The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history.
Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why it is called the present.
Alice Morse Earle
This is a quote that not only seems very fitting as we start a new year, but it’s also appropriate considering that this week’s featured “Story in Stone” recipient has a surname that is synonymous with time and clocks—John Fessler.
To go back to the quote for a minute, it first appeared in a 1902 book entitled “Sun Dials and Roses of Yesterday: Garden Delights Which Are Here Displayed in Every Truth and Are Moreover Regarded As Emblems.” The work’s author, Alice Morse Earle (1851-1911), was an historian and author from Worcester, Massachusetts. Her writings, beginning in 1890, focused on small, sociological details rather than grand facts, and are invaluable for modern social historians. Mrs. Earle wrote a number of books on Colonial America (with much concentration on the the New England region) such as Curious Punishments of Bygone Days.
Alice Morse Earle could certainly appreciate her own quote regarding the inability to stop “the march of time” and enjoy “living in the moment,” thanks in part to a life-changing event that occurred in 1909. She nearly drowned off the coast of Nantucket while a passenger aboard the RMS Republic bound for Egypt. Shortly after departure and within a dense fog, her ship collided with the SS Florida. During the transfer of passengers, Alice fell into the water. This event impacted her health so severely that she died two years later.
Perhaps you are familiar with the fact that early Fredericktown was known for skilled craftspeople of many kinds ranging from furniture makers to glass artisans. The burgeoning Colonial era crossroads town on the western frontier was also known for its talented horologists. Now, like me, you may need a background in Latin and/or a small leap of imagination to see hour in horology, but if you do, you've pretty much deciphered the meaning of the profession based on the root “hora” (plural “horae”). Horology is the study of time and the art of making timepieces.
Mount Olivet Cemetery is the final resting place to several horologists, but among the earliest is John Fessler, Jr. Mr. Fessler and his father are mentioned by name in an article written 80 years ago by D. W. Hering, the curator of the James Arthur Collection of Clocks and Watches at New York University, in which he discusses clockmaking in the 18th and 19th centuries, noting the rise and fall of the independent clockmaker, the movement away from quality items to clocks that could be sold cheaply, and the differences between public and domestic clocks. It originally appeared in the November 1937 issue of American Collector magazine, a publication which served antique collectors and dealers. Here is an excerpt from that article:
“To be a horologist, a man had to know both the science and the art of timekeeping; to be a clockmaker he had to be a skillful mechanic. From time to time a completely rounded man in science, art and handicraft appeared, such as Tompion, Graham, Harrison in England; LeRoy, Berthoud, Breguet in France; Ramsay, Reid, Smith in Scotland; Huygens in Holland; and Rittenhouse in America. In lesser degree there were many in America as well as elsewhere of measurable ability.
In America we can cite examples that will show a wide distribution of such craftsmen and an interweaving of their output in a pattern that was spread over a broad territory. In clock lore as in that of furniture making and other industrial arts, certain names are so outstanding as to have become household words.
Especially was this the case in the New England colonies where the fame of their clockmakers eventually rose to such a height as to produce the impression in later times that little ability or activity in that line was manifested anywhere else. But before the end of the 18th Century skillful clockmakers in other colonies had been producing their wares and acquiring a reputation. This was more marked in the Middle States and Maryland than in the colonies along the sea coast of the South.
A clock was one of the few things not brought over in the Mayflower. If there was a clockmaker among the passengers he had no means of practicing his art except by importation of materials from Europe. Lack of mechanical facilities in America and high cost of materials for metal clocks, which had to be imported, drove would-be clockmakers of America to the production of wooden movements. These, however, were not attempted until the colonies had been growing for a hundred years and the compulsion under which they were made continued from about 1770 until about 1820.
During this time these clocks were made almost entirely by hand and it is those only that can claim any attraction today as antiques. Toward the end of this period, with the aid of machinery that had then become available, wooden clocks were produced in such number and were so widely distributed that a wooden movement cannot now indicate either rarity or antiquity unless its date or maker is known.
Handmade clocks, even those cheaper ones with wooden movements, were expensive and people who could afford to buy one could also afford to pay for an attractive case for it, and the long case or so-called “grandfather” clock became a prized piece of household furniture.
Clockmaking as an industry related entirely to domestic clocks. Public clocks were installed by individual makers who, in many instances, carried on in a comparatively small way. Local makers of recognized ability constructed tower clocks to be installed in a town hall, a church steeple, or some public building in many of the thrifty New England cities, towns or villages, and also, though less commonly, in other sections of the country. Some of these clocks survive; others have been replaced by later ones.
When an artisan built a public clock it was an important item in his own history and in the history of the place for which it was made. A clock of that nature was likely to be a chef d’oeuvre of its maker whose subsequent fame rested entirely upon that one work. A similar comment applies to an interesting public clock now in operation in the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C. Of this the Associate Director of the Smithsonian writes:
‘The clock movement was installed in the tower of Trinity Chapel, Evangelical Reformed Church, Frederick, Maryland in 1796-97. It was made there by Frederick Heisley. It was paid for by public subscription and was known as the Town Clock. It was removed about 1928 and replaced by an electric movement…It is a weight-driven, pin escapement, hour strike movement with a fourteen-feet pendulum with wooden rod and cast-iron bob. The frame is of hand-wrought iron, the wheels of brass, the drums of wood, and the weights cast-iron.’
Evidently this clock did duty faithfully on its original site for more than 100 years and, yet, so far as I know, no other clock by this maker is on record.
“Willard,” “Terry,” and a good many other names suggest clocks to residents of the North Atlantic States who have no knowledge of clockmakers in other sections of the country, but there were makers in other sections, well known to residents there who knew nothing of the New England celebrities. Among such examples were the Fessler clocks in Maryland.
John Fessler, Sr., learned the art of clockmaking in Germany or Switzerland and came to America sometime after 1750, settling in Lancaster, Pa. After serving in the Revolutionary War he moved to “Fredericktown” (now Frederick), Md., and established a business of making clocks. They are much in demand by collectors, especially in his local territory of Western Maryland. He died in 1820.
One of the best authenticated and most fully recorded of early American clocks, with peregrinations and successive sojourns in three states is an example of a practice that was common with clocks of that kind and that period. The movement complete, without a case, would be placed on a shelf or bracket or could be hung up against the wall. As thus suspended it was, to all intents and purposes, a wag-on-the-wall but if the owner wanted a case for it he would have one made to suit his taste or his purse by a cabinetmaker in his own neighborhood.
Our subject, John Fessler, Jr., learned the clock-making trade from his father, and would continue the family business upon the latter’s death in 1820. The Fessler story is atypical of the many German families that came to settle in early Frederick Town during the American Colonial period. To elaborate on Mr. Hering’s writing above, John Fessler was born in Switzerland in April, 1759 and immigrated with his parents and brothers to America in 1771, first living in Pennsylvania’s Philadelphia, then Germantown. He would move to Lancaster, where he likely apprenticed in the clock-making trade, although a few sources say that he came from a family of skilled craftsman of this ilk. Regardless, he took employment as a clock-maker there.
From 1777-1782, John Fessler fought as a private in the Revolutionary Army. After the War, he relocated to Frederick Town, now a bustling crossroads, chock-full of skilled artisans including furniture and glass-makers. In the same year, John married a local girl, Anna Elizabeth Bach, and in 1783 opened a clock making and silversmithing business. The location is said to have been at the corner of W. Patrick and Publick (now Court) streets.
The couple had four children, however, the first two (Heinrich and Elizabeth) would die in infancy. John, Jr. (also recorded as William John Fessler) was born July 2nd, 1787 and baptized in the town’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. Two years later, a sister Margaret would be born. I couldn’t find much on her aside from a marriage to George M. Conradt, Jr. in 1819. Mrs. Fessler, the former Anna Elizabeth Bach, was the daughter of German immigrants Balthasar and Rosina (Stump) Bach. Sadly, Mrs. Fessler would die prematurely in 1791, only in her 31st year. John Fessler, Sr. would remarry Elizabeth’s younger sister, Maria Barbara Bach. The couple would have three children, however two died as infants, and the third, a girl named Rosina, would die at age 13 in 1812. To compound the John’s pain, Maria Barbara would die in July 1801 at 30 years of age. Both marriages spanned only eight years each.
Ironically, John Fessler, Sr. was dealt a hard lesson, over and over again, when considering Alice Morse Earle’s quotation regarding time when it comes to his loved ones. One can only assume that the bond between father and son (John, Sr. and John, Jr.) was exceptionally strong. Not only did John Jr. assist his dad in the family business, but he also stood as a steadfast family member throughout the entirety of John Fessler, Sr.’s adult life.
John, Jr. had assisted his father since childhood. One of his early responsibilities involved winding and oiling Frederick’s Town Clock, produced by fellow German and Revolutionary War vet, Frederick Heisley (1759-1843). This massive timepiece was placed within the spire of Trinity Chapel, located in the first block of West Church Street. To put things in context, I think I should give a brief overview of the fore-mentioned Mr. Heisely.
Frederick Heisely had also moved to Frederick in 1783 and set up a clock, watch, and mathematical instrument trade. He remained here about ten years, most of which spent located on South Market Street. Heisely’s prime offerings complimented the Fessler clocks as he specialized in surveyor compasses and other mathematical instruments, such as protractors, scales of different sorts, perch chains, pocket compasses, and sun dials.
Around 1793, Heisely moved back to Lancaster, PA, and went into business with his father-in-law George Hoff. It is said that he returned to resume his own shop in Frederick in 1798, but this may be a bit fuzzy. Regardless, he was contracted by his own church congregation (German Reformed) to produce the clockworks to be placed in the spire of their church. Frederick Heisely may have bounced around as a journeyman, but would definitively move to Harrisburg, PA, in 1811, and worked with his two sons, George Jacob (1789-1880) and Frederick Augustus (1792-1875).
Incidentally, we have a round-about connection with George J. Heisely as he is credited with putting the tune to Francis Scott Key’s “Star-Spangled Banner.” He was a soldier in Pennsylvania’s First Regiment during the War of 1812 and apparently shared his song book with fellow soldiers Ferdinand and Michael Durang. These two gentleman were amateur actors and the first to publicly perform singing the song with the accompaniment of the British drinking song “To Anacreon in Heaven”—and the rest is history (not to be confused with Heisely).
In case you were curious as to the fate of Frederick Heisely, he would die in Harrisburg in 1843 and is buried in Harrisburg Cemetery.
In early 1821, a register listing the Corporation of Frederick’s expenses for the previous year was printed in the Republican Gazette and showed that John Fessler and Son were paid $30.00 for winding and oiling the Town Clock. John, Jr. would continue to perform this task for years to come. Incidentally, the Heisely clockworks were eventually removed from Trinity Chapel in 1928 as mentioned in Mr. Hering’s article, and have been in the collection of the Smithsonian ever since. From that point forward, our Town Clock has been run by electricity.
Fessler & Son
On November 23rd, 1811, John Fessler, Jr. announced the opening of a shop in “the house of John Schley, opposite William and John Baer’s—a clock and watch making business.” This appeared in the Frederick Town Herald newspaper. Just over five years later, a formal business partnership with his famed father was publicized by way of an advertisement appearing in the Republican Gazette and General Advertiser in early 1817. The location given in this latter ad was that of a storefront on West Patrick Street, located to the west of Talbott’s Hotel, which in time would become known as the City Hotel. Today, the former Francis Scott Key Hotel sits on the site of both these former properties.
The Fessler House, as it came to be known, was one of Frederick Town’s earliest domiciles, dating to the 1740’s. It served home to early surveyor, John Shelman, credited with assisting frontiersman Thomas Cresap in laying out the streets and lots for our oft-forgotten founder, Daniel Dulany of Annapolis. Through marriage, this house came into the Henry Baer family—John Fessler, Jr.’s in-laws as he had married Catharina Susanna Baer on January 28th, 1812.
John Fessler, Sr. died on November 7th, 1820. His death was lamented in the local newspapers, and by noted Frederick diarist Jacob Engelbrecht in a passage written later that day:
“Died this morning at 4 o’clock in the 61st year of his age Mr. John Fessler, one of the most respectable inhabitants of this town.”
The old clockmaker was laid to rest in the burying ground of his beloved Evangelical Lutheran Church, amidst his “sister wives” and the five children that predeceased him.
I wasn’t able to glean much about John, Jr.’s professional life, but he continued producing quality work, including addressing the need came for smaller mantel clocks and pocket watches as tastes and styles changed. He was very active in civic life, and was continually elected as a city councilman representing Ward 2, and served as City Commissioner several times.
The Fesslers went on to have five children: Rosina/Rosanna Catharina (1818-1903), Henry Baer (1814-1873), Anna Elizabeth (1816-1898), Caroline Rebecca (1828-1901), John William (1830-1837), and another son whose name is not readily known (1835-1837).
Jacob Engelbrecht mentioned John, Jr. often in his recounting of municipal elections. The diarist also made two melancholy entries in the winter of 1837, a downtrodden time in which John and Susanna lost two sons in a week’s time:
“Died this morning a son (youngest) of Mr. John Fessler aged about 2 years. This is the second child of Mr. Fessler that died within two weeks. The other was in the 7th year of his age. Buried on the Lutheran graveyard.” (Thursday, March 9, 1837 2PM)
John Fessler, Jr. had been down this road before, and likely channeled his heartbreak into his work as he had seen done by his father before him. Unlike his father though, he experienced 50 years of marriage with Susanna (Susan).
We are very fortunate that a picture of the couple (in later years) taken around the year 1860 survives in the magnificent collection of Heritage Frederick (formerly known as the Historical Society of Frederick County). Better yet, the collection has several examples of the Fessler “horological handiwork!” The U. Mehrl Hooper tall clocks display is a must see, and has been a permanent fixture of the museum for years.
Susanna (Susan) Fessler died on Christmas Eve, 1862. It had been a rough fall and “time of times” already with the Confederate invasion of town by Gen. Lee and his Confederate Army in early September, followed by the battles at nearby South Mountain and Antietam. John, Jr. lived to see the end of the war and a return to a new normalcy. Amazingly, he had been born four years after the end of the American Revolution, and would die four years after the surrender at Appomattox.
The clock would sound its last chime in the life of John Fessler, Jr. on July 2nd, 1869, two days before Independence Day. He had lived for 82 years, three months and nine days, but who’s counting. Fessler would be buried next to his wife in the old Lutheran graveyard of town. On November 15th, 1891, their bodies would be moved to Mount Olivet and reburied in Area H/Lot 5.
After John Fessler, Jr.'s death, the family business would in essence continue for several decades, as it eventually passed into the hands of grandson William Augustus Simmons, son of John, Jr.’s daughter Rosina (Rosanna) Catharina (Fessler) Simmons. Fessler’s only son to live into adulthood, Henry Baer Fessler, trained as a lawyer but proudly performed the municipality’s appointed, honorable role as “town clock winder” when his father reached an advanced age. Henry B. Fessler’s early death in 1873 culminated in the end of the Fessler family care of the Town Clock for three-quarters of a century.
"Time marches on!" you could say, but thanks to the Fesslers, many Fredericktonians were able to measure it through the beautiful clocks and watches they produced over a tenure spanning three centuries.
When it comes to “names in stone,” nothing beckons Christmas in Mount Olivet Cemetery more than a prominent grave monument in Area GG. It is that of Dr. Karl and Edna Tannenbaum—a stone that brings (Christmas) music to my ears every time I pass by it.
I took a few years of German language class in high school, and another two in college, but where has it gotten me? Well, I know “Guten Tag!” (Good day) and Danke (Thank you). I also learned that my favorite picnic side item is kartoffel salat (potato salad) ,”Blitzkrieg” means lightning war, and “ausfahrt” signifies an exit, as in a highway off ramp…and could perhaps have connections to a like word for flatulence, but I digress. It’s amazing how little by little, the German words come back to me from time to time—primarily food oriented items.
I have familial connections to Germany as well. I had a GG Grandfather by the name of Wilhelm Koch, a carpenter by trade, who came to America from Germany in the 1850’s. Of course, this was a late arrival compared to the vast amount of German immigrants who made their way to Frederick in the Colonial era. In fact, our city and county name of Frederick was purposely devised to attract these people.
Frederick, Prince of Wales (Feb. 1, 1707 – March 31, 1751) was heir apparent to the British throne from 1727 until his death from a lung injury at the age of 44 in 1751. Born in Hanover, Germany, he was the eldest, but estranged, son of King George II and Caroline of Ansbach. We took offense to his father during the famed Stamp Repudiation of 1765, and did more so to his son, King George III, during the American Revolution.
Speaking of wars, my grandfather was a veteran of World War II. After the conflict, he was stationed in Germany as one of the many US military personnel participating in the Allied occupation after the war. This after spending a good portion of the legendary conflict in German POW camps, where he dined on stale bread and grass and potato skin soup…certainly nowhere as tasty as kartoffel salat. They stayed in Germany from 1949-1952, where my father attended a US military school, accessible by a daily train ride of 90 minutes each way.
My Dad knew plenty of German words, and relayed to me his observations of German culture and traditions displayed in the immediate post-war era. One of the interesting things he talked about was attending the famed Passion Play in Oberammergau, and spending a few Christmas holidays in the Deutschland. He said the big day was called “Erste Feiertag” (first celebration) followed by “Zweite Feiertag” (second celebration). He talked of Belsnickel and Kris Kringle, and culinary favorites such as stollen and fruchtkuchen. He also told my brothers, and I, that the song most of us adore as “O’ Christmas Tree,” is known in Germany as “O’ Tannenbaum.”
Yep, ”Tannenbaum,” that’s another term that has always stuck with me. Like many other English speaking folks, I think of it regularly when singing the popular Christmas classic. However, knowledge can be as dangerous as it is powerful sometimes. I have mistakenly referred to decorated Christmas trees as “tannenbaums,” but that is “falsch,” or “unrecht” as the Germans would say. A tannenbaum is a fir tree--sans the ornaments, balls, lights and tinsel as I see that I’ve decided to now employ a French flare for the story.
This “fehler” (mistake) may come as a surprise to some. The common lyrics of the song were written by a teacher and organist from Leipzig, named Ernst Anschütz. His 1824 creation refers to the au naturel fir tree as a symbol of faithfulness. After all, the evergreen qualities of the fir tree contrast the bare looks of most deciduous trees during the winter season.
Anschütz’ lyrics lament an unfaithful maiden and refer to the fir tree as a true, constant and faithful companion. Apparently this whole thing was based upon an earlier folk tale and this is where things get convoluted.
The composer modeled his text after a tragic love song (inspired by an earlier 16th century folk song called “Ach Tannenbaum”) taking the evergreen, the ever "faithful" fir tree, as contrasting with an unfaithful lover.
That may look a little foreign to us, pardon the pun. We have Anglicized/Americanized the song a bit through the years. One thing led to another and the song eventually became associated with Christmas, which prompted Anschütz to add two additional verses to his traditional rendition. The custom of the Christmas tree developed in the course of the 19th century, and the song would come to be seen as a Christmas carol.
Ernst Anschütz's version still had treu (true, faithful) as the adjective describing the fir's leaves (needles), harking back to the contrast to the faithless maiden of the folk song. This was changed to grün (green) at some point in the 20th century, after the song had come to be associated with Christmas:
As I began my research into the lives of the Tannenbaum humans buried in Mount Olivet, I quickly found that they were as faithful to each other as their namesake tree. They married in 1929, and happily stayed together until Karl’s sudden death in 1959. Imagine my surprise when I learned that Mrs. Tannenbaum was the former Edna Blanche McAbee. To “faithful” readers of this blog, the McAbee name should “ring a bell” so to speak—it belongs also to Edna’s beloved older sister, Clara.
Clara McAbee was the focal point of our most popular past stories. The former Lime Kiln resident was named “Maryland’s Prettiest Girl” in 1915 and won the opportunity to compete for the national competition in California. She finished second, but had become an instant celebrity back home in Frederick. And what good are celebrities without a touch of “celebrity scandal?” Young Clara found herself embroiled in a big one, that brought her name back to national headlines once again, but this time not so favorable. In 1918, she was named as the “other woman” responsible for breaking up the marriage of a prominent local dentist named Albert Leon.
The tooth specialist was anything but “a fir tree” at least pre-Clara, but the secret lovers would eventually marry and remain faithful to one another over the remainder of their lifetimes. Their gravesite is only 20 yards from the Tannenbaums in Area GG. The couples visited one another regularly, and frequently vacationed together.
Karl Hart Tannenbaum
Karl Tannenbaum was born on July 12th, 1892 in Montgomery, Indiana, but would spend the majority of his childhood in Crawfordsville, west of Indianapolis. For Frederick history fans, Crawfordsville was the birthplace of another important person in our past—Gen. Lew Wallace, Union hero of the Battle of Monocacy during the American Civil War. Tannenbaum’s parents were German immigrants, his father arriving in this country in 1874. Solomon Tannenbaum entered into a partnership with relative Max Tannenbaum, and the tandem ran a successful clothing business in Crawfordsville. The store was devastated by a fire in 1883, but Sol struck out again and became one of the town’s most prosperous merchants.
Karl’s mother was the former Carolyn Hart, and married “Sol” Tannenbaum in 1889. The couple had two children, with a first born named Ferdinand (born 1890). Karl attended local schools and graduated from Crawfordsville High in 1910. He would set his sights on a profession in medicine, first attending undergraduate studies at Crawfordsville’s Wabash College, and then following up with pursuit of his medical degree at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He graduated from the latter in 1919, with a degree in urology.
Meanwhile, Edna McAbee was born on March 10th, 1897 in the vicinity of Lime Kiln, a small village that sits adjacent the original route 15 south, today known as Maryland route 85/Buckeystown Pike. The once booming industrial complex can be found just south of English Muffin Way, and roughly one mile north of Buckeystown. She was the daughter of Joseph F. McAbee and Eliza C. Funk, the fourth of eight children. The McAbees operated a general store out of the front of their Lime Kiln household, located north of Lime Kiln where the old B&O railroad intersected the Buckeystown Pike.
She excelled in school and had aspirations of getting into the medical field, just like her future husband. She would go to Baltimore in the late teens, enrolled as a nursing student at the Church Home and Infirmary, located on Broadway, between East Fayette and East Baltimore Streets, on "Washington Hill" several blocks south of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. This long-term care facility was affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. The location was originally that of the Washington Medical College, the place at which Edgar Allan Poe, was taken in October 1849 after being found found semiconscious and ill in a street gutter near East Lombard Street. He subsequently died here soon after.
I don’t know how it happened, but the couple apparently found love and “greenery” in one another in those school days, or immediately thereafter. Karl went back to Chicago and began a practice he would cultivate over the next 26 years. He married in 1929 and the couple can be found in the 1930 census living in Chicago at the Mayfair Apartments Hotel at 5496 Hyde Park Boulevard. They soon moved to 200 E. Chestnut Street on the city's north side.
I didn’t find a great deal of information. I wouldn’t necessarily find the life of a urologist to be full of color, but the newspaper often mentions the couple visiting friends and Mrs Tannenbaum, graciously hosting teas and card parties. One of the neatest finds included the following article from the Chicago Tribune, dated April 21st, 1931.
Ahhh, the restorative qualities of grape juice—who knew? A urologist, that’s who! A number of studies suggest that grape juice can provide brain benefits similar to, and perhaps longer-lasting than, those of red wine, most likely because both beverages contain flavonoids, compounds that are powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatories. In fact, a study published in the March 2016 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that a small group of middle-aged women who drank a daily 12-ounce glass of Concord grape juice for 12 weeks experienced significant improvements in cognitive function and driving performance compared to a similar group who received a placebo. Way to go Edna!
In 1940 the couple can be found living on 117 Chestnut St. in Chicago where Dr. Tannenbaum was listed in private practice as a urology surgeon. The couple would have no children, just like the Leons. Dr. Tannenbaum would semi-retire in 1953 and the couple left the Midwest to come back east to Maryland, and Clara’s hometown of Frederick. I’m assuming the relationship with the Leons certainly played a role here.
Once established in Frederick, Dr. Tannenbaum worked in a semi-retired capacity. He practiced internal medicine at an office at 8 E. 2nd Street. The couple took up residence in Apartment A, Building Four of Watkins Acres. This apartment complex for seniors is located on Carroll Parkway, just east of Frederick High School. Today this complex goes by the name of Parkview Apartments.
Again, several articles can be found in the local paper boasting the Tannenbaums out of town visitors, guests, and card parties, etc. Occasional articles would provide mention of Dr. Tannenbaum assisting patients, or the community through his work with civic and non-profit organizations.
In 1959, the Tannenbaums had plans to spend the Christmas holiday in Chicago with old friends. They made the trip to “the Windy City” with no problems, and had accommodations at the Drake Hotel. Dr. Tannenbaum had been in good health upon his departure from Frederick. However, he was taken ill in his hotel room on December 23rd. He would suffer a heart attack.
The doctor was rushed to Wesley Hospital, a facility he was quite familiar with. Here he died, just two days before Christmas. Edna would accompany the body of her beloved husband back home to Frederick, assisted by Albert and Clara Leon. The former surgeon would be buried here at Mount Olivet on December 28th in Area GG, Lot 237.
It’s quite amazing how fast time flies. A few years ago on this very date, I was walking the grounds of Mount Olivet and taking photos of some of the many, holiday decorated graves in the cemetery. For those who have never visited Mount Olivet at this time of year, I strongly urge you to come and see for yourself.
Mother Nature and her “seasonal work” certainly helps create distinct, and different, cemetery imagery throughout the year. These include the annual backdrop changes—bright pastels of spring, the lush, greenery of summer, fall foliage and occasional blankets of snow in winter. But that’s not where it ends as some of this changing viewshed is man-made. Floral arrangements, flower pots and hanging baskets aesthetically please the eye in our monumental “city” of gray and white stones. Memorial Day boasts 4,000 flaglets of red, white and blue—proudly placed on the graves of 4,000 military veterans thanks to the yearly efforts of our local American Legion post.
Now in wintertime, when we don’t have snow, the cemetery has the potential to look its least visually pleasing. However, the loyal and creative efforts of our lot-holders and hundreds of families/descendents bring warmth through holiday decorating of gravesites with items such as wreaths, garland, poinsettias, holiday figurines and solar lights. We even have some instances where folks have placed miniature Christmas trees by graves.
I know this tradition of holiday grave decorating isn’t for everyone, as we occasionally field complaints and displeasure from certain lot-holders and patrons telling us that some gravesite exhibitions look tacky and trite. Our management view here at the cemetery holds that those who are decorating graves be respectful to neighboring sites, while exercising a degree of decorum. Many say, “Cemeteries are for the living,” and we all have different ways of showing our love and gratitude to family members and friends of yore at this special time of year. Maybe not the most appropriate thing to say in reference to a cemetery, but I say “Live and let live!”
Last year, a holiday decorating effort in Mount Olivet made front page news in our local newspaper. An 11-year-old from Ashburn, VA, Ella Myers, decorated the Babyland Area of the cemetery with hand-painted popsicle sticks/tongue depressors which she had painted herself. For those not familiar with this area of the cemetery, Babyland is a very special place reserved for the most innocent of our decedents, such as newborns, infants and small toddlers. There are roughly 500 buried here, only about half having some sort of marker or monument. For some individuals, this is considered the saddest place in the cemetery as one ponders the fact that these children didn’t have the opportunity to experience what the rest of us have.
The genesis for Ella’s efforts occurred a few weeks before when the youngster accompanied her grandparents on a decorating mission to the cemetery for a few family member graves. She told us that she felt sad that many graves in the cemetery were not decorated for the holidays, especially taking particular notice of those gravesites of babies and small children. Ella commented on how lucky she is to be able to celebrate the holidays, while these children don’t have that chance. She wanted to make sure that these children were remembered by someone in addition to beloved family members who still survive and mourn their losses-a very evocative gesture for the rest of us.
We did receive a few complaints about Ella’s kind gesture. Some folks didn’t like the fact that a stick saying “Happy Holidays” was placed, while others thought that it was an invasion of privacy. For the most part, countless folks were amazed and the maturity, initiative and thoughtfulness by this young person who is not even a Frederick resident. Well, Ella came back again last weekend, and placed newly hand-crafted “sticks” on the graves that include markings. We, the cemetery staff and Board of Directors, applaud this young lady’s selflessness and efforts.
It’s interesting for me to see another uncanny connection here between Ella’s “Christmas in Babyland” project and my memorable day of picture taking two years ago. I found myself in Area Q, within ten yards of the famed Barbara Fritchie monument, when I suddenly became captivated by the grave of a three-year-old child, named Owen Wendell Compher. Like Ella, little Owen was a native of Virginia, and has familial connections to Ella’s home of Loudoun County.
Owen Wendell Compher
Owen Wendell Compher passed in 1914, and his final resting place was marked by a classic figurine monument depicting a winged, cherub angel. Standing only a few feet high, I had seen this hand-sculpted piece plenty of times before, but on this particular day, someone had added a distinct hint of holiday flare. No, it wasn’t a popsicle stick, but rather a festive laurel wreath placed on its head.
Now, I want to explain a few things here for those who may not understand the symbolism of cherubs and laurel wreaths, especially as they pertain to cemeteries. Cherubs were commonly used to designate the graves of children. This was very common in the Victorian period, but still holds true today in some cases. Cherubs have actually been humanized and depicted as pudgy babies or toddlers with Baroque fashioned wings. They are said to symbolize the omnipresence of God.
A laurel wreath is a symbol of victory and honor. It is a round wreath made of interlocking branches and leaves of the bay laurel. It is worn as a chaplet around the head, or as a garland around the neck. In Greek mythology, Apollo is represented wearing a laurel wreath on his head. In ancient Greece wreaths were awarded to victors, both in athletic competitions, including the ancient Olympics, and in poetic meets. In Rome, laurels were symbols of martial victory, crowning a successful commander during his triumph. They commonly appear in funerary art as representing a victory over death by the decedent. While we are on the subject, the common expression "resting on one's laurels" refers to someone relying entirely on long-past successes for continued fame or recognition.
Thinking back to the day I took the picture, I wondered as I wandered out under the sky. “Who decorated this grave?—Was it a relative or family historian—or just an admirer of this beautiful monument, which, over time, has lost both arms. And how the heck did that happen?
I next pondered the more important question at hand: “Who was Owen Compher, and why was his life taken at such a young age?”
I may never learn the answer of who placed the laurel wreath on young Owen’s cherub- themed monument. But this internet blog format of ours may be read one day by the creative “outfitter” in question, and hopefully will contact me so that I can relay the rest of the story. In the meantime, here is what I learned of young Owen.
Owen Wendell Compher was born August 29th, 1910. He was the only son of Owen West Compher (1879-1978) and wife Alice C. Hughes (1881-1964). The family lived in Norfolk, Virginia at the time of their son’s birth. Mr. Compher was a bookkeeper, and later served as secretary/treasurer for the J. E. Etheridge Lumber Yard operation in town.
Little Owen’s father, Owen West Compher, was born in Loudoun County, VA, his family having deep roots in the Lovettsville area. He moved to Frederick as a toddler and grew up here, his family taking up residence at 201 Washington Street. Owen West's name appears a great deal in the papers of Frederick in the 1890’s and 1900’s in connection with musical interludes. He seems to have been a talented pianist and violinist. To make his living however, he would use his fingers more readily on credit and debit sheets as he served as bookkeeper for the Frederick Milling Company. Owen West never abandoned music as he once held the role of organist for All Saints Protestant Episcopal Church. Mr. Compher would abandon Frederick, however, relocating to Norfolk, VA in 1904.
Owen Wendell Compher’s mother hailed from Baltimore, and was the former Alice Cramer Hughes. She was the daughter of Wendell O. Hughes and Harriet Rebecca Cramer. Alice and family once lived at 49 W. Second Street in Frederick City. They moved to town after her father died prematurely at the age of 38 of pneumonia. Alice was only twelve at the time.
In June, 1909, the Baltimore Sun reported that Miss Hughes had married Owen West Compher of Norfolk, VA. The couple were married at the Strawbridge Methodist Episcopal Church outside of New Windsor, MD. Afterwards, they departed on a honeymoon trip to Atlantic City (NJ), after which the new Mrs. Compher made her home with husband Owen in Norfolk.
In March of 1914, young Owen began experiencing fever and headache, the cardinal signs associated with the illness that would take his life—tuberculosis. Within two months, the Compher’s only child was gone. He passed on May 7th, and was first buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Norfolk. Forty-two years later, our cemetery records show that Owen Wendell’s body was moved to Frederick. A small burial service took place at 1:00pm on September 27th, 1956 as the Compher’s child was placed in a lot owned by Alice’s family of Hughes and Cramers. Little Owen’s grave monument was moved to Mount Olivet as well, after spending four decades on the Virginia coast.
Respective footstone monuments for Mr. and Mrs. Compher were placed on the Hughes-Cramer family lot the following week, directly across for the winged cherub. Mr. and Mrs. Compher lived out the majority of their lives in Norfolk, but lived at Richmond's Hermitage Methodist Home in their Golden Years. Their mortal remains would join that of their son up here in Frederick. Alice Compher died in November, 1964 at the age of 83. She would celebrate 50 Christmases without her only child.
Owen West Compher lived to be 98. One will notice that no one made the effort to make sure his death date of January 29th, 1978 was added to his monument. Owen West Compher rose up the ladder of Norfolk's J. E. Ethridge Lumber Company, eventually serving as President. On a personal level, endured 14 Christmas Days without his beloved wife, and carried the weight of 64 Christmastimes without his son and namesake. Both of these parents surely possessed a tremendous void in both heart and mind.
I went out to visit the grave of Owen Wendell Compher the other day. After researching his life and that of his parents, I certainly felt further enlightened than on my inaugural visit two years ago. In the same vein, as I stared through the viewfinder of my camera to take a new picture of little Owen’s grave monument, I certainly felt a sense of sadness. I had been drawn by the stylish laurel wreath decoration placed atop the cherub’s head two years prior, but now I took note of its stark absence. My eyes were drawn to the broken arms of the statue. Immediately, I thought to myself how they could symbolically represent the two broken hearts of his parents.
This pain isn’t any different than what the parents of Babyland’s inhabitants feel each time this year. For those of us fortunate enough to never have had a child in Babyland, or a cemetery for that matter, we can do our best to follow young Ella’s lead. Keep these precious little ones (and their parents) in your thoughts and prayers this time of year—and may all the children in Mount Olivet, and within burying grounds throughout the world, "sleep in heavenly peace."
Cyber this, cyber that! The term (cyber) is derived from "cybernetic," which comes from the Greek word κυβερνητικός meaning skilled in steering or governing. You will commonly see it used as a prefix in words (with or without a hyphen) such as cyber-space, cyber-crime, cyber attack, cyber-bullying, and cyber-terrorism. Not all "cyber-things" have negative connotations as the list above seems to insinuate, just look at all the joy the newfound cyber-holiday of "Cyber Monday" brings!
A recent term of the "internet era," cyber is commonly used to describe policies and politics regarding computer systems and networks, as well as the greater information technology industry. Why there is even a term cyber-delic, a fusion between cultures of today (cyber-culture) and yesteryear (psychedelic). I was particularly interested in the official definition of cyber-space and found the following, (online of course):
Cyberspace is the essence of interconnected technology. The term entered the popular culture from science fiction and the arts but is now used by technology strategists, security professionals, government, military and industry leaders and entrepreneurs to describe the domain of the global technology environment. Others consider cyberspace to be just a notional environment in which communication over computer networks occurs. The word became popular in the 1990s when the uses of the Internet, networking, and digital communication were all growing dramatically and the term "cyberspace" was able to represent the many new ideas and phenomena that were emerging.
Mount Olivet was a latecomer to the foray of cyberspace. We created our first business website in 2007. Five years later, the cemetery created a FaceBook page. Things were quite pedestrian at first—as few expect cutting edge content and graphic design from an historic cemetery web-page?
Anyway, two years ago, in November, 2016, we revamped our website and started production of an internet-based blog entitled “Stories in Stone.” I guess you could call it our first step into "cyber-preservation." Weekly features are stored in cyberspace on the Mount Olivet website, while new features are promoted through the cemetery's Facebook page. Thanks to the internet, we have the ability to reach readers throughout the world. This novelty has allowed audience members to "reach" back as well, sharing with us stories, pictures and information about loved ones, ancestors and interesting people buried here in Frederick's Mount Olivet Cemetery.
For neophytes to our particular cyber-offerings, the "Stories in Stone" brand refers to illustrated essays about former Frederick residents buried within Mount Olivet’s gates. Yes, some of these individuals stand out for their unique achievements on local, state and national levels such as Francis Scott Key, Barbara Fritchie and Thomas Johnson, Jr. Others can be remembered for their misfortunes. All in all, most of those “resting in peace” here just lived simple, ordinary lives, and our written online pieces all end the same, with the main subject dying.
I've generally been able to find a "silver lining" of some sort to highlight and mesh individuals and their lives with the context of Frederick, Maryland's rich heritage. Best of all, I have the opportunity to introduce (or reintroduce) these folks to our readers.
Some may find these stories immediately after initial publishing, and countless others stumble upon them weeks, months, years later while conducting Google and Yahoo searches during family history research. This will continue to happen for years to come, something that makes the research and publishing task involved well worth the effort. This is true history preservation using cyber-tools and cyber technology to do —"cyber-preservation."
"Old School" GPS
With 40,000 former residents in our midst, roughly the same population as our state capital of Annapolis, I do pass countless grave sites without a thought, as their names are nothing more than “names in stone.” However, as I have found, they are much more than that. Grave markers, monuments, and tombstones are tributes to, and representations of, past lives. Each provides a tangible connection to the deceased.
From a religious perspective, I’ve been taught that the spirit of our loved ones will always be with us, and are “watching from above.” However, these works in granite and marble are tangible, standing as a tribute to a life once lived, be it spectacular, tragic or common. Gravestones can bring a sense of reality and closure for some people. For others, they serve to keep the memory of that person eternal. These "stones" stand proof that a life was once lived, and associate it with a tangible geographical location within a large cemetery or memorial park, church graveyard or family burial ground on an ancestral farm or plantation. This is a lasting footprint.
Speaking of cyberspace and the internet, another innovation most of us take for granted is GPS, which is an acronym for the Global Positioning System. With help from a trusty Earth globe, we were taught the concept of longitude and latitude lines in grade school. Like many, I was fortunate enough to have a personal globe at home as well, kept on proud display on a shelf in my bedroom. To find a country anywhere in the world, one could first consult something called an encyclopedia, which would describe said country and gave coordinates allowing you to find the location on the globe or a World map. I credit my success in finding many specific locations thanks to hours spent mastering longitude and latitude while playing the Hasbro Battleship game with my brothers, but I digress.
Today, globes and handheld maps are disappearing. Compasses were once the "smartphone" of their day for explorers and travelers, alike. Life in the cyber-world is made so much easier thanks to GPS. This space-based, radio-navigation system (owned by the US Government) can show the exact position of a person or thing using signals from satellites in space. The smartphone or car-based navigation/tracking devices utilize GPS technology and tell us where to go and how to get there. They also can tell us where we've been, and can get us back home or to familiar surroundings.
This may be a stretch, but I see a great analogy here to cemeteries, and gravestones. Its almost as if we have "old school" GPS here in our midst. Grave sites and respective monuments, markers and plaques denote the people of our past. They are a part of us, good, bad or indifferent, and we can find our biologic, social and cultural markers in them. They are permanently anchored so to speak, and wherever future generations may roam on the globe, their gravesite coordinates remain steadfast and unwavering.
Each and every day, I see individuals coming to Mount Olivet to plan and purchase monuments for themselves and loved ones who have passed. Some designs are playful, others are serious. Most can best be described as traditional. I also see people decorating and cleaning grave stones, especially this time of year. For a modest fee, we are happy to professionally clean monuments with non-evasive techniques. We are now in a position to embark on making high quality repairs and restoration efforts to vintage stones on our grounds.
One month ago, it felt like Christmas in October as we hosted talented craftsmen and trainees associated with the Preservation Trades Network for a two-day session on gravestone restoration and preservation. This was part of the 22nd annual International Preservation Trades Workshop held here in Frederick in late October. Some of the best of the best grave monument-oriented craftspeople were on-hand here at the cemetery and taught the class through doing. Roughly 50 gravestones and monuments were the recipients of cleaning and delicate repair work. Most of the damage to these stones was simply the result of old age and weathering.
The Power of the Internet
For as much sadness that I witness firsthand in my job, I see an equal amount of joyful remembrance for those who have passed. I also see family historians (from both the professional and amateur ranks) reveling in discoveries made through ancestral pilgrimages. Those "familial GPS coordinates" littering our grounds led them here to learn or experience more about their past, and themselves. I know genealogy is not for the faint of heart, but the cyber-innovations of Ancestry.com, FamilySearch.com, Fold3, Newspapers.com and FindaGrave.com have been godsends, allowing ease in time and effort in finding pertinent resources. The latter of the sites mentioned certainly drives my point home, as you can make a "virtual" visit to a gravestone in a cemetery anywhere in the world as long as its been documented by a FindaGrave volunteer. Here one can gaze upon the final resting place and stone of a long-lost ancestor. In some cases, you may also find exact GPS coordinates for headstones to boot.
Last year we launched a companion "sister-website" entitled www.MountOlivetVets.com. This website has a similar mission to FindaGrave.com and is designed to contain memorial pages for the over 4,000 military veterans buried at Mount Olivet. Here you will find pictures of grave monuments and military-issued stones/markers and obituaries along with vital, personal and military record information. In some cases, we feature photographs of the deceased which allows users to put a face with a name, and so much more—a life.
We just finished a first year phase of creating pages for 500 World War I vets. The site as a whole 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. The internet will continue to dictate the success and strength of this information resource for not only users, but us here at the cemetery as it additional info, scans of pictures and documents can do nothing but add to our preservation of the history of those buried here. Important for those family historians, Tombstone Tourists and heritage travelers of the future without a doubt.
Some people go into cemeteries and simply see names and dates chiseled in stone. Many of us see much, much more. I continue to learn more about the lives of Mount Olivet’s residents through studying grave stones, researching our blog, collecting images and documenting stories told to me by visiting descendants (regarding their relatives). Our goal is to continue sharing this with you the reader and future generations.
In years to come, we hope to have have more online information about those buried here. At present, the best source is FindaGrave since our current cemetery data system isn't easily compatible with an online interface. We also hope one day to have GPS coordinates for all grave monuments so visitors can actually be led to grave sites by their smartphones, where they will have the opportunity to connect to database information which could include obituaries, photographs and even video of the decedents.
I envision a Cyber Monday in the future in which customers may be able to engage in online "pre-planning," choosing their lots and niches, and designing monuments and plaques. Of course, the day would have to include special online pricing incentives:) More importantly in this cyber-centric era, I want to mention the online opportunity that exists now for charitable donating to our Mount Olivet Preservation and Enhancement Fund (MOCPEF) on Giving Tuesday, or anytime throughout the year. A formal partnership was formed last November with the Community Foundation of Frederick County, our fiduciary overseer for the fund.
Many people are well aware of Giving Tuesday, also stylized as #Giving Tuesday for internet social networking purposes. This event, occurring on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, celebrates its 6th anniversary this week, as it began back in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y in New York City along with the United Nations Foundation. It's a “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. Over $60 million was raised last year on this day.
For over a decade, the Mount Olivet Board of Directors had entertained the idea of establishing a preservation-themed fund with the Community Foundation. The idea was first pitched, and championed by the late Colleen Remsberg, longtime Board member and immediate past president. Ms. Remsberg passed away last May, but not before she saw the Mount Olivet Preservation and Enhancement Fund become an IRS accredited 501(c)(3) public charity in 2017. The mission 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, we continue taking steps to preserve the history of this great “garden cemetery,” a community institution since the 1850’s. In doing so, we want to safeguard the cemetery’s historic records, structures and grave monuments herein. We have taken a bit of a head start as can be exemplified by the fore-mentioned “Stories in Stone” articles and MountOlivetvets.com website, along with public lectures and our recent World War I commemorative events held last month.
In addition, we plan on launching a Friends (of Mount Olivet) group in 2019 and expand upon activities and product development including cemetery walking tours, visitor assistance with genealogy and family history, special events and anniversaries, educational partnerships such as school field trips, interpretive historic wayside displays and unique commemorative plantings. Best of all, we will have the opportunity, and more so the financial support, to clean, preserve and repair broken and illegible gravestones and monuments in the cemetery’s historic section.
We appreciate any assistance you can give, be it monetary, or simply volunteering family information and photograph scans of relatives interred here. Please click the Community Foundation link below to contribute to our preservation fund, or drop me a line (via the internet or phone) here at the cemetery to learn more about how you can help preserve this amazing outdoor and virtual museum of Frederick's history.
Many people declare Thanksgiving as their favorite holiday. I know this isn’t the case with everyone, as there are plenty of anxious people hoping to slug through another holiday with relatives “not of their choosing.” But for most of us, we find ourselves very fortunate to be surrounded by people that mean a great deal…so much so, we can easily declare that we are sincerely thankful for them. And that’s what Thanksgiving is all about, not to mention sharing, or sampling, the finest meal of the year.
When you look up the meaning of family in a dictionary, the definition is usually something along the lines of “a social group consisting of parents and children – usually living in the same household.’’ That’s okay, but family can be extended to more than just parents, siblings, and children. Thanksgiving can include aunts, uncles, cousins, boyfriends, girlfriends, and any individual friend or acquaintance that you would deem closeness to. Not to get overly dramatic or “sing-songy”, but let’s just say our family consists of people we love to know, and those we know to love—simply put, people we are thankful for.
Since you can’t accommodate, or invite, everyone you care about to the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, its meaningful to at least have a sample of that caliber of friends/family. To revisit the original premise, I pity the poor folks that have to spend this awesome holiday, and like meal, with people with whom their lives would be perfectly complete without.
Many people interred in our cemetery will surely be missed at the Thanksgiving table once again this year. Spouses, parents, siblings, children, grandparents—the list is vast. In addition, I sense that there are so many people here that would make excellent dinner guests and conversationalists, irregardless of whether they are relatives or not. That said, I’m reminded once again of the fact that there are plenty of amazing people here that I wish I had the chance to meet.
On this particular Thanksgiving, one individual seems to stand out, prompting me to compile this particular “Story in Stone” article. A descendant of hers helped to “jump start” my interest a few years back. She shared the fact that her ancestor had given the world a very special keepsake of her life—one that speaks volumes of her love and admiration of family. Her name was Hester Ann Posey.
A few years back, a nice lady named Donna Bertrand stopped in my office one day, as so many people do, week in and week out. She was performing research on her “family tree” and asked if I could help her find a few grave sites in the cemetery. One of these locations was that of was Hester Ann Posey, Donna’s GGGG spinster aunt who was born a few days after Christmas in the year 1822.
Donna was proud of the fact that she had come across this particular family heirloom which she didn’t know existed at the outset. It was almost as if this family became frozen in time. It was a truly unique, primary resource which showed all members of Hester’s family and their respective birth dates. No, this wasn’t a family bible, but something a bit more artistic and creative—as Hester had embroidered this information as part of a sampler, completed in 1837 when Hester was 15 years of age.
Donna, did not have the sampler on hand, but shared an image with me. The original sampler is part of the priceless collection of National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution just down the road in Washington, DC.
You will likely notice that Hester utilized an archaic variant of letter “s,” in her handiwork. This actually looks like a lowercase letter “f,” and was often found in Colonial times and referred to as the long, medial or descending “s.” Here is some information that the Smithsonian has compiled on Hester’s vintage piece within their extensive collection:
Below family record, pyramidal monument (memorial to deceased sister) flanked by rosebushes and butterflies, under weeping willow tree, on ground-line worked in "crinkled" silk. To left of monument, verse in square outline, all lettering black. Border of geometric flowering vine on all four sides. Silk embroidery thread on linen ground.
STITCHES: cross, crosslet, satin, stem.
THREAD COUNT: warp 28, weft 31/in.
"A Family Reccord
Nathaniel and Margaret Posey
The Parent's of those Children
Sophia Maria Posey born Oct 8th 1813
Fredrick Jerome Posey born Feb 28 1815
Margaret Posey born Dec 19th 1816
John Pitts Posey born Oct 12 1818
Mary Jane Posey born Dec 3d 1820
Hester Ann Posey born Dec 28 1822
Nathaniel Boliver Posey born April 11 1827
Henry Clay Posey born Aug 14 1829"
To left of monument in square:
"Weep not my frien
ds. As you pass by.
as you are now. so
once Was I. as I
am now. So you
must be. prepare
to meet me in
Embroidered on the monument are the following words:
to The -
Who died Feb 2
A.D. 1824 aged 8 YS
1 Month and 14 days”
"Hester Ann Posey’s Sampler, Finished in the 15th
year of her age. A.D. 1837."
I set out to find some interesting happenings representing the time Hester worked on her beautiful silk, embroidered sampler. On the local level, our town diarist Jacob Engelbrecht had just turned 40 years-old, and seemed to be consumed with the usual: politics, townspeople dying and the fall’s sauerkraut yield.
Nationally, Martin Van Buren took over the White House from Andrew Jackson to become our 8th US president. In fact, he was sworn into office by the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, a former Frederick resident serving in his second year of office—Roger Brooke Taney.
Meanwhile overseas, Queen Victoria ascended to the throne of England starting a new era of enlightenment and Louis Daguerre developed his first daguerreotype. Back home, Chicago and Houston are granted city charters, and a guy named john Greenleaf Whittier has his first book of poetry published, entitled: Poems Written During the Progress of the Abolition Question in the United States. He would put Frederick on the map just over 25 years later with a poem written about a Frederick woman who dared to wave the “Stars & Stripes” in the face of Gen. Stonewall Jackson and his Confederate Army—well allegedly. The famed Barbara Fritchie’s gravesite is only a couple hundred yards away from Hester’s final resting place here at Mount Olivet.
Hester Ann Posey was born in Baltimore, the daughter of Nathaniel Posey and wife Margaret Kemp, the latter hailing from the Rocky Springs area just north of Frederick. Margaret’s father was Rev. John Peter Kemp who is considered a founding member of the United Brethren in Christ Church. Her childhood home was considered the “Bethlehem” of the religion. We covered a great deal about the Kemp family in a recent story about Dr. William Waters. Many Kemps can be found in Mount Olivet, and several more inhabit the ancestral grounds, buried within the Rocky Springs Cemetery.
Nathaniel Peter Posey is said to have hailed from Alexandria, Virginia, born around 1790. Here’s where Donna had hit a genealogical brick wall. A great deal of Poseys lived in the Charles County area dating back to Maryland’s founding. It’s not certain if Nathaniel came from this family or an early “pocket full of Poseys” located in North Carolina. Information was scarce as he died on March 14th, 1840 at the age of 52 and is buried in Baltimore’s venerable Mount Olivet Cemetery.
I found references to Nathaniel getting married in Frederick in October, 1812 and less than two years later, serving as a first lieutenant in a militia company from Hagerstown in the war of 1812. Apparently, Nathaniel had set up shop as a hatter in Washington County’s largest town. By 1820, Posey had his young family living in Baltimore’s 4th Ward. A later address for the family can be found within Charm City’s 12th Ward, on the corner of Franklin and Cove streets. In the last years of his life, I found Mr. Posey working as a bailiff/police officer for the 12th Ward, an elected position he won successfully numerous times.
Even though it wasn’t yet declared a national holiday until the 1860’s, imagine Thanksgiving with the Posey family from Hester’s perspective. I put a little research into each member of Hester’s immediate family—the ten captured for posterity on the sampler’s face. Through the textile, Hester tells us that sister Margaret has died at the age of eight in early 1824. She is buried in the same grave lot as her father in Baltimore’s Mount Olivet, not that of Frederick. I decided to "carve up" the sampler and explore what became of the individual family members.
Oldest sister Sophia Maria Posey (b. 1813) married in 1832 a gentleman named Bernard Armand Courtois, a French émigré from Paris who had come to Baltimore. Apparently, Sophia was an accomplished dressmaker, and city directory listings seem to echo this fact. Her husband was a distiller, perhaps this was a contributing factor to his premature death in 1843.
Frederick Jerome Posey (1815-1881) married a Baltimore girl named Elizabeth McCardell and relocated back to Hagerstown in 1836 where he worked as a silversmith, jeweler, watch and clock-maker. Later in life he served as a director of Hagerstown Bank and also was a director of the Hagerstown Gas Company.
John Pitts Posey (1818-1894) was mentioned in the Sun newspaper of June 12, 1846 as a member of the Chesapeake Rifleman of Baltimore, a volunteer militia group that headed west to do battle with Mexican forces in the Mexican-American War. He made it back okay and continued militia work and “putting out fires” with local fire companies in Baltimore. He married a lady named Margaret Eugenia Martin, and together farmed and operated a popular boarding house on Lake Roland named “Brightside.”
Mary Jane Posey (1820-1896) married a carpenter by the name of John Foreman. She can be found living in Baltimore as a widow in the 1880’s up through her death in 1896. She and John are buried in Baltimore’s Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Nathaniel Bolivar Posey (1827-1912) would change the order of his name to Bolivar Nathaniel. Like his brother Frederick, B. N. would marry in Washington County (Adaline Darlymple) and live in Hagerstown. However, he would head to York, Pennsylvania and then back to Baltimore and found living on St. Paul Place during the American Civil War, employed by the railroad. Around 1880, he headed back north of the Mason-Dixon Line and would live the rest of his life in Carlisle, then Pittsburgh, working as a railroad agent, and as a hotel clerk.
Henry Clay Posey (1829-1856) also took up a profession with the railroad. Henry was a transportation and freight agent for the B&O in Frederick for five years beginning in 1851. He lived on W. 3rd Street and is listed among the vendors involved with the building of the All Saints Protestant Episcopal Church on W. Church Street during that period. Sadly, he died at the age of 26 in early December, 1856.
So what became of Hester? Well, she lived the great balance of her life right here in downtown Frederick. I hypothesize that the family came to Frederick after Nathaniel’s death sometime in the 1840’s. Hester, her mother Margaret, and widowed older sister, Sophia, appear here in the 1850 US Census. As a matter of fact, they seem to have had charge in running the All Saints’ Episcopal Free School on E. Church Street on the SE corner at Middle Alley. This location is across the alley from the former mansion of Dr. John Baltzell, later to be owned by George B. Hanson. This entity, operated by the local Protestant Episcopal congregation, had been in existence since 1833, and was also known as the School of Industry. Here at this free school for orphaned girls, students were taught to read, write and sew.
A few years later in 1837, the entity would take the moniker of All Saints’ Orphanage after the All Saints’ Sewing Circle applied to the state legislature to incorporate an Orphans’ Home. In 1839, a new building was erected for meeting the purpose. Decades later, the Loats Orphanage Asylum would be centered in the mansion structure across the alley, after being purchased in 1871 by one of Mount Olivet’s founders, Mr. John B. Loats. Seventy-eight years later, this entity would end its run as an orphanage and become the new home for the Historical Society of Frederick County, (better known today as Heritage Frederick) who would leave their original headquarters at the Stephen Steiner house at the corner of W. Patrick and Jefferson streets.
Back to the 1850 census, at 25 years of age, Hester Posey is listed as a teacher at the Orphanage, as is sister, Sophia. Sophia’s two children (Clementine and Theodore) are among the 12 orphans listed by the enumerator at this time.
Margaret Posey, Hester’s mother, would die the following January of 1851. She was not brought back to Baltimore to be buried with her husband. Instead, she was laid to rest somewhere in Frederick (likely All Saints' Graveyard along Carroll Creek or even the Rocky Springs burial ground of the Kemps). Our cemetery records show that she would be re-interred here in 1857. This came as a consequence of Henry Clay Posey’s death in 1856. Mother and son are buried together under one monument in Area E/Lot 129.
An interesting advertisement appears in the Frederick Examiner newspaper throughout the month of November, 1857. Hester Posey put out a call for young ladies interested in entering the dress and cloak-making business, and soon commenced with her small manufactory. This is said to have been located near N. Market and 4th streets. Another great vintage newspaper find comes in 1860, as Hester’s name is listed among a “who’s who” list of prominent townspeople giving testimonial for a new sewing machine line carried by George Tyler at his store on Market Street. I find it interesting that the advertisement uses the line “every kind of Family Sewing.” Hester’s talents must have been known near and far for such a mention in print.
Sophia (Posey) Courtois went back to Baltimore and would reside with her grown children. Hester seems to continue teaching in the employ of the orphanage for another decade or so until 1880, where she is living alone and listed in the census as a housekeeper. It suddenly seems like a lonely existence for Hester, now in her late 50’s. This woman was surrounded by family back in 1837 as embodied and embroidered on her sampler. Now she was truly an orphan herself, or so it seems.
Thanksgiving was now an official holiday thanks to Abraham Lincoln, but gone were her parents and half of her siblings. The other half were quite spread out. She had never married, and had no children of her own. I hope that Hester met up with siblings or was “rich” with friends, but one never knows.
Without a census from 1890, I’m not sure of Hester’s home for a decade. However, I know exactly where she likely spent Thanksgiving of 1892. This is due to the fact that her whereabouts are on “Record,” both literally and figuratively. In October 1892, Hester Ann Posey followed Ms. Margaret M. Delaplaine (widow of George Washington Delaplaine) as the first two inhabitants of the newly formed Record Street Home for the Aged. This was located at 115 Record Street adjacent the Frederick County Courthouse, where Roger Brooke Taney and brother in law Francis Scott Key began their illustrious law careers roughly two decades before Hester’s 1822 birth.
The Record Street Home was very selective as residents had to be:
“persons of respectable parentage and good character, who in advanced age, by reason of the death of their natural protectors, by loss of fortune, by physical infirmity, or other inability to care for themselves, are unprovided with the means of obtaining the comfort and security so necessary for the repose of mind and body which should ever attend the declining years of life.”
The handsome, three-story, brick, Greek Revival house would be “home” for Hester Ann Posey over the next 25 years. I’m sure she made it even “homier” for those ladies who eventually took up residence. Hester likely completed plenty more works of embroidery, and enjoyed many more Thanksgivings in the company of her newfound family.
Hester died at the age of 93 on November 7th, 1916. News of her passing made the front page, stating that Frederick City’s oldest female resident was gone. The Baltimore Sun also alerted readers of the noble seamstress' death. This was just a few weeks shy of another Thanksgiving. I’m sure she was with the other ladies in spirit at the Record Street Home that proceeding holiday, and the several that followed. I hope she is with you as well this Thanksgiving.
What I admire the most about Hester Ann Posey is her quiet work as a documentarian, through her teachings, stories and stitching needle, and that makes us kindred spirits. I’d like to conclude with a heartfelt and happy holiday wish to you and yours—thanks for your continued support of Mount Olivet’s historic preservation pursuits.