Guest post by Paul Chasen, Special Collections Department
H.L. Mencken was a master wordsmith. He was a complex journalist and intellect. What Mencken did masterfully and proudly is leave our library a huge collection of sources of his life.
In the Spring 2023, a photo was brought to our attention that had some facts attached to it, but not enough to tell the whole story. The H.L. Mencken Room had the opportunity to meet with Professor Keesha Ha in June 2023, who was specifically researching this photo, H. L. Mencken with neighborhood children in alley behind Hollins Street, 1929:
For Professor Ha, a retired journalist and communications professor, this is a personal-interest project that fits one of the things she is passionate about in life: uncovering the truth.
Using 1930 U.S. Census records, and scouring the addresses around Mencken’s 1524 Hollins Street address, Professor Ha figured out who most of the children in the photograph were. Then, she took more chances and figured out who an ancestor to one of the children might be. Professor Ha’s work paid off, leading to connecting with Angela Johnson, whose mother, Emma (1927-1995), is the baby in the photo. Other children in the photo include Evelyn (1919-?), Earl (1920-1930), Mildred (1922-?), and Daisy (1923-1995) Johnson.
That led us to the H.L. Mencken Room, where the late curator of the room, Dr. Vince Fitzpatrick, met with Professor Ha and Johnson to talk about the photo and the impact it has had on them. Prior to Professor Ha and Johnson’s visit, the photo had few details attached to it beyond our knowing that Mencken bought candy for the neighborhood children. Professor Ha delivered the truth to the photo. After the visit, the photo became rich in description and context, giving the Johnson family a place in history that would have otherwise been lost.
H. L. Mencken with neighborhood children in alley behind Hollins Street, 1929 became more complete.
(l-r) Professor Keesha Ha, Dr. Vince Fitzpatrick, and Angela Johnson in the H.L. Mencken Room
Are you doing research about H.L. Mencken or one of the topics connected to him? (The Baltimore Sun, journalism, Prohibition, and politics are just a few.) Please consider visiting or contacting the H.L. Mencken Room at the Central Library at email@example.com or 410-396-5547.
This blog post is dedicated to the lift and legacy of Dr. Vince Fitzpatrick. He was the long-time curator of the H.L. Mencken Room who died unexpectedly on July 15, 2023.