Ambassador worked for peace, parks Marburg: A Baltimorean who helped found the League of Nations lived to see the United Nations. He also advocated 'breathing spaces' in cities.


Theodore Marburg, who lived most of his life in his townhouse at 14 W. Mount Vernon Place, had been an outspoken proponent of world peace and had lived to see the founding of the United Nations rising out of the failure of the League of Nations.

Marburg was an internationally renowned exponent of world peace and former U.S. ambassador to Belgium, author, art collector, proponent of city parks and founder of the Municipal Art Society.

Most afternoons, this quiet, slender and elegant man who favored brown suits and soft brown hats, could be seen casually strolling Charles Street, with cane in hand. He was the very embodiment physically of a wealthy patrician. But his ideas made him different from other men of his time.

Marburg was born in Baltimore County in 1862, the son of William A. Marburg, who made his fortune with Marburg Brothers, a tobacco manufacturing company he founded in 1853 when he came to the city with his wife, Christine Munder Marburg.

The young Marburg began his education at Princeton University but withdrew because of ill health. He later studied at the Johns Hopkins University, Oxford University, the Ecole Libre de Science Politique in Paris and the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

After working for his father until 1891, when the business was sold to the American Tobacco Co., Marburg turned to writing. In 1896, he published "The World's Money Problems," which attacked the money theories of William Jennings Bryan, the populist.

In 1898, he published "The War With Spain," followed in 1900 with "Expansion," which was a study of American imperialism.

Urged international court

As president of the Maryland Peace Society, secretary of the American Society for Judicial Settlement of International Disputes, and chairman of the Third American Peace Conference, Marburg began proposing in 1910 the creation of an international court to end wars.

In 1912, Marburg was appointed ambassador to Belgium by President William Howard Taft.

"Mr. Marburg is regarded by his many friends in Baltimore as being extraordinarily well-equipped to fill such a post, because of his extremely broad and widely diversified interests in life, and because of his social and mental equipment as well, and they are delighted that he will now have an opportunity to give his ability play in a wider field of activity," reported The Sun.

When Woodrow Wilson took office in 1913, Marburg resigned. He and his wife were received by Kaiser Wilhelm in Berlin in February 1914, but Marburg continued to be an outspoken critic of the German threat to peace and stability.

"Mr. Marburg's criticism of Germany was given free rein in 1914 ** when he bitterly condemned that nation's military classes and its militarism," said The Sun at his death in 1946.

The Evening Sun said, "Although his family was originally of German origin, Mr. Marburg was pro-Ally. He had said publicly before the struggle that the war-like spirit of Germany was the greatest obstacle to world peace."

At the conclusion of World War I, Marburg continued his efforts on behalf of the League of Nations. One of the league's covenants had been drawn up in the study of his Mount Vernon Place home.

After the efforts of Republican Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts led to the Senate's failure to pass the league's treaty in 1920, destroying Wilson's dream of the U.S. participating in the world body, Marburg remained undaunted in his efforts.

"The Senate's rejection of the League covenant he called 'the most tragic blunder our country has ever made,' " reported The Sun in 1920.

Marburg continued to challenge the institutional isolationism of the 1920s and 1930s.

In 1938, he told The Sun, "If the President set his heart upon it, he could take us into the League through a joint resolution of Congress despite isolationist clamor."

"A general war is imminent. It has been brewing for three years. Even at this late date our country could save the situation by cutting off all intercourse with Germany, by merely repealing the Neutrality Act, which prevents our aiding the innocent and punishing the guilty."

After the fall in 1938 of Poland and Czechoslovakia, Marburg spoke out at a Lyric Theater rally.

Assailed Hitler

"He immediately branded Adolf Hitler a 'murderer' and a 'monster' to the cheers of the audience," reported The Sun.

"No matter what else we shall say of him, history hence will brand him a monster. What are his other qualities? Brains -- the brains of a criminal who is lucky for a time, but is crushed in the end. He has become the bully of Europe, getting his points by blackmail, the threat of war. "

A lifelong proponent of parks and preservation of Mount Vernon Place, Marburg led the effort in 1940 for the maintenance of restrictions limiting the height of new buildings constructed there.

"Because of his interest in the squares and other sections of the city that might lend themselves to artistic development, Mr. Marburg in 1899 called a meeting at his Mount Vernon Place home at which the Municipal Art Society was formed," said The Sun in 1946.

It was at the insistence of Marburg in 1939 that the society, a group of well-to-do, civic-spirited Baltimoreans, brought in the sons of famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to study the needs of the park system. Lawyer J. Wilson Leakin had bequeathed money for the city to build a park, but the location was hotly debated.

"Mr. Olmsted reported in favor of buying the Dead Run Valley (Crimea) site, which was eventually purchased," said The Evening Sun in 1946. This became Leakin Park.

Marburg told The Sun in 1940: "What is needed in cities is sunlight. We cannot have too many breathing spaces with grass and shrubbery to supply the country element."

'A human landmark'

Marburg was 83 at his death in 1946, and The Evening Sun said in an editorial: "With the passing of Mr. Theodore Marburg, this city loses a human landmark and a tradition. His long span of years carried him over into an age in which he seemed an anachronism -- until, right at the end, he saw his cherished hopes for a world organization for peace apparently on the way to realization.

"To Mr. Marburg and his family Baltimore is deeply indebted, for medical and educational facilities, for the development of the city park system, for many public spirited acts which have helped to mold and preserve what is best in the community's character. Nor should a younger generation forget that his was one of the earliest and most insistent voices raised in warning against Hitler.

"His was a long, full life. Though gentle and retired, it leaves its impress upon his native city."

Pub Date: 9/28/97

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