I repeated a blooper in my recent column on the 100th anniversary of Baltimore's Pennsylvania Station that was caught by a sharp-eyed Roland Park resident and lawyer, John C. Murphy, who comes from a family of Baltimore architects.
I had stated with the authority of numerous articles (some that appeared in this newspaper) that Kenneth Murchison, who had designed Baltimore's Pennsylvania Station, had been a member of the esteemed New York City architectural firm of McKim, Mead and White.
When I cited my numerous sources in an email to Murphy, he submitted his own with all the persistence of his trade, and he had certainly done his homework. I could feel my heart sink and my face turning red as I pored through them.
"The only mention of any association with McKim, Mead and White is your article. I am not trying to give you a hard time, but I believe your excellent article contained an error," he wrote in an email. "If Murchison was a principal at the McKim firm as you state, then all the sources would note this is a central fact about the building."
He added: "The definitive work on American architecture is the 'Historic American Building Survey' which states that Murchison was the architect of the Pennsylvania Station [Baltimore], with no mention of the McKim firm."
I then consulted my old friend and colleague, Jim Dilts, who years ago wrote a history of Baltimore architecture with another Sun reporter and friend, the late John Dorsey.
Dilts, who is also a railroad historian, explained that "this incorrect fact had gotten loose years ago when the application was being submitted to place Baltimore's Penn Station [on] the National Register of Historic Places."
He said the person who prepared the application mentioned New York's Pennsylvania Station, which was designed by McKim, Mead and White," and somehow or other it got applied to our Penn Station."
Dilts said he had Murchison's New York Times obituary, and there was no mention of McKim, Mead and White, and "there would have been had he worked there," he said.
I wrote back to Murphy and said, "I surrender," but by now I was interested in finding out more about Murchison, whose railroad commissions included the recently restored Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad station in Hoboken, N.J., which opened to commuters and long-distance travelers in 1907.
He also designed the now-demolished Lackawanna station in Buffalo, N.Y., that began serving DLW and Nickel Plate Railroad passengers in 1917.
Murchison also had several other commissions with the Lackawanna, including its five-story Beaux Arts Scranton, Pa., terminal, with a sixth story added later, that opened in 1908. The station's train sheds were designed by Lincoln Bush, who was the line's chief engineer.
Baltimoreans visiting Scranton aren't seeing double, because with basic refinements, Murchison recycled the Scranton design for his Baltimore work.
A 1909 article in The Sun announcing Murchinson's selection as designer of the new station in Baltimore, said, "Both of these terminals [Hoboken and Scranton] have attracted considerable attention on account of their architectural beauty."
Murchison had bested such notable local Baltimore architectural firms as Wyatt & Nolting, and Parker, Thomas & Rice.
From Murchison's Scranton commission came the neoclassical facade, Doric columns, entablature and even an impressive station clock high above the main entranceway.
A whimsical green-glass and cast-iron marquee scooted along the front and two sides of the building, while three 23-foot-diameter stained-glass domed skylights allow natural light to enter the structure.
(The domes had been hidden during World War II with blackout paint, which wasn't removed until the 1980s when the station underwent a $5 million face-lift.)
Today, the Scranton station, which no longer serves rail travelers, is the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel with 146 guest rooms. A highlight of the station is its restored lobby, with its ornamental mosaic tile floor, barrel-vaulted stained-glass ceiling and rare Sienna marble walls.
The authors of "The Architecture of Baltimore," published in 2004, said that "Murchinson's design placed a waiting area for passengers above the level of the tracks, with stairs leading to separate platforms. This plan may have marked a first in America; because it greatly eased passenger flow, it quickly became the norm for stations throughout the country."
The Pennsy must have liked Murchison's work because he was hired to design a new station in Johnstown, Pa., that replaced an existing one and went into service in 1916. This station is of an entirely different design and has none of the elements of his Scranton and Baltimore terminals.
A New Yorker, Murchison was born Sept. 29, 1872, and graduated from Columbia University in 1894 with a degree in philosophy. From 1897 to 1900 he studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.
He opened his practice in New York City in 1902, and the next year married Aurelie de Mauriac.
Murchison did not limit his practice to railroad stations. He also designed hotels, office buildings, apartment houses, clubs and hospitals.
A popular figure in New York's social life who had been an organizer of the Beaux Arts Ball, Murchison was also a writer and vice president of the Central Savings Bank.
He resided in the Beaux Arts Apartments, 310 E. 44th St., in Manhattan, a building that he had designed.
"Mr. Murchison was famous for his impersonations of George Washington. He bore an extraordinary resemblance to the first President in features and bearing, as shown by Peale and Stuart portraits of Washington," observed The New York Times at his death in 1938. "He impersonated Washington in 1932 in New York's bicentennial celebration of Washington's birth."
Murchison, 67, dropped dead at 11:45 p.m. on Dec. 15, 1938, near a change booth "as he was emerging from the I.R.T. station in Grand Central Terminal," reported The Times.
There was no mention of his death in The Sun.
Funeral services were conducted by Bishop Ernest M. Stires at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, N.Y. Stires was assisted by the Very Rev. Arthur B. Kinsolving 2nd, a kinsman of the Kinsolving family of Baltimore.
Among the honorary pallbearers was Tony Sarg, an illustrator and noted German-American puppeteer who built helium-inflated balloons in the late 1920s in the shape of animals for Macy's annual Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Murchison was buried in Flushing Cemetery in Queens.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun