By the time we encountered him he was a very old man who sported a beret and an ascot and carried a walking stick. He was our next-door neighbor and the first person we met when we landed in Baltimore more than 30 years ago. His obituary in The Baltimore Sun would later describe him as a spry octogenarian who enjoyed working crossword puzzles, quoting Virgil and sipping a martini at his desk with an antique typewriter.
Philip Myers was all of those things and he was our introduction to the city, too. My wife and I were just kids. We did not do crossword puzzles and we had forgotten most of our Latin. But martinis seemed interesting. We went right over.
When Mr. Myers died a couple of years later, The Sun also recalled that he liked to be thought of as a raconteur and several of his memoirs were printed in The Sun’s Sunday Magazine. Mr. Myers had been a reporter for the nowdefunct Evening Sun in its heyday— before the First World War.
You could have a worse neighbor than a raconteur who drinks gin. He was plainly lonely and he liked an audience. In the afternoon, he would prepare a silver shaker of martinis of a potency that he said, like the Martini-Henry rifle, were deadly accurate at great distance. The shaker went into the icebox, as he still called it, for a frosty nap and was produced at the cocktail hour. I cannot speak to the accuracy of that firearm but the potables were deadly and efficient. Fortunately, we only had to walk next door.
Like any good raconteur, Mr. Myers had told his stories before and we were surely not the first to hear them. But journalists are like Masons and he had been in the lodge long, long ago. He had known H.L. Mencken (and donated his correspondence from Mencken to the Enoch Pratt Free Library ) but he’d also met Mencken’s old foe— William Jennings Bryan— and Helen Keller. He’d interviewed both for The Evening Sun when they came to town, a common practice in the old days, buttonholing traveling celebrities.
Mr. Myers was our portal to Baltimore and its roots, and to the Civil War, which seemed like only yesterday to him. Coming, as I did, from northern New England, I might have been deposited on the banks of the Sewanee River. Charm City, below the Mason-Dixon Line, seemed very Southern to me. And that impression, one that remains to this day, was much reinforced by the reminders of the late War Between the States that I passed every day.
Hard by Johns Hopkins University a statue commemorated the Civil War. I must have passed it dozens of times before I studied the inscription. It was erected by the Confederate Women of Maryland. Across from the Baltimore Museum of Art, there were statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on their horses! I often showed these to Yankee out-of-towners unaccustomed to seeing Marse Robert commemorated in public places. And we were not long here before someone hauled us to Green Mount Cemetery to see the Booth family plot (Johns Wilkes Booth, et al).
The Civil War is plainly a complicated memory in Baltimore, as we will be reminded on April 12, the 150th anniversary of the shots fired on Fort Sumter. Baltimore was plainly part of the old Confederacy— at least in sentiment. Maryland, a border state where there was slavery, seems to the casual reader of history not the most enthusiastic supporter of the Union. Consider the words of the state song, “Maryland, My Maryland.” (Is it ever sung except at the Preakness?) Written in 1861, this ditty is flecked with allusions to “the despot’s heel” and “Northern scum.”
I had not thought of Mr. Myers in a very long time but with the anniversary of the war the old man’s ghost comes to remind me of one of his most astonishing tales. Myers had been a student at the Friends School in 1909. That would be the Friends School that is now a condominium in Bolton Hill. The students at Friends, he recalled, were required to memorize the Gettysburg Address on the occasion of Lincoln’s centennial. The high point of the Lincoln celebration was a brief address by an ancient faculty member named Eli Matthews Lamb, whom Mr. Myers called Cousin Eli, a quaint custom among the Quakers.
Lamb, like the Quakers of the time, had been a pacifist during the war and had served in the Sanitary Commission. Lamb was at Gettysburg the day Lincoln delivered his famous speech— all 273 words of it in about two minutes that came after a two hour and 19-minute philippic by Edward Everett and established forever that less is more.
Mr. Myers never forgot the war or Cousin Eli or Gettysburg, and neither have my wife and I. He gave us his stories and his friendship and a few martinis and made it possible for us to say years later that we had known someone who had known someone who had heard the Gettysburg Address.