The 17th century poem found in Old St. Paul’s Church in Baltimore is called “Desiderata,” which begins, “Go placidly amid the noise and haste”.
It was on a lot of posters in the 1960s, attributed as “found in Old Saint Paul’s Church, A.D. 1692.”
It may be beautiful, but it wasn’t found in Baltimore’s Old St. Paul’s Church and it isn’t from the 17th century. Its author was Indiana lawyer and businessman Max Ehrmann, and the copyright on the poem is 1927.
A genuine slip-up gave the wrong origins to the poem.
In the 1950s, Old St. Paul’s housed a clergyman by the name of Frederick Ward Kates, who liked putting inspirational phrases on his church bulletins for his congregation.
He ran across a copy of Ehrmann’s “Desiderata” and printed it. On the letterhead, there was also the founding date of the church: “Old Saint Paul’s Church, Baltimore, A.D. 1692.”
The founding date of the church became confused with the authorship date of the poem, and because the poem was pretty, it got circulated into the heart of the Flower Power movement in San Francisco.
Banners, framed cross-stitch patterns, posters, and T-shirts were created bearing the poem. Everyone thought the beautiful, cosmic piece “You are a child of the universe / no less than the trees & the stars…” was ancient wisdom being passed from the 1690s to the 1960s.
In 1977, a local news writer for the Washington Post, Barbara J. Katz, began tracking down the history of “Desiderata” after hearing conflicting stories.
She pinpointed the true author as hobbyist poet/playwright Ehrmann and discovered how the slip-up occurred at Old St. Paul’s.
You can read the full article in the Washington Post archives.