Remembering Fort McHenry's soldier-artist

On the same day that Jacques Kelly's fine article on the graves of some Baltimore soldiers who served "over there" on World War I battlefields was printed (“Cemeteries hold those lost in WWI battle,” Sept. 22), I was busy at Loudon Park Cemetery trying to find the final resting place of World War I veteran Private Joseph Lewis Weyrich. This Baltimore native was also a casualty, but of something more deadly than the war itself. Private Weyrich's entire military service was at U.S. Army General Hospital No. 2, a 3,000 bed facility erected on the grounds of Fort McHenry to treat and care for the wounded from the European battlefields.

Currently, an exhibit on the hospital with artifacts of the period from the park's museum collection are displayed in the Visitor Center Education Room. Several pieces are from my personal collection as well. One of these is a painting of the Fort's main gate done by Private Weyrich. Soldier-artist Weyrich was the instructor in commercial art, teaching his wounded and convalescing students the finer techniques of the art world as a member of the educational department at the hospital. I had purchased the painting and another one of the Fort's sally port done by him from eBay some years ago. But only recently, with the centennial of the war, have I become interested in learning more about the artist and his military service.

His budding art career took him to exhibitions in Philadelphia, Washington and New York where he established a studio. Although registered as a member of the Society of Friends in 1917, he started in his position at the hospital in June 1918. His promising career was cut short when he is one of the first of the post staff to come down with the Spanish flu. He succumbed to the disease on Oct. 8, 1918 at age 29. The Spanish flu was actually part of a great wave of influenza, a lethal virus that swept across America and around the world in 1918 and 1919. Before it was all over, it killed an estimated 670,000 Americans in one year. Some 300 patients came down with it, and 100 of them would die from it during the pandemic at U.S. Army General Hospital No. 2.

An October 10, 1918, the Baltimore Evening Sun ran an article, "Death of Weyrich Loss to Art World. Brush of Baltimorean, Who Died at Fort McHenry, Promised Great Future By Critics." The article goes on to praise his artistic efforts stating "although only in his twenties, young Weyrich had already earned a place in art." His funeral was held at the First Unitarian Church in the city. The article further states the "remains will be accompanied to the grave by a military escort from Fort McHenry."

This put in motion an effort to find his final resting place if it at all possible by Oct. 8, in order to place a commemorative display honoring him as part of a centennial observance of the "Great War." Our search took us to Loudon Park Cemetery where many flu victims were cremated and buried. The cemetery staff was very helpful in locating the file that indicated Weyrich had indeed been cremated there, but no location of his ashes. A visit to nearby Loudon Park Funeral Home would give us the answer. His ashes were sent to Provincetown, Mass. It was there where the young budding artist had in 1916 joined with other artists and playwrights to form a group which became known as the Provincetown Players. It became obvious to us that he chose his earthly remains to be scattered in an area about which he was especially fond.

Our search had come to a "dead end" with no grave that we know of to decorate. But we've decided we have a good proxy. On Monday, Oct. 8, the 100th anniversary of Private Joseph Weyrich's death, I will walk a short distance from my house to neighboring Most Holy Redeemer Cemetery and place a bouquet of flowers and an American flag on the grave of Sergeant Henry Gunther who died one minute before the Armistice was signed on November 11,1918.

Paul Plamann, Baltimore

The writer retired in 2017 after a 50-year career with the National Park Service at the Fort McHenry National Monument & Historic Shrine.

Become a subscriber today to support editorial writing like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
46°