Baltimore's marble lady stepping down from Calvert Street
By SCOTT DANCE and The Baltimore Sun
Apr 21, 2012 | 5:32 PM
Lady Baltimore has withstood much in 189 years perched overlooking Courthouse Square.
She has lost both of her arms over the decades — one of them, holding high a wreath that signifies service to the republic, was sheared off by a gust of wind in January 1938, shattering on the pavement.
And though it may be hard to tell from the street 52 feet below, wind, rain, snow, hail and pollution have dissolved much of the marble statue's eyes, nose and ears.
But a new effort will finally give Lady Baltimore a new home — for her own good. City officials approved a $148,500 contract last week to construct a replica of the statue to replace the original, which will move eight blocks away to the Walters Art Museum next year.
"There is no doubt that leaving her in place means losing her," said Johns W. Hopkins, executive director of nonprofit preservation group Baltimore Heritage Inc.
The decision aims to preserve a monument to what is considered Baltimore's proudest moment, the Battle of North Point and the bombardment of Fort McHenry in 1814. The Battle Monument — which Lady Baltimore stands atop — is said to be the first public monument in the young nation. And it's the first in the world, historians say, to honor the lowly enlisted soldiers sacrificed in war.
The city's Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation began entertaining the thought of replacing Lady Baltimore as it prepared for the city's bicentennial celebration in 1997, said Kathleen Kotarba, chief of the commission. One of many restorations of the Battle Monument took place that year, but it wasn't until after the restoration last year that the commission requested money from the city to build a replica.
The effort to erect a permanent memorial to the 39 Baltimoreans who died began soon after the battles, Sept. 12-15, 1814. The monument's cornerstone was laid a year later and completed in 1825, four years before the taller Washington Monument in Mount Vernon. That towering statue was originally planned for the Courthouse Square site but was moved out to what was then the countryside to make way for the Battle Monument.
Lady Baltimore took her place looking down Calvert Street to the harbor on Sept. 12, 1822, according to a plaque that has adorned the monument since Sept. 12, 1915.
While the Washington Monument is perhaps the grander of the two, more than twice as high and better known, the Battle Monument carries more significance for the history of Baltimore, said Edward Papenfuse, the Maryland state archivist. The Washington Monument may represent the "heart and character" of the nation, but the Battle Monument represents Baltimore's important place in the nation's history, he said.
"It deserves this kind of attention," Papenfuse said of the Lady Baltimore statue. "It deserves to be cared for in a sensible way."
The statue and each element of the Battle Monument carry deep meaning, as designed by Maximilian Godefroy, a French-American architect who also helped engineer some of the fortifications that protected Fort McHenry in the battle.
Underneath the monument, 18 layers of stone signify the number of states in the union in 1814. The rectangular base was designed in the image of an Egyptian tomb, with doorways on each side, a symbol of eternity. The column atop which Lady Baltimore stands was made to look like a fasces, or bundle of wooden sticks — a symbol of power and authority, and an emblem of the modern republic. Around the column are the names of the 36 soldiers and three officers who died in the battle.
Lady Baltimore holds a wreath in her right hand and a rudder in her left, signifying Baltimore's ties to trade by sea. An eagle sits at her feet, peering up at her, and a bomb like those that inspired the lyrics of "The Star-Spangled Banner" sits to her left.
"What the design says is, this monument creates an eternal memory of republican courage," said Charles Duff, a Baltimore preservationist and historian.
Aside from the monument's inherent meaning, Lady Baltimore's presence amid Baltimore's civic and legal centers has made her witness to some of the city's most important moments.
When it was built, the monument sat next to the city courthouse, as it does today. But back then, it was also lined by some of the city's stateliest homes and was a popular gathering place.
In the 1840s, when Gen. Zachary Taylor faced trouble in the Mexican-American War, a call for volunteers drew thousands of men to the square, according to a history of the monument published in The Baltimore Sun in 1930. Political conventions were common, the article said, and the monument was even turned into a fountain in 1881 for celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Baltimore's settlement.
In 1870, Frederick Douglass addressed a large crowd gathered around the monument to proclaim the ratification of the 15th Amendment, which gave black men the right to vote, Papenfuse said. The monument was a center of information, Papenfuse added, because of a well-known newspaper stand Baltimorean Abe Sherman ran at its base for much of the 1900s.
The monument also helped establish one of the city's best-known nicknames: During a toast to the city in a visit, President John Quincy Adams declared, "Baltimore; the monumental city," Duff said.
Through all that commotion, the years have worn on Lady Baltimore.
While the lower portions of the monument were built with brick cores encased in marble mined from quarries in Cockeysville, Lady Baltimore was carved from marble imported from Carrara in northern Italy, Kotarba said. It has become what geologists call "sugared," with grains of marble crumbling away after years of exposure to the elements.
While the monument was surrounded by scaffolding during a restoration last year, Hopkins took a Baltimore Heritage tour group to see it up close. The need for preservation of the statue was clear, he said.
"You notice more when you're up there at her height; she is facing directly to the harbor down Calvert Street," Hopkins said. "All the wind and rain and pollution and hail and snow comes blowing straight up from the harbor."
Lady Baltimore — 12 feet tall with her pedestal — will move to a new exhibit in the Walters by next March. Museum officials haven't decided exactly where or how it will be shown, but Gary Vikan, the museum's director, said it will complement a planned exhibition of the works of Richard Caton Woodville, a prominent Baltimore painter who was born the same year the monument was completed.
"We're very eager to find a setting for it that will be revealing of its interesting history," Vikan said.
Steve Tatti, a New York art conservator who has worked on city monuments since the early 1980s, said he plans to begin work on a replica of Lady Baltimore this summer. His crew took molds of the statue and of griffins that adorn the monument around her while doing the restoration work last year.
There will likely be a period of a few days when, for the first time since 1822, no Lady Baltimore will stand atop the Battle Monument, he said. But there are no plans to take her down before the replica is ready.
The city historical commission's members felt that with the bicentennial commemoration of the War of 1812, now is a fitting time to ensure the continued preservation of Lady Baltimore, Kotarba said. The monument embodies the importance of the 1814 battle to the nation's history and Baltimore's part in it, Duff said.
"There's no possible number of Super Bowls that can equate to how people felt in 1814," Duff said. "The whole country was very proud of what had happened here."