Last October, I referenced an enjoyable, local-flavored book by Alyce T. Weinberg entitled Spirits of Frederick County. From its pages comes the interesting tale of “Sir Edward,” the supposed ghost of Lt. Edward McPherson. He was alleged, for many years, to be a “spirit in residence” at Auburn mansion, located near Catoctin Furnace, a few miles south of Thurmont in northern Frederick County. Each night, the mysterious sounds of someone slowly climbing the back servants’ stairway of the 19-room, colonial home could be heard by descendants of the McPherson family of which Edward belonged.
Auburn was built in 1808 by Col. Baker Johnson after purchasing the Catoctin Furnace iron enterprise. The stately home still stands today, and can be seen up on a slight bluff overlooking US15 from the west, near the intersection with Auburn Road and MD806/Catoctin Furnace Rd. Baker Johnson was born in Calvert County in 1747. He came to Frederick from his native Calvert County with brothers (Governor) Thomas, James and Roger.
Baker immediately became a stalwart in the community, and lead troops in the American Revolution. One of his business ventures included ownership of the Catoctin Furnace, constructed decades prior by brothers Thomas and James. His involvement would be brief as he died in 1811 at the age of 63. The house and furnace operation would be sold, and eventually would come to be owned by Col. John McPherson and son-in-law, John Brien. These fellows had extensive real estate holdings in the area and were well-versed in operating iron furnaces. You may be familiar with some of their handiwork in downtown Frederick as they were responsible for building the elaborate “Ross and McPherson” homes on Counsel Street adjacent Frederick City Hall. These are owned by members of the Mathias family today.
So, who was this “Sir Edward,” and why was/is he at unrest, and stirring up trouble for Auburn? We’ll get to Lt. McPherson’s unfortunate death at the age of 21, but first let’s tackle the ghost tale. I consulted with my friend Chris Gardiner in an effort to gain additional context on the subject. Chris’ paternal grandmother, Margaret McPherson Gardiner, (later Donaldson with a second marriage), was kin to “Sir Edward” and a long-time resident of Auburn. Late at night, she regularly heard what she thought to be Edward’s melancholy, yet dutiful, ghost climbing the stairs and taking pause outside her bedroom door, as if to ceremonially guard it throughout the overnight.
Chris’ father, (and Margaret’s son) Clement Gardner, III, dismissed the notion of a ghost as an “old wives’ tale.” He gave his mother, along with Chris and his siblings, a scientific explanation for the “haunting” sounds on the back stairway, saying that it was simply a function of pressure and its effect on elements found within an historic, old house. He told his mother that the sounds stopped at her door because she had a newly installed floor in there.
Chris enjoyed both versions of the story, but most of all, marveled at his amazing lineage, linking him to family members of the past with interesting ties to the once-flourishing Catoctin Furnace. Chris, himself, has such a connection as he currently serves as president of the Catoctin Furnace Historical Society. I have had plenty of past workings with this fine organization, and also had the chance to spend an afternoon within Auburn back in the year 2000 as I was engaged in a video interview with Chris’ father for a documentary I was producing on Thurmont history. It was daytime, not night, and the only creaks and bumps I heard were those coming from my stomach as I had missed eating lunch because my morning interview with another individual had run long.
In Alyce Weinberg’s book, an 80 year-old woman named Caroline McGill also gives an account of interactions with Edward McPherson’s ghost:
“When I was a mere child,” she said, “I often visited Auburn, which was the home of the local minister, Reverend Ernest McGill, whose son I later married (William McPherson McGill). We children would be sent to nap in the afternoon in an upstair, back bedroom, but sleep was out of the question. We would bury ourselves in the canopied four-poster featherbed, completely hidden under the covers, and whisper and giggle while we listened for the sound of dragging feet limping up the back steps, a sword or something bumping all the way. I never saw “Sir Edward” because I was too afraid to look. But the others told me they did.”
The sword in question was actually a sword's scabbard (holder), a prized family heirloom that resided in the house—the actual scabbard of Lt. Edward McPherson. Also on the premises, until a few years back, was a daguerreotype of McPherson in his military uniform, and holding the sidearm. Chris vouches for the authenticity of both of these items. “The scabbard and vintage photo went up for auction a few years back, and fetched a pretty penny,” he said. “The auctioneer had done his homework in researching Lt. McPherson’s military career.“
I, too, researched a bit of McPherson’s military career last spring in preparation for a course I was teaching for Frederick Community College’s Institute for Learning in Retirement. The class was entitled “Frederick County’s Ties to the Old, Wild West,” and I particularly zeroed in on Lt. Edward McPherson and his service in the Mexican War in the army of Gen. Winfield Scott. I had first learned of McPherson being buried here in Mount Olivet, but my initial intrigue for his story was linked to the fact that he met his final demise thanks to a gentlemen’s duel, rather than a noble showing on the battlefield.
Edward Smith McPherson was born February 28th, 1827 in Frederick at his family’s estate of Prospect Hall, the grand home west of downtown built by his grandfather, Col. John McPherson. I have also found our subject listed as Edward B. McPherson, and I am wagering that the “B” stood for Brien. There was an older cousin living here that also held this name, so I’m guessing that is cause for multiple monikers.
Apparently our Edward was not overly endeared by his father, Dr. William Smith McPherson, Sr. He was, however, favored by his brother, Dr. William Smith McPherson, Jr. and his McPherson nieces and nephews living at Auburn during his lifetime, and long after. The earlier mentioned Margaret McPherson Gardiner was Dr. W. S. McPherson, Jr’s granddaughter. It’s such a tangled web to keep straight, as the McPhersons and Johnsons have connections to so many early Frederick families. Regular readers of this blog may recall a story published last fall on the Fitzhugh family, also one-time owners of Auburn and Catoctin Furnace, who intermarried with the McPherson family. They were responsible for hiring Dr. W.S. McPherson, Jr. to provide medical care for furnace workers of the mid-19th century.
“Sir Edward” Goes to War
As one of the youngest sons in his immediate family, the “prospect” of land and other holdings, including Prospect Hall, coming into his inheritance were out of the question. Edward had studied law, but was reckoned to make a name for himself through military service. McPherson’s opportunity would come on Monday, March 1st, 1847. In his diary, Frederick resident Jacob Engelbrecht made an entry for the day in question:
“Ho, for Mexico. Captain Richard T. Merrick of U.S. Dragoons is now in town recruiting a company for the Mexican War. The rendezvous is opposite our shop in Mrs. Rachel Steiner’s house. I am told he has 25 men enlisted already, among which are Sergeant Edward B. McPherson, Greenbury Froschauer, John Mulhorn, William L. Schley, 1st Sergeant, Frank Schelhausen, 2nd Sergeant & orderly, Allen Ezra, C. W. Burkhart, Allen Albaugh, John W. Burkhart, Thomas William Brightwell, Adam L. Eichelberger, Hy Jeff Favorite, Peter Galwith, Martin Hager, Alexander Hager, Amos Hall, Harritt, George W. Hussey, Martin larch, George Lawd, John H. McHenry, Basil P. Nelson, William H. Ott, John Phelps Shankley, Jacob Silvers, Ferdinand Schultz, John Jacob Snouffer, John A. Sweikeffer, South Frederick Vallo Warthen, William T. Taylor, Oliver P. Fowler, John Steel, Reuben B. Caxley, Charles W. Green, Thomas S. Smith, Hugh Barns.
A few weeks later, Engelbrecht noted that the group left Frederick on March 17th, 1847 at 1 o’clock PM. Just over a week before leaving town, McPherson had been promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant of the 3rd Regiment of Dragoons. This occurred on March 8th, as his appointment had been approved by the President of the United States, James K. Polk, and US Senate. The original documents, including his hand-written acceptance letter and signed “Oath of Allegiance to the United States,” still survive in the National Archives.
The "United States Regiment of Dragoons” was organized by an Act of Congress on March 2nd, 1833. This came after the disbandment of United States Mounted Rangers and Riflemen. It became the "First Regiment of Dragoons" when the Second Dragoons was raised in 1836. Years later in 1861, with the outbreak of the American Civil War, the War Department had a desire to re-designate and re-organize its mounted units. This which would lead to the name change of "First Regiment of Cavalry" by yet another Act of Congress.
The First Dragoons headquarters were initially established at Jefferson Barracks in 1833, near St. Louis, Missouri. This is where I assume Lt. Edward McPherson and his Frederick comrades would be destined for a brief basic training. McPherson officially appears to take his place with the larger organized 3rd Regiment on April 9th, 1847. It is likely that this was the day he received that valued sword kept in the McPherson family at Auburn for all those years.
The regiment was originally formed to protect pioneers and others traveling on the Oregon Trail. When hostilities with Mexico broke out in the mid-1840’s, the regiment was re-routed southward. Tragically, these mounted rifleman lost most of their horses in a storm during the voyage across the Gulf of Mexico. They were forced to fight without mounts. The regiment landed at Veracruz (Mexico) on March 9th, 1847, and they would go on to serve in six campaigns of the Mexican War.
For those interested in perusing the 3rd Dragoons’ regimental history (History, Customs and Traditions of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment Blood and Steel and thus gauge Edward’s experiences in the Mexican War, I have placed additional information at the end of our story.
Newspaper accounts (some saying the 15th and others the 18th) varied to what actually had happened on March 16th, 1848, but the end result was the same. The fatal event took place in Mier, also known as El Paso del Cántaro, a city in Mier Municipality in Tamaulipas, located in northern Mexico near the Rio Grande, just south of Falcon Dam. (In case you were interested in making vacation plans to visit, this is 90 miles northeast of Monterrey on Mexican Federal Highway 2. Note: the town is a literal “ghost town,” pardon the pun, thanks to an exodus by most residents back in 2010 thanks to local drug cartels.)
A widely shared account was from the Malamoras Flag newspaper (Malamoras, Mexico) dated March 22nd, 1848 which reported: “There was a duel fought at Mier yesterday, between Lt. Maddox and Lt. McPherson, both of the 3rd Dragoons. They had four rounds with cavalry pistols—they had fired 2 rounds, then went out and practiced for an hour, returned, and fired two rounds more, when McPherson was killed.”
Another report conveyed: “They exchanged four shots, three of them taking effect on Lt. McPherson. At the second shot he was wounded in the neck, next in the shoulder, and the fourth fire was shot through the heart and he died immediately. Lt Maddox was uninjured. They were both gentlemen of high standing, and much esteemed by the officers and men of their regiment…Upon falling, he (Lt. McPherson) called to Lieutenant Maddox, took him by the hand, told him he was a brave man, and had fought a brave man.”
The account goes on to say: “Alas! Poor Ned, the favorite of his company, the bravest of the brave, is no more.—Frederick County mourns the loss of so brave a youth, and regrets he should have fallen at the hands of a brother officer."
The remains of Lt. McPherson were returned to Frederick County in September for burial. I found another document that seems to imply that Edward’s brother, Dr. William Smith McPherson, Jr., went to Mexico to retrieve the lieutenant’s body and personal affects. Edward McPherson was originally buried in the Old All Saints burying ground adjacent Carroll Creek in downtown Frederick. This is where the McPhersons had a large underground crypt as well.
Mount Olivet opened in 1854, and the All Saints Cemetery fell out of favor and into a state of disrepair and debauchery—no place for a respectable and noble ghost. On November 30th, 1867, the McPherson family would have Edward’s body re-interred to a family plot in Mount Olivet’s Area E/Lot 54. All I can say is that I hope the brave lieutenant is resting in peace, regardless of whether his spirit may still be residing at Auburn, keeping guard over that back stairway.
3rd Regiment of Dragoons (Mexican War Involvement)
From History, Customs and Traditions of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment Blood and Steel
On 17–18 April, 1847, the Regiment was engaged in fierce hand-to-hand fighting during the Battle of Cerro Gordo and were soon engaged again in the Battle of Contreras on 19 August. On 20 August 1847, General Winfield Scott, Commander of American Forces in Mexico, made a speech from which the first sixteen words have become important to the regiment. The regiment was bloodied and exhausted from the fierce fighting at Contreras, but even so, each man stood at attention as Scott approached. The General removed his hat, bowed low, and said: "Brave Rifles! Veterans! You have been baptized in fire and blood and have come out steel!" This accolade is emblazoned on the regimental coat of arms, and is the source of the regimental motto, "Blood and Steel" and nickname, "Brave Rifles."
The Mounted Riflemen were soon after sent to engage in desperate fighting in the Battle of Churubusco later that day. Today, all enlisted personnel are required to loudly challenge all officers in the 3rd Cavalry Regiment with the portion of the regimental accolade given to the Regiment of Mounted Riflemen during the Mexican–American War. When an enlisted trooper is preparing to render military courtesy upon contact with an officer he will yell out "Brave Rifles" whereupon the officer will reply "Veterans."
On 8 September 1847, as US forces continued the drive to Mexico City, intelligence was received that a cannon foundry and a large supply of gunpowder was believed to be at Molino del Rey, 1,000 yards east of Chapultepec Castle. MAJ Edwin V. Sumner took 270 Riflemen to screen the American flank as the attack on Molino del Rey began. 4,000 Mexican cavalrymen were poised to attack the US flank, but Sumner's men navigated a deep ravine (considered impassable by the Mexican cavalry), charged, and defeated the vastly superior force.
The climax to the regiment's participation in the Mexican War came on 13 September 1847when the brigade the regiment belonged to was ordered to support the assault on the fortress of Chapultepec, the site of the Mexican National Military Academy. A pair of hand-picked, 250-man storming parties were formed, including a large number of Mounted Riflemen under CPT Benjamin S. Roberts During the charge, a party of US Marines began to falter after their officers were lost, so Lt. Robert Morris of the regiment quickly took charge and led them to the top. While the fortress was being stormed, other elements of the regiment captured a Mexican artillery battery at the bottom of the castle. Leading the American forces, the regiment stormed into Mexico City at 1:20 pm. At 7:00 am on 14 September 1847, Sergeant James Manly of F Company and Captain Benjamin Roberts of C Company raised the National Colors over the National Palace while Captain Porter, commander of F Company, unfurled the regimental standard from the balcony.
For the remainder of the regiment's tenure in Mexico, they would conduct police duty and chase stubborn guerrillas. However, they also took part in the battles of Matamoros on 23 November 1847, Galaxara on 24 November, and Santa Fe on 4 January 1848. The Regiment of Mounted Riflemen earned a reputation among Army leaders as a brave and tough unit; General Winfield Scott said “Where bloody work was to be done, ‘the Rifles’ was the cry, and there they were. All speak of them in terms of praise and admiration.”
During the Mexican War, 11 troopers were commissioned from the ranks and 19 officers received brevet promotions for gallantry in action. Regimental losses in Mexico were approximately 4 officers and 40 men killed, 13 officers and 180 wounded (many of whom would eventually die), and 1 officer and 180 men who died of other causes. The Rifles finally departed Mexico on 7 July 1848 and arrived in New Orleans on the 17th. Their ship, the Aleck Scott, sailed them up the Mississippi River back to Jefferson Barracks, Missouri.
Whatever happened to Lt. Joseph Harris Maddox, the man who killed Edward McPherson?
It appears that Lt. Maddox had a pretty adventurous life spent after the Mexican War. Here are a few clippings that tell the story.
The weather folks correctly forecasted the recent bout of fierce weather for our area, the result of a March Nor’easter storm that morphed into a rare “bomb cyclone” in some parts of the Mid-Atlantic region. The whole of the eastern seaboard, from Maine to Georgia, was affected as many residents experienced heavy snow, intense rain and subsequent flooding depending on location.
Here in the greater DC area, we had some rain during the overnight of March 2nd, 2018, but were spared the intense precipitations elsewhere, especially the snowfall. The area did, however, experience something equally dangerous and destructive from Mother Nature in the form of high winds with gusts blowing from 40-70 miles per hour. As a result, several school districts, including ours, closed for the day. In Washington DC, federal offices shut down as did museums and attractions such as the Smithsonian Institute. In the words of Yukon Cornelius (the loveable, Arctic-based mineral prospector of the 1964 Rankin/Bass “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” Christmas classic): “Isn’t a fit night out for man nor beast.”
Back a few hundred years ago, the single worst part of windstorms was the threat of being struck by a tree, tree-limb, or any other projectile. It’s not hard to imagine the damage that could be inflicted on body, horse or home. As house-building methods, and weather forecasting improved, so did survival rates so to speak. However, a new problem arose with monumental innovations to come in the late 19th century, none better than electricity.
Electrification was introduced to the United States in the 1880's, and was originally found in the large cities. Electricity needed to be carried from place to place by lines—and these were strung between homes and poles. Keep in mind the materials of the day, not to mention the common knowledge and expertise regarding the newfound energy source. Enter a windstorm, and you likely had electrical outages. Worst yet, wind toppled trees and limbs, which in turn downed power poles and lines, sometimes bringing damage in the form of fire—a harsh reality.
Today, we frequently experience the inconvenience of outages, made the more impactful thanks to our increased dependence on lighting, appliances, computers, smartphones and other electronic gadgets. This recent storm was responsible for leaving many residents "in the dark," both figuratively and literally. However, the threat of fire is seldom worried about these days. Its rarity stems from various advances in electrical safety and technology over the years.
A Shocking Discovery
One of our “eternal residents” of Mount Olivet was a victim of high wind’s unfortunate effect on electricity in an earlier time. His name was Samuel D. Young, and the year was 1909. The 18 year-old, former Fredericktonian was living at the time in the Tenleytown vicinity of northwest Washington DC. Young was living at a boarding house located at 4708 Wisconsin Ave. Interestingly, this was just a few blocks west of Fort Reno, one of a series of star-forts built to protect the Union capital city during the American Civil War.
Samuel was here for work, apparently engaged in a long-term construction-related work assignment.
He had grown up with a vast number of siblings in the 400 block of W. Patrick Street, an area once commonly referred to as "Battletown." The enclave of about 18 homes derived its name from a small encounter between Colonel Stephen Steiner & Stephen Klein, the first residents of the addition. And speaking of battles, this was a place traversed by the earlier mentioned namesake of Fort Reno, Major Gen. Jesse L. Reno. He passed through Battletown on the National Pike (W. Patrick St.) on September 12th, 1862 as he led his Union troops west toward Middletown. Just moments earlier he had encountered Barbara Fritchie waving her flag in support. This rising star in the Union Army would be killed by a sharpshooter's bullet just 48 hours later (September 14, 1862) at the Battle of South Mountain.
Samuel Young's father, John William Young ran a meat market operation out of his home while also selling other groceries and provisions to neighbors on Frederick's west side. His son, also named John, did the butchering. Samuel's mother, Anna "Annie" Elizabeth (Otto) Young, was a German immigrant who had come to America when she was 11 years old.
Let's get back to talking about the weather, shall we? Residents in Frederick and Washington, DC awoke to miserable meteorological conditions on the morning of March 4th, 1909. It was a momentous occasion in Samuel's new home of the nation’s capital, as it would play host to the presidential inauguration of William Howard Taft.
Just one day before, the head of what would eventually become the National Weather Service personally assured the President-elect that the overnight weather would only include rain and wet snow, giving way to ideal conditions for his big day. Taft later joked that he “knew it would be a cold day in hell when he became president.” Our 27th president was not far off, as the region had been hit by an overnight blizzard that produced ten inches of snow amidst destructive winds.
A variety of scenes around Washington DC on March 4, 1909. These range from snow-packed neighborhoods and downed telegraph/power lines to workers removing snow in front of reviewing stand for the Inaugural parade. Note images taken from the inaugural including a close-up of President and Mrs. Taft in an open carriage.
The show must go on! "By the dawn's early light," crews of workmen began removing snow and slush along major thoroughfares and the US Capitol building. The Inaugural Parade, consisting of 20,000 marchers, would go on as scheduled, however the hallmark swearing-in ceremony had been moved indoors to the Senate chamber. Meanwhile, just a few miles away in the northwest part of the District, Samuel D. Young’s body lay dead in a tree-laden lot as Mr. Taft was taking his oath of office.
The location of the deceased was less than a block from his apartment (4708 Wisconsin Avenue). Just after noon, a fellow boarder, named Henry Gearhart, set out looking for Samuel when the young man failed to return home the prior night. He had ventured out in the rain to take in a show at a local theater. Around 2:00pm, Gearhart came across his chum lying in a blanket of snow. It wasn’t an ordinary, harmless “blanket of snow,” rather one riddled with downed electrical wires, apparently toppled by the storm.
A physician was summoned, but it was too late as Young had died from electrocution. The body was removed to the Seventh Police Precinct, and later to the morgue by order of Coroner J. Ramsey Nevitt. An investigation showed that Samuel was carrying an umbrella at the time of his death. It was this umbrella that likely came into conduct with downed power lines as the victim neared the intersection of Chesapeake Street and Brookeville Road (today's 41st St), just uphill from Wisconsin Avenue some 20 yards in the distance. Unable to see clearly in the dark, windy, and snowy conditions, Samuel D. Young unknowingly walked right into his demise.
I presume that Samuel D. Young died in this immediate vicinity showing a current day utility pole (to the right) located on the SW corner of the intersection between Chesapeake St (left) and Brookeville Ave (41st St). Wisconsin Ave is down a slight hill to the right, separated by a small, tree-covered parcel roughly 15 yards wide. There is a sidewalk with stairs that leads to Wisconsin Ave just beyond the pole as we are looking south in this photo. Perhaps this was a well used path at one point? Note the old/small pole located immediately next to the prominent pole in question. Is this a remnant of the original power line pole that witnessed the death of Samuel D. Young back in 1909?
Nine months later, Samuel’s brother and estate administrator, John W. Young, Jr. (later a produce dealer living in Hanover, PA), filed a lawsuit in DC District Supreme Court for his sibling’s wrongful death. The plaintiff was the estate of Samuel D. Young, and the defendant was the District of Columbia.
I couldn’t locate much more on how this suit played out, but it must have been dismissed, with a new defendant coming to the forefront—the Potomac Edison Power Company. Exactly one year after Samuel Young’s death, attorneys Maddox, Gatley and J.P. McMahon filed their suit for $10,000 against the electricity giant, and supplier of such to the nation’s capital and beyond.
Again, I found no follow-up and assume that the matter was simply settled out of court. Solace in some form must have come to family members. Father and son were honored with an impressive 7–foot monument crafted in marble and topped with an ornamental urn. John W. Young, Sr.'s name adorned a panel on the west side, as Samuel’s was placed on the east.
In mid-November of 1911, President Taft would come to Frederick to make a presentation on international trade. This took place on November 15th, 1911. Following the engagement, the presidential motorcade stopped briefly here at Mount Olivet on their way out of town and back to the District. President Taft placed a wreath on Francis Scott Key’s grave, a mere hundred yards down the lane from Samuel Young’s final resting place.
Fifteen years into the future, another name would be carved on the memorial’s north face, abut it would not be Mrs. Annie Young. Instead, it was that of Samuel’s older brother, Gilbert B. Young. He died at the age of 34 as a result of a unique accident, two days after Christmas of 1926.
Gilbert Young was a painter, currently employed by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. On December 27th, 1926, he could be found painting atop a railroad bridge in the vicinity of Sparrows Point in southeast Baltimore, longtime home to Bethlehem Steel. Gilbert apparently slipped, or lost balance, and plunged into the water below. Mount Olivet Cemetery records state that he died due to an “accidental drowning due to a fall from a railroad bridge.”
Like that of Samuel, Gilbert’s body would be brought to Frederick for final burial. This occurred on December 29th, 1926. The boys’ mother would pass less than three months later. She too would be buried under the shadow of the fine monument located on Area L/lot 41.