What Baltimore landmark connects William Penn, William Donald Schaefer, Leon Fleischer, Barbara Mikulski, and one of Baltimore’s “Top Docs” for 2008? Answer: The Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center, which in September celebrates its 25th year as a holistic center at 4801 Yellowwood Avenue in northwest Baltimore.
Founded by Baltimore notable Zohara Meyerhoff Hieronimus, Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center is the largest and oldest holistic wellness center on the East Coast. It is also one of Baltimore’s best-kept secrets, despite its rich and varied history. One reason for Ruscombe’s low profile is its mission to create a quiet, peaceful atmosphere where listening and relationship building can assist in self-healing. The current 29 certified, licensed professionals in private practice at Ruscombe are united in their approach of focusing on the whole person and not just the physical symptoms.
The Name of Ruscombe
Ruscombe’s role as a focal point for intentional healing and service actually dates back much farther than the 25 years it has housed a holistic healing center. It was 1969 when artist Bob Hieronimus discovered the deteriorating mansion. In those days the 25-room, three-story, late Georgian revival was accessed up a long, winding tree-lined street called Ruscombe Lane, and almost four acres surrounded the dilapidated home that was then in private hands.
Hieronimus and a group of 12 young spiritual seekers ranging in age from about 18-25 moved in as renters and began transforming the mansion built by the architectural firm of Ellicott and Emmart in 1906. The young people had been meditating together regularly for some time and sought a communal living experience.
They soon learned that their new home was originally situated on part of the estate belonging to James Wood Tyson of the famous Baltimore Quaker family of philanthropists and abolitionists. Tyson’s own home had been named “Ruscombe,” a name that survived (though his mansion was in decay by the 1960s) to grace the neighborhood, including Ruscombe Lane and several institutions in the area, like the Ruscombe Gardens senior living center across the street from the Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center.
A Peaceful, Easy Feeling
Back in 1969, the new young tenants were so impressed by the Quaker background on their land, that they traced the name “Ruscombe” back to William Penn’s final home in England and later adopted a Seal used by Penn as their logo. While the original Tyson home, an 1866 Renaissance Revival stone mansion, fell into disrepair, Hieronimus and friends organized themselves down the lane in their 1906 mansion into a strict, peaceful living commune. They called it Savitria (for “House of the Sun”), and dedicated themselves to the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man. They raised goats, grew their own food, banned drugs, and tried to live with clean intentions modeled in part after the Gnostic Essene communities. They taught classes in meditation, theosophy, astrology, symbolism, Jungian psychology, and metaphysics, ultimately forming the Aquarian University of Maryland (AUM). They drew international speakers and gurus of many faiths and had an impressive board of directors that included Dr. Olga Worrall, Dr. R. B. Amber, and Charles Berlitz.
Occult Goes Mainstream
Even a young Barbara Mikulski, now Maryland’s Senior Senator, attended a few classes at AUM. The AUM Center was approved by the Maryland State Board of Education to offer certificates in Religious Metaphysics, Occult Science and Mystic Arts. The announcement of this academic achievement garnered headlines around the world like “Education Enters Age of Aquarius” and “From Yoga to Jung, AUM Has It.”
AUM and Savitria continued to thrive in the mansion until the late 1970s when the forward-thinking Mayor of Baltimore, William Donald Schaefer, approved a plan to tear down the mansion to make room for a highrise apartment building. The new building was to be the crown jewel of the “Coldspring Newtown” in the midst of Baltimore designed by world-renown architect Moshe Safdie. Although Hieronimus’s personal petition to Schaefer to save the mansion was eventually successful, the ensuing controversy, loss of land, and road construction (that blocked access for years while the condo development was built), all led to the ultimate dissolution of the Savitria community.
When the City of Baltimore agreed to allow Hieronimus to stay in the mansion, they also decided to save a nearby 16-room Dutch Colonial Revival home built in the 1940s. They picked it up and moved it to its current location making the “Ruscombe Mansion” technically now two mansions. By then Robert Hieronimus and Zohara Meyerhoff had married and become the intentional stewards of the property in transition between Savitria and the health care center. A few private individuals lived there for a time, but the larger spaces were rented to the Macrobiotic East West Foundation and the New Morning School that eventually grew into the Waldorf School of Baltimore.
Personal Healing Journeys
In 1979, Zoh and Bob Hieronimus, driven by Zoh’s struggle with Crohn’s disease, began traveling around the country seeking out alternative options to keep her symptom-free. After six months, she developed a personal regime that worked for her: acupuncture, homeopathy, nutritional dietary choices, chiropractic and energy healing. This quest was the seed that sprouted into the Ruscombe Mansion Community Health Center. Meyerhoff-Hieronimus says she determined that people in the Baltimore region deserved a facility “where all aspects of a person’s life (the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual) are considered in establishing health.” The model she strove to create for the Ruscombe Mansion was “a combination of modern and ancient knowledge and methods to support the natural healing ability within each unique individual.”
In October of 1984, Meyerhoff-Hieronimus recruited 22 talented healers in the region to join her in the old mansion at 4801 Yellowwood Ave. The original group included one of 2008’s “top docs,” according to Baltimore Magazine, Peter Hinderberger, M.D., who is still practicing general and integrative medicine from the Ruscombe Mansion where he serves as medical director today. Hinderberger is respected internationally for his specialty practice encompassing Anthroposophical medicine, homeopathy, and a focus on factors that support human health and well-being, rather than on factors that cause disease. Along with Hinderberger, the earliest practitioners offered acupuncture, massage, color and sound healing, dance therapy, guided imagery, iridology, nutritional consulting, Reiki, herbal therapy, and stress management.
Twenty-five years later, many of the practitioners have maintained private practices at Ruscombe almost as long, offering many of these same modalities. Another long-time practitioner internationally regarded in her field is Tessy Brungardt. Brungardt is the former chairperson of the International Rolf Institute and is in such demand that she makes frequent teaching excursions to as far away as Brazil and Australia. When she returns home to Ruscombe, her loyal clientele includes the world famous concert pianist, Leon Fleischer. After she began working with his right arm, Fleischer soon performed his first two-handed public concert in 30 years. Regular Rolfing treatments with Brungardt, along with Botox and an indomitable will, have put Fleischer back in the spotlight.
“Each time I set foot on the property, I feel better already.”
New talent is continually bringing a steady offering of new modalities to Ruscombe. The first requirement of all Ruscombe practitioners is that they be fully certified and licensed in their field. The immediate second is a deep commitment to service.
Sara Eisenberg, former Director of the Center for Health Enhancement at St. Joseph Medical Center, chose Ruscombe as home for her clinical herbal practice in 2006. At the time, Eisenberg was a recent graduate of the first U.S. program to offer a Masters Degree in Herbal Medicine, the TAI Sophia Institute. She says she found Ruscombe an ideal place to locate her practice of Restorative Herbals, because she sees her role as “one of working with the client to match their needs to the specific plants that can tend to the roots of their health.”
Often her clients will choose to combine the herbal work with Integrated Kabbalistic healing, which Eisenberg describes as “an open-hearted approach to awakened living based in the Jewish wisdom tradition.”
Meditative practices like these are reported to be especially amplified inside the Ruscombe Mansion. For a quarter of a century these walls have been imbued with a strong healing intention, but the history of healing and peaceful intention on this property dates back many more decades – centuries even, if you count the Quaker influence. Psychic intuitives visiting the Ruscombe Mansion are frequently drawn to the energy vortex in the center of the property, which they explain as an expression of the vital force.
A Deep Listening
—Baltimore Jewish Times
Ruscombe practitioners seek out relationships with medical professionals trained exclusively in the Western model. They have been published in medical textbooks and regularly offer lunch-and-learn programs with medical students from the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins. Twenty-five years ago, Ruscombe Mansion was the only facility of its kind. Setting them apart from the many wellness centers dotting so many corners today is its powerful sense of place, and a deep, rich history.
Today, Ruscombe practitioners rejoice in seeing other centers offering similar services, including many hospitals that have opened their own holistic centers. A 2002 survey* of U.S. adults 18 years and older indicated 74.6% had used some form of complementary and alternative medicine. One-fifth of companies today offer health benefits covering alternative treatments.**
In honor of their 25th year together, the Ruscombe practitioners are currently writing a book to preserve some of the healing journeys that have been chronicled on this historic property. Interviewing their clients has reminded them what they share in common in their many and varied approaches to healing: they all encourage a deep listening, building a trusting relationship with their clients, and expanding their appreciation for the mind-body-spirit equation. “The human body is an awesome living organism,” says Hinderberger. “It is a sacred temple that has an innate capacity for healing when we acquire the knowledge of how to listen to its wisdom.”
Call the Ruscombe Mansion Central Office at 410-367-7300 or browse our website at www.Ruscombe.org to find the perfect practitioner match for you. Visit us for lunch in the Coop Cafe and take a tour of the lush grounds and historic buildings of this unique Baltimore landmark. Note the date of our next Open House is Sept. 18, 2011.
*conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics (CDC) and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
**according to the International Society of Certified Employee Benefit Specialists.