Baltimore Cemetery a little-known and dignified site

A letter from a reader in Ruxton recommended a visit to a place guarded by entry gates and stone walls. Juliana C. Watts made her first trip to Baltimore Cemetery this month. She and a nephew were searching for ancestors interred there.

She told me, "It sits way up there, as if the city is not there at all." She remarked on its compelling physical beauty and character.

I took the suggestion and returned to Baltimore Cemetery, a place I had not been for a decade. Baltimore Cemetery, where about 118,000 people are buried, is a place worth visiting. And although it occupies 85 acres of Northeast Baltimore, it remains little known and largely unobserved. It is open to visitors 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

The cemetery's uncompromisingly stern-looking gates, modeled after the Battle Abbey in England, sit on the hill where North Avenue terminates near Belair Road. It is a part of the city that has been considerably abandoned by both residents and industry. Nearby blocks have vacant houses. The empty, rusting and downright scary Goetze's meatpacking plant has been deserted for most of my adult life. By contrast, the grave of its rival business owner, Mr. W. Schluderberg, of S-K meats fame, within the cemetery, looks well-tended and dignified.

Baltimore Cemetery had a bit of recognition recently when news articles reported that a stone had been erected to mark the grave of Norman "Chubby" Chaney, who appeared in the "Our Gang" film comedies. His grave was unmarked for years, although his extended family owned a plot with other stone monuments near the cemetery's western wall facing Rose Street.

Helpful Internet postings have brought Baltimore Cemetery the research and documentation it needs. I found, using the Find a Grave website, for example, that Chubby Chaney is not the only Hollywood celebrity to rest here. Who knew about Henry Louis "Harry" Solter, who appeared in the very early Biograph and Vitagraph pictures and was an associate of Universal Studios' Carl Laemmle? Harry Solter died in 1920.

I visited the graves of some interesting Baltimoreans. The Von der Horsts, brewers who bankrolled the early Baltimore Orioles teams, have an imposing limestone monument — and also a lane named for them just outside the cemetery's stone walls. I could not locate any Orioles buried here (there could be), but I did find John Benedict Kelly, a St. Louis Cardinals outfielder in 1907, and Charles Christian Yingling, a shortstop who appeared in one game for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1894.

Nearby are Charles Maximilian Stieff and Charles Clinton Stieff. One branch of the Stieff family made pianos; the other silverware for the table. The piano works was not far from the cemetery on Aiken Street.

Wendel Bollman, a Baltimore engineer who received a patent for a type of cast-iron truss bridge, has a large burial site. Look for one of his spans at Savage Mill.

Early figures from Baltimore history are not hard to find. I spotted the grave of Thorogood Smith, a mayor, and that of Henry Lightner, the drummer boy at Fort McHenry when the British attacked in 1814.

You do not have to know Baltimore history to appreciate the physical beauty of Baltimore Cemetery. I've been to cemeteries where it is apparent that no expense was spared on monuments and landscaping. Baltimore Cemetery by comparison is unpretentious. While it is maintained and the grass trimmed (the cutters were busy the day I dropped by), this is a place where Baltimoreans rest without a lot of outside attention.

I encountered a little angel monument. It was for a child, Katie, and was marked "Our Darling." She was the daughter of George and Catherine Ramming. She lived from July 1888 to Nov. 1, 1896. In a nice touch, someone had strung a set of beads around the little cherub.

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