Episode 153: Hold OnLore
- 1,257 views
- 5 Oct 2020
Sometimes the past sticks around because we work hard to make sure it’s never forgotten. Other times, it stays with us because we refused to let it go. But in one American city, the past seems to have stuck around for darker reasons.
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Every single photo is recognizable, golden sand, enormous stone ruins and the occasional glimpse of a camel or two, it's easy to know when you're looking at a photo of Egypt, and rightly so. Today, the modern landscape of Egypt is littered with relics from the past. Some seem as large as mountains, while others are mere fragments of a lone statue. But no matter their condition or size, these remnants from ancient Egypt keep the memory of that kingdom alive.
Thousands of years after those people lived and died there in northern Africa. And the modern nation of Egypt knows this all too well. More than just about any other country in the world. Egypt invests heavily in uncovering its past. Its tourism industry is focused almost exclusively on those fragments of another world.
Every year there are dozens of TV episodes filmed there, and one glimpse at Egyptian currency will tell you the same story. The temples, monuments and ancient artwork of their ancestors are cornerstones of who they are today.
What we hold on to tends to define us, whether it's a precious object or a specialized skill, the things we cling to and never let go of often end up becoming part of who we are. And most of the time, that's not a bad thing. There's nothing wrong with having pride in our culture or putting our past accomplishments on a pedestal. But even the darker parts of life have a way of sticking around, don't they? The fragments of past failures, painful topics from a nation's history, loved ones taken too soon.
There are some things we'd all like to forget, and yet they managed to hold on like unwanted house.
And few places in American history have been more defined by their past than one East Coast city, whether serving as a stage for violent conflict or a deep well of creative expression, its legacy casts more than a few shadows along the way.
And I want to take you there. But be warned, because in Baltimore, that dark past has stayed remarkably close to the present. I'm Aaron Manque, and this is Laura. Baltimore is special, granted, your list of reasons might be different from mine, but I hope we can all agree that Baltimore is a special place. Some of that specialness comes from its roots over the years, you've heard me give background on a good number of colonial settlements and all of them seem to follow the same script.
Europeans arrive in the new world, discover the perfect patch of land to settle down and trick or force the native inhabitants out in order to do so. And most of the time, that's how it went. But Baltimore is different. Yes, it's true that Native Americans had lived in the region as far back as 12000 years ago, but by the time the first Europeans were sailing into the Chesapeake Bay, no one was living on the land that those settlers would claim.
And what they found there was an incredible natural harbor with deep waters and miles of shoreline to build along. Europeans of various origins had explored the Chesapeake Bay in the decades leading up to the early 17th century, but in 1932, the English crown granted an official charter for a new colony to be called Maryland. Various communities were set up along the western side of the bay over the next few decades, building up to Baltimore County, which was established in 1859.
Interesting side note. The name Baltimore comes from the owner of the Maryland charter, Cecil Calvert's, a British nobleman who served in the Irish House of Lords. His estate in Ireland was called Baltimore Manor, and Cecil himself was the second Baron Baltimore. But ironically, he never once stepped foot in the county or city named after him. The city of Baltimore was officially founded in 1729, but history is never black and white, it's more of a sliding scale of various shades of gray.
So while, yes, that's the dates on the record books, people were living and working there for many years before.
And just about every aspect of life in Baltimore centered around the bay, including moving goods in and out of its many harbors. In fact, through the late seventeen hundreds, Baltimore grew into a powerhouse for trade and shipping. Which is why when the British decided to cripple American trade in the lead up to the War of 1812, they set their sights on Baltimore and a number of previous victories gave them the confidence that they could win, including the burning of the White House.
So when the British sent thousands of troops to Baltimore's eastern border, as well as ships coming into the harbor from the south, they assumed that it would be an easy fight. When they arrived in September of 1814, though, they learned that the Americans had been very busy getting ready to protect themselves. And at the center of that defense was Fort McHenry. This was a thoroughly American force built just 16 years earlier with every modern military tool at its disposal and the 1000 troops inside were ready to defend their country.
In fact, every morning they would raise a massive 42 foot long American flag over the fort as if they were taunting the invading forces. And then the battle began. While the British troops on land began their assault of the city. The ships in the harbor fired round after round at Fort McHenry for over 25 hours, beginning on September 13th. Experts estimate that roughly 1500 cannonballs and mortar shells were launched at the Americans inside. But when it was over, only five of the soldiers had been killed, three of whom died in the same explosion when a cannonball destroyed the bastion they were all stationed within.
This was war on American soil, though, which meant that the battle was on full display for civilians to see. In fact, one man, a young attorney from Baltimore who just happened to be on board a diplomatic vessel in the harbor, recorded his impression of the conflict from his location on the ship that night. He could see everything and it didn't look hopeful. But early the next morning, as the sunrise cast a brilliant glow over Fort McHenry, this attorney was amazed to see American troops inside boldly lower their tattered flag and then replace it with an even larger one.
The message was clear. We're not going anywhere. So do your worst. Instead, the British turned around and sailed south out of the Chesapeake Bay. That attorney would go on to put his emotions to paper, trying his best to capture the events of that night and the emotional roller coaster they put him through when he was done, he had written a poem comprised of four eight line stanzas. It was a poem that would eventually be set to the tune of a popular British sun before spreading far and wide over the next century.
And it was named after the flag that inspired at all. The attorney, of course, was Francis Scott Key and his poem. The Star Spangled Banner. They say that misery loves company, and if that's the case, three centuries of events in Baltimore have offered plenty of companionship, from military conflicts to large scale epidemics that took the lives of thousands. Baltimore is all too familiar with misery. And Fort McHenry has remained at the center of much of that activity after serving to defend the city and harbor around it during the War of 1812, the fort remained in active use for decades.
But it was during the civil war that it would take on a new purpose, a military prison. As the union forces did battle with the Confederates, oftentimes they would take prisoners and rather than transport those prisoners with them as they marched, they would be sent north to forts that saw less action. They brought places like Baltimore, Delaware and New York into the conflict in a unique way and left a mark on each of those structures in Baltimore's Fort McHenry is no exception.
But the four became the home to more than just prisoners of war, local officials who are sympathetic to the Confederate cause soon found themselves behind bars there as well. The mayor of Baltimore was one of them, as were a large number of newspaper owners and city council members and a man named Francis Key Howard, the grandson of Francis Scott Key. During World War One, the fort became a hospital offering over 3000 beds to patients in need of treatment. And then just as the war was coming to an end, the world found itself facing a new challenge in the form of a deadly influenza outbreak.
Many of the sick in Baltimore were treated at the hospital inside the fort, but ultimately over 5000 people died. Naturally, all of that activity left people feeling less than encouraged. That's a lot of darkness for one structure to play host to. And so it shouldn't come as a surprise that stories have been passed along ever since, stories that suggest just how much of the past has held on. Today, Fort McHenry is a tourist attraction and thousands of people move through those battered walls every month, according to some.
All of those visiting eyeballs translate into possible witnesses to the shadows that still haunt the place. Some have reported hearing voices inside empty rooms, while others have seen ghostly figures moving through the dark tunnels. Many of the sightings, of course, come with names attached to them in one particular prison cell in the fort. People whisper about a private named John Drew. According to the stories, Drew was found sleeping at his post and was placed in the cell as punishment, embarrassed by his failure.
The private took his own life with a weapon he had smuggled in. Visitors to his cell over the years have reported seeing the ghostly shape of a man pacing back and forth. Some have even claimed to see him outside where he stands at attention, perhaps trying to make up for his past failings. Mostly, though, people who visit his cell just feel an overwhelming sense of fear and anxiety, although I can't imagine not feeling that inside an ancient military prison.
Many of the experiences over the years, though, have been reported by those who guide the tours through the old forts, one guide claimed to frequent the cell that once held Baltimore's mayor at the start of the civil war, George William Brown. During his visits to the small room, he would often speak out loud to George, pretending to have a conversation with the dead man's ghost. And when he left, he would always call out, Good night, George.
But one night, many years ago, he forgot to say goodbye as he headed toward the cell door, according to his reports, as he drew near the doorway, something invisible and firm seemed to block his path as if someone were trying to keep him from leaving. Thinking fast, he turned around and called out into the room. Good night, George. And almost instantly, the door to the cell began to swing open on its own. One last story years ago, a guide was leading yet one more group of tourists through the halls of the forts when they stopped to discuss another portion of the building.
After the guide went through his script, he asked if anyone had any questions and a woman in the crowd raised her hand. Did the soldiers who served here wear blue coats and white pants? She asked. It seemed like an oddly specific question, but he nodded at her. Yes, he replied. They certainly did. And then feeling curious, he asked the woman how she knew that assuming she had done some research before visiting the fort. Because she answered, while you were talking to us, a pair of soldiers dressed just like that appeared right behind you.
Just north of Baltimore is a remnant of the past. It's a house, although once you see it, the word house sort of fails to capture everything about it. In reality, it's everything you might expect from an 18th century English manor.
In fact, when construction was completed on it in 1790, this house was the largest private home in the country and it stands on old land to the property originally belonged to a relative of Lord Baltimore. But a couple of generations after that man's death, it was all sold to a tobacco farmer named Charles Ridgeley. Within a few years, Ridgley expanded his holdings to roughly 15 square miles and then built a thriving business around it after his death in 1772, his son, also Charles Ridgley, took control and added even more.
And then in 1783, he started building Hampton Manor. Little did he know, though, that he would barely get to live in it. Within a year of its completion in 1790, Ridgeley was dead and with no son to inherit the place, his will passed it on to a nephew, Charles Khanin. But with one stipulation, Khanin had to change his last name to Ridgley. I honestly doubt that he gave it much thought, though, because the nephew took ownership of Hampton Manor almost immediately.
But it was a house that began with death, aside from Charles Ridgelines untimely death in 1790, there had already been another just three years before that the head carpenter on the Manor House project rode his horse into a nearby stream, but misjudged the water level and tragically drowned.
Sadly, more deaths would follow. It seems that the new Charles Ridgeley, the lucky nephew, had an unhappy home life, his wife, Priscilla, suffered from some mixture of depression and anxiety and kept to herself in a room upstairs. Stories about her often paint her in a horrible light, making it seem as if she was a bad person for refusing to join the family downstairs. But mental illness is real for a lot of people, and while it can often feel like a curse, it's not inherently bad.
Priscilla, though, passed away in April of 1814, just five months before the British attack on Fort McHenry, Charles lived for another 15 years, though, during which he served as the governor of Maryland before retiring in 1819. But it was a later governor who would leave a dark mark on Hampton Manor. In 1866, Governor Thomas Swane took office just as his daughter Cygnet was recovering from what was most likely tuberculosis, thinking that the fresh air and open space of Hampton Manor would help her recover the ridgelines, invited her to come and stay for a time.
And for a while it seemed to work. Then one day, Cygnet took a turn for the worse. Legend says that the lady of the manor, Aliza, originally decided that the young woman simply needed cheering up. And so she threw an elaborate party. But when Cygnet failed to attend that night, a servant was sent to check on her. They say she was found dead in her room, slumped over at her dressing table. Ever since there have been sightings in that room of a ghostly young woman, she's never violent or intrusive, but more of a grainy, silent film played on repeat.
Whoever the figure is, though, she is always described as wearing a ball gown. Sometimes she's been seen walking through the room, while other times she's been seated as if getting ready at a low table. All told, seven generations maintained the house and property all the way up to 1948, but it was in the 1920s when one final mystery appeared at Hampton Manor as the story goes. A woman was traveling through the East Coast on a mission to see as many of the old historic homes as she could.
And when she reached Baltimore, she was told that Hampton Manor was worth a visit.
Upon arriving, she knocked and waited for a reply after a long moment. The latch turned and the door opened to reveal an older man dressed in a formal attire of a butler. The man who introduced himself as Tom informed her that while the owners were not at home, he would be more than happy to give her a guided tour. So he invited her inside. And from what I've read, it was a fantastic tour. The pair moved slowly from one room to the next, giving her time to admire the antique furnishings, the vaulted ceilings, the artwork, all of it.
And every step of the way, Tom was ready to tell her a new story about that space or the people who live there. In fact, Tom might have been the best guide she could have hoped for.
When the tour was over, she went on her way, but so thoroughly enjoyed the house that she decided to call the ridgelines on the phone and thank them for the tour. The butler, she told them, was quite possibly the best tour guide she had ever met. But we don't have a butler, Mrs. Ridgeley told her. In fact, we haven't had one for years. The young woman assumed that there must have been a mistake. So she explained how she had been taken on a tour of the house and heard so many of the forgotten stories from its past.
And then she described the butler, hoping that it might jog the older woman's memory. Ah, yes, Mrs. Ridgeley replied, that would be old Tom. Yes, he was the butler, but we haven't seen him for such a long time. Old time, you see, and passed away. Thirty years before. The past always seems to chase after us, doesn't it? Most of the time that's intentional things we'd prefer not to forget from personal moments to national milestones.
That's probably why the study of history in classrooms around the world is so intertwined with names and dates and locations we honestly just don't want to forget. But every now and then, the past holds on for different reasons, maybe it's a local tragedy or the loss of a loved one that's just too painful to let go of.
Perhaps it's war or disease or indescribable pain. Those things are obviously a lot less desirable, and yet they manage to stick around in one way or another. I think it's safe to say that whether or not you might believe in ghosts, the past can certainly haunt us. And Baltimore is no exception. In fact, while it's been home to a lot of great moments worthy of remembering those feel like bright spots painted onto a wide canvas of shadow. Think about it.
For roughly a century, beginning in the 1970s, it seems like just about every generation living in that city felt the effects of war. And there was so much more than just that. But whether we're visiting places close to the bay like Fells Point and its many historic buildings or heading north to the grounds of Hampton Manor, it all teaches us the same lesson. We might not always enjoy the things that happened in the past, but that doesn't mean that we can escape them.
I mentioned earlier that the master carpenter who designed and built Hampton Manor, a man named Jihu Howell, tragically died before the house was completed. It said that he was paid up front and part of that payments came in the form of rum, which admittedly might sound equal parts odd and delicious to most of us. The fact was, for a very long time, leading up to the Revolutionary War, Rhum was the leading export coming out of the American colonies in 1758, when a younger George Washington was campaigning in Virginia for a position in the local assembly, he gave out nearly 30 gallons of rum and another 50 gallons of rum punch as incentives, despite the fact that his district didn't even have 400 voters living in it.
So, yeah, rum as payments might sound odd today, but back then it was liquid gold. And of course, there's speculation that the carpenter sampled a bit too much of his own paycheck before that tragic ride that ended with him drowning in the nearby river.
But there's no way to prove that more than likely, had he lived, he would have sold that rum off for a tidy profit or used it as payment to some of his crew. Regardless how died before he could finish the job, literally riding off into death on a horse from the Manners Tack Room attack room that's still there today, and if the stories are true, that's not the only thing that's stuck around. According to one man who once slept in the room directly next to it, noises in the tack room woke him up in the middle of the night.
Specifically, he said, it sounded as if someone had walked through it with heavy boots dragging their hand along the wall as they went, which rattled the chains and gear that hung their.
When he found the courage to go investigate, the man claims that he found the room completely empty, just as it should be. But when he turned on the lights for a better look, something unexplainable caught his eye. The gear that hung from the hooks on the wall. A swinging. Baltimore is an old city with a rich past, but not all of it is about war and country estates. In fact, few cities in America can claim to be the home to more influential artists over the years.
And one of them is left us with quite the mystery. Stick around after this brief sponsor break to hear all about it. This episode of law was made possible by best beans when you finished Bingeing, the latest riveting podcast on your list, there's always one more lingering question staring you in the face. Now, what if you're like me? Your brain needs a break. And that's when I like to clear a few levels on best means. Best means is the infamously impossible to put down puzzle game with over one hundred million downloads and counting.
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Musicians Billie Holiday, Frank Zappa and Tori Amos all call the city home. Abolitionist leader and social reform giant Frederick Douglass was born there as well. And the printed page has forever been altered by sons and daughters of Baltimore, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Upton Sinclair, Tom Clancy and even David Simon, the creator of The Wire. But if there's one name that the majority of people remember and feel a connection to, it's Edgar Allan Poe. Although Baltimore wasn't his place of birth, it was certainly the stage that much of his career played out on and the location of his untimely death.
But Poe is a deceptive figure. Today, we see him as one of the pillars of American fiction, a legend in the world of horror and mystery stories, and rightly so. But that cloud of glory is almost all posthumous because in his own lifetime, there was much more darkness than light. Baltimore's favorite author was actually born in Boston in 1889, but his first two years were full of tremendous pain and loss, although he was too young to understand it at the time, his father abandoned the family.
In 1810 and a year later, tuberculosis took his mother's life. And so Edgar, barely a toddler, entered the early American foster system. It was a couple from Virginia who took him in, John and Frances Allen. But that new home was a mixed bag. Yes, his physical needs were taken care of and he wasn't at risk of living on the streets. But John Allen was an angry, verbally abusive man who seemed to use his financial support of the boy as a tool of manipulation.
It would be great to say that Edgar Allan Poe was born a writer and that he did nothing else but scribble down stories all through his childhood, but there's no proof of that. The fact is, it doesn't seem clear that he knew what he wanted to do with his life, but life itself was slowly providing him with all the darkness he would need to fuel his later career. Over the course of the next two decades, tuberculosis would return to take the lives of both his brother Henry and his wife, Virginia.
His adoptive father would pass away and leave Poe absolutely nothing in his will, and he would fall into debt and be used and abused by publishers. His was a life of sorrow. But if you've read any of his work, you probably already assumed that. By 1848, though, things were looking up, his teenage sweetheart, a woman whose father had hidden his letters and who had later married another man believing Poe had lost interest, stepped back into his life.
She had become a young widow, and the pair discovered a second chance at happiness. But fate would step in and put an end to that within a year. In 1849, Poe became sick despite the warnings of his doctor, he traveled from Baltimore to Philadelphia for some work and disappeared for days. He was found in the gutter of a Baltimore streets on August 3rd, delirious and dressed in clothing that didn't belong to him. He was quickly taken to the hospital.
Some historians believe the evidence points to an Election Day scheme that involved getting men like pot drunk and then forcing them to vote in multiple locations. Others claim he had returned from Philly but decided to go get drunk before going home. But Poe had given up alcohol years before. To this day, no one knows the true circumstances that led to him being in that gutter. But we all know the results. Poe died four days later, on October 7th of 1849, at the young age of 40, he left behind a collection of published work that's both mind bogglingly good and far too small.
And it was work that he was never properly paid for. In fact, his most famous work just might be his poem, The Raven. But when it first appeared in print in 1845, Poe's paycheck was just nine dollars. That's barely three hundred dollars today. His funeral was attended by just seven mourners and he was buried without much fanfare, it wouldn't be for another 26 years before funds for a monument were raised. But rather than place it over his grave, it was placed elsewhere and his body was moved to be beneath it.
But for as mysterious as his death might seem, it's that grave site that's been even more puzzling. You see, on October 7th of 1949, a full century after his death, a dark figure was seen stepping into the cemetery where they left roses and a bottle of cognac on his grave. The following year, the visitor returned and did so for 50 consecutive years. They were never photographed, never stopped and never identified, and to this day, no one knows if it was one solitary visitor or a whole series of fans who have taken turns paying their respect.
Regardless, those visits have illustrated an important point. The people we've lost have never really left us as long as we keep holding on. This episode of law was written and produced by me, Aaron Manque, with research by Michelle Mudo and music by Chad Lawson, law is much more than just a podcast. There's a book series available in bookstores and online and two seasons of the television show on Amazon Prime video. Check them both out if you want more law in your life.
I also make two other podcasts Aaron Maliki's Cabinet of Curiosities and unobscured. And I think you'd enjoy both. Each one explores other areas of our dark history, ranging from bite sized episodes to season long dives into a single topic. And you can learn more about both of those shows and everything else going on over in one central place, grim and mild dotcom. And you can also follow the show on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Just search for our podcast, all one word and then click that follow button.
And when you do say hi, I like it when people say hi. And as always. Thanks for listening.