by James Rada, Jr.
How a Goldfish Stand Became the Center of the Free World One Afternoon During WWII
In the midst of WWII, all two of the world’s most-powerful leaders could talk about one Sunday afternoon in 1942 was goldfish.
About eighty percent of the goldfish sold in the United States came from farms in Frederick County, Maryland, in the early decades of the 20th century. Many of those goldfish farms were near Thurmont.
One of those goldfish farming operations was Hunting Creek Fisheries. Frederick Tresselt started the business in 1923. Tresselt was a graduate of Cornell and had worked at the state trout hatchery in Hackettstown, New Jersey.
“In driving around the county with a friend in 1922, Dad was amazed to see all the goldfish ponds in the area,” Ernest Tresselt once said in an interview.
Other Frederick County goldfish farmers included George English, Frank Rice, Earl Rice, Maurice Albaugh, M.H. Hoke, Ross Firor, Sam Eaton, David and Adam Zentz, Walter Rice, Joseph Weller, Richard Kefauver, and Martin Kefauver.
“Every farm that could had fish ponds,” Ernest Tresselt said. “It was a cash crop for them.”
On weekends, Frederick Tresselt ran a retail store next to the main north-south road through the county. According to Ernest, the store had a large pond with a Hunting Creek Fisheries sign in the middle of it. Above the name was a large fantail goldfish painted in bright orange. The area was nicely landscaped with water lilies, shrubs, and bamboo. It was an attractive location and an eye-catching sign, so eye-catching that one Sunday afternoon in 1942, three large black cars pulled off the road and stopped.
A military man stepped out of the car, and Frederick recognized him as General George Marshall, President Franklin Roosevelt’s chief of staff.
“Mr. Churchill and Mr. Roosevelt and I are interested in seeing your operation here,” Marshall said, according to Ernest.
Frederick agreed, and the drivers pulled the cars in closer to the fish house, the storage building with concrete pools and wire vats.
“President Roosevelt looked in the door, but he didn’t come in, since he was handicapped and couldn’t get out of the car,” Ernest Tresselt wrote in his autobiography.
However, Winston Churchill, the prime minister of Great Britain, got out of the car and walked into the fish house with Frederick. They began talking about Tresselt’s unique crop. Churchill showed an interest in the golden orfe, which were fifteen to eighteen inches long. Churchill said he had even bigger ones in his pond in England. Tresselt told the prime minister that he, too, had larger fish in his ponds on Hunting Creek Fisheries.
As the cars with Roosevelt and Churchill departed, a Secret Service agent told Frederick not to tell anyone about the visit.
“This made no sense to Dad because there were already at least a hundred local people out there taking it all in. But Dad didn’t tell anybody, not even us kids,” Ernest said. He found out at school the next day, when everyone but Ernest seemed to know about the visit of the two world leaders.
Ernest said that National Geographic Magazine looked into the story when they did an article about goldfish in the 1970s. The researchers could find nothing that definitely said the world leaders had stopped at the goldfish stand, but they did acknowledge Churchill had been in the United States at the time and visiting the Presidential retreat at Shangri-La, which was located in the Catoctin Mountains near Thurmont.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill are shown fishing at Shangri-La.
Photo Courtesy of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum