to Washington to prove that Georgetown did a poor job of choosing its trees. Fortunately the photographs were of high definition and a closeup of the coachman challenges all who see him not to forget him or the importance of his being. That is the point of the efforts to resurrect Laurel Cemetery on Bel Air Road virtually and in print. There is an obligation, a duty, to accurately and fully as possible, remember all who were buried there. It is owed to them and to ourselves.

[2] This is a rendering by the author. The upper left is a detail derived from a Baltimore Evening Sun photograph acquired by the Evening Sun in 1948 cropped and published on May 31, 1948 referring to the statue as “the Virgin Mary, with one of its hands shattered” standing “alone in the middle of a heavily weeded plot”. The upper right and the image directly below are small details taken from photographs by Lynn Roebuck apparently from a statue in a cemetery in Tennessee which, unlike the Johnson monument in 1948, still has her hand dropping a flower on the grave.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Auburn_Cemetery. For a history of New England garden cemeteries see: Scee, Trudy Irene. Garden Cemeteries of New England. Down East Books, 2019. https://public.ebookcentral.proquest.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=5837200

[6] See Locks, John W. (9 Aug. 1818–7 Mar. 1884) by Donna Tyler Hollie, Dr. Hollie is one of the volunteers extracting the Laurel Cemetery entries from the Baltimore City Death Certificates. https://doi.org/10.1093/acref/9780195301731.013.35810, Donna Hollie provided the transcripts of John W. Locks obituaries.

[7] Jones, Martha S. Birthright Citizens A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020

[8] Nancy Bramucci Sheads provides an excellent timeline of the history of Laurel Cemetery at: https://monumentalcity.wordpress.com/2013/06/29/laurel-cemetery/

[9] Silas Morris Cochran, Judge, Maryland Court Of Appeals. Obituaries in the New York Times, Dec 17, 1866 and the Baltimore Sun, Dec 18, 1866

[10] Baltimore County Land records, AWB 465, 151 ff.; Baltimore County Land Records, TK 320, 520 ff.; https://www.officialdata.org/us/inflation

[11] Will of James Belden, Baltimore City Register of Wills, Will books 1876-1877, vol JHB, no 43, 325 ff.

[13] https://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc2900/sc2908/000001/000615/html/am615--222.html. Passed May 11, 1852. It also made it a misdemeanor to deface cemetery property.

[14] Baltimore Sun, February 4, 1852

[15] Reverend Stokes even purchased or was given a plot of his own, only to have his name misspelled and his grave lost in the transfer to Carroll County.

[16] see the Baltimore Sun, March 6, 1858, Solomon H. Phillips vs. the laurel Cemetery, verdict for the plaintiff, $869.48, W. J. Ward for the plaintiff, Emory and Waters for the defendant and the 1852 law limiting the incorporation of cemeteries to white males, https://msa.maryland.gov/megafile/msa/speccol/sc2900/sc2908/000001/000615/html/am615--222.html

[17] Baltimore Sun, December 16, 1858.

[18] Roll of honor: names of soldiers who died in Defence of the American Union, interred in Laurel Cemetery, 1869, image 48, ff, https://www.familysearch.org/library/books/viewer/347791/?offset=0#page=48&viewer=picture&o=&n=0&q=

[19] Fleetwood’s diaries are at the Library of Congress and detail his at times turbulent friendship with Handy. See: https://www.loc.gov/item/mm75020784/

[20]as reported in Der Deutsche Correspondent, February 4 and 7, 1874. See the newspaper at https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045081/.

[21] Baltimore Sun, February 2, 1874.


(Death Record), CR 48045, image 662, January 30, 1875. The address is wrong on the certificate. Ann Hutchins Handy lived at 38 North Frederick. She was born in Frederick and buried in Laurel Cemetery on February 1, 1875. Samuel Chase, son of Reverend Samuel Chase, was the undertaker.

[23] Baltimore Sun, February 19, 1881 and Der Deutsche Correspondent, Feburary 18, 1881.

[24] collection of the author .

[25] Baltimore Sun, June 2, 1874, prominently displayed on the front page.

[26] Baltimore Sun, June 6, 1880; U.S. War Department, Annual Report… 1884, 686, citation provided by Robert Schoeberlein

[28] Dr. Sharon L. Haynie graciously shared her research and documentation on her great-grandmother Rachel Collins and her grandmother, Rachel’s daughter, Mary Unella De Freitas Penn. Her mother, Inez Penn Haynie Dodson, kindly permitted me to quote from her mother’s letter to her family.

[29] Baltimore Sun, March 29, 1916.

[30] much has been written about Reverend Harvey Johnson, while more should be written about his wife, an accomplished author and native of Canada where her family had fled to from slavery. See: https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803100022427.https://www.amazon.com/Brotherhood-Liberty-Reconstruction-Baltimore-Nineteenth/dp/0812251393. Halpin’s book is available as an audio file: https://www.recordedbooks.com/title-details/9781980056751.

[31] MANAGER DEFENDS LAUREL CEMETERY: John B. Giles Says Burial Ground Is … Afro-American, Aug 17, 1923; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Black Newspaper Collection, pg. 9

[32] The Evening Sun began its investigations on May 31, 1948 (ironically Memorial Day) when the residents in the adjoining row houses (the Belair-Edison Improvement Association) called for the removal of the cemetery and the building of a shopping center in its place. There was no mention of the remaining graves of the Civil War veterans such as Alfred Ward Handy, only passing reference to government ownership of 67 lots originally intended for the burial of Negro soldiers. Ten years later, the Evening Sun would revisit the graveyard as the tombstones and some of the bodies were in the process of being removed to Carroll County to make way for the construction of the shopping center. By then it was too late.

[33] James H. Jones (1819 - 1893) was Johns Hopkins’s coachman to whom he left a substantial fortune and a house in 1873. See: https://www.thehouseofhopkins.com/posts/15-james-jones-part-2.

[35] see the biographical work to date done on Jones included in an extensive study of Johns Hopkins an Slavery, https://osf.io/zra5f/, and on a well-researched blog, https://www.thehouseofhopkins.com/posts/14-james-jones-part-1. Also see two essays about Johns Hopkins at http://www.rememberingbaltimore.net/2022/03/johns-hopkins-and-slavery-slave-census.html and http://www.rememberingbaltimore.net/2021/02/johns-hopkins-orthodox-quaker.html .

[37] There are several similar sculptures at Loudon Park Cemetery over the graves of white families as there are in British graveyards. There is one graveyard in Tennessee that appears to have an exact duplicate, intact, of Johnson’s statue. At the time the last known photograph of William Johnson’s grave was taken at Laurel, the flower was missing from her hand.

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