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The Living Spirits Of Sports Legends

June 13, 2012

Chasing ghosts, memories and dreams in historic Camden Station

By Charlie Vascellaro

Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards made a Toronto Star list of "Ten places to get your fright on," for all its violent Civil War and turbulent B&O Railroad labor-relations history, which resulted in dozens of deaths during its formative years.

With this in mind, and at the urging of PressBox publisher Stan Charles, I decided to do a little ghost hunting in the museum, and invited former Baltimore Orioles general manager Roland Hemond to join me. Hemond is a walking, talking, 82-year-old historical artifact himself, whose major league career spans more than six decades. He witnessed firsthand much of the history being celebrated in the museum. 

Hemond currently lives in Phoenix, Ariz., and is the Arizona Diamondbacks' special assistant to the president and CEO. He was an early contributing architect of the team, beginning his term as senior executive vice president in 1996, two years before the Diamondbacks' inaugural season, and ending it in 2000. He returned for his second stint with Arizona in 2007.  

History Of Camden Station

Originally opened in 1856, Camden Station served as the main hub of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and was the only rail line to Washington, D.C., from the North until 1876. After a lengthy period of renovation and remodeling, Camden Station was converted into the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards, which opened in May 2005.

"According to an old issue of Railroad History in America magazine, the station also served as a makeshift morgue during the Civil War, and many Civil War dead passed through," said John Ziemann, deputy director of the Sports Legends and Babe Ruth Birthplace museums. "I'm not sure if it's haunted, but if there is any place in the city that should be, this would be one."

During the early 1990s, while on an exploratory mission of the structure, executive director Michael Gibbons was examining the dark and dank basement with a flashlight. He discovered four brick and concrete cells with iron doors, which have since been converted to video display booths.

"We imagined they might have been storage units for dry goods and foodstuffs," Gibbons said. "After [the Battle of] Gettysburg, confederate prisoners were brought through the station to be processed, and some of the prisoners might have been placed in the cells for holding, but we also heard that runaway slaves on the underground railroad might have used them to hide away."

In a story written for The Sentinel magazine, published by the B&O Railroad Historical Society, David A. Pfeiffer wrote: "Camden Station also served as an important actual depot on the underground railroad during the Civil War. Slaves were transported North by train after escaping from Southern Maryland. Many were hidden in the catacombs beneath the station. The story is that Harriet Tubman, the 'Conductor of the Underground Railroad,' hid her own parents in the station in 1857, when she helped them escape to Canada."

Jerry Colangelo, who was then the owner of the Diamondbacks, presented Hemond with a 2001 World Series ring for his role in helping to assemble the championship squad, even though he was no longer with the team. Last year, Hemond received the National Baseball Hall of Fame's Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award, established in 2007 to honor a person whose efforts broadened the game's appeal and whose character, integrity and dignity are comparable to those of the late O'Neil, who was the only prior recipient.

Before our overnight stay in late April, I had been briefed on some spooky encounters several employees had had at the museum, although most of them wished to remain anonymous, for fear of appearing insane. Fortunately, appearing to be crazy has never been a phobia of mine.

One staff member referred me to a recent museum visitor, who said that while walking through the museum for a private event, she had felt the spiritual presence of a small child near a display case honoring recently deceased Orioles pitcher Mike Flanagan.

"It was a very physical feeling," said Maggie Mellow, of Merritt Island, Fla. "It made me dizzy and made my skin crawl and tingle. I couldn't see anything, but I knew it was a young man. I asked the man giving the tour if he had heard of the building being haunted, and he turned pale white."

The area where Mellow felt the presence is between the main lobby entrance to the Sports Legends Museum and the Gentlemen's Waiting Room, a location steeped in Civil War history. The first bloodshed of the Civil War took place at Camden Station April 19, 1861, five years after the completion of the building's construction. In an incident referred to as the "Baltimore Riot" or "Pratt Street Riot," a mob of approximately 500 southern sympathizers attacked about 1,700 Union troops of the Sixth Massachusetts Infantry, as they were preparing to board a train on Pratt Street. Four soldiers and dozens of civilians died.

Camden Station was again the site of violent conflict during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, when striking B&O Railroad workers and sympathetic Baltimore citizens clashed with members of the Maryland militia, resulting in 10 deaths, dozens of injuries and fire damage to the station.

John Ziemann, deputy director of the Sports Legends and Babe Ruth Birthplace museums, said the Camden Station building still bore scars from the railroad strike incident.

"When they were starting to restore the station in conjunction with the construction of Oriole Park in the early 1990s, and later, when we came in to give the building another facelift in 2004, workmen told me they found bullet marks in the East Tower," said Ziemann, who also serves as president of the Baltimore Ravens' marching band.

The successor to the Baltimore Colts Marching Band is represented in a chronological display of the bands' uniforms, which float in space as if being worn by invisible men; they kind of look like ghosts.

Hemond and I began our night at the museum in the lobby right where Mellow felt the building was haunted, in front of the Gentlemen's Waiting Room and next to the Mike Flanagan display case, which had since been converted to honor another former Oriole, Frank Robinson.

>> Article Continues on Page 2

Illustrations by John Pennisi

Issue 174: June 2012