Maryland history comes to life in Green Mount Cemetery tour

Historian Vince Vaise give a presentation at the Maryland Historical Society ahead of a tour of Green Mount cemetery.
Historian Vince Vaise give a presentation at the Maryland Historical Society ahead of a tour of Green Mount cemetery.(Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun)

There was Enoch Pratt, the 19th-century businessman who established Baltimore's library system, laid to rest beneath a sandy brown obelisk. Not far away was Johns Hopkins, the entrepreneur and abolitionist and benefactor of the nation's first research university, buried beneath a sheet of stone that visitors litter with pennies.

A few feet away from Hopkins was Mary Elizabeth Garrett, daughter of the president of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, who spearheaded an effort to raise $100,000 for Johns Hopkins under the condition that the school provide opportunities for women.


Those are a few tales of the dearly departed that came to life during Saturday's Who's Who in Green Mount Cemetery tour, conducted by the Maryland Historical Society in partnership with the nonprofit Baltimore Heritage.

Saturday marked the fourth annual tour for the cemetery, the sprawling acreage of grassland along Greenmount Avenue that according to the cemetery's website was dedicated in 1839 and is the final resting place of more than 65,000 people.

Kristin Schenning, the Maryland Historical Society's director of education, said the tours began on the anniversary of the founding of Green Mount, which once was an estate. The event begins with a tour of the Historical Society, where key events and the lives of newsmakers in Maryland history are recounted. Tour participants then make the short drive to the cemetery, where the stories are told in further detail at the grave sites.

"We wanted to find who was on display at the Maryland Historical Society, who was at the cemetery and where were the links," Schenning said. "People say they really like the connections, the stories and finding these little gems. There are people that you've heard about, and all of a sudden there they are. It's a different way to look at history, a biographical way, but it has a little bit of a twist."

Schenning said the event is held each October. "In a way we picked October because people like reflecting on graves and dying, with Halloween and All Souls Day," she said.

Leading the tour was local historian Vince Vaise, a ranger at Fort McHenry who could spin a compelling yarn about the making of a cup of instant coffee. Dressed in a black suit, coat and derby and carrying a black umbrella, Vaise made each tombstone stop a colorful history lesson to the three dozen patrons that took part.

He explained that Garrett County is named after Baltimore and Ohio Railroad President John Work Garrett, adding, "When it broke off from Allegany County, the people who founded that county said, 'You know what? Our bread and butter is that railroad taking our farm goods back east. Let us name our county after the leader of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.'"

Vaise's tour included a stop at the resting place of one of Green Mount's most well-known figures, the actor John Wilkes Booth, President Abraham Lincoln's assassin.


"They said he could talk people into anything, almost," Vaise said of Booth. He said Booth's first plan was to lead a group of men in kidnapping the president, but he was unable to convince the would-be conspirators that it would work.

Vaise said Johns Hopkins' grandfather owned about 100 slaves, but when he "began realizing what he was doing, and started taking his religion more seriously, he decided to free all his enslaved people on his estate.

Vaise noted that this year's tour came on the eve of the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Maryland on Nov. 1, 1864.

Those who took part in Saturday's tour deemed it an eclectic way of learning about Baltimore's history.

Cemeteries "are a place that represents who came before us," said Cindy Geppi of Overlea. "The artistry, the tombstones, and what they represent, they're cool places. I think they should do this one at night."