Jacques Kelly: New Cathedral is resting place for notable Baltimoreans, and small flock of Orioles greats

On a grim day during the 1918 influenza pandemic, 29 people were buried in West Baltimore’s New Cathedral Cemetery.

That day, Oct. 22, holds the record for interments in one day at the historic cemetery.

Some 110,000 rest among the hills and vales off a tributary of the Gwynns Falls, among them political leaders, captains of Baltimore industry and an interesting quartet of sports greats.

A unpretentious wooden gate house at 3400 Old Frederick Road, between Irvington and Edmondson Village, marks the cemetery’s plain iron entrance gates. A network of roads winds around the 125 acres where the renowned and unknown rest.

While the Roman Catholic cemetery opened in 1871, it included some bodies of those who lived in Baltimore dating back to the 1770s. These Colonial-era souls were once buried in the first Catholic Baltimore cemetery on Saratoga Street at the old St. Peter’s Pro-Cathedral. Their bodies were disinterred and brought to New Cathedral as a central resting place, replacing separate church yards around Baltimore.

Susan Schmidt, an official at New Cathedral, knows the confusing rules that governed the cemetery prior to 1960s church reforms. At one time there were separate sections for non-Catholics and for those who wanted to be buried with their non-Catholic spouses.

There was even a spot within the cemetery for known sinners and non-regular churchgoers.

Schmidt has prepared locator lists of the cemetery’s notable inhabitants, including some descendants of Charles Carroll of Carrollton and of Francis Scott Key.

Thomas O’Neill, who made a fortune at his Charles Street department store — then left it to pay for building the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen and Good Samaritan Hospital — is among the eternally sleeping. There are mayors, members of Congress and a U.S. senator there as well.

Among the builders of Baltimore are the Knotts and the Keeltys, as well as John Stack, who built the Roland Park Water Tower. The architect of City Hall, George Frederick, is also interred at New Cathedral. And so is Mary Avara, Maryland’s movie censor, who died in 2000.

New Cathedral is also home to sports celebrities, and among its most fervent visitors are baseball fans and historians of the sport seeking the graves of four Baseball Hall of Famers buried here. Cemetery officials believe the four represent the most Cooperstown inductees buried in one place.

The big four are all Orioles: John J. McGraw, Joseph Kelley, Ned Hanlon and Wilbert Robinson.

They were 1890s-era Orioles who played together, were present at each other’s weddings and wound up as perpetual teammates under the same West Baltimore turf.

News accounts offer colorful details about the burial of McGraw, who went on from his playing days to manage the New York Giants and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1937. His plain pine coffin arrived at Baltimore’s Pennsylvania Station on Feb. 28, 1934, following a Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Police closed the station’s Charles Street side to traffic and took the extraordinary step of halting three streetcars lines.

The priest who had assisted at McGraw’s marriage at St. Ann’s Church on Greenmount Avenue stood by with a squad of altar boys. The funeral procession took the better part of an hour to clear the station. Mourners wound through city streets to New Cathedral, where McGraw’s family bought a stone-clad mausoleum with a bronze door.

The Sun’s account of the funeral noted that among those in the crowd was Kelley, a surviving Oriole teammate and friend who lived another nine years.

Kelley would be buried not far from McGraw.

To this day, the graves of the four Orioles remain popular attractions at New Cathedral, and officials have maps to help visitors locate them.

For many, thoughts turn to baseball each spring, and a recent visit to the cemetery revealed a tribute to McGraw, the man once known as the “Little Napoleon” of the sport. Against the door knob of his elaborate tomb, someone had wedged a fresh baseball.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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