“Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.
Many of us grew up with this poem, the work of fireside poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow more than a century and a half ago. But, does anyone know of an impressive “ride” that occurred here in Frederick, Maryland on the twenty-fifth of August, in 1814?
“Paul Revere’s Ride” was written in 1860 on the eve of the American Civil War, first appearing in The Atlantic Monthly Magazine. Interestingly, and possibly by design, a friend and fellow poet from Massachusetts named John Greenleaf Whittier would have a similar work published in The Atlantic just three years later. As Longfellow made a household name out of Boston silversmith Paul Revere, Whittier did the same with a former resident of our fair city of Frederick—her name was Barbara Fritchie. However, in both cases, fame did not come to either subject until after their respective deaths. A bit of embellishment had been employed. You see, there is this thing called “poetic license,” which is defined as: the freedom to depart from the facts of a matter or from the conventional rules of language when speaking or writing in order to create an effect. And who best to demonstrate poetic license than Longfellow and Whittier—poets themselves!
Sadly, two other individuals, William Dawes, Jr. (1745-1799) of Boston and Mary Quantrill (1824-1879) of Frederick, never made the history books, while their counterparts have been “revered” for over a century and a half. Thanks again go to Wadsworth and Whittier.
Hey, I just want to make it clear that I’m not here to challenge the patriotism of Paul or Barbara. Mr. Revere demonstrated his loyalty to the Sons of Liberty, and Dame Fritchie to the Union. Both poems (“Paul Revere’s Ride” and “The Ballad of Barbara Frietchie” made major impacts on our cultural identity as a country and explore the spirit of the civilian population in respect to our American Revolution and Civil War.
Today, Barbara Fritchie rests in peace within the confines of Mount Olivet, her grave topped by an impressive monument with Whittier’s poem etched on a bronze tablet. Nearly 80 or so yards to the north is another impressive monument marking the gravesite that of a local minister that old Dame Fritchie surely knew. He did not preach at her particular church (German Reformed), but was instead connected to Frederick’s Lutheran congregation. His name was David Frederick Schaeffer. Although this name doesn’t conjure up patriotism and the vision of flag-waving among lifelong Fredericktonians, one could make the case that Rev. Schaeffer could be considered our town’s “Paul Revere.”
David Frederick Schaeffer was born in Carlisle, Pennsylvania on July 22nd, 1787. His parents were Frederick David Schaeffer and Rosina Rosenmiller, both German immigrants. His father was a Lutheran clergyman, as were his brothers Frederick Christian, Charles Frederick, and Frederick Solomon. As you can see, this family had a penchant for “Frederick,” through and through! By the way, I recently learned that the name Frederick is said to mean “peaceful.”
Our subject spent much of his youth in Germantown, PA, once located northwest of Philadelphia, but today encompassed by “the City of Brotherly Love.” David graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1807, where he studied theology with Justus Henry Christian Helmuth, John Frederick Schmidt, and his own father. Young Schaeffer was ordained by the Pennsylvania Ministerium in 1812, although he had received his license to preach earlier in 1808. On July 17th of that same year (of 1808), Schaeffer became pastor of Frederick, Maryland’s Evangelical Lutheran congregation. Five days after his arrival, he would celebrate his 21st birthday.
The young minister came into a situation in which the congregation, for the most part, had experienced an adversarial relationship with their former, permanent pastor, a Rev. Frederick William Jaminsky. Jaminsky served from 1802 until July, 1807 at which time he honorably resigned his charge. An illustration of Schaeffer’s pastorate in Frederick can be gleaned from a book titled “A History of the Evangelical Lutheran Church: 250 years 1738-1988,” written by Abdel Ross Wentz and Francis E. Reinberger:
If the Synod could now fill its own order and supply Frederick with a “peace-loving and capable pious pastor” there was every reason to expect that the church would share that enthusiasm for progress that was now beginning to mark the American nation as a whole and to lead it out into larger undertakings in the name of Jehovah….The period of waiting was over. The time of short pastorates was past. A long constructive period. The Frederick church, like the nation in general, was about to enter upon a new stage of its history. This new era in the life of the American nation covered the first forty years in the nineteenth century. It was marked by the rapid growth of patriotism and the national spirit. It severed the bonds that tied the Americans to their European masters, and it gave them independence in fact as the Revolutionary War had given them independence in name. This development of a new American culture applied not only to politics but to the religious and intellectual life as well. It enlarged the vision of individual Christians and it pushed back the horizons of the Churches as bodies. It led the Churches to face squarely the vast practical Christian tasks presented by the sudden territorial expansion and rapid numerical growth of the nation. This new temper of the times helps explain the general trend of events in the Frederick Lutheran Church during the period.”
Rev. Schaeffer would prove a perfect match for the town, and county, that shared his middle name. He is said to have “entered his field with enthusiasm,” and possessed “an attractive personality, for he was well educated, trained in the courtesies and properties of life, tall and sturdy. His clear strong voice was a special asset in the pulpit. He had the dignified bearing of a clergyman and the natural grace of a gentleman. Even in his youth he never lacked poise. His unfailing kindliness of disposition attracted to him people of all stations and ages.” One such who was attracted to Rev. Schaeffer was Elizabeth Krebs of Philadelphia, whom he married in the year 1810. The couple would go on to have six children.
“The Perilous Fight”
The winds of war were swirling shortly after David Schaeffer’s arrival here in Frederick. Great Britain was certainly “stirring the pot” of antagonism, but no one anticipated the fact that things would eventually escalate into a "Second War of Independence,” lasting from 1812 to 1815.
One of the major issues during the first decade of the 19th century featured the practice of "impressment" on the high seas. This involved forcing men to serve in the armed forces through violence. The British Royal Navy vigorously practiced this method of replacing its sailors by taking United States citizens from American ships—not cool.
In addition, Britain was also making attempts to limit American trade with France (with whom Britain was currently at war). This caused tensions to eventually boil over into a declaration of war by the United States in June, 1812. Battles between the two countries (and their respective Native-American allies) were primarily fought on the U.S.-Canadian border over the first two years of the war. This included locations such as Detroit and Niagara, as Canada was then a British territory. At least one bright highlight was the capture (and subsequent burning) of the major town of York in Ontario, Canada by US forces. We know this place today as Toronto.
All the while, the United States did not have much of a major standing army at the time. Across the country, local men would be asked to comprise companies in an effort to form and bolster state militias. Frederick was no exception, as the Secretary of War demanded that quotas be filled for the defense and protection of major towns such as Baltimore and the state capital of Annapolis in our case. One of our local commanders included Major Ezra Mantz. He, in turn, had two local brothers, part of one of the town’s founding families. Captain Stephen Steiner oversaw a company of infantry and Captain Henry Steiner oversaw a company of artillery.
A frequent place of military activity was the Frederick (Hessian) Barracks (today's site of the Maryland School for the Deaf). Here, troops would be mustered and take part in drilling and other training exercises. Outside of that, things were relatively quiet in the mid-Atlantic region and these citizen soldiers had ample opportunity to tend to their crops and respective trades as the war raged on elsewhere.
That would all change in early 1814. Napoleon Bonaparte and his French Army would be defeated by spring, allowing the British to turn more of their attention to the United States. In mid-August of 1814, the British sailed up the Chesapeake Bay and disembarked on Maryland’s western shore at Benedict with the goal of capturing Washington, DC. This occurred on August 19th and the entire region was thrown into a full state of alarm and panic as you could imagine. The state militia scrambled to defend the nation’s capital and met the enemy at Bladensburg on Wednesday, August 24th. One such participant was Francis Scott Key, a lawyer who once dreamed of becoming a minister. During the battle, Key was living in Georgetown and served as an aide for the District of Columbia’s militia commander.
The Battle of Bladensburg resulted in an embarrassing defeat of American forces under General William Winder. The blunder allowed the British Army to subsequently march into nearby Washington DC and set fire to public buildings, including the presidential mansion (later to be rebuilt and renamed as the White House) and Capitol over August 24th and 25th. Worse yet, this act of war was primarily performed in retaliation for the earlier torching of York (Toronto) by the United States. This had a major effect on American morale as the British had succeeded in destroying the very symbols of American democracy and spirit. At this moment in late August, 1814, the British sought to swiftly end the war, and with it, the “American Independence” that was first declared back on July 4th, 1776.
As you can imagine, excitement was heightened here at home when news of the defeat and destruction reached Frederick. Our standing militia companies departed for Bladensburg and Washington on Thursday, August 25th under the leadership of the previously mentioned Capt. Henry Steiner, and another officer named George Washington Ent. Unfortunately, we had no mayor at the time for guidance or moral support as Frederick Town had not quite been incorporated, an event that would occur in 1817. So, you can guess who residents now turned to for guidance and support since our key military leaders were rushing toward the scenes of battle? That’s right—the local clergy. Now 27 years old, Rev. Schaeffer had “commanded” the respect of not only his Lutheran flock, but many other residents of Frederick.
We can get a feel for the mood of the day from two written accounts—one found in the local newspaper of the day and the other from our esteemed resident/diarist Jacob Engelbrecht, merely a teenager at the time. Englebrecht’s description would not be recorded until 42 years later( June of 1856), but it still provides documented proof of a unique happenstance involving Rev. Schaeffer:
“War of 1812. The following is the Muster Roll (copy) of Captain John Brengle’s Company of Volunteers, which Company was raised in four hours, by marching through the streets of Frederick, August 25, 1814, (the day after the Battle of Bladensburg, on which day we received the news) headed by Captain Brengle & by the side, with them, rode the Reverend David F. Schaeffer, encouraging the men to volunteer…”
Somewhat like Paul Revere, our Rev. David Frederick Schaeffer helped warn the "masses" that “the British were coming” and moreso urged residents to aid in repulsing this threat to America’s independence. Brengle, a large farm-owner from just east of town, was a seasoned militia veteran and upon hearing the threat to the capital became intent on raising additional men. Rev. Schaeffer is said to have rode alongside the company for three miles on their departure out of town that same day as they headed south on the Old Georgetown Pike. He delivered a parting address and offered a prayer with the soldiers all kneeling.
Apparently, Captain Brengle’s Company is said to have encountered a messenger around the present vicinity of Clarksburg who told them that Washington had been lost and that the British were now setting their sights on Baltimore. At that point, Brengle is said to have re-directed his troops eastward. These men would eventually participate in the Battle of Baltimore a few weeks later on September 13th and 14th.
It’s not exactly known why or how John Brengle sought out our Rev. Schaeffer, particularly made more intriguing because the Brengle family was part of the Frederick’s German Reformed congregation. Regardless, the charisma and leadership qualities of the young minister helped result in the official tally of 73 men garnered for the additional local militia company. One final aside is a comical anecdote that Captain John Brengle got caught up in the excitement of the day and failed to notify his family that he had raised a volunteer company, and had even left Frederick for battle.
In the bigger picture of “cause and effect,” the US flag, coupled with the relentless bravery shown by Baltimore’s defenders ( made up of Frederick’s own, including men inspired by Rev. Schaeffer), helped give impetus for the writing of a song, often confused to be a poem, by the fore-mentioned Francis Scott Key. The British were thwarted in “Charm City” and our Independence maintained. Rev. Schaeffer had played an interesting part in this drama—and did so as a civilian. The same can be said for FSK at this time, Paul Revere nearly forty years earlier, and Barbara Fritchie 48 years later.
Back to the Pulpit
As things returned to a new normal in Frederick, Rev. Schaeffer continued his recruiting ways, but these draftees were men and women intended for church pews, not battle trenches. He had a major goal of gaining more young people, particularly children, into the folds of the church. In 1820, Schaeffer initiated the first Sunday School at Frederick, known as the "Mathenian Association." In 1825, he helped lead a major restoration project to the aging chapel, resulting in the congregation boasting the largest auditorium in town.
The timing could not have been any better as the year 1826 marked a very important time of patriotic fervor for not only the country, but Frederick as well—the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1826. Just as he had done twelve years earlier, Rev. Schaeffer rallied the community with his participation and leadership in hosting a commemorative celebration at the newly refurbished (and expanded) church. A newspaper of the day reported the work of the “Great Baby Waker” cannon and related exercises of the day:
“The dawn of the day was announced by the thundering voice of the big black war dog who in the year 1783 was brought to Frederick to celebrate the restoration of peace and echo ever since has occupied his lonely station on Barracks Hill. He roused the inhabitants from their slumbers and bade them prepare to celebrate the Jubilee of Freedom. The enlivening strains of the bands of instrumental music stationed in the steeples, which broke upon the ear like a salutation from the celestial spheres; the brisk and animated rattle of the drums with the shrill tones of the fife silenced at intervals for a moment by the thundering peals of artillery together with the gay streamers that flaunted in the breeze, all imparted to the scene an interest such as was suited to the occasion….At an early hour at the east end of Market Street the procession was formed. The procession moved down Market Street, up Patrick Street, through Court Street, and thence to the Evangelical Lutheran Church. On entering the door, the choir sung an anthem suited to the occasion and the ceremonies were commenced by an appropriate address to the Throne of Grace by the Rev. Samuel Helfenstine. Thomas W. Morgan, Esquire, read the Declaration of Independence prefaced by a brief but suitable exordium. He was followed by L. P. W. Balch, Esquire, who pronounced an oration abounding with patriotic and benevolent sentiments.” It was a proud day for all in attendance, as I strongly sense that a 59 year-old local woman named Barbara Fritchie was in attendance, especially based on her strong patriotic leanings. It must have been a proud day for Rev. Schaeffer.
From 1826 until 1831 David F. Schaeffer was the editor of the first English-language periodical established in the Lutheran Church in the United States, the Lutheran Intelligencer. Also in 1826, Schaeffer took an active part in the establishment of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The reverend was one of the founders of the General Synod of the Lutheran Church (1821), and served as its secretary from 1821-1829, and its president from 1831-1833. In 1836, Schaeffer received the degree of Doctor of Divinity (D.D.) from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD. Besides a large number of doctrinal and other articles in the Lutheran Intelligencer, he published various addresses and sermons.
It was also in the year 1836 that a major setback occurred, one that involved Rev. Schaeffer feeling the need to resign his post due to health reasons. The congregation was reluctant to let Dr. Schaeffer go, as hope was held out that he would eventually overcome his present situation with rest as the reverend was not even 50 years old at this time.
Meanwhile, Schaeffer kept getting unanimously elected by the congregation in votes to fill his vacancy. He repeatedly and respectfully declined, stating that he was significantly ill and the elections were unconstitutional. Finally, his resignation was accepted with deep regret in early 1837. Mrs. Elizabeth Schaeffer would die in February of that year, and her husband would succumb to his maladies on May 5th 1837, one day after the church’s Ascension Day .
On the night of the 5th, Jacob Engelbrecht recorded the event for posterity in his diary:
“Died this evening about 5 o’clock aged 49 years, 9 months & 13 days, The reverend David Frederick Schaeffer, D.D. Pastor of the Lutheran Church of this place for upwards of 28 years, from 1808 to 1836. He was born (in Germantown, Pennsylvania I believe) “July 22, 1787,” so he told me on the 22nd July 1833.”
A month later, Engelbrecht would again mention Rev. Schaeffer in his diary:
The funeral sermon of the late Reverend David F. Schaeffer, D.D. was preached yesterday forenoon in the Lutheran Church by the reverend Charles Philip Krauth, one of the professors of the Theological Seminary, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to an over-crowded church. The reverend Doctor Hazelius, now of Salem, North Carolina preached last night in the Lutheran church in the English Language.”
(Friday, June 5, 1837 )
Once again, I harken back to the fine history book of Frederick’s Evangelical Lutheran Church written at the time of its 250th anniversary in 1988. The following summation concludes several chapters on Schaeffer’s impact and accomplishments here in Frederick:
“Dr. Schaeffer’s life was not a long one if measured in years. But in his ministry, all of it spent in Frederick, was abundant. Even the figures would suggest a great volume of labors and a large harvest. He preached at Frederick about 5,000 sermons, baptized over 2,000 infants, catechized and confirmed about 1,400 people, married about 2,000 couples and conducted 1,600 funeral services.”
Rev. Schaeffer was buried in the congregational cemetery, once located at the southeast corner of East Church and East streets. Today, the site is marked by Everedy Square. His remains once rested alongside those of his wife under the shadow of a fine monument erected by the congregation. Also in this grave plot, were buried his esteemed father and dutiful mother who had both died within the preceding two years.
In the early 1900’s, Rev. Schaeffer, his wife and parents were moved to Mount Olivet along with the impressive monument. This likely occurred in 1903 at the time of death of Schaeffer’s daughter Caroline 1827-1903). The eternal resting place of these exceptional early leaders of the Lutheran Church in Frederick (and abroad) is located in Area Q/Lot 10. In case you were curious, the Evangelical Lutheran Church eventually sold the land that constituted their second burying ground, causing the majority of the inhabitants to be transferred here to Mount Olivet.
The good reverend’s name lives on as part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church campus. Fronting on E. 2nd Street, a new Sunday School building was constructed in 1891 and carries the name the Schaeffer Center.
Within the adjacent church, two windows (on the east side) are memorials to the Rev. David Frederick Schaeffer, D.D. and feature Martin Luther and St. Paul. These were placed here in 1924 by grandson, Mr. George Frederick Hane, of Washington, DC.
Who would have thought that we have actual royalty here within the historic confines of Frederick’s Mount Olivet Cemetery. A mention of this fact came back in fall of 2015 when cemetery superintendent Ron Pearcey actually published an elongated post on FaceBook under the heading: Interesting and Unknown Residents of Mount Olivet Cemetery. The focal point of the story was a gentleman named Frank Lovell, who was referred to in local newspapers as "King of The Gypsies."
Superintendent Pearcey began his article from November 18th, 2015 as follows:
“Among the lesser known people buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery is one whose notoriety at one time made him a major person of interest during the mid-1800s up through the early 1900s. He could often be found among a traveling band of gypsies that would camp regularly in, and around, Frederick County. Although there were similar groups throughout the United States, those that came from England were among those who would frequent Frederick County the most. Their culture and heritage has all but disappeared, but gypsies’ life as wanderers goes back very far, and has often been depicted in ancient books and vintage movies.”
On April 18th, 1904, the Cumberland (MD) Evening Times included an article that not only reported the passing of Mr. Frank Lovell, but boasted the fact that this same Mr. Lovell was, at the time of his death, the King of his tribe.
The Frederick News carried a like obituary in its April 18th issue:
Frank Lovell, king of the tribe of Romany gypsies encamped across the Potomac river from Cumberland, MD in West Virginia for several months, died Sunday, April 17 from an illness of only a few days. He was 80 years of age and was well and healthy up to last Friday. He was an unusually large man and presented a fine appearance in his camp. He was born in England and came to this country about 28 years ago. His ancestors, as far back is known, led the wandering life so peculiar to the gypsy.
He leaves a widow and 10 children, 8 of whom are with other tribes. A brother Chizadine (Hezekiah) Lovell, chief of a large tribe located near Chicago, also survives him. He has been notified. A daughter of the family is very low with pneumonia at the camp and is not expected to live. One of the most pitiful survivors is the old wife of Lovell, to whom he was married in England when both were quite young. She is about 76 years of age.
The remains will be taken to Frederick for interment, where the tribe buries its dead. Lovell was a member of the Protestant Episcopal Church in England and funeral services will be conducted from the Protestant Episcopal Church in Frederick. He will be buried in Mount Olivet Cemetery.
The camp of the tribe in West Virginia is mourning on account of the death of their king. A piece of black rope hangs at the entrance of the tent in which the body rest on a black couch, clad in the finery so peculiar to the gypsy. Levi Lovell, the gypsy who was murdered by Frank Moro, an Italian in Frostburg, about three years ago, was a member of the same tribe.
And in case you were curious as to the death of Levi Lovell, a man also known to Frederick residents...
This killing of cousin Levi was one of many life incidents that Frank Lovell had to navigate his family through.
The Frederick newspaper carried the same story about Frank's death as did the Cumberland paper, on April 18th. I found the story in other papers around the country, with the novelty being Lovell's "royal" status over a misunderstood people that were generally mistrusted and "shared" (or Cher-ed) the labeled as tramps and thieves. One day later, April 19th, 1904, the Frederick News included the following announcement:
Now, before we get into the life and burial of Frank Lovell, I’d like to explain the term “gypsy,” and the term “gypsy king” in context to the time period we are talking about.
Gypsy, as it was used at the time of Frank Lovell’s death, was a slang term used to describe people of Romani heritage (also spelled Romany). They traveled in packs, and were nomadic, in a way we see carnival workers of today. These newcomers to town were known for fortune telling, taking on all sorts of odd jobs, but also were thought by some as hucksters and pickpockets.
It is estimated that there are one million Romani people in the United States today, though this population has assimilated into American society with the largest known concentrations being found in Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, Texas and the Northeast as well as in cities such as Chicago and St. Louis. The Romani were different from other Europeans ethnically and genealogically, and began settling in America in the mid-19th century.
The largest wave of Romani immigrants came after the abolition of Romani slavery in Romania in 1864. Romani immigration to the United States has continued at a steady rate ever since. The size of the Romani American population and the absence of a historical and cultural presence, such as the Romani have in Europe, make Americans largely unaware of the existence of the Romani as a people. The term's lack of significance within the United States prevents many Romani from using the term around non-Romani: identifying themselves by nationality rather than heritage. The U.S. Census does not distinguish Romani as a group since it is neither a nationality nor a religion.
The Romani people originate from Northern India, presumably from the northwestern Indian states of Rajasthan and Punjab. Linguistic evidence has indisputably shown that roots of Romani language lie in India. Genetic findings in 2012 suggest the Romani originated in northwestern India and migrated as a group. According to a genetic study in 2012, the ancestors of present scheduled tribes and scheduled caste populations of northern India, traditionally referred to collectively as the Ḍoma, are the likely ancestral populations of modern European Roma.
Romani slaves were first shipped to the Americas with Columbus in 1492. Spain sent Romani slaves to their Louisiana colony between 1762 and 1800. The Romanichal, the first Romani group to arrive in North America in large numbers, moved to America from Britain around 1850. Eastern European Romani, the ancestors of most of the Romani population in the United States today, began immigrating to the United States on a large scale over the latter half of the 19th century, following their liberation from slavery in Romania mentioned earlier. In the case of the Lovell family, or tribe, they hailed from Wales and came here to America in June, 1874.
Well, every family can have a leader or patriarch. In the case of the Romani people, this “leadership” position was serious business, resulting in the exultation of said leaders as a kings and queens. I found that Wikipedia has a page description for this:
The title King of the Gypsies has been claimed or given over the centuries to many different people. It is both culturally and geographically specific. It may be inherited, acquired by acclamation or action, or simply claimed. The extent of the power associated with the title varied; it might be limited to a small group in a specific place, or many people over large areas. In some cases the claim was clearly a public-relations exercise.
As the term Gypsy is also used in many different ways, the King of the Gypsies may be someone with no connection with the Romani people. In the early 1970s, it was decided, at the First Annual Romani Meeting that the term Gypsy would no-longer be used to describe themselves.
It has also been suggested that in places where they were persecuted by local authorities the "King of the Gypsies" is an individual, usually of low standing, who places himself in the risky position of an ad hoc liaison between the Romani and the gadje (non-Romani). The arrest of such a "King" limited the harm to the Romani people.
Reviewing old newspapers, I found instances of “Bands of traveling Gypsies” encamped in Carroll and Washington counties, and here in Frederick in the areas of Thurmont and Libertytown and different times. Two articles from the mid to late 1880s mention their presence outside Frederick.
As for Frank Lovell, we can glean valuable insight from his 1904 obituary.
Lovell and his band were well known in the neighborhood of Adamstown, located southwest of Buckeystown in the Carrollton Manor area of Frederick County. As the above article states, King Frank’s tribe camped for almost two decades in the Manor Woods area in close proximity to St. Josephs-on-Carrollton Manor Catholic Church.
From the article, I see that Daniel Z. Padgett made arrangements for Lovell’s funeral. Mr. Padgett (1848-1917) took over the operation of his family farm, part of the original manor farm of Charles Carroll of Carrollton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. By the aid of the Titus Atlas of Frederick County published in 1873, I found the location, then owned by Daniel’s father, George Washington Padgett. I’m presuming that the Padgett’s allowed the Romani tribe to set up camp on their property, which would come to be owned by the Eastalcoa Aluminum Company several decades later.
This is also the vicinity of several Emancipation icnics by Frederick’s African-American population dating back to the late 19th century. Interestingly, I also saw another unique connection thanks to the 1873 Frederick County Titus atlas. To the immediate west of the Padgett farm, was one owned by William Henry Michael (1833-1904). Mr. Michael’s brother was Daniel Jerome Michael (1840-1908) who served as Mount Olivet’s third superintendent. His term stretched from 1893-1907, encompassing the 1904 burial of King Frank Lovell.
I presume that the Lovell tribe was also friendly and trusting of the Michael family, whether having a direct relationship or appreciating that between the Padgetts and Michaels. This likely answers the question of why the Lovells chose Mount Olivet as the final resting place to bury their King and patriarch.
Frank Lovell would be buried in Area L/Lot 68, about 40 yards behind the Key Memorial Chapel.
Another story appeared in the Frederick News the following November as Lovell’s gravesite was marked with a magnificent monument.
The Lovell Tribe continued on under the leadership of “the Gypsy Queen,” Elizabeth Lovell, Frank’s wife. The group made the papers in the summer of 1905 when an affray occurred with a rival group of Romani people, a family named Hedges. At the time, I thought it was interesting to see that the Hedges had taken over the old stomping ground of the Manor Woods, while the Lovells were said to be living further east in the Hopeland/Hope Hill area near the intersection of MD85 and Baker Valley Road.
Elizabeth Lovell passed seven years later in August, 1912. She would be buried at Frank’s side here in Mount Olivet, and the occasion of her death in Parkersburg, WV, and subsequent burial in Frederick was reported in several newspapers of the day.
Although Elizabeth’s obituary states her age as 108, I find the math to be a bit fuzzy as she was 76 years of age at the time of Frank’s death just eight years earlier. Perhaps this can be chalked up to Gypsy magic I suppose. Unfortunately, Elizabeth's name and birth/death dates were never carved into the Lovell monument, so many researchers, Find-a-Gravers and "tombstone tourists" haven't a clue that she is even buried here.
The funerary article also states that “it was said to be the custom of the tribe to bury prominent members of their band in Frederick,” although their king and queen and an infant are the only decedents known to have been placed in the burying ground at that time. This child was named Frank Hedges. Our cemetery records show that this child, with a very familiar first name, died on August 4th, 1904 at the tender age of six months and one day. The death occurred in Strasburg, VA. The baby’s father was a William Hedges, and his mother was Harriet Lovell, a daughter of King Frank and Elizabeth. I find it interestingly that we have a joining of the Lovells and Hedges, combatants one year later on Carrollton Manor.
It’s an amazing story, and one that certainly sheds an interesting light on the Romani culture. Sadly, Maryland began turning the proverbial screws on these nomadic folks beginning in the early decades of the 20th century as seen in this Maryland General Assembly proposal for legislation. Maryland virtually outlawed Gypsies in the 1920s. Baltimore followed suit a decade later. Gypsies were described during a public meeting as unsanitary, a menace to organized labor and undesirable to the police.
An interesting article by reporter Peter Hermann in the November 22nd, 1994 edition of the Baltimore Sun wrote:
“Gypsies of Romanian descent have made Baltimore their home for more than a century -- six generations are buried at Western Cemetery -- yet members say they still are not accepted. About 200 Gypsies live in the city, engaged in a struggle to preserve Middle Eastern and Asian traditions that date back to the ninth century as members of the younger generation start to break away.”
Mr. Hermann went on to say: “Gypsies came to Baltimore because it was a central location on the carnival circuit, and camped in Cherry Hill because it was undeveloped and on the city's outskirts. A series of laws enacted in the 1920s and 1930s, outlawing fortune-telling for profit and requiring nomads to pay a $1,000 entry fee each time they came into Baltimore, prompted this headline in an edition of The Sun: 'Gypsy horde leaves Maryland for good.'
The law appeared to have been rarely enforced, and the Gypsies returned to the city two years later.The 1950s and 1960s brought newspaper stories on Gypsy arrests and trials -- on charges of swindling, theft and fortune telling -- and tales of elaborate weddings and funerals.”
All of my “Stories in Stone” end the same, the subject of the written piece dies—thus making it possible for them to be interred here in Frederick, Maryland’s historic Mount Olivet Cemetery. Some of these online biographical essays are uplifting, as we frequently recount the life achievements of many of the lives that have shaped Frederick’s past. Other features are quirky and informative, utilizing individuals to give context to local traditions, civic organizations, public/private structures and even explaining why some of Frederick’s streets are named as they are. Occasionally, I will also throw in a melancholy story about a freak accident or happenstance that lead to a premature grave for one of our interred.
Two years ago, I was surprised to learn that one of my childhood classmates was buried here in Mount Olivet. I had heard of his death back in 1993 when it occurred, and have again been reminded on the occasion of high school reunions every five years. I truly had no idea his final resting spot was just a few hundred yards out my office window.
A “Story in Stone” write-up for this gentleman, Wesley Scot Cover, was contemplated a few years ago, but I decided to wait until August, 2018. This date would mark the 25th anniversary of his passing. When the time came to write the story, I had a difficult time actually putting “pen to paper,” or in today’s updated terms—"fingers to keyboard.” I got particularly emotional in researching, and reading, old newspaper accounts. You see, Wes’ death was no accident, rather it was a horrific situation that found him, and his fiancée, Rona Coomers -Wood, “at the wrong place, and the wrong time.” I decided to table the story then and there, and pick it up one day when I felt more comfortable with the subject matter.
When coming to work on Monday morning, I quickly noticed the flags at half-staff. The events of this past weekend featured troubled gunmen responsible for mass killings in El Paso, Texas on Saturday, August 3rd, and Dayton, Ohio on August 4th. Both shooters were in their early 20's. These senseless massacres have occurred so frequently over the last few years, that we can’t say we are truly shocked and dumbfounded anymore. This is yet another problem.
Usually these episodes end with the death, or capture, of the assailant at the hands of the police. Many investigators, including the media, law enforcement, and researchers of human behavior, look for clues as to why a lone killer goes on these shooting sprees. The hope is to find something that will help us in trying to curb these events in the future of course.
For the rest of us, we are left questioning our own good-fortune and safety, and that of our family members. Some folks take time to reflect on their own mortality, while others engage in the political debate over gun ownership and background checks. The only thing we truly have control over is the ability to pray for the victim(s) and his/her family. And those not religious, or inclined to pray, should simply demonstrate empathy toward said victims and the immense pain endured by loved ones, friends, co-workers and all other acquaintances. Those who don’t pray, or others incapable of showing empathy, should perhaps be watched carefully.
I can immediately be brought back to a portal of my mind that stores memories from Yellow Springs Elementary School and the mid-1970’s. The Six-Million Dollar Man and M*A*S*H were on the television; Kiss, E.L.O., and KC & the Sunshine Band were on the radio; Jimmy Carter was in the White House; many local kids became bandwagon fans of the Vikings and Steelers; our parents had Bicentennial Fever; and you could occasionally catch a glance of the Concorde flying over Frederick.
As for my old school, it was a great place for primary learning. We had a fine group of teachers, a modern school structure (for the time), and surprisingly an American Indian for a mascot (back in the days when you could do that sort of thing). “Chief Montonqua” was a fitting representative for our school because the neighboring community was named for the Sulphur-laden “Yellow Springs” which bordered our school property. This particular location was known to native peoples as Montonqua, roughly translating to “medicine waters,” and was something that not only healed ills, but aided the mind, body and spirit in battle. As a matter of fact, 7th Street leading northwesterly out of Frederick toward this area was once named Montonqua Avenue before being bisected by Camp Detrick in the 1930’s. The further north portion of the route still retains the Anglicized version of the name today—Yellow Springs Road.
Like a lot of boys, I seem to recall gym class and sports activity in elementary school more so than particulars regarding the three R’s. I also remember the fascination with group activities and exercises such as Greek dodge ball, bouncing volleyballs into the air from outstretched parachutes in the cafeteria, climbing cargo nets and performing three-point tip ups (a gymnastic maneuver) in order to achieve the President’s Physical Fitness badge. In 1976, none of us at Yellow Springs Elementary would sense that change was in the air as a new physical education teacher in 5th grade would turn gym class upside down by introducing us to disco dancing instead of the regular beloved fare of softball, football and basketball. I certainly have digressed with my story, I apologize.
One of the best sports moments from elementary school was the school’s annual Field Day, boasting individual and group sport activities ranging from relay races to tug-o-war. A prime memory of this day was the playing of “Red Rover.” The game was wildly popular at one time, but is thought to be taboo these days because of the risk of injury and you'd be hard-pressed to find it played at any elementary school today. For those not familiar, the game is defined by Wikipedia as such:
“The game is played between two lines of players (usually called the "East" or "West" team, although this does not relate to the actual relative location of the teams), usually positioned approximately thirty feet apart with hands or arms linked together. The game starts when the first team, in this example the "East" team, calls a player out, by saying or singing a line like "Red rover, red rover, send [player on opposite team] right over", or "Red rover, red rover, let [player on opposite team] come over", or even "Red rover, red rover, I call [player on opposite team] over."
The immediate goal for the person called is to run to the other line and break the "East" team's chain (formed by the linking of hands). If the player called fails to break the chain, they join the "East" team. However, if the player successfully breaks the chain, they may select either of the two "links" broken by the successful run, and take them to join the "West" team. The "West" team then calls out "Red rover" for a player on the "East" team, and play continues. The game needs five people to play at least, although this would be a very short game.
When only one player is left on a team, they also must try and break through a link. If they do not succeed, then the opposing team wins. Otherwise, they are able to get a player back for their team.”
Well, when you have a name that rhymes with "Rover," perhaps trouble can innocently arise thanks to smart-alec/sarcastic juveniles like yours truly. My victim was the above-mentioned Wesley Cover. Wes was a transplant to Yellow Springs, now a resident of Clover Hill, having originally started his elementary career at Waverly Elementary. I immediately coined the phrase: “Red rover, Red rover, send Wesley Cover on over.” I had my teammates in hysterics by boldly pronouncing this at our third-grade field day back in 1976. Seconds later, I suddenly looked up to see young, Master Cover running directly at me with a full head of steam. The chain broke thanks to my foolish conjuring up of Wes’ athletic prowess. He had the last laugh of course, and anyone who knew Wesley Cover knew that he had no malice at all, and was truly a kind and laid-back guy. This same episode would play out again and again whenever Red Rover was played—Wes knew what was coming from me and others.
Wes and I were friends and also participated in Cub Scouts together, however I recall Wes showed interest in Boy Scouts and higher level scouting experiences. He was an average athlete and played Little League in his youth. If anything else, Wes Cover was one of those guys prone to crazy miscues or accidents. I recall him coming into school with a black eye and broken nose because he slipped in the bathtub due to his brother leaving the floor wet. When we made the jump to Gov. Thomas Johnson Junior High in 1980, Wes would continue with Babe Ruth Ball and Midget League Football. In high school, Wes joined the wrestling team and we both played football together for the Patriots.
I remember Wes being a great sport on the football practice field, and often taking a friendly ribbing from upper-classmen and those of us that had known him since elementary days. Every play involved a ferocity much worse than Red Rover. Wes was such an honest, wholesome and innocent individual, that he set himself up occasionally for pranks and the role of a human punchline. I wouldn’t call his athletic career stellar, as mine wasn’t either, but he was stable and sturdy like a brick wall—a fitting trait since he was very active in our school’s VICA masonry program. In fact, I found an old article saying that he participated in the 1984 Frederick Homebuilder’s High School Olympic contest. Wes also regularly participated in high school blood drives, donating in order to help others in need.
By senior year, we all saw Wes Cover’s interests turn towards a potential career in the US military after high school. His senior quote, taken from Gen. Douglas MacArthur, lays testament to this. We both graduated on a warm night in early June, 1985. Our paths wouldn’t cross too many times thereafter.
That fall of ’85 found me away at college for my freshman year at the University of Delaware. My Dad had known Wes dating back to our Cub Scout days. He thoughtfully clipped, and sent a newspaper article regarding Wes completing a phase of his basic training. I recall seeing him shortly after at the TJ Homecoming (Nov. 1985) game and dance, and he looked every bit the part of a US Army Airborne Ranger, complete with the stylish beret. We reminisced and laughed about old times, including the ridiculous “Red Rover” tradition I had started back in 3rd grade.
I was lucky enough to run into him over Christmas break as well and would see him one more time in the summer of 1986. These would be my last interactions with Wes Cover. I was busy with school over the next three years, and Wes was compiling the fine military career he had contemplated back in high school. I also heard that he had participated in the Gulf War in 1990-91, and came out fine.
Time marched on in the early 1990s, as I now was in the midst of starting my post-college working career. Even though I worked at Frederick Cablevision, the sister company of our local newspaper, and was involved in local public affairs, I had no idea that Wes’ life would meet a tragic end in the summer of 1993. A former classmate told me of his death, a week after it happened.
My immediate thought was that Wes had died heroically somewhere on a battlefield or on a complex training mission. He was a Ranger, and those guys are among the toughest—talk about impenetrable if lined up as a chain for a game of Red Rover. I knew Wes was strong, smart, and thoughtful, but I recalled that he was also unfortunate at times. Imagine my surprise when I learned the full story of his death at the hands of a fellow soldier, within the confines of an Italian restaurant in Fayetteville, NC. He was only a mile off base from his home at Fort Bragg Military Installation. Nonetheless, he would die a hero.
The Massacre at Luigi’s
On Friday, August 6th, 1993, Kenneth Junior French, a US Army master sergeant from Fort Bragg, became enraged with President Bill Clinton and the pending institution of the military’s new "Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) policy involving service by gays, bisexuals, and lesbians. The policy prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service.
After a long afternoon of drinking whiskey while watching Clint Eastwood's The Unforgiven, which concludes with a violent massacre at a saloon, the 22-year old French grabbed two 12-gauge shotguns and sought to display his displeasure in downtown Fayetteville. Unfortunately for Wes Cover and other patrons, French chose the popular Luigi’s Restaurant, operated by an earlier US Army and war veteran named Pete Parrous and his wife Ethel.
French pulled up to the restaurant, shouting about President Clinton and homosexuals in the military. He began shooting his weapon outside the establishment and soon made his way inside through a back door to the kitchen. From here, he made his way into the main dining room and shot people at random, killing four and wounding six before being shot and captured by local authorities.
The gunman killed Peter and Ethel Parrous, who were 73 and 65 years old. Mr. Parrous had lived in Fayetteville for 54 years and had introduced pizza to the town. Apparently, he pleaded with French not to hurt anyone, when the gunman ruthlessly shot him in the face at point blank range. This prompted Ethel to stand up and scream, which resulted in French next taking her life. The Parrous’ daughter, Connie, would also become a shooting victim, but would recover from her injuries.
The other fatalities were 46-year-old James F. Kidd of Wheaton, IL and the former resident of Frederick, Wesley Scott Cover. Mr. Kidd was a lawyer with the Internal Revenue Service and simply in town to visit his 20-year old son Patrick who was stationed at Fort Bragg. At the time of his death, Wes was only 26 years of age and living in Fayetteville. He was currently engaged to be married, and was eating at Luigi’s with his fiancée Rona Wood, after the two had just enjoyed a movie with a good friend. Both were also connected to Fort Bragg.
The stories of bravery and selflessness demonstrated by Mr. Kidd, and of my old classmate are heart-wrenching. With mere seconds to act, both men sacrificed themselves in covering their respective dining partners. Not just two, but three lives were directly saved as a result of their “duck and cover” maneuvers as both ultimate victims used their bodies to shield the other (Mr. Kidd’s son and Wes’ fiancée Rona) from French’s deadly fire.
Patrick Kidd was physically unhurt as his father draped himself across the young man in the booth in which they were sitting. Wesley and Rona dropped to the floor below the table after the latter had been shot initially. Wes would cover Rona with his body after having ripped his shirt off to help compress the blood seeping from Rona’s open wound. The gunman proceeded to their table and stooped down with his firearm pointed at Wes’ head. Wes asked French not to shoot Rona because she was pregnant. At this point, Wes was callously shot in the head, and slumped further on top of his wounded fiancée.
It was at this time that the gunman would be felled by an off-duty police officer, who shot from outside the restaurant’s front plate glass window. Other police arrived moments later and successfully captured French.
Here is a link to a short, television news story from 1995 that recounts the incident two years prior:
Three of those injured were treated at a hospital and released, and three others would be listed in stable condition but recovered. Rona would suffer being shot but survived, albeit with lasting complications including paralysis in her right leg. The miracle of the situation was the protection given by Wes in saving Rona’s life, and that of the unborn son she was carrying. The baby would be born the following February without complications—Rona would name him Stefan Wesley Wood.
The shooter, Kenneth Junior French, was wounded in the leg and jaw, and apparently asked responding emergency personnel to let him die. He would make a full recovery but was charged with four counts of first-degree murder and six counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill. The highly anticipated court case occurred in February, 1994 in Wilmington, NC.
French claimed to not remember the events of the murders, stating he had gotten excessively drunk prior to the occurrence at Luigi’s. He said that he had been deeply depressed with President Bill Clinton’s policy allowing homosexuals and bisexuals to serve in the military, under the condition they not divulge their sexual orientation. Defense attorneys for French argued that this decision had struck a nerve with their client and his rage, combined with alcohol, l had him out of sorts. They also cited a lifetime of childhood abuse at the hands of French’s late father as a key factor. They went as far as trying to make the case that French’s actions were not premeditated, rather that he was acting out his aggressions as his father on that deadly night.
After a colorful court case, lasting over a week, French was found guilty and sentenced to four consecutive life terms plus 35 years. Since 1998, he has been imprisoned at the Marion Correctional Institute.
Luigi’s Restaurant is still open today. It naturally was closed for several months after the tragedy. Pete and Ethel’s son Nicholas Parrous, daughter Linda Parrous Higgins, and son-in-law, Tony Kotsopoulos, did not want to let their parent’s legacy to end with the massacre of August 6th, 1993. They decided to reopen the restaurant later that year and were received with great community support.
As I have looked back in old newspapers, I’m a bit surprised to see that the Fayetteville shooting doesn’t seem to have made our local papers. Wes Cover’s obituary appeared here however on August 19th, 1993. He would be buried two days later on August 21st in the cemetery’s KK/Lot 23.
As I approached Wes’ gravesite to take a few photographs for this story, I felt a special calm and noticed the peace and tranquility of the surrounding area. Things got very quiet and I swear I heard a faint echo from over forty years ago calling:
“Red rover, red rover….send Wesley Cover on over."
One of the smallest grave monuments within Mount Olivet is also the most thought provoking. In addition, this final resting place of a child, who died in 1874, is among the most eye-catching, as it clearly stands out against a backdrop of 40,000 other gravesites. The memorial in question is not made of marble or granite, and deceives some into thinking that it could be an above ground crypt—crafted in the shape of a small sarcophagus from ancient time.
Before receiving a thorough cleaning a few years back from cemetery superintendent J. Ronald Pearcey, you wouldn’t have even noticed this memorial to Arfue Brooks. And if, indeed, you did find it, an attempt to read the name carved on the exterior would have been a futile and frustrating chore—but not anymore.
A bas-relief figure of a sleeping child conjures up a melancholy feeling as the onlooker is tipped off to the occupant’s age and innocence. In contrast, a sudden feeling of warmth (in any season) may follow, thanks in part to the brown-orange hue of the monument— a diversion from the vast sea of whites, grays that can be found throughout the grounds. As far as I know, this is the only terracotta monument of this color and design within the cemetery.
Terracotta is a type of ceramic pottery, used to make flower-pots, pipes, bricks, and sculptures. The word (Terracotta) comes from the Italian words for “baked earth.”
The terracotta comprising grave markers is not simply the brick-red composition of flowerpots and utilitarian redwares. It is called architectural terracotta, a form of ornamental ceramic cladding made from sculpted and molded clay. The body has a fine texture that allows it to be molded, sculpted, and glazed. Terracotta was often made in the form of hollow blocks with internal webbing or supports that allowed it to be both strong and light.
Nineteenth-century architects viewed terracotta as a sort of “wonder material.” Less expensive than stone, it could be mass produced to exacting specifications, easily took glaze, was fireproof, could be sculpted and molded, was easy to clean, and billed as lasting forever.
I found a study of these memorials online and the researcher had documented 175 terracotta grave-markers in New Jersey and adjacent parts of New York State. Other examples have been reported from upstate New York, near the site of a terracotta factory, as well as from California, Louisiana, and Ireland. The markers were produced in a variety of forms and sizes, most of which fall within the standard canon of Victorian mourning art. They include crosses, tablets, pedestals surmounted by urns, obelisks, and statues. Small marble tablets were often attached with personal information about the deceased.
The earliest terracotta grave-markers date from the 1870s and 1880s. They gradually grew in popularity from the 1870s until roughly 1910. Then, they exploded in popularity. After 1920, they rapidly lost their appeal. The latest examples date from the 1930s.
Some grave-markers appear to have been sculpted, whereas others were molded. The latter were made in plaster molds, reinforced with strap iron or wires, which could be reused over and over. Pressing the clay into the molds took great strength. After a mold was filled, the pressers would set it aside to dry. The piece was then removed and allowed to sit for several days. Next it was finished by rubbing and trimming. It was then taken to a drying room heated to about eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit. After two days of drying, glazes and slips were applied to the hardened unfired body. Red, buff, and gray was the triumvirate of colors on which the industry initially built its strength. In the 1880s a variety of new colors was introduced.
The Brooks terracotta marker here in the cemetery’s Area A/Lot 116 is thought to be one of the earliest of the trade. The decedent, Arfue Brooks, died on July 6th, 1874. A small obituary mention can be found in the Frederick Examiner newspaper dated July 15th (1874) and mentions that Arfue was only six months old and died from cholera infantum (infant cholera). For those, like me, who don’t completely understand this malady, it is defined as an acute noncontagious intestinal disturbance of infants formerly common in congested areas of high humidity and temperature. Although rare today, it was a common form of death back in the day and was nicknamed “the blue death.” I will spare you the explanation, however.
A common question we receive from visitors who happen upon Arfue Brooks' grave marker is whether or not Arfue's body was placed within the terracotta crypt which sits about 1 foot off the ground. The answer is a resounding "No," as the decedent was placed in a dug (and back-filled) grave below the monument.
Arfue Brooks was the child of a local cabinetmaker from Pennsylvania named David William Brooks (1831-1904). Mr. Brooks operated a successful furniture business with his brother (William M. Brooks) once located at Coppersmith's Hall on the corner northeast corner of Church and Market streets.
David and William dissolved the partnership in 1863, but the former would take on a new colleague shortly thereafter and continued operation of his retail store at 77 N. Market intothe 1870’s. Brooks and new partner, John H. Keller, sold a wide variety of household wares and continued to from a new location across from old City Hall on N. Market St. (today’s Brewer’s Alley).
David W. Brooks got married in February, 1873. His bride was Miss Harriet Ann Rice, born in 1835, the daughter of George Rice, Jr. and Harriet Trego. Harriet kept the family household located at 417 N. Market St., and soon found herself expecting the couple's first child in January, 1874.
Unfortunately, we already know the sad set of circumstances that beset the couple in regard to Arfue's death that following summer. The couple would not have any other children. Mr. Brooks seems to have continued with focus on his business with Mr. Keller, but also appears to have been aspiring to get to new heights—both literally and figuratively. Along these lines, I found an article in a Frederick newspaper from May, 1886 that reported that Mr. and Mrs. Brooks were moving to Otsego, Michigan. Here, David would be engaged in the manufacture of stepladders.
Of the time the couple spent living and working in Michigan, I know not. I hope it was fruitful as we don’t have the 1890 census to give us any clues. A decade later, I found the couple living in the Hyde Park area of Chicago in the 1900 census. Here the couple took up residence in the "Windy City's" south side at an address listed as 82 Avenue L. Daniel’s profession is listed as a cabinetmaker as it appears he had come “full circle” in his professional life.
Harriet died in late August of 1902. Her body was returned back home to Frederick, where it was interred a few feet away from son Arfue’s which had been placed here nearly 30 years earlier. As for David W. Brooks, he would live the following two years as a widower at Chicago’s aptly named “Old Peoples Home.” Here he would die on August 15th, 1904.
David, too, would return to Frederick and the Brooks family lot in Mount Olivet's Area A/Lot 116 containing the magnificent terracotta grave marker of the son he only had the chance to father for six months.
For the last few summers, I have participated as a history guide for a middle school-aged outdoor activity camp. It is a product of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Heritage Area, a partnership I worked with closely during my time at the Tourism Council of Frederick County. This group is headquartered in Waterford, VA and comprises “historic” real estate stretching from Gettysburg to Frederick and down to Charlottesville. My primary role for these camps is to provide historical context associated with the Potomac River while the participants are engaged in a peaceful canoe sojourn from Lander to the Monocacy Aqueduct near Dickerson, affording a beautiful view of nearby Sugarloaf Mountain.
My talk revolves around the early geology and peoples of the environs, with major emphasis on the earliest inhabitants in the form of the Piscataway and Tuscarora Indian tribes. I have to say the highlight for me is retracing the research and videography steps I took back in the late 1990’s while producing a film documentary on the subject.
My favorite sites are part of the tour and include Heaters Island (home to the Piscataway Tribe from 1699-1712)and the Mouth of the Monocacy, where a French Canadian fur trader named Martin Chartier once operated a trading post and a contingent of Tuscarora Indians would come up from North Carolina and settle nearby from 1712-1724.
The experience has been quite rewarding for me, but not just because of the history aspect. The natural beauty of the area and getting glimpses of ospreys and bald eagles is the proverbial “icing on the cake.” I’ve also recaptured an appreciation for paddling and the expertise practiced by river guides. We’ve been “on the river” in a variety of situations, from static flat water under sunny blue skies, to summer rain storms, one of which cut our trip short as it brought with it “an electrical component.“
That brings us to this week’s “Story in Stone,” set in the year 1926 amidst the backdrop of a river and what was supposed to have been a carefree day of picnicking and pleasure on an island “sandwiched” between east-central Michigan and the western border of Ontario, Canada. Below is the first article I could find which appeared in the Frederick News a few days after the tragedy. I found out a bit more about the accident in the following Michigan paper out of Lansing.
I originally stumbled upon this melancholy tale about a year ago. It involves two former Frederick County residents, one having been a veteran of World War I. What struck me more is the fact that William Turner, Jr. was a Navy veteran who would be promoted to Seaman 2nd Class. I just assumed he would be a strong swimmer since he was stationed on and adjacent water.
William John Alfred Turner, Jr. was born on November 22nd, 1896 and Paul Edward Turner in 1909. They were among seven children of William John Alfred Turner, Sr. and wife Margaret Virginia “Jennie” H. Kanode. The Turner family resided in the hamlet of Mt. Ephraim near Bell’s Chapel at the southwestern foot of Sugarloaf Mountain. The specific location is just west of the intersection of Comus and Mt. Ephraim roads. The property appears on the 1873 Titus Atlas.
Details (on earlier life for the boys) have been hard to find. The Turner children presumably worked on the farm and attended local schools. Apparently, William would obtain a job as a hotel clerk in Frederick. On July 5th, 1918, 21-year-old William Jr. would join the Navy as the United States ramped up its staging and began amassing its great force in eastern France in the fall of that year. He was sent to a Naval training Station in Newport, RI. Two months later, William was assigned to a Receiving Ship in Boston. He remained here for four months before being admitted to a hospital in Chelsea, MA. Next, I found William receiving an honorable discharge for physical reasons on March 14th, 1919.
Another article about the boating accident, from the local Frederick paper of record, explains that the two Turner boys had recently moved to Detroit to join two other brothers, Millan David Turner (1904-1967) and Gordon Henry Turner (1906-1968), already living in “the Motor City.” I would discover that both were employed as auto body mechanics at the time of their deaths. The surmise the reason for their move could be related to the fact that the young men lost their father earlier that year in January. The aforementioned Mr. Turner died of acute indigestion, and was laid to rest in a family plot on January 7th, 1926 beside his wife who had passed back in November, 1917.
As for the melancholy drownings in the St. Clair River, I sought to learn more about the area, and any particulars on the cause of the accident. Stag Island is a private Canadian island that today boasts over 100 cottages and once featured a casino. The island is accessed by Marysville, Michigan on the west and Corunna, Ontario to the east. The St. Clair River drains the famed “Great Lake” Huron, with the waterway’s mouth located just upstream from Stag Island. This surely explains the potential for dangerous currents, such as that which swept the Turner brothers to their early demise.
The quartet of brothers were apparently vacationing on the Ontario side of the river in Corunna. On September 26th, they had obtained a rowboat and ventured to spend the day on Stag Island. While there, three of the brothers decided to make a quick trip back to their vacation cottage at Corunna in hopes to return right back a short-time later. Gordon Turner remained on Stag Island to “hold down” the proverbial fort in his brothers’ absence.
The largest nearby town is Sarnia, on the Canadian side, within Lambton County. From death records, I found that this was the location of a coroner’s inquest on the bodies of both William and Paul. I even found the original coroner’s report on Ancestry.com. This was a boon, especially due to the fact that our original cemetery interment cards were scant and even mistakenly listed Lambton County as being in Michigan.
I found several vintage images of Stag Island, Corunna and Sarnia. These helped me visualize to a degree, the scene of drownings. From my own recent experiences on the river, it’s somewhat hard to believe that a place of such beauty and tranquility can be tarnished in an instant by such a tragic event.
A final article found in newspaper research came within a funeral announcement in the September 30th edition of the Baltimore Sun. This article tipped me off to a prime catalyst and cause for the horrific events of September 26th, 1926. It appears that the fateful “chain of events” was put into motion by a simple error in packing the picnic basket for the island excursion—someone forgot the bread. Somehow, I was reminded of the passage found in the Bible, Ecclesiastes 11:1-10, known commonly as “Cast thy bread upon the waters."
The bodies of William and Paul Turner were shipped back to Frederick, and the young men would be buried in the family plot in Area OO/Lot 36. In time, they would be joined by Millan, the brother who was luckily saved from the jaws of the St. Clair River back in early fall, 1926. He would stay in Detroit for the rest of his life, working as a merchant. I assume he painfully relived the site of that terrible day for 41 years before his death in November, 1967. Remaining brother, Gordon, returned home to the family farm. He worked as a carpenter, never married and would join his siblings in death a year after Millan in 1968.
The lot also includes sister Catharine “Katie” (Turner) Smith and an additional brother named George (1900-1946). Interestingly, our cemetery records list George’s profession as that of a cable-splicer with C & P Telephone. I wonder if he was inspired by the advent of the telephone earlier in life, as he was 13 when it was installed in his home.
"Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.
Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth.
If the clouds be full of rain, they empty themselves upon the earth: and if the tree fall toward the south, or toward the north, in the place where the tree falleth, there it shall be.
He that observeth the wind shall not sow; and he that regardeth the clouds shall not reap.
As thou knowest not what is the way of the spirit, nor how the bones do grow in the womb of her that is with child: even so thou knowest not the works of God who maketh all.
In the morning sow thy seed, and in the evening withhold not thine hand: for thou knowest not whether shall prosper, either this or that, or whether they both shall be alike good.
Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun:
But if a man live many years, and rejoice in them all; yet let him remember the days of darkness; for they shall be many. All that cometh is vanity.
Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment.
Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity."