Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Shipley-Lydecker House

I don't remember what I was searching for back in September--perhaps information on Yale Gracey or Claude Coats and the Haunted Mansion. My search strategy brought me to a blog post on from 2006, provocatively showing the exact source upon which Ken Anderson's early rendering was based. The architecture was copied almost identically from that photograph. The book--a reference work found in Walt Disney Imagineering's Information Research Center--did not identify the name of the building, only that it was in Baltimore; apparently nobody had dug up any more information on the structure.

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!


Stub Winged Bilge Rat said...

Fascinating research. Thanks for sharing your hard work with us.

Amazon Belle said...

Well done indeed! I've been working on a doctorate and want it all to end, but when you get on a topic of interest you've got to keep digging until you find the answer. It will come and when it does we will all celebrate with you. Best of luck on this new blog. I don't post as often as I used to, but I will be sure to drop by often. Best of luck!

DisneyDave said...


Kim said...

I'm still impressed by this detective work you've done; and it's even sweeter that there is a Baltimore connection...

I'm also glad you have this down, because I always forget "Shipley-Lydecker" Too many syllables for me :P


Major Pepperidge said...

Wow, this is crazy! Crazy in a good way I mean. That is SOME research. I'm going to have to go back and re-read it. Thanks for the amazing information!

Vintage Disneyland Tickets said...

Hi Jason,

Well, this is a super start. I am a total information junkie (like you) so I just eat this stuff up!

I might be able to help track down the ultimate fate of this property. Did I mention I work for a nationwide title company? With the address (2550 McHenry Street) and the names, I can try and run a title search and see what happened. No promises, but I’ll see what I can find. The plat map from the Enoch Pratt Free Library will help.

Awesome subject, neat first post. Inquiring minds want more…..

Jason Schultz said...

Thanks to all who have posted comments. VDT: Let us know if you find out more! I may have another property (Disneyland-related) for you to look into soon, too.

Chef Mayhem said...

This is one of the best bits of research I've come across. DoomBuggies has had the Lichten photo online for a few years, but I would have never thought anyone would be able to track the place down - kudos!

Daveland said...

The FBI couldn't have done a better job - nice work!

Ghost Relations Dept. said...

Excellent Research!

Anonymous said...

Great research , but I was wondering why no one pointed you towards the infamous Garrett House of Baltimore ? The Garrett House looks like the Shipley-Lydecker House in most respects. The Garrett House is a registered historic home and has free tours. I would visit it every summer when I would visit my grandparents in Baltimore. Being a huge Haunted Mansion fan I instantly recognized the architectural similarities between the two mansions. Also it just happens my grandparents are members of the historic Garrett family in Baltimore. Hope this information helps.

-Sean Rayshel

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the research! I figured that it wasn't likely that the house would still exist but wouldn't it be great if it did?

Gina Draker STUDIO said...

Congrats on a wonderful site! I'm so impressed by your research! I've family in Maryland, and love the Maryland connection! When I visit there again, we will be looking into this former locale of the original "Haunted Mansion"! ;)

Thanks again!

giddy girlie said...

This is fantastic material and made my world just a little bit smaller... I grew up very near Disneyland and spent a lot of time there over the years (still do) and have always been a Mansion fan. In fact, I have collected HM stuff for a while and it's a never-miss ride for me. But what was weird is that I found this page by googling my maiden name (Shipley) and looking for our old family store (Mineral House) and this came up. I am going to check the family tree, but I am very certain that we are related to Shipleys in Maryland...

Jay Palmquist said...

Great research! Thank you.

Derek said...

Great Sluething! I love this kind of stuff. Thank you for sharing your finds with us. I'm posting a link to your article on my blog for my Anniversary celebration of the HM.

SMITTY012650 said...

This is amazing. My father grew up
on Franklintown Road, right up the
street and my only surviving uncle
asked me about this mansion.
I kept seeing it on successive
Sanborn drawings, but it wasn't
identified except in the 40's or
50's drawing someone jotted "VFW
club" on it. My uncle thought it
might have been built by Wilkens,
but now I can give him the whole
accurate history.
It's a shame the place didn't
survive, but if it had it would
surely be a drug emporium by now.
Thanks for the herculean effort!
Rick Smith

Deb said...

Your research shows true dedication and is so fascinating! The other comments are also quite interesting, thanks!

Jennifer Susannah Devore said...

Mon Dieu and I thought I was a Disney Dork! Well done, you :) I am bested. Quarters neither asked nor given where Disney devotion is concerned, oui?

As an offering, a plea to spare me my dignity, I have linked your fab blog to my fab blog's latest post. Apropos, it focuses on The Haunted Mansion and its present state of Tim Burton siege. Glorious, really.

Anyhoo, if you care to peruse my postings, you shall find many a Disney post and perchance, find tidbits hither and thither you knew not previously. Ditto pour moi, ici.


Tom said...

This is a great story but do not go there. This is pretty much the worst ghetto in Baltimore. There's nothing to actually see there anyway. You might literally get shot at in this neighborhood, even in your car. It's sad that this beautiful mansion has been replaced by a violent slum.

Unknown said...

So came across this page from a Google Search, been a while since your post, but thought you'd enjoy this info anyway. On a facebook page I follow a cousin of the original owners posted about this house. The page is called Mansions of the Gilded Age if you want to follow it and see the pictures. This is text from their post "The former Antebellum manse of my cousin Isabel Shipley Cunningham [1st photo]. Known as the Lydecker-Shipley mansion, it was built in 1804 in Baltimore and was used by the Walt Disney Company as the model for the Disneyland Haunted Mansion [2nd photo]. The 3rd image shows the evolution from the real Shipley mansion, to Disney imagineer Ken Anderson's early rendering which was at first rejected by Walt Disney, to Disney imagineer Sam McKim's alternate colorization which Disney approved, to the final Disneyland Haunted Mansion which was built in 1964 and opened to the public in 1969. My cousin's original mansion was later sold to the Veterans of Foreign War to use as a memorial site (ironically) for deceased soldiers, but was eventually torn down when the neighborhood became rundown and violent. A low income projects apartment complex now occupies the site. (please click on the pictures to see the full images)"