Currently viewing the tag: "Mount St. Mary’s College"

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.

The Year is…1808

by James Rada, Jr.

The Mount Seminary Is the “Cradle of Bishops”

From a brick cottage in rural Maryland grew an institution that has educated dozens of young men who became Catholic bishops and archbishops.

Mount St. Mary’s College began in 1808 when “the Society of St. Sulpice in Baltimore closed its preparatory seminary in Pennsylvania and transferred the seminarians to Emmitsburg,” according to the Mount St. Mary’s website.

The first classes were held in the Chinquapin Cottage. The first class was made up of 39 resident students and 7 or 8 day students. Among them were John Lilly of Conewago, James Clements of Littlestown, Rev. John Hickey of Frederick, and Dr. James A. Shorb, according to The Emmitsburg Chronicle.

“Father Dubois enlarged the scope of the institution and established classes of philosophy and theology, so as to retain his assistant teachers as long as possible; this finally led to the organization of the College and Seminary on a basis of entire independence, to be conducted by an association of priests under the jurisdiction and protection of the Archbishop of Baltimore,” James Helman wrote in History of Emmitsburg, Maryland.

The college’s and seminary’s reputations grew over the years. The Mount Seminary can boast 52 episcopal alumni, including John Hughes (Seminary of 1826), first Archbishop of New York; his Eminence John Cardinal McCloskey (Seminary of 1831), also Archbishop of New York and first native-born American cardinal; Most Rev. William B. Friend (Seminary of 1959), Bishop of Shreveport; Most Rev. Harry J. Flynn (Seminary of 1960), Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis; Most Rev. William E. Lori (Seminary of 1977); Most Rev. Michael 0. Jackels (Seminary of 1981), Bishop of Wichita; and Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley (Seminary of 1983), Bishop of Salina.

At present, Mount seminary alumni total more than 2,600, approximately half of whom are alive and active in priestly ministry. Alumni have served as first bishops of 15 newly formed dioceses, and 32 U.S. dioceses have been led by at least one bishop from the Mount.

“Emmitsburg has turned out some of the most notable American Jesuits. Father Early, my predecessor in the presidency of Georgetown, was a Mountaineer. In our needs, we naturally turn to this college. …There is an axiom that there is nothing in the effect that we may not find in the cause: now Mt. St. Mary’s is called the ‘Mother of Bishops,’ and the bishopric is a perfect state; hence, we find perfection in Mt. St. Mary’s that is the envy and the despair of all other colleges. …The secret of this is, I suppose, in the noble-hearted faculty which conserves and holds sacred the traditions of the saintly founders of the College,” Most Rev. John Farley, Archbishop of New York, said during the Mount’s centennial celebration in 1908.

Because of this, Mount St. Mary’s became known as the “cradle of bishops” and the “mother of bishops.”

“All the early universities of Europe were of priestly foundation, and almost all of our American ones had a similar origin. Religion and civilization go hand in hand. Now the priest is trained in the seminary. Hence, the seminary is the nursery of civilization and its preserver, for things are preserved by the same causes that give them origin. Mount St. Mary’s is the second in point of age of our seminaries, and has had very much to do with diffusing and preserving civilization as well as religion in the Republic. A dozen other colleges and seminaries owe their origin to her. Overbrook, her younger sister, acknowledges her precedence and wider influence, and pays her due honor on this her Centennial birthday anniversary,” Rev. Henry T. Drumgoole, LL.D., Rector of St. Charles’ Seminary, Overbrook, Pa., said of the Mount during the centennial celebration.

A version of this story appeared in The Emmitsburg Dispatch in 2008.

Mount St. Mary’s Movie Star Alumni

by James Rada, Jr.

You probably won’t recognize his name, but Thomas Meighan was once as big a movie star as Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise, and he was an alumnus of Mount St. Mary’s. He was one of the leading actors in the country in the 1920s, at one point earning $10,000 a week (about $125,000 in today’s dollars).

According to, Thomas “Tommy” Meighan was one of the rulers of the Hollywood roost, between the years 1915 and 1928.

In May of 1924, if you flipped through the pages of the newspapers, you would see Meighan’s name on the entertainment page in ads and reviews for his latest movie, Pied Piper Malone. Then, in the local section, was the news that Meighan had returned to Mount St. Mary’s College.

“Thomas Meighan with brother James drove to the Mount and threw the first ball across the plate in a game between Western Maryland College and his alma mater at Echo Field on Wednesday,” the Gettysburg Times reported. “He smiled his famous smile even as he watched the team representing his alma mater go down to defeat.”

He also attended a bazaar being held at the college and led the march at a dance. Students from Hood College in Frederick, Goucher College in Baltimore, and St. Joseph’s College also attended the bazaar, so Meighan drew quite the crowd.

A reporter asked Meighan when he had attended the Mount. Meighan told him, “Not a chance. That would be too embarrassing to tell. I was there for three years and they were, perhaps, the happiest days of my life.”

Meighan had been born in Pittsburgh in 1879 to a well-off family. His parents encouraged him to attend college, but Meighan stubbornly refused, so his father made him get a job shoveling coal. That changed the young man’s mind, and he enrolled at St. Mary’s College, studying pharmacology.

Despite enjoying his time at the college, Meighan knew that an academic life wasn’t for him. After three years at the Mount, he decided to pursue acting.

He dropped out of Mount St. Mary’s in 1896 and took a job with the Pittsburgh Stock Company, earning $35.00 a week. His performances earned him positive reviews, and he debuted on Broadway in 1900 and found even greater success.

Despite his success on the stage, he decided to try films in 1914. His first film, Dandy Donovan, the Gentleman Cracksman, was shot in London. His first U.S. film, The Fighting Hope, came the following year. He played across from some of the top film actresses of the day, including Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson.

By 1919, he was considered a star. One of his last silent films, The Racket, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture in 1928.

Meighan’s first talkie was also released the same year and was called The Argyle Case.

The Gettysburg Times noted that Meighan was humble and gave the credit for his success not to himself but to the writers of his movies.

His last film was Peck’s Bad Boy in 1934. After that, he decided to retire from acting at age fifty-five and go out on a high note. Another reason for his early retirement was that he was diagnosed with cancer.

He went into real estate with his brother, but his second career was short lived. He died on July 8, 1936.

style=”text-align: left;”>                                                                                                                 1945

by James Rada, Jr.

The second of his back-to-back Best Actor Oscars that the legendary Spencer Tracy won was for his role in the 1938 movie Boys Town. He played the role of Father Edward Flanagan, the Catholic priest who founded the pioneering boys’ home in Nebraska. The boys’ home is credited for giving many disadvantaged youths a better life and helping them through their turbulent childhood.

Flanagan was a graduate of Mount St. Mary’s College in Emmitsburg, and he also experienced some struggles while there.

During his first day on campus, a schoolmate pushed him into St. Anthony’s Lake.

“I learned to swim because I had to,” Flanagan told the Frederick Post in a 1945 interview. He later credited that experience, along with the forced swimming lessons, for allowing him to save his father from drowning on a fishing trip at age seventy-five.

His second day on campus was just as noteworthy. “When a schoolmate challenged him to a fight in the gym, the youngster from Ireland proved himself a willing mixer. The battle lasted four hours,” the Frederick Post reported. His opponent spent the next week in bed. “I was in worse shape than he was and the only reason I didn’t go to bed, too, was because I was new in this country and too green to know that I should have,” Flanagan told the newspaper.

Luckily, most of his time at the Mount was not so exciting. He applied himself to his studies and developed a focused concentration on his work that would help him later in life.
Flanagan’s biographers have noted that Flanagan enjoyed his time in Emmitsburg and his frequent visits to his alma mater bear this out. He sang with the glee club and chapel choir and was elected to the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Frederick News also noted in a 1982 article that Flanagan was considered the best handball player on campus.

When he graduated in 1906 as the youngest in his class, he was recognized for his distinguished study in Latin and Greek and for a speech called “The Gaelic Revival,” during the college elocution contest.

His one regret apparently was that he didn’t get into any trouble. According to the Frederick News, it was a tradition at the time that a boy had to get in trouble with the administration at least once during his time at the Mount to be considered a true “Mountaineer.” “Perhaps I should have misbehaved a little,” Flanagan was quoted in one of his biographies.

He was granted a Master’s Degree from the Mount in 1911, while he was working in Austria. It was during this time overseas in Austria and Rome when he was also ordained a priest.

When he returned to the United States in 1913, he worked in Omaha as the assistant pastor at St. Patrick’s and as the proprietor of the Workingmen’s Hotel, which was temporary housing for vagrants. Seeing these men, Flanagan began wondering if they would have led different lives if they had been helped as boys.

This led to his idea of opening a home for boys in 1917. The Boys’ Industrial Home began with only five boys. It was more than just an orphanage, it was a home for boys that also used new parenting methods to raise and educate the boys so that they would be productive adults. As it grew in size, it was renamed Boys’ Town.

While the Spencer Tracy film was great PR for the organization, the film actually caused cutbacks in donations. “Viewers apparently made the judgement that if Boys’ Town could survive all the crises contained in the film, Flanagan and his troops might then withstand anything else that might happen,” according to the Frederick News.

In 1938, Mount St. Mary’s awarded Flanagan an honorary Doctor of Laws in recognition of his work at Boys’ Town.
Flanagan died in 1948 at the age of fifty-two.

“To have actually lived Flanagan is perhaps too much the perpetrator of the happy ending, too strong the personification of the American dream come true,” the Frederick News noted.
20160607_112320                                                                                                                                                                Father Edward Flanagan

by James Rada, Jr.

Early Public Education in Emmitsburg

Emmitsburg has always had plenty of schools. Of the 158 one-room schools in Frederick County in 1890, more than 20 were near Emmitsburg. This doesn’t even include the private and parochial schools in town at the time.

In a 1908 Emmitsburg Chronicle article, an old-timer recalled his experiences with some of Emmitsburg’s early schools.

One school was on the former site of Helman’s store where Mrs. Reed, a widow, taught class.

“I was packed off to school when I was about five years old, with a small yellow book called an English Primer. The seat, a rough bench, was much too high for my short legs, and my feet hung some distance above the floor. The school was a sort of a go-as-you please affair, and I did not receive much attention from the mistress, who, by the way, was a very good-natured lady. Yet, as it is the school boys’ want to go ahead, I made rapid progress and soon learned to throw paper wads and pinch the boys that sat next to me,” the unidentified man recalled.

He also recalled that the first public school in town had been on the site where St. Euphemia’s School would eventually stand. Robert Crooks was the “man’s” teacher.

“Other well-liked and successful teachers of the old public school were Mr. John Walter, a graduate of Mount St. Mary’s College, and a Mr. Tearce, who came to Emmitsburg with the Gutherie family from Pennsylvania. Mr. Tearce’s assistant was Squire Knouff, well known in this community for many years. Mr. Tearce was…“a genuine athlete; he joined in all our outdoor games, and many a time in playing corner-ball, I had his broad back for a target.

With all this comradeship with his pupils, inside of the schoolroom he was master and commanded the respect and love of his scholars,” recalled the man.

He was taught grammar, geography, algebra, and history.

“In the Summer when the public schools were closed, we had, what were then called, ‘subscription schools.’ I attended one that was held in a brick house on Broad alley. This building is still standing in good condition and is now occupied as a dwelling, by John Ellis. It was called the ‘Potter Kiln School’ because the house had been built for a potter’s shop. In the rear stood an immense potter’s kiln that had been unused for many years. It was a representative of one of the extinct industries of Emmitsburg: The darkness inside this kiln and the many small openings made it a fine place for boys to play hide-and-seek,” the man recalled.

Darius Thomas was the first teacher. Isaac E. Pierson, a lawyer, also taught at the school and was a harsh disciplinarian. “He did not believe in whipping but inflicted cruel and unusual punishment by making a boy stand up before the school with a girl’s sunbonnet on his head; a terrible penalty, far more dreadful to the boys than the rod,” the man recalled.

He recalled the Union Academy at Elias Church as one of the best.

“It was established long before the public schools were started and was considered a sort of finishing school,” the man recalled.

Today, most of the old school buildings are gone, but a few remain that have been repurposed. However, the education the students received in the 19th century helped create the solid citizens who built Emmitsburg into a thriving town.

Deb Spalding

As a youngster in Emmitsburg during the 1950s, Robert (Bob) Rosensteel, Sr., attended school at St. Euphemia’s School on DePaul Street. He remembers that the students who were black were treated differently by some, and there were “White” and “Colored” signs, designating separate use of water fountains and bathrooms. Like most youngsters, Bob had the business of being a kid on his mind at the time, so he didn’t really notice any difference. One day, when preparing for his first Holy Communion, the priest took him aside and asked if he would walk down the aisle with a black classmate (CMDR John Williams United States Navy-retired, Naval Aviator, Vietnam War Veteran, and first black to graduate from Mount St. Mary’s College), who was also receiving his first Holy Communion. Bob said sure, he didn’t see a problem with that. But some of the adults Bob encountered expressed displeasure. Bob did it anyway. A few months ago, Bob noticed an opportunity to make right some of the unfair treatment that U.S. Citizens of black heritage have endured because of the color of their skin. In Emmitsburg, two war memorial plaques exist: one commemorating the locals who fought in WWII at the American Legion on North Seton Avenue, and one commemorating the locals who fought in WWI at the Doughboy statue on West Main Street. Two wars, WWI and WWII, during which “colored” people served. On Emmitsburg’s WWII plaque, names are listed in alphabetical order; on Emmitsburg’s WWI plaque, local black citizens who served are designated as “colored” at the bottom of the plaque. A few months ago, the Doughboy statue, to which the WWI plaque is affixed, was knocked over by a vehicle. Bob thought that this would be a great opportunity to install a new plaque, where all of the soldiers are listed alphabetically in one list. He said, “It’s about treating your fellow man with the respect that they should have been shown in the first place.” According to MilitaryHistory, black soldiers were fighting for respect and to prove their loyalty to the United States. While they were turned away from military service to begin with, the War Department passed the Selective Service Act in 1917 that required all male citizens between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-one to register for the draft. By the end of World War I, blacks served in cavalry, infantry, signal, medical, engineer, and artillery units, as well as chaplains, surveyors, truck drivers, chemists, and intelligence officers. It is interesting to note that a 13 percent of blacks served when the quota sought only 10 percent. Black and white Americans served, fought, and perished in WWI. The sentiment expressed by many Veterans who have served in battle sums things up. When you’re in the middle of a war zone, the only important thing is the American Flag on the uniform of the person you’re relying on. Neither that person’s rank, the color of their eyes, their gender, nor the color of their skin, is important. Bob added, “Those in WWI are all gone. They don’t have anyone to speak for them. But if you have a love for our fellow man to make this equal, let’s do it!” Bob added.   His idea to make this change was met with several opposing viewpoints, including: it’s history, let the record reflect what was happening at the time; there is a lot of red tape to wade through to make a change like that; there isn’t money to change the plaque. He pondered, “It’s the times that we live through that make you scratch your head and wonder if you contributed to the bad things that happened to people.” Bob also reminisced about music. In the late 1950s, he was part of numerous rock-n-roll bands as a backup drummer. One rainy day, he attended a Buddy Deane Hop at the VFW in Emmitsburg. The Buddy Deane Hops were teen dance shows that were held in local towns, sponsored by Baltimore WJZ-TV. Bob’s little band was to do a back-up for Buddy Deane who had someone coming in. There was a deluge of rain on this evening. Buddy Deane and his gang had parked on the bank side (corner opposite the VFW) of the square, and had to carry their equipment across the square. Buddy Deane’s equipment was records; he was a disc jockey. The band that came with Buddy Deane wanted a back up, and that’s where Bob played drums. Bob didn’t know who the guy was who came in, but the guy rushed in to use a piano in a back room to scribble words and pound out a song. His wording, “Splish splash I’m takin’ a bath” didn’t mean anything at the time, but the guy turned out to be Bobby Darin. Darin went on to do movies, and the whole Hollywood “scene.” Could it be said that the conception of the idea behind this well-known song, “Splish Splash,” took place in the square of Emmitsburg, Maryland? According to the internet, “Splish Splash” was written with DJ Murray the K (Murray Kaufman), who bet that Darin couldn’t write a song that began with the words, “Splish Splash, I was takin’ a bath,” as suggested by Murray’s mother, Jean Kaufman. Maybe it was just coincidence that Darin “splish splashed” across the square of Emmitsburg on that Saturday night. At another Buddy Dean Hop, held at Taneytown’s St. Joseph’s Hall, Bob and his friends hung out with another famous crooner, Brenda Lee. She was called “Little Dynamite” and was seen on television on the Jimmy Dean Show. She was usually shown sitting on Jimmy Dean’s piano. She went on to become an icon in the music business, with songs like “I’m Sorry” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” She has been inducted into three Halls of Fame: Rock and Roll, Country Music, and Rockabilly. Bob said, “She’s really a big name. Growing up in the ‘50s, that was our way to get out, by going to these local Hops. It was not like today, where you go to a big concert and see a toothpick-sized figure on stage. Buddy Deane and Jimmy Dean were probably responsible for getting a number of music icons early exposure.”

Deb Spalding

MEREDITH2Young Betty Jean Hixen was raised in a family of Polish and Irish descent, who were coal miners in Jordan, West Virginia. Just three miles away, her future husband, William (Bill) Meredith, lived with his family of Welsh and Irish ancestry. They were farmers. The two were destined to love, and met when she was a freshman and he was a senior, on the school bus ride to East Fairmont High School.

Betty joked, “He said it was love at first sight!” Bill parried, “It was very sneaky, if it was.” She invited him to her 14th birthday party, to which he brought her a gift of Whitman’s Samplers candy. They liked each other and started dating that spring. Bill was scheduled to attend college at Fairmont State, located in the same town, so they continued to see each other.

Bill had a pony colt that he sold to get money to buy a ring, and he proposed to her at Christmas, 1954. He doesn’t think she was surprised. They married at their local Presbyterian Church, amid 100 degree heat on August 20, 1955, after Bill had completed his final year at Fairmont State. Betty started Business college that fall.

Graduating with a degree in Biology Education from Fairmont State College, Bill thought he would, “…get a job as a high school teacher and that would be that.” But that spring, a new professor at Fairmont recommended that Bill go to graduate school at West Virginia University (WVU) for free to serve an assistantship there.

The newly married couple moved to an apartment near WVU, where Bill received a stipend of $750 per year. Betty joked, “We went to the 10 cent Saturday Matinee for entertainment. The question was whether we could afford another 10 cents for pizza after the movie.”

While at West Virginia University, their first child arrived—a girl they named Melinda. Soon after, the assistantship came to an end and Bill had no idea how or where to apply for a job. His thesis advisor had heard about a vacancy at Mount St. Mary’s College. Bill applied and was hired right on the spot in 1957.

At Mount St. Mary’s, Bill was an instructor in biology. He said, “They have ranks, and instructor is the lowest, and that’s what I was.” Here, they had two more children, Michael and Fred.

While Bill attended the University of Maryland to obtain his doctorate, Betty raised the kids. The couple then moved to Emmitsburg and settled into the town.

Once the kids were in school, Betty worked at Sperry’s Ford in Emmitsburg, managing business affairs; after a few years, she worked as a teacher’s aide at Emmitsburg School. This job lasted a short twenty-seven years. Betty said, “I knew just about everybody in town, and now know hardly anybody.”

Family trips usually revolved around National Science Foundation (NSF) grant-funded studies. The family went to Colorado for an ecology study, Arizona for a desert biology study, and North Carolina for genetics. The whole family would go, and they met lots of nice people and kept in touch with them.

Bill received the Sears Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1990. This was a prestigious national accolade. After forty-one years at Mount St. Mary’s, he retired. “It was my first and only job. I ended up as the Dean of Undergraduate Studies.” He retired in 1998.

Bill received another accolade when he was invited to speak at Mount St. Mary’s commencement after he retired—this was the first time since the 19th Century a faculty member was asked to speak.

On the home front, the Merediths have raised a garden since the summer of 1954. Betty started entering the Thurmont and Emmitsburg Community Show with vegetables and baked goods, and won many ribbons. She said, “I could paper this whole house with the award ribbons. It was fun!” Unfortunately, she suffered a broken hip a few years ago and couldn’t enter anymore.

Bill has written his monthly column entitled “The Retired Ecologist” in local newspapers since the 1990s. The column has appeared in the former Emmitsburg Dispatch when Bo Cadle started it, then for the Emmitsburg Dispatch when Ray and Jennifer Buccheister ran it, in the short-lived New Emmitsburg Chronicle, and now, it appears in the Emmitsburg News Journal. About the column, he said, “I hope the reader will know things about ecology by reading that they didn’t realize they learned.” September’s issue will include his 185th column, featuring an interesting story about his and Betty’s wedding and marriage.

Their three children have children of their own now. Melinda and Fred both retired from Verizon, and Mike’s a jeweler. The three youngest of six grandchildren are in college, while a computer specialist, an international economics graduate, and an events coordinator round out the group.

The family gathered at their home on August 23 to celebrate their 60th anniversary.

They’ve led an interesting life together, impacting many by imparting knowledge and nurturing growth. Bill and Betty, we wish you many more years of happiness!

IMG_1847-1A Unique Life Experience

Michele Cuseo

Most people who live in Emmitsburg know or have heard of Mrs. Williams, as she has lived here for 101 years. I know her because I went to high school with her son, Richard, who is also a personal friend. Born in 1914, she is not just unique due to her advanced age but also because of her race. She is an African American who has lived through times of major change in America, as well as in Emmitsburg.

Born Elizabeth Kathleen Richardson, Mrs. Williams’ earliest memories involve living on Old Frederick Road with her family. Her father (William Richardson) worked at Mount St. Mary’s College as an all-around handy man doing a variety of work. Her mother (Marie Butler Richardson) had five children: Joseph, Francis, Billy, Marie, and Elizabeth Kathleen. The boys all died during the flu epidemic of 1918. 

Her family always had a garden, chickens, and an occasional hog that was butchered by her Uncle Bob. She remembers that they had a natural spring and a smoke house. For holidays, her cousins would visit and they would eat together, play cards, and sing songs. She recalls that her Uncle Joe played the violin and her Uncle Charlie could sing. She also remembers visiting her grandfather Butler (her mother’s father) on a farm on Irishtown Road to see some piglets. Other than this memory of her grandfather, she does not know much about her grandparents’ history. And, having no opportunity for education at that time, her past relatives would not have been able to write any stories to pass on. Any history would have had to be passed down through verbal stories. 

Starting around the late teens or early 1920s, Kathleen and her sister Marie would walk to school in Emmitsburg, attending St. Euphemia (Catholic school started in 1889, managed by the Sisters of Charity) from first through eighth grades. There was a group of other children who walked together with them through two large fields and over fences in all kinds of weather. It was quite a long way to get to school, probably about one mile or more. Once at school, the two Richardson sisters and the other African-American children were segregated from the Caucasian children into a separate room for instruction. Mrs. Williams remembers the nuns who taught them: Sister Cecelia and Sister Beata. She said that Sister Beata hated when someone used the word “ain’t.”  Sister would say, “Don’t talk like those ‘Darkies’ down south!”  Mrs. Williams said they did learn the basics (reading, writing, and arithmetic) from the nuns.  There was no public school for blacks and they were not allowed at the public (white-only) schools.   She says that her parents never had the opportunity to go to school and wanted their children to have an education. Therefore, going to school at St. Euphemia was their only opportunity for an education. However, after eighth grade, there was no high school for blacks to attend unless they went to Baltimore, Maryland. Traveling to Baltimore wasn’t logistically possible for the family. 

Mrs. Williams stated that she can’t remember exactly how she met her husband, Martin Williams, who was from Gettysburg. Most likely, they met because her parents knew his parents. She said that Martin was a good man. Mr. Williams served in the army for a time and also worked at the Mount. She also remembers that blacks experienced different treatment in Pennsylvania than they did in Maryland (Martin grew up in Pennsylvania and Kathleen in Maryland). In Pennsylvania, blacks were allowed to go to the theatre (sit wherever they liked) as well as other public places. This was not allowed in the state of Maryland at that point in time (seeming to reflect the lingering struggle between North and South from past Civil War conflict). 

Martin and Kathleen had seven children together: Lois, Mary, Joan, Pat, Marty, Marie, and Richard. Mr. Williams died at the young age of fifty, and it was a very difficult time for Mrs. Williams having young children to raise on her own.

Mrs. Williams did get the opportunity to buy a house in town at some point after her husband died. A man named Bernie Boyle offered to sell her the house. The house had previously been owned by Mrs. Williams’ relatives, Aunt Rose and Uncle Brown. Mrs. Williams had a good amount of money to put down on the house, but she had some trouble getting a loan from the bank to cover the rest. Mr. Boyle intervened to help by telling the bank that he would go to the Thurmont Bank if they would not cooperate.  They did cooperate and Mrs. Williams was able to purchase the home where she still lives today. Mrs. Williams worked a majority of her adult life for the nuns and was known for her great cooking ability that she states she learned from her mother. Chicken pot pie was her favorite dish.

It would be an understatement to say that the Catholic Church has been a big part of Mrs. Williams’ life. She attended church at St. Anthony’s near the Grotto in earlier days, where blacks were required to stay in the back of the church. Mrs. Williams remembers some misbehaving boys who used to play in the back of the church. She also remembers when things changed at the church. She distinctly remembers a priest named Father Riley who approached her and said that she could sit wherever she wanted to and no longer had to stay in the back of the church.

In the past, when a loved one died, they had a special place for blacks to be buried that was—as Mrs. Williams described—at the bottom of the hill (in the graveyard on the way to the Grotto). When Mr. Williams died in 1960, he was the first African American to be buried at the top of the hill, alongside the previous white-only burial area.   

Marie Williams, Mrs. Williams’ youngest daughter (named in honor of her grandmother and aunt), said that education was very important to their family. She stated that her mother did a great job raising her seven children. They all went to Catholic school, with some continuing on to college, and all of them working at great jobs. There are now ten wonderful grandchildren. 

Mrs. Williams acknowledged that the person she admired most in her lifetime was her mother. She was a wonderful mother and wonderful person. Mrs. Williams stated that she doesn’t know why she has lived so long, but that longevity does run in her family, with many members living until almost 100 years old. These days, she enjoys crossword puzzles, watching jeopardy, and is well attended by her daughter Marie, who works as a nurse. 

I thanked Mrs. Williams for sharing her memories with me and embraced her hand. She embraced back with a firm grip! As I was leaving her home, I glanced over to see that she had already started working on her crossword puzzles.


Photo of Mrs. Williams’ mother and father, Marie Butler Richardson and William Richardson.


Photo of Mr. Williams as a young man.

by James Rada, Jr.

Emmitsburg Gets Three Burgesses in Four Months

Emmitsburg once went through three burgesses in the span of four months in 1939.

It began when Burgess Michael J. Thompson died unexpectedly on May 31. He had gone out walking through Emmitsburg, including stopping at the Hotel Slagle, before heading home. He had only been home a few minutes when the heart attack struck and he died about 12:20 p.m.

“Mr. Thompson had been in ill health for the last two years, and the attack this morning was third he has suffered within the last year,” The Frederick Post reported.

He was only sixty-one years old. He had been born in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1877. He loved playing sports, but, in 1893, while playing football for Suffield Academy against Taft School, he broke his right leg. He healed, but then broke it again the following spring while sliding into second base during a baseball game.

His playing days were over.

When he attended Holy Cross, he organized the school’s first football team and coached it in 1896, while he was still only a freshman. The following year, he refereed his first game between Boston College and Brown.

He soon became a regular referee for college games.

“His most famous game was the Harvard-Carlisle Indians contest in 1903, when he allowed the ‘hidden-ball’ play. Jimmy Johnson, the Indian quarterback, in a close formation, slipped the ball under the jersey of Dillon, a husky tackle, who lumbered unmolested down the field and across the goal line,” The Frederick Post reported.

He came to Mount St. Mary’s College in 1911, and served as a coach and referee for twenty-three years before retiring.

He was also a former publisher of the Emmitsburg Chronicle.

Two days before Thompson was buried, John B. Elder became the burgess, since he was the head of the town council. Like Thompson, he was also a publisher of the Emmitsburg Chronicle.

With Elder’s move to burgess, Council Member Charles Harner became the head of the town council.

Harner and Elder were the only two members of the town’s governing body at this time. Usually, there was a burgess and three members of the town council. However, the third seat on the council had gone unfilled in the last election. Thompson had been planning on appointing a person to fill the seat, but he had died before it could be done.

One August 21, The Gettysburg Times reported that “Emmitsburg now has its third burgess since the May election as municipal affairs underwent a second unexpected change, occasioned by the sudden resignation last Friday of Guy S. Nunenbaker, retired engineer.”

Elder had unexpectedly resigned from his position as burgess at the beginning of the month. Luckily, Thornton Rogers had been appointed to town council before Elder’s resignation, so Harney wasn’t left as the sole member of town government.

Richard Zacharias became the new burgess and served out Thompson’s unexpired term.

This wasn’t the first or last time that Emmitsburg would have trouble finding people to serve in Emmitsburg’s government. Many of its elections lacked contested races and, once, no one even filed to run for the office of burgess.

“A light vote is anticipated inasmuch as apathy of local citizens to run for office was prevalent during the past week when no one filed his intentions to run for the office of Burgess,” the Emmitsburg Chronicle reported in 1955 just before the election.

The newspaper speculated that most people probably thought that incumbent mayor Thornton Rodgers would run again, but he, too, chose not to seek re-election. When no one had filed for burgess in the election, Rodgers allowed himself to become a write-in candidate.

He was re-elected with 91 votes (out of 438 registered voters) of residents who wrote in his name.

James Edward Houck was elected burgess in 1961, but even then, people referred to the position as mayor. He won the election by only four votes over the incumbent Mayor Clarence Frailey.

Houck wrote in an article for the Greater Emmitsburg Area Historical Society about his time in office, “Being elected Burgess of Emmitsburg in the early 1960s was quite an eye-opening experience for me. The regular duties that you expect to do and the things you want to accomplish are only a small portion of the job.”

Additional charter changers in 1974 made official the change from a burgess to a mayor.

In 2006, the number of commissioners on the board was increased from four members to five. Changes were also made to keep the mayor from voting on issues since he also has veto power.

Deb Spalding

FF Memorial ladder trucks with flag by Bill Green for the NFFFIn preparation of the annual National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Service that is held in October in Emmitsburg, Maryland at the National Fire Academy, Emmitsburg’s fire personnel and volunteers fill multiple rolls year-round. For this year’s 33rd annual event held on the weekend of October 11 and 12, 2014, the folks at Vigilant Hose Company washed a huge U.S. flag then hung it to dry in the four-story stairwell at the station on West Main Street in Emmitsburg. Witnessing the flag, Wayne Powell, Executive Director of the National Fire Heritage Center (located within the Frederick County Fire and Rescue Museum on South Seton Avenue in Emmitsburg) said, “It was something to see.”

This same flag was later suspended between two ladder trucks, Emmitsburg’s and Walkersville’s, to create the gateway through which guests entered the memorial. This is just one example of support services conducted by the folks at the Vigilant Hose Company and the Frederick County Fire and Rescue Museum to help the U.S. Fire Service. This year, the lives of ninety-eight firefighters who died across the United States in the line of duty in 2013 and nine firefighters who died in previous years, were honored during the memorial services at the National Fire Academy.

More than 5,000 people, including Members of Congress, administration officials and other dignitaries, members of the fire service, as well as families, friends, and co-workers of the fallen firefighters attend this event. Vigilant Hose Company’s Chief, Frank Davis, said, “In 2001, the night before the memorial service, I received a telephone call at 6:00 p.m. requesting seventy-five fire trucks on the grounds of the Fire Academy for the service the next day to prepare for the president to attend. We were up all night, but we did it.” President George W. Bush attended this service in 2000 and 2001. It was during the service in 2001, held just a month after 9/11, that President George W. Bush announced that he had to leave early in order to make a special announcement. That evening, he announced from the White House that our country was going to war.

Emmitsburg resident, Dr. Bill Meredith, is credited with dubbing Emmitsburg with the nickname,  Firetown, USA. After retiring as a professor from Mount St. Mary’s College, Dr. Meredith played in a band called the Firetown Band. The name caught on. Emmitsburg certainly lives up to its nickname. As home to the National Fire Academy and the grounds where the Fallen Firefighters Memorial is located, Emmitsburg sees a steady stream of firefighters and fire personnel throughout town. Vigilant Hose Company has become the most visited firehouse in the United States, even surpassing Station #10 and Ladder #10 at Ground Zero in New York City.

The Frederick County Fire and Rescue Museum on South Seton Avenue in Emmitsburg is also the home to the National Fire Heritage Center. The Center houses many interesting artifacts from famous fires and data about the how firefighting has evolved over the years. Visitors may see fire station log books from Station #10 at Ground Zero on 9/11/2001, from Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where volunteers responded to a plane crash in a field on 9/11; and from Arlington County, Virginia, Engine Company 10, where volunteers watched as a plane crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11. These log books and many, many artifacts make a trip to this museum fascinating.

On Saturday, despite some rain, the Red Helmet Riders cruised through Emmitsburg on their motorcycles to show support for the fallen. Later that evening, a quick procession of bag pipe bands traveled from the Vigilant Hose Company to the town square and then filled the Ott House Pub. These same bag pipe brigades and drum units—comprised of musicians from all over the country—came together to provide poignant music during the emotional memorial service on Sunday.

At the memorial service, families of the fallen received flags that have flown over the U.S. Capitol and the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial. What an honor it is to serve as hosts to such an impactful event. In the thirty-three years that this service has been held, Emmitsburg has been the host location for all services, except one. In 2002, due to the large number of firefighters who perished 9/11/2001, the service was held in Washington, D.C.

For a complete list of fallen firefighters being honored and a widget to display their information on your website, along with Memorial Weekend streaming information, videos, photos, and satellite coordinates, go to For information about the Vigilant Hose Company, visit the station in person at 25 West Main Street in Emmitsburg or online at For information about the National Fire Heritage Center, visit them in person on South Seton Avenue in Emmitsburg or online at