December 12th marks the death date of a Jefferson, Maryland native who fought bravely in the Great War. John J. Arnold (1894-1984) fought with Company A of the 311th Machine Gun Battalion of the 79th Division. Private Arnold was severely wounded on September 29th, 1918 during the Battle of Argonne Forest. He would receive the Purple Heart for an injury that partially disabled him for the rest of his life as a farmer tending to his family homestead located at 3945 Lander Road.
What a whirlwind week and a half! Starting with Thanksgiving, we quickly progressed into the “Thanksbuying” holidays with the annual events of Black Friday and Cyber Monday…which has been extended now to Cyber Week. A shining diversion to the unbridled, holiday-related spending of the period came in the form of charitable donating on Giving Tuesday.
Many people are well aware of Giving Tuesday, also stylized as #Giving Tuesday for social networking purposes. This event, occurring on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, celebrated its 5th anniversary this past week, as it began back in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in New York City along with the United Nations Foundation. The “tongue in cheek” response to the post Thanksgiving commercialization of Black Friday and Cyber Monday has steadily been growing in popularity, now firmly established as an international day of giving at the beginning of the holiday season. An accounting showed that $10 million dollars was raised on the first Giving Tuesday. The amount has grown steadily each year since, with early estimates from this past Tuesday being reported at over $60 million.
I’m proud to announce that Mount Olivet Cemetery had some involvement in this great day, albeit a small entrée into something much bigger for the future. Thanks to the generosity of our Board of Directors, an amount of $25,500 was collected in order to establish our newly formed Mount Olivet Preservation and Enhancement Fund (MOCPEF) with the Community Foundation of Frederick County.
For over a decade, the Mount Olivet Board of Directors have entertained the idea of establishing a preservation-themed fund with the Community Foundation. The idea was first pitched, and championed by Colleen Remsberg, longtime Board member and immediate past president. In 2014, the Mount Olivet Preservation and Enhancement Fund was incorporated, but it wasn’t until December 2016 when the cemetery took the next important step to move forward—filing an application with the IRS as a 501(c)(3) public charity. The mission of this charity reads as follows:
The mission of the Mount Olivet Cemetery Preservation and Enhancement Fund is to assist in the conservation of the natural beauty and historic integrity of Mount Olivet Cemetery and to increase public knowledge and appreciation of its unique, cultural, historic, and natural resources through charitable and educational programs.
Putting this in layman’s terms, the cemetery’s Board wants to take steps to preserve the history of this great “garden cemetery,” a community institution since the 1850’s. In doing so, they want to safeguard the cemetery’s historic records, structures and grave monuments therein. We have taken a bit of a head start in 2017 as can be exemplified by things such as these “Stories in Stone” articles and our monthly lectures. In addition, we’d like to expand upon cemetery walking tours, visitor assistance with genealogy and family history of those interred here, special events and anniversaries, educational partnerships with school field trips, interpretive displays such as historic waysides and unique commemorative plantings. Best of all, we will have the opportunity, and more so the financial support to preserve and repair broken and illegible gravestones and monuments in the cemetery’s historic section.
Many people assume that “downed,” and leaning grave markers are products of vandalism or shoddy care. This is incorrect. Most have toppled due to the fact that graves of the 19th century lacked the underlying support foundations that are commonplace in the cemetery’s 20th and 21st century interments. Early graves and reburials lacked vaults of any kind, others consisted of brick vaults or simple “over coverings” of a casket with a slab of slate stone. Over time, the weight from above has caused a collapse as the slate and brick has given way. In other cases, most monument dies are simply held up by iron rods. Moisture can get to these inner pinnings and rust them out. Ground movement underneath (as mentioned), or a strong wind can fell these tombstones at will. In addition, fissures can develop based on weather, causing a stone to crack or a delicate angel’s wing to break. Weather and pollution are also to blame for monument discoloration and other things like algae growth and mineral buildup on marble and granite stones alike.
With these problems, who’s responsibility is it to make repairs? Well, the stones are the property of individual lot holders. The cemetery comes into play with any damage done by cemetery staff, mowing vendors, or acts of nature/God such as a tree or branch collapse. Sadly, In the case of the historic area of Mount Olivet, descending generations have passed on, and many monuments are presently unvisited, and unclaimed, as families moved from the area, or simply “died” out. The new Preservation Fund will allow us to proceed with repairs, and in some cases, elaborate fixes can be attempted requiring specialized craftsman. One of our long range goals is to make inventories of our prominent and unique monuments here at Mount Olivet, representing not only prominent folks from Frederick’s past, but serving as testaments of outstanding art works of early craftsmanship.
Mount Olivet received a positive determination letter back from the IRS in late February, 2017. In doing so, people can now donate to the fund and deduct contributions they make. The Mount Olivet Cemetery Preservation and Enhancement Fund is qualified to receive tax deductible bequests, devises, transfers or gifts. At once, we started researching how other historic cemeteries around the country are running foundations of this sort, including board oversight, fiduciary management, special programming and outreach. To establish a relationship with the Community Foundation of Frederick County was an obvious necessity.
With roots dating back to 1986, the Community Foundation allows members of the Frederick community to establish charitable funds that are then distributed to nonprofit agencies and other social services throughout Frederick County. The cost of establishing a fund with this great organization is $25,000. Colleen Remsberg gave the initial pledge of $10,000 and started the ball rolling for us toward the goal of $25,000. In doing so, she challenged her fellow board members.
December 1st had been set by the Board as the projected date to submit the paperwork agreement with the Community Foundation. At our last Board meeting, this past Monday (November 27th), the challenge to raise $25,000 was reiterated to the cemetery’s directors, with the deadline of Friday, December 1st. At the same time, I made sure to mention that the following day was none other than Giving Tuesday, and this week could be considered Giving Week for Mount Olivet.
As mentioned earlier, the Board Directors answered the call! Special thanks goes to Colleen Remsberg, President Tim Horman, Vice President Emil Bennett, Vice President Andy Radcliffe, Treasurer Jim Summers, Bruce Jett, Dale Summers, Mary Ann Frank, Connie Snook, Bert Anderson and cemetery superintendent Ron Pearcey. One additional donation of note also came from the Board’s legal counsel, Clay Martz. On Friday, December 1st, I had the privilege of accompanying Board member/Preservation Fund committee chair Bert Anderson to the Community Foundation’s downtown office to drop off the fund agreement and an envelope of checks totaling $25,500.
While sitting in the Community Foundation office and discussing our future plans to their staff, I was again reminded of the importance of Mount Olivet and all those buried here. Our interred cemetery population of over 40,000 represents a mirror of the Community Foundation, or better yet, the foundation for our Frederick Community. It’s a “who’s who” of Frederick’s past, with grave memorials and monuments keeping alive the names and memories of those who truly gave us the Frederick that we cherish today.
Yeah, there’s Francis Scott Key, Barbara Fritchie and Gov. Thomas Johnson, but let’s not forget the contributions of former community pillars and veterans whose names grace our streets, parks, businesses. It is these people who gave back to Frederick through their dedication, vision, unselfishness, and money. They formed, or gave birth to, our many church and civic groups, beneficial societies, non-profits and charitable organizations that have aided our citizenry and community for centuries—and the same we hopefully remembered on Giving Tuesday. Mount Olivet Cemetery is more than just a burying ground, it’s a “museum without walls.” This fund, and future support will ensure that it continues to thrive and stay relevant into eternity as these life “Stories in Stone” are certainly worth preserving.
For more information on giving, please contact the Community Foundation by clicking on the logo below.
Well, once again, we are officially in the throes of the holiday season. With Thanksgiving out of the way, here comes the annual onslaught of Christmas-themed decorations, commercials, movies, television holiday-specials, and best (or worst) of all—Christmas music. Earlier last week, I somehow I managed to hear a sneak preview of the “audio yuletide Armageddon.” I became engrossed with the holiday classic, “Home for the Holidays.” This particular version wasn’t the Perry Como original, rather it was the peppy rendition as sung by the Carpenters. Hey, don’t ask me how I found myself in this predicament—It certainly wasn’t a rainy day, or a Monday for that matter, but at the particular moment I did find myself haplessly “hangin’ around” with “nothin’ to do but frown.” That is, until I got this magical little pick me up in my system! Suffice it to say, the song ended up inspiring me to choose this week’s story subject.
The lyrics written by Al Stillman in the early 1950’s still reign true:
“Oh, there's no place like home for the holidays,
'Cause no matter how far away you roam,
When you pine for the sunshine of a friendly gaze,
For the holidays, you can't beat home, sweet home.”
Frederick, Maryland has been my home now for this, my 44th holiday season. I had spent seven previous years in Delaware and Virginia, but Frederick has served for my true, “sweet home” for the vast majority of my existence. Especially poignant in my 50-year-old mind is the Frederick of my early youth, and the family-based holidays spent in our rural, Indian Springs/Yellow Springs area home and neighborhood. I grew up here in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I’m sure this same sentimentality reverberates in the hearts of many of my childhood friends—those who stayed local, and those who moved away such as my brothers residing in Orlando, Florida and Brooklyn, New York respectively.
Whether it’s Clover Hill, Tulip Hill, Linden Hills, Downtown Frederick, or Monocacy Village, “Home for the Holidays” could have the same meeting for residents, or former residents. The municipality has continued growing larger and larger with passing decades—more memories for more people I guess.
It got me really thinking about different places in and around town: “What is the quintessential Frederick neighborhood?” What would catch the eye of Norman Rockwell? That’s right, the famed illustrator and artist whose name is synonymous with not only the holidays, but more so, American culture, much of which has faded over the decades as Frederick (and the country) has grown larger.
From the “Roaring Twenties” to the turbulent Sixties, people throughout the country eagerly anticipated the Christmas season and Rockwell’s festive images, originally appearing on the covers and pages of their favorite magazines, and on holiday cards that brought the spirit of the holidays home. Often criticized by art purists, he possessed a special talent “of appealing to viewer’s nostalgia for home, bygone times and a sense of universal good cheer and benevolence.” The artist once remarked: “I showed the America I knew and observed to others who might not have noticed.”
Elihu H. Rockwell
For a brief genealogy lesson, and sketch of the life of Elihu Rockwell, I submit the following eulogy given by Rev. Irwin P. McCurdy, pastor of Frederick’s Presbyterian Church. This took place during Rockwell’s funeral service held November 27th, 1883 at the (Presbyterian)church’s location on W. 2nd Street.
Elihu Hall Rockwell was born on the 15th day of July, 1790, and consequently at his death he was in his 94th year. He was a native of Middletown, Connecticut, where his great-grandfather Joseph Rockwell, had settled in 1692, which was nearly two centuries ago, and exactly two centuries after the discovery of America by Columbus.
Mr. Rockwell belongs to a respectable and illustrious line of ancestors. His great-grandfather who settled in the town where our deceased brother was born, was a grandson of Deacon William Rockwell, who came to this country from England in the ship “Mary and John” in 1630, which was 10 years after the landing of the “Pilgrim Fathers” on Plymouth Rock from the “Mayflower.” Deacon William Rockwell was one of the principal men of the company that settled the town of Dorchester, Massachusetts. He was a native of the west of England, and of good family and of good estate. He belonged to that family in England, and of good family and of good estate. He belonged to that family in England which traces its origin back to Sir Ralph de Rockville, a Norman Knight, who accompanied the Empress Maude into England, when she claimed the throne of that realm. Sir Ralph de Rockville ultimately joined King Henry II, and had a grant of three Knights of land in the county of York upon which the estate the Rockwells have continued until the present day.
Deacon William Rockwell, who came from England more than two and a half centuries ago, is the ancestor of all that name in America. He remained at Dorchester, Mass., until 1636, when he with the greater portion of the colonists removed to Windsor, Connecticut, taking with them their pastor who had accompanied the colony from England. Deacon Rockwell died in 1640, and subsequently, his widow married Matthew Grant, who had come over from England in the same vessel with the Rockwell family. From this union descended the Grant family of which General U. S. Grant is its most illustrious representative. Thus, the ancestors of our departed brother (Elihu Rockwell) and those of our ex-President were the same.
Mr. Rockwell was educated in a classical institution in his native town, and paid special attention to mathematics, especially surveying and civil engineering. In 1814, almost seventy years ago, at the age of twenty-four, he accepted a position to teach in an academy at Mount Pleasant, in this county, to which he had been recommended by his pastor, the Rev. Mr. Huntingdon, the father of the late distinguished Bishop Huntingdon. He remained at Mount Pleasant for a few years (until 1820), after which he established an academy at Liberty, in this county, which bore a high reputation of learning, and which was continued until recently. Among his students may be mentioned many of the prominent men of the county today and several outside of it. He continued in the academy at Liberty until 1837, after which, as well as during the time in which he was teaching, he was employed as a surveyor and civil engineer in various parts of the surrounding country until a few years ago.
Twenty-eight years ago he removed from Liberty to this city (Frederick in 1855), where he has had his home ever since until last Sabbath evening (Nov. 25th, 1883). God called him to his eternal home in heaven, and he has his residence today in that ‘house not made with hands, eternal in heavens’.
Elihu Rockwell was a man of great accuracy and high reputation; a church officer of remarkable wisdom; a citizen who stood in the front rank. But it was the balance of his powers, the beautiful adjustment of intellectual and moral qualities with refinement of culture, and unique individuality of character, speech, and action, which constituted the general excellence of the man.”
Rockwell’s body was accompanied by quite a procession to Mount Olivet Cemetery, where he would be laid to rest in Area E/Lot 16 beside his twin daughters Alice and Rachel, who both predeceased him decades before. The girls were born in August, 1838, just 13 months after Elihu Rockwell married Mrs. Rachel Wagner Wiestling of Libertytown, widow of Rev. Jacob H. Wiestling.
A Terrace is Born
In 1854, Rockwell bought the parcel of land on the west side of N. Bentz Street, opposite W. Third Street. It was purchased for the sum of $1,600 from Dr. William Tyler. Elihu Rockwell went about building a large home directly facing east towards Third Street, in what is today the street bed of Rockwell Terrace. His place of worship, the Presbyterian Church, was only 100 yards to the southeast of his door. Rockwell was living here during the disruptive period of the American Civil War. He described the scene in a letter to Mrs. E. R. Coleman:
“At the same time imagine a bloodthirsty gang of desperados drawn up in a battle array, drawing nearer and nearer, throwing their shells into the heart of the city, some bursting near us, one entering the Presbyterian Church and falling directly over the pulpit.“
Elihu Rockwell and his wife would live in this vicinity until their respective deaths—his in 1883 and Rachel’s three years later in November, 1886. The commodious house would revert to Elihu’s reclusive step-daughter Maria K. Wiestling. Wiestling would play an interesting, yet controversial, role in the legacy of Rockwell Terrace—but more on that in a minute.
According to the "History of Frederick County, Maryland, Volume 1," published in 1910 by Thomas John Chew Williams and Folger McKinsey, it is said that “the wide avenue was named in memory of Elihu Hall Rockwell. Rockwell acquired the land and, after his death in 1883, the property was purchased by Frank C. Norwood, who, in 1905, laid out Rockwell Terrace.”
The authors go on to note: “the street was carefully macadamized ... Norway maple shade trees planted along both sides; the grade of the streets and of the houses established ... building regulations established to guarantee uniformity of character of the houses and the stipulation that "no intoxicants of any kind are allowed ever to be sold or in any way traded in—such stipulations being made in the deeds to purchasers."
As trolley lines and the advent of automobiles enabled people to move from the center of Frederick, some had relocated to this suburban development laid out and recorded in 1905 by local lawyer/former state senator turned businessman Frank C. Norwood. The area fast became the most desirable location in town and additional new neighborhoods would continue to be built under the leadership of Norwood and his West End Realty Company.
In researching this further, I found that Mr. Norwood came under a great deal of scrutiny and cross examination in the Frederick County Court in October of 1901. This was nine months after the death of Elihu Rockwell’s step-daughter and sole heir, Maria Katherine Wiestling. Miss Wiestling had died an old maid at the age of 79. Some said she was crazy, others say she was simply plagued by ill health, which kept her immobilized. These latter folks said her mind was brilliant and “as sharp as a knife.” Whatever the case may be, a week-long trial was held to contest her will, with emphasis on her mind and intent. Apparently the bulk of the Rockwell fortune involving money, land and belongings was left to a cousin of the aged woman—none other than Frank C. Norwood. Norwood was also named sole executor.
Tensions had escalated when it was discovered and determined that Mr. Norwood had actually written the last will and testament for Miss Wiestling, and in his own hand. Apparently, the will had undergone some new revisions, having originally been written in 1893. After numerous witnesses and experts were called to the stand, including Mr. Norwood, the jury would not reverse the intention of the will in the favor of Miss Wiestling’s family. The Presbyterian Church also lost out on a small fortune promised by Elihu Rockwell in his earlier will, contingent on the sale of his landholding opposite W. Third Street.
Frank C. Norwood was not found guilty of any wrongdoing. He now went into action, soon demolishing the old Rockwell family mansion in order to open a street into his new suburban oasis on the northwest part of town. He would build 31 homes. Additional land was purchased from the German Reformed Church and Lewis Dill (namesake of another Frederick roadway). Norwood made a fortune in the process, and the door was open for future expansion in this vicinity. Newly renamed Hood College opened their spacious campus here in 1913, followed by the construction of the College Park neighborhood subdivision in the 1920’s, with such useful amenities as Baker Park and Culler Lake.
If nothing else, at least Norwood affixed the beloved schoolteacher’s name to the broad avenue that bisected his regal neighborhood. And yes, it was for Elihu, because Norman Rockwell was only a boy of 11 years old and living in New York City at the time.
Thank you Elihu Hall Rockwell for being the genesis of upscale suburban living in Frederick. In 1974, ninety years after your death, my family moved from Wilmington, Delaware to Stonehouse Road, within the new northwest suburbs of Frederick City. My childhood wasn’t quite Rockwell Terrace, but it surely was “Rockwellesque.”
“Oh there's no place like home for the holidays,
'Cause no matter how far away you roam,
If you want to be happy in a million ways,
For the holidays,
You can't beat home, sweet home”
Somewhere in the past, I had heard, or read, that Elihu Rockwell's house was not demolished, rather it was dismantled and rebuilt on the south side of Rockwell Terrace along Bentz Street's west side. I was not able to confirm this before publishing this story, but would invite comment from anyone in the know. I did however, find a news clipping from May, 1904 that mentioned that this could have been a future possibility due to the necessity to move the Shriver family cemetery that once stood in the area directly south of the Rockwell residence (along Bentz).
One of the best newspaper clippings uncovered in my research of Elihu Rockwell was from 1911, and tells the story of an unwelcome "heavenly visitor" to the angelic neighborhood.
*Special thanks to my friend the Hon. Sandra K. Dalton, Clerk of the Frederick County Court, for providing me with a facsimile copy of Maria K. Wiestling's last will and testament
It's officially been one year since we introduced the "Stories in Stone" blog feature. Now it's time for a slight change after 52 consecutive weeks of introducing readers to just a small sampling of the 40,000+ special "life stories" that constitute the population of Mount Olivet Cemetery.
The stories will continue to come as we wrap up this year and head into 2018, however, new editions will come bi-weekly instead of weekly. In the "off weeks," we will offer a reprise of some of our finest pieces from the past year. This all comes as a result of something new and equally time consuming that I'm presently researching and building for the cemetery.
I'd like to introduce you to a new auxiliary website entitled Mount Olivet Veterans, with an email address of http://www.mountolivetvets.com. This venture will one day document and showcase all veterans buried within the cemetery, ranging the gauntlet of American History and boasting connections to every armed conflict our country has taken part in.
As many already know, Mount Olivet is considered one of the most distinguished, and beautiful, burial grounds in the country. Meanwhile, it serves as the final resting place for unselfish patriots who bravely served their country under the same flag so proudly hailed in 1814 by fellow cemetery resident and Frederick native, Francis Scott Key.
Of those reposing in Mount Olivet, some veterans died amidst military combat, while others succumbed to wounds and sickness acquired in the line of duty. The vast majority came back home from the battlefields and lived out full lives dedicated to family and professional pursuits. Most returned with the full understanding that freedom is not necessarily free, as great sacrifices are made to protect that freedom.
The new website can best be described as "a work in progress," and will continually be added to. We humbly ask for the assistance of descendants, historians and friends to provide us with photographs and/or additional information of note. We also want to link to other sources of information regarding our vets, and the training and battles they participated in.
As opposed to a finished publication like a book, we will have the opportunity to add supplemental images and information at will, while also having the ability to correct errors and misnomers. We hope this site provides an educational and informational portal, one that sheds light on why Frederick, Maryland has always been linked to patriotism and the American flag.
We have a large challenge ahead, but are excited to provide this site on behalf of the cemetery operation and the newly created Mount Olivet Preservation and Enhancement Fund, an IRS accredited 501(c)3 non profit, with fiduciary oversight to be handled by the Community Foundation of Frederick County.
Our starting point with the website will involve World War I, as we are currently within the centennial commemoration. The launch of this site occurs in November, 2017 with an eye looking towards next November, 2018. Our goal is to compile veteran profiles on nearly 500 soldiers, marines and sailors linked to "the Great War." We want to complete this task by Armistice Day (November 11th) of 2018, at which time we hope to have a large-scale, public commemorative event to usher in the 100th anniversary of the end of the war.
In the meantime, I will be busy researching World War I veterans buried here in the cemetery. The goal is to introduce an average of 20 or so of these veterans through the website on a biweekly (every other week) schedule. The order of release on the site will be tied to death week/date anniversary. Our first batch of veterans includes the weeks November 11-17, November 18-24, and November 25-December 1.
Our secondary role for the website (behind adding archival information and photographs) is bringing attention to old gravestones and markers within the cemetery. We have the opportunity to work with families and fellow history groups to clean and/or make necessary repairs to grave monuments and markers. This is particularly true of graves associated with veterans of earlier conflicts than later. Some of these are unreadable due to the effects of pollution and acid rain. Others have toppled due to ground shift and the lacking of proper underground foundations.
We also would like to see special commemorative medallions signifying graves without military issue markers, and trees planted in the honor of servicemen. These, as well, are the aims of the new Mount Olivet Preservation and Enhancement Fund.
The sky is the limit, and we hope to garner the support of interested descendants and others interested in our veterans at rest here in Mount Olivet. That said, we would like to provide future commemorative events and programming, enhanced tourist experiences along with the formentioned added documentation to the cemetery history archives/websites, monument repair and special plantings.
The Mount Olivet Veterans website is currently quite sparse as it only includes inventory records associated with World War I participants. Next year, we hope to tackle Civil War soldiers and beyond in an effort to have all Mount Olivet veterans represented on the site. Future plans include the French and Indian War, American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War, World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm, etc.
Below is a friendly link to the new Mount Olivet Veterans website. Let us know your thoughts...and as the highway construction signs always say: "Please Pardon our Progress" as we continue to strengthen Mount Olivet's history records, while making the grounds look even better.
President Theodore Roosevelt once observed: “No nation has the root of greatness in it, unless in time of need, it can rise to the heroic mood.” Whether it’s Veterans Day, Memorial Day or July 4th, the self-evident truth of this statement can be readily found among countless monuments and memorials that populate Frederick’s Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Many know Mount Olivet as the final resting place of Francis Scott Key and Barbara Fritchie, two former residents of town who gained national fame thanks to a song and a poem—both written about the US flag under attack by the enemy. In addition, Mount Olivet is also home to over 4,000 veterans connected all major military conflicts of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
While it’s easy to fathom Revolutionary, Civil War and World War II soldiers, it’s the other wars that get overshadowed by romantic nature of the fore-mentioned “Big 3.” The most popular wars that people forget are the War of 1812, the Mexican War and World War I. And it’s this latter conflict which currently has the best chance for remembrance as 2017-2018 marks the centennial commemoration of US involvement in the first ever World War.
In a recent study of all cemetery records, we have found nearly 500 veterans of World War I resting in Mount Olivet. Only 14 individuals are known to have been killed in action and/or service-related deaths. The vast majority of veterans of this conflict succumbed years and decades later from a myriad of things. The last of which to enter Mount Olivet was a veteran of great distinction who died 90 years after first entering military service. Contrary to popular belief, this individual was also a woman—a lady by the name of Charlotte Louise (Berry) Winters.
Charlotte Winters died on March 27th, 2007 and was laid to rest in the FF Area of Frederick’s Mount Olivet Cemetery. She had attained the age of 109. Mrs. Winters was the oldest Navy veteran at the time of her death, and more so, the final living female veteran of World War I. She was among a select group of 10 surviving veterans from this conflict. In case you were wondering, here is a list of “the last” from each military branch:
Air Force Homer Anderson (d. September 23, 2006 at the age of 108)
Army Frank Buckles (d. February 27, 2011 at the age of 110)
Navy Charlotte Winters (d. March 27, 2007 at the age of 109)
Navy Lloyd Brown (d. March 29, 2007 at the age of 105)
As can be seen, the last Navy veteran of World War I, Lloyd Brown died just two days after Charlotte. The last veteran of the war, Frank Buckles, died in 2011. He was a resident of nearby Charles Town, WV. Charlotte lived out her final years in close proximity to Buckles, just north of the Potomac River at a nursing home in Boonsboro, MD.
A funeral church service was held in Charlotte’s honor at Frederick’s All Saints’ Episcopal, an event which included attendance by several members of news media and honor guard, pall bearers, and firing party from the Navy Ceremonial Guard. Adm. Mike Mullen, Chief of Naval Operations, attended the service and remarked: "Every Sailor in our Navy joins me today in mourning the passing of our shipmate, Charlotte Winters. We offer her family and friends our deepest sympathies and most heartfelt condolences."
Charlotte Berry was born November 10th, 1897 in Washington, DC. She was the daughter of Mackall Cox Berry and wife Louise Bild. She had a younger sister, Sophia. Mr. Berry was a Baltimore native and worked as a manager at a clothing store. Charlotte's mother was the daughter of Prussian immigrants.
The family lived at 22nd and Channing streets in the Langdon Park neighborhood located in the northeast part of the District of Columbia. Sadly, Charlotte lost her mother when she was 12 years old in 1909. Her namesake paternal aunt, Lottie Berry, would move in with the family and help Mackall raise his two daughters into adulthood.
At the age of 19, Charlotte had a desire to join the US Navy. This could have been influenced by a childhood next-door neighbor who worked as a machinist at the Washington Naval Yard. There was no opportunity or place for women to serve in this military branch at the time. Charlotte’s father was friends with Franklin D. Roosevelt, currently serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time. This relationship likely gave an opportunity for Charlotte to earn a meeting with Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy. The young lady raised the question of why women could not serve their country through the military branches.
This conversation occurred in 1916, and Charlotte’s query successfully helped persuade the Secretary to allow women to join the cause. Daniels investigated the matter and found that there was no prohibition against women serving in the Navy. Charlotte, along with younger sister Sophie Berry, immediately enlisted after the US entered into the war in April, 1917. Thousands of other women would follow her lead.
In the Navy
Charlotte’s first assignment was at a stateside gun production facility—the Washington Navy Gun Factory, better known as the Washington Naval Yard. She held the rank of Yeoman 3rd Class (F), the “F” standing for female. A yeoman is an enlisted person within the United States Navy that performs administrative and clerical duties. In most professions and settings, this individual would work under the job title of administrative assistant.
The yeoman of yesterday, and today, deals with protocol, naval instructions, enlisted evaluations, commissioned officer fitness reports, naval messages, visitors, telephone calls and mail (both conventional and electronic). They organize files, operate office equipment, and order and distribute office supplies. A Yeoman also writes and types business and social letters, notices, directives, forms and reports. The Yeoman (F)s, were popularly referred to as Yeomanettes, however, many were not fond of this play on the moniker.
At the time Charlotte Berry entered military service, the Navy and Marines were the only branches of the US armed forces to enlist women to serve in a similar status with men. The expanding Navy and Marines had a dire need for more clerks and stenographers, while also needing to free male Sailors and Marines for fleet duty. Recruited at first just for clerical duties, by the end of the war their jobs included being language translators and making munitions in factories.
Records show that 11,000 Yeoman (F)s, 1,713 female nurses, and 269 women Marines (Marinettes) served in World War I. For many years, they, along with Army nurses, were the only women eligible to join the American Legion, and the only ones eligible to receive a bonus voted to veterans of "the Great War."
Charlotte served at the Washington Navy Yard in Building 57, current home of the Naval Historical Center. She was one of the last Yeoman (F)s associated with World War I to be discharged. This was in late July of 1919, but Charlotte was immediately hired by the Navy as a civilian to fill her active-duty job. Winters was assigned to the Washington Navy Gun Factory, where she was a typist throughout the war.
In his eulogy of Charlotte in 2007, Admiral Mullen remarked: "Ms. Winters was a trailblazer, one of a relatively small group of women to serve in our Navy during World War I. She did so honorably and nobly, helping through that service to bring freedom to millions of people all across Europe and hope to thousands of young women all across America. She and her shipmates answered the call when the nation needed them most. They worked hard. They struggled. They persevered, and they set a shining example. And, as in Ms. Winter's case, some stayed on to prepare the Navy to fight and win yet another World War. They were patriots, and we will remain forever in their debt."
The Yeoman (F)s were of such invaluable service to the country that there was no question of women returning to Navy service during World War II as the WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service). The success of the WAVES in turn paved the way for the permanent establishment of women in Navy in 1948.
Charlotte Berry was a founding member of the National Yeoman (F) veterans' organization in 1926, and served as its eighth commander from 1940-1941. She was also a member of the American Legion for 88 years and one of 20 enlisted Naval Reserve women to found one of the first Legion posts in her native Washington, DC.
Retiring in 1953, her connection with the Navy spanned from World War I through the Korean War. She would attain the rank of Yeoman (F) Second Class. The US Navy had major implications on Charlotte’s personal life as well, as her husband was a Navy man. She met and married John Russell Winters, a machinist at the Washington Navy Yard. The two wed on November 23, 1949. Before this time, Charlotte had continued to live with her widowed father and aunt on V Street in Northeast DC.
The couple would not have children, but kept busy with hobbies, travel and interests. Until the early 1980s, Charlotte and John visited Revolutionary War and Civil War battlefields. They documented battle strategies and the lives of the soldiers who had fought there. They visited every state, except for Hawaii.
After spending the majority of their lives in Washington DC, the Winters chose the Maryland county named for our first president to call home. They were introduced to Washington County through many pleasure and research trips to Antietam National Battlefield, and nearby South Mountain State Battlefield.
Charlotte would donate her documentation of thousands of Civil War graves to the Washington County (MD) Public Library. This can be found in the Western Maryland Room. Charlotte donated her uniform and other military objects to the Navy Museum in Washington, DC. The Yeoman (F)s like Charlotte would set a standard of excellence for women in the U.S. military which is carried on to today.
John Winters died in April, 1984. He would be buried in Mount Olivet, a choice made due to the fondness of the couple of the patriotic and military spirit encompassed here.
Charlotte died nearly 23 years later on Tuesday, March 27th, 2007 at the Fahrney-Keedy Memorial Home and Village, located in Boonsboro. She was 109 years, 4 months and 17 days, but who’s counting, right. Her obituary appeared in newspapers across the country. Charlotte Louise (Berry) Winters was laid to rest by her husband's side on March 30th, 2007 in Area FF/Lot 69. Her flag-draped coffin was carried to her gravesite by the Navy's Ceremonial Guard.
So much for old “patriot-related” superlatives…it’s time to re-evaluate. Many think of Francis Scott Key and Thomas Johnson, Jr. to be the greatest patriots in Mount Olivet. In the same breath, you would assume Barbara Fritchie to be the cemetery’s top female patriot, while being the oldest living patriot at the time of her death. Now it’s time to include supercentenarian Charlotte Berry Winters in the conversation, and give praise and remembrance to each and every military veteran that has Mount Olivet Cemetery as his, or her, final resting place. Thank you all for “rising to a heroic mood.”
(Special thanks to the US Navy and Charlotte Winters' beloved niece, Kelly Auber, for many photographs used in this story)