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Battle Monument and its architect inspire Essex student

Chloe A. Gudmundsson is a senior at Eastern Technical High School in Essex, and at the suggestion of her English teacher, she decided to research a paper on Maximilian Godefroy, the quirky architect who designed Baltimore's Battle Monument to commemorate the battle for the city in 1814.

She also decided to submit her paper to the annual History Day competition this month on the Dundalk campus of the Community College of Baltimore County. The competition, which has been held for the last 12 years at Dundalk, features both city and Baltimore County public school students.

Gudmundsson, 17, acknowledged that she didn't know a lot about the monument or its architect until her teacher, Harry Cook, mentioned it to her.

"He showed me an article he wanted me to read on the Battle Monument, and it gave me a new perspective on it," Gudmundsson said in a recent interview. "I felt that it had been neglected in recent years. I was also surprised to learn that it was a huge part of our history and culture."

"She was doing a senior independent project at her high school and Harry asked me to mentor her, so we began working together last fall," said Ira Albert, coordinator of the history competition, who also teaches psychology at the Dundalk campus.

"It was clear that Chloe was an outstanding writer," Albert said. "She visited libraries and historical societies and got right into the nitty-gritty of the subject."

She began reading everything she could about the architect and monument, which has stood with Lady Baltimore on a little island in Monument Square on North Calvert Street since 1825.

Her research took her to libraries, the Maryland Historical Society and even to the archives of St. Mary's Seminary & University in Roland Park. There were also visits to study the monument firsthand.

"In the heart of Baltimore city, the decrepit Battle Monument stands alone in the middle of a busy intersection, passed by a constant stream of aggressive drivers and surrounded by towering buildings and stoplights," she wrote.

"One can drive by it, remark how beautiful it is, and forget about it a second later. The figure atop of it, Lady Baltimore, has been destroyed by the eroding effects of nature, including the loss of both arms and a weathering away of the once-beautiful features of her countenance," wrote Gudmundsson.

"It's a memorial that has been left in the dust of time; a symbol of one of Baltimore's proudest moments, neglected by the very city it honors. Why?" she wrote.

Gudmundsson was also intrigued by Godefroy, who also seems to have been forgotten "and seems to have stayed lurking in the shadows of Maryland's history," she wrote.

Or, she posited, was he "one of history's unsung heroes, or a mere train wreck who was the cause of his own suffering?"

She added that Godefroy "seemed to be the king of embellishment and story-twisting" when it came to telling the story of his life.

He was born Jean Maur Godefroy in 1765 in Paris, and while serving in the French army, changed his name to Maximilien which Gudmundsson said is spelled in English publications as Maximilian.

After being arrested by Napoleon's secret police on suspicion of being a royalist, Godefroy was deported to New York City in 1805.

That fall, Godefroy came to Baltimore and took a job at St. Mary's Seminary. Soon thereafter he met Eliza Crawford Anderson, an editor, who had been deserted by her husband. They wed in 1808 and lived a lifestyle far beyond their means, wrote Gudmundsson.

"In Mrs. Anderson, Godefroy would find a match for his own quick temper, impulsive passion, and self-importance," she wrote.

Godefroy, who had designed some of the fortifications that spared Fort McHenry from the British assault of Sept. 12-15, 1814, was selected to design the monument that recalled the 39 Baltimoreans who died during the battle.

By 1819, the nearly impoverished couple and their daughter embarked for England aboard the Ceres. On the voyage, their daughter, also named Eliza, died of yellow fever.

Godefroy's wife died in 1839, and his death followed in 1848 in Montmartre in France.

Gudmundsson acknowledged that for all of his self-imposed troubles, Godefroy did manage to leave his mark on Baltimore with "St. Mary's Chapel, First Unitarian Church, Commercial and Farmers Bank, Masonic Hall," she wrote, along with other commissions.

"Maximilian Godefroy was brilliant in many ways," she observed. "But perhaps the reason history seems not to recognize the greatness in him is that he was never able to recognize the potential for greatness in himself."

Gudmundsson said she was "thrilled working with original documents in the archives of the Maryland Historical Society."

She added: "Normally, St. Mary's Seminary does not allow undergraduate students in to use their material, but I thought I'd give it a shot and emailed them explaining what I was doing. And they allowed me in. It was a real honor."

Gudmundsson's paper didn't win at the History Day competition, but she said she was happy to have had the experience.

The Essex resident, who lives with her parents and five siblings, has been awarded "substantial scholarships," Albert said, to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and McDaniel College.

Is she going to pursue a career in history?

"I think I might study psychology," she said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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