One of the hottest movies in theaters currently (at the time of this writing) is simply entitled 1917. We will continue to hear about this critically acclaimed work in coming months as it has already garnered Academy Award® consideration. The feature is an epic war film directed, co-written and produced by Sam Mendes and based in part on an account told to Mendes by his paternal grandfather, Alfred Mendes, a veteran of World War I. The movie chronicles the story of two young British soldiers during the war who are given a mission to deliver a message that warns of a suspected ambush during a skirmish, soon after the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line during Operation Alberich in 1917.
The grave importance of message carrying in warfare cannot be understated. The common name applied to these brave souls was that of a “runner,” a soldier responsible for passing on messages between fronts during war. In the era before electronic communication innovations in warfare, battlefield administrators needed to share intelligence among one another in highly stressful, chaotic and rapidly changing situations. It was certainly a matter of life and death, as the lives of countless soldiers were at stake based on the safe transport of either questions or answers by the runner. Things could go horribly wrong with a lack of communication, a mistake, or an incorrect presumption made without the aid of military intelligence or observation.
As can be easily imagined, this was a very dangerous job. The movie will certainly demonstrate this fact if you don’t believe me. World War I was dominated by trench warfare. With such, there was a tremendous need for runners. Passing messages between the trenches was not possible without climbing up to ground level and running towards the other trench. While on the ground, the soldier was hampered by weather conditions. The track was not ideal and full of obstacles, oftentimes forcing the soldier to sprint through smoke and chemical-weapon gasses, while on a muddy, or artillery riddled, track. Add to this the fact that runners were completely exposed to enemy sharpshooters, and it was commonplace for participants to die before reaching their destination. Officers could not be sure that a message had reached its recipient unless the runner managed to return.
Last year was the anniversary of the end of the Great War, which prompted me to write stories on some of Mount Olivet Cemetery’s 500+ veterans of that conflict alone who are buried here. Many know that we have Charlotte Berry Winters here, who at the time of her death at age 109, was the last female veteran of the war to pass. We also have 13 soldiers who died during the war in active service. Some died in combat, and others due to the terrible Spanish Flu pandemic.
One specific Frederick World War I vet, (today buried in our midst here in the cemetery) survived combat and the flu to return to the States and live a productive life. He was a bugler in the US Army’s Company A of the 115th Infantry Regiment, part of the famed 29th Division. Company A, started right here in Frederick. This gentleman’s name was William Theodore Kreh, Sr.—and he was a runner.
Known by the nickname of “Whitey,” William Theodore Kreh Sr. was born on July 21st, 1897 in Frederick, the son of Theodore Christian Kreh and Ada Mae Stull. The family had 11 children and Mr. Kreh was an accomplished stone mason. The family lived at 239 W. 5th Street on Frederick’s south side at the time of William T.’s enlistment into service at the age of 20.
He had joined the National Guard and was assigned to the 115th Regiment and Frederick’s Company A was based here in Frederick at the Armory located at the corner of Bentz and W. Second streets. As a matter of fact, the armory had been built in 1913, the third of a series of similar armories built for the Maryland National Guard in the early 20th century. Up until his time of deployment, he worked as a brushmaker at the Ox Fibre Brush Company.
The following passage comes from the Regimental History of the 115th and paints a picture of what William T. Kreh experienced during his military service.
Under command of Major General Charles G. Norton, the division was sent to Camp McClellan, near Anniston, Alabama, in August 1917. It spent ten months there in training before being shipped to France. On arrival at the front the division was given responsibility for a "quiet" sector on the German-Swiss border; its mission was to control the Belfort Gap. After two months in that position, the Blue and Gray division was sent north on September 22, 1918, to take part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The men of the division went "over the top" for the first time on October 8. In twenty-one consecutive days in the front line trenches they advanced six miles at a cost of 4,781 casualties, including 1,053 killed or died of wounds. The 29th sector was south of the Heights of the Meuse. The mission was to storm those heights attacking the entrenched positions of the Hindenberg Line with its pillboxes and machine gun nests. The division helped to take the Consenvoye Heights and the Borne de Cornouilles (Corned Willy Hill). On November 11, when the Armistice was declared, the 29th division was marching back to the line to join the Second (U.S.) Army's drive against the forts at Metz.
William T. Kreh had recently married Amy Ford before making the trek to Alabama. Musical talents earned him a prestigious job as Company A’s bugler. This would put him in close proximity to the command element throughout the war.
Like the runner, bugler was a hazardous position in any infantry unit—and often times one in the same. In addition to the standard Reveille and Taps calls, the bugler blurted out command signals for the troops during action. To do so required him to stand tall and play the instrument with great force so all could hear over the rattling of machine guns and the explosions of artillery shells. In doing this, he represented a perfect target for the enemy. Cutting off lines of communication in war was an essential objective for the enemy, and I’m sure William T. Kreh was well aware of this fact.
On arrival at the front, the division was given responsibility for a "quiet" sector on the German-Swiss border with its mission to control the Belfort Gap.
After two months in that position, the Blue and Gray Division was sent north to France on September 22nd, 1918, to relieve the soldiers on the frontlines northwest of Verdun taking part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The men of the division went "over the top" (of the trenches) for the first time on October 8th. In twenty-one consecutive days in the frontline trenches they advanced six miles at a cost of 4,781 casualties, including 1,053 killed or died of wounds. The 29th sector was south of the Heights of the Meuse.
Up until the 8th of October, William T. Kreh and his colleagues of the 29th had been encamped in the Valley of the Meuse, waiting for orders to attack. Mustard gas created depression among the troops. Of all the death and destruction, the area of Molleville Farm would prove the bloodiest and fiercest. The locale was a key position in the German defenses during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The farm was attacked on October 8th, by the 29th, who finally took the woods around the farm over a week later on October 16th at a cost of 3,936 casualties.
Several Frederick doughboys fought in a fierce and decisive battle, as this action would become a deciding turning point in World War I. Going across this land, the soldiers not only fought the Germans but also the horrible conditions of the trenches located so close that one could hear their enemies talking to each other. Other inhabitants of the trenches were rats and vermin.
William T. Kreh would be given an assignment at the Molleville Farm, one that would receive great praise from a fellow Fredericktonian, Major D. John Markey (1872-1963), commander of the 112th Machine Gun Battalion of the 1st Maryland Infantry Regiment. He eventually took command of the 115th Regiment, and eventually rose to the rank of brigadier general, and served on the General Staff of the Army. In a letter written in January, 1919, Major Markey, an original founder of Frederick’s Company A, was quick to heap praise on the former unit he helped create. The letter was published in the February 21st, 1919 edition of the Frederick News:
“Company A, 115th and the community can well be proud of the record they have made. One of their members, “Whitey” Kreh, a bugler of the company carried a message for me at the battle of Molleville Farm, an important message from the frontlines back to headquarters through an unusually heavy barrage.”
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find much more on Kreh’s heroics at Molleville Farm on October 15th, however his action under fire would not go unnoticed by the top brass as they say. On November 11th, when the Armistice was declared, the 29th Division was marching back to the line to join the Second (U.S.) Army's drive against the forts at Metz. The Armistice put an end to the war—the Allies were victorious. Kreh and the men of Company A would return home that spring, and Kreh officially wrapped up his service with the 115th on May 24th, 1919, receiving his honorable discharge.
William T. Kreh would receive the AEF Citation for Gallantry in Action for his role in delivering important messages through an intense bombardment. This award is more commonly referred to as the Silver Star. His citation, dated June 3, 1919, reads as follows:
“By direction of the President, under the provisions of the act of Congress approved July 9, 1918 (Bul. No. 43, W.D., 1918), Bugler William T. Kreh (ASN: 1283806), United States Army, is cited by the Commanding General, American Expeditionary Forces, for gallantry in action and a silver star may be placed upon the ribbon of the Victory Medals awarded him. Bugler Kreh distinguished himself by gallantry in action while serving with Company A, 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division, American Expeditionary Forces, in action in the Verdun Sector, France, 15 October 1918, in delivering important messages through an intense bombardment.
In doing some more research, I found that the bugler’s mission in World War I would be replaced in the coming years by more advanced communication equipment and procedures.
Once back home in Frederick, William T. Kreh took up residence with wife Amy at 110 W. 5th Street. They would have two sons: Robert and William T. Kreh, Jr. By 1930, the Kreh family can be found living at 110 McMurray Street and William was still employed as a machinist and Ox Fibre. I saw several articles that show Kreh’s involvement in the local American Legion Post and was a charter member of Veterans of Foreign Wars, John R. Webb Post, No. 3285. In addition, it seemed commonplace for him to be regularly given the honor of performing as bugler for military holiday events and on veteran funeral details here at Mount Olivet and other local churches.
By the year 1941, America was heading into a Second World War. William T. Kreh, Sr. was involved in the war effort again, this time as an employee working at the Washington Navy Yard within the Personnel Department.
His obituary says that he was actively involved in local athletics, primarily officiating games—a perfect hobby for a former bugler. He even served as a former president of the National Baseball Umpires Association. Kreh became ill in the late 1940’s and would slowly become debilitated by this malady. He spent his final months at the Newton D. Baker Veterans Hospital in Martinsburg, WV, dying of a heart attack on November 30th, 1956. His death and obituary made the front page of the local paper.
William T. Kreh is buried in Mount Olivet’s Area P/Lot 198. His wife Amy would pass in 1968. Other family members reside here too.
It's only fair to ponder the question: "Was Taps played at the former runner's funeral? And if so, who played the bugle?" ........................................................................It didn't take long to answer that question.
Early last year, I wrote an article about one of our most noteworthy residents of Mount Olivet—Claire McCardell. Born in 1905, McCardell revolutionized the fashion industry in the field of casual women’s wear with her work and designs in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. A monument of this Frederick native was commissioned by the Frederick Art Club in 2019 with the intent of being placed along Carroll Creek in 2021.
Claire McCardell (Harris) was a New York City resident at the time of her death in 1958. She is fondly remembered by her alma maters, Frederick’s Hood College and the Parsons School of Design in New York City.
A very nice collection of her garments is located at the Museum of the City of New York. Apparently, Ms. McCardell was also a keen consultant of historic costume within this same museum’s collections. She often gained inspiration here for her own work, along with items found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute.
Last February, I was contacted by a gentleman named William DeGregorio, a PhD Candidate of Bard Graduate Center in New York. Mr. DeGregorio was currently working on a dissertation involving the history of the Museum of the City of New York and sent me an email as part of his research quest. Interestingly, his query had nothing to do with Claire McCardell, but rather an interesting contemporary who was not a fellow designer, but like Claire, had distinct connections to Frederick, the fashion industry, and the NYC Museum. Best of all, both women are buried and memorialized here in Mount Olivet Cemetery. DeGregorio’s person of interest was a lady named V. Isabelle Miller.
It is highly likely that Miss Miller knew Claire McCardell, because of her profession—as Miller was the Museum of the City of New York’s first curator of costume. She worked for the museum essentially from its inception in 1925 until her retirement in 1963. The extra novelty in this fact is that like McCardell, V. Isabelle Miller was a pioneering woman in a field and position traditionally held by men at the time.
The museum was first founded in 1923 by Henry Collins Brown, a Scottish-born writer with a vision for a populist approach to telling New York City's rich story. The original home of the museum, and Ms. Miller's place of employment, was Gracie Mansion at 89th Street and East End Ave. The former estate is encompassed within Carl Schurz Park overlooking the East River. It would eventually become the future residence of the mayor of New York City, but at that time was a historic home owned by the Parks Department. The museum would move from this location in 1932, having outgrown its space.
Mr. DeGregorio was looking for anything he could on V. Isabelle Miller, but encountered “road blocks” immediately as little archival information exists on her at the NYC Museum, combined with the fact that she essentially disappears from any records shortly after her retirement. However, the PhD candidate stumbled upon a clue when conducting a routine Google search. He found a V. Isabelle Miller buried in Frederick, Maryland’s Mount Olivet Cemetery on the immensely popular Find a Grave website.
For those not familiar with this incredible internet offering and genealogical tool, Find a Grave is an American website that allows the public to search and add to an online database of cemetery records. It is owned by Ancestry.com. The site was created in 1995 by Salt Lake City resident Jim Tipton to support his hobby of visiting the burial sites of celebrities. He later added an online forum. Find a Grave was launched as a commercial entity in 1998, first as a trade name and then incorporated in 2000. The site later expanded to include graves of non-celebrities, in order to allow online visitors to pay respect to their deceased relatives or friends.
Find a Grave receives and uploads digital photographs of headstones from burial sites, taken by unpaid volunteers at cemeteries. These volunteers then post the photos on its website, and add vital information taken from the stones themselves or cemetery records. In some cases, photos and obituaries of the deceased are added, along with links to family members in either the same, or different, cemeteries. As of October 2017, Find a Grave contained over 165 million burial records and 75 million photos. If you want to check out what Mr. DeGregorio found on his search, click the link below to view Miss Miller’s Find a Grave page:
I was able to confirm Miller’s interment here and supplied William with a few other tidbits in our scant records on the decedent. She is buried on Area G/Lot 201, directly across from Confederate Row, a prime landmark within our cemetery of 40,000+ interments. William then aided me with what he had been able to ascertain on this virtually unknown resident of Mount Olivet and forgotten to the local history annals of Frederick as well. Here is a passage from our email correspondence last February:
“Chris, thank you for confirming that this is indeed our Miss Miller, who has so far eluded us. I am also grateful for the information on her family. My question now is how she ended up in NYC? She was briefly employed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the early 1920s before being hired at MCNY in 1926 to oversee costumes, silver, and toys. She published a seminal catalogue on New York silversmiths in 1937, which is still widely consulted, and remained with the museum until 1963. There are a few mentions of her in the papers in 1964 but between that point and her death I am not sure where she was.”
Her legacy at the museum can be seen in the incredible collection amassed today, something she began almost a century ago. Here is link to the costume collection alone on the museum’s website:
I painstakingly found two pictures of Ms. Miller. One featured her playing a piano and was within an old newspaper from the 1920s. The other was a passport photo from a document on Ancestry.com.
I was able to glean a few more things now that William had sparked my interest in this individual. In our cemetery records, it says that Miss Miller died at Westwood, NJ and her occupation was museum curator. Her vital dates were 6/28/1892-1/05/1980. V. Isabelle’s mother, Elizabeth (Bantz) Miller, is also buried here in the same lot at Mount Olivet, along with her grandfather, Algernon Sydney Bantz.
Elizabeth Miller died 9/12/1953 but we don't have a birth date on file. The record just says she died at age 90 in New York City. Our records say that Harvey P. Miller is buried in Westchester County, NY at Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla. V. Isabelle's brother, Haydock Harvey Miller (1888-1976), is also buried at Kensico with his father.
I was interested to see that Algernon Sydney Bantz moved to Missouri, and that the Miller family was in St. Louis in the year 1900 according to the US census. This also told me that the "V" (V. Isabelle) stood for Violet, a fact that William DeGregorio did not have.
The Bantz's had deep roots in Frederick going back to our founding in the mid 1700s. Violet Isabelle's great-grandfather was Gideon Bantz, a tanyard operator and huge proponent for farming and our early agricultural society which put on the first county fairs and expositions. I saw that Gideon's son, Algernon Sydney, worked as a tanner at his father’s operation until moving to Missouri. He had married Isabella Porter here in Frederick in 1853.
The couple seemed to have left for the Midwest shortly after they wed, because their first child (Gideon) was born in 1854 in St. Louis, Missouri. Census records show Algernon Sydney holding the occupation of railroad contractor in 1860, and miner in 1870. He was actually in Sacramento, CA in 1868 for some reason, likely having to do with one of those two professions, I suppose.
As cemetery historian and preservation manager for Mount Olivet, I had written an earlier "Stories in Stone" piece a while back that touches on Algernon’s father, Gideon Bantz.
Gideon operated the Bantz Mill, which once stood on the north bank of Carroll Creek on the west side of Brewer’s Alley. This thoroughfare is known as Court Street today, and the former location in which Algernon Sydney worked as tanner is now the vicinity and home of the Citizens Truck Company, volunteer fire company. Heritage Frederick (former Historical Society of Frederick County) has a few photos of the early mill dating to the 1890’s at which time a fire had destroyed a warehouse.
To review, Violet Isabelle Miller was the daughter of Harvey [Henry] P. Miller of St. Louis and Elizabeth Bantz (1862-1953). They married on September 28th, 1886 in Frederick, likely at Evangelical Lutheran Church. Elizabeth was the daughter of Algernon Sidney Bantz (1824-1894), a Frederick native who moved to St. Louis with wife Isabella (both also buried in Mount Olivet).
I found the following mentions of V. Isabelle Miller in newspapers of the era.
Violet Isabella Miller never married. She retired in 1963 as mentioned earlier. She lived her final years in Westwood, NJ, located in Bergen County. She died in 1980 and was buried here in Mount Olivet with her mother and grandparents in Area G. Her great-grandfather’s obelisk towers above the family plot. Sadly, I haven’t located an obituary for this woman as yet, truly ironic because you think a museum curator would want to leave a record of herself.
Thanks again to Mr. DeGregorio, the PhD candidate who made me look differently at these family graves which I pass by each morning.
For longtime readers of this blog, many know that we have definitive proof that the cemetery was visited by at least one sitting US president, William Howard Taft. Others could have made unpublicized or after-hours visits, while several ranging from George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant to Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman passed within feet of the front gate traveling the old Georgetown Pike.
We at least know of President Taft’s trip here on November 15th, 1911. He was in Frederick to address the Maryland Boards of Trade at the old City Opera House, and his visit culminated by laying a wreath on Francis Scott Key’s gravesite, where the iconic monument had been placed just 13 years earlier. Of course, Key’s name is synonymous with our flag and it was none other than President Taft who signed an executive order in 1912 that officially standardized the American flag with thirteen stripes and 48 stars positioned into six horizontal rows of eights, with each star pointing upward. Of course, the design would later be altered with the additions of Alaska and Hawaii.
An article in the Frederick paper the day prior talked at length about the security for the event. Specifically, it mentions a small force of detectives who arrived in town in advance of Taft’s visit, along with a contingent of nine mounted policeman from Baltimore to guard the President along with his additional secret service entourage. When conducting research, I was hoping to find the name of John Groff, a Frederick native who spent his career in law enforcement, and spent the last two and a half years as a member of the guard staff of the White House. One of events that may have elevated him to this great position lies in the fact that he is credited with possibly saving a former sitting president’s life thanks to his actions.
John Groff was born on April 19th, 1861, the son of Captain Joseph Groff and wife Susan Christiana Smith. I explained a bit of this family’s illustrious story in an article published May 6th, 2019 and entitled “From Flowers to Fisticuffs.”
John’s parents are known in the annals of Frederick history as prominent hoteliers and local heroes of the Civil War. The Groffs ran the Arlington House, located on N. Market Street during the turbulent era of the 1860’s. John’s father was a shrewd businessman who also ran a brickyard and dabbled in real estate acquisition.
The Groffs would sell the Arlington House and operate the aptly named Groff House, a prime Frederick hostelry, at the site of the fountain atop N. Market Street where it intersected with 7th Street. A fine parking lot (sarcasm alert) adorns the former site of this grand structure that also served as the first home for WFMD radio station.
Another such property that Joseph Groff had a hand in was the site of a former German social club called Scheutzen Park. This would soon come to be known as Groff Park and the former social group’s main club house would become the family’s new personal residence. In the next century, Groff Park would become the new site of the Frederick Woman’s College, renamed Hood College. The central facility of the property was a former drinking hall for the German club. Today this site survives and is associated with Hood College’s music department and holds the name of Brodbeck Hall. A brother, David Groff would go on to become one of Frederick’s most renown florists, and was assisted in business by another brother named Charles.
As for John, he was set on working in law enforcement, and his large frame suited him for the occupation. In the 1870 census, I found a gentleman named F. W. Schleigh, a police officer, who was a neighbor of the Groffs, living two doors down on N. Market Street. Perhaps he could have served as a role model and inspiration to John Groff in his youth.
A family legend shared by genealogist Alice L. Luckhardt holds that John Groff was content to be Frederick’s jailer, looking after prisoners incarcerated in the town’s “pokey.” He married Caroline Miller in the early 1890’s and had a child, Charles J., who sadly died as an infant aged seven and a half months.
John also split his time as a farmer. His property is said to have laid just outside Frederick City and he specialized in raising horses. This was likely the area in proximity to Groff Park, maybe the location of today’s Selwyn Farms development at W. 7th Street and Fairview Avenue. Groff would become a sheriff’s deputy here in Frederick but was destined to leave at the turn of the century, taking a job with the Washington D.C. police department on May 3rd, 1901. The 1900 census claims that Groff lived in Emmitsburg at the time of his hiring which prompted a relocation.
John Groff was given many duties with the force in the nation’s capital. Among his first was that as a crossing guard at 9th street and Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. His residence was a farm on the outskirts of DC. Eventually he would move into a townhouse located at 1228 N Street (NW) and put the farm up for sale arounf 1919. I found some of his work exploits recorded for posterity in the local DC papers.
Nothing out of the ordinary really highlights the life of John Groff until the year 1913, just about two years after President Taft’s visit to Mount Olivet. Taft was no longer in office, having been defeated by Woodrow Wilson in the presidential election of 1912. The new commander-in-chief took the oath of office on March 4th and one of his most pressing issues was monitoring events in Europe as we would slowly be drawn into the First World War.
Apparently, President Wilson liked to relieve stress by taking evening walks in the vicinity of the presidential mansion. The following passage comes from Alice Luckhardt’s family history entitled Legends Family Stories and Myths: How to Discover Fact from Fiction:
“It was a late summer evening on September 6, 1913, when the President headed out of the White House accompanied by Dr. Cary T. Grayson, the White House physician. The two gentlemen walked several blocks unnoticed. As they walked up F Street they started in a diagonal fashion across Fifteenth Street towards G Street. A streetcar (trolley) was driving at a safe speed on Fifteenth Street at the same moment. The driver did not see the two pedestrians and the two walkers did not see the streetcar which was coming up behind them. In a flash, DC police officer, John Groff, was on the scene to render assistance. He instantly stepped between the pedestrians and the vehicle and waived at the driver to immediately stop his vehicle. The driver reacted to the officer’s frantic motion and barely managed to halt the streetcar in time, just a few feet away from striking the President. If it had not been for the quick actions of Officer Groff, the new President could have been seriously injured or killed.”
The incident had been eye-witnessed by several onlookers and stories appeared in both the Washington and Frederick papers.
Although it’s not known whether Officer Groff was awarded anything at the time, the incident could have been fondly remembered at the time of his interview or selection for a post at the White House seven years later—or simply good karma paying him back. Another talent that probably played in Groff’s favor was his background in farming, and especially in dealing with livestock. This would prove valuable since the president had kept a flock of sheep at the presidential mansion. The sheep were brought here in the spring of 1918, at the height of our involvement in World War I, and grazed on the White House Lawn.
After America entered World War I, the sheep helped to save manpower by keeping the grass trimmed. It’s not exactly known who came up with the idea, but Dr. Cary Grayson contacted his horse racing friend Wiliam Woodward about getting some sheep for the president. Woodward sent along a small flock from his farm in Maryland by wagon.
Woodward understood that the idyllic appearance of sheep grazing on the lawn was part of the appeal of the project. Eventually, however, the flock was sheared, and two pounds of wool was given to each state. With governors acting as auctioneers, the wool was sold to the highest bidders and the proceeds donated to the Red Cross War Fund.
In 1920, John and Mamie Groff can be found living at 1200 Fairmont Street in the northwest part of the district.
Sadly, John Groff’s employ at the White House was short-lived. Earlier that year, President Wilson had left office after two terms. Warren G. Harding was Groff’s big boss now. In the early afternoon hours of December 14th, 1921, Officer Groff was in the location of the White House basement. Here he suffered what would be diagnosed as a heart attack. He would die within twenty minutes, surprisingly before the arrival of a physician. Groff, described by family members as a robust man, had known health and heart issues. He would die in his 60th year.
John Groff’s body was brought back to his hometown by train on the 15th, and a viewing was held at the Groff House at N. Market and W. 7th streets. On the 16th of December, John Groff was buried in the Groff family plot in Mount Olivet’s Area L/Lot 247. People walk by his gravestone each and everyday, as I, myself, have several times in the past, having no idea that American history could have been altered had John Groff not done his part to keep Woodrow Wilson out of harm’s way on that September evening in 1913.
This time of year, visions of classic dancers can easily be had. Whether it’s the Rockettes performing their annual Christmas Show at New York’s Rockefeller Center, Tchaikovsky’s immortal Nutcracker Suite put on by a local theater company, or simply an old television rerun of a Lawrence Welk Christmas special.
The car radio, grocery store Muzak and holiday sing-a-longs can also conjure up visions of dancers and dancing. The classic Christmas carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” features a ninth day boasting “nine dancers dancing.” I think most of us appreciate this holiday staple for the challenge of singing it, more than anything else. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the traditional reverse counting folk song of anonymous nature— “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.” However, spiked eggnog is more of an accompanying drink du jour to “Twelve Days” over plain old beer at a “spirited” yuletide party.
For those not familiar, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is an English Christmas carol that lists a series of increasingly grand gifts given on each of the twelve days of Christmas (the twelve days that make up the Christmas season, starting with Christmas Day). It does this in a playful, cumulative manner.
The song is thought to be of French origin and was actually published in England in 1780 without music. Instead it began simply as a chant or rhyme. The standard tune now associated with it is derived from a 1909 arrangement of a traditional folk melody by English composer Frederic Austin.
This week’s “Story in Stone” is about a former Frederick couple who constituted a dancing team that were well-known to locals and vaudeville audiences of yore across the country. They were known as “The Professor and Mrs. Karl Von Rabe.” Their full names were Karl Emil Rabe and Nora Jane (Deter) Rabe and they rest in peace in the shadow of a large oak tree on the southwest corner of Mount Olivet’s Area R. The first day I first visited their gravesite, I was entertained to see falling leaves “dance” across their grave monuments commonly known in the industry as “Hickey Markers.”
Karl Emil Rabe was born October 5th, 1879 in Copenhagen, Denmark. He grew up learning the traditional dances of his home and surrounding countries in Europe. He came to America in October of 1898, settling in New York City. Karl married a Frederick girl named Nora Jane Deater a short time later on December 4th, 1900 in Troy, NY. According to naturalization papers filed a short time after, the Rabes lived at 305 W. 45th Street. In summer of that year, Nora born November 22nd, 1882) appears in the 1900 census living in Baltimore with siblings and listed her profession as that of an opera singer.
In 1914, the Rabes were living in Chicago and employed as house artists in residence at the Bismarck Winter Garden, a prosperous dinner and dance club in “the Windy City.” This was the launch pad for them to become known as celebrated masters of dance. So much so, the Rabe’s were invited to attend a dancing masters’ convention in Cleveland, Ohio that summer. This chance opportunity led to national acclaim and attention for the couple as they soon became the darlings of the press. A wire feature in mid-July was done on the couple and their introduction of a new dance craze for the time entitled “The Aeroplane.” And to think of the novelty as the Wright brothers had done their thing only 11 years prior at Kitty Hawk. And in case you were wondering, the first airplane to land in Frederick occurred in 1911. This article was published by hundreds of newspapers across the country.
The following week newspapers featured the Rabes again with an illustrated article introducing “the Trasko Waltz.” A website entitled Sonny Watson’s Streetswing.com gives credit to the Rabes for introducing this ballroom dance here in the US. It was described as “basically a waltz with a pirouette” and said to be based on dances of Karl Rabe’s native home of Denmark.
The Bismarck Gardens unto itself could have lent inspiration for our local Peter Pan Inn that inspired big band leader turned restaurateur, Richard Baumgartner. This once graced Urbana. In the case of Bismarck Gardens, the ethnic Germans of the old Lake View neighborhood of Chicago along with other parts of the city, liked to celebrate their heritage as it pertained to drinking.
Bismarck Gardens was located at the southwest corner of Grace and Halsted Streets in old District of Lake View. It opened in 1894 by brothers Emil and Karl Eitel to serve the sizable number of German-Americans living on Chicago's North Side. The park-sized space quickly became one of the city's most popular summertime beer gardens. It featured ample shade trees, electric lamps, an outdoor stage and dance floor, and plenty of beer and music.
An attractive entertainment hall was also built so to permit year-round operations. Bismarck Gardens did have issues with its neighbors much like the neighbors surrounding the venue—primarily parking and noise! Other issues that would severely impact the Rabes and their employment at the Bismarck over the next few years were World War I anti-German sentiment, labor strikes, and Prohibition Act of 1919. Bismarck Gardens had to renamed to Marigold Gardens by 1916, in response to rising anti-German sentiment in the city before and during the First World War.
Speaking of the Great War, draft records (completed in early fall of 1918) show Karl Rabe’s completed form and lists him working as a vaudeville employee for the United Booking Company. Rabe recorded the Palace Theater on Broadway in New York City as his place of employment. At this time, he was living at 415 S. Market Street here in Frederick, however he registered in Savanna, Georgia.
On Ancestry.com, I found records that show the Rabes visited Denmark in 1922 and in 1925, performed a tour in Australia. Outside of that, I haven’t been able to find any further articles or census records through the 1920s and 1930s. My hunch is that they were active in the Roaring Twenties but had to keep low profiles, and the Great Depression and 1930s provided lean opportunities for ballroom dance masters.
When the energetic couple decided to settle into retirement around 1940, the Rabes came back to Frederick and opened an antique shop at 47 E. Patrick Street—Nora Jane Antiques. The couple took up residence not far from Mount Olivet at 102 McMurray Street.
I found a small article announcing Karl Rabe’s illness and hospitalization at Frederick Hospital. It described the former dancer saying that he was best known around town by the nickname of “Karlie.” It went on to say: ”Mr. Rabe won the affection and respect of everyone with whom he met. His lively spirit and loving nature far surpassed any ordinary person."
Karl died March 31st, 1957. Nora Jane would only outlive her husband by nine years, passing on November 15th, 1966. Oh, to imagine the thrill and view from their perspective on the Bismarck Gardens dance floor back in the day performing to full houses in Chicago at Christmastime?
This certainly brings to mind the imagery and lyrics of another popular song about dancing during this holiday season. Performed by both Frank Sinatra and the amazing brother-sister vocal duo of the Carpenters, “The Christmas Waltz” is one of my personal favorites, and surely would have been enjoyed by Karl and Nora Jane had they had the chance to dance to it.
It's that time of year when the world falls in love
Every song you hear seems to say
"Merry Christmas, may your New Year dreams come true"
And this song of mine in three-quarter time
Wishes you and yours the same thing too
This week, we are readying for our second annual “go-round” of Wreaths Across America Day at Mount Olivet Cemetery here in Frederick on Saturday, December 14th. Along with the famed Arlington National Cemetery and 1,600 additional locations throughout the United States, and at sea and abroad, we are hosting an event in which volunteers and fundraising sponsorship partners will help enact the mission of Remembering, Honoring and Teaching through the placement of special wreaths on veteran graves.
We have over 4,000 men and women buried here, having served in the US military and ranging from conflicts which include the American Revolution, War of 1812, the Mexican War, American Civil War, Spanish-American War, the World Wars, Korea and Vietnam. They are currently marked with small flaglets (since Veterans Day), something that also occurs here on Memorial Day thanks to our local Francis Scott Key Chapter of the American Legion.
Our goal is to have all of the graves marked by wreaths in future years, however we will be able to cover about one-third thanks to generous contributors who sponsored wreaths online or through our fundraising partners. Some of these groups include the Homewood at Frederick Auxiliary, Cub Scout Pack 287, American Heritage Girls Troop 3126, and the Upper Montgomery Composite Squadron Civil Air.
Many know that there is another annual tradition with military-themed roots occurring on the same day this year as Wreaths Across America Day—the famed Army-Navy game. This annual football classic is one of the most traditional and enduring rivalries in college football. It involves a matchup between the Army Black Knights of the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, New York, and the Navy Midshipmen of the United States Naval Academy (USNA) at Annapolis, Maryland.
The Black Knights (alternatively known as the "Cadets") and Midshipmen each represent their service's oldest officer commissioning sources. As such, the game has come to embody the spirit of the interservice rivalry of the United States Armed Forces. The first meeting was back in 1890. Today, the game marks the end of the college football regular season and the third and final game of the season's Commander-in-Chief's Trophy series, which also includes the Air Force Falcons of the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA) near Colorado Springs, Colorado.
The game has been held in multiple locations, but outside the 1926 game in Chicago and 1983 game in Pasadena, California, it has been played in the Northeast, most frequently in Philadelphia, followed by the New York area and the Baltimore–Washington area. The series has been marked by several periods of domination by one team or the other, with Navy's 14-game winning streak from 2002 through 2015 being the longest for either side. Through the 2018 meeting, Navy leads the series 60–52–7, but has lost the last three games.
A former Fredericktonian buried here in Mount Olivet will surely have his grave adorned with a wreath this weekend. Interestingly, he knew the Army-Navy game intimately and better than anybody in town. His name was Glenn C. Wilhide and he was a multi-time participant—as a player.
Born on June 30th, 1898 in Walkersville, Glenn Castle Wilhide was the son of David and Amanda Mae Hahn Wilhide. Young Glenn would attend, and graduate, from Boys’ High School, the predecessor to Frederick High School. He was a standout Frederick Cadet and athlete and went on to attend Gettysburg College just up the road from Frederick. He was here for one year and played football and baseball at Gettysburg, but I found out later from a news article that he wasn’t a starter while at Gettysburg. This would soon change.
Glenn continued his education in 1918 by entering the United States Military Academy at West Point. Continuing to exhibit his athletic skills, Glenn not only played for the Black Knights varsity football and baseball teams. He played three years of football and four years of baseball. He served as team captain of the 1920 football team, and two years as captain of the baseball team. He played quarterback for the Knights in 1919 and 1920. Unfortunately, he did not celebrate victory over Navy on either occasion as his squad fell 6-0 and 7-0 in consecutive years.
Another interesting game that Glenn Wilhide was part of featured a matchup against Notre Dame on October 30th, 1920. Army hosted the Fighting Irish under Coach Knute Rockne. I Irish prevailed 27-17 in what has been called George Gipp's best game as a player. Known more famously by his nickname, "the Gipper" put on a superhero display with his punting, passing and running.
In baseball, Wilhide excelled for Army as well, and specifically served as a second baseman. After graduation from West Point, he found time to play professional baseball for the Frederick Hustlers of the Class D Blue Ridge League.
Following graduation in 1922, Glenn C. Wilhide entered the US Army and spent most of his military career in the Ordnance Corps. He would be stationed in various locations around the country, the first being Vancouver Barracks in Vancouver, Washington. He also worked in the private sector and stops included Pittsburgh, Detroit, Columbus, Ohio and Hawaii. In 1942, Maj. Wilhide was the commanding officer of the Gary Armor Plate Plant located in Gary, Indiana. Along the way, he would marry his wife, Margaret Hagedorn of Portland, Oregon. The couple had two sons, Glenn C., Jr. and Robert. Glenn would marry again, Clara Grove, a niece of our baseball stadium namesake, Harry Grove.
In the military, Wilhide would attain the rank of colonel. His last assignment was as commanding officer of the Detroit Ordnance Arsenal. Following Col. Wilhide’s retirement from the military, he worked a short time with Garwood Industries in Detroit, Michigan, and later was with the T. Edgie Russell Company of Frederick, a major highway contracting firm.
Glenn C. Wilhide had the opportunity to see the Army-Navy game in person, and to listen to on radio and eventually watch on television for the following 61 years after handling quarterback and captain duties for the Army Black Knights of West Point. He lived his final years in Newtown Square, PA, dying on May 6th, 1983 at Dunwoody Village Medical Center in Pennsylvania. Col. Wilhide’s body came back to Frederick and was buried on May 12th, 1983. He would be buried in Mount Olivet’s Area LL, Lot 191.
In 1979, Glenn Wilhide was elected to the Frederick County YMCA Sports Hall of Fame. I thought it was well worth the time to single out this particular Frederick athlete and Mount Olivet veteran this year, as this year's Army-Navy game marks the 100th anniversary of when he, himself, lined up behind center and led his Army team against the Midshipman for the first time back in 1919. And maybe, just maybe, his squad will get the victory again this year.
NOTE: Many of the great images used here are courtesy of a comprehensive website dedicated to Army Football and called For What They Gave www.forwhattheygave.com forwhattheygave.com/2007/12/11/1920-football-team/