Elsie V. Brown, a retired Baltimore and Ohio Railroad passenger car cleaner and matriarch of a five-generation family of 109 descendants, died of complications from heart disease and a stroke Sunday at Keswick Multi-Care Center. The Pimlico-area resident was 91.
Born Elsie Victoria Johnson on Henrietta Street in South Baltimore, she attended city public schools through the eighth grade. She was a lifelong member of John Wesley United Methodist Church and often recalled her baptism in Rock Creek at the old Brown's Grove, a segregated Anne Arundel County waterfront park that was served by segregated excursion steamers from the Inner Harbor.
Family members said she married Samuel Richard Brown on Sept. 23, 1928, when she was 14. She and her husband lived with family members in a Sharp Street rowhouse and later purchased their own home on West Hamburg Street at a site subsequently occupied by Parks Sausage Co. and now M&T; Bank Stadium.
Mrs. Brown bore eight children, and when the youngest was in junior high school, she took a job at the B&O; Railroad's yards near Camden Station and at Bailey's Roundhouse. She was hired during World War II, when many women took jobs in industry.
"She would get out the wash hoses and the long brushes and wash the coal dust off the outsides of the passenger cars," said her daughter, Elsie B. Code of Baltimore. "When she finished on the outside, she went in and cleaned more, then set out the clean towels and all."
Mrs. Brown, who walked to work daily, remained on the railroad payroll for 32 years.
"She never drove a car but directed its movement from the passenger's seat," her daughter said.
As part of her employment, Mrs. Brown had a pass to ride on trains. She used it liberally and visited nearly every state. She also enjoyed air travel and visited Hawaii and England. She decorated her basement with pictures, pennants and figurines from her excursions.
After retiring about 30 years ago, she took up sewing and enrolled in tailoring classes at the city's Waxter Center.
"She loved her hats and always coordinated her outfits," her daughter said. She recalled that her mother was proud of her strong and graceful hands. "Despite the fact her hands were in water a lot, she kept beautiful care of her fingernails.
"She enjoyed her grandchildren tremendously and visited each of her children's homes on Christmas morning, always before noon," her daughter recalled yesterday. "She had bags of presents, each marked for a division of the family. She completed the circuit by noon, then returned to her home and served dinner that evening for everyone, with the adults on the main floor and the children in the basement."
In addition to her daughter and her husband of 77 years, survivors include three sons, Irvin J. Brown, Joseph E. Brown and Gilbert L. Brown; two other daughters, Mildred D. Powell and Shirley L. White; and a sister, Ida M. Johnson. All are from Baltimore. She also is survived by 27 grandchildren, 44 great-grandchildren and 30 great-great-grandchildren. A son, William Brown, died as a 2-year-old, and another son, Samuel R. Brown Jr., died in 1970.
Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at John Wesley United Methodist Church, 3203 W. North Ave., where she had served as a senior usher, choir member and altar guild member.