April 12, 2015

The Most (In)Famous Cherry Tree in Baltimore

As I was heading over to the Book Thing today for my weekly allocation of books, I passed the historic Union Memorial Hospital and saw that the gorgeous weeping cherry trees out in front of the old main building were (finally) in full bloom. Weeping cherry trees are my favourites, we had some at the house where I grew up and I just adore them. image

While the tree on the far right might not look like anything special, it actually is. The tree dates back to 1939. The date is not in question because of the donor: the notorious Prohibition-era gangster, Al Capone.

Capone had just been released from prison and came to Baltimore for treatment of psychotic dementia, a symptom of syphilis which was affecting his mental health. Johns Hopkins is/was considered the very best hospital in the United States, but because of Capone’s notoriety, they would not admit him.

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So the family turned to Union Memorial Hospital for treatment. Capone, his family and entourage allegedly took over the entire top floor of the hospital where he stayed from November until March. He felt like he was ready to leave Baltimore and head towards the warmer weather of Florida.

But Capone and his family were grateful for the care he had received at Union Memorial and gave the hospital two Japanese weeping cherry trees to be planted in the front of the hospital. The one on the west end was removed during some renovations, and the one on the east side suffered a bad break during our Snowpocalypse winter of 2010 and a massive limb split off. The remainder of the tree was saved, and is still blooming.imageimageThe fallen limb was given to a woodworker who then fashioned bowls, vases and wine-stoppers from it, and they were sold and auctioned to help provide care to indigent patients at Union Memorial. imageSeedlings from the original tree have been planted around the hospital grounds and are known as Caponettes.

Stories like this are why I love Baltimore.

All images, except the first one, courtesy of Union Memorial Hospital.

11 comments:

  1. This is a great story. The tree is gorgeous and so is the bowl.

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    1. It's such a typical Baltimore story, too!

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  2. Replies
    1. It's amazing that the tree has lasted so long, and with the back story, it's even better.

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  3. love stories like this! I didn't know he spent any time in Baltimore.

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    1. Just a couple of months. He went on to Florida, where he died.

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  4. I was born at Union Memorial and love lore like this. Thanks for a great story. Has UM kept the open porches for patients that used to be up there?

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    1. I doubt the porches are still there. Health & safety and all...

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  5. such a good story + wonderful tree also. xxpeggybraswelldesign.com

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  6. An incredible story Meg, with the history and creative beauty that has come from it!

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena
    Artist Nathaniel Galka

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  7. If one turns to an internet search for Symbolism of the cherry tree in Japanese culture, one learns of the role in society the cherry blossom plays. Perhaps, the fleeting beauty of the cherry blossom, representing the fragility of life , it is indeed a fitting gift for a hospital.

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