Richard D. L. Fulton
Note: The following account is based on the research of cultural geographer Dr. Raymond O’Brien and that of the reporter, conducted in the 1980s on the German Lutheran architecture and folklore of Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
During the 18th century, thousands of German Lutherans migrated to Pennsylvania, and from there, pushed into neighboring states. They had begun their migration from the Germanic states in Europe in the 17th century by establishing settlements in New York. As the 19th century unfolded, their migratory numbers soared into the millions.
Regarding the surge in Pennsylvania, alone, Benjamin Franklin said that the Pennsylvania Assembly should consider German interpreters unless the migration could be dispersed to other colonies.
The story—or legend—of the Devil in Frederick began in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and spread throughout the country wherever the German Lutheran population migrated and settled.
The German Lutherans believed that the Devil was a physical being, in addition to a spiritual entity, and that, apparently, one of the evil one’s primary objectives was to follow the German Lutherans in its effort to punish them for their devout allegiance to Christianity.
The German Lutherans also believed that physical evidence could be found to prove that the Devil was present, and that physical measures could be employed to thwart his incursion into their homes and outbuildings.
The first item of physical evidence of the Devil dogging in the footsteps of the German Lutherans could be found in Bucks County in the form of a cave, known as the Durham Cave, because, according to the legend, the Devil followed the German Lutherans by migrating under the Atlantic Ocean and surfacing via this cave system. The cave, which was in more recent times quarried, still exists, although, it was fenced off sometime after the author had explored the outer chamber due to its dangerous nature.
The Devil, having initiated his pursuit from the Durham Cave all the way to Frederick County and beyond, left his “footprints” along his trek, thus confirming his physical trek. Those that were found in the 1800s appeared in flagstones of what was once the flagstone path that led to Saint Joseph’s College in Emmitsburg (shown above), and now reside in the Prince George’s County Dinosaur Park.
According to the early German Lutherans, as the Devil walked about, his three-toed footprints were literally burned into the rocks beneath his feet, and his tracks can be frequently found from the Connecticut Valley into North Frederick County and beyond.
Such tracks were found in the 1800s in the flagstones leading up to Saint Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church in Emmitsburg when the walkways were being replaced. The dinosaur tracks had come from a quarry located on land that was since dubbed Silver Fancy, but not from the abandoned quarry commonly referred to as the “dinosaur quarry.”
A survey conducted along Flat Run by the reporter in the early 2000s determined that the tracks actually originated from a (then heavily overgrown) flagstone pit, located a short distance north of the so-called “dinosaur quarry”).
In spite of the few dinosaur tracks that were found in Emmitsburg, dinosaur tracks have been, and continue to be, more commonly encountered just across the Mason Dixon Line in Adams County, first in the 1930s, in the now-abandoned Trostle Quarry, located just east of York Springs, and, during the course of the past few years, another significant find of a considerable number of dinosaur tracks was discovered in an active quarry in Hamiltonban Township.
However, the tracks are no longer called the Devil’s footprints. They are presently known as the tracks of the long-extinct, non-avian dinosaurs. And of course, they weren’t burned into the rock. They were embedded by the dinosaurs when the rock was actually mud, some 220 million years ago. Other physical evidence manifested itself in explicably burned homes and outbuildings, or other “mysterious” natural or medical situations.
Warding off The Devil
Because the German Lutherans believed the Devil was a physical and spiritual entity, they developed measures they believed could prevent the Devil from gaining access to their homes and associated outbuildings, complete with a “secondary line of defense.”
Based on research conducted by cultural geographer Dr. Raymond O’Brien and that of the reporter in the 1980s, the first line of defense against the Devil was to paint window and door sills white, which apparently was not commonplace in America until the German Lutherans employed the method as a deterrent to prevent the Devil from accessing the buildings.
The presumption was that white represented spiritual purity, through which the Devil could not proceed. However, “just in case,” the German Lutherans took additional precautions.
The porch roofs were invariably painted sky-blue in order to represent heaven, which, of course, no self-respecting Devil would dare pass under. The reporter verified that while working on a similar story for The Gettysburg Times, through recovering original paint chips from the porch ceilings of the “Jennie Wade” house (McClellan house) and “General Lee’s headquarters (Thompson House)”—both German Lutheran-constructed homes—had originally been sky-blue (the NPS failed to take this into consideration when they acquired “General Lee’s Headquarters” and mistakenly painted the roof ceilings white).
To demonstrate the persistence even into modern times, when the reporter’s father started to paint the reporter’s grandmother’s porch at her home in Brunswick, he started to paint it white and she stopped him, telling him it had to be sky blue. When he asked her why, she said she didn’t know except it had always been that way.
Not completely trusting the measures taken thus far, another feature was developed, which, like painting window and door sills white, also became popular and can be seen just about anywhere today—that being the creation of the “Cross-and-Bible” doors, which employ the cross and the “open pages” of the Bible above or below.”
Yet, all of this was not enough in the minds of the German Lutherans. Just in case the Devil managed to get past all the aforementioned precautions, a means was developed of diverting the Devil into the basement where he would be compelled to exit… via the fireplace (which was in the basement of these early homes).
The German Lutherans would paint their basement fireplaces red (even if the fireplaces had been constructed of red bricks or fieldstones), in the hope that the Devil would mistake these fireplaces as portals back to Hell, and he would be enticed to enter and, thereby, depart from the premises.
Of course, when one is walking along at night near the forests or fields of Frederick County, perhaps that breaking tree limb or loud, rustling leaves could be a deer, but if one becomes overly concerned, just head for the nearest sky-blue porch or cross-and-Bible doors, or a home or barn with white-trimmed windows or door sills!
Emmitsburg Dinosaur Tracks: Courtesy of Pete Yancone, Senior Educator, The Maryland Science Center