Charmed Life

Ms. Mobtown

by Brennen Jensen

John Davis Jr.
Here's the question: Who (or what) was Lady Baltimore? Well, first of all, there were Anne and Joan Calvert, the first and second wives of George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore (circa 1580-1632). There is also a Lady Baltimore cake (an obscenely sweet affair featuring raisins and nuts) and a Lady Baltimore cruise ship that takes tourists puttering about the harbor. Additional poking around turned up a Lady Baltimore hibiscus, silver pattern, novel, and brand of luggage. (A Web search on "Lady Baltimore" even coughed up a porno site offering "free pissing panty lady pics"--but enough said about that.)

The Lady Baltimore I wish to go on about, however, is none of the above. This lady is 14 feet tall, holds a sledgehammer in her hand, and wears a crown on her head. Oh, and she's made of stone. There are actually four such women, and their role is to serve as female representations of the city. What Uncle Sam is to the United States and John Bull is to Britain, so these looming ladies are to Baltimore: symbols. The City of Baltimore is personified as a brawny, limestone lady wielding a hand tool.

As best I can figure it, our town woman's tale begins in 1880. That's when the city threw a massive sesquicentennial celebration (belatedly keying off 1729, the year Baltimore received a town charter). Parades were a big part of this party--mammoth marches that make modern-day Rose Bowl parades look positively rinky-dink. Among the scads of floats sponsored by businesses, fraternal orders, and social societies was one dubbed "Baltimorea," which a parade program of the day described as "an allegorical representation of Baltimore . . . made by a figure seated on a throne with a canopy overhead." A picture of the float shows a crowned woman surrounded by figures and artifacts symbolizing the city's economic assets: tobacco leaves, ships, a caduceus, sundry tradesmen, etc.

I have no proof, but it seems pretty certain that Baltimorea was what inspired German-born sculpture Herman Henning to get busy a few years later. Sometime in the 1880 or '90s, he carved at least two (and possibly all four) of the Baltimorea-like statues that for decades decorated the St. Paul Street bridge over the Jones Falls river-cum-expressway. For more than half a century, this figure (times four) lorded over midtown traffic, watching as horsecars and streetcars gave way to automobiles and buses. Folks took to calling her Lady Baltimore.

In 1960, the bridge was given a major overhaul and the dames were dethroned. The four regal ladies were packed off to a grimy storage lot in the shadow of South Baltimore's (now demolished) gas tanks. Freedom for the forgotten femmes didn't come for 16 years, when new homes were found for them at last. Two of the ladies reside at Cylburn Arboretum, where they keep silent watch over the perennial garden. Besides the sledgehammers they clutch, the base of each statue contains an anvil, a gear, and part of steam engine. There's also a shield--resting on the back of a terrapin--that bears an image of the Battle Monument. The ancient limestone is rather weathered, so some of the other symbolic carvings are indistinct. I wish I could call Lady Baltimore handsome, but alas, both figures have had their noses all but knocked off. Nevertheless, they look stately and serene in their leafy, groomed nook (where, incidentally, no signage or markers indicate who or what the women are). A third Lady Baltimore sits in a small park where Lennox Street meets Mount Royal Terrace in Reservoir Hill. This lady, while also missing her nose, still sports a metal plaque reading ST. PAUL STREET BRIDGE.

And where is the fourth Lady Baltimore? She's some 3,000 thousand miles from her sisters. She sits in a field in County Longford, Ireland. In 1974, Baltimore's branch of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick Society arranged to ship her to the old country as a goodwill gesture. She's near Bal Tighe Mor Lane in what was once part of George Calvert's baronial lands. Curiously, this is nowhere near the town of Baltimore, Ireland (County Cork), where I drank many a pint of Guinness during a 1989 visit. (And whose portrait hung on the pub's wall where I downed those stouts? Willie Don Schaefer's, of course.)

So there you have it. While neither of the original Lady Baltimores, Anne or Joan, ever set foot in Maryland (which was founded by Cecil Calvert, aka the second Lord Baltimore), a Maryland-born Lady Baltimore--even if she's only an erstwhile bridge decoration--has returned to the familial lands of the Calverts.

A tip of the Charmed Life pen to Dan Gibbs for first putting the Baltimorea bug in my ear.

2009 Baltimore City Paper