Currently viewing the tag: "Catoctin Mountain"

A serial fiction story for your enjoyment

written by James Rada, Jr.

4: A Hard-Workin’ Man

Stacy Lawrence liked life in Thurmont, mainly because there was little drama. The worst that she had to deal with was the occasional bar Romeo trying to pick her up while she was working. So far, they had all taken “no” for an answer.

She was surprised she needed this slower pace of life. It gave her a chance to take a deep breath, regroup, and rebuild her life. Having her car break down on Catoctin Mountain might be the best thing to happen to her since she divorced Jack, Peter’s father. She hadn’t even bothered to tell Jack that she and Peter were moving. He hadn’t paid any alimony or child support, so she didn’t feel she owed him anything.

Peter was making new friends. He had been thrilled to discover Thurmont had a skateboard park that was close enough to their apartment that he could go on his own.

Stacy finished her work closing the tavern, locked up the place, and went upstairs to her apartment. She had stopped in earlier during her break to make dinner for Peter and put him to bed, so the place was quiet and dark when she entered.

She turned on a lamp next to an old armchair and sat down. She soaked in the quiet. She enjoyed her job, but it was noisy. After work, she just wanted to get off her feet and enjoy the quiet. She picked up a novel by Sherryl Woods and started reading until she fell asleep.

She woke the next morning and saw Peter watching television and eating cereal. “Good morning, kiddo,” she said, wiping the sleep from her eyes.

“Hi, Mom.”

“I’m going to the library for some new books today. Do you want to come along?” she asked.

She was off today and tomorrow, and she planned to enjoy it.

“Can I get some DVDs?”

“I suppose so.”

“Okay.”

It was a sunny day, so the walk to the library was pleasant, and Stacy was happy to be spending time with Peter. She was working so many hours that she didn’t get to see him much, and when she did, it tended to be in the apartment or the tavern.

At the library, Peter hurried off to the DVDs while Stacy strolled through the stacks, looking for something that caught her eye. As she walked by one of the large windows that looked out on a back porch, she heard a trio of musicians playing music.

She walked out onto the porch to listen. About a dozen people were gathered around, sitting in chairs.

“They’re pretty good, aren’t they?”

Stacy looked over her shoulder and saw Bobby Hennessey, the older man who had helped her when her car broke down on Catoctin Mountain. He had also given her a good recommendation to Kevin at the tavern to help her get her job.

She smiled at him. “I’m surprised. I thought libraries were supposed to be quiet.”

“Technically, these people aren’t in the library.” He paused. “How’s the new job?”

“Busy, but I like it. The tips are good, and I can use all the money I can earn right now.”

“Why’s that? It’s a lot cheaper to live here than in Montgomery County.”

Stacy nodded. “It is, but I have a lot of debt that Peter’s father left me with.”

“Doesn’t he pay support or alimony?”

Stacy snorted. “He’s supposed to, but you have to be working to do that. So, I’m having to work 50 hours a week. It helps that I can live above the tavern. It makes it easier for me to watch over Peter.”

“Watch over? When I was a kid, I’d come home from school, do my homework, and disappear until dark with my friends. Sometimes, my mom didn’t even know where I was.”

Stacy put her hands on her hips. “When was that? The 60s?”

He pointed to himself. “I guess I’m doing pretty good for a dinosaur.”

“I didn’t mean it that way; although, you never did tell me your age.”

“And don’t think I will now.”

“You can’t be that old.”

Bobby shrugged.

A man walked by and clapped Bobby on the back. The man had thin, white hair and a full beard and mustache. He wore a baseball cap that read: Vietnam Veteran. “Haven’t seen you at the legion lately.”

“I was there two nights ago, Mack,” Bobby told him.

“Well, I wasn’t there.”

“I know. Why do you think I went then?” Mack laughed. “Mack, this is Stacy Lawrence. She’s new in town.”

Mack turned to Stacy and smiled. “How do you do, young lady?” It had been a while since she’d been called young, and even longer since she felt it. If this man was a Vietnam Veteran, he must be in his 70s.

“Nice to meet you,” Stacy replied.

“What brings you to Thurmont?”

“I was looking for a new start, and Bobby convinced me to give this place a try.”

Mack nodded. “Yeah, he got out for a while, but now that he’s back, he’s our best advertisement for the place.” The musicians started playing a new song. Mack turned back to Bobby. “I’ve got to go, but stop by and see me.”

Bobby nodded. Mack left and Stacy said, “Does everyone in town know you?”

He shrugged. “Maybe not everyone. I think the kindergartners at the primary school haven’t had the pleasure yet.”

***

Two days later, Peter came in from playing at Community Park, excited. “Mom…Mom, Bobby offered me a job.”

“What? Who?”

“Bobby. You know, the man who helped us on the mountain. He asked me if I wanted to help him on his farm.”

Stacy laid down the clothes she was folding, trying to take in what Peter had just told her.

“You’re too young to have a job.” He was only 12.

“No, I’m not. Besides, he said it wouldn’t be too much. I can help you now, so you don’t have to work so much.”

Stacy hugged her son. “That’s sweet, Peter, but I don’t know. I think Bobby was just being nice.”

“Please, mom. Bobby said it wouldn’t be too hard, but I had to ask your permission. He’s in the tavern waiting to hear what you say.”

This was all coming at Stacy so quickly that she could barely take it in.          

She went downstairs and saw Bobby talking with a couple at one of the tables. When he saw her, he excused himself and walked over to her.

“I can’t tell if you are mad,” he said.

“I’m not mad, but why would you offer my son a job?”

“He asked.”

“Peter asked you for a job?”

Bobby shrugged. “Well, he asked me for a recommendation like I gave you because he wanted to help out, so you weren’t working so much. I admire his enthusiasm, but he’s not likely to find work at his age, so I offered. I have plenty of odd jobs around the place that a boy his age can do.”

Stacy shook her head. Peter wanted to work to help her. She also didn’t want to discourage his initiative, but she wasn’t sure it was the best thing for him.

“I can’t be running him up the mountain every day, even if I wanted him working,” she said.

Bobby grinned. “No worry there. I can pick him up and bring him home.”

“Really?”

“I grew up on a farm, but I never had to run one. There’s a lot that needs doing, and honestly, there are other things I’d rather do.”

Stacy nodded. “I know. I spent my summers with my grandparents in Western Maryland, helping them on their farm when I was growing up.”

Maybe that was why she was enjoying Thurmont. It reminded her of her summers in Western Maryland.

“I never took you as a country girl,” Bobby said.

“I’m not anymore, but it is the reason I like animals.”

Bobby nodded, but said nothing.

Stacy sighed. “Fine, we’ll see how it goes.”

Bobby put a hand on her shoulder. “It will be good for him.”

“I hope so. I don’t want him to grow up like his father.”

Stacy looked over toward the kitchen and saw Peter standing, waiting. She nodded. He cheered.

***

Peter took well to his new job. He was tired some evenings when Bobby dropped him off, but he never complained. From Peter’s description, Bobby had him doing odd jobs around the farm. If he didn’t know how to do them, Bobby showed him how and watched him until he got it right. Most of them were just basic chores. Peter said he enjoyed feeding the animals the best because he got to spend time with them, and they appreciated him more since he was feeding them.

After his first week as a working man, Bobby brought Peter home, and the boy came into the apartment with a smile on his face. He handed Stacy an envelope filled with money.

“That’s my first week’s pay, minus $20,” Peter said. “I want you to have it. I want to help out, so you don’t have to work so much.”

Stacy looked over at Bobby. “He earned it all. He’s a hard worker and a quick learner.”

Peter smiled at the compliment. Stacy did, too, as she passed the envelope back to Peter. “I can’t take this. Like Bobby said, you earned it. It’s yours.”

“But I want to help,” Peter said, with a bit of pleading in his voice.

“Uh, Stacy, can I ask you something over here, please?” Bobby said.

“Right now?”

Bobby nodded. She walked over and he whispered, “He’s been excited about giving that money to you since day one. It’s the reason he took the job.”

“I can’t take his money, though. It wouldn’t be right.”

“You’ll hurt his feelings if you don’t,” Bobby warned her. “He’s stepping up. He said since he’s the man of the house, he’s doing what he can. If you won’t take it, it will discourage him. Take it. Open the boy a savings account for when he gets older and wants a car or needs money for college. You don’t need to tell him that, though.”

Stacy looked at Bobby, then Peter. She couldn’t believe that her baby was growing up. She walked over and swept him into her arms and hugged him tightly as she cried.

written by James Rada, Jr.

2: Age Old Issues

Stacy Lawrence and her 12-year-old son, Peter, climbed out of the tow truck when it stopped in front of the Super 8 Hotel. They waved to Jack, the driver, who had a friendly smile on his face as he drove away.

Stacy put her arm around her son’s shoulders and said, “Looks like this will be home for a few days.”

Peter shrugged. “It doesn’t look bad.”

It seemed all he needed nowadays was wi-fi to stay connected to his games that he played on his phone or tablet.

Stacy had to agree about the hotel, though. Even though they were next to a highway, it didn’t seem busy or loud. They walked inside the lobby. Stacy paid for a room through Monday morning when she hoped that her car would be repaired, and she could move on.

 “Is there a bus stop nearby?” Stacy asked as she signed the registration card for the room.

The older woman behind the counter laughed. “No need for one. You might find someone who does Uber near here, but I wouldn’t count on it. No need for it. You can pretty much walk from one end of town to the other in an hour if you don’t have a car.”

Their hotel room was on the back side of the building. It was clean and quiet. Stacy flopped back onto one of the queen beds, enjoying the softness of the mattress. It helped ease some of the tension of the day from her body.

They had driven north from Gaithersburg looking for a new life somewhere it was affordable to live and where she could find a job. They hadn’t even gotten out of Maryland before her old car had broken down. Now they were stranded in Thurmont over the weekend.

Peter had the television remote in his hand. He scrolled through the channels available, looking for familiar ones.

“Can we get something to eat?” Peter asked. “I’m hungry.”

Now that her son mentioned it, Stacy realized she was also hungry. Food was one more expense they would have to manage. Between the hotel costs and repair costs, she wouldn’t have a lot of money left to get settled somewhere. They needed to eat, though, especially Peter. He always seemed hungry.

They left their room and found a pizza restaurant at the top of the hill. The aroma of freshly cooked pizza wafted from the kitchen, filling the dining room with a delicious scent that made Stacy’s stomach growl the moment she walked in the door. They ordered a medium Chicago-style pepperoni pizza. Then they found a booth to sit in.

Bobby Hennessey, an older man with some gray hairs, walked into the pizza restaurant and waved at the other patrons. He greeted a couple sitting in a booth and clapped the man on the back. He waved to a family eating at a table, and they waved. Then he saw Stacy and Bobby waved. Stacy and Peter followed him with their eyes as he made his way to their table.

Bobby had helped Stacy and Peter when their car broke down on Catoctin Mountain. He was older than Stacy, although she couldn’t say how much older. He moved like a young man, but his hair had some gray hairs mixed in with his dark brown hair. He also had a lean body with wide shoulders and not the man body Stacy expected to see with older men. His face showed some lines, but she couldn’t tell whether it was because of age, working outside, or from a lifetime of smiling and laughter.

“Did you get checked into the hotel?” Bobby asked.

“Yes, it seems like a nice place.”

“You’ll love it. I promise. What did you order?”

“Chicago-style pepperoni.”

“Good choice.”

Stacy hesitated, then asked, “Would you like to join us? It’s the least I can do for you for helping us.”

Bobby smiled and nodded. “Well, that’s mighty kind of you. Thank you.”

Bobby slid in next to Peter.

“So, have you considered what you’ll do this weekend?” Bobby asked.

“Not really, but whatever we do, we’ll have to walk.”

Bobby shrugged. “Not a problem.” He then rattled off some sites in town that were within a mile or two of the hotel. It was a surprising number of things for a small town.

The waitress brought the pizza and drinks out. Bobby ordered himself a diet cola. Not surprisingly, he knew the waitress. The pepperoni pizza was cheesy, with a tangy tomato sauce and crispy crust.

When she left, Stacy said, “You seem to know everyone here.”

“Small town, and like I told you earlier, I’ve lived here all my life.”

“It looks like a nice town from the little I’ve seen.”

Bobby nodded. “It is. It is. Hopefully, you’ll see for yourself this weekend.”

“You really like it here.”

“Why would I live someplace I didn’t like?”

Stacy had. She had hated the noise and traffic in Gaithersburg. And the crime! She had watched three teens walk into a Wal-Mart, throw as many items as they could into a bag, and then run out of the store without worry they would be stopped.

“I’ve been asking myself that question lately,” she said.

“Where do you live?” Bobby asked.

“We’re… in transition. We were living in Gaithersburg, but we’re heading into Pennsylvania to find someplace new. I was thinking Lancaster.”

She didn’t know much about the city, other than that’s where the Amish were. She figured it had to be a nicer place to live. Amish wouldn’t run into stores on shoplifting sprees.

“You like cities?” Bobby asked.

Stacy shrugged. “I like where I can afford to live and find a job.”

“What kind of work do you do?”

“I am… was a veterinary technician.”

“Large or small animals?” Bobby asked. Then he bit into his slice of pizza.

“Mostly small pets, although occasionally the vet had to work on horses.”

Bobby swallowed the pizza and smiled. “Not too many farm animals in Gaithersburg. We have a good veterinarian in town, but I don’t think they’re hiring.”

“I’m not looking for a job here.”

“Why not? You said you were looking for something new, and you said you think Thurmont is a nice town, which I can attest to.”

Stacy hesitated. He was right. She had wanted to get away from the bustle of Gaithersburg and Jack, her ex and Peter’s father. Of course, that didn’t stop him from dropping in unannounced when he needed money. She should have said “no,” but Peter loved his father. He got to see Jack so infrequently that Stacy was loath to turn him away when he showed up. And if she was being honest, Stacy enjoyed his visits. Jack could be charming when he wanted, and he brought excitement to her otherwise day-in, day-out life.

“How old are you?” Peter asked Bobby unexpectedly.

Stacy stared at the man, wondering about that herself. Bobby was older than her, but by how many years? Ten? Twenty? Thirty? Wow! Could he be twice her age?

Bobby grinned and said, “I’m old enough to know better, as they say.”

“That’s not an answer,” Peter said.

Bobby shrugged. “Well, what does your mother say when you ask her how old she is?”

Peter glanced at her and smiled. “She says she’s old enough to be my mother.”

Bobby chuckled. “Well, there you go.”

“That’s no answer either. She is my mother, so she has to be old enough.”

“Then let’s say I’m old enough to have seen a man on the moon. I still have record albums, which is nice since they are popular again, and I remember what a rotary dial phone is.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “So you’re old.”

“It depends on who’s asking. You think I’m old. My daddy thought I was young up until the day he died. What do you think, Stacy?”

“I think you could teach women a thing or two about avoiding saying their age.”

“And how old are you?”

Stacy hesitated and looked between the two of them. “I’m old enough to be his mother.”

*Read what happens next in our February 2024 issue*  

The British Invade catoctin mountain

by James Rada, Jr.

In the spring of 1941, the U.S. had yet to enter World War II, but other countries had been fighting for two years. Germany showed early dominance in the war, and it hadn’t been going well for the British Royal Navy. It had lost more than 55 ships and 18,000 men. Those who remained were exhausted.

“British Prime Minister Winston Churchill pressed the United States for desperately needed aid,” according to K.C. Clay in the report, “Rest Camp: A Report on the WWII Use of Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area by the Royal Navy.” “Pushing to the edge of US neutrality, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought ways of helping the British.”

During March 1941, Congress passed the Lend-Lease Act, which allowed the U.S. to aid the Allied nations with food, oil, and material. It was given free of charge, but it could only be given if the help was essential for the defense of the United States.

Under this act, the U.S. was able to justify repairing damaged Royal Navy ships. While the ships were in port, the crews went ashore to recuperate from the stress of combat.

The Catoctin Recreational Demonstration Area on Catoctin Mountain was one of seven National Park Service sites that provided rest camps for the Royal Navy sailors. This pre-war U.S. aid to the Allies is largely unknown.

Clay, a National Park Service historian, identified four ships whose crews visited Catoctin Mountain. These were the H.M.S. Southern Prince, H.M.S. Bulolo, H.M.S. Menestheus, and H.M.S. Agamemnon.

During June, 150 sailors stayed at Camp Greentop in two groups of 75 men. Each group stayed for a week, enjoying swimming and other sports activities. Other sailors stayed at the Short Term Lodge, which the National Park Service had acquired after Bessie Darling was killed in the house in 1933. It was a 12-room boarding house with three indoor bathrooms.

“CRDA canceled visitor reservations for the summer of 1941 and configured the house to accommodate the sailors,” Clay wrote.

The largest group consisted of 85 sailors. In all, five groups of sailors stayed there averaging 56 men in each group.

The third site where Royal Navy sailors stayed was Hi-Catoctin. Two groups of sailors stayed there with an average size of 99 men.

As with just about everything that happened on the mountain which was supposed to be a secret, the truth was known to local residents.

“Although the British Ministry of Defense and the US War Department did not publicly acknowledge the presence of the sailors in the U.S., the residents of Frederick County were aware of them and extended invites to multiple social engagements,” Clay wrote. “National Park Service employees also provided social functions such as hot dog roasts and dances. To some of the war weary sailors, the Americans seemed over compensating for not being engaged in the conflict.”

This is not to say the British didn’t appreciate the efforts on their behalf. They repaid the kindness by putting on exhibition cricket and rugby matches for visitors to the park. They taught British songs, dances, and dialects to their hosts.

“Some sailors got on so well with the Americans that they married them,” Clay wrote.

Despite the camaraderie between the Americans and British, the British Admiralty had ordered the sailors not to talk about their assigned ship names, combat engagements, area of operation, and “any information that could possibly be used by the Nazis against them.”

The Nazis had sympathizers among the Americans who might have passed that information on.

Although locals knew of the Royal Navy presence, the U.S. media and the British press did not report on it until the U.S. Navy announced it on September 19, 1941.

After the successful 1941 season, plans were made for 1942, such as adding a telephone booth the sailors could use. However, the second season never happened because the U.S. entered the war and needed to use the facilities for its own purposes. It eventually served as a training camp for OSS agents and a rest camp for U.S. Marines.

Clay wrote that the rest camp story “is about the men who spent two years on alert for Nazi U-boats getting a week respite in the woods far inland from coastal waters. Some men arrived already decorated for valor. Others would go on to perform heroic actions. A few would sacrifice all within weeks of departing the camp.”

In total, more than 21,000 British sailors enjoyed a respite from the war on American soil, although only around 630 of them visited Catoctin.

Picture shows a British sailor relaxing in a cabin on Catoctin Mountain during WWII.

Courtesy of the National Park Service

James Rada Jr.

Photo of Black Bear on South Altamont Avenue in Thurmont by Bob Delphey

Last month, a young black bear wandered onto the property of a Frederick hotel on Buckeystown Pike and climbed one of the trees. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources sent a team to tranquilize the bear and release him near Gambrill State Park.

Given the nearness of Catoctin Mountain to communities in Northern Frederick County, some residents might catch site of a bear now and again.

If you have a problem with a bear or see one in a populated area, call (410) 260-8888.

Between 2009 and 2019, black bears in Maryland caused an average of 480+ nuisance calls and $18,400 in agricultural damages a year. In addition, vehicles hit around 60 bears a year, which damages the vehicle. Maryland’s Wildlife and Heritage Service created the Maryland Black Bear Management Plan as a framework for conserving Maryland black bears.

Black bears used to be common throughout Maryland, but much of their habitat was lost due to population growth and development. According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, only a few bears remained in western Maryland by the 1950s. However, habitat recovery and regional conservation programs have allowed black bears to flourish once again in the state.

The population of more than 2,000 bears is large enough that the state allows a limited bear-hunting season each year in the four westernmost Maryland counties, which include Frederick. The current record holder for a black bear taken in a hunt is Coty Jones. She shot a 615-pound bear with a 21-10/16-inch skull in Garrett County in 2007.

What To Do If You See a Bear

Black bears don’t pose an immediate threat to people, so if you see one, don’t panic. They are wild animals, though, and should be treated with caution and given space. According to the DNR, “If a bear woofs, snaps its jaws, slaps the ground or brush, or bluff-charges: YOU ARE TOO CLOSE!”

Don’t approach the bear or feed him. It is illegal in Maryland to intentionally feed a bear, not to mention being dangerous for both you and the bear.

If a bear stands upright, it is not being aggressive. It is standing to get a better scent of the area. Most bears don’t want to deal with you anymore than you want to deal with them. They will usually leave when they see people.

Other tips from the DNR:

•   Don’t crowd the bear. Allow him a means of leaving. Back away slowly with your arms raised up to appear large.

•   Have all people and pets go inside to wait for the bear to leave.

•   Trash and bird feeders are the most common attractants responsible for luring bears to human dwellings. Pet food, charcoal grills, fruit trees, and gardens may also attract bears. Once a bear finds food around your home, it will likely return.

If You Live In Bear Territory

If you live in an area where a bear may visit, here are some additional tips:

•   Reduce garbage odors. Rinse food cans and wrappers before disposal.

•   Compost vegetable scraps properly away from house.

•   Keep meat scraps in the freezer until garbage pickup day.

•   Wash garbage cans regularly and use lime to cut odors.

•   Keep garbage cans in a bear-proof container or in an enclosed building until trash pickup.

•   Remove bird feeders in the spring. If you persist in feeding during summer, remove seed, suet and hummingbird feeders at night.

•   Keep pet food inside.

•   Keep barbecue grills and picnic tables clean.

•   Use an energized fence to keep bears out of beehives, sweet corn, fruit trees and berry patches. (An energized fence is powered by a low-impedance, high–voltage energizer that provides a short-duration, high-energy impulse.)

•   Barking dogs, bright lights and noisemakers will sometimes discourage bears from coming into an area.

James Rada, Jr.

As we move into spring and the trees on Catoctin Mountain and around Northern Frederick County turn green, Thurmont is not overly worried about the devastation caused by the emerald ash borer.

Emerald ash borer is a beetle that is native to eastern and southeast Asia. It was first discovered in the United States in 2002 in Michigan, and it quickly spread from there, appearing in Maryland the following year. The Emerald ash borer is responsible for the destruction of tens of millions of ash trees in 30 states.

“It has about a 98.8 percent mortality rate for ash trees, so you are not going to have any survivability,” Lou Meyer with Davey Tree Experts told the Thurmont Mayor and Commissioners during a town meeting.

When it first appeared in Thurmont, town staff worried that Community Park would be hard hit because it has around 170 ash trees.

“We wanted to avoid losing all the trees, if we could,” said Thurmont Chief Administrative Officer Jim Humerick.

Davey Tree Expert Company was hired in 2016 to start treating the ash trees. It was done with a select group at first, but as the treatment proved effective, more ash trees were treated.

The treatment is a two-step process, with trees being given a pesticide injection one year and a soil booster of pesticides the following year. The two treatments work together to repel the beetle. It continues back and forth until it is determined not to be needed.

“We are seeing a very high success rate with those treatments,” Meyer said.

They have also seen an unexpected benefit.

“Interestingly, some of the trees that aren’t being treated are showing some response as well,” Meyer said.

Since the trees’ root systems connect beneath the ground, apparently, nutrients are getting transferred between trees and providing some residual protection to ash trees that haven’t been treated yet.

While this treatment has been used in different areas, Thurmont is where it has had the greatest success, cutting the mortality rate from 98.8 percent to around 7 percent.

If Thurmont hadn’t started treating its ash trees, Community Park would be looking like a soccer field, according to Meyer, rather than a healthy woodland.

“Until we confirm that there is not a large infestation around us, we are going to keep doing the treatments,” Humerick said. This could be some years yet since Catoctin Mountain is full of untreated ash trees that will feed the beetles and keep them in the area.

The treatments cost Thurmont around $20,000 a year. While replacing dead trees would be cheaper, they would not be fully mature, tall trees like the ones in Community Park. It would take years, if not decades, for replacement trees to truly replace the ones that might be lost.

Luckily, it doesn’t seem residents will have to wait. Community Park is still providing plenty of shade.

written by James Rada, Jr.

A new serial fiction story for your enjoyment

6: Hot On The Trail

Rubbing his eyes and yawning, Mechanicstown Sheriff Paul Cresap rode his horse into the collier’s camp on Catoctin Mountain. This was the fourth camp he had visited today. The colliers moved their camps from time to time to stay close to lumber being cut for the Catoctin Furnace. The furnace needed 800 bushels of charcoal each day to run, and each pound of charcoal came from an acre of hardwood trees.

A couple of people in the village of Catoctin Furnace had told Paul they had heard something about one collier burning to death. Paul thought it might be the fourth arson fire, particularly if the arsonist who had burned homes in Catoctin Furnace, along Frederick Road, and on West Main Street in Mechanicstown had been setting fires as he moved west. It would make sense that there was a fire on the mountain. Paul was probably lucky the man didn’t start a forest fire.

He had had little luck finding out who had burned to death, and he was beginning to think it was just a story. As the colliers at each camp would tell him no one in their group had died, they would direct him to another camp.

Paul knew something was off about this camp as soon as he rode in. The other camps had been a collection of smoking mounds of earth or circles of charcoal that needed to be raked from the dirt. The colliers tended to sing, swear, or just cough from the wood smoke.

This camp had mounds, but only a couple were smoking. A couple of others had collapsed but hadn’t been raked out. Paul also saw what looked like had been a cabin that had been burned to the ground.

And the place was quiet. If not for the wood smoke, he would have said it was abandoned.

“Hello,” Paul called.

A man walked out from behind one stack. He was covered in soot.

“Who are you?”

“Sheriff Cresap from Mechanicstown.”

“This isn’t Mechanicstown.”

“No, but I heard that someone had been burned to death up here. Do you know anything about it?”

The man nodded. “It was my brother.”

“And who are you?”

“Abednego Hunt.”

“Can you tell me what happened? It may tie into some other things that have happened,” Paul asked.

“Meshach — that’s my brother, — was on top of a stack and it opened up under him. He fell through and burned. I couldn’t get to him in time.” Abednego shook his head. “It was horrible. The screams…”

Paul stared at the stacks. They looked like mounds of earth to him. He had seen them as the colliers built them in other camps, though. He knew there was a stack of logs beneath the earth. The dirt was used to control the amount of air that got into the stacks.

“It was an accident then?” Paul asked.

“Of course it was. Shack didn’t jump into the center of a burning stack on purpose!”

Paul held up a hand. “Sorry. That’s not what I meant. I mean, no one could have done anything to the stack to make it give way under your brother.”

Abednego thought for a moment and shook his head. “No. It’s not the first time something like that has happened. It all depends on how the logs burn.” He paused. “Why would you think someone did it to Shack on purpose?”

“I don’t, but someone set fires last night at the furnace and in my town. They are all connected. I thought the fire that killed your brother might be, too.”

“What makes you think those fires were connected?”

“They happened on the same night, and they didn’t start naturally. Whoever tried to burn the houses down, set them all up the same way.”

“Nothing like that happened here. This was an accident I wished never happened.”

Paul nodded. “Sorry for your loss.”

He looked at the ground and picked up a piece of wood that had been turned into charcoal. Then he looked over at the charred beams of what had been a cabin. They both were burned wood, but the charcoal was darker and denser. It had to be burned in a special way to become charcoal. It didn’t come from a regular fire.

“This is charcoal, isn’t it?” Paul asked, holding up the chunk he had picked up.

“That’s what we… I make here.”

“What’s the difference between this and burned wood?”

“That is burned wood. We just burn it in a certain way, so it will continue to burn and burn hotter than wood. It can’t have too much oxygen when it burns, or it won’t be of any use as charcoal, but if it has too little air, it won’t burn fully.”

Paul nodded and walked back to his horse. Abednego followed him.

“What are you going to do now?” the collier asked.

“I’ve got some thinking to do and an arsonist to catch.”

Paul headed back to his office. When he got there, he took his bottle from his desk drawer and poured himself a drink. He could concentrate better when the whiskey took the edge off the day.

He pulled the piece of charcoal out and set it on the desk in front of him. He had found charcoal around each of the houses that had been burned. It couldn’t have been left over from the fire, according to Abednego. Also, while it wouldn’t have been unusual to find it at the ironmaster’s house, it would have been odd to find it at the other two houses. People around here used firewood in their stoves. It was abundant and cheaper than charcoal.

It would have required a lot of charcoal to build a fire around three houses if it was used for that. Whoever had started the fires had access to a lot of charcoal and knew how to use it.

Then there was how the logs that were used in the fire were laid upright against the houses rather than being piled in one spot or lengthwise along the houses. Colliers stacked wood that way and also had access to charcoal.

Things were pointing to a collier as the arsonist, but there were a couple dozen of them on the mountain.

Which one would have wanted to start the fires and why? Paul fell asleep trying to figure this out. He woke up coughing. He sat up and quickly doubled over as his coughing continued. He opened his eyes, but they watered. When he finally opened his eyes, he saw the room was filled with smoke.

He ran to the door. He reached out to open it, but when he put his hand on the doorknob, it felt hot. He jerked his hand away.

He hurried to the window and looked out. He saw flames.

He coughed and fell to his knees. The air near the floor was clearer. He took a few deep gulps of air and stood up. He ran to a side window and saw more flames.

The arsonist had set his office on fire.

How was he going to get out of here?

He ran to the side door and wasn’t surprised to feel the doorknob was also hot. He looked around, trying to find a way out. He wondered if he could get onto the roof and go over the flames, but there was no way onto the roof.

He ran back to the cell and grabbed the straw mattress off the metal frame. Back at the side door, he laid on the floor to catch his breath again. Then he stood up, pulled his shirt sleeve down over his hand, and opened the door.

He had to push hard because logs were leaning against it, which he expected. Flames rushed in, singeing him. He threw the mattress down, which momentarily created a clear path for him. He ran outside and a few yards from the building.

A crowd had already started forming a bucket brigade, but Paul could see it was too late. The fire had caught the roof on fire. The building would collapse soon.

He looked around and saw a familiar face in the crowd, someone who shouldn’t be there. It was Abednego Hunt. Paul started toward him, but the collier disappeared into the crowd.

…to be continued next month

Bessie Darling’s Murder Haunts Us Still

by James Rada, Jr.

Editor’s Note: We thought we would tell the notorious local story of love and obsession in honor of Valentine’s Day. It’s not that we think every potential mate is a psychopathic killer, but not every relationship has a happy ending. Of course, we hope your Valentine’s Day is a happy one!

When the mail train from Baltimore stopped in Thurmont on Halloween, more than the mail was delivered. George F. Schultz, a 62-year-old employee with Maryland Health Department, left the train. Schultz hired Clarence Lidie and his taxi to give him a ride to the Valley View Hotel, which was 10 minutes away on the side of Catoctin Mountain.

As Schultz climbed into the car, Lidie noticed that he was carrying a .38-caliber revolver and mentioned it.

“Shultz laughed and remarked that ‘he didn’t know what he might run into’,” Edmund F. Wehrle wrote in a study about the history of Catoctin Mountain Park.

The Valley View Hotel was actually a summer boarding house, which had been run by Bessie Darling, a 48-year-old divorcee, since 1917. It was a large house built in 1907 that sat on a steep tract of land near Deerfield.

Darling, a Baltimore resident, had purchased the property from Mary E. Lent after Darling’s divorce in 1917.

“She generally managed the hotel in the summer and returned to Baltimore in winter, where she used her considerable social contacts to drum up summer business for her hotel,” Wehrle wrote. “Her skill at cooking and baking, as well as the scenic site, helped build her a solid clientele.”

In the early 20th century, people took the Western Maryland Railroad from Baltimore to Pen Mar Park to enjoy the cooler mountain temperatures and to get away from the stresses of the city. Such was the appeal of the Catoctin Mountain area as a summer retreat that visitors always needed a place to stay.

“These such boarding houses offered the women of the area a rare opportunity to operate businesses,” Wehrle wrote.

Schultz had known Darling since 1926. They had become so close that Schultz had even spent Christmas in 1930 with Darling’s family. Newspaper accounts at the time said they were romantically linked, and he often spent weekends at the hotel while Darling was there.

Darling, who was 14 years younger than Schultz, met a lot of people, both men and women, in her work. In the summer of 1933, Schultz had become convinced that Darling was seeing Charles Wolfe, a 63-year-old man who had lost his wife a year earlier. He also lived in Foxville, much closer to the boarding house than Baltimore. (Wolfe later told the Hagerstown Daily Mail that he and Darling had been little more than acquaintances.)

The thought of Darling with another man made Schultz angry, and he was known for his displays of temper.

“One Thurmont resident remembered that Schultz frequently drank, and, on one occasion, assaulted Darling during an argument in front of the Lantz post office,” Wehrle wrote.

While Darling forgave him that time, she was not so forgiving in this instance. Schultz and Darling got into a loud argument, apparently over Wolfe, which ended when Darling left the hotel. She went to a neighbor’s home to spend the night and told the neighbor that Schultz was no longer welcome in her home, according to newspaper accounts.

Darling didn’t return to the hotel until Schultz left for Baltimore, and Darling didn’t go back to Baltimore at the end of the tourist season. She decided that she would spend the winter in the hotel rather than have to deal with Schultz and his jealousy.

Around 7:00 a.m. on Halloween morning, Schultz came up to the rear entrance of the hotel as Maizie Willard, the 18-year-old maid, was coming out for firewood. Schultz demanded to see Darling. Willard said Darling was in her room and tried to close the door on the man.

Schultz forced his way inside. Willard hurried upstairs to Darling’s bedroom to warn Darling, with Schultz following. Willard entered the bedroom and locked the door behind her.

This didn’t stop Schultz for long. He forced the lock and opened the door. Then, he entered the bedroom and shot Darling who fell to the floor dead.

Schultz then calmly told Willard to make him coffee. She did, and when he finally let her leave the house to get help for Darling, he said to her, “When you come back, you’ll find two of us dead.”

Willard rushed out of the hotel to the nearest home with a phone. She called Frederick County Sheriff Charles Crum, who drove to the hotel with a deputy around 9:30 a.m.

They entered through the basement door because Schultz had locked all of the doors and windows. When they hurried into Darling’s bedroom, they found her lying dead at the foot of the bed.

They also found Schultz nearly dead from a self-inflicted gunshot to his chest. Crum brought Dr. Morris Bireley up from Thurmont to treat Schultz, who was then taken to the hospital in Frederick.

Once Schultz recovered from the wound, he was tried for murder on March 13, 1934. The prosecution called 26 witnesses in their case of first-degree murder. Schultz claimed that Darling had also had a pistol and his killing her had been an act of self-defense. The jury deliberated for an hour and found him guilty of second-degree murder. Schultz was sentenced to 18 years in the Maryland State Penitentiary in Baltimore.

Wehrle recounted the story of Charles Anders who had been in the courtroom when Schultz was sentenced, and 66 years later, still remembered watching Schultz sob as the verdict was read.

The drama of the murder fed into the tabloid-style journalism of the day and people followed the case with interest.

“Even today, the murder stirs an unusual amount of residual interest,” Wehrle wrote.

written by James Rada, Jr.

A new serial fiction story for your enjoyment

4: The Fire Will Judge

Abednego Hunt stood facing the wooden cross he had carved. He knew you were supposed to wear your Sunday best for funerals, but he only had two sets of clothes, and they were both work clothes. He had carefully washed one set, though, so he could properly say goodbye to his brother Meshach.

He held a box filled with Meshach’s ashes. It wasn’t a big box, and he wasn’t even sure whether it held all of Shack’s ashes. This had been all he could find after his brother fell into the burning charcoal stack the day before.

Since Rev. Hoyle at the church in town had refused to bury the ashes, Abednego buried them here on Catoctin Mountain, near the charcoal stacks where he and Meshach had lived and worked.

He dug a hole in the ground about two feet deep and placed the box of ashes in it. Then he recited a few Bible verses he remembered from childhood. They didn’t pertain to death or burials, but they were only things Abednego knew.

He buried the box and stood crying over the grave. He already missed his brother.

That evening, as he lay in his cot in the ramshackle cabin he and Meshach called home, Abednego imagined his brother lying on his cot talking to him.

“It wasn’t your fault, Ben,” Shack said.

“I know, but I miss you all the same,” Abednego told him.

“It was the iron company. They don’t care about us. They wouldn’t pay you my death benefit.”

“They said you weren’t on the payroll.”

“I was, though. You know that. You know I drew pay.”

Abednego nodded, “I know, but they won’t listen.”

“Then the fire will judge them.”

That startled Abednego, and he sat up, wide awake. He walked outside. Some of the charcoal stacks still smoldered, but he had done nothing to tend to them since Shack had died. Let them burn down to nothing for all he cared.

He walked over to a stack that had collapsed.

He could see the glowing embers of what remained of the fire and logs mixed in with the dirt that had covered the stacks.

Abednego should have been shoveling the charcoal into the wagon.

Instead, he kicked at the dirt, exposing the charcoal and remaining embers. He picked up one orange glowing piece of wood, not even feeling pain. He threw it at the shack. It hit the wall and fell to the ground.

He picked up another ember and threw it. This one landed on the roof of the shack and began smoking. He threw another and another. He felt no pain, although his hands were red. What he felt was relief.

Little wisps of flame appeared on the roof where the embers had taken hold. He stood and watched as the flames grew. He didn’t worry. He owned little and wouldn’t miss any of it.

He walked back into the shack and felt the heat from the surrounding flames. He looked up at the yellow flames spreading along the roof.

He closed his eyes and held his arms out to his side. The fire will judge them.

Abednego heard timbers hit the ground as the fire ate through them and weakened the structure. He kept his eyes closed and waited. The heat grew intense and the flames loud. He couldn’t hear anything except for the cracking of wood and the whoosh of flames growing. They whispered to him, but he couldn’t understand what they said. They must be passing their judgement upon him.

He waited, wincing finally at the heat.

Occasionally, a flame licked at his body, but he kept his eyes closed and waited.

Then, there were a final great whoosh and crash. He felt a gust of wind. Then he felt cool air, at least cooler air.

He finally opened his eyes.

The shack had collapsed around him, but it had fallen in such a way that no burning pieces of wood had hit him. They lay around him, some of them still burning.

The fire had judged him, but had it rejected him or found him worthy?

Did it matter? It was time for it to judge the others who had turned their backs on the Hunt brothers, especially Meshach.

Abednego rode the horse down the mountain in the dark. It was surefooted, and he let it find its way with little guidance.

The streets were deserted. The workers started early in the morning. They needed their sleep.

He rode into Catoctin Furnace and tied the horse to a tree. Then, he walked into town and past the furnace. He stood looking at the ironmaster’s house. All the lamps had been extinguished for the night, and the windows were dark.

He walked closer, being careful not to raise any noise. He circled the house and found the woodshed. He spent the next hour hauling the logs from the shed and spreading them around the base of the house. Although the house was primarily stone, it had plenty of wooden siding and beams. He added kindling and stood back to admire his work.

It would burn, but not quickly.

He hurried back out to the furnace and filled a bucket with lamp oil. He carried it back to the house and splashed it on the walls and wood he had piled around the base. He made two more trips, repeating the process.

When he finished his preparations, Abednego used his flints to start a fire on each side of the house. Then, he moved into the woods. He watched the flames grow and spread. When it grew brighter, he moved back deeper into the shadows.

The flames had taken hold well before he heard the first cry raised. The yells quickly rose in number, and he began seeing shadows as people rushed to find the water barrels. He had tipped over the ones closest to the house. The fire crew brought the pump wagon over to the house, and a bucket brigade formed to fill the wagon’s tank.

Abednego sat down and watched the fire burn. The flames reached high into the sky. He watched as some people attempted to carry out valuables from the house. They knew it was a lost cause.

A woman wailed loudly, probably the ironmaster’s wife.

Abednego sighed with satisfaction. Then he walked to where he tied the horse and rode it back up the mountain, where he made himself a bed under a pine tree and slept.

The late George Wireman was a long-time writer for The Catoctin Banner. He also wrote for several other newspapers. He was Thurmont’s honorary resident historian, a local WTHU radio broadcaster, a volunteer conductor for the Walkersville Southern Railroad, and quite a character to know. He took great pride in building a huge model railroad display that was housed in his basement. Every December, he hosted a model train display open house at his house in Thurmont. For the past several years, a model railroad display has been available in Thurmont, and this year it will be located in the Thurmont Plaza Shopping Center at 224 N. Church Street, Ste C, on select days in December. This is a courtesy of the Frederick County Society of Model Engineers. See the Holiday Train Display ad in this edition.

Taken from a December 1995 Banner Newspaper, adjusted for this printing.

Local model railroad enthusiast George Wireman would welcome the public to his house every December to see his model railroad set up. George was a long-time lover of trains, an interest he credits to his dad. “My dad worked for the Western Maryland Railroad. I guess that’s where I got the bug.” It probably helped, too, that George was a frequent railroad traveler. In 1939 and 1940, George attended Hagerstown Business College and would catch the train every morning in Thurmont and every evening after school in Hagerstown.

George’s model railroad setup, called the “Monocacy Valley,” was named after the railroad of the same name, a steam engine that ran from Frederick to Thurmont and was a branch of the Washington-Frederick-Gettysburg Railway.

George took his model railroad very seriously. It took up nearly his entire basement and included a mountain, representing Catoctin Mountain, that was three-feet high and eight-feet long with a tunnel for the train line. There was also a bridge over a canyon that took George three months to complete. “I could have put the bridge together in one night, but I decided to haul each piece of ‘lumber’ for the bridge on one of the freight trains. I then used a model crane to lower each piece of lumber—made it more fun that way.”

The model railroad had two running lines of track, with various switches along the route to send the train into the railyard or onto a different track. His collection of trains included over one hundred freight cars; five different sets of passenger cars, including replicas of the Western Maryland Railroad and popular Amtrak; and numerous old-type coaches and locomotives.

What made the “Monocacy Valley” railroad even more interesting was the village in-between the lines of track. You’d find a vast array of familiar businesses, people, cars, trucks, and even an airport complete with planes and a terminal tower. George explained that “the village is not modeled after a particular community; instead, it pertains to things of my lifetime,” such as The Cozy Inn, where he used to be a host; Zentz Chevrolet-Buick because he used to go to school with Carroll Zentz; Nations Bank, where George did his banking; the WTHU radio tower, representing his involvement with our local radio station; a building for the Glade-Times Mirror, for whom George was a journalist; and even one for The Catoctin Banner since he also wrote for it.

You would see Hobb’s Hardware, the Thurmont Co-op, the police station, fire station, and even a very special Eisenhower memorial, built because of George’s fondness for this former president. There were billboards along the railroad and throughout the village to advertise local establishments, such as Hoffman’s Market, Kountry Kitchen, and the (then) Catoctin Mountain Trains and Hobbies.

There was so much to enjoy about George’s railroad that it was a must-see event.

George said, “I thoroughly enjoy working on the railroad; the work is never done. It’s a barrel of fun for me, and I enjoy sharing it with others.”

Maybe George’s railroad will put the railroad “bug” into someone else.

The Year is…1953

by James Rada, Jr.

Being a Good Neighbor on Catoctin Mountain

It’s nice to have good neighbors. It’s even nicer when the neighbor is the President of the United States.

Works Progress Administration laborers built the 22 camp buildings at Camp Greentop between 1934 and 1938. The log buildings were a mix of sleeping cabins, administrative buildings, and lodges. The plan was for Camp Greentop to look the same as Camp Misty Mount, but it was changed during construction so that the League for Crippled Children in Baltimore could use the buildings. According to the National Park Service, the camp was one of the first handicap-accessible facilities in the country.

Although the camp was built to house 150 children, 94 children—53 girls and 41 boys (ages 7 to 15)—were enjoying the outdoors there in June 1953. Most of them suffered from cerebral palsy or polio. On the morning of June 28, their neighbors, Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower, came to visit.

“Responding to an invitation sent to him by some of the children, the President turned up at the camp about 9:30 a.m.,” the Frederick News reported. “The children had not been told that Eisenhower and the first lady were coming, and they cut loose with squeals of delight as their distinguished guests drove up.”

The first couple had been staying at Camp David, the presidential retreat near Camp Greentop on Catoctin Mountain, and were on their way back to Washington, D.C.

The Eisenhowers spent a half-hour at the camp, meeting and talking with the children. Although the visit surprised the children, they gathered and sung a couple of songs for the Eisenhowers.

“Do you know what the President did this morning?” Mamie asked one little girl. “He got up and made hotcakes.”

One boy said to the President, “Hello, President Eisenhower, I saw you on television.”

Eisenhower chuckled and replied. “You ought to be looking at Gary Cooper on television.”

As the visit wound down, Eisenhower looked around for his wife, who had been led away by a group of children. “I think I’d better go and get my little gal,” he told the group of children near him.

He located Mamie and helped her into the car, but before they left, the President found Fred Volland, the camp business manager. He asked what the children’s favorite dessert was. Then he slipped Volland some money and said with a grin, “Give them the dessert on me.”

From Catoctin Mountain, the couple continued on to Washington, D.C.

Camp Greentop Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

Photograph shows a pair of campers at Camp Greentop in 1937.

Blair Garrett

Through rain, shine, sleet, or snow, first responders will be there in our time of need. The Thurmont Guardian Hose Company’s Annual Banquet was no exception, with several of the featured volunteers called away to combat a house fire on the Catoctin Mountain.

But, the show must go on, and the banquet didn’t miss a beat. 

The food was served, memories were shared, and the banquet got underway to celebrate and recognize all of the hard work the men and women of Guardian Hose Company puts forth day after day. 

A moment of silence and recognition for the dedication and accomplishments of five members of the Guardian Hose Company was held, whose passing in 2018 was felt by each member of the area’s fire and EMS community. Diane Oxendale, Elwood Riffle, Richard Kaufman, Marion W. “Bill” Rice, and Gloria Clabaugh were honored through their families with the lighting of a candle and Reverend James Hamrick’s blessing.

Guardian Hose Chief Chris Kinnaird was responsible for the minutes of the banquet, informing the public on the past year’s events and statistics, accolades for administrative and operational officers, and future plans for the fire company.

The Top 10 Responders for the year were highlighted for their loyalty and service: Larry Duble (102), Michael Beard (124), Stacy Stackhouse (147), Steve Strickhouser (163), Christopher Kinnaird (194), Terry Frushour (200), Mike Duble (254), Jared Snyder (261), Wayne Stackhouse (271), Brad Weddle (421).

The officers who were inducted for 2019 are Lieutenants Chad Brown, Brian Donovan, Will Gue, and Kevin Welch; Captain Blaine Schildt; and Assistant Chief Charlie Brown.

“I’m sure they will support me throughout the year, as they have done in the past. I thank them for stepping up to the plate and taking these positions,” Chief Kinnaird said.

It was a tremendously busy 2018 for the Guardian Hose Company, running nearly 700 calls in just twelve months. As a company that is depended upon day in and day out, entirely functioning on the efforts of volunteers, the dedication of the operational and administrative officers doesn’t go unnoticed.

“It’s amazing that you’re an all-volunteer fire company,” Mayor John Kinnaird said. “There are very few communities like ours that have all volunteer companies, and we really appreciate your service.”

Volunteer fire companies thrive on the shoulders of invested community members who aim to support and protect the public. The communication and teamwork among local departments is paramount to maintaining the safety of the Catoctin area.     

“I’d like to thank our neighboring departments who helped us out throughout the year,” Chief Kinnaird said. “We can’t do this job by ourselves. It’s not a one-company operation anymore. The whole department relies on everybody, and everybody always lends a hand.”

As President Wayne Stackhouse continued to acknowledge each member and their years of service and membership to the fire company, a few stood out among the crowd.

Donald Stitely and Richard Wilhide joined the sixty-year club, putting in more than a half century of service to Guardian Hose Company.

“I want to make note that William “Bill” Rice was our oldest member on record before his passing last year, and he had completed seventy years,” Stackhouse said.

President Stackhouse’s next award put a smile on everyone’s face in the room, but none bigger than the smile on committee member Linda Davis’ face. “This next award is kind of a special award,” Stackhouse said. “Linda is one of those members in the activities committee who goes way beyond what she needs to do, but she’s always there.”

Davis was presented with a framed certificate and a huge bouquet of flowers, and the emotion on her face was immediately apparent. The gifts weren’t done yet for Davis though, as she also received a lifetime membership, certifying that she will receive membership benefits and privileges for her hard work and dedication to the Guardian Hose Company.

The banquet ended with the official installation for the 2019 officers by Director of Volunteer Fire Services Director, Chief Kevin Fox: President, Wayne Stackhouse; President Emeritus, Donald Stitely; Vice President, Terry Frushour; Secretary, Lori Brown; Assistant Secretary, Tisha Miller; Treasurer, Chad Brown; Assistant Treasurer, Beverly Frushour; Trustees, Brian Donovan, Jared Snyder, Joe Ohler, Steve Yuengling, and Christopher Kinnaird. Operational Officers: Chief, Chris Kinnaird; Assistant Chief, Carroll Brown; Captain, Blaine Schildt; Lieutenants, Chad Brown, Brian Donovan, Will Gue, and Kevin Welch; and Chaplain, James Hamrick.

The Installation of Officers puts the Guardian Hose Company and its supporters in a position to be successful for yet another year. As a volunteer fire company, Guardian Hose is always looking for more help and dedicated volunteers.

For more information, contact one of the company’s officers or visit www.guardianhose.org for more information.

President Wayne Stackhouse (center) acknowledges Richard Wilhide’s (left) and Donald Stitely’s sixty-years of service.

Vice President Terry Frushour is shown with Linda Davis, who receives a beautiful bouquet of flowers, as well as a lifetime membership.

The Huckster Vs. The Highwaymen

by James Rada, Jr.

By the time the sun cleared the horizon in the east on March 27, 1899, J.T. Waesche was already at work. Waesche, who was a huckster, had harnessed his team and set out to cross Catoctin Mountain to sell his goods in Washington County.

He traveled along the unpaved road that would eventually become MD 77 in the 1950s, moving slowly as his team pulled his wagon up Catoctin Mountain.

Waesche was about 2.5 miles west of Thurmont when he heard two voices call out, “Halt!” from either side of the road.

“Upon looking up, he found that two men, partially hidden by large rocks and with masks over their faces were covering him with their revolvers,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

Although Waesche didn’t tug on the reins of the horses, they stopped at the sound of voices.

“Surrender. Throw up your hands,” one highwayman ordered.

Waesche should have expected something like this to happen at some point.

The newspapers had run stories about highwaymen robbing people along this road, but Waesche wasn’t armed. He remained calm. He stared at the men, trying to get a read on them and deciding what he should do.

“Well, I’m not going to do it,” he finally said.

He flicked the reins to start his horses moving. The highwaymen stepped from behind the rocks and moved toward the wagon.

“Stop or I’ll shoot you!” one bandit warned.

Waesche saw the man pointing his pistol in Waesche’s direction, but he also noticed that it was aimed over his head.

“One of them fired, and one of the horses, being a very nervous animal, ‘she went up into the air and came down running’ as Mr. Waesche put it,” according to the Clarion.

Waesche urged his horses to gallop, and the wagon hurried past the two highwaymen.

“They fired as many as a half-dozen shots, but they were either very poor marksmen or hoped to cause a run-away and smash-up, thus catching their man, as not one of their shots struck the wagon,” the Clarion reported.

Waesche drove to F. N. Wilhide’s house, which was the first house he came to a half mile up the road, where he could get help.

Besides the reported robberies along the road, the Clarion reported that three young men had been traveling along the road around midnight the night before. They saw a fire in the woods and walked over to see if it was a campfire or the beginnings of a forest fire.

“Upon approaching the light, the young men saw two men seated near a fire and they were engaged in making and fitting on masks,” the Clarion reported.

One of the men approached the three travelers. They exchanged pleasantries and the three men continued on their way. They thought nothing of the encounter until they heard about what happened to Waesche. They told the Deputy Sheriff Anderson of Thurmont that they could identify the men if they saw them again.

The Frederick Post reported that Anderson had an idea of who the two men were. He traveled to Hagerstown looking for them, but could not locate them.

The Frederick paper also reported a very different version of the story. The newspaper reported that Waesche was armed with two revolvers, and he drew them when the highwaymen challenged him.

“The would-be robbers, seeing they had run against the wrong man, took to their heels across the country,” the Frederick Post reported.

Either way, Waesche protected his property and put the highwaymen in their place.

A shot of MD 77, near Sandy Hole, when it was still just a dirt road in the early 20th century.

As the leaves on Catoctin Mountain turned to yellow, red, and orange, Thurmont turned pink as the town supported activities to raise funds to fight breast cancer.

During October, Thurmont becomes the “Gateway to the Cure,” as the town sells pink light bulbs, pink t-shirts, pink shopping bags, and more. In addition, various groups hold events and fundraisers and donate the income to the Patty Hurwitz Fund at Frederick Memorial Hospital.

Jeff and Patty Hurwitz created The Hurwitz Breast Cancer Fund at Frederick Memorial Hospital in 1999. Patty had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the couple believed that early diagnosis had helped improve her chances of beating cancer. The fund is used to improve ways of diagnosing and fighting cancer in the county. The fund has raised $1.7 million to date. That money has gone to purchase things, such as a machine for biopsies and another for 3D mammography. Every dollar donated to the fund is used for direct patient benefit, and there are no administrative costs.

“We’ve been able to do a lot of great things with this fund,” said Sadie Wolf, development officer for the fund.

She told the Thurmont Commissioners that because of the hospital’s focus on fighting breast cancer, and with the help of the fund, the time between a patient’s cancer diagnosis and surgery has shrunk from fifty-nine days to twelve days. This means that cancers are treated earlier, which improves a patient’s chances of survival.

Main Street Manager Vickie Grinder told the commissioners that 2017 had been the best year so far for the town’s campaign. Thurmont donated $15,000 to the fund. This brought the town’s four-year total donations to $43,648.

Grinder is hoping that the town does even better this year. She said things had gotten off to a good start with a two-hour Zumbathon at the American Legion that raised $700. The annual 5K run/walk also had forty runners and walkers raising money to find a cure.

Thurmont Mayor John Kinnaird stated that he was challenging all of the other municipalities in the county to do something in their own communities to raise funds to fight breast cancer.

The town will make its donation later in the year, once all of the donations have come in and been tallied.

Thurmont’s involvement in the Gateway to the Cure started in 2014 by Commissioner Wayne Hooper, whose wife Jill is a breast cancer survivor. Since that time, Grinder has been coordinating the town’s efforts to help find a cure.

As the leaves on Catoctin Mountain turned to yellow, red, and orange, Thurmont turned pink as the town supported activities to raise funds to fight breast cancer.

During October, Thurmont becomes the “Gateway to the Cure,” as the town sells pink light bulbs, pink t-shirts, pink shopping bags, and more. In addition, various groups hold events and fundraisers and donate the income to the Patty Hurwitz Fund at Frederick Memorial Hospital.

Jeff and Patty Hurwitz created The Hurwitz Breast Cancer Fund at Frederick Memorial Hospital in 1999. Patty had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and the couple believed that early diagnosis had helped improve her chances of beating cancer. The fund is used to improve ways of diagnosing and fighting cancer in the county. The fund has raised $1.7 million to date. That money has gone to purchase things, such as a machine for biopsies and another for 3D mammography. Every dollar donated to the fund is used for direct patient benefit, and there are no administrative costs.

“We’ve been able to do a lot of great things with this fund,” said Sadie Wolf, development officer for the fund.

She told the Thurmont Commissioners that because of the hospital’s focus on fighting breast cancer, and with the help of the fund, the time between a patient’s cancer diagnosis and surgery has shrunk from fifty-nine days to twelve days. This means that cancers are treated earlier, which improves a patient’s chances of survival.

Main Street Manager Vickie Grinder told the commissioners that 2017 had been the best year so far for the town’s campaign. Thurmont donated $15,000 to the fund. This brought the town’s four-year total donations to $43,648.

Grinder is hoping that the town does even better this year. She said things had gotten off to a good start with a two-hour Zumbathon at the American Legion that raised $700. The annual 5K run/walk also had forty runners and walkers raising money to find a cure.

Thurmont Mayor John Kinnaird stated that he was challenging all of the other municipalities in the county to do something in their own communities to raise funds to fight breast cancer.

The town will make its donation later in the year, once all of the donations have come in and been tallied.

Thurmont’s involvement in the Gateway to the Cure started in 2014 by Commissioner Wayne Hooper, whose wife Jill is a breast cancer survivor. Since that time, Grinder has been coordinating the town’s efforts to help find a cure.

The Catoctin Outlaws and the Origins of Blue Blazes

Years before the Blue Blazes became part of Thurmont’s history due to the 1929 raid on the county’s largest moonshining operation, it made the newspapers for another raid, but this one was to capture wanted criminals.

In 1913, the Catoctin Clarion reported “a gang of this character has been in our midst for some time; walking around town, making purchases at our stores, talking freely to citizens, and making trips through the country at night relieving people of feed, poultry and other articles.”

The “outlaw gang” turned out to be two men, but “one of them known as a desperate character.”

They were camping on Catoctin Mountain in a heavily wooded area to the right of Blue Blazes and a mile from the old Harman Mill. “It is said that so dense was the growth of small trees that it was almost impossible to see the camp up until within a few feet of it,” the Clarion reported.

In nearly every local story, Blue Blazes refers to the massive still that county deputies raided in 1929. The still is said to have been named Blue Blazes after the color that moonshine burned when it was ready. The 1913 story does not involve a still, and it is before Prohibition. Blue Blazes was the name originally given to a section on Hunting Creek in the mid-1800s.            As the story goes, a group of men was “gigging” in the creek using torches to see by since it was nighttime. One of the men slipped, and his torch fell into the water. The Clarion reported, “the party was terrified at finding that it had set on fire the entire surface of the stream as far up and down as they could see and that it burned with a Blue Blaze.”

In 1888, the Clarion asked its readers what could have caused the phenomenon. Some readers suggested it was burning coal oil from beneath Chimney Rock that leaked into the stream. One reader wrote that coal oil wouldn’t have burned that color. He suggested “the party might have broken its jug or decanted its keg of whiskey, which the torches ignited, and in their condition of exhilaration, the flames seemed more extended than they actually were.”

Whatever the scientific explanation was, the name stuck to that area, eventually spreading to include the area around that section of Hunting Creek.

Once the authorities located the camp near Blue Blazes, Thurmont Police conducted a joint raid with Waynesboro Police.

“Both men were there, but the fine big bay horse they had in their possession put them wise that some one was coming by neighing,” according to the Clarion.

The men in the camp ran for theirs as the officers rushed in. One man gave himself up. The other man got away.

The captured man was Sparon Gaugher, who, according to the Clarion, “It is claimed he has killed a number of men, and it is thought he and his companion are the ones who assaulted a man at the ‘Blue Goose’ saloon near Pen-Mar a short time ago.”

The other man was named John Toms and was wanted for escaping jail in Gettysburg for stealing chickens and other property.

The police found a stolen horse, buggy, feed, and new clothing at the campsite. The prisoner was taken to jail in Waynesboro.

Gaugher was convicted of horse stealing in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, and given a prison term.

His companion turned out to be wanted in three Pennsylvania counties. He had served time in the state penitentiary for shooting a man at the Leland Hotel in Waynesboro.

Joan Bittner Fry

The Lake View Hotel, C. J. Remsburg, Proprietor, Lewistown, Maryland, Long Distance Phone 840-2

While looking through my postcard collection, I came upon a small brochure about Lake View Hotel, and I quote the brochure:

“Lake View Hotel is located midway between Frederick and Thurmont, Maryland on the Western Maryland and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroads, within two hours’ ride of Baltimore and Washington.

The hotel is high above sea level, overlooking the highest range of the Blue Ridge Mountains. One could hardly wish for a more ideal spot to spend a vacation than Lewistown, Maryland, located in picturesque Frederick County.

The Lake View is a large six-story (some places say 4-story) concrete building, with roof garden and sun parlor, commanding an excellent view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, far famed for their beautiful scenery.  The hotel contains 50 rooms, baths and toilet rooms, also 25 private baths, making it the largest and one of the most modern houses in this section of the country. The bed rooms are all large and airy, newly furnished in the most up-to-date manner. We can accommodate 125 guests. The dining room is spacious, light and well ventilated. Cuisine under the personal attention of the proprietor. Piazza is large and shady and the hotel is lighted throughout with acetylene gas.

In connection with the house is a 200-acre farm, producing all varieties of fruits and vegetables, with which the table is abundantly supplied; plenty of fresh milk, eggs, poultry, etc., the best the country affords.

Aside from the lobby may be found smoking room for gentlemen, private parlor and writing room for ladies. For health, comfort and beauty of natural scenery, this place is second to none in the mountains of Western Maryland.”

The hotel is located 6 miles north of Frederick; rail transportation could bring pleasure seekers to a peaceful setting that featured a casino, hotel, and lake. Charles Remsburg was a native of nearby Lewistown, having grown up on a farm originally laid out by his grandfather, Jacob. In addition to the family trade of farming, Charles found success in the late 1800s goldfish boom and was one of the county’s largest exporters.  He was also an investor in the Westminster, Frederick, and Gettysburg Railroad, which would traverse property owned by his family. He obtained this land and created a scheme to cash in on the new trolley line that would connect Frederick and Thurmont.

In 1908, Charles merged his many fishponds and formed a lake in the shadow of the picturesque Catoctin Mountain to the west. He looked to capitalize on the rail transportation line’s ability to deliver visitors in the same manner as neighboring mountain retreats, such as Braddock Heights and Pen Mar Park.

The brochure also boasts an up-to-date livery where saddle and driving horses could be had at a moment’s notice; ladies riding suits to hire; croquet, tennis, dancing; rambles over the mountains; and a large shady lake for fishing. Those fond of motoring could find one of the best automobile roads in the country, leading from Washington and Baltimore to Pen Mar and Gettysburg, passing the door of the Lake View Hotel. Persons afflicted with tuberculosis were requested to not apply for accommodations. (The State Sanatorium at Sabillasville for TB patients opened in 1908.)

From an article in Frederick Daily News, September 10, 1908:

“The hotel featured an elaborate amusement center in the form of a casino (a 2-story building with a first-class skating rink and a beautiful dance hall. On the first floor were 4 bowling alleys, a pool room, and cloak and toilet rooms). Guests were invited to use the lake for bathing, swimming, and boating, as row boats were made readily available.

The Lake View Casino opened in early September 1908. The crowd was estimated to have been at least a thousand persons, over 300 from Frederick alone.  Many went in carriages and other vehicles from surrounding towns.

Not all persons who desired to skate could be accommodated, as only a portion of the number of skates ordered arrived.  They are expected shortly.”

Sadly, the full potential of the site was never realized, suffering a devastating fire two years later, just prior to the opening of the hotel in May 1910. Mr. Remsburg had grossly under-insured his building, and with the outlay for the hotel, he was not in the position to rebuild the casino.

Over the next four years, the Lake View Hotel hosted pleasure seekers, but would suffer the same fate as the casino on June 16, 1914. Just days before opening for the summer season, the hotel burned to the ground. This time, a faulty heating apparatus was to blame.

Mr. Remsburg gave up his endeavors in the hospitality resort business and went back to an enterprise that was decidedly “fireproof.” He returned to putting his full attention to the business of raising goldfish.

In 1916, the Maryland Conservation Commission assessed the state for future fish hatcheries, especially trout. The following year, Lewistown was selected for the commission’s first hatchery. The state also stocked Remsberg’s Lake View with a supply of small-mouth bass, crappie, and catfish.

Plans for the proposed Lewistown hatchery were drawn up during the fall of 1917, and by January 1918, a 22 x 44-foot temporary hatchery had been completed at the site, and 400,000 trout eggs had been placed into the new hatchery.

Lewistown Hatchery Today

Little remains today that would suggest the size of the hatchery operation that once existed until the early 1950s. A sign on Fish Hatchery Road, off U.S. 15 south, states: “Lewistown Trout Hatchery and Bass Ponds Frederick County – Purchased by State 1917” (shown right).

Mr. Remsburg’s influence would have a profound effect on the son of his next door neighbors, Milton and Rosanna Powell. Their son, Albert M. Powell, developed a love of fish, as well, and served as the longtime Superintendent of Maryland State Fish Hatcheries. The Albert Powell Hatchery is located in Hagerstown, Maryland. Construction of this facility began in 1946 and was completed in 1949.

From Powell’s obituary: “Albert M. Powell, Fisheries Expert of Lewistown, Maryland, died in February 1991 at Homewood Retirement Center at age 93. He was retired superintendent of inland fisheries, retiring in 1967, after working in the state’s freshwater fish program for more than 40 years and briefly for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries. He had been a member of the American Fisheries Society, The Potomac Valley Fly Fishing Association, and the Frederick County Fish and Game Protective Association. He wrote a history of the state programs and became an expert on shipping live freshwater fish, sending one shipment of small mouth bass to South Africa.”

The next time you travel to or from Frederick on Route 15, you will understand the meaning of Powell Road and Fish Hatchery Road, and possibly remember the ill-fated Lake View Hotel and Casino.

The Lake View Hotel — 1908.

Catoctin Mountain rose from a primordial lake to heights taller than Mount Everest. As time wore it away, many of its secrets were lost with its dwindling peaks. In the era of man, though, its history has been better preserved, although it still holds onto its secrets.

In his new book, Secrets of Catoctin Mountain: Little-Known Stories & Hidden History of Frederick & Loudoun Counties, James Rada, Jr. (Catoctin Banner contributor/editor) tells the stories of Catoctin Mountain, its people, and places.

Residents of Northern Frederick County treasure their association with the mountain, but it actually runs south from Thurmont until nearly reaching Leesburg, Virginia. The more than two dozen stories in the book take place all along Catoctin Mountain.

You can hunt for the snallygaster and dwayyo, legendary monsters that roam the mountain ridges.

Discover what it took to become a spy at the secret OSS training camp on the mountain.

Search for a forgotten gold mine in the foothills of Catoctin Mountain.

These are just a few of the stories included in Secrets of Catoctin Mountain, telling the tales of ordinary people living their lives under unusual conditions at times. Taken together, they paint a picture of the character of the people who live on and around Catoctin Mountain, whether they are from Maryland or Virginia.

“These are stories that caught my attention in one way or another,” Rada said. “They aren’t the types of stories you find in history books about the county, but they are part of the area’s past.”

Rada considers “secrets” in this book as stories that aren’t widely known. He gave as an example a presentation he recently did at the Garrett County Historical Society about his book Secrets of Garrett County. He told the audience about a half a dozen of the “secrets” from the book.

“Before each one, I would ask, ‘Who has heard of…’ and say the secret. I thought that I would be preaching to the choir, and the group would know even more about the stories I was telling than I did. Most of the group had only heard about two of them,” Rada explained. “They’re the type of stories I look for, interesting, but not well-known.”

Secrets of Catoctin Mountain contains sixty-four black and white photographs and illustrations that help bring the stories to life.

“I love writing about history,” Rada said. “I love finding interesting and unusual stories about people and places, and I haven’t come across an area that doesn’t have plenty of these stories.”

Secrets of Catoctin Mountain is the second in a new series of books that Rada is writing about regional topics. The first, Secrets of Garrett County, was released earlier this year.

James Rada, Jr. is an award-winning writer whom the Midwest Book Review called “a writer of considerable and deftly expressed storytelling talent.” Small Press Bookwatch said that Rada’s coal-mining book, Saving Shallmar: Christmas Spirit in a Coal Town, was “highly recommended.” He has two dozen writing awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists, Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association, Maryland State Teachers Association, and Utah Ad Federation.

Rada has been writing about history for nearly twenty years and still finds it fascinating and new.

“History is not boring. It’s full of love, adventure, comedy, and mysteries that still aren’t solved to this day. It’s those types of stories I like to write, and I believe I’ve pulled together a great collection of them for this book,” Rada said.

Rada is the author of twenty books, most history and historical fiction. His articles have been published in magazines like The History Channel Magazine, Boy’s Life, and Frederick Magazine. He also writes five local history columns for The Republican, the Cumberland Times-News, the Gettysburg Times, The York Dispatch, as well as The Catoctin Banner.

Secrets of Catoctin Mountain: Little-Known Stories & Hidden History of Frederick & Loudoun Counties retails for $19.95 and is available at the E Plus Graphics, Printing, & Promotions store in Emmitsburg, at online retailers, or on his website at

by James Rada, Jr.

Bessie Darling’s Murder Haunts Us Still

Bessie Darling House 07-09-1941 001 JAK (2)When the mail train from Baltimore stopped in Thurmont on Halloween, more than the mail was delivered. George F. Schultz, a sixty-two-year-old employee with Maryland Health Department, left the train. Schultz hired Clarence Lidie and his taxi to give him a ride to the Valley View Hotel, which was ten minutes away on the side of Catoctin Mountain.

As Schultz climbed into the car, Lidie noticed that he was carrying a .38-caliber revolver and remarked on it.

“Shultz laughed and remarked that ‘he didn’t know what he might run into,’” Edmund F. Wehrle wrote in a study about the history of Catoctin Mountain Park.

The Valley View Hotel was actually a summer boarding house, which had been run by Bessie Darling, a forty-eight-year-old divorcee, since 1917. It was a large house built in 1907 that sat on a steep tract of land near Deerfield.

Darling, a Baltimore resident, had purchased the property from Mary E. Lent after Darling’s divorce in 1917.

“She generally managed the hotel in the summer and returned to Baltimore in winter, where she used her considerable social contacts to drum up summer business for her hotel,” Wehrle wrote. “Her skill at cooking and baking, as well as the scenic site, helped build her a solid clientele.”

In the early twentieth century, people took the Western Maryland Railroad from Baltimore to Pen Mar Park to enjoy the cooler mountain temperatures and to get away from the stresses of the city. Such was the appeal of the Catoctin Mountain area as a summer retreat that visitors always needed a place to stay.

“These such boarding houses offered the women of the area a rare opportunity to operate businesses,” Wehrle wrote.

Schultz had known Darling since 1926. They had become so close that Schultz had even spent Christmas 1930 with Darling’s family. Newspaper accounts at the time said they were romantically linked, and he often spent weekends at the hotel while Darling was there.

Darling, who was fourteen years younger than Schultz, met a lot people, both men and women in her work. In the summer of 1933, Schultz had become convinced that Darling was seeing Charles Wolfe, a sixty-three-year-old man who had lost his wife a year earlier. He also lived in Foxville, much closer to the boarding house than Baltimore. (Wolfe later told the Hagerstown Daily Mail that he and Darling had been little more than acquaintances.)

The thought of Darling with another man made Schultz angry, and he was known for his displays of temper.

“One Thurmont resident remembered that Schultz frequently drank, and, on one occasion, assaulted Darling during an argument in front of the Lantz post office,” Wehrle wrote.

While Darling forgave him that time, she was not so forgiving in this instance. Schultz and Darling got into a loud argument apparently over Wolfe, which ended when Darling left the hotel. She went to a neighbor’s home to spend the night, and told the neighbor that Schultz was no longer welcome in her home, according to newspaper accounts.

Darling didn’t return to the hotel until Schultz left for Baltimore, and Darling didn’t return to Baltimore at the end of the tourist season. She decided that she would spend the winter in the hotel rather than having to deal with Schultz and his jealousy.

Around 7:00 a.m. on Halloween morning, Schultz came up to the rear entrance of the hotel as Maizie Williams, the eighteen-year-old maid, was coming out for firewood. Schultz demanded to see Darling. Williams said Darling was in her room and tried to close the door on the man.

Schultz forced his way inside. Williams hurried upstairs to Darling’s bedroom to warn Darling, with Schultz following. Williams entered the bedroom and locked the door behind her.

This didn’t stop Schultz for long. He forced the lock and opened the door. Then he entered the bedroom and shot Darling who fell to the floor dead.

Schultz then calmly told Williams to make him coffee. She did, and when he finally let her leave the house to get help for Darling, he told her, “When you come back, you’ll find two of us dead.”

Williams rushed out of the hotel to the nearest home with a phone. She called Frederick County Sheriff Charles Crum who drove to the hotel with a deputy around 9:30 a.m.

They entered through the basement door, because Schultz had locked all of the doors and windows. When they entered the Darling’s bedroom, they found her lying dead at the foot of the bed.

They also found Schultz nearly dead from a self-inflicted gunshot to his chest. Crum brought Dr. Morris Bireley up from Thurmont to treat Schultz, who was then taken to the hospital in Frederick.

Once Schultz recovered from the wound, he was tried for murder on March 13, 1934. The prosecution called twenty-six witnesses in their case of first-degree murder. Schultz claimed that Darling had also had a pistol, and his killing her had been an act of self-defense. The jury deliberated an hour and found him guilty of second-degree murder; Schultz was sentenced to eighteen years in the Maryland State Penitentiary in Baltimore.

Wehrle recounted the story of Charles Anders, who had been in the courtroom when Schultz was sentenced and, sixty-six years later, still remembered watching Schultz sob as the verdict was read.

The drama of the murder fed into the tabloid-style journalism of the day, and people followed the case with interest.

“Even today, the murder stirs an unusual amount of residual interest,” Wehrle wrote.

Most recently, the Thurmont Thespians performed an original musical based on the murder case.