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Discover Your Second Family

Among the earliest actions the founding elders of Second Presbyterian Church took after erecting a church building was to buy land for a burying ground. In 1807 Second purchased about three acres at 1200 North Broadway at the intersection with Gay Street. They paid $1,051 (about $17,000 in today’s money) at auction. In early nineteenth century Baltimore this was still open country away from the city center, but today the buildings of the Johns Hopkins Hospital loom just blocks away. They named the site the Glendy Burying Ground after Second’s illustrious first pastor, the Rev. John Glendy.

The decision to purchase land some distance away from the church, then located at the corner of Baltimore and Lloyd Streets a few blocks east of the Shot Tower, was unusual in its era and showed the wisdom and foresight of Second’s founding elders. In his 1875 book, The Presbyterians of Baltimore; Their Churches and Historic Graveyards, author J.E.P. Boulden, wrote  “its distance from the heart of the city in 1807, the substantial wall with which it was enclosed, the extent of land it covered, and the massive capacious vaults built upon it, indicate that the congregation of Second Church were far in advance of their contemporaries in the matter of providing for their dead brethren.”

Before 1831, the large park-like cemeteries that we typically associate with the word did not exist in America. The deceased were buried in small private plots, or in burying grounds surrounding churches. Such church burying grounds seem quaint and lovely places of final repose today, but with the rapid growth of population in the early 19th century, they came to be seen as crowded and dangerous sources of disease. Keith Eggener author of the 2010 book, Cemeteries, noted: “Thousands of burials had taken place on very small plots of ground; these places filled up. You often had burials five or six coffins deep. Sometimes the walls would break down during floods—it was actually rather horrible—coffins would break open and bodies would spill out into the street. During times of epidemics—yellow fever, cholera—cemeteries were seen as centers for gathering of these diseases and their dissemination.” Moving cemeteries out of city centers allowed for larger burial grounds that “removed the dead from the immediate realm of the living.”

Glendy was an early example of the trend towards building larger cemeteries at a remove from the city. Baltimore’s Greenmount Cemetery established in 1838 is the culmination of the new style of picturesque garden cemeteries that are full of beautiful statuary. These became desirable public places for picnics and even hunting and carriage racing according to Eggener. Large public parks such as Central Park in New York or Druid Hill Park in Baltimore, or other public amenities like museums and botanical gardens didn’t exist until the latter 19th century.

Those buried in the Glendy Burying Ground were practically a who’s who of Baltimore. Prominent founding members of Second Presbyterian included General William McDonald who fought in the Revolutionary War and War of 1812, and created the Guilford estate that later became the neighborhood in which our current church building stands. Banker Alexander Brown was founder of the famous Baltimore investment house, Alex. Brown & Sons and another founding member of Second. George Stiles, the fourth Mayor of Baltimore, and George Dobbin, a founder of the Baltimore American newspaper were also laid to rest in Glendy. Many others were merchants, sea captains, and soldiers in our nation’s early wars. Boulden described these departed in a florid 19th century style:

“…in old Glendy are buried not only those “merchant princes;” those men who risked their capital, and bent all their energies, in established and building up the trade and commerce of Baltimore, but of those hardy mariners, who commanded the gallant crafts which wafted the articles of trade to and from foreign ports, over many a stormy sea; themselves, in many instances, the owners of vessels, and the owners of wharves, which bearing their names, will perpetuate them as among the chief founders of Baltimore commerce with the great marts of the world. And then, as will be noticed, is Glendy conspicuously the burial-place of the Defenders of Baltimore in 1814—of the members of that gallant band that is fast passing away, whose last survivor’s breath must, “in the very course of nature,” ere long be chronicled, and then these graves, as well as those of all that veteran host, will possess even a greater historical interest than now.”

We assume their wives and some children were buried there too. They, however, are not generally mentioned in the history books.

Former Faith Presbyterian Church built on top of part of the Glendy Burying Ground
Former Faith Presbyterian Church built on top of part of the Glendy Burying Ground

Sadly, by the 1870’s the burying ground’s eastern wall had become considerably dilapidated, allowing “thieves and vagabonds” to vandalize the cemetery. “Rough men and boys preyed almost literally upon dead men’s bones—unsealed their vaults, broke down their tombs, stole from the form their metallic doors and locks, and the silver plates upon which their tender affection had inscribed the names of the most precious, yet thus outraged, dead,” wrote Boulden, Even prior to that in the 1850s, Second sold part of the land for the construction of the new Faith Presbyterian Church, which later moved to its present location on Loch Raven Boulevard. Many bodies were moved in the 1870s to the newer Greenmount Cemetery when the City condemned part of Glendy for the extension of Broadway.

Today, little is left of the Glendy Burying Ground. The former Faith Presbyterian, a large dark gray stone church, still stands and is now a non-denominational African American church. The only visible remains are part of the high stone wall that once surrounded the entire cemetery and one weed-choked vault for John Hutson who died in 1831.

To imagine what the Glendy Burying Ground might have looked like, I suggest you visit the Westminster Hall and Burying Ground near the University of Maryland Medical Center. Best known as the burial site for Edgar Allen Poe, the graveyard was established by the First Presbyterian Church of Baltimore in 1787. It is also the final resting place for some Revolutionary War generals and other prominent Baltimoreans of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Westminster Presbyterian Church was built on brick piers above the graveyard in 1852 creating catacombs below the church.

Halloween is a favorite time for tours of the graveyard and catacombs. When I visited as a child on a school field trip, a few of the family vaults in the catacombs were opened for visitors to view the skeletal remains. You could still see the pieces of cloth that were used to tie the jaws of the corpses shut—very creepy for a 12-year-old girl. When some family descendants protested the practice a number of years ago, the vaults were closed. Westminster church was decommissioned in 1977, and is now a reception hall for weddings and the like. Its magnificent 1882 Johnson Pipe organ has been preserved, and is still used for occasional concerts. Visit the Westminster Hall Facebook page for information about upcoming tours and events.

Julie Evans