Editor's Note: This story originally appeared in the November 2015 issue.
"Hello, boys, how are you?" asked the rider of two young chaps playing on a large Baltimore County estate in 1929. He flipped them each a ten-cent piece and rode off.
One of the boys was five-year-old John Laslett, son of a native Englishman of the same name. The rider was Captain Isaac Emerson, owner of Brooklandwood, the 550-acre estate he had purchased in 1916 from Alexander W. Brown. Young John's father was one of two chauffeurs for Emerson, the wealthy inventor of the pain remedy Bromo-Seltzer and owner of the stately Emerson Hotel in Baltimore City and the Maryland Glass Co. Laslett's mother was a maid and laundress for Mrs. Emerson at Brooklandwood.
Young John, many years later, wrote of his childhood growing up at Brooklandwood. This story draws heavily on that manuscript, courtesy of Steve Stenersen '78.
Emerson spent lavishly on his Brooklandwood estate: a formal Italian garden, beautiful European statuary, climate-controlled greenhouses, pools, ponds, a five-hole golf course and a tennis court (on which, Laslett tells us, Gene Sarazan and Bill Tilden played, respectively). Tom Mix, the cowboy actor, was a frequent guest. In 1911 he built the Bromo-Seltzer Tower at Calvert and Baltimore streets, which featured a 51-foot revolving Bromo-Seltzer bottle (the Tower still stands; the bottle is long gone).
Emerson rode around his property on horseback wearing a grey Homberg—"slightly on the portly side but always very erect and distinguished," Laslett wrote. He was a generous man, giving his winnings from the races at Pimlico to his two chauffeurs and paying for both young John's surgery and college tuition for the chauffeurs' sons.
Approximately 50 people were employed at Brooklandwood, with half in and around the mansion and half at the dairy and on the farm. Emerson's garage housed several Rolls Royces and a 12-cylinder Packard. The estate extended south into the Green Spring Valley, where the Grand National steeplechase ran across the property. Water storage tanks to the east, across Falls Road on the estate property, supplied water to Brooklandwood.
Fires destroyed the garage, stables, and apartments in 1935 and badly damaged the dairy two years later. "The Dairy provided the most creamy ice cream you can imagine," John recalled. Emerson, trained as a chemist, concocted a ginger ale and an orange soda; more fortified beverages included 30 barrels of Scotch Whiskey from Europe before Prohibition.
Laslett recalled the festive Christmas atmosphere at Brooklandwood. "The Big House at Brooklandwood had a large glassed-in porch or veranda," he wrote. "On Christmas Day about 3 o'clock, all the help and their families would gather for a party. Everyone would file in and receive a gift. I received a crisp $5.00 bill."
Emerson's stepdaughter, Ethel McCormick, married Francis McAdoo, whose father was Secretary of the Treasury in the administration of Woodrow Wilson, and Wilson's son-in-law. Wilson attended their wedding reception, becoming the only U.S. President to date to have visited Brooklandwood. Emerson's daughter, Margaret, married Alfred Vanderbilt, who died in 1912 when the passenger ship Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat.
Emerson died in 1931. His wife, Anne Preston Emerson, lived at Brooklandwood from October to June, when she decamped to White Hall. Her granddaughter, Ethel McAdoo married Walter Keith, whom, during a divorce proceeding, she accused of threatening her with a pistol in the parlor. Mrs. Emerson died in 1946, leaving Brooklandwood to her daughter, Mrs. Matthew Looram, until its sale to St. Paul's in 1952.