Frank J. Talbott Sr., who fought in France during World War I and in peacetime was the head of maintenance for Baltimore's landmark Bromo Seltzer Tower, died of heart failure Tuesday at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 106 and had lived in Highlandtown for nearly 75 years.
Mr. Talbott was believed to have been the last surviving World War I veteran of the fabled 29th Division of the Maryland National Guard. He was a gunner in its 110th Field Artillery unit. About 30,000 Maryland residents served overseas during the war.
At an awards ceremony in 1999, the French government presented Mr. Talbott its Legion of Honor in recognition of his military service.
Born in Baltimore near what is now Bolton Hill, he moved with his parents in 1899 to the grounds of the Loch Raven watershed in Baltimore County, where his father was a gatekeeper for the city's water supply system. The second of eight children, he completed eight grades at the one-room Pine Grove Elementary School at Old Harford and Cub Hill roads.
As a teen-ager, he painted houses for several years in New England. When the United States entered World War I, he tried to enlist in the Marine Corps but was rejected because of poor eyesight.
On June 20, 1917, he enlisted as a private in the Maryland National Guard at Pikesville. A year later he sailed to France, where he spent the summer of 1918 being trained by soldiers in the French Army.
"His unit was one of the prime components of the famous 29th Infantry Division. It was a support unit to the doughboys who fought in the trenches," said Joseph Balkowski of Anneslie, the Maryland National Guard's historian. "He joined a historic field artillery unit that was entirely horse drawn."
"My grandfather often talked [of how] they worked with high-spirited French stallions," said his granddaughter, Ellie Lindung of Parkville. "They were afraid of the horses and just had to work through it."
After returning to Baltimore, Mr. Talbott resumed painting before answering an ad for a job at the tower -- the former Emerson Drug Co. headquarters in downtown Baltimore, where the headache remedy Bromo Seltzer was made and packaged. He took a job as a maintenance worker Aug. 22, 1929, and retired as maintenance chief on the last day of 1961.
"He talked of fixing and painting everything in the building," said one of his sons, Frank J. Talbott Jr. of Parkville. "He painted the big bottle on the tower, the clock, and the four offices on each floor of the tower."
The elder Mr. Talbott, who began driving in his 30s and gave up his keys at age 98, owned four cars in his life -- three Chevrolets and an Oldsmobile. He drove his first car, a 1931 Chevy, until the 1950s. Family members said he kept his cars for so long because he took the streetcar to work and often walked home at night.
His wife of 68 years, the former Virginia C. Reisinger, died in 1992.
Services were held yesterday.
In addition to his granddaughter and son, Mr. Talbott is survived by another son, James P. Talbott, and a 94-year-old brother, Charles Talbott, both of Parkville; and two great-granddaughters.