The confluence of circumstance, I modestly believed, made me the perfect person to ferret out information on the house. I had my obvious interest in Disneyland history. I am currently in Maryland for graduate school, so if need be I could drive up to Baltimore or consult with local historians who might know something. Additionally, for the past several years I had been working on a California gazetteer and was familiar with the types of sources that often contained information about geographic entities like the unnamed mansion. I set out with the premise that the house probably didn't still exist, or some Disney fan would have taken notice of it.
For my first order of business, I checked out the book, Decorative Art of Victoria's Era by Frances Lichten, 1950, from the library. It was with trepidation that I gazed at the page with the photo of the house--if there were no other identifying information, I wasn't sure where to turn! I was pleased, then, to find a citation: "Photographs, Courtesy, Index of American Design, National Gallery of Art." There was no further information to identify where in the collection this photograph might have come, but I nevertheless sought out information on the IAD. I grew a little confused to learn that the Index was mostly a project to record decorative artwork in watercolors; where did the photographs come in, I wondered? I did eventually find that the collection held a small number of photographs where it was felt watercolor renderings wouldn't do the items justice.
So, I sent off an e-mail to the National Gallery of Art identifying my source and crossing my fingers that that meant anything to them. Meanwhile, I consulted about a dozen Baltimore architecture books, flipping through page after page, photo after photo, hoping to stumble upon a new view of that building. Nope. I also looked through volumes of indexes of the Index hoping to find something, but struck out there, too.
Charlie Ritchie of the NGA soon got back to me with as much information as I could have hoped for! Photographs were taken on May 26, 1937 by Christopher Schindele. The real subject of the documentation was the cast iron grillwork; who knows what the Haunted Mansion would look like if the ironwork had not caught the attention of somebody back in the 1930s! The house address was listed as 2550 McHenry Street, Baltimore, and the owner as Mr. Phillip Leydecker. The grillwork was dated to 1805. He provided a photograph reference number of MD-ME-I-59 for the overall house and MD-ME-I-61 and MD-ME-I-62 for close-ups of the iron work. (Though I have not done so, reproductions can be ordered from the National Gallery of Art.) I let Charlie know the reasons for my inquiry and he said the staff was "delighted and amazed" at the local connection to the Haunted Mansion.
Upon receiving this information, I first went to Live Search Maps to see an oblique aerial photograph of the address... and found no Haunted Mansion. This is the area as it exists today in the western part of Baltimore, with the previous location of the Shipley-Lydecker house within the white box:
Now that I had a name and an address, I could try to answer some additional questions. Who built it? Who was the architect? When was it torn down? Google Books allowed me to find several guidebooks that gave brief mention of the house, and the descriptions are charming and humorous in light of the completely different context the house's architecture has at Disneyland.
Maryland, A Guide to the Old Line State, compiled by workers of the Writers' Program of the Works Project Administration in the State of Maryland, had the following to say on page 251:
The SHIPLEY-LYDECKER HOUSE, McHenry St. and Franklintown Rd., is a pretentious three-story, square, brick structure built by Charles Shipley in 1803. It has a two-story addition at the rear and a flat hipped roof surmounted by a cupola with a gilded weathervane and three round-arch windows. The typanum of the two-story columned portico is decorated with rays radiating from a half sun. The elaborate cast-iron grillwork of the two-story gallery porches, extending around three sides of the house, is notable.Hulbert, Footner, author of Maryland Main and the Eastern Shore (Hatboro, PA: Tradition Press, 1942) couldn't make up his mind about the structure (pp. 70-71):
One of the butcher's houses standing in a plot at the corner of McHenry Street is without doubt the quaintest, the most absurd, and the most picturesque dwelling in Baltimore. It is said to have been built in 1802. Originally a plain, square dignified structure of that good period, some later owner of a taste less pure, has embellished it with a double gallery all around, decorated with cast-iron work more fantastically elaborate than anything in Baltimore, which is famous for its cast-iron balconies. All this iron lace-work is painted white, and the effect is dazzling.The architectural evaluations were interesting, but I still wanted more on the history of the house. There was very little information turned up with a general web search, but I did find that the West Baltimore Post 476 Veterans of Foreign Wars had converted the house into a living memorial to the dead of World War II. I have not contacted them to see if they have any records concerning the house or know when it was torn down.
A classmate of mine, Megan Dwyre, put me in touch with the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Jeff Korman graciously pulled some things together from their files in a PDF which you can download here. This is what he was able to find:
...a photo of the house as it appeared in The (Baltimore) Sun Magazine, March 27, 1949. A history of the mansion that was given to me for our files by Isabel Shipley Cunningham. A portion of the 1914-1953 Sanborn Fire Insurance Atlas for Baltimore showing the block the house was situated on and its orientation with regard to the surrounding streets, and a few pages from the 3 volume family history, The Shipleys of Maryland showing Charles Shipley and his issue- and a drawing of the house.There must be more information out there; I imagine the Baltimore Sun would have had an article when the house was finally torn down, but I have not looked. (The Washington Post did not.) I wonder if the two buildings existed simultaneously.
Note: Not every post will be like this! I had just done quite a bit of digging in this particular case and thought it a good story with which to kick off my blog. I hope the story of my research didn't come off too tedious--I want to include some information like that in some future posts. If I've overlooked something, someone can step in and point it out!