Baltimore County marker dedicated to World War II spy honors real-life 'wonder woman'

The Baltimore Sun

Lisa Kraus of the Maryland State Highway Administration said she was inspired by the story of Baltimore native and World War II spy Virginia Hall, and was determined to honor someone she considered a “real, honest to goodness wonder woman.”

That effort was complete Saturday when Kraus and about three dozen others — including Hall’s niece and great-niece — gathered for the dedication of a historical marker along York Road in northern Baltimore County.

Hall, who spent much of her childhood on a family farm in the Parkton area, was a spy for Allied Forces. As leader of a team from the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, she helped sabotaged Nazi operations.

“The Limping Lady” — a nickname she received after losing part of her leg in a hunting accident — was revered by the Allies but hated by the Gestapo.

Hall coordinated agents, sent covert messages to Allied operatives, helped establish safe houses and became such a thorn in the side of the German leadership that she was labeled “the most dangerous of all Allied spies.”

She worked with the State Department, the French Ambulance Service, the British Special Operations Executive, and the OSS, and in 1945 was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross — the only civilian woman to earn such an honor for WWII service.

She later joined the Central Intelligence Agency, and had a lengthy post-war career.

Hall was born in 1906, attended Roland Park County School and pursued a career in the Foreign Service until the loss of part of her leg in the hunting accident deemed her ineligible. Yet she still found a way to contribute to the war effort, and by all accounts was a major player in the Allied resistance.

She died in 1982, with her exploits largely unknown at the time.

Kraus said she heard of Hall while performing research of the area for an highway project, and learned more through the book “The Wolves at the Door: The True Story of America’s Greatest Female Spy,” a 2004 biography by Judith Pearson.

Kraus advocated for the marker through a program administered by the State Highway Administration and the Maryland Historical Trust.

She said that as she researched Hall’s career, she was initially reluctant to press for the marker because, “in her life Virginia Hall never really wanted recognition for her work, or publicity for it. What she wanted, it seems to me, was just to do that work.”

Still, Kraus felt the female spy’s experiences could serve as an inspiration for others.

“The sum total of her life has more meaning than perhaps even she realized,” she said.

“I’m sorry Virginia,” Kraus said, “but you still deserve more honors, the people of Maryland deserve to know about you, your family deserves to know that you have this amazing legacy.”

“In a lot of ways, having the opportunity to do her work — the work that she was clearly made to do — was the bigger struggle than actually fighting the Nazis, leading a small army of resistance fighters and hiking across the Pyrenees in the dead of winter on one leg.”

Saturday’s ceremony unveiled the roadside marker on York Road near Interstate-83, near a former farm — then known as Box Horn Farm — where Hall spend much of her youth.

Hall’s niece, Lorna Catling, 88, said she was very appreciative of the attention given to her aunt.

“It’s a wonderful plaque,” she said. “I’m very impressed.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Alison Knezevich contributed to this article.

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