Baltimore National Cemetery is located in the Beechfield neighborhood of Baltimore City's southwestern corner. The cemetery straddles the border between the city and Baltimore County. It was one of seven national cemeteries created between the world wars, 1934–1939. It was the Army's first major expansion since the Civil War directed at serving a growing veteran population and the rapidly depleting burial space at existing national cemeteries. Unlike previous new cemeteries, locations were based on veterans' places of residence, especially in or near large cities. The other interwar national cemeteries are Long Island, New York; Fort Bliss and Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Fort Snelling, Minnesota; and Fort Rosecrans and Golden Gate, California.
The site occupied by Baltimore National Cemetery was an historic estate called Cloud Capped (or Cap), which occupied an elevated setting adjacent to Frederick Road as early as 1750. The Frederick Road provided Baltimore with a connection to the National Road, the nation's first major overland route and commercial artery. The property was part of the holdings of the Baltimore Company (Iron Ore) and Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Cloud Capped residents apparently observed the attacking British fleet sailing toward Fort McHenry in 1814, and sent a messenger to warn the city of the impending Battle of Baltimore, which inspired Francis Scott Key's "Star-Spangled Banner." In 1890, when socially prominent Blanchard and Susan Randall acquired the estate as a summer home, its 90 acres were studded with mature specimen trees. Cloud Capped was enlarged through multiple additions over the years. A cottage and stable, adapted for use by the cemetery, were also constructed. A railroad stop near the property made it easily accessible to downtown Baltimore in the late 1800s.
By the onset of the Great Depression, Baltimore was the eighth-largest city in the country, with an estimated 30,000 World War I (1917–1918) veterans. The War Department estimated that nearby Loudon Park National Cemetery, the only national cemetery serving area veterans, would close to interments before 1940. Originally, the War Department intended to expand Loudon Park National Cemetery, established in 1862 to avoid the complication of establishing a new cemetery. But by May 1936, the U.S. Congress passed an appropriations bill funding a new one in the Baltimore area. The army considered six sites but determined that Cloud Capped was the most appropriate for several reasons. The property was adjacent to Frederick Road, the city streetcar line had easy access, the acreage ensured it would be active for "a number of years," trees sufficiently surrounded the parcel, the grade was level enough for burials, some Cloud Capped buildings were suitable to be adapted for cemeterial use, and the price was right. At the time, a local reporter envisioned it to be Maryland's "Little Arlington."
The initial and largest construction phase at Baltimore National Cemetery took place between February 10, 1937, and August 15, 1938. This consisted of the demolition of most of the mansion and erection of the "new" superintendent's lodge using materials salvaged from Cloud Capped's oldest wing, renovation of the cottage and stables, and initial landscaping activities such as grading, topsoiling, and removal or transplant of trees. Labor from the New Deal Work Projects Administration (WPA) was used extensively.
The first interment in Baltimore National Cemetery, George Edward Culver, took place on December 22, 1936, in an area that was cleared prior to the War Department's purchase of the property. The cemetery was dedicated on Memorial Day, May 30, 1941, with ceremonies commencing at Baltimore's Lafayette Square, led by World War I African-American veterans affiliated with American Legion Post No. 14.
From 1938–1940, separate WPA projects continued to develop aspects of Baltimore National Cemetery while contractors undertook other projects. In late 1938, the local Edgar Levi Iron Works fabricated the iron entrance gates; architectural sculptors Lombard and Ludwig, Inc., fabricated stone carvings, including the U.S. National Cemetery plaque and the stone capitals for the posts. The next year, A. Dixon Carey furnished the 75-foot-steel flagpole and limestone base. Levering Brothers, Inc. fabricated the bronze General Orders No. 80, National Cemetery Act, Memorial Day Order, and "Gettysburg Address" plaques; the David M. Andrew Co. installed the plaques on granite stands in November 1939.
In 1951, the Department of Defense proposed to purchase nearly 54 acres to expand Baltimore National Cemetery, but it was canceled because the cost exceeded budget estimates. The same year, an open rostrum space was developed around the flagpole that included limestone walkways, benches, a semicircular masonry platform with a lectern, and landscaping. Twenty years later, this was largely removed to create more burial space. Subsequently, the surviving retaining wall serves as the rostrum area.
Baltimore National Cemetery was among the seven busiest national cemeteries in the system following World War II (1941–1945). The demand for interment here grew dramatically in 1967 after Arlington National Cemetery enacted restrictions on burial at that cemetery. As a result, many veterans living in the Mid-Atlantic region who previously requested burial in Arlington National Cemetery, were diverted to Baltimore. This contributed to Baltimore National Cemetery's closure in 1970 except for burials in reserved gravesites or second interments in existing graves.
Today, at approximately 72 acres with 45,996 remains, Baltimore National Cemetery is the smallest of the Inter-World War national cemeteries in both size and graves. Veterans of World War II comprise the largest number of interments, followed by World War I veterans.
Baltimore is one of more than eighty VA national cemeteries that use upright headstones and flat grave markers in separate burial sections. The cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2016.
Monuments and Memorials
Installed between 1994 and 1996 in a semicircle inside the rostrum wall is a memorial group of six standard granite die-and-base monuments and an interpretive plaque that commemorates the 1st through 6th Marine Divisions of World War II.