City fixes damaged memorial to lost ship Pride of Baltimore

This is an overall view of the Pride of Baltimore memorial near Rash Field at the Inner Harbor. It has fallen into disrepair over the years.
This is an overall view of the Pride of Baltimore memorial near Rash Field at the Inner Harbor. It has fallen into disrepair over the years. (Barbara Haddock Taylor, Baltimore Sun)

The Pride of Baltimore Memorial, which had been marred by 26 years' worth of exposure to the elements and recent vandalism, has undergone substantial repairs just in time for the city's commemoration of the bicentennial of the War of 1812.

TheBaltimore Development Corp.has teamed with a local contractor to bring about the fixes, most of them to the granite portions of a site honoring the four crew members who died aboard the Pride of Baltimore, an ambassador for the city that sank during a May 1986 storm in the Bermuda Triangle.

"Hopefully, this gesture will provide some comfort to the families that lost loved ones, [and the timing] will allow thousands of residents and visitors the opportunity to learn about and remember the Pride's legacy," said Ryan O'Doherty, a spokesman for MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blake's office, which gave the go-ahead on the project last month.

The memorial, which stands in a grassy area of Rash Field just west of the Rusty Scupper restaurant, features two stone bases flanking the mast and rigging of a clipper ship. One of its granite display slabs had slid four inches down, bisecting the words PRIDE OF THE SEA and marring the display of the victims' names, among other signs of damage.

Vandals had scrawled graffiti on a brass plaque that displays an account of the sinking. The dead included the ship's captain, Armin E. Elsaesser III, and 23-year-old seaman Nina Schack, a Bryn Mawr School graduate who was the only Baltimore native in the eight-person crew.

Observers began noticing damage to the memorial about 10 years ago, says Jan Miles, captain of the Pride of Baltimore II, the vessel built in 1987 to replace the first Pride, a replica of a 19th-century clipper ship. He is also executive director of the Pride of Baltimore Foundation, the nonprofit organization that oversees the newer vessel.

The city made repairs at the time, but by 2009 or so, exposure to the elements had caused a number of new problems, including sagging panels, extensive cracking in a rear panel, rust stains disfiguring a slab that displayed some of the words from Elsaesser's log, and a chunk of granite that had been chipped from a corner.

By then, economic times in the city were tougher, but Miles says the Pride Foundation never stopped pushing for fixes.

"I know we have financial problems in every direction," he said last month, "but [maintaining the site] is a matter of honor, a matter of respect. One day we're all going to be asked, 'Why did you give up? Don't you honor the dead, your shipmates who have gone before?'"

The city, BDC and the Pride of Baltimore Foundation all had trouble determining which entity, if any, was responsible for upkeep. The BDC is a nonprofit that oversees economic development projects for the city.

Schack's mother, 82-year-old Roma Foti of Minneapolis, brought the matter to public attention in recent months, after visiting the site and feeling "disappointment" at its condition.

She realized it might be hard for the city to find funding during an economic downturn, she said at the time, but felt that if local residents knew about the state of the memorial, they might be able to help.

Foti contacted BDC, the mayor's office and other officials to see what could be done. "It would be good to know that plans are in progress to correct this oversight," she wrote in a letter to both entities.

The Baltimore Sun ran an article on the monument's condition in May, and Rawlings-Blake made it a priority to get the repairs made before the Star-Spangled Sailabration got under way.

"We recognize that the sinking of the Pride is a significant chapter in the maritime history we will be celebrating this summer," O'Doherty said at the time.

BDC got approval on the scope of repairs from the Pride Foundation, pieced together funding from several state-supported grant projects, and settled on Worcester-Eisenbrandt to do the work. The South Baltimore contractor is known for its restorations of historic buildings around the country, including the Patterson Park Pagoda and the Hippodrome in Baltimore and Frank Lloyd Wright's former home, Fallingwater, in Pennsylvania.

Starting this week, workers gave the site a thorough cleaning, removed and replaced all the old caulking and mortar, did mortar repair to replace the missing granite chunk and, most visibly, realigned the display panels that had slipped, among other improvements. They also added a support system to the slabs that had failed.

Repairs, which cost about $15,000, were completed Wednesday.

The project doesn't represent a total restoration — that would have meant completely replacing at least two slabs, a pricier proposition — but it's more than enough for the average visitor to gain a positive impression of a major Baltimore monument, says Irene Van Sant, director of special projects for BDC.

"Is it completely fixed? No, but [Worcester-Eisenbrandt] has done a wonderful job of restoring the site to a very dignified condition," she says.

Foti hasn't seen the repairs in person yet, but she sounds encouraged.

"The news that the memorial has received some timely and meaningful attention has made this whole effort worthwhile," she said. "I'm grateful to every person who has had a hand in it."