A Hall of Fame

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/November 17, 1910

Jones’ Falls Boulevard

 The new Jones’ Falls boulevard, of course, will have to be adorned. It will never do to permit that hideous panorama of back fences, dribbling sewer pipes, paneless windows, flapping lingerie, tumbling walls and chromatic billboards to remain. From the penitentiary to the harbor the city will have to tear down and build up, transmogrify and beautify if the boulevard is to be the joy forever described in the prospectus. Over the old bed of the falls will run the fine, new roadway; to either side will rise fine new buildings, and in the centre—well, why not glorify the central strip of green with a long row of marble effigies? Why not turn the new boulevard into a sort of municipal pantheon or valhalla?

Baltimore has long felt the lack of just such a place of heroes. We have so few statues to our local Miltons and Hamptons, not because we undervalue such men, but because we have no room for statues where statues rightly belong—that is to say downtown and in the sight of all. Druid Hill is too remote and too vast. Any monument less than 100 feet in height is lost out there among the giant trees. Patterson, Carroll, Clifton and the other parks, while not so much open to that objection, really belong, not to the city as a whole, but to neighborhoods. The average resident of West Lanvale Street, for example, does not visit Patterson Park more than twice in his lifetime. And there are other and more important uses for the few square rods of space afforded by the downtown triangles and plazas. The triangle at Hopkins Place and Baltimore Street, for example, is needed by the street-cleaning department for the storage of brooms, shovels and dead cats; the City Hall plaza is constantly in demand for the storage of sewer pipes, and the Courthouse plaza is piled high, year in and year out, with Belgian blocks, sand, gravel, broken stone, curbing and old boards.

More Room Elsewhere

In Paris there are multitudes of little squares, some of them no larger than 20 by 25 feet, in the heart of the city. There is one wherever two main-traveled roads cross, and from each rises a monument to some French magnifico—poet, pirate, president or pretender. In London the parks and boulevards are in the very centre of the town, and every one has its cluster of monuments, statues, memorials, columns. So, too, in Washington, Berlin, St. Petersburg and Rome. Even such towns as New York and Chicago have room within a few steps of their main streets for scores of sculptures. But not so Baltimore. We must make an avenue of heroes, elaborately and deliberately, or go without statues forevermore. Mount Vernon Place is already crowded to the guards with jurists, lions and other carnivore. No other space remains saving only the new boulevard.

There is, of course, one very respectable objection to the plan—the objection, to wit, that it will involve a huge and useless expenditure of money. The truly great men of Baltimore, the real benefactors of their fellow-citizens and of humanity in general, stand in no peril of being forgotten. George Peabody, for example, needs no monument on the Jones’ Falls boulevard, for the Peabody Institute is his sufficient monument. The same thing is true of Enoch Pratt and Johns Hopkins. They will be remembered so long as the library and university exist, and once the library and university perish Baltimore will be too decrepit to remember anything. Edgar Allan Poe, that most celebrated of Baltimoreans, does not need the monument certain enthusiastic persons would erect in his honor, for his memory will remain green so long as human beings take delight in being scared.

Men We Should Not Forget

So much for the objection of uselessness. I admit its validity, and propose, in answer, that the boulevard be adorned not with statues to men already honored and embalmed in memory but to men forgotten and neglected. Let us seek out, to go further, not those Baltimoreans of other days whose lives made for prosperity and progress, but those whose lives made for stagnation and reaction. In brief, let us erect statues to the men who have tried, from generation to generation, to make Baltimore not a great city but a desolate village. Let us ornament the new boulevard with their effigies that future generations may know them and remember their doings, and possible successors and imitators may take due warning.

The place of chief honor—say, just in front of the city jail—will go, as of right, to those astute and patriotic Baltimore property owners of the fifties who opposed with all the ardor of holy crusaders the laying of car tracks on Baltimore Street. There were so many of them that it would be difficult to erect monuments to all of them, but a selection of half a dozen of the most opulent and ardent might be made, and to these we might rear chaste marble piles. They have been forgotten, and yet, in their time, they did their best to keep Baltimore conservative and refined.

Who led the opposition to the purchase of Druid Hill Park? His name has faded, but you may be sure that he made a lot of noise in his time. Let his monument be placed well down the boulevard, near the harbor entrance, where the summer air is balmiest. And who led the opposition to compulsory vaccination? No doubt he was one of the professional prominent citizens of his day—one of the bumptious, self-satisfied, self-worshiping members of a species we still know and love. Let him have a statue side by side with that erected to the man whose name led all the rest when pietism and ignorance arose against Huxley in 1875—when that great man’s visit here, to help launch the Johns Hopkins University, was made the occasion for a truly astounding outpouring of calumny.

Others Fit For Honors

Others press for recognition—politicians, donkeys, scoundrels, corruptionists, reactionaries, killjoys. Let us not forget the rich men, the ostensibly decent men, the pious and platitudinous men who stood firmly against all honesty and reform in the weary years before 1895. Let us not forget the men who opposed the new charter of 1899; the men who opposed the establishment of public schools; the men who fought to the death against smooth streets, rapid transit, the new docks; the enemies of all improvements since the city began.

Let us have statues to these noble Baltimoreans—a whole mile of statues—that we may never forget them.

(Source: University of North Texas, Microfilm Collection)

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