The word “misjudge” is defined as having formed a wrong opinion or conclusion about someone, thing or action. It happens all the time, sometimes a person is given a false estimation simply by their appearance. Others are assessed based on past “track record,” and not given credit for the ability to accomplish a current task at hand. We often see this in sports with “upset” victories by misjudged team thought to be lesser in talent, heart or drive.
Most often, an individual’s action or response could be perceived in such a way to give an onlooker a wrong or negative idea. Misinformation and yellow journalism, and the newly coined concept of “fake news,” can easily aid in the misjudgment of people, companies, and events. This is a result of sloppy research work by news media. Other times it could be done by design to boost ratings, print sales or an attempt to cause a firing or dismissal. With the emergence of social media, good-old fashioned gossip can be presented as fact in print, photo or video form and distributed to the world thanks to the internet.
Oftentimes, misjudgments can end up as harmless misunderstandings, with valuable lessons learned. I can look back at popular television comedies from my childhood that featured this theme such as The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island. Probably the best example I can think of is Three’s Company. This sitcom aired for eight seasons on ABC from 1977 to 1984 and revolved around three single roommates: Janet Wood (Joyce DeWitt), Chrissy Snow (Suzanne Somers), and Jack Tripper (John Ritter), who all platonically live together in a Santa Monica, California apartment building owned by Stanley Roper (Norman Fell) and Helen Roper (Audra Lindley).
The show is best described as a comedy of errors. It chronicles the escapades and hijinks of the roommate trio's constant misjudgments, misunderstandings, social lives, and financial struggles, such as keeping the rent current, living arrangements and keeping up deception. Oftentimes, one simple misunderstanding would lead to a misjudgment which would spiral into several more.
Three's Company was quite popular in its day, and still can be seen in syndication. It also brought controversy at times with the use of risqué subject matter, adult topics and double entendre. The program seems very tame compared to today’s television standards. This is a sign of the times as things such as fashion and social norms have relaxed over time, or gained acceptance. In the past, a lady showing a bare ankle in the 1800’s would be the focus of strict judgment, as would a divorcee or homosexual. This could lead to public or family shunning, loss of work, and tarnished reputations. Worse of all, the misjudgment could follow an individual to their grave.
This week’s article is a bit paradoxical in nature, as I want to be careful not to wrongly “misjudge” William H. Hooper, the father of our subject Mary S. Hooper. However, as you will soon see, Mr. Hooper appears guilty of serious misjudgment himself—one that would lead to the tragic downfall of his daughter, eventually culminating in wrong opinions being formed by the local news media and the Frederick community as a whole. A cemetery record that survives until today shows evidence of this misjudgment. It’s time to set the record straight.
Mary S. Hooper
Mary Susan Hooper was born July 13th, 1863, just over a week after the famed Battle of Gettysburg. Frederick was still in turmoil as Gen. Lee’s retreating Confederates were penned up at Williamsport, not able to cross back into the safety of Virginia because of a raging Potomac River in flood stage. Wounded soldiers from both armies were being brought to town, and Union soldiers were highly visible. Mary’s father, William H. Hooper, was a well-known brick mason, credited for crafting the original walkways in front of the Frederick County Courthouse that was currently under construction at this time, the former courthouse having been destroyed by fire in May of 1861. He would later build the front walk leading up to the Maryland School for the Deaf. Mary was named for her mother, Mary Susan Brengle.
Mary S. Hooper had an older sibling named Charles (b. 1861) and a sister Florence (b. 1858). Florence celebrated her 5th birthday, just four days after the birth of her baby sister on July 17th (1863). Sadly, the young girl would die less than two months later. Although unknown, I could only imagine the conflicted feelings of the Hooper parents—happy to have a healthy second child while heartbroken over the tragic loss of their first. Maybe this caused a delay in Mary’s christening, deferred to January of 1864. However, another prime reason could be the Civil War activity of the time as the family’s house of worship, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, was in heavy use as a makeshift hospital for wounded and sick soldiers.
Mary’s mother would give birth to a third child a year later in February, 1865. Her mother gave her husband a son, and (now two-and-a half year-old) Mary, a brother. He was named Eugene. The war soon ended, hostilities subsided, and William H. Hooper found his employment steadier as peaceful times prevailed once again. Mrs. Hooper had two youngsters to attend to.
Tragedy visited the family’s East South Street door once again in late summer of 1868. This time, the grim reaper took Eugene to the grave. Whether disease, or deep stress, the second death of a child likely took its toll on mother Mary Hooper. She would soon die before the year’s end on December 31st, 1868. At just five years of age, Mary’s mother, brother and sister Florence laid in rest beneath a large marble obelisk in Mount Olivet Cemetery’s Area B, lot 84.
The 1870 census shows William H. Hooper, along with Charles and Mary, cohabitating with the Jesse W. Rine family. Where, three had been company for the Hooper family, the dynamic would change drastically a decade later to eight. The 1880 census shows the family living on W. Patrick Street. William H. Hooper had remarried—Susan R. (Wise) Zimmerman, and Mary Hooper now had three step-siblings: 16-year-old William, one year-old Edith and two-month-old Harry. Stepmother Susan’s sister, Ida, was also here in residence.
I failed to glean any more information on Mary S. Hooper, on the verge of womanhood at the time of her 17th birthday in 1880. She carried quite a burden with her, but how did this affect her relationship with God, educational studies, and personal relationships? Was she introverted or extroverted? We will likely never know. Nothing more can be surmised until six years later.
The year 1886 brought with it great misjudgment, or should I say, misjudgments. Mary's brother Charles was known to have worked at the Lewis McMurray Canning Factory located off W. South Street. A co-worker was a fellow named William H. King, a can-maker. Apparently Mary, described as “a very pretty and prepossessing young lady,” had either shown an interest in William or vice-versa. Perhaps some sort of liaison occurred between the two. This likely happened two years earlier in 1884. Whatever it was, news reached Mary’s father—and he was none too pleased. The matter was compounded due to the fact that William King was a newly married man. The story or misjudgment was that Mary had intercourse with Mr. King, aiding in him now labeled as an adulterer by co-workers and townspeople. Mary fell from grace, and most tragically in the eyes of her father.
It was 1884 when Mr. Hooper promptly kicked Mary out of the family household and disowned her. She sought refuge at the home of Mr. Lewis Burck of 464 W. South Street. I immediately sought out information on Mr. Burck, to see if he was a relative of some sort. I found that he was a 40-year-old house painter. The family home is located close to the intersection of W. South Street and the aptly named Burck Street which came about around 1884, as well as Madison Street which it bisects to the south.
Lewis Burck’s wife was named Emma. Interestingly, Emma Burck was the former Emma King, older sister to William H. King, the object of all this controversy. As a matter of fact, William was living in this same house at the time of the 1880 US census.
So to review, 23-year-old Mary had been kicked out of her family’s home, and in 1886 is living with the sister of the man she was accused of having an affair with. Seems like a crazy Three’s Company episode to me. Now I will take you to Christmas Day, 1886. Here is the story as told by the Frederick Daily News from Monday, December 27th(1886).
“At a late hour on Saturday afternoon she went upstairs and dressed herself to go out, her intention being to take Mrs. Burck’s children for a walk. As she came downstairs, she met Mrs. Burck, to whom she remarked that she did not feel very well. Mrs. Burck advised her to go in the room and lie down on the bed, which she did. She had been lying down a few minutes when Mrs. Burck entered the room and found her hands cold and stiff. When asked how she felt, Miss Hooper believed she was better. She came downstairs and sat down to converse with the family. Fearing that something serious might be the matter with the girl, Dr. Long was sent for,
In the meantime, Miss Hooper showed signs of being in extreme pain and fell from the chair. She was picked up and placed on a sofa and the doctor again sent for. She immediately became unconscious and expired before the arrival of the physician. A few moments after her death, her body turned black and began to swell perceptibly. This led to the supposition that she had committed suicide by taking poison for it was known that her alliance with King was a source of trouble for her.”
The file in Mount Olivet Cemetery for Mary S. Hooper (1863-1886) states that she died from “suicide by taking laudanum." If you were to go back to the late 1800’s, you would find laudanum being sold without a prescription over the counter. It was commonly used as a painkiller, cough suppressant and served as a remedy for the treatment of diarrhea. Laudanum is a tincture of opium and highly addictive.
Until the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 restricted the manufacture and distribution of opiates, including laudanum, and coca derivatives in the US, you could purchase it almost anywhere without a prescription. Today it is not normally used for medical purposes, although it has a proven record as a pain reliever.
Even a holiday could not stop word from traveling throughout town that night and next day: Jilted lover Mary Hooper had taken her own life. And, no less, on a day associated with great joy and appreciation—especially for family.
Mary’s lifeless body was immediately removed from the Burck family household, shortly after the recorded time of death of 8:30pm. It was brought back home to the home of her father. On Sunday morning (December 26th), Magistrate Christian H. Eckstein summoned a coroner’s inquest due to the inability of Dr. W. A. Long to give a legitimate reason for the 24-year old’s sudden death. Dr. Franklin B. Smith was requested to perform an autopsy. This was done at 3pm and three major misjudgments would be discovered through the findings.
The body was then transported to the Mount Olivet Cemetery vault, where it had to rest until Dr. Smith gave his findings at a hearing scheduled for 1pm on December 27th at the Frederick Courthouse.
First, and foremost, Miss Hooper did not take laudanum or any other poison. She had not committed suicide as had been thought. Instead, Mary had died from natural causes.
Secondly, Mary specifically died from a cerebral hemorrhage, an internal bleeding within the brain tissue or ventricles. Symptoms can include headache, one-sided weakness, vomiting, seizures, decreased level of consciousness, and neck stiffness. Often symptoms get worse over time. Fever is also common. This is generally caused by head trauma, but also happens naturally due to aneurysms and brain tumors.
Third, and most shocking of all, Mary Susan Hooper was still a virgin. The newspaper reported this delicately using the description: “her purity of life was unmolested.”
Mary Susan Hooper was buried in the family plot the very next day. She would be laid next to her mother, Florence, and Eugene. I would imagine that Mary’s father felt some pretty deep guilt. He would move out of Frederick with his wife and young family to Washington, DC in April, 1887. However, Mr. Hooper would die suddenly in March the following year (1888). Five years later, Charles A. Hooper (Mary’s older brother) would pass just one month before his 32nd birthday. He was the last remaining member of the original Hooper nuclear family. All five are buried in Area B/lot 84, their names adorning the monument in the center of the lot.
Thank goodness for that coroner’s inquest, or Mary’s reputation in death, would mimic what many people believed to be true while she was living. Rest in peace Mary Hooper, I’m truly sorry you had to experience the pain you endured.
How did the concept of Manifest Destiny play to Frederick residents just three months after the close of the American Civil War? On July 13th, 1865, Horace Greeley, Editor of the New York Tribune newspaper, wrote an editorial promoting the Homestead Act which President Lincoln had signed earlier on May 20th, 1862. Young men working in Washington D.C. had complained about the cost of living and the low wages paid by the government. Greeley wrote:
“Washington is not a place to live in. The rents are high, the food is bad, the dust is disgusting and the morals are deplorable. Go West, young man, go West and grow up with the country.”
One young man was just too darn young to act on any impulse in 1865—but years later he would, multiple times.
Eleven-year old Joseph Walling knew little of the world outside of his hometown, but appreciated the modes of travel afforded local residents wanting to see more of the country that had just been preserved by the recent four-year conflict. The young man’s father (Capt. Henry Jefferson Walling) was a popular passenger conductor for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, making trips to Charm City and elsewhere on a daily basis. Joe Walling would also understand the dangers involved in travel as well. His grandfather and namesake, Joseph M. Walling, was also an employee of the mighty B&O. He was tragically killed in a railroad derailment accident in March, 1858.
Maybe travel was just in Joe Walling’s blood, and his childhood exposure to the carnage of the Civil War simply made him numb to danger? This can be hypothesized because Walling’s long-“road” ahead would be defined by two things: westward travel and engaging in risky professions and hobbies.
Joseph Henry Jefferson Walling was born September 21st, 1853 in Frederick, Maryland. His family lived in a two story dwelling on East All Saints Street, located between the B&O Railroad Depot to the east, and the B&O Passenger Station to the west. "Joe" was five when his grandfather lost his life heading to work one day en-route to Baltimore. At eight, the American Civil War erupted, and Frederick would be visited by both major armies, North and South. Throughout the duration, wounded, sick and dying soldiers could be easily seen as they were brought for care to Frederick’s “one-vast hospital.”
The Walling family residence can be seen in this wartime sketch depicting the October 4, 1862 visit of Abraham Lincoln to Frederick which appeared in Harpers Weekly magazine. This is the old B&O Passenger Station located at the southeast corner of E. All Saints and S. market streets. The two-story Walling home appears on the south side of All Saints Street (just beyond the locomotive)
At 15, Joe followed in a first responder role, shared with both his father and grandfather as he joined the United Fire Company. He would spend the next 75 years in service to various fire companies, one day earning the moniker as “the oldest volunteer firefighter in the United States.” In 1871, Joe made his first big move and took up residence in Baltimore and worked for the railroad.
Shortly thereafter, he earned a job as an Indian scout, guide and escort assisting wagon trains delivering shipments from Kansas City to points in the “Wild West.” Most of these were along the famed Santa Fe Trail, taking him to New Mexico and Arizona. He lived in the plains country for six years between 1872-1878. In between trips, he had proposed to the love of his life, Laura Staley. The couple married in 1876, but the life change didn’t seem to slow down Joe Walling one bit, as he would have plenty of stories to tell in the future of his western experiences. Nearly 70 years later, a newspaper writer of the Frederick News would write of Joe:
“He could describe the markings painted on the faces of the Apaches and the sound of their battle cries as they attacked the wagon trains. He knew the Pawnee, the Arapahoes and the Sioux. Many a time their ponies streaked in lightning circles around the massed covered-wagons he protected, and he swapped bullets with the best of them.”
Joe next ventured into the heart of Indian Territory (Oklahoma Territory) and became a bona-fide cowboy. For two years (1879-1880) he would ride the range, keeping a lookout for cattle rustlers and other unsavory men of the Old West. It was here that he met a young adventurer much like himself and named Gordon William Lillie. Lillie would later become a well-known American showman and performer under the name Pawnee Bill. He and wife May, a female marksman in the style of Annie Oakley, specialized in Wild West shows, including a short partnership with Maj. William F. Cody—Buffalo Bill.
By June of 1880, Joe was back east in Frederick with wife Laura and son Henry Jefferson, who were living with Joe’s parents and grandmother in the family home on E. All Saints Street. He gained employment again with the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad as a brakeman.
The job of the freight train brakeman was a solitary one and was especially dangerous. Before the widespread use of airbrakes in the late 19th century, trains were stopped through the manual application of brakes on each of the train’s cars. Even after the airbrake came into universal use, the brakeman still had to be ready to climb atop the train to manually set the brakes when the airbrakes failed to work or when a section of cars had to be cut from the train. In the interest of train safety, the middle brakeman, if there was one, would ride out in the open in order to be ready to manually apply the brakes if the need arose. Middle brakemen were most frequently used on long freight trains as well as on local freight lines where freight cars had to be cut loose or added on regularly.
One month later, Joe Walling would experience another tragic event with the death of wife Laura. His four children were grown, but the pain was no less. He took up residence with his daughter Betty Pennington, and lived under her roof at 907 S. Paca Street in Baltimore, only a few blocks west of the current day sports stadium complex of Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium.
Joe Walling’s personal storytelling ability to family and friends was legendary. He had a welcome invitation to visit and “conduct court” at a plethora of fire houses across Charm City. This is likely how he earned the nickname of “Uncle Joe.”
Joe needed something to fill his desire for travel and danger. He was working for a Baltimore ironworks at this time, and his chief hobby was that of a member of the Baltimore Wanderlust Club, an organization that conducted hiking outings. Joe loved this group and regularly walked long distances to towns across the region, including many trips to and from Frederick on foot.
As Joe was trying to fill the major void created in his life following the loss of Laura, he decided to head west once again, as he had done in his youth. However, he wasn’t going to stay out west, he just wanted to visit, and come back to Maryland. In 1910, Joe embarked on the first of five known transcontinental trips he would attempt over the next 22 years. To San Francisco and back on foot was “Uncle Joe’s” first major feat. It also brought him notoriety and standing as one of the state’s most colorful characters. In 1915, Joe Walling planned another transcontinental trip, but this time aboard a pony. Escorted by policemen and drum corps, Joe set out on his journey from Frederick on April 1st. Unfortunately, the trek had to be aborted later in the month. After traveling 300 miles, the 62 year-old rider was thrown from his mount near Wheeling, WV. He suffered a broken leg but remained in good spirits, determined to try again in the spring of 1916.
In his eighties, he would continue to walk all over Baltimore, but would not attempt another cross-country sojourn. His last decade of life found Uncle Joe in the familiar role as raconteur as he told the tales of a storied life, full of adventure, duty to others, travel and the romance of the famed “Wild West.” Joseph J. Walling died quietly in Baltimore on July 2nd, 1944 at the age of 91. The “old warrior” made one last trip west to his native Frederick, where he would be laid to rest in the family plot in Mount Olivet Cemetery. He would take his place next to wife Laura, with his parents and grandparents close at hand. His monument reads:
“Here he lies where he longed to be. Home is the sailor, home from the sea.”
“The flame of love shall burn into our hearts the memory of our noble dead.”
These are words written upon the World War II Memorial, located within Mount Olivet Cemetery’s Section EE. The monument, first erected in 1947, is: “dedicated to the Men and Women of Frederick County who, by their unselfish devotion to duty, have advanced the American ideals of liberty and the universal brotherhood of man.”
Memorial Day originated in 1868. First known as Decoration Day, the observance took form in the year 1868 when the Grand Army of the Republic established it as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers. Confederate veteran groups would follow suit with their own day of honoring former soldiers lost in the conflict.
By the 20th century, one day was chosen to solemnly commemorate all Americans who lost their lives in military service—Memorial Day. Over the years, people have made regular pilgrimages to visit cemeteries and memorials on this federal holiday, particularly to honor those who have died in military service. In many cases, volunteers place American flags on graves of veterans within cemeteries of varying sizes, big and small. Public ceremonies of remembrance are generally held by veterans service organizations and municipalities.
Mount Olivet is no stranger to the abovementioned activity, dating back to the 1860’s. To this day, annual Memorial Day observances have taken place within the cemetery’s hallowed grounds. For decades, the American Legion Francis Scott Key Post #11 has held a program in the shadow of their namesake’s memorial by the front of the cemetery. This takes place at 12 noon. Earlier in the morning, and in the rear of the cemetery, local Frederick County based chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution, along with Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War have organized ceremonies to honor veterans “at rest” in Mount Olivet’s mausoleum complex. This is a more recent tradition with a start time of 10am.
The cemetery is peppered with small US flaglets, placed one week earlier by American Legion members and (Legion) baseball players. Flags are flown at half-mast, Taps is played and wreaths adorn the Francis Scott Key monument and the World War II Memorial. At the latter, poppy flower pedals can be found adorning the 30 military issued markers of men buried within the monument itself. One of these men died 73 years ago on May 28th, 1944.
A Boy from Libertytown
William Bernard Smith was born September 7th, 1918. He grew up on a farm in Libertytown owned by his parents William A. and Margaret Smith. A graduate of Libertytown High School, he found employment with a bottling company in nearby Mount Airy. One month before his 23rd birthday, Smith entered the US Army in April of 1941.
Originally a member of the 29th Division, William B. Smith was transferred to the Signal Corps before being sent to the overseas Mediterranean and Middle East Theater of war. He arrived in late March 1943 and stationed in North Africa in June. He would participate in the Tunisian campaign and then landed in Italy. The push north by allied forces was slow and steady.
A Fear of the Unknown
As the Smith family sadly experienced the one-year anniversary of William’s death, another Frederick resident would lose his life in the Western Theater of Japan on May 28th, 1945. This serviceman’s wife and mother had heard nothing from their loved one for weeks. Suspicion and concern arose as he had written home once or twice weekly. In late June, a telegram came stating that he was missing in action.” Unlike William B. Smith, the fate of this soldier would not be learned by his family until May of 1949.
Sgt. James Austin Bowers was a gunner on a B-29 Superfortress, which crashed near the Japanese village of Fukuoka-Ken Moji Shi Ozato. Today, this locale is known as Moji, Kitakyushu. Villagers apparently recovered the bodies of those servicemen on board and buried them in a common grave. It wasn’t until 1949, when American Grave Registration Personnel discovered the gravesite, that Sgt. Bowers remains were identified. They were removed from Japan and reinterred in a US government cemetery located in Korea.
Sgt. Bowers was born April 15th, 1919 in Frederick. The son of Nelson A. and wife Reine Grove Bowers lived at 354 Park Avenue in Frederick and attended Frederick High School, graduating in 1937. He was employed by the local Everedy Company. Bowers married a Frederick girl (Flora May Taylor) and relocated to Baltimore after taking a job at the Rustless Iron and Steel Company. He had two sons: James A. Bowers, Jr. and Nelson A. Bowers.
Bowers entered the military in September, 1943 and was assigned to the First Bomber Squadron, Ninth Bomber Group, Army Air Forces. He reached the Mariana islands in January 1945, the site of a major allied airfield base. From here, Bowers would take part in several missions over Japan, one of which involved the destruction of a large arsenal in Osaka in March, 1945. One of Bower’s letters home recounted, “the blast was so great that some of the B29’s were hurled into the air upside down but were soon righted and returned to their base.”
The mission, in which Bowers lost his life, was supposedly a low altitude mining mission which set out from the Marianas Island of Tinian on May 27th, 1945. Bowers crew was aboard the aptly named “Tinney Anne.” A gentleman named Mike Adams from Hutto, Texas wrote an online article about Stan Black, the commanding pilot of Sgt. Bower’s B-29, and his last mission. The following is an excerpt:
“Stan Black and crew were on the list to be the last plane out of Tinian at 17:11 that day. The name of the mission was “Starvation 1” and it required one hundred two B-29s and crews. Three crews and aircrafts would be lost that night, 33 men. After action reports tell us that Aircraft Commander Stanley Black was over his target at about 23:30 that night when a riverboat with mounted searchlights and anti-aircraft guns opened fire on the Tinny Anne. Another crew first saw his aircraft illuminated in the searchlight and attempting evasion maneuvers. Those were not so effective in a B-29. The same crew further observed only four muzzle blasts from the riverboat but they must have been well placed. Two of the AA shells exploded only 20 feet from his port wing folding it up like it had a hinge on it. Thus began the fall from 6,200 feet. Fortunately, it only takes a brief time for a B-29 to go down from that altitude as compared to 25,000 feet. Not so fortunately, it leaves much less time for any crewmember to escape. One did, a young man with a big happy smile by the name of Charlie Palmer. Two or three crewmembers from the other aircraft saw Charlie’s parachute open. No other chutes were seen that night. The B-29 burned as it fell thus providing a bright light as air whipped the aviation fuel into an intense and hot burning white light. Were their other chutes, they would have been seen. Other crews in other B-29s were able to follow Aircraft Commander Stanley Black, along with his heroic crew, all the way down to the water. Later they would all comment how bright that fire light was. It went out almost completely as the B-29 hit the water. Nevertheless, some fire still burned on the water’s surface as the other B-29s turned under the night’s moonlight and flew towards home. They were all thinking of home again, and while they would not talk about it, it had come to call that night. I believe some of them were thinking about Stan Black and his brave crew. Eleven more men lost in one Great War that produced a million heroes and heroines all over this world."*
*This amazing article from May, 2011 can be accessed at: https://huttobusinessupdate.wordpress.com/2011/05/27/last-plane-off-tinian-ben-nicks-and-stan-black-two-brothers-in-arms/
Although this article says that the Superfortress crashed into the water, other reports say the aircraft crashed into a nearby mountain. Relics have been found here, and supposedly traced to the "Tinney Anne."
And speaking of hometowns, let us not forget men like William B. Smith and James A. Bowers who made the ultimate sacrifice. These gentleman once walked the same Frederick streets, beneath the fabled “Clustered Spires” as we walk today. They enjoyed the same pastoral views of Catoctin Mountain and its surrounding rolling farmland. Perhaps they swam or fished the Monocacy and Carroll Creek. Is it likely that both were inspired with patriotism while visiting the Francis Scott Key Monument within Mount Olivet?
If you think of nothing else this Memorial Day, please say a prayer of thanks to these former residents who gave their lives on May 28th 1944 and 1945 respectively. They join countless others who did the same, making it possible for us today to enjoy not only the Frederick pleasures listed above, but all of life’s treasures.
“Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”
(from John McRae’s “In Flander’s Fields”)
This past week marked the 147th birthday of Pompeo Coppini. While the name may not be familiar to many, this Italian immigrant had a hand, both literally and figuratively, in creating one of Frederick’s most iconic and visited landmarks—the Francis Scott Key Monument. The memorial lies just within the front gates of Mount Olivet Cemetery and features a 9-foot bronze sculpture of the author of “The Star-Spangled Banner, “placed atop a 15-foot granite shaft.
Pompeo Luigi Coppini was born May 9th, 1870 in the small village of Moglia near the river Po in northwest Italy. This is located in Mantua within the Lombardy region. He was the son of Giovanni and Leandra Coppini. His father was a musician.
The bulk of Coppini’s childhood would be spent surrounded by great works of art as the family made their residence in Florence. At the age of 10, Pompeo was hired to make ceramic horses after he had been taken under the wing of an unknown local artist. The family had recently changed apartments, now living adjacent a sculptor’s studio. Using marble and alabaster, this neighbor carved small objects and figurines for sale to tourists and art shops. Young Pompeo was influenced by the artist and others in his employ at the studio. Here, Coppini would receive encouragement toward a craft that would define his life.
At 16, Pompeo Coppini’s natural talent was becoming quite evident. He entered the Accademia di Belle Arte (Florence's renown Academy of Fine Arts), studying under Italian sculptor Augusto Rivalta. Slated as an 8-year course program, Pompeo graduated in just three years with highest honors in 1889. He briefly opened a sculpting studio, which soon failed. Coppini found that he was moving too fast, and perhaps his accelerated pace through art school was a mistake, as he should have gained a stronger foundation.
Disheartened, the young sculptor spent the next two years in the service of the Italian Army. After discharge, he took on a series of odd jobs to make a living. These included tutor, hydraulic engineer, sign painter, waiter and bookkeeper. Eventually, Pompeo had saved enough money to open a second studio where he crafted busts, and made models for commercial houses. In 1894, he was called into military service again, to quell a revolt in Sicily. When he returned to his studio, he realized that there was little work for him to make it on his own. There was a glut of self-employed artists wherever he went—he soon thought that perhaps it would be more advantageous to work in the employ of someone else, just as he had done through adolescence.
Pompeo found work in a town called Pietrasanta, a coastal town in northern Tuscany. Pietrasanta grew in importance during the 15th century, mainly due to its connection with marble. Michelangelo was the first sculptor to recognize the beauty of the local stone. Amidst the backdrop of a place named after the saint deemed to be the rock on which Jesus built his church, Coppini soon had his life calling reaffirmed. He too would build his career on “pietra/petra,” the latin word for stone.
Coppini was given an assignment to model a large marble monument destined for shipment to America. This was to take the form of an 8-foot high winged angel, which was eventually placed within a cemetery in Boston, Massachusetts. Was he modeling his own guardian angel? The project inspired something special within the struggling young artist. Looking back at this episode, Pompeo declared:
“I believe that the thought had a magnetic effect on me to dream that someday I might emigrate there myself, and that my desire made me work toward that end from that time on.”
Coppini began saving up money for an Atlantic passage, along with garnering letters of reference. Not yet 26 years-old, he boarded the S.S. Kaiser Wilhelm II with a trunk and two suitcases and set sail for the United States. He arrived on March 5th, 1896.
Pompeo Coppini now found himself in New York City with $40 in his pocket, and possessed a definitive lack of mastery for the English language. This combination almost caused him to starve to death. He found lodging within a tenement apartment building, packed full of fellow Italian immigrants. Pompeo rented his room for $2/week. Next door was a saloon that served meals for a nickel.
Pompeo was introduced through an acquaintance to a young, emerging sculptor named Roland Hinton Perry. He soon found himself working on a recent contract awarded to Perry which featured the production of sculptures to be installed within a fountain monument. This would be installed beside the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
Coppini and Perry conversed regularly in French, the only language shared by both men. Perry, himself had limited sculpting experience, but was known for his communication skills and efficiency with deadlines. The project’s completion was necessary in one year’s time, before the new library’s grand opening to the public. Coppini offered Perry his services, regardless of weekly salary. When finished, the pair had produced the Fountain of Neptune, completed according to schedule to meet a November 1st, 1897 opening.
Immediately after finishing this project with Perry, Coppini checked back in with Alexander Doyle to see if he was in need of his services. Doyle had things covered at the moment, but said that he had been receiving several recent requests for proposals for projects. One such had come from Frederick, Maryland in which the Key Monument Association was looking for an able sculptor to craft a fitting monument to be placed over Francis Scott Key’s grave in Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Doyle had to explain to the young Italian who Francis Scott Key was, and how he came about writing “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the War of 1812, while held upon a ship of truce. Both men were intrigued by the subject, however Pompeo was not capable of entering the project competition due to his unfamiliarity with the English language. On the flipside, Doyle was run down physically and mentally, results from juggling a heavy workload. He was desperately looking forward to his family’s annual summer vacation in Maine.
Coppini and Doyle agreed that an allegorical sub-sculpture should be placed below Key at the base of the monument. This came in the form of three figures symbolizing American Patriotism. The central figure was “Columbia,” the female personification of the United States. She is flanked by two boys—one standing with a downward sword and representing defense (in battle). The other child figure depicts music and song, as a small lyre is placed in hand. Working in tandem, these figures tell the story of how “The Star-Spangled Banner” song came about, and remains relevant—extreme patriotism demonstrated through a song written during, and about, an important defensive stand to defend our country’s flag.
Often overlooked by visitors, another important element of the Key monument is the inclusion of the entire text of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” including all four stanzas. This can be found at the base, on the back side of the monument. It also presented Pompeo Coppini with one of the project’s greatest challenges as he had to accomplish this task while lacking the ability to read or write English. In an interview he spoke of this dilemma:
“All the lettering of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ tablet in the back of the memorial were modeled by me in clay and copied from a print of the National Anthem, letter by letter, before I was able to read a word of it, but knowing its meaning as Sculptor Alexander Doyle translated them for me, as he could speak and write Italian as well as I, having spent part of his youth and schooling in Carrara, where his father owned some marble quarries.”
The Key monument, with its multiple sculptures, was put in place during the summer of 1898, and unveiled at a huge public dedication on August 9th, 1898. This was just 29 months after Pompeo Coppini had first stepped on American soil with $40 in his pocket and a desperate anxiety of whether or not he would continue life as an artist. With this project, Coppini had solidified his reputation as a capable and talented artist. In time he would climb into the eventual ranks as one of America’s greatest sculptors.
You could also say that the Key monument project put an end to a period of bitter difficulties and desperation. Once again a “guardian angel” would come out of a project. “Columbia in bronze,” herself filled him with the supreme faith in America as the land of opportunity, and the land of promise. “Columbia in the flesh,” would be his lifetime companion, confidante and “petra.” Years later Coppini would remark to a newspaper reporter in an interview: “Though I am Italian born, I am American reborn.”
Pompeo Coppini moved to Texas in 1901, and became a US citizen just one year later. He began receiving commissions to sculpt the figures of multiple historic monuments for the state’s capitol grounds, working for the next 15 years in San Antonio. Coppini collaborated with other American sculptors in Texas, some of which became his students and protégés. He opened up his own art school in 1945, still operating today as the Coppini School of Fine Arts in San Antonio. His works are displayed everywhere from the Texas State Capitol to the University of Texas to Baylor University to Mexico City.
Pompeo and Lizzie Coppini continued keeping a residence in San Antonio, but would also live (and work) in New York and Chicago. In 1931, Pompeo Coppini was “knighted” by the Italian government for his contribution of Italian art in the United States, receiving the Commendatore of the Order of the Crown of Italy. Three years later, he was honored by the Texas Centennial Committee commissioning him to design the Texas Centennial Half Dollar. He also served briefly in the art department of Trinity University in San Antonio.
In all, Pompeo Coppini is represented in his adopted new country by 36 public monuments, 16 portrait statues, and nearly 75 portrait busts. One of his proudest life accomplishments came with his helping to save the legendary Alamo from commercial development. Coppini won the commission to construct “The Alamo Cenotaph,” in 1939. Towering 60-feet high and located adjacent the surviving buildings of the Alamo itself, San Antonio's "Alamo Cenotaph" pays tribute to the men who died defending the ancient mission in 1836 rather than surrender to overwhelming odds.
The word cenotaph depicts an empty tomb. According to tradition, the Alamo Cenotaph marks the spot where the slain defenders of the fortified mission were piled after the battle and burned in great funeral pyres. The remains were later collected by local citizens and today are thought to be located in a marble casket at nearby San Fernando Cathedral. Titled "The Spirit of Sacrifice," the Cenotaph was created by Coppini from a design envisioned by architect Carlton Adams. Begun in 1937, the project took two years to complete and is itself now a historical treasure.
Pompeo Coppini died in San Antonio on September 26th, 1957. He was buried in Sunset Memorial Park in a crypt of his own design. Wife Lizzie would only live seven weeks longer, dying in December (1957).
Back in his native Moglia, Italy, the town would name a main thoroughfare after the artist: “Pompeo Coppini Avenue.” Here in Frederick, Maryland we have a beautiful monument depicting the man who penned our national anthem. Tens of thousands have visited the site over the past (nearly) 120 years, and many more will continue to do so into the future. Coppini's triumph is Mount Olivet's "petra." Not bad for an immigrant who came to this country with nothing, but left so many treasures behind.
NOTE TO READERS: This article was originally published in May, 2017 after the Caps lost in the playoffs to Pittsburgh. We are proudly re-posting this article about sportswriter David Fay as the Capitals are still playing hockey in June...a first for the franchise! At the time of posting (June 1, 2018) the Caps and upstart Las Vegas Knights are tied at one game each for the Stanley Cup Championship, a best of 7-game series.
Well, it’s been another tough season finish for the Washington Capitals and their loyal fans. They “rocked the red” until the bitter end Wednesday night, losing in game 7 of the second round of the playoffs to their archnemesis, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The most crushing blow was the “déjà vu” aspect: the Caps were eliminated from Stanley Cup contention last year in the second round, by the same team, and on the same exact date of May 10th! To add insult to injury, they had won the President’s Trophy, both this season and last. This award, presented by the NHL (National Hockey League) goes to the team that finishes with the most points (i.e. best record) during the regular season. Unfortunately, this does not heal the wound of failing to attain the coveted Stanley Cup.
Oh well, what can you do? There’s always next season, but that is a small consolation for the players, fans and even local sports media that follow the team. Among Mount Olivet’s interred population of 40,000, I venture to say that hundreds were former hockey fans, along with likely some players, recreational or collegiate. I can’t say with certainty who these people are, as I don’t have documentation. Sometimes we can easily spot team allegiance as many granite and marble monuments (in the new section of course) display sports logos carved in stone such as the Redskins, Ravens, Orioles and Terps. Other gravesites are adorned with small flags and pennants of the deceased favorite team.
When it comes to the Washington Capitals, I haven’t personally seen any examples of expressed fan adoration throughout Mount Olivet’s outside grounds. However, it’s a different story within our central Mausoleum Chapel, located to the rear of the cemetery. Here, one will find an outstanding connection to the Washington Caps, and professional hockey for that matter, amidst a vast collection of mausoleum tombs and niches.
Most of these spaces have granite or marble coverings and are adorned with bronze plaques, but on the chapel’s interior south wall, stand columns of glass-front niches. This inurnment innovation has been around for 40 years, however many people know nothing about it. Gall front niches are somewhat like “shadow-box” displays, giving families the ability to personalize a final resting place with decorative (cremation) urns, photos and other mementos. These items work in tandem to create a unique “visual” memorial, painting more of a picture of the deceased for not only loved ones left behind, but descendants yet to come.
Like many other visitors, my eye was suddenly captivated by niche space 26-D just inside the chapel doors. This occurred during my first look around in the chapel well over a year ago. Although the name was foreign to me, it was the contents of niche that grabbed me including a miniature statuette of Capitals star player and team captain Alex Ovechkin, a pair of eyeglasses, wedding ring and custom bronze urn in the form of a book, with the moniker of “Dr. Puck” etched on the spine.
I’m not an engaged hockey fan, but have great respect for the sport and have seen about a half dozen professional hockey games in the past, most involving the Caps. I had recalled once hearing the name of Dr. Puck before, referenced by an announcer on a Washington sports radio station. He was held in esteem as an expert on Washington Capitals hockey. I was immediately inspired to perform a Google search on the niche’s inhabitant, David G. Fay.
Born March 5th, 1940 in Brighton, Massachusetts, “Dave” was the son of parents Leo and Mary Fay. He received a public school education in both his native state, and later Pennsylvania. After graduation, he would serve in the US Navy and was honorably discharged in 1981. From here he gained employment with the Warren Times-Mirror newspaper (Warren, Pennsylvania), thus launching a career in journalism that would span nearly half a century.
Dave Fay worked in his field as both a manager and as an editor/writer, but it appears that he felt much more at home with the latter. Employers included the Pennsylvania Mirror (State College, PA), the Evening Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island) and the Washington Times. For the final 25 years of his life, he was the Times’ undisputed, resident hockey expert as he served as beat reporter for the Capitals. His reputation grew across the region and country as authentic, honest and passionate about his craft. Just days after his death on July 17, 2007, former Times colleague Dan Daly wrote:
“And Dr. Puck, as he came to be known, was very much a real man…in both the “real” sense and the “man” sense. There wasn’t a phony bone in his body, but there was spine enough for two people—spine enough to wage, without complaint, a 12-year battle with cancer before it took him from us Tuesday night at 67.”
Over his career, Dave Fay covered every sport imaginable. I did a search of the internet subscription site newspapers.com and found several examples of Fay’s earliest work at the Warren Times-Mirror. Here were stories ranging from high school football, baseball and basketball to track and field, swimming and bowling. I even found articles in which he reported on boxing, hurling and "donkey ball." I also found non-sports-related stories penned by Fay. He eventually gained his own editorial forum entitled Fay’s Corner. Dave Fay’s early writing employed sophistication, creativity, and a pinch of sarcasm from time to time. It would only get better over time.
In 1981, Dave Fay served in the Sports Department of the Washington Times—a member of the newspaper’s inaugural staff. He covered the Capitals as beat reporter for all but two of his years in their employ. The others were spent on the Redskins, one of which included their 1991 Super Bowl run. Although football had always been his favorite sport growing up, apparently as a fan of the New York Giants, he quickly embraced a passion for professional ice hockey. He also earned a reputation for being “old school,” a stickler for details and oftentimes, a grumpy “curmudgeon.”
At the start of his hockey tenure, Fay wrote an anonymous column in which he took a “tongue in cheek” approach with players and reporting on events in pro hockey. He used as his source an alter-ego by the name of Dr. Puck. Eventually readers, and players, caught on that it was indeed Fay himself. Once the proverbial “cat was out of the bag,” Fay decided to own the name, exemplified by obtaining custom license plates for his car. Dr. Puck and Dave Fay were now synonymous.
In his July 2007 op-ed piece, Dan Daly continued his eulogy for David Fay:
“I’m not sure what bon-mots, if any, Dave planned for his gravestone, but I’d suggest: “What’s my deadline tonight?” Right to the end, he was filing copy, working-class Irishman that he was. With him, it was never about the language, about performing literary loop-de-loops; it was about clarity and accuracy and completeness—the fundamentals. Nobody who has covered the Caps in this town has been more plugged in or more passionate than he. That’s why he was recently chosen as the recipient of the Elmer Ferguson Award, the biggest honor in hockey journalism, and will live on in the Hockey Hall of Fame.”
Dave Fay was the recipient of 12 writing awards, culminating with the Elmer Ferguson Award. Sadly, he passed away four months before the induction ceremony into the Hockey Hall of Fame by the Professional Hockey Writer’s Association. Announced earlier in the year, Dave knew of his achievement and could take pride in the legacy of his life’s professional work. His wife Pat traveled to Toronto in November (2007) to accept the tremendous honor posthumously on behalf of her husband. A press release (dated May 29th, 2007) adorns the back of Dave’s niche.
Although professional sports-writing took Dave Fay to Canada, the Soviet Union and throughout the United States, he made his home in Monrovia in eastern Frederick County. This is where he spent his final days, working as long as he could. In addition to hockey, he was blessed with something far more important—a loving wife, four sons, daughters-law, six grandchildren and a host of friends and colleagues that loved and respected him. I’m sure the Washington Capitals occupy a great place in all their hearts, and how could they not with Dave Fay already there.
On an old page on Capitals Insider website, I found another July 2007 report of Dave Fay’s passing. In the online comments below the story I found the following entry from a lifelong Caps fan:
“Truly a great man who loved the game and the Capitals organization enough to be honest, when perhaps maybe they didn't want him to be. Rest in peace, Dave. We'll see you at center ice someday.”