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Littlestown Man Dies of Fright

John McCall of Littlestown, Pennsylvania, was one of the oldest engineers working on the Northern Central Railroad in 1909. He had worked for the railroad for over 30 years and even lost a leg eight years earlier in an accident on the railroad.

So, what could a man who had probably seen everything—good and bad—having to do with the railroad have seen that literally scared him to death?

The Northern Central Railroad ran from Baltimore to Sunbury, Pennsylvania. It had been completed in 1858. The railroad’s claim to fame was that President Abraham Lincoln rode on the railroad to deliver his Gettysburg Address in 1863, changing trains in Hanover Junction, Pennsylvania. Then, in 1865, the Northern Central Railroad carried Lincoln partway on his final journey to Springfield, Illinois, where he would be buried.

On December 3, 1909, McCall was working on the Frederick Branch of the railroad, east of Stony Brook, at the York Valley Lime and Stone company quarries, near Hallam, Pennsylvania. He backed Locomotive No. 4134 onto a siding at the quarry and unloaded the coal with which it was filled.

After coming off that siding, he reversed the locomotive to back onto another siding. The brakeman applied the hand brakes to stop the locomotive along the siding, but it began drifting backwards down the steep grade.

“When the brakeman realized that he was unable to hold the car, he shouted a warning to McCall, who may or may not have heard it. A moment later the heavy steel car side swiped the locomotive cab, tearing the right side entirely off and throwing McCall to the track, where he was pinned between the parallel bars and driving wheels of the locomotive,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

Men nearby rushed to his aid, but McCall was trapped. In order to free him, McCall’s rescuers had to saw off his wooden leg, “which was fastened under the engine in such a way that it was impossible to move the man otherwise,” according to the Gettysburg Times.

His injuries from the accident were considered slight. McCall had a slight gash on his forehead and a broken left thumb. The most serious of his injuries was the amputation of his left index finger. These injuries were indeed slight, considering that McCall had previously survived the loss of his right leg around the turn of the century.

The accident had occurred around 5:45 p.m. By 6:30 p.m. that evening, McCall was dead. Dr. W. F. Bacon pronounced McCall dead due to shock and not his injuries. The York County coroner, J. E. Dehoff, later agreed with Bacon’s pronouncement.

John’s son, Carter McCall, also lived in Littlestown. He was a member of the freight crew on his father’s train. He was notified of his father’s death so that he could claim the body and return it to his family in Littlestown.

“The accident is the most peculiar known on the railroad, and a similar accident could not be remembered by any of the oldest engineers on the road,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

The Woodpecker vs. Fort Ritchie

Sitting atop South Mountain, Fort Ritchie helped save the world from the Nazis during World War II. However, the camp didn’t fare as well against woodpeckers.

Fort Ritchie’s history dates back to 1889 when the Buena Vista Ice Company of Philadelphia purchased 400 acres on South Mountain. The company developed the land and built lakes where it planned to cut ice from to ship to the surrounding cities for use as the refrigeration source in ice boxes. The first lake was built in 1901 and named Lake Royer. Buena Vista shipped out the ice on the Western Maryland Railroad, which ran through the area.

Business continued until the demand for ice dropped off due to the development of electric refrigeration, and the Buena Vista Ice Company eventually closed.

In 1926, the Maryland National Guard was looking for a location for a summer training camp. It chose the Buena Vista Ice Company property. Not only was the location isolated enough for the National Guard’s training needs, it was located along the railroad, so it could be easily accessed and communications could be maintained using the telegraph line that already ran through the area.

The Maryland National Guard used the site from 1926 to 1942. On June 19, 1942, the U.S. Army took over the site for its Military Intelligence Training Center. During World War II, 19,600 intelligence troops trained at the camp.

Despite the vast knowledge and intelligence training of these soldiers, woodpeckers managed to sabotage the camp, even if the interference lasted a short time.

In 1948, newspapers in Maryland and Pennsylvania ran stories about how woodpeckers were frustrating Col. Leland T. Reckford, the fort commander, with their attacks on power line poles.

“One woodpecker was so diligent in his attack on a pole that the first hard gust of wind the other day sent it crashing to the ground,” the Hagerstown Morning Herald reported on November 9, 1948.

The 2,200-volt power line came down with the pole, causing outages in the area, including the camp.

“There are plenty of trees in the surrounding mountains, if the woodpeckers simply must release their emotions by pecking, camp officials point out,” according to the Morning Herald.

Woodpeckers peck for three reasons, according to It uncovers insects, insect eggs, and larvae, which the woodpeckers eat. They drill holes in dead or dying trees to create nests. The hammering also serves as a type of communication to mark territory.

“This is why you might see a flicker pounding on a metal power pole or your house siding–to make the loudest sound he can, not to look for food or drill a hole, but to make a statement,” according to the website.

Given the damage to the power line pole, it seems likely the woodpeckers used it create a nesting area, but instead, compromised the strength of the pole.

The newspapers don’t note how the camp solved its woodpecker problem, but it wasn’t mentioned again, nor were there any articles talking about additional falling power line poles.

Fort Ritchie closed in 1998 under the 1995 Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

An old postcard view of Barrick Avenue at Fort Richie.

Where the White Frogs Frolic

In 1932, Charles Clyde (C.C.) Moler was shopping at Lilypons goldfish nurseries in Frederick County when something in the water caught his eye. The water rippled with activity from the thousands of goldfish in the ponds that been drained to a low level for harvesting. C.C. saw flashes of orange from the goldfish and greenish brown from tadpoles that shared the ponds, but he saw something else, too.

An occasional flash of white caught his eye. He looked closer and saw it was a tadpole. Lilypons raised tadpoles as well as goldfish. Tadpoles acted as scavengers in a goldfish aquarium, eating any food the fish didn’t and helping keep the tank clean.

C.C. pointed out the white tadpoles and had a worker fish them out. He found three. Each one was white with pink eyes. They were albino, a rare congenital defect that causes the loss of any pigmentation.

When asked about an albino frog in the New York Museum of History’s collection at the time, herpetologist Dr. Raymond Ditmars called it, “rarer than human quintuplets.” C.C. had hit a biological lottery jackpot.

“At that time, the museum’s specimen was thought to be the only one in existence and, although widespread publicity brought to light several others, the white frog still holds his rank as one of the rarest forms of albinism,” The Baltimore Sun reported.

Moler surprised Lilypons workers when he told them how rare albino frogs were. They had first noticed albino tadpoles in their ponds the previous year. “No special thought was given to their unusual appearance and, after passing through the regular grading process, a few were shipped out with the normal tadpoles. Several dealers complained that they had received tadpoles which were apparently sick, but no one realized that a rare find had been passed by so casually,” The Baltimore Sun reported.

Moler had Lilypons try to trace the albino tadpoles that had been shipped out. Of the ones they found, “only one had lived to frogdom, and that was dead and resting in alcohol,” according to The Baltimore Sun.

With the news of the rare find, other goldfish farmers in Frederick County started watching the tadpoles they harvested from their ponds. No other ponds yielded the rare albino frogs.

Moler kept the three he found and returned home to Hagerstown. Two of the tadpoles died, but one matured to an albino male bullfrog.

Moler worked as an electrical engineer for Potomac Edison, but caring for the albino frog became his hobby.

He returned to Lilypons the following year during their harvest and found more white tadpoles that he purchased. With a year’s experience, he was better able to care for them. Their tanks were temperature-controlled to be no lower than sixty-five degrees. Moler fed them only live food—primarily earthworms—because frogs won’t eat anything that doesn’t move.

One of these tadpoles matured to a female of the same species as the male.

“Today, they dwell happily together, the world’s first pair of albino frogs, and it is hoped that they will be the Adam and Eve of a new race,” The Baltimore Sun reported.

They were believed to be the only breeding pair of albino bullfrogs in the world.

Experts gave Moler a 50-50 chance of being able to breed them, but he beat the odds, and the Hagerstown Morning Herald reported in 1937 that he had “several hundred Albino tadpoles as a reward.” Of these, he hoped to get as many as 200 to grow to adulthood, but only twenty-three did.

C.C. was so pleased with his success that he presented a pair of albino frogs to the New York Museum of Natural History as a gift. In accepting the gift, Museum Director Dr. G. Kingsley Noble said, “You have already made a very important contribution to science in successfully rearing these delicate creatures.”

The New York Times called Moler, “the world’s only collector and breeder of Albino frogs.”

With his collection of albino frogs growing, Moler purchased a farm near Wagner’s Crossroad on Beaver Creek, along the new Dual Highway. He had three screened outdoor pools built on the property. He then purchased three abandoned Hagerstown and Frederick Railway trolley cars and placed one next to each pool.

C.C. converted one trolley into a massive heated aquarium, where the tadpoles could stay in the winter. Other tadpoles were left in the pools, where they disappeared into the mud at the bottom. Moler wanted to see if the albino frogs could survive the winter as well as regular frogs.

The farm soon became a tourist attraction, advertising itself as having the only white frog colony in the world.

The sign in front of C. C. Moler’s white frog farm.

Photo Courtesy of the Library of Congress

An Unusual Visit to Thurmont

by James Rada, Jr.

On June 20, 1923, a young Prince Georges County man had a visit to Thurmont that he didn’t enjoy.

W. E. Trego was a salesman for the Isaac A. Sheppard Co. in Baltimore, but he lived in Thurmont. While traveling from Roanoke, Virginia, to Washington, D.C., for work, he met Allan Immich, a 16-year-old from Takoma Park.

The two started talking, and when Allan heard Trego was from Thurmont, Allan told the older man of his recent visit to the town.

 Allan had been heading home earlier in the day. He had gotten off a streetcar near his Montgomery County home and was walking home when two men in a car stopped and asked him if he knew where Mr. Thomas lived. Allan knew Mr. Thomas and got in the car to direct the men to the house.

It was a bad decision.

“After going a short distance, the men in the car gagged and bound Immich while the car was traveling at a lively pace,” the Frederick News reported.

Allan didn’t know where they were going, but he heard the name “Frederick City” mentioned. They then stopped in Thurmont in front of a meat shop.

“One man entered a nearby store to get something to eat while the other guarded the boy,” the newspaper reported.

They then drove from Thurmont, hours away to Roanoke. Before entering the city, they men stripped Allan of nearly all his clothing and left him alone on the side of the road in his underwear.

Someone passing him on the road reported him to the police, and they came out to see what was going on. He explained what had happened, and they took him to the police station where he called his father.

Besides the story of his unusual trip, Allan told the police he had also seen burglar tools, blackjacks, guns, and liquor in the car.

His father wired money for a train ticket back to Washington. Allan was returning home when he met Trego on the train.

Thurmont Police tried to assist the investigation by questioning citizens if anyone had seen anything. Some people remembered seeing the car in town, but no one could remember.

It’s not known whether the men were ever captured, but nothing more was noted of the incident in the newspapers.

East Main Street in Thurmont around the time of the kidnapping.

Photo Courtesy of

Area connections to the Star-Spangled Banner

by James Rada, Jr.

Frederick County native Francis Scott Key was a lawyer, who is not remembered for his legal expertise, but for a poem he wrote.

In 1814, the War of 1812 was still raging. Some historians call it the second American Revolution. Less than a generation after America won her independence, she once again battled Great Britain. It was a war that neither side wanted because both countries were still recovering from the original American Revolution.

The British fought a defensive war early in the War of 1812 because they were also fighting against Napoleon Bonaparte and the French army and navy in Europe. By 1814, Britain defeated Napoleon and turned her attention to ending the war with the United States. Up to this point, most of the fighting had been around the Canadian and U.S. border to the north. In the mid-Atlantic, the British started a blockade in 1813. British troops invaded and burned Washington in August 1814.

On September 7, 1814, Key and Col. John Stuart Skinner sailed to the British ship HMS Tonnant near Baltimore under a flag of truce. They dined with Vice Admiral Alexander Cochrane, Rear Admiral George Cockburn, and Major General Robert Ross, and they made the case for the release of Dr. William Beanes, a friend of Key’s and a prisoner of the British. The British had captured him after they had burned Washington and accused him of aiding in the arrest of British soldiers who had been pillaging homes as they left Washington.

The negotiations went well, and Beanes was released. He, Key, and Skinner were allowed to return to their ship, but they weren’t allowed to leave the British fleet for a time. They had learned too much about the fleet strength and intended British attack on Baltimore.

So, Key wound up watching the 25-hour bombardment of Fort McHenry from dawn on September 13 until the morning of September 14.

At dawn on September 14, he saw the large American flag still waving over the fort, and it inspired him to write a poem on the back of a letter he had in his pocket.

The Americans were released on September 16, and Key finished the poem at the Indian Queen Hotel. He did not title it or sign it. It was given the name “The Defence of Fort M’Henry” when he published it as a broadside.

However, the National Songster of 1814 published “The Defence of Fort M’Henry” that year as a song. This Hagerstown publication, owned by the Hagerstown Town and County Almanack, was the first place to publish what would eventually become our national anthem.

The almanac’s website notes, “is that though it appeared in many songsters, the VERY FIRST appearance of the poem as a song under the title, ‘Defence of Fort M’Henry’, was in ’The National Songster’, Hagerstown, Maryland in 1814 with the direction that it be sung to the tune of To Anacreon of Heaven. This publication was the product of John Gruber, founder of The Hagerstown Town and Country Almanack! This has been corroborated by many bibliographies of American Songsters from 1734 to 1820.”

As the song was reprinted in publications across the country and gained popularity, it was renamed “The Star-Spangled Banner.” By the time of the Mexican-American War, it was often sung as the unofficial national anthem.

Congress made things official in 1931, and President Herbert Hoover signed it into law.

John Gruber owned both the National Songster and the Hagerstown Town and County Almanack, which is the second oldest almanac in the country. The almanac is still published and sold by descendants of its founder.

Emmitsburg supports troops in the War to End All Wars

by James Rada, Jr.

The United States became involved in World War I when Congress declared war on Germany in April 1917. At that point, the war had already been fought in Europe and Africa for nearly three years.

The Weekly Chronicle ran editorials supporting the U.S.’s involvement and also began running articles that summarized the war events of the week.

The June 8, 1917, Chronicle ran a front-page display of the first area residents to join the military to fight in the war. Francis Elder, Joseph Felix, Joseph Adelsberger, Benjamin Topper, George Wagerman, Louis Stoner, Clarence Myers, Charles Sharrer, Carroll McCleaf, and Earl Weikert enlisted in Company A, First Regiment of the Maryland National Guard. Frank Bouey, Quinn Topper, and William Bowling enlisted in the Army, and Simon Klosky enlisted in the Aviation Corp.

Men began joining and being drafted into the military. The first batch of soldiers to ship out from the Emmitsburg area were Clarence Frailey, Daniel Brown, Clarence Baumgardner, Maurice Moser, Robert Hahn, John McMorris, Joseph Kreitz, Thomas Frailey, George Smith, Joseph Turner, Elmer Bailey, Clay Shuff, Edward Worthington, Morris Whetzel, and Charles Ohler. They were part of a group of 179 men who left Frederick County on September 16, 1917, as part of “Uncle Sam’s big new national army, to fight the Germans and Kaiserism and Hohenzollern intrigue,” according to the Chronicle.

To get the Emmitsburg men to the departure point, the Frederick County Exemption Board arranged for rail cars of the Hagerstown and Frederick Railway to convey all of the men from Frederick City to Thurmont to meet the Western Maryland Railroad train to Baltimore and eventually to Fort Meade.

“There was no fuss and feathers, there were no public ‘sad farewells’—at least on the part of Emmitsburgians—when these boys started on the first lap of their journey. They received their orders and, like the soldiers they are, obeyed them without a murmur, without a word of criticism. We feel assured that all of Frederick County’s assignment will be up to the standard; we know that the squad from here will give a good account of itself; for the personnel of that squad ranks A1. Each man in it has a clear conception of the responsibility that rests upon him, each man is much in earnest—determined to do his full share. These selectmen—that’s the name, and an honorable one—and also those from Emmitsburg who heretofore volunteered their services to their government, will not be forgotten by those who they have left behind,” the Chronicle reported.

On the home front, towns around the country help Liberty Loan drives to encourage people to buy war bonds to ensure the government had enough money to fight the war. During the third Liberty Loan drive, the Federal Reserve in Richmond asked Emmitsburg to raise $43,100. By the time the quota was received at the Emmitsburg Savings Bank, $47,000 had already been pledged.

Here’s how The Weekly Chronicle described a Liberty Loan rally in Emmitsburg on June 13, 1917, to encourage the purchase of war bonds to support the war effort.

“The big and very successful patriotic meeting held in the Square Wednesday night leaves no doubt as to the interest of the people of Emmitsburg in the effort of the Government ‘to make good’ the sale of Liberty Loan Bonds. More than five hundred people listened intently to the practical presentation of the bond question by C. T. Williams and George P. Bagby, Esq., of Baltimore, and the earnest forceful and patriotic appeal of Rev. J. O. Hayden, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church. It was an enthusiastic crowd that listened to the speakers, each of whom was time and again interrupted by rounds of applause.

“Through the courtesy of Mr. J. B. Elder the commodious porch of the Hotel Spangler was placed at the disposal of the Committee and before the introduction of the speakers by Mr. J. Stewart Annan, Burgess of Emmitsburg and between and after each speech the Emmit Cornet Band played enlivening patriotic airs. The porch of the hotel was appropriately decorated and on either side of the speakers a soldier in khaki held aloft the Stars and Stripes and the flag of Maryland. These ‘Boys’ representing the recruits from the district, the little band of true soldiers of which Emmitsburg is justly proud, were Louis Stoner and Frank Elder.

“The visiting speakers expressed themselves as being more than delighted by and impressed with the patriotic spirit shown here. They paid a high tribute to Frederick County’s response to the call and left with the assurance, gained by their own observation that Emmitsburg as it always does will more than do its ‘bit.’”

Besides supporting their soldiers by buying war bonds, the people of Emmitsburg remembered their husbands, sons, fathers, and brothers who were fighting for America. The Doughboy statue that stands at the intersection of Frailey Road and Route 140 lists 135 Emmitsburgians who served in the war, of whom nine died.

John Lafarge Helped Expand the Art World

by James Rada, Jr.

The Statue of Liberty was introduced to her husband by a Mount St. Mary’s graduate.

French sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi created his first plans and model for the iconic Statue of Liberty in the New York studio of John LaFarge, a Mount St. Mary’s graduate from the Class of 1853.

LaFarge also introduced Bartholdi to Jeanne-Emilie Baheux de Puysieux, the woman who would model for the statue. Bartholdi and de Puysieux eventually married in LaFarge’s Rhode Island home.

Had this been LaFarge’s only contribution to the art world, he might have remained a footnote in history, but it is only a small piece of the art legacy he crafted for himself.

His interest in art began during his time at the Mount.

“In 1853, a student at Mount St. Mary’s College drew sketches of classmates … Wandering the Catoctin hillsides, he also sketched landscapes of Frederick County scenes. This youth, John LaFarge, found a love for art here in Frederick County and grew to become one of the greatest artistic minds of the 19th century in America,” according to the website for “The Dreaming,” a public art project in Frederick.

LaFarge was born in 1835 and began attending the Mount at age 15. Following his graduation, he became known as a painter, magazine and book illustrator, stained-glass window designer and writer. He was also a co-founder of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The museum’s website calls its founder, “A quintessential ‘Renaissance man’ of the American Renaissance, he responded to and encouraged the eclectic tastes and interests of his sophisticated patrons.”

Despite his impact on the world of art, LaFarge nearly became a lawyer. He even practiced law for a time after his graduation. “Though his interest in art was aroused during his college training at Mount St. Mary’s and Fordham University, he had only the study of law in view until he returned from his first visit to Paris, where he studied with [Thomas] Couture and enjoyed the most brilliant literary society of the day,” according to The Catholic Encyclopedia.

That changed when his father, Jean Frederic LaFarge, died in 1858 and John received a large inheritance. He was able to work at his art full-time.

LaFarge’s rise to fame began with a mural that transformed the interior of Boston’s Trinity Church in 1876.

He was also the first to experiment with opalescent glass and copper wire instead of lead lines to attach the pieces in stained glass work. LaFarge’s work was so unique, he held a patent for superimposing panes of glass. Louis Comfort Tiffany later commercially refined LaFarge’s techniques, which led to a lawsuit between the two men.

Besides being a founder of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, LaFarge also founded the Society of American Artists and the Society of American Mural Painters.

LaFarge also never forgot his alma mater, serving as the first vice president of the New York Alumni Association of Mount St. Mary’s College in 1905.

He died in 1910 and is buried in Rhode Island.

Portrait of William James

John La Farge

Portrait of Faase, the Taupo of the Fagaloa Bay.

Frederick County’s Golden Immigrants

by James Rada, Jr.

Note: This is part three of a series about goldfish farming in Frederick County.

In the early 1900s, goldfish farming produced a major cash crop in Frederick County.

“By 1920, Frederick County was producing 80 percent of the goldfish in the United States, and they were being shipped from Thurmont to all parts of the country,” George Wireman wrote in his book Thurmont: Gateway to the Mountains.

His number is supported with information in “The News-Post Year Book and Almanac.” Throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s, the annual publications note that Frederick County had “more goldfish produced than in any part of the United States.” Interestingly, the yearbooks list goldfish as “selected crops harvested” rather than “livestock on farms.”

The fish raised in Frederick County were considered common goldfish. A 1914 The Frederick News article noted, “Few, if any, of the Japanese variety are raised. They are said to be too clumsy and awkward and an easy mark for preying birds. No coloring is necessary for the fish raised here, as is the case with those raised in some localities, where the fish have to be kept in shallow ponds in order to obtain their color.”

By the late 1930s, competition from larger, more diversified, growers across the country reduced the demand from Frederick County farms. Ernest Tresselt, whose family raised goldfish in the Thurmont area said, “Frederick County farmers raised the plain, common goldfish. By the 20s and early 30s, fancier varieties became available. It wasn’t so easy for locals to keep up with the change. They weren’t in a position to grow fancier varieties that were genetically difficult to breed, and we lost some goldfish producers.”

Tresselt said that when he entered the family goldfish farming business, about 40 percent of each year’s crop would not turn orange. They remained the dull, muddy color of wild goldfish.

“Those fish would be sold as bait fish. They were called Baltimore minnows,” Tresselt said.

He said the county’s goldfish breeders began more selective breeding of goldfish and the percentage of goldfish that turned the proper color dramatically increased and “Baltimore minnows” disappeared.

The use of modern science helped the goldfish farmers increase their harvests and profitability, which helped keep the county goldfish farmers competitive.

Other advances worked against county goldfish farmers. Advances in shipping techniques and the increased variety and quality of goldfish available from growers around the world gradually changed the goldfish market. The result was that farms producing only common goldfish seasonally could not compete. By the 1940s only a few farms in Frederick County were still cultivating goldfish.

By the 1950s, fish could be shipped in plastic bags by air freight. The plastic made shipping costs cheaper and the planes extended the distance the goldfish could be shipped. This increased the competition in the market, particularly from the countries in the Orient that had created goldfish.

“Everything changed,” Tresselt said. “We have to supply fish year-round. The competition made it unprofitable for most farmers and they went out of business.”

Charles Thomas, another Frederick County goldfish farmer, said that with air transportation, areas that usually weren’t thought of as places for goldfish farming, such as Arkansas, became competitive or even better locations than Frederick.

“By going south, you had a longer growing season,” said Thomas. “In a place like Arkansas, instead of having only one crop each season, you could have two.”

By 1980, Lilypons, once the world’s largest producer of goldfish, had diversified so that it now specialized more in water garden supplies and plants than fish. Hunting Creek Fisheries and Eaton Fisheries also survived by diversifying their offerings into plants, game fish, and/or other types of ornamental fish, such as koi.

Today, you can still see fish ponds marked on a Frederick County maps, but not as many as there once were.

Lilypons has 265 acres and about 500 ponds, though very few of them are devoted to goldfish. However, the business has grown into a multi-million-dollar business employing more than 50 people.

Hunting Creek Fisheries still has ponds in Thurmont and Lewistown. Eaton Fisheries still has its Lewistown ponds as well. Other ponds are now lost to history:

The Claybaugh fish ponds are now covered over by Mountain Gate Exxon and McDonalds in Thurmont.

Along Moser Road across Hunting Creek from the Thurmont sewage treatment plant is where Ernest Powell and Maurice Albaugh used to have fish ponds.

Ross Firor used to have his fish ponds east of the Maple Run Golf Course.

The ponds on William Powell’s Arrowhead Farms on Apples Church Road north of Thurmont were adjacent to Owens Creek have been turned into pasture.

Frank Rice’s goldfish ponds south of Thurmont alongside Route 15 have been filled in and turned back to pasture.

Frederick County’s no longer the biggest producer of goldfish in the country, but there are still fish ponds out there, and if you stop and watch, you may see a flash of gold.

My beautiful picture

Goldfish in vats at the Hunting Creek Fisheries in the late 1980s.

Frederick County’s Golden Immigrants

by James Rada, Jr.

Note: This is part two of a series about goldfish farming in Frederick County.

The first record of a goldfish farmer in Frederick County is Charles J. Ramsburg. He was born and raised in Lewistown, but he attended college at Eaton and Burnett’s Business College in Baltimore. He returned to the family farm after he graduated in 1884. Part of his farming operations was to raise goldfish. By the early 1900s, he was shipping about a million fish a year around the country, according to History of Frederick County, Vol. 2.

Another pioneer in goldfish farming in the county was Ernest R. Powell of Lewistown. “When he was twelve years old, he began breeding goldfish, and was so successful in his enterprise that he increased his output every year, and is now one of the largest dealers of goldfish in Frederick County,” according to his biography in History of Frederick County. Powell would have been 12 years old in 1892.

More farmers began entering the business, using existing farm ponds or new ponds dug by hand with shovels, wheelbarrows, and horse-drawn scoops. 

“In the early part of the century, I think people in the county, especially farmers, saw goldfish as a way of making extra money,” Ernest Tresselt said in an interview 2006.

He said the reason goldfish farming flourished in the county is unknown, “but it appears to be related to the availability of water on many farms because of the mountain streams and springs. The temperate climate, with its distinct seasonal changes, is ideal for the propagation of goldfish.”

George Leicester Thomas, who founded Three Springs Fisheries in 1917, had his own ideas about why goldfish were successful in Frederick County. He said in interviews that the water in Frederick County was well-suited for goldfish, perhaps because of the mineral content. It gave Frederick County the reputation for having the best-colored goldfish in the country, according to The Frederick Post.

Thomas’ grandson, Charles, said in 1981 that the rich-colored goldfish came because the county farmers used good breeding stock, but he also notes they lived in nutrient-rich water from truckloads of manure dumped in the ponds.

“The manure has nutrients that fish thrive on and actually all they have to do is open their mouths in order to eat,” said Charles Thomas.

George Thomas started his business as a roadside stand that sold vegetables and goldfish. This grew into Three Springs Fisheries in Buckeystown and is known today as Lilypons.

While customers may have bought his vegetables, they showed more of an interest in his goldfish. By the end of World War II, Lilypons had become the world’s largest producer of goldfish.

Hunting Creek Fisheries near Thurmont was started by Frederick Tresselt in 1923. Frederick 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 said.

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,” Tresselt said. “It was a cash crop for them.”

Tresselt believes that Frederick County might not have the oldest goldfish farms in the country, but the county did have the most goldfish farmers. At the peak of goldfish farming in the county (the 1920s and 1930s), he estimates that as many as 30 or more farms were raising goldfish. The county had enough farmers that they organized as the Goldfish Breeders Association of Frederick County in 1920 to fight against the high cost of shipping.

The 1925 News-Post Yearbook and Almanac listed the county’s production at three-and-a-half to four million goldfish on 400-500 acres. Production in 1932 was seven million goldfish on 500-600 acres.

The 1925 yearbook notes, “They [goldfish] are marketed at from $10 to $50 per thousand, value of yearly production being about $75,000.”

In 1932, goldfish up to two-and-a-half inches long were sold for about $3.50 per 100 and retailed for five cents apiece, and larger goldfish sold for about $7 per 100 and retailed for 10 cents apiece. By this time, most reports estimated Frederick County farmers had been raising goldfish for about 50 years and had brought $1.5 million into the county, according to the Frederick Post.

By 1931, the U.S. Commerce Department said the United States goldfish industry was a $945,000 business in the country and, at that time, 80 percent of that was coming into Frederick County.

Early goldfish farming was relatively simple. In the spring, farmers stocked their ponds with breeder goldfish. The goldfish reproduced and the young grew through the summer and were harvested in the fall. The breeders were kept in the deepest ponds, since these ponds provided a good water supply over the winter.

In the fall, buyers would come driving trucks full of fish cans and buy the fish or farmers would ship the fish to the buyers. A single farmer would ship thousands of fish each day during the harvest. During the 1904 harvest season, goldfish farmer M.H. Hoke was shipping about 6,000 goldfish each day that he harvested from his ponds near Walkersville.

Once the crop was harvested, the farmers would drain their ponds and dry them over the winter as a means of sterilizing them. Feeding the fish was kept at a minimum. Generally, some form of ground grain, like wheat middlings or ground corn, was the food of choice. Treatments for parasites and diseases were marginal. As the ponds became older, there was an increase in a parasites problem. Another problem involved the weather. Ponds located on streams could flood, sending hundreds of fish and dollars into the stream.

Crayfish were also said to bore holes in the sides of man-made ponds, which could cause them to leak and eventually break. In 1904, one of Richard Kefauver’s Middletown ponds broke, and it was estimated he lost about $700 in goldfish, the Frederick News reported.

Other natural problems included fish cranes, hawks, kingfishers, and water snakes, all of which had a taste for goldfish.

My beautiful picture

Packing goldfish at Hunting Creek Fisheries.

My beautiful picture

Cleaning the catch boxes in the goldfish ponds.

My beautiful picture

The old fish house at Catoctin Furnace in the 1960s.

Was Elias Steinour Murdered?

by James Rada, Jr.

Charles Hoffman woke early in the morning of February 14, 1912. He stoked the fire in the stove to warm up his home. When he went to the window to look out into the darkness of the new day, he noticed that it wasn’t as dark as it should be.

The farmhouse across the way was on fire!

He threw on his robe and rushed outside. He ran across the field separating the two houses that were located along Taneytown Road, about a mile south of Gettysburg. He pounded on the front door, trying to wake the elderly Civil War Veteran who lived in the house.

When he heard nothing but the crackle of flames, Hoffman ran around to the back of the house to the door to the kitchen. He pounded on the door, but still got no response.

He looked through the window next to the door and saw that the kitchen was on fire and laying on a couch next to the stove was Elias Steinour. “He called but could not rouse him, the unfortunate man either being soundly asleep or already suffocated,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

Though the back door was locked, Hoffman forced it open, intending go inside and drag Steinour out. The fresh air from the opening door fed the flames, though, and they leaped toward him, driving Hoffman even further from the house.

It would be hours before anyone could get close enough to the house to recover Steinour’s remains. Even then, only his upper body could be found wrapped in his charred bedclothes.

As for the house, nothing was left of it but a pile of debris and the chimney.

Before the day was out, rumors had run through town that Steinour had been killed and was the victim of an arsonist. He was the third person in four days to have been burned to death. On February 11, a woman had caught herself on fire while trying to thaw out water pipes with a coal oil torch. She died the following day. On that day, another woman died when her home in Bonneauville caught fire.

It was said that the back of Steinour’s skull had been crushed. The motive for the murder was that Steinour was supposed to have had a bit of money hidden away in the house in silver. That money hadn’t been recovered from the debris.

Even the newspaper started to report that it might have been possible because Steinour “had received threatening letters and that a series of incendiary fires had been threatened in which the Steinour home was included.”

Given how persistent the rumors were, Dr. Albert Woomer, the county coroner, opened an investigation to see if an inquest was needed. He went out to the still-smoking remains and examined the scene of the death. He also talked to people who were spreading the rumors, people who knew Steinour and people who lived near him.

The initial report had been that since Steinour slept near the wood stove in the kitchen that sparks had somehow caught his clothing on fire. However, Hoffman told the coroner that hadn’t been the case. He had seen Steinour laying on his cot while the kitchen had been on fire. His bedclothes weren’t burning at that time, and they would have been the first to catch fire.

As for Steinour’s hidden treasure of silver, Woomer found a small wallet with $55 in charred bills in it. He also spoke to another of Steinour’s neighbor’s, George Fissel, who said Steinour had had little money. The $55 had been his rent payment because he didn’t even own the farmhouse where he lived.

There hadn’t even been an insurance motive for burning the house. It was owned by a Mrs. Keckler who lived in the Dobbin House, and she did carry insurance on the house.

“After seeing a number of neighbors, viewing the body and going thoroughly into the case, Dr. Woomer decided that no coroner’s jury need be impanels and the matter was dropped,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

Woomer did manage to recover Steinour’s lower body remains, which he added to the other remains.

In an odd coincidence, Steinour’s wife, Clara, had also burned to death three years earlier when the couple had lived on Middle Street in Gettysburg. “Mrs. Steinour in trying to sweep off the top of a red-hot stove had her clothing catch fire from the broom which suddenly burst into a blaze,” the newspaper reported. She died of her wounds several hours later.

Since Steinour had been a member of Co. B, 99th Pennsylvania Volunteers during the Civil War, his funeral was held at the GAR Hall on February 15, and he was buried in Soldiers National Cemetery. Though the coroner had closed the case, the rumors still persisted, and in an end-of-the-year review article in the Gettysburg Times, it was noted, “The cause of the fire has always been a mystery and talk of foul play was frequent for days after the tragedy. The coroner made an investigation and found no indications which would point to that theory but there are still many people who think the house was set on fire after Mr. Steinour was robbed.”

Parking meters

Paid for the Emmitsburg Police

When the Emmitsburg Burgess and Board of Commissioners decided that the town needed a police force for public safety, they had to find a way to pay for it. They voted to install parking meters along Main Street in 1949.

“Naturally, there was a lot of opposition to the parking meters, but parking space was limited along Main Street and there were quite a few thriving businesses that needed the spaces for their customers,” Don Rodgers wrote in an article on “Some residents tended to use the spaces as their personal garage and seldom moved their vehicles.”

The town purchased 152 meters at $58.50 each to be installed along Main Street, from Frailey’s Store on West Main to the Community Pure Food Store on East Main. No meters were installed on North or South Seton Avenue, but parking was restricted to one side of the street. One-hour parking would be allowed on the square and two-hour parking would be allowed along Main Street.

After the vote, opposition to the meters quickly grew as petitions were circulated to try and force the commissioners to reverse their decision. In March 1949, 25 citizens met with the commissioners. Euphemia Rotering, the group leader, presented the commissioners a petition signed by 45 people, nearly half of which were business owners.

James Hays, president of the board of commissioners, told the group, “that even the lawmakers themselves were not in favor of the ‘timers,’ but it was the only immediate way to derive revenue to maintain a constabulary in the Town, and that unless there were some other means by which they (the Town) could pay the added expenses of police protection, the Town officials would proceed with the placing of the meters,” according to the Emmitsburg Chronicle.

The town’s assessable tax base at the time was around $800,000, and to pay for the expenses of a small police force would require the town to nearly double its tax rate.

The group threatened to get an injunction to stop the installation of the meters, but it never came to be.

The meters were purchased from Michael Art Bronze Company of Washington, D.C. Installation was started after notice was posted about the restricted parking and the public was given time to adjust to the changes.

Installation of the meters began at the end of March, although it was delayed a few days because of bad weather.

By mid-April, before the town even knew how much money the meters would earn, a police chief was hired. Four men applied, but H.C. Woodring of Waynesboro was hired. He had spent the previous seven years as a Waynesboro police officer. Prior to that, he had been the chief guard for the Landis Company, overseeing 10 to 20 guards during World War II. He had assisted the FBI on cases.

One of the jobs of the new two-man police force was to enforce the parking regulations created with the installation of the parking meters that were paying their salaries.

Costs and revenues from the meters were shared 50/50 between Michael Art Bronze Company and the town. This lasted for nine months. At the end of the trial period, the town decided to purchase the meters outright.

the unsolved murder That Haunted Hagerstown

by James Rada, Jr.

It seems Betty Jane Kennedy of Hagerstown was doomed to lead a short life, but her death continued to haunt Hagerstown for years afterward.

When Betty Jane was just six years old in 1933, a car on West Washington Street hit her. She suffered cuts and a fractured skull. This accident was her fault, though. The police report noted Betty ran out in front of the car, which caused the accident.

She recovered from her injuries, only to suffer a worse fate later.

On April 4, 1946, Martin Benchoff, a farmer who lived near the Maryland-Pennsylvania State Line, found the body of a young woman laying face down and against a log at the bottom of an embankment next to the Waynesboro-Rouzerville Highway in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. The woman was also nude, except for a pink slip that was twisted around her body and up under her arms.

Benchoff said “he was attracted to the scene when he noticed a woman’s faded coat hanging from a tree,” reported to the Hagerstown Daily Mail. The coat had a store label for Leiter Brothers in it which gave police a clue to try to identify the woman. A brown leather purse found about a mile away and believed to be the woman’s had no identification in it.

The body was taken to Grove Funeral Home in Waynesboro.

The following day, Hagerstown Police, following up on a missing persons report, identified the dead woman as Betty Jane Kennedy, a 19-year-old Hagerstown waitress. She had been missing for five days after leaving home following an argument with her older sister.

The body was transported to Hagerstown so the family could arrange funeral services. In the meantime, an autopsy showed Betty Jane had been strangled and her neck was broken. Although she was nude, she had not been raped.

“There was some reason to believe that the victim had been alive when thrown onto the embankment, however,” the Daily Mail reported.

Washington County Sheriff John B. Huyett said Betty Jane appeared to have been dead 12 to 14 hours when she was found. This meant that she had been murdered during the evening of April 3.

Police in Maryland and Pennsylvania both investigated the case, because although Betty Jane had been found in Pennsylvania, it was barely over the state line. Police weren’t sure where she had been killed, among other questions.

Betty Jane was last seen alive around 11:30 p.m. the night before her body was found. She left a South Potomac Street restaurant in Hagerstown with a man no one knew. A waitress at the restaurant said he resembled Earl J. McFarland, an escaped killer and rapist from Washington, D.C., who was believed to be in the area.

Police quickly pulled in two men for questioning. One man, who was a taxi driver, who witnesses had seen with Betty Jane the last time she was seen alive. An associate who corroborated the man’s alibi said he was working, but the man’s boss said he wasn’t. Police also discovered the taxi driver had taken a pair of blood-stained pants and a jacket to the dry cleaner the day after Betty Jane’s death. Capt. William H. Peters of the Hagerstown Police said these two facts would require a lot of explanation on the taxi driver’s part.

A security soldier at Walter Reed who had been AWOL during the time of Betty Jane’s death underwent a lie detector test to prove he hadn’t been in the area.

By April 12, police had questioned 33 people and interviewed hundreds. “Captain Peters said several of the witnesses reversed or changed their stories yesterday when they learned of the possibility of the use of the ‘lie detector,’ and the fact that the alibis and stories are being changed ‘leads us to believe this man knows something about the case,’” the Daily Mail reported.

The cabbie said the blood on his jacket and pants was from the bloody nose of a drunk passenger. McFarland, who was never seriously considered a suspect, was captured in Tennessee and had not set foot in Maryland.

By April 15, police were trying to stay optimistic, but the investigation was going nowhere. They did not have a serious suspect, and a lot of unanswered questions remained. Where had Betty Jane spent her nights between the time she left home and the time she died? Where were the rest of her clothes? Where was she killed?

Two weeks after Betty Jane’s murder, the Washington County Sheriff offered a $400 reward for information leading to the murderer’s arrest and conviction. Of this amount, the sheriff offered $300 from his own pocket because the county commissioners could only offer $100 by law.

Around this time, a woman found a pair of shoes near where Betty Jane’s purse was found. Investigators believed the shoes were Betty Jane’s.

Police continued investigating but made no leads or arrests. The lead detective, Carl Hartman, retired in 1948. He said the case was still active, but with his retirement, it went very cold. Nearly 1,000 people had been interviewed or questioned among the seven investigative agencies in two states (FBI, Maryland State Police, Pennsylvania State Police, Hagerstown Police, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, and Waynesboro Police) with no strong suspects.

Not that there weren’t theories about what happened.

One theory said Betty Jane was killed in a hotel because she saw something she shouldn’t have. Her body was then lowered through a window to the ground, loaded into a car, and driven away. This theory got a boost when a red dress was discovered during the Potomac Hotel remodeling in 1951. It disappeared by the time the police arrived at the hotel to investigate if it was connected to the murder.

One man confessed to the killing before dying of natural causes, but it turned out he hadn’t been in the area at the time of the murder.

“Although Betty Jane wasn’t rich, exceptionally beautiful, or murdered in some unusual way, the case became one of the best publicized murders in this area during the 20th century, because of the vast scope of the investigation that followed,” the Daily Mail reported in 1976.

The murder remains unsolved today.

1896 – too much Married

by James Rada, Jr.

Sigmund Freud once said, “If you want your wife to listen to you, then talk to another woman; she will be all ears.”

If that’s true, just imagine how attentive Phoebe Stouffer was in 1896 when she saw her husband talking to his other wife, Mary Stouffer. Actually, it was just as much a surprise to Aaron D. Stouffer of Smithsburg to find out he was married to two women.

Stouffer had first married Mary A. McPherson of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, on October 9, 1877. Rev. Jacob Ohler performed the ceremony. The couple lived near Smithsburg for a year before they separated.

Mary then married Aaron Speake of Smithsburg in 1880. Two years later, “she executed before Justice Oswald an instrument in writing purporting to be a contract of divorcement from her husband,” according to the Emmitsburg Chronicle.

Whatever Mary had, it was not an act of divorcement. However, Stouffer believed this meant he was divorced. The following year, he married Phoebe Hovis in Waynesboro. Rev. F. F. Bahner performed the ceremony.

Stouffer and Phoebe were happy together, even more so as their family grew.

“For thirteen years Stouffer believed he was divorced from his wife,” the Chronicle reported. “Someone told him he was not and that he was guilty of bigamy, a penitentiary offense.”

Aaron was so overcome with guilt and worry about his situation that he went into State’s Attorney Charles D. Wagaman’s office in Hagerstown and “accused himself of bigamy and saying he was ready to go to jail,” according to the Chronicle.

He wept while he explained to Wagaman what had happened. His first wife, Mary, was still alive and not legally divorced from him. Wagaman believed Stouffer was sincere and offered clemency. That state’s attorney even filed a bill in the Court of Equity on Stouffer’s behalf for a divorce.

The Maryland Legislature granted equity courts jurisdiction to hear divorce applications in 1842. Before that, it required an act of the legislature to divorce. Wagaman may have used a combination of adultery and abandonment as the grounds to get the divorce approved. However, this was not the most common reason for a divorce at the time, according to Georgetown University Law Library. “Divorces from bed and board, under which the couple was still legally married, were granted for cruelty or desertion. Most petitions were for divorce from bed and board, perhaps because cruelty and desertion were the most common complaints.”

Once granted, it required that all parties involved would have to remarry and, hopefully, live happily ever after.

1921        Thurmont School’s First 7th Grade Graduation Ceremony

In 1921, the Thurmont community had two school graduations: one for the high school students and one for the grade school students.

“For the first time in the history of our schools, a Seventh Grade public commencement will be held in Town Hall, this place,” the Catoctin Clarion reported at the beginning of June 1921.

The high school and grade school were both in the same building on East Main Street, but they taught different curricula. The two operations had originally merged into a consolidated school in 1910; but after a severe windstorm damaged the building in 1914, a new school was constructed on 1916.

By 1921, the staff had decided that the grade-school students deserved a ceremony to mark them moving from grade school to high school. The first grade school commencement was held on June 4 at 8:00 p.m.

Although primarily for Thurmont students, students from other schools were allowed to take part. The seventh graders graduating included 31 students from Thurmont, 4 from Sabillasville School, 3 from Grove Academy, 3 from Foxville School, and 2 from Catoctin Furnace School.

The program was under the direction of L. D. Crawford, a teacher at the Thurmont School.

“Mr. Crawford is a teacher loved by every student who enters his classroom and is one who gets results in whatever he undertakes,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

All the students sang “Sailing” as the opening song for the ceremony. This was followed by student Isabel Shaffer welcoming everyone. Mary Roddy then shared the class vision, and Virginia White explained the reason the class chose green and white to represent it. The student chorus then sang “Over the Summer Sea.” Ethel Creager presented the class motto: “To thine own self be true,” and Nellie Bowers explained why the daisy was the class flower. Gladys Creager then read the class poem, “The Night Brings Out the Stars.”

Isabel Shaffer played an instrumental solo. Kathleen Weddle, Maude Spalding, Dorothy Weller, Updike Cady, Earle Lawyer, Russell Young, Ruth Eyler, and Lillian Baxter performed a playlet titled, “Under Sealed Orders. All the students then sang “Merrily, Merrily Sing.”

Professor Elmer Hoke, head of the Department of Education, Hood College, addressed the class. The diplomas were then presented to the seventh graders.

Class President Edward Foreman and Professor R. X. Day then spoke to the class. Finally, the students sang “Dixieland” and Gertrude Creager gave the valedictory address.

“To use the slang, we believe the crowd was ‘tickled to death’ with this seventh grade class and the program rendered by them,” the Catoctin Clarion reported afterward.

Thurmont High School under construction in 1915.

Photo Courtesy of

by James Rada, Jr.

1922 – The marines Conquer Thurmont

More than a quarter of the U.S. Marine Corps arrived in Thurmont on June 25, along with the equipment to outfit an even larger group. They had been on the march for six days. Their ultimate destination was Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, but first, they had to get through Thurmont.

They ran into a slight snag as they passed north along Church Street. The Western Maryland Railway passed over the road about three blocks north of the downtown square, and there wasn’t enough clearance for the trucks carrying the tanks to pass under the bridge. Heavy timbers had to be placed on the back of the trucks to allow the tanks to be unloaded. The trucks and tanks then passed under the bridge separately. On the other side, the tanks were loaded onto the trucks again.

By 2:30 p.m., the Marines marched into a clover field about a mile north of Thurmont and sat down. Camp Haines was erected on the Hooker Lewis Farm. The Baltimore Sun reported that thousands of visitors came out to the camp to watch the evening movies showing the Marines on their march and to listen to the Expeditionary Force Marine Band play. They also joined in singing the Marine Hymn at the end of the concert.

One of the visitors to the camp was Henry Fleagle, a Civil War Veteran who had fought in 26 major engagements with the Seventh Maryland Infantry and emerged unscathed. Fleagle saw that the Marines had to carry very little during their march and remarked, “It is hard to get used to the new ways of doing things. We had to carry everything with us when we marched.”

“But you didn’t have to hike around like this,” one Marine told him.

“Didn’t, eh? Once we did 30 miles a day, and at the end of it, we had to double time three miles to cut off a part of Lee’s army, Son, you don’t know what hiking is,” Fleagle replied.

He told them about fighting in the Battle of Laurel Hill in Virginia during the Civil War when all but four men in his company were killed.

“Once a bullet took my hat away and another time a spent bullet hit me on the shoulder, but it didn’t have force enough to go in. I hope you boys will be as lucky as that if there’s another war,” Fleagle told the gathered Marines.

He shook hands with many of the Marines and officers and told them that there were only nine Civil War Veterans in the county. Then he thought for a moment, and corrected himself, saying that there may have been only eight left.

By the end of the evening, five other Civil War Veterans had visited the camp: Jacob Freeze, “Dad” Elower, Will Miller, William Stull, and Henry Cover.

After eight hours of marching, some of the Marines willingly hiked back into Thurmont to eat a meal that wasn’t camp rations.

“Until late, they could be seen walking by the roadside, while many stood on running boards of touring cars whose occupants had honored the uniform and given the sea soldiers desirous of ‘seeing the town’ a lift to shorten the journey on foot,” The Washington Post reported.

While in Thurmont, some confusion needed to be sorted out between the Marines and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in order for the journey to continue past the Mason-Dixon Line. The Pennsylvania State Highway Department had been told that the Marines were using cleated trucks and tanks that would tear up the road surface. Highway Department officials traveled to Thurmont to inspect the vehicles and make sure that they complied with Pennsylvania law.

As night fell, lights flicked on across the fields, breaking up the darkness. Men made their way back to camp before “Taps” was played. Then they turned in, except for officers who worked on the next day’s plans and night couriers on motorcycles who carried messages north and south.

The next morning, June 26, the Marines made their final 15-mile march through Emmitsburg to Gettysburg, settling in at Camp Harding near the base of the Virginia Memorial on the Gettysburg battlefield. Once there, they would be able to rest somewhat before returning to Quantico.

The morning started off badly when three Marines were injured near Thurmont. The truck in which they were riding went off the road into a ditch on its way to Emmitsburg. The most severe injury sustained among the three men was a fractured shoulder blade.

As the Marines passed through Emmitsburg along Seton Avenue, local Civil War Veterans—Michael Hoke, Jame T. Hostleborn, John H. Mentzer, Thomas E. Frailey, all of whom had served with the First Maryland Cavalry—stood with flags. Mayor J. Henry Stokes, who had three sons who had served in WWI, also greeted the Marines.

At the state line just north of Emmitsburg, the two Maryland state troopers who had been traveling with the Marines to clear the roads in front of them since they had passed into Maryland from the District of Columbia, turned over their duties to seven Pennsylvania state troopers. The Pennsylvania State Police then escorted the East Coast Expeditionary Force on the last leg of their journey on Emmitsburg Road to Camp Harding

Marine Encampment

by James Rada, Jr.

1922 – The marines Conquer Thurmont

The U.S. Marines fought valiantly in World War I in places like the Battle of Belleau Wood in France. After the deadly fighting there to drive the entrenched German troops from Belleau Wood, Army General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force, said, “The deadliest weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.”

However, that didn’t stop Pershing and others from wanting to disband the Marine Corps after the war had been won.

Maj. Gen. John A. Lejeune understood that his Marine Corps needed to fight for survival in the political arena just as hard as they fought on the battlefield. After WWI, as the politicians began speaking about disbanding the Marines, Lejeune devised a campaign to raise public awareness about the Marine Corps.

One of the ways he did this was that instead of going to obscure places to conduct war games and train, he went to iconic places and put the Marines out in front of the public. At the time, the national military parks, such as Gettysburg, were still under control of the U.S. War Department, which meant the Marines could use the parks as a training ground. Lejeune chose to do just that with a series of annual training exercises, which commenced in 1921 with a re-enactment of the Battle of the Wilderness.

Early in the morning of Monday, June 19, 1922, more than 5,000 Marines at the Marine Camp Quantico—more than a quarter of the Corps—marched onto waiting barges supplied by the U.S. Navy. At 4:00 a.m., four Navy tug boats towed eight large barges up the Potomac River toward Washington, D.C. Meanwhile, tanks and artillery pieces towed by trucks rolled out along the Richmond Road, headed for the same destination. Unlike a typical invasion, the Marines gave consideration to any possible damage they might cause to the roads. They removed the steel cleats and spikes from the tractor and tank treads. Only the smooth steel under-surface of the belts would be in contact with the road.

The march involved the entire Fifth and Sixth Regiments, a squadron of the First Marine Air Wing and elements of the Tenth Marine Artillery. The (Baltimore) Sun noted that these Marines were ready for anything and had pretty much cleaned out Quantico of anything that could be moved. “The 5,000 men are carrying the equipment of a complete division of nearly 20,000. In the machine-gun outfits especially the personnel is skeletonized, while the material is complete. Companies of 88 men are carrying ammunition, range finders and other technical gear for companies of about 140,” the newspaper reported.

The Marines spent their first night at East Potomac Park, south of the Washington Monument. Once they had fully set up camp, they marched past the White House and were reviewed by President Warren G. Harding and other dignitaries.

“Observers declared that this is the first time that troops have passed in review through the White House grounds since the Civil War,” the Marine Corps Gazette reported.

It took half an hour for the Marines to pass, as the 134-piece combined Marine bands played music.

On June 20, the Marines marched to Bethesda. The following day, they marched to Gaithersburg, where they spent two nights. On June 23, they marched to Ridgeville. Then the next day, it was Frederick.

From Frederick, the Marines marched 18 miles to Thurmont. It was the longest hike of the entire march. Besides being the longest hike of the week, June 25 occurred on the hottest day of the march. The heat rippled above the macadam road, reflecting, and seemingly baking, the Marines.

A near accident at the camp in Thurmont was an omen for the problems the Marines would soon face. Lt. Goodyear Kirkman flew up to the Thurmont campsite early in the morning in one of the Marine airplanes. He experienced a hard landing on the field and sustained a broken tail skid and air-line to the plane, ruining the carburetor. He needed to return to Frederick, but he had no means of getting there if he didn’t fly. He quickly came up with a daring idea.

 “He took off from Thurmont, controlling his ship with one hand and pumping air with the other, using hand apparatus in place of the broken mechanism. He had to keep pumping furiously all the way. But he made Frederick, landed safely and collapsed from exhaustion,” The Sun reported.

The Marines sang when they left Frederick to say goodbye to the city, and they were singing as they entered Thurmont and the last mile of the hike around 1:45 p.m. It announced their arrival into the town, which was obvious since there were nearly five times as many Marines as there were town residents.

“Everyone from the small boy to the aged veteran was up and out to await and see the soldiers. Sunday School and church attendance suffered severely, and no doubt the few who did attend wished they were out on the street. Many persons remained in town preferring to miss their dinners rather than miss seeing this great military outfit arrive. Every porch along the State Road was crowded with people watching the passing trucks,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

The Marines had arrived.

Marines arriving at Camp Haines in Thurmont, June 25, 1922.

Marine Troop movement through town.

by James Rada, Jr.

Rural Free Delivery

in Northern Frederick County

Better late than never, as they say.

The United States Post Office started experimenting with Rural Free Delivery in 1891. Despite starting in neighboring Carroll County, the home delivery of mail didn’t reach Frederick County until 1901.

However, it wasn’t as if the county was clamoring for it. The Catoctin Clarion reported in 1900, “The rural free delivery grows more unpopular every day, with our citizens. There are constantly being new disadvantages and inconveniences discovered which will never be made satisfactory under our present system.”

In February 1901, it looked like the system would be instituted in Frederick County in early 1902. The system employed mail wagons and carriers on foot to deliver mail to the homes of residents.

The Clarion reported, “Regarding the proposed extension of the system over the whole of Frederick County. Representative Pearre says, in a letter to The News: ‘It will put into Frederick county about $20,000 a year in the shape of salaries to letter carriers. In a nut shell, the system furnishes to the man in the rural district the same conveniences that the carrier system furnishes to a man in the city. I have absolutely no interest in the introduction of the rural free delivery system, except to give added conveniences and facilities to the people. Convinced as I am that the government is ready to furnish this great convenience to the farmer, I am going to try to introduce it.’”

As the year progressed, so did support for rural free delivery (RFD). In July, a group of Thurmont-area businessmen organized the Sweigart Manufacturing Company of Frederick County. Webster W. Sweigart had developed and patented a mailbox that the government approved for use on RFD routes.

An early problem with RFD was that people set out all sorts of boxes for their mail. The postal service issued a rule that all mailboxes had to be one of 14 approved designs. If a resident didn’t have an approved mailbox within 30 days of the start of the service, they wouldn’t receive mail.

The following month, orders were placed for blue mail wagons that would have yellow running gear and white canvas tops.

RFD came to Frederick County two months earlier than expected, starting on November 15, 1901. The new mail carriers were civil servants. “Appointments of them will be made from persons residents of the neighborhood, wholly for fitness and irrespective of political or personal considerations,” according to the Catoctin Clarion.

Thurmont had one mail wagon and three mail carriers. An additional mail carrier for Lewistown worked with the Thurmont carriers. C. C. Currens drove the mail wagon, and Morris Rouzer served as the Thurmont mail clerk. William H. Damuth, Frank Albaugh, J. H. Freeze, and W. P. Mohler (for Lewistown) were the mail carriers. The wagon’s route took nine hours, running from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The carriers walked their routes from 7:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Emmitsburg had four mail carriers: James G. Bishop, Charles R. Lander, A. E. Weaver, and Vernon Lantz. Charles Gillelan served as a substitute carrier. The average route for the Emmitsburg carriers were 21 miles.

Some of the new regulations that the mail carriers had to get used to were, according to Carl V. Besore and Robert L. Ringer in A Reflection of the History of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania and Vicinity:

•   The mail carriers had to keep a count of all mail picked up on the route each day.

•   Any mail the carrier collected that could be delivered before returning to the post office, first had to have the carrier cancel the postage with an indelible pencil.

•   The carrier had to keep postage stamps, cards, stamped envelopes, and money order blanks with him. “If patrons entrusted him, the carrier could act as their agent, enclosing their money in the stamped addressed envelope given him by the patron,” Besore and Ringer wrote.

•   If carriers met one of the people on their route while they were driving, they could deliver their mail to them if requested, but only if it cost them no time on their route.

•   Carriers had to deliver registered mail and pension to the addressee’s home as long as their mailbox was less than a mile off the route. If the house was further away, a note would be left in the mailbox, explaining who could get the mail and where it could be obtained.

•              Special delivery letters would be delivered to the addressee’s house if it was within a mile of the mailbox. If the house was further away, the letter would be left in the mailbox as ordinary mail.

A mailman servicing an RFD in Pennsylvania.

When it rains,It Pours

by James Rada, Jr.

A freak storm hit Frederick County and Adams County in Pennsylvania on June 18, 1996, and stalled over the region as it dumped rain. When the storm ended on June 19, it had dropped 11 inches of rain in Northern Frederick County.

“A series of storms, like boxcars, followed the same line, dumping all their rain on the same spot,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

Rivers and creeks overran their banks. Water covered bridges and flooded into basements. The Frederick Post reported that residents near the Monocacy bridge at Bridgeport “woke to find their homes in the middle of an ocean.”

Farmers lost crops that were inundated in water and mud. Even some livestock in fields were floated away, often being found in neighboring farms, if found at all.

Police, fire, and ambulance units spent a busy day responding to calls. Both of Emmitsburg’s ambulances were disabled in the flooding, and one was missing for a while because the radio shorted out in the water, and the crew was unable to communicate.     

The Monocacy River reached a high-water mark of 24.45 feet, a record.

“In our nomenclature, it’s much greater than a 100-year flood,” USGS hydrologist, Bob James, said in an interview.

A Maryland State Police helicopter had to rescue one man stranded on top of his car at Flat Run. Four young women ran into a similar problem when their car stalled trying to cross over Owens Creek at Annandale Road. The helicopter was unable to reach them because of tree cover, so an air boat was sent to them. The water was 28 to 36 inches deep on the road. One firefighter was swept away during a rescue and had to be rescued himself.

“The entire town of Emmitsburg was closed to traffic for several hours Wednesday morning (June 19th) as overflow from Toms and Flat Run creeks virtually surrounded the Frederick County town,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

At least 47 basements reported flooding in Emmitsburg. Some had water as deep as five feet. Emmit Gardens, the lowest point in town, had to be evacuated.

“This place was like a little island to itself,” Art Damuth told the Gettysburg Times.

Four people died in the flood, but only one from the north county area.

The Red Cross set up at Mount St. Mary’s to provide food and shelter to displaced families.

As the water receded, people assessed the damage to their homes. The Town of Emmitsburg estimated that $100,000 to $200,000 damage had been done to municipal properties. Although the amount of damage didn’t reach a threshold for federal aid, the north county death apparently was enough for Congress to waive the threshold and offer aid to the north county area.

In the aftermath of the flood, officials from Emmitsburg and Frederick County looked at ways to mitigate future flood damage, such as dams or dredging Flat Run. In the end, the most cost effective option that helped the most people was to flood proof 20 homes in Emmitsburg by elevating the homes and building walls around them. The Frederick News reported it “is among the first and largest flood-control proposals advanced in western Maryland after three severe floods in the mountainous region this year.”

The plan also included the regular clearing of brush, fallen trees, and debris from Flat Run. The estimated cost for this plan was estimated to be around $100,000.

“Moving people out of their homes or building a dam are both impractical. This is a good plan,” Emmitsburg Mayor William Carr told the newspaper.

Frederick County’s Lost Cavern

by James Rada, Jr.

In February 1880, the Baltimore Sun reported, “A large cave is reported to have been discovered near Woodsboro, Frederick County, rivaling in extent and splendor the famous Luray cave.”

The cave was known as “fox den.” It was on the George L. Smith farm, north of Woodsboro. Who and how it was discovered that the den was actually a cave is not known, but someone found a reason to enter the den at some point and saw it hid more than foxes. Word spread quickly of the underground marvel.

The Sun sent a reporter to explore the cave and write up a report. A group of local men agreed to show him the cave. “Having procured picks, shovels, old clothing, candles, matches &c., the party proceeded on their way to the cave, and, who knows, perhaps to glory,” according to the Emmitsburg Chronicle.

What the group found was not another Luray Caverns, but something that left them disappointed and disgusted, according to the Chronicle.

A writer with the Chronicle calling himself “Nemo” remained curious about the caverns. He traveled to Woodboro and hired one of the men who had led the Sun reporter to the cavern. The entrance was located near an area that had been quarried at the base of a limestone bluff. The guide used a gushing spring at the base of the bluff as a landmark to find the entrance.

Nemo wrote, “…I put on my ‘crawling suit,’ and with a box of matches in one pocket and candles in another, we were ready to creep.”

To enter the cavern, they had to slide into the den feet first. Nemo wrote “had I been at all aldermanic, I could not have got through.” Aldermanic was a slang term at the time for having a pot belly.

The entrance sloped downward, and they slid about eight feet before dropping into the first room of the caverns.

The first room was about 10 feet by 15 feet with a height of 3 feet. It had an “unbroken limestone arch overhead.”

From this room, they squeezed through a short passage at the north end of the room. It led into another room of the same height, but this room was 25 feet by 30 feet. It was also filled with stalactites and stalagmites.

“The end of one stalagmite knocked loose from the floor, measured five inches in diameter, and had twenty-five clearly defined circles of alternate layers of magnesia,” Nemo wrote. He took it as a sample.

This room had two passages other than the one they had come through. The passage on the north end was too small to crawl through, so they went through the western passage. This room had stalactites and stalagmites in it and a cold pool of water that measured 3 feet by 10 feet.

Going through a southern passage from the chamber, they wound up in a room that was seven feet by eight feet, “this was coverly by a lofty arched ceiling thickly studded with stalactites and supported by rocks forming walls of other apartments,” Nemo wrote.

The only passage from this room they could pass through was one that led back to the original chamber. Once there, they squirmed back up the slope and outside.

Besides mineral samples, Nemo caught a bat hanging from the ceiling, although he didn’t note which room this was in. He also saw bones of animals that had slid into the cavern and had been unable to escape because they were too small.

He believed the cavern could be enlarged, but noted, “It is not likely that this cave, even after a thorough exploration, would rival Louray, or that more recently discovered in Pennsy’vania, but ‘tis a ‘big thing’ for Woodsboro.”

A 1950 report titled The Caves of Maryland by William E. Davies lists the cave as the Centerville Cave. It is described as “A cave consisting of four small rooms is reported in an old quarry in the Wakefield marble, one-half mile east of Centerville, along the Coppermine road.”

However, the report notes that by this time, the cave seemed to have been lost and could not be located during the field work. Perhaps, it collapsed or maybe the entrance is so small it has become hidden.

Luray Caverns Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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.

by James Rada, Jr.

How A Lincoln Conspirator Came to Call Emmitsburg Home

John Surratt Jr. hated life in Emmitsburg, but then he hated life in America. Maybe that was why he tried to kidnap the President of the United States.

Surratt was born April 13, 1844, in Washington, D.C., the youngest of John and Mary Surratt’s five children. When the Civil War broke out, Surratt was attending St. Charles College near Baltimore. His father died in 1862 while Surratt was home, and he did not return to complete his schooling. Instead, he was appointed U.S. Postmaster of Surrattsville, Maryland, but he also became a postmaster of sorts for the Confederacy. He carried letters and troop information to Confederate boats on the Potomac River.

“We had a regular established line from Washington to the Potomac, and I being the only unmarried man on the route, I had most of the hard riding to do. I devised various ways to carry the dispatches – sometimes in the heel of my boots, sometimes between the planks of the buggy,” Surratt said in an 1870 speech.

Samuel Mudd introduced Surratt to John Wilkes Booth on December 23, 1864, in Washington. Surratt willingly joined in Booth’s conspiracy to abduct President Abraham Lincoln by stopping his carriage while it was en route to a destination.

“To our great disappointment, however, the President was not there but one of the government officials – Mr. [Salmon P.] Chase, if I mistake not. We did not disturb him, as we wanted a bigger chase than he could have afforded us. It was certainly a bitter disappointment, but yet I think a most fortunate one for us. It was our last attempt,” Surratt said.

On the night Booth and some of Surratt’s other co-conspirators attempted a triple assassination of Lincoln, the vice president and the secretary of state, Surratt said he was in Elmira, N.Y., spying for the Confederacy. However, it was believed initially that Surratt attempted to assassinate the secretary of state. Surratt found himself a wanted man with a $25,000 bounty on his head.

Surratt fled to Canada. “A parish priest, Father Charles Boucher, gave sanctuary to the former Catholic seminarian, and Surratt remained there in hiding from mid-April through the trial, conviction, sentencing, and hanging of his mother. He followed the trial by reading the papers, and through secret correspondence with friends in Washington. In all that time, from the end of April to the first week of July, Surratt made no effort to save his mother from the gallows. Later, he blamed his friends for failing to inform him about the true peril that Mary Surratt faced,” James Swanson wrote in Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer.

Mary Surratt was arrested tried and hanged with three other conspirators – George Atzerodt, Lewis Paine, and David Herold.

From Canada, Surratt fled to England in September 1865 and then onto Rome, where he joined the Papal Zouaves, the army of the Papal States. On a trip to Egypt in 1866, Surratt was identified as a Lincoln conspirator and arrested.

He was returned to the United States where he stood trial in a civilian court that began on June 10, 1867. After testimony from 170 witnesses, the trial ended two months later with a hung jury. The government eventually dropped the charges and Surratt was freed in the summer of 1868.

“John Surratt was a free man. His mother was dead, he had been exposed as a leader in a plot to kidnap President Lincoln, and he had earned the reputation of a coward who had abandoned his mother to die. But at least he was alive. If he had been captured in 1865 and tried by military tribunal, he certainly would have been convicted, and would likely have been executed,” Swanson wrote.

Surratt sought to turn his experiences into a career on the lecture circuit. He readily admitted a part in the kidnapping but denied involvement in the assassination. When his speaking tour was canceled because of public outrage, Surratt took up teaching. Following a stint as a teacher at a school in Rockville, Md., he used his Catholic connections to secure a position in Emmitsburg.

One source puts Surratt in Emmitsburg as early as 1870, teaching at St. Joseph’s School, which was identified as being held in the old fire hall opposite St. Joseph’s Church.

“He rattled his classes and resorted to physical punishment to maintain discipline. On older boys, some of them twenty or twenty-one, he used his fists. The younger boys John would beat with a paddle after he had stretched them over a special punishment desk which he had designed,” according to a 1938 letter by Frederick Welty.

Sandra Walia with the Surratt House Museum’s James O. Hall Research Center doubts this could have been Surratt because his students nicknamed the man in Welty’s letter “Old Bear” and Surratt would have only been about 27 years old at the time, barely older than the oldest boys he taught.

Another account, which comes directly from Surratt, said he left his teaching position in Rockville in 1873 and took a job as principal at St. Vincent’s Academy in Emmitsburg with 60 students. This was probably St. Vincent’s Hall, which was built in 1857 as a combination school and literary and social center next to St. Joseph’s Church. The Daughters of Charity took over the teaching there in 1878, so the 1873 date for Surratt’s tenure would have been right.

During his time there, Surratt wrote to Father Jolivet who had sheltered him in England when he had fled Canada after Lincoln’s assassination. “My greatest desire, Father Jolivet is to leave this abominable country and go to Europe there to spend the balance of my days in peace and quiet,” Surratt wrote.

At the time Surratt wrote the letter, he had been married 11 months to Mary Victorine Hunter, a second cousin of Francis Scott Key. He was also the father of a newborn son. Shortly after that, the Surratts moved to Baltimore where Surratt took a job at the Baltimore Steam Packet Company.

When he died of pneumonia on April 21, 1916, at age 72, he was the last surviving member of the Lincoln conspiracy and the only one known to have called Emmitsburg home.

John Surratt in his uniform as a Papal Zouave in Rome.

by James Rada, Jr.

The Mount During the Civil War

In the years leading up to the Civil War, Mount St. Mary’s College enjoyed prosperity. The college celebrated its golden anniversary in 1858, and student enrollment was around 200 young men.

“The Mount was thriving, as was most of the South thriving before the Civil War,” Father Michael Roach, said on the DVD Mount St. Mary’s: The Spirit Continues…

This changed with the outbreak of war in 1860. The school lost student and faculty who were sympathetic to the southern cause. The college had to support southern students who stayed behind because funds from their parents could not make it north. The college’s expenses increased while its income fell. In the 1859-1860 school year, Mount St. Mary’s had 173 students, not including the seminarians. Two years later, the enrollment had fallen to 67 students, its lowest number in 50 years.

Mount President John McCaffrey was known for his Confederate sympathies and refused to let the U.S. flag fly. “When Lincoln was shot, Federal orders were issued ‘for every house to display some sign of mourning. An officer visited the college, but there was no sign visible,’ until Dr. McCaffrey produced ‘a small piece of crepe’ on a door which had been opened back so that it would not be visible until closed,” according to the Emmitsburg Chronicle.

McCaffrey may have represented both the prevailing sentiment of the campus and the county. Steve Whitman, associate professor of history at the Mount, said on the DVD. “McCaffrey eventually, and some of his professors, were monitored, observed, by President Lincoln’s loyalty police. These were men appointed all over the country to keep an eye on folks who might be or were suspected of being Confederate sympathizers.”

It should not be surprising that the prevailing sympathies on campus were predominantly southern, since more than half of the students before the war had been from the South.

Though Confederate in his sympathies, McCaffrey was not hostile to the Union. A Pennsylvania officer wrote, “Two miles from Emmitsburg we passed Mount Saint Mary’s and taking advantage of a moment’s halt a party of three or four rode up to the main entrance… We were cordially received by the president and with characteristic hospitality a collation was in preparation for us.”

After the battle of Antietam in September 1862, six of the seven seniors remaining in the school slipped away to visit the battlefield. When they returned three days later, McCaffrey expelled them. However, within a month, he changed his mind and reinstated them.

In the spring of 1863, Union soldiers arrested Mount student Maurice Burn for sedition. Burn, who was from Louisiana, had written his father and expressed his southern sympathies. Burn was jailed when he refused to sign an oath of loyalty to the Union. McCaffrey wrote Lincoln pleading Burn’s case, and the youth was released to McCaffrey’s custody.

That year, the college also held an early graduation in order to get the students away from the area. A troop build-up had been seen, and the faculty believed the students would be safer with their families. The battle turned out to be Gettysburg.

Three students were killed during the war, according to Mount St. Mary’s: The Spirit Continues… One of those young men was Maurice Burn. Those young men were buried at the college cemetery on the mountain.

Picture shows the student body at the Mount in July 1863.

by James Rada, Jr.

More Accomplishments of HARNEY UNIVERSITY

Note: This is the third in a series about the “achievements” of Harney University.

While Harney University achieved legendary status in just about every field of study in the early 1900s, things didn’t start off that way.

The faculty, which included Jacob Turner, Jerry Overholser, Daniel Shorb, Sterling Galt, and Bill Snyder, wasn’t always known for their professorial skills. However, even before Harney University became famous, the group of men who met regularly at the Slagle Hotel in Emmitsburg were showing off their storytelling skills in the pages of the Emmitsburg Chronicle and planting the seeds for the future university.

Uncle Bill’s Column seems to be the forerunner to Harney University and boasts the same mock seriousness that the university would come to use. The column, “Uncle Bill,” answered such curious questions and requests as: “Please give in, in the Aztec language, a portion of Mrs. Roosevelt’s remarks about Mr. Harriman,” and “What noted fish are found in the Hongaloonbink River?”

In a 1909 story in the Emmitsburg Chronicle, Dan Shorb, Bill Snider, Ed Brown, and Nathan Hoke added to the Frederick County legend of the snallygaster monster by recounting their encounter with the beast. The men fought with it for hours, chasing it to Carroll County. It was described as having “ghost-like wings,” bristles that stuck from its snout, and “its hide was the color of the down side of a catfish.” It could also breathe fire.

“Bill Snider says it sounded for all the world like Flat Run at high tide where the waters rush over the rocks at Whitmore’s Wharf, only more so,” the Chronicle reported. “The air was charged with some peculiar smell, rather loud too for it wakened the man in the signal tower at Dry Bridge.”

During 1910, a number of articles talked about the airship that Dan Shorb built. It was 130 feet long and 16 feet wide and carried “two auto-magneto-bi-sparking generators, a cogless centripedal concussion plane and three wireless rudders,” according to the Chronicle. It had an 87-horsepower engine, fueled with horse mint oil. Its maiden voyage was to include dignitaries who would accompany the inventors “on this, the initial, and most likely, the final trip,” according to the Chronicle.

While that flight apparently went smoothly, one that followed two months later did not. Shorb admitted there was an explosion during the flight. “He had just fed his airship and put it in his stable and was about to take the gears from his clothes’ horse when a snow burst full of robins (some of which escaped to Leitersburg) collided with the gyroscope and ignited the spaker in his silo which exploded with terrific force, and as the wind blowing in an easterly direction, it struck the fodder and carried the shock to Westminster by way of Thurmont,” according to the Chronicle.

By 1912, Shorb was beginning to be called a doctor in the newspaper, a hint at what was to come. In May, the Chronicle ran a short piece about him proclaiming that he would not run for the presidential nomination of either political party.

The following piece ran in the Chronicle in September 1912. Although it doesn’t mention any of the typical members of the Harney University faculty, it definitely has the feel of one of their stories.

“After many months of careful experimenting and the expenditure of $16,547 in real stage money, Drs. Herr Van Mueller and John E. Davidson have perfected a flying apparatus, called by them the Gyro Scutoplane. It is propelled by an eight-cylinder hexagonal engine using monkey feathers for fuel and is capable of attaining a speed of 85.6 miles a minute. A diagram and full particulars of this invention may be seen in the current issue of the Pallbearer’s Review. Decorations have been given to both the scientists and each has received a medal of the Order of the Plush Ladle, conferred by the Sultan of Slush.”

By this time, Harney University had already started being mentioned in the pages of the newspaper, and a legend was born.

The building drawing is from the Emmitsburg Chronicle and supposedly showed the Harney University Science Hall that Dr. John Culp, Professor Emeritus of the Science of Pingpongology, presented the university.

Courtesy Photo of the front of a postcard

More Accomplishments of HARNEY UNIVERSITY

by James Rada, Jr.

During the early part of the 20th century, the highly successful Harney University was known for the many great achievements of its faculty. If it was to be believed, the reputation of the school outshone any other college in the country.

If it was to be believed. Which it wasn’t.

The faculty, as it were, consisted of Jacob Turner, Jerry Overholser, Daniel Shorb, and Bill Snyder, who met regularly at the Slagle Hotel in Emmitsburg. The staff would have also had to include Sterling Galt, editor of the Emmitsburg Chronicle.

The adventures of the Harney University faculty wasn’t an attempt to fool readers of the newspaper. The stories were too outrageous to be believed. It was a way to inject humor into the news and bring a smile to faces of readers.

Here are some of the fantastical achievements of Harney University and its faculty.

January 24, 1913: The Khedive of Egypt sent Dr. Dan Shorb a wireless message that consisted of four lines of gibberish made up of letters (some upside down) mixed with numbers (including fractions) and a few odd characters. Translated, the message was supposedly talking about how the parcel post system in Egypt was so successful and required so many camels that the manufacturing of camel-hair brushes, camel hair shawls, and “camelopards” had ceased.

July 25, 1913: Harney University now had a War College, which the federal government was consulting over how to handle tensions with Mexico. The recommendation of the War College was that seven airplanes loaded with molasses be sent to the border, along with troops from Zora, Four Points, and Poplar Ridge, who would be armed with 800,000 rounds of Limburger bullets.

According to the Emmitsburg Chronicle, the plan was simple. “The molasses will be released from the aero-planes, about 100 tons from each machine. This will have the same effect on the enemy as tangle-foot flypaper has on flies. When the opposing forces are rendered incapable of marching or standing erect, Limburger bullets will be discharged at them at a rate of 10,000 a second. Death will be instantaneous due to the smell of the cheese. An important feature of this mode of warfare is that death will be so horrible that no further recruiting will be possible—no one will enlist in the Mexican army.”

August 8, 1913: Jacob Turner was appointed the chair of snakeology at the University of Harney. He wanted to offer a correspondence course in snake charming. “The professor now has 28 snakes of different varieties fully trained and he says he has no difficulty in making them do anything he asked. In the collection, there are two copperheads which he has taught to dance the tango and a black snake taught to walk the slack wire blindfolded,” the Chronicle reported.

September 12, 1913: Twenty-seven men, under the direction of Dr. Jerry Overholser and Dr. Daniel Shorb from the University of Harney, built an airship underwater. “The main feature of the engine, which is of the complex eccentric type, is the simplicity of the duplicidentate. The meta centre articulates with the friction real and top burtons on the warping chock. This flutes the suction pipe in such a manner as to lap joint the back gear. The lubricator, connecting with a center balance spring, throws the pinch cock under the carburetor, at the same time opening the muffler cutout near the nephoscope. This feeds the silo juice through the bunghole and sparks the fifth wheel near the gunwale. The cloud anchor, which is regulated by a heliograph, is so adjusted on the pinochle deck that it releases automatically from the whiffletree, making it possible to stop and remain stationary by putting on the reverse clutch while going at the rate of 184 knots a second.”

They planned to take the ship on a test flight from the Popular Ridge standpipe to the Eiffel Tower, stopping for lunch at the Sandwich Islands.

September 27, 1913: Dr. John Glass of Harney University came out against the Federal Reserve issuing smaller bank notes. Instead, he had a formula using rubber and yeast that he wanted currency printed on. He told the Emmitsburg Chronicle, “Expandable bills will allow local residents to stretch their dollars further, allowing more to be bought with each bill.”

October 15, 1915: James Arnold and Howard Harbaugh went hunting with Shorb and brought back a Gnukokukua Hen, three Aviskovis Hawks, and a Night Heron, which were supposedly displayed in the Chronicle’s front window.

October 8, 1915: Daniel Shorb of the “Board of Strategy, of Harney University” invented a rapid-fire noodle soup gun for the French Government. The gun fired noodles to entangle the legs of enemies and feed them when they were your prisoner. The French ordered five million of them and awarded Shorb the Order of the Imperial Soup Ladle and granted him a lifetime pension of 450,000 francs annually. He was also working on a macaroni tent that would both feed and shelter prisoners.

December 12, 1918: George Sanders sued the Emmitsburg Motor Car Company because the company sold a car to Rebecca Shorb, who then proceeded to get into an accident with Sander’s horse-drawn wagon. The Chronicle reported, “Mr. Sanders, citing evidence recently published by the University of Harney that women’s brains did not have sufficient capacity to master the art of driving, feels that the Emmitsburg Motor Car Company should not have sold Miss Shorb the car. ‘By selling a car to a woman,’ Mr. Sanders said, ‘they have endangered all hard working men who have to use the roads to make a living, and thus are liable for any damage they produce. Women should stick to their proper roles—namely cooking, cleaning and taking care of youngins, and leave complex tasks that require thinking to men.’”

The building drawing is from the Emmitsburg Chronicle and supposedly showed the Harney University Science Hall that Dr. John Culp, Professor Emeritus of the Science of Pingpongology, presented the university.


by James Rada, Jr.

Note: This is the first in a series about the “achievements” of Harney University.

Emmitsburg is known for being the home of Mount St. Mary’s University, but for a while, another nearby university regularly made the newspaper with stories of great innovations in science and technology that its learned professors developed.

That university? The esteemed Harney University.

Never heard of it? That’s not surprising since despite all of the achievements credited to its faculty in the Emmitsburg Chronicle, the university didn’t exist…at least not as an educational institution.

A group of residents met regularly at the Hotel Slagle and came up with unusual stories that the newspaper published.

The faculty, as it were, consisted of Jacob Turner, Jerry Overholser, Daniel Shorb, and Bill Snyder, who met regularly at the Slagle Hotel in Emmitsburg. The staff would have also had to include Sterling Galt, editor of the Emmitsburg Chronicle. Whether the group came up with the goings-on at the university or it was something Galt did alone is not known.

What is known is that the stories provided readers of the Chronicle a lot of smiles and laughs in the early 1900s.

Here are some of the fantastical achievements of Harney University and its faculty.

October 7, 1910: The Harney University football team won a game against a team from Pigs Misery. The game was played on Musk Rat Field, which was a gift to the university from Dan Shorb. Shorb was listed as a former professor of “Propaeduetics and a John Glass lecturer on the Theory of Aviation.” The newspaper reported that 11,000 people attended the game and seven different bands played between quarters. One player named Murky Suds made a daring play. “This professional in a daring dash of 90 years with eighteen men on his neck, dislocated the goal post and tore away the gunwale and three hatchways on the port side of his physiognomy,” according to the Emmitsburg Chronicle.

March 15, 1912: Roald Amundsen was the first person to reach the South Pole. The Emmitsburg Chronicle disputed his claim, saying that Dr. John Glass and Dr. Bill Snyder of Harney University had found the pole two years earlier at 3 a.m., “brought it back to Harney, and preserved it in alcohol.” The paper went on to further note, “Dr. Glass is not even willing to concede that Amundsen got to the farthest point south unless he is able to produce the lawn mower which Dr. Snider left on the front lawn under the cherry tree near the house which they lived while in those southern parts.”

November 15, 1912: Dr. Dan Shorb received the election returns using an intricate machine so that “long before the telegraph instruments of the county had ticked the news, Prof. Bushman, who had his airship anchored on the prairie dog house nearby, was on his way to Emmitsburg with bushel baskets filled with the correct information,” according to the Chronicle. He also claimed not to need his wireless device to get the returns from Thurmont, Harney, and Jimtown. His eyesight was so good, “He simply looked over the shoulders of the clerks, from his private office at Pigs Misery, and wrote down the results. Some slight difficulty was experienced in reading the tally sheet at Poplar Ridge, owing, the doctor said, to a bad wick in one of the lamps at that place,” the Chronicle reported.

November 29, 1912: President Woodrow Wilson was planning on appointing Dr. John Glass and Professor Dan Shorb of Harney University to help revise the tariff code on codfish balls. “Clarence Buckingham, brother of the Duke of Buckingham, will also revise the tariff on dill pickles. In an unrelated note, Col. Stonebottle, one of the most prominent citizens of Emmitsburg, painted his overalls on Saturday,” the Chronicle reported.

December 13, 1912: The Harney University faculty held a pinochle tournament, competing for a trophy. It had been a dill pickle in 1911. “The trophy this year will be a loving cup filled with spinach, presented for this event by the Young Lady Society for the Prevention of the Use of the Denatured Alcohol and Strawberry Shortcake,” according to the Chronicle.

The Slagle Hotel where the esteemed faculty of Harney University met to discuss matters of world-changing importance.