On a snowy hillside, amid ornate monuments with names such as Garrett and Abell that are bound to the history of Baltimore, a small crowd gathered yesterday in front of a plain slab that bears perhaps the most famous name carved in stone in Green Mount Cemetery -- Johns Hopkins.
The occasion was the 125th anniversary of the death of this wealthy trader and financier who achieved in death an admiration equal to the fortune he made in his life.
"We stand here today at the grave of a Quaker man of few words whose life remained simple and private, but who had the sharp wits to make a fortune and a large and remarkable vision of what was not only desirable but possible," said Steven Muller, a former president of the two institutions Hopkins founded -- the Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Hopkins died Christmas Eve 1873. Yesterday's brief ceremony began with Ross Jones, Hopkins vice president emeritus, reading from the obituary in The Sun that ran on the front page on Christmas Day.
"Mr. Johns Hopkins, the merchant, banker and millionaire, whose beneficence this community is so largely to realize in the future, died at 3: 45 o'clock yesterday morning, at his residence No. 81 Saratoga street, in the seventy-ninth year of his age," Jones read.
The fact that Hopkins never married -- and, as Muller pointed out, had the misfortune to fall in love with a cousin, ruling out marriage -- probably has much to do with the establishment of the institutions that bear his name.
"We know that he was not a saint," Muller said. "During the Civil War, part of his trade was the shipment of guns from England to the Confederacy, and he would have been expelled from the Meeting of the Society of Friends in Baltimore had it not been for the fact -- as recorded in the annals of this Meeting -- that he had already been expelled years before for trading in liquor."
Hopkins left an estate of about $8 million. About $1 million went to nieces and nephews. The rest was equally divided between the university and the hospital.
He had set in motion the establishment of the two institutions in the years preceding his death -- appointing trustees, purchasing the land for the hospital -- but it was his death that made available the bulk of the funds.
The $7 million was a stunning amount in 1873, the biggest philanthropic gift in the country's history. Figures supplied by the Federal Reserve Bank indicate that it would be worth about $95 million in today's dollars, but in its impact at the time, as Muller said, "its full worth today would be in the billions."
Two years before, Cornelius Vanderbilt had given what was considered the stunning amount of $1 million to establish the university in Nashville, Tenn., that bears his name. The $3.5 million that established the Johns Hopkins University was $1 million more than the endowment of Harvard University.
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, wearing a down parka, noted to the group enduring yesterday's near-freezing weather -- about 20 degrees colder than Christmas Eve 1873 -- that Hopkins was so frugal that he never wore an overcoat.
"Hopkins, Peabody, Enoch Pratt, Henry Walters," Sarbanes listed. "These are the people who gave the intellectual and cultural foundation and infrastructure for the city of Baltimore to build upon."
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke paid his respects: "I just want to say thanks on behalf of the citizens of Baltimore, so many of whom are employees of the institutions he began."
The last time such a crowd gathered on Christmas Eve at Hopkins' grave was 25 years ago. That was the beginning of the celebration of the centennial of the Johns Hopkins University, officially founded in 1876. Jones said yesterday's ceremony starts the celebration of the school's 125th birthday in 2001.
Muller noted that Hopkins gave the two institutions he founded more than money, evident in the instructions he gave to the trustees appointed in 1867.
"Just after the end of the Civil War, Johns Hopkins specified that his hospital should care for all people, regardless of sex, age, color or ability to pay," Muller said. "At a time when many of the African-American citizens of Baltimore were newly liberated slaves, these instructions show an exceptional largeness of mind and vision."
After a Quaker ceremony, Hopkins was interred in Green Mount Cemetery on Christmas Day. In addition to the front-page obituary, The Sun ran an editorial on that day. "The good which such men do lives after them, blossoming and bearing fruit for the improvement and happiness of future generations," it concluded.
Pub Date: 12/25/98