by Lane Milburn
by Chris Calabrese
This past weekend I had made plans to visit Mt. Auburn Cemetery, a necropolis best known as a victim of vandalism and neglect. In anticipation, I was searching for an old Baltimore City Paper article about the place when I stumbled upon another article that described a whole slew of interesting cemeteries. So I decided to visit St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery, or the remains thereof, as well.
I found out that St. Vincent’s was the target of desecration for a period spanning three decades, starting in the 1950’s. An area gang subjected its initiates to the gruesome task of exhuming a body from the graveyard or one of the mausoleums lining the edge and spend the night in the looted resting place. Later, bodies were burned. On one occasion, a ressurectionist dug up a freshly interred infant.
Between disposing of the bodies, selling the property and stopping the vandals, neither the church nor the city could come to a solution. Finally, as the article linked above says, “the church got the authority to tear down the mausolea, bury the bodies, and stockpile the gravestones so vandals and thieves wouldn’t know where to dig.” According to the City Paper, the gravestones were deposited behind a 19th century pony barn somewhere nearby. With a city map in hand, a companion and I were able to locate what was left of the markers, eight years since the article was written and roughly three decades since the headstones were placed there. The first four photos show the remains of St. Vincent de Paul Cemetery, or as Jane Bromley Wilson calls the place, a “vanished cemetery,” in her book, The Very Quiet Baltimoreans: A Guide to the Historic Cemeteries and Burial Sites of Baltimore.
I have wanted to visit Mt. Auburn Cemetery for quite some time. The place looks abandoned for the most part, and large areas are so overgrown you can’t even penetrate them let alone see graves. The “nice” part, in the northeast quadrant of the grounds, is populated by roughly hacked out overgrowth revealing overturned headstones, flooded tombs and garbage. Towards the south, I found a small path maintained by foot traffic leading to a grave no longer marked by a headstone, with only a recently placed cross to signify that whoever is interred there is remembered by some one. Beyond that is an area to which I could only reach the very edge, only to find grave markers, tires and refrigerator parts strewn about. There is a dilapidated mausoleum or shed standing less-than-proudly to the west. Near the entrance, as we noted on the way out, is the grave of a Masonic woman whose status is marked by the pentagram and the letters “F.A.T.A.L” adorning its facade. In this forbidding decor, the letters of the word “fatal” actually stand for “fairest among thousands, altogether lovely.” And of course, there is the caretaker’s shed with a sign remorselessly revealing how this cemetery fell into such a state as it is now.