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In 1976, former Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro III points out Custer in a lithograph of Custer's Last Stand.
In 1976, former Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro III points out Custer in a lithograph of Custer's Last Stand. (Baltimore Sun files)

Former Baltimore Mayor Thomas J. D’Alesandro, who died on Sunday, became infatuated with the Battle of the Little Bighorn in the 1940s, while a student at St. Leo’s parochial school in Little Italy, after reading a book about Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer.

The experience turned him into a lifelong student of the 1876 battle, that Native Americans call the Battle of the Greasy Grass, or more commonly known by historians as Custer’s Last Stand, when Custer and his 267 men and officers comprising the 7th Cavalry charged into 4,000 Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne under the command of Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse, in Southeastern Montana.

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“I’ve always been intrigued by this battle,” Mr. D’Alesandro told The Baltimore Sun in 1971, as he prepared to visit the site on the 95th anniversary of the ill-fated battle. “Basically, I’m a cowboys-and-Indians’ guy and this was a natural attraction. I’ve never been there. I want to try and see the terrain, the various bluffs and ravines which Custer traveled.”

He said that, unlike battlefields in the East that are subject to suburban sprawl, Little Bighorn remained pristine. “The only difference is with the winds. The winds have leveled some of the hills, some of the bluffs,” he explained in an Evening Sun interview in 1976.

“Isn’t there a certain mystique about a battlefield? I don’t know, maybe something spooky,” he said in The Evening Sun interview. “There’s a certain attraction to the lost brigade, the lost column, the last stand. That was the magnet that attracted me to Custer. The battle haunted me.”

Mr. D’Alesandro told The Sun that “there have been more articles written on it than any other military campaign in the United States.”

His favorite film about the battle was “They Died With Their Boots On,” the 1941 Raoul Walsh film that starred Errol Flynn as the doomed Custer.

“I’ve seen it about 18,000 times,” he said.

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