May History Alive

An Invitation to our Bonaparte Gala, An Evening with Washington Post's Steve Vogel, and More

From the desk of
Burt Kummerow

Volume 2 Issue 5 
May 1, 2013

Things are really cooking at The Maryland Historical Society! We will be joining our lively Baltimore community of museums to welcome the National American Alliance of Museums Convention, 6,000 visitors strong, from May 19-23. In fact, that whole week after the Preakness has been designated Baltimore Museum Week so come on down!

On Saturday, May 4, at 1:15 pm, 2:15 pm, and 3:15 pm, we will begin our third season of performances by the Maryland Historical Society Players. Ricky Howard will be moving playing an 1812 sailor and then jumping four decades to portray Sgt. Major Christian Fleetwood, the Baltimore hero who was awarded a Medal of Honor for his bravery with the 4th U.S. Colored Troops in 1864. We will be filling our galleries with characters from Maryland History throughout the rest of 2013.

In addition to our award-winning Educational programs and many noteworthy events, our entire staff has been gearing up for the June 9 opening of our "Woman of Two Worlds: Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte and Her Quest for an Imperial Legacy" exhibition.

Every day, dozens of designers, art handlers, volunteers and members of the media have been touring our McCardell Gallery. It's safe to say that 2013 marks the "Year of Betsy" here at MdHS, and even 130 years after her death, we continue to be fascinated by this Belle of Baltimore.

About the Exhibition

Bonaparte Tiara
Garnet Tiara worn by Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, circa 1803-5, Maryland Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. Charles Joseph Bonaparte, xx.5.295
Elizabeth "Betsy" Patterson Bonaparte has inspired countless books, movies, articles, and fictionalized accounts.

Born in Baltimore to a wealthy family in 1785, Elizabeth shook local and Parisian society when she wed Jerome Bonaparte, brother of Emperor Napoleon.

Whether in Europe or in Baltimore she always caused a stir with her renowned beauty and wit. Elizabeth was still making news as one of America's richest women up until her death at age 94. Despite a life of celebrity and financial success, she lived with unfulfilled imperial dreams.

The exhibition includes silver, porcelain, paintings, textiles, jewelry, manuscripts and furniture associated with Elizabeth and her descendants illustrating her unique life shaped by American and European societies.

Of particular note are Elizabeth's pearl and garnet tiara and other jewelry, and one of her "scandalous" dresses in the French-style. In total, more than 100 objects will be on view in the exhibition, and this marks the first time the Maryland Historical Society has featured an exhibition exclusively devoted to a historical female figure.

With that in mind, I would like to extend a personal invitation to you to join us at our black tie Bonaparte Ball, which will be held on the eve of the exhibition, on Saturday, June 8.

A Special Invitation


You can fill out the attached form and mail it back to us, or contact Development Coordinator David Belew at 410-685-3750 ext. 399;

And as we draw closer to the opening of the exhibition, we have been adding more posts to our popular "Woman of Two Worlds" Blog. Chief Curator Alexandra Deutsch and Exhibitions Manager Heather Haggstrom have detailed the love affair of Elizabeth and Jerome Bonaparte, what brother Napoleon had to say about it all, and a special behind-the-scenes look at the exhibition creation process.

This week's edition highlights one of the most important objects in our entire collection - the very piece that allowed Elizabeth to be a "Woman of Two Worlds." Read on for more from Alexandra.

Pack Your Bags and "Go!"
Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte:
A Woman on the Move

By Alexandra Deutsch, Chief Curator

"Always move forward..." Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, 1840 
Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte was a woman on the move. In a recent conversation with historian Helen Jean Burn, author of Betsy Bonaparte (Maryland Historical Society, 2010), I asked, "Why do you think Elizabeth always lived in boarding houses?" Burn's answer was thought provoking. "She wanted to be able to leave at a moment's notice."

Trunk owned by Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, probably China, circa 1800, Maryland Historical Society, Gift of Mrs. Charles Joseph Bonaparte, xx.5.552

Never one to be tethered to a permanent residence, Elizabeth made a total eight trans-Atlantic trips at a time when few women attempted a trans-continental voyage more than once if at all. Elizabeth did not maintain a home of her own or a staff of servants. Instead, boarding houses and hired help made her free to pack her trunks and "Go."

Helen Jean's answer got me thinking back to a quotation in a little known diary by Martha Custis Williams Carter who visited Elizabeth at Mrs. Gwinn's Boarding House on Cathedral Street in Baltimore in the 1860s. Carter describes the contents of Elizabeth's room, noting, "An inch stump of a candle...Three large black arm chairs, two wardrobes, a bed & a cabinet & a table compose" There was no carpet, no wallpaper, and no gas in the room because Elizabeth believed it provided a healthier environment. For a woman who spent years in the palaces of Europe, this kind of Spartan interior seems, in a word, bizarre.

Always one to doubt a source, I thought I would compare the possessions Carter noted with an inventory from 1863 written in Elizabeth's own hand. She records:

one Mahogany Ward Robe, one walnut wardrobe, 1 ditto Bureau with Looking Glass & marble Top, 1 Ditto walnut wash Stand marble top, 1 walnut Bedstead, Spring Matress & 1 hair Matress, 1 small walnut Table, 3 French arm Chairs, 1 woollen Blanket & 1 ditto cotton, 2 dressing gowns round the Blankets & Soap in, Mahogany Dressing box, in which are the Keys of Trunks & of the Boxes in the Merchants Bank, one Mahogany writing Desk, 2 Flat irons, 1 Demi John

Much to my delight, Carter's memory of Elizabeth's room was accurate. The "3 French Arm Chairs" are more than likely the "Three large black arm chairs" she recalled. The two armoires, one walnut and one mahogany, appear in the inventory along with the simple bed and the table. What the inventory and Carter's diary do not record are the significant number of trunks and boxes Elizabeth always had on hand. Before Elizabeth departed for a European trip, she left her more cumbersome possessions in the safe possession of the bank and various trusted friends. Sometimes she left her paintings at the Maryland Historical Society. With trunks and boxes at the ready, she could be off in a moment. And "Go" Elizabeth did!

Luke Zipp of Crocker Farms in Sparks, Maryland and volunteer at the Maryland Historical Society, recently scoured Elizabeth's letters to reconstruct where the peripatetic Elizabeth was between 1815 and 1864, the year she returned to Baltimore permanently. Keep in mind, Elizabeth had already made one ill-fated trip to Europe in 1805 when she and her soon-to-be estranged husband, Jérôme crossed the Atlantic.

Here is an excerpt of what Luke found. It's a glimpse at the life of a nineteenth-century "jet-setter."

1815 - London and Cheltenham
1816-1817 - Paris
1817-1819 - Back to Baltimore
1819-1824 - Geneva, Rome and Paris
1824-1825 - Back to Baltimore
1826-1834 - Paris, Florence, Geneva, Le Havre, Savoy and Gaillon
1834-1839 - Back to Baltimore
1839-1840 - Paris
1840-1849 - Back to Baltimore
1850 - London
1852 - Back to Baltimore
1861 - Paris
1861 - Back to Baltimore
1863 - Paris
1864-1879 - Back to Baltimore where Elizabeth died

Now, the Bonaparte exhibition isn't the only major project currently going on at The Maryland Historical Society. If you're a fan of our Facebook and Twitter pages, you've already heard the exciting news - this summer, we will be recreating the Star Spangled Banner!

'Stitching History:' Recreating
The Star Spangled Banner -
Add Your Stitch!

Mary Pickersgill Flag
A Romantic View of Mary Pickersgill Meeting the Military entitled "Mary Pickersgill Making the Flag."
Oil on canvas by R. McGill Mackall, MdHS, 1976.80.61

Beginning on July 4, 2013, the Maryland Historical Society is recreating the 30 x 42 foot Star Spangled Banner flag. We will be sewing the flag during the same six-week time period that Mary Pickersgill did 200 years ago!

Mary Pickersgill, a local flag maker, worked with her daughter Caroline, nieces Eliza and Margaret Young, and African American indentured servant Grace Wisher to complete the flag in six weeks. We aim to recreate the flag during the same time period 200 years later.

Our flag will then be flown at Fort McHenry during the Defenders Day celebration on September 14. Then, in 2014, the flag and the Francis Scott Key manuscript will make their way to the Smithsonian's American History Museum, where the original Star Spangled Banner is on display!

MdHS has recruited experienced quilters to construct the majority of the flag, however, we want to share the experience with our friends in the general public. To do this we will have two public sewing days, where anyone can come in and put a stitch or two in the flag! These two days will be Saturday, August 3 and Sunday August 11 from noon till 3 each day.

Here is your chance to sign up. Click on the dates below to register - we will only be posting this a few more times as seats are filling quickly!

August 3rd signup:

August 11th signup:

My sincerest thanks for taking part in what will be a truly historic event.

"Torn Asunder:" The Trauma of a
Divided State during the Civil War and
the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation - Come to Dramatic Life

Scene Rehearsal
Kalina Bland, Darryl Brantley and Elias Ramos rehearsing the scene 'Mothers'.
On Friday, May 3 at 6pm: Freedom, slavery, divided families and divided loyalties amid the tragedy of a Civil War are dramatically brought into focus with the special theatrical presentation of "Torn Asunder: The Civil War Midstream."

The production showcases four scenes that illustrate the human side of the conflict. It's a collaborative effort between the Baltimore School for the Arts, Maryland Historical Society and National Park Service.

Students and faculty from Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA) worked together to develop scripts and produce the performances. The students also conducted research at the MdHS library.

"Students engaged in the historian's craft and were immersed in the world of the 1860s by closely analyzing personal letters, and other materials from MdHS's archives," says Director of Education, Kristin Schenning.

The production includes four original scenes that illustrate the complexity of race relations during the Civil War:

"Caught in Between:" When a young abolitionist girl visiting her sister (the overseer's wife) teaches an enslaved boy to read, severe punishment ensues and the reputations of all are at stake.

"Mothers:" Two African-American mothers fear that their sons may wind up on opposing ends of the conflict when one son is forced to become a servant to a Confederate officer and another contemplates joining the Union Army.

"Crossed Paths:" A fugitive slave and Confederate deserter make an uneasy alliance as they both seek their own version of freedom.

"World Undone:" Inspired by an actual occurrence on the Hampton estate, when an assertive former slave arrives on the estate to claim clothing given to her by her free husband, the white mistress, her daughter, and an enslaved domestic servant have something to say about it.

"This production takes the classroom outside of the classroom - the public is in for a real treat," says Chief of Interpretation Vincent Vaise.

The public performances will be held on May 3 from 6-7 pm at the Maryland Historical Society. The performances last approximately one hour. This production is free of charge as part of National Parks Week and is supported by a grant from Wells Fargo.

To register, click here or call 410-685-3750 ext. 377.

An Evening with
The Washington Post's Steve Vogel

Binary Map
Author Steve Vogel
On Thursday, May 23 at 6pm, celebrate the launch of the one of the most recent books on the War of 1812, Through the Perilous Fight, with Steve Vogel of the Washington Post.

Vogel is a reporter for the national staff of The Washington Post who covers the federal government and frequently writes about the military and veterans. He is also an avid history buff. "I grew up in Alexandria and was always interested in the local history of Virginia and Maryland," Steve Vogel says.

"A lot of focus has been on the Civil War - you would learn so much about that as a kid - but it always seemed a bit odd to me how little was known about the war of 1812. You would hear how the White House was burned and Fort McHenry was bombarded, but you never really knew how it tied together."

Steve's new book seeks to answer those questions. Through the Perilous Fight tells the gripping, little-known story of a pivotal six weeks in U.S. history when our place in the world was changed forever - the story of the perilous fight that preserved the new nation at a time of grave danger, severed remaining ties with America's colonial past, and inspired the country's most indelible song: The Star-Spangled Banner.

Binary Map
With two compelling lead characters - Admiral Cockburn and American lawyer Francis Scott Key - and a breakneck narrative that includes brilliantly rendered cameos from James Madison and many others, Through the Perilous Fight is thrilling, superbly researched, and fast-paced. Filled with maps, political cartoons, portraits and paintings it brings history into vivid relief, from James Madison's flight to the scars the White House still bears. This story is one that still resonates today; The War of 1812 was a war of choice that divided Americans, not unlike the Vietnam and Iraq wars, and the burning of Washington was a national tragedy that united the country.

"The idea we had taken a foreign attack on the mainland 200 years ago, that we had an invasion that landed in Maryland; not only did the British make it to the Capitol, they burned the White House, the Capitol, and basically every government building," Steve said. "While it wasn't a terrorist attack, it had the same effects on the country that we saw after 9/11 or Pearl Harbor. After these shocking attacks, it unified the country."

"In the phrase through the perilous fight, Francis Scott Key really captured the danger the U.S. faced at that time," Steve continued. "We whizz thru that line when it's sung at the ballgames, but just consider how the crowd sang the Star Spangled Banner last week, in Boston, at the Bruins hockey game. You couldn't hear the person singing it because the crowd picked up and sang in his place. People were singing with heartfelt emotion. You can feel that it's not words or empty bravado."

This event is Free for members and $10 for non-Members. To register, visit our website or call 410-685-3750 ext. 377.

Believe it or not, these are just some, but not all, of the events going on at The Maryland Historical Society in May! For a complete listing, be sure to check out our website,

Like 'History Alive?' Share it With a Friend!

I hope you're enjoying our monthly History Alive! E-newsletter. If you have a friend or family member who might enjoy receiving up-to-the-minute news and information about our events and exhibitions (and, of course, our trivia questions), simply send them this link:

And they can sign up!

Speaking of Trivia...

Trivia Time!

Congratulations to everyone who correctly answered last month's question! North Point State Park has seen its fair share of Maryland happenings. Archaeological findings indicate a human presence in the area dating back 9,000 years. In more recent centuries, Maryland colonists began farming there around 350 years ago. During the War of 1812, it was an important route for British invaders on their way to Baltimore.

In the 20th century, Bay Shore Amusement Park was a popular amusement park built in the Edwardian style. Complete with a dancehall, bowling alley, pier, and assortment of rides, the park entertained thousands of visitors every summer!

The amusement park is no more and the land has returned to nature, but the grounds still serve Marylanders looking for a jaunt in the woods on one of its many paths.

Ready for this month's question?

Born in Baltimore in 1829, this man worked as a tobacco merchant and bookseller before settling in the trade of playhouse manager and owner. He would come to own and operate several theaters across the region in cities like Richmond, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC, but he got his big start running the Holliday Street Theatre in Baltimore.

At the height of his career he had established a large network of venues and was also an active member in Baltimore's civic life, serving on the City Council and as President of the Union Railroad Company. He died in 1894 in his hometown and is buried in Loudon Park Cemetery. Believe it or not, the federal government once permanently seized one of his theaters!

Question: What is the name of this man and why did the government seize his theater?

Email us your answer, and you, too, could win a prize! Best of luck.

Until next month,

Burton Kummerow
President, The Maryland Historical Society
National Maritime Day
Celebrate National Maritime Day!
Interested in Maritime Careers? Wonder what goes on at the Port of Baltimore? Learn more.
learn more 
Civil War Living History
Civil War Living History Day at the Medical Museum
Experience an 1863-era field hospital and Civil War encampment on the grounds of the Museum!
learn more 
Kathleen Battle
Underground Railroad:
An Evening with Kathleen Battle at Strathmore
Explore the music that expressed the suffering and salvation of enslaved Africans as they found their way to freedom.
learn more 
In Full Glory
In Full Glory Reflected: Discovering the War of 1812 in the Chesapeake
Ralph Eshelman and Burt Kummerow's book is the Winner of the 2013 Maryland Historical Trust Preservation Award!
learn more 
From Enemies to Allies
From Enemies to Allies
Commemorates the bicentennial of the War of 1812 and the resulting two-century special relationship between the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. This three-day conference will feature the most current and distinguished scholarship on the causes, conduct and consequences of the War of 1812.
learn more 
Maryland's Civil War Photographs
Maryland's Civil War Photographs - The Sesquicentennial Edition
Learn more about Ross Kelbaugh's acclaimed work, and pick up your own limited-edition hardcover or softcover copy today!
learn more 
Founded in 1844, The Maryland Historical Society Museum and Library occupies an entire city block in the Mount Vernon district of Baltimore. The society's mission is to "collect, preserve, and interpret the objects and materials that reflect Maryland's diverse cultural heritage." The Society is home to the original manuscript of the Star-Spangled Banner and publishes a quarterly titled "Maryland Historical Magazine." The Society is located at 201 W. Monument Street and open to the public Wednesday-Saturday from 10 am-5 pm, and Sunday (library only) 12 pm-5pm.