By By Frederick N. Rasmussen and The Baltimore Sun
May 12, 2012 | 2:25 PM
Death came for Arunah Shepherdson Abell on April 19, 1888, just 27 days before he would have celebrated the 51st anniversary of the newspaper he founded in Baltimore in 1837.
Abell, who was in his city townhouse at Charles and Madison streets near Mount Vernon Place, had retired about 9:30 the night before, "fully himself in all save physical activity," reported The Sun in a news article the next morning announcing his death.
He awakened at 2 a.m. complaining of "shortness of breath and a general feeling of oppression," reported the newspaper, and requested that the gas light be lowered. He then fell back to sleep.
"In a short time, however, he became unconscious and sank without pain into what appeared to be a slumber, but which was in reality the beginning of death, and he passed away in this gentle manner at 3:05 o'clock," reported the newspaper.
As dawn rose across the city, the news of Abell's death quickly spread to the newspaper's headquarters in the Sun's Iron Building at Baltimore and South streets, when an announcement was posted on bulletin boards.
It was published in the newspaper's late editions and also in an extra.
"The news soon spread over the city, and it was a subject of general regret. His death was the result of general decay of the vital powers, and not caused by any organic or functional troubles," observed the newspaper.
"The great fight he made against wearing out of nature was not apparent to those who met him casually on the streets or from time to time in the various walks of life, but impressed those who were in daily contact with him," reported The Sun.
Abell was remembered as a "man of great natural vigor physically and mentally, he resolutely resisted the encroachments of age, and with such apparent success that few of his personal friends marked the steady decline in his strength that characterized the last few months of his life."
Three weeks before his death, Abell was at "The Sun office in a cheerful spirit, and drove out several times before being confined to his room."
"His self-reliance and independence were very remarkable, and well illustrated in late years, and even a short time before his death, by his objecting to ride in the street cars because people would get up and insist on his taking their seats," reported The Sun. "For this reason his democratic habit of riding in the street cars was somewhat restricted."
Abell was born Aug. 10, 1806, in East Providence, R.I., where he also was raised. He started The Sun as a penny paper in 1837. In the intervening half-century, Abell's paper as well as its owner rose to prominence.
"Mr. Abell's career in this city has been so closely identified with that of THE SUN, which is a welcome visitor to every family, that his name has long been a household word in every Baltimore home," reported the newspaper.
"He always discouraged sensationalism, scandal and idle gossip, and sought to keep THE SUN free from the contaminating influences which work so much harm through the columns of the press. His conception of the mission of journalism was far above the ordinary plane, and it may be said that if the American press were in all such cases dominated by the same principles and ideas which guided THE SUN, it would not be justly liable to the reproach so often cast upon it of abusing its vast power for both good and evil."
Abell's wake was in the east parlor of his mansion, and the next day, his funeral was held at Green Mount Cemetery. The Rev. J.S.B. Hodges, rector of Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church, conducted the service.
Tributes praising his life ranged from President Grover C. Cleveland to Baltimore Mayor Ferdinand Latrobe, who ordered that the flag over City Hall be lowered to half-staff.
One of the tributes came from Enoch Pratt, whose hardware business, Pratt & Keith, was across the alley from The Sun's first home.
Pratt had been an advertiser in its first edition, taking an ad that said nails, shovels, tacks and manure forks were available "for sale on liberal terms."
The two men became close friends, and of Abell's death, Pratt would write: "He has always been foremost in advocating all measures for the good of the city and of his fellow citizens."