Currently viewing the tag: "the Catoctin Clarion"

Note: This is the first of two articles about the murder of Leo Creager and the pursuit of his murderer.

by James Rada, Jr.

Note: This is the first of two articles about the murder of Leo Creager and the pursuit of his murderer.

In the early morning hours of October 18, 1919, Clarence Wallace and George Williams went on a crime spree. They broke into four Frederick businesses in the dead of night, stealing whatever valuables they could find. They came prepared, too, because when they encountered two safes that promised hidden valuables, they used nitroglycerine to blow the doors off and raid the contents.

Then, as the day was dawning, the men boarded the trolley at Montevue and headed out of town. As this was the first trolley of the day, it went only so far as Lewistown. The men had to disembark and wait for a trolley going through to Thurmont, where they hoped to catch a train out of the area.

“During the interval of 20 minutes, the news of the burglaries at Frederick had reached Lewistown, and the two men were suspected, but not until the last minute did any person take courage enough to report to Frederick that two suspicious characters had arrived there,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

When Frederick County Sheriff Charles Klipp heard the news, he called Dep. Sheriff C. W. Lidie in Thurmont and let him know to watch out for the two robbers arriving on the trolley. Lidie also had to deliver and pick-up the mail off the eastbound Western Maryland Railroad train.

Lidie met the trolley first and saw the suspicious men. He approached them and told them they were under arrest. “They evidently had heard the same story before, as they paid little attention to the information,” the Clarion reported.

The Western Maryland Railroad train arrived. Lidie put Wallace on board and ordered William Harbaugh to watch him while Lidie got Williams from his car. “In the meantime, the other fellow [Wallace] started to run, Lidie firing several shots at him, but the shots made him run the faster,” the Clarion reported.

Lidie called for help. Leo Creager, Samuel Vanhorn, and William Foreman were nearby and sought to help. The men got in Creager’s car and tried to cut Wallace off as he ran across a field, as Charles Spalding pursued the man on foot.

Lidie started to pursue on foot, but he turned back to take control of the remaining prisoner, so he wouldn’t make a break for freedom.

Wallace stayed ahead of Spalding and reached Apples Church Road, where he could run easier. When Spalding reached the road, he jumped on the running board of Creager’s car, which had reached the road taking a longer route. Creager sped up, attempting to overtake Wallace. Seeing the approaching vehicle, Wallace jumped to the side of the road. The car tried to follow and slid off the road into a ditch.

Wallace ran into a peach orchard with the men pursuing him on foot.

Creager had nearly reached him when the “the latter [Wallace] suddenly stopped and fired directly at Leo, the bullet striking him in the left side below the heart and he fell to the ground,” reported the Clarion.

As Creager fell, he called out to Spalding. “Get him, Charlie. He’s got me!”

Among Wallace’s pursuers, Spalding was the only one with a gun. He drew it and fired at Wallace, but the gun misfired. Wallace pointed his pistol at the men holding them off. It gave him time to put distance between himself and the other men. At some point, he turned and ran off. The others didn’t pursue, but instead, went to help Creager.

Dr. E. C. Kefauver was called and arrived on the scene. He tried to treat Creager’s wound, but the man died within a half hour of being shot. His body was taken to his mother’s house.

Wallace was last seen heading north across a field where the undergrowth was so dense that cattle couldn’t penetrate it.

“As soon as the news of the shooting reached town, almost every man and boy grabbed a gun, rifle, and revolver and went into the woods, but to the best of our knowledge, neither sheriff, his deputies nor citizens ventured in the briars and bushes,” the Clarion reported. The crowd was even starting to call for a rope to lynch Williams with.

Lidie, who still had Williams in custody, grew nervous with the angry crowd. He drove Williams into Frederick and turned him over to the sheriff. The sheriff opened the small valise that Williams had carried with him and found it was full of burglar’s tools, dynamite, and nitroglycerine. It was also embossed with the name of one business Williams and Wallace had robbed.

Sheriff Klipp placed guards on the bridges over the Monocacy River to watch for Wallace. The next morning, the sheriff had two bloodhounds brought in from Virginia to track Wallace. They could not find anything.

The Frederick County Commissioners offered a $1,000 reward for Williams’ capture, dead or alive.

Creager was the second son of the late J. Wesley Creager. He ran a coal and lumber business in Thurmont. He also ran the Gem Theater for a time.

Creager was no stranger to heroism. Years before, he had worked as a telegraph operator when thieves attempted to rob the business. Creager had “remained at the key long enough to summon help and his assailant was caught before leaving the office,” according to the Clarion.

He was survived by his wife and mother, both of whom lived on Lombard Street.

Funeral services were held at Creager’s home on Monday, October 20. Rev. W. C. Waltemyer of the Lutheran Church was in charge of the service. Rev. Strohmeier of the Graceham Moravian Church and Rev. Dr. Heimer of the Reformed Church assisted. Creager was buried in the United Brethren Cemetery.

A pair of thieves used the Thurmont Trolley as a getaway vehicle. They left Frederick and tried to reach the Western Maryland Railroad in Thurmont in 1919.

The Year is … 1871

There’s Gold in Them There Hills!

by James Rada, Jr.

With the arrival of the railroad in Thurmont, you would have thought that attention would have been focused on how it connected Thurmont with the world and the economic development opportunities it brought with it.

“The sound of the steam whistle twice a day in the suburbs of our hitherto quiet little town has awakened everything up to newness of life, and a spirit of ‘go-aheadativeness’ which is quite refreshing,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

However, attentions shift quickly, and the same page of the March newspaper that printed the above quote also had three articles about mining and the possibility of finding gold in Catoctin Mountain.

One article headlined “Gold! Gold! Gold!” talked about the gold strikes in North Carolina, Georgia, and California in the early 1800s. The writer then noted that the place where gold had been found had been in California, “bears a strong resemblance to the Red Land curve beginning at the dividing sections near ‘Spitzenberger’s Tavern,’ and gravitating to near Graceham and Emmittsburg. —The question comes up can it be that gold may be found in this locality?”

The article noted that an old miner had noted this and other markers that indicated to him the high probability of gold in the area.

“Has the country from Fishing creek to Flat Run been thoroughly ‘prospected?’” the Catoctin Clarion asked.

If not gold, then the article suggested that there might be other useful metals, such as iron, copper, zinc, or silver.

A second article supported Maryland’s proposal to do a statewide geological survey, as this would be the best way to determine what mineral resources were in Northern Frederick County.

The editorial praising the Western Maryland Railroad even called for prospecting in the area. “We must develop the bowels of the earth.”

Yet another article talked about prospectors coming to the area. “As the snow disappears from the mountains, our active prospectors for valuable minerals, which are believed to be embedded in the hills and canons of the Catoctin base, will be on the alert in search of the rich treasures.”

Although no gold was found on Catoctin Mountain at this time, a gold mine was eventually worked on the mountain. It was located close to Braddock Heights in the 1930s. Samples from the mine assayed at .22 ounces of gold per ton. With gold trading at $35 per ounce (about $620 per ounce in today’s dollars), this meant that there was about $7.70 (about $136 in today’s dollars) in gold per ton of raw material. Gold was first found in Maryland in the early 1800s, but it wasn’t commercially mined until after the Civil War, according to GoldRushNuggets.com.

“The majority of the gold that has been recovered here is found in the northern and central parts of the state. Unlike much of the gold on the East Coast, which are limited to glacial deposits, there are actually lode gold deposits present here, with several dozen mines that have been worked since the original discovery of gold,” according to the website.

The state’s peak production was in the 1940s, and it was only 1,000 ounces of gold. Besides Frederick, gold in Maryland was found in the Catonsville area, the Liberty area, the Simpsonville area, the Woodbine area, and the Great Falls area.

The Train Derailment No Passenger Noticed

by James Rada, Jr.

The Western Maryland Railroad mail train left Hagerstown on time on August 26, 1913, just another day on the daily mail run. However, as it rumbled down the steep grade on Horseshoe Curve in Sabillasville, the driving wheels of the engine left the tracks.

“The engineer applied the air, but as the drivers on the engine were off the rail, the air was effective only on the five heavy coaches,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

The engine plowed ahead, no longer riding on iron rails but on the railroad ties. The engineers kept applying air to the brakes. Finally, the engineer thought the engine was going to topple into a ravine and he jumped. As the coach cars became a greater drag on the engine, the train finally came to a standstill.

“Had the derailed engine skidded a few inches further it would have toppled over and fell into the deep ravine,” the Hagerstown Morning Herald reported.

The crew climbed out of the engine to check what had happened. They walked back along the track to locate where the engine had left the rails and tried to figure out what had happened. It appeared that the track had separated about two inches on the curve, which allowed the engine to leave the rails.

“They found that the train had virtually slid 61 rail lengths, or 2,013 feet, and that the flanges on the engine wheels had cut almost all the bolts in the plates which held the rails together,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

Surprisingly, the engine hadn’t toppled over. Not all of the engine’s wheels had left the track. The pony and trailer wheels had remained on and provided enough guidance to keep the engine upright.

Although the engineer had been injured by jumping from the train, the Catoctin Clarion reported that “passengers scarcely knew anything had happened.”

The track remained blocked all night before the engine could be put back on the track.

It had not been a good summer for the Western Maryland Railroad in Frederick County. Although only one person was killed, there had been four accidents that delayed traffic along the railroad.

In late May, a westbound train had passed over the iron bridge west of Thurmont, when a refrigerated car loaded with pork jumped the rails and rolled down a 150-foot embankment. Somehow, it was the only one of eleven cars in the train to derail. The trucks stuck on the side of the embankment, and only the car went rolling to the bottom. It remained intact, and the 25 tons of meat was transferred to another rail car and later delivered.

At the end of July, an eastbound train ran into the iron bridge, destroying one of the engine wheels. The engineer applied the brakes and stopped the train before it got out onto the bridge. Although scared, none of the passengers were injured.

A couple weeks before the August 26 derailment, a flagman fell asleep on the tracks. A westbound train hit him and crushed his leg and back. He died soon after the after the accident.

Sabillasville Horseshoe Curve.

 

By James Rada, Jr.

Safecrackers Go After the Thurmont Post Office

Late one Saturday night in 1916, two men walked up to the Thurmont Post Office, which at the time was located on the first floor of the Masonic building on East Main Street. They walked casually, alone on the street. They paused beneath the street light that shined down directly in front of the post office and then moved to the front door.

They looked through the window into the post office and saw no one inside, which is not surprising since it was around 1:30 a.m. on a Saturday night. A light had been left turned on in the office, though, so they had to be sure. With practiced precision, they forced open the front door and slipped inside, shutting the door behind them so as not to draw attention.

They then forced the door between the lobby and the work room. This is where they found what they had been seeking… the post office’s large safe. It had been installed in the building when the post office moved from its former location in the Thurmont Bank Building at the center of town. Postmaster Joseph Gernand was also a harness maker. His shop had been where the post office was, but he moved up to the second floor of the building to make room for the post office.

“Two other safes, smaller in size, were also in the room, and both contained papers valuable to the postmaster and clerks,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

The safecrackers placed nitroglycerine at vulnerable points on both the main safe and one of the smaller ones. A small wire was attached to the nitroglycerine and run across the room to the side door that opened onto the alley. “By punching a chip from a panel in the door, the wire was passed out and into the alley and attached to a battery and the charge set off,” the Clarion reported.

The explosion was loud, but the men did not panic. It was expected. Time was now a premium. The people whom the explosion had awakened would be groggy, and it would take them a bit to realize what they had heard. They would call the sheriff who would investigate, but then it would take him time to track down where the explosion had come from. The bank would be the most obvious location, and it would be inspected first. In fact, many residents didn’t even report the explosion, even though they heard it, because they “all thought it to be someone putting off dynamite crackers and paid no further attention to the matter,” according to the newspaper.

The thieves moved back into the bank. The door from the two safes had been blown clear of the safes themselves. The smaller door had flown twenty feet across the room and struck the wall near the ceiling. The door of the larger safe was heavier. It had blown free of the safe and fallen over.

Papers and books were strewn around the room. “Soap, which was used in closing the cracks around the door, was found pasted against the carriers’ desks, and dust from the fire proof material was scattered over the entire room,” the newspaper reported. Shrapnel from the explosion had punctured the ceiling in at least a dozen places.

They couldn’t get what they had hoped for. Inside the large safe was a strongbox where cash and stamps were stored. The explosion hadn’t harmed the strongbox “and the thieves likely thought it was unwise to tarry and prepare to blow this after the noise made by the first two explosions,” the Clarion reported. The second safe had contained nothing of value. Although the third safe had been unlocked, they made away with only $1.25 that was in the safe.

The next morning, M. J. Albaugh, who lived next door to the Masonic building, was walking along the street when he noticed that the front door to the post office was ajar. He reported the break-in to Postmaster Gernand and Robert Tyson. Both men returned to investigate and found the damage in the workroom.

The Postmaster Inspector arrived in the afternoon and reviewed the books. He found that all of the money and stamps in the safe were accounted for.

The Masons covered the damage to the buildings and the safes, while the postmaster had to reimburse the $1.25 that had been used to purchase American Red Cross stamps. No mail was apparently disturbed.

A piece of iron belonging to the freight rigging of a freight car and wire for the explosives were the only things that the thieves apparently left behind. “There was no indication that blankets or other material had been used to deaden the sound of the explosion, and it is the question to many whether the work was done by experts or men yet new at the business.”

The case remained unsolved. However, the thieves may have been part of the other three safecracking robberies in the region that the Clarion reported on in early 1916.

Post Office 001 (2)

The Thurmont Post Office on East Main Street as it appeared in the 1950s on East Main Street.

Photos Courtesy of Thurmontimages.com

Young Boy Rescues Friend from Runaway Rail

Emmitsburg-RR-005-JAKJoseph Flautt Frizell was walking along the tracks of the Emmitsburg Railroad one evening in May 1922 with some friends. They were goofing around, as teenage boys are known to do, as they approached the station located on South Seton Avenue.

The Emmitsburg Railroad had been incorporated on March 28, 1868. It connected Emmitsburg to Thurmont by rail, and from there to other communities via the Western Maryland Railway. Besides making it easier for townspeople to travel to places like Baltimore, it also provided a convenient way for students to arrive at St. Joseph’s College and Mount Saint Mary’s College. The railroad was more than seven miles long and opened for passenger service on November 22, 1875.

Frizell and his friends saw a baggage car approaching them. Then they noticed another local youth, Paul Humerick, on the front of the baggage car. He had apparently jumped aboard hoping to catch a free ride, probably destined to the station in downtown Emmitsburg, which marked the end of the line.

What Humerick hadn’t noticed was that the baggage car had detached itself from the rest of the train and was coasting down the incline in the tracks. The boys on the ground called for Humerick to get off the car, but he ignored them, apparently not recognizing the danger.

“Quick as a flash young Frizell realized the danger and ran after the car, which was moving slowly, jumping it and at the same time pulling Master Humerick down to the earth,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

The boys hit the ground, rolled, and climbed to their feet unharmed. Meanwhile, the baggage car continued just a short distance before it hit an embankment. They watched the baggage car “smash over the embankment into a tree. The large tree hit in just the place where Humerick was standing on the car and eyewitnesses say that had the young boy held his place he would have been badly mangled if not killed outright,” published the Catoctin Clarion.

Frizell spent the week afterwards being praised by his friends as a hero. The newspaper said the praise was rightly deserved because “it was not only a brave deed but showed that his mind was working fast to take in the situation.

The incident was investigated and it was found that after the train had stopped at St. Joseph’s College Station without incident on its way to the end of the line at the Emmitsburg station, it was believed that while the conductor was helping passengers off the train at St. Joseph’s College, someone had uncoupled the cars. The train had left the station heading for Emmitsburg, but the baggage car had separated from the rest of the train on an incline.

The car suffered some damage in the accident, but it was expected to be repaired and put back in service. None of the baggage in the car was lost or damaged.

The Emmitsburg Railroad stopped its service in 1940 due to more attractive business options, such as car travel.

by James Rada, Jr.

1915 — David Firor’s Missing Days

On March 2, 1915, David Firor kissed his wife goodbye and told her that he would be back on the evening train from Baltimore. Then he headed into the city to buy Easter items for his store on East Main Street in Thurmont.

That evening, “The train came, but Dave did not come home, and it was taken for granted that he did not get to finish his shopping and remained until next day as he had done on future occasions,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.

When he failed to come home the next day, Firor’s wife and mother began to worry. They began to make inquiries at the places where he typically went, but no one could help them with any information.

Rumors began to run rampant. He had met with foul play in the streets of Baltimore. He was running from creditors because his business was about to go bankrupt. Both of these rumors proved false.

Firor’s brother, J. W. Firor, was a professor at the University of Athens in Georgia. He took a leave of absence from his teaching to join his family in Thurmont. Then he set off for Baltimore to search for his brother in hospitals and other institutions.

Firor was thirty-one years old and had a medium build. He stood five feet, six inches tall and had black hair and dark eyes. He wasn’t particularly distinguishable from among hundreds of men in the city. J. W. made his inquiries, though, and walked through the hospital wards and looked at John Does in the morgue.

No sign of him could be found.

Ten days later, Grace Firor received a telegram from her husband. He was in Jacksonville, Florida.

“Losing all trace of his identity, knowing nothing whatever of his whereabouts until he was put ashore, penniless from a dredge boat at Jacksonville, Florida, and cared for by a family of Italians, David Firor, of Thurmont, last Tuesday for the first time in a week realized who he was,” The Gettysburg Times reported.

The cause of the problem was what Firor called “sleepy-headedness,” and the doctors called aphasia. In recent months, he had started sleeping a great deal of the time, and when he slept, he was nearly impossible to wake. His mother even said that he could fall asleep talking or standing up.

Even after being found in Jacksonsville, he had an attack where he slept for eighteen hours straight.

When asked about what had happened to him, Firor said that he couldn’t remember how he came to be on the boat. The last thing he remembered was speaking with Helen Rouzer, formerly of Thurmont, in a Baltimore department Store.

He also had taken sixty dollars with him to Baltimore when he left Thurmont. It was all missing when he reached Jacksonville. He didn’t remember what had happened to it, but since no orders were delivered to the store, he apparently didn’t spend the money on what he had intended.

Some people suggested that he may have been robbed. While this is a possibility, Firor still had his gold pocket watch on him when he was found. It seems unlikely that a robber wouldn’t have taken it as well.

Firor apparently never solved the mystery of what had happened to him during the missing days. He didn’t even know whether he had been conscious for most of them.