Use Code BALT69 for a $69 Ticket to One Day University on July 9

Monumental mystery, potential answer

A retired schools employee may have cracked the mystery of the identity of a man who scrawled his signature in the Washington Monument nearly two centuries ago.

After reading an article in Saturday's Baltimore Sun reporting that workers restoring the Mount Vernon landmark had uncovered the signature of a J.W. Hogg dated 1829, Gloria Gibson Day of Timonium did a little sleuthing.

Day, who has a passion for genealogy, looked up the name in the Baltimore City directories from the early 1800s.

She found a carpenter named James Hogg in the 1831 edition and another carpenter named John W. Hogg in the 1849 edition.

Then she searched for J.W. Hogg in a public archive of The Baltimore Sun, which can be accessed from the Baltimore County Public Library's website.

There she found an 1838 advertisement for a mortising machine — used to cut holes in lumber — that had won testimonials from local carpenters, including a J.W. Hogg.

Articles from the 1850s through the 1870s mention an architect by the name of J.W. Hogg.

"Sometimes you can find things, and sometimes you come up totally blank," said Day, 67, who is the mother of a Baltimore Sun editor, Jennifer Badie.

Day, a former records secretary at Dulaney High School who became interested in genealogy a few years ago while researching her own family's roots, is a member of the Maryland Historical Society.

So is the J.W. Hogg who signed the monument the carpenter who shows up in the Sun's archive?

Possibly, said Lance Humphries, chairman of the restoration committee of the Mount Vernon Conservancy. Humphries' group is leading a $5 million project to remove decades of water damage. The restoration is slated to be completed by the monument's bicentennial on July 4, 2015.

Hogg's signature was among several dozen that workers uncovered in the monument's subterranean vaults on Thursday.

Humphries said he had been aware that there was a Baltimore carpenter by the name of J.W. Hogg, but he has yet to see evidence that the person who signed the wall and the carpenter are one and the same.

Moreover, it's possible that J.W. Hogg might not have signed the wall in any official capacity.

He could have been a boy when he inscribed his name with a pencil in block letters, or he could have been tagging along with friends who were working on the monument, Humphries said.

The highlight of work on the monument in 1829 was hoisting the statue of George Washington to the top, "an enormous engineering feat using a wood derrick and yards and yards of rope," Humphries said.

It's possible that Hogg was a carpenter who assisted with that project, he said. It's also possible that Hogg became an architect as he progressed in his career, he said.

Humphries said he planned to look through records on the monument's construction at the Maryland Historical Society to determine whether Hogg was ever listed as working on the project.

The other names found in the monument will receive the same scrutiny, he said.

"We're going to be protecting and documenting all of them," he said.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad