The June 6th, 1877 edition of the Frederick Examiner newspaper includes an advertisement announcing summertime railroad excursions provided by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. Destinations naturally included Washington, DC and Baltimore but also included places such as Hagerstown and Winchester. Special jaunts for history enthusiasts included Harpers Ferry and George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The incentive here was to promote the daily treks with the incentive to attract large groups to ride the “iron horse”—the bigger the better, with patrons garnering a modest discount in fare.
It’s often said that “the early bird gets the worm,” and this was certainly the case with the B&O’s excursions that particular summer. What nobody knew was the fact that the railroad would be coming to a screeching halt over a month later in mid-July. This was due to a work stoppage by employees coupled with violence, part of an unprecedented labor dispute centered at the railroad’s home base in Baltimore. This was preceded by one in nearby Martinsburg, West Virginia a few days before (July 14th, 1877). At that time, Martinsburg was the site of the B&O’s railroad “classification yard” which was used for switching cars to different lines. As an aside, the railroad would relocate its yard from Martinsburg to Brunswick in 1890.
The unfortunate activity at Baltimore and Martinsburg was clearly associated with the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, during which widespread civil unrest spread nationwide following the global depression and economic downturns of the mid-1870s. Strikes broke out along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad on July 16th, the same day that 10% wage reductions for employees were scheduled. This was the third such salary cut employees had experienced within the year.
Violence erupted in Baltimore on July 20th, with police and soldiers of the Maryland National Guard clashing with crowds of thousands gathered throughout the city. In response, President Rutherford B. Hayes ordered federal troops to Baltimore, local officials recruited 500 additional police, and two new National Guard regiments were formed. Peace would be restored on July 22nd, but not after a dozen people were killed, 150 injured, and many more arrested.
Negotiations between strikers and the B&O were unsuccessful, and most strikers quit rather than return to work at the newly reduced wages. Thanks to an influx of immigrants readily at hand, the company easily found enough workers to replace the strikers, and under the protection of the military and police, traffic resumed on July 29th. The company promised minor concessions at the time, and eventually enacted select reforms later that year.
“If only” is an expression used just as much as “the early bird gets the worm.” In our context here, I’d like to bring in “the early bird” reference to say that those who acted before the rail strike got to experience the excursion opportunity and discounted fares. However, I have to come back to “if only,” as in “If only the B&O Strike would have happened just one month and a few days earlier.”
Excursion fever was alive and well in Frederick, Maryland on Tuesday, the 12th of June as nearly 600 folks, from all over Frederick County, were heading to Mount Vernon. Among those assembled was a small delegation headed by Charles H. Keefer, publisher of the Frederick Examiner newspaper. Mr. Keefer was also serving as current secretary for the Frederick Agricultural Society, and chairman of a committee who were traveling to Washington for the sole purpose of delivering an invitation to President Hayes to attend the upcoming Great Frederick Fair scheduled for the upcoming October.
The lead cars of the excursion train derailed, including but thankfully those toward the rear did not. Unscathed passengers in the back of the train came to the immediate aid of their unfortunate brethren. A day that started with such joy and frivolity, now had turned into a scene of tragic proportions.
Five Fredericktonians lost their life that day, including Charles H. Keefer of the Frederick Examiner. Numerous others were injured, some almost fatally. You can imagine the media attention this accident received as Mr. Keefer’s newspaper included a reporter who was among the passengers that survived that day. Stories filled the Examiner’s columns in the ensuing weeks of June. As it was a weekly offering, published on Wednesdays, the suddenness of Keefer’s demise left the staff in shock, barely able to collect thoughts to announce news of the disaster, along with the death of their colleague and leader on June 13th, 1877.
I now will turn things over to the Frederick Examiner and its staff—bonafide eyewitnesses to history. I surmise that Charles E. Knauff provided the editorial, as he was Mr. Keefer's partner in the newspaper and printing business.
Now with a week under their belt, Editor Knauff and staff had the opportunity to share with readers the particulars of the train accident. These articles appeared in the June 20th edition of the Examiner.
The Examiner of June 20th, 1877 also included a pointed editorial on who was to blame for this tragedy. A Coroner's Inquest would be launched, using victim Eugene Dixon as the pivot point. An update was also given on Col. Charles E. Trail. the most revered Frederick citizen aboard the train. Col. Trail narrowly escaped "the jaws of death."
In that June 20th edition, The Examiner gave a poignant report of the scene at Frederick's Mount Olivet Cemetery on Wednesday, June 13th, the day following the wreck at Point of Rocks. Beginning with Dorsey Walker at 1:00pm, the garden burying ground hosted successive funerals for all five victims. The last ended at 7:30pm. The paper would also include obituaries for each.
The June 27th Examiner brought with it news of the Coroner's Inquest case, and an update status on a few of the badly injured from the wreck . Thankfully, no further fatalities occurred, possibly adding to the number of residents calling Mount Olivet Cemetery home. However, in due time, some of these individuals would join their colleagues originally lost on June 12th, 1877. These would include five others who could have easily died in the wreck: Col. Charles E. Trail, Enoch Lewis Green, Martin Luther Knodle, Isaac H. Ely and John Henry Brashears.
An article found in the Frederick News on June 12th, 1884 marked the seventh anniversary of the accident, and claimed that Knodle and Brashears had since died, with their early deaths being indirectly tied to injuries suffered on that fateful day at Point of Rocks.
Charles E. Knauff would continue operating the Frederick Examiner newspaper long after the death of partner, and friend, Charles H. Keefer. He would contribute writings up to his death in 1915. Knauff would be buried as well in Mount Olivet, however his name never made the headstone erected at the time of his wife Mary's death in 1900. Ironic that a man who devoted his life to print, would have his "by-line" omitted.
The first Memorial Day, as we know it, was held 150 years ago on May 30th, 1868. This holiday began after the American Civil War as “Decoration Day,” a ceremony to place flowers on the graves of those who had given their lives in America's bloodiest war. Here in Frederick, it would quickly evolve into one of Mount Olivet Cemetery’s busiest days of visitation. This fact continues to this day, however, veterans of multiple 20th century world wars and worldly conflicts are also honored—now on the last Monday of May each year.
Mystery surrounds the origin of this custom. One version credits Southern women who began decorating graves in 1865. On May 1st, 1865, a Northern abolitionist named James Redpath, who had come to Charleston, South Carolina to organize schools for freed slaves, led black children to a cemetery for Union soldiers killed in the fighting nearby to scatter flowers on their graves.
Congress awarded the village of Waterloo, NY the distinction for holding the first Memorial Day, however this is also questionable. Union veterans apparently decorated the graves of fallen comrades on May 5th, 1866 but this wasn’t originally designed to be an annual tradition, just something that would be nice to do a year after the war’s end. We will get to “1868” in a moment, but here’s what was happening in Frederick’s historic “garden” cemetery.
Hundreds of Union soldiers once had Frederick’s Mount Olivet Cemetery as their first original “resting place.” Many would be dis-interred and moved to Antietam National Cemetery in Sharpsburg in 1868. By in large, most all of the Confederate soldiers that died in local hospitals and buried in Mount Olivet would remain so for eternity. In fact the number (of Confederates) in Mount Olivet actually grew higher a decade and a half after the Civil War.
In the South, women formed Ladies Memorial Associations to dis-inter soldiers from nearby battlefields and rebury them locally with dignity. Frederick had one such group, responsible for spearheading a drive to bring to the cemetery more than 408 former Southern soldiers originally buried on the farms and environs that made up the Battle of Monocacy (fought on July 9th, 1864.) The remains of these men were buried in a mass grave, placed at the end of a row containing 311 Confederate graves.
The Ladies Monumental Association of Frederick also erected a statue to symbolically stand guard over these Southern soldiers numbering over 700. Associations of these kinds became the sponsors of Confederate Memorial Days, which varied in date according to the height of the local flower season, from April in the Deep South to late May in Virginia.
On the “northern” flipside, Gen. John A. Logan of Illinois founded the Grand Army of the Republic in 1866. This entity grew into a politically powerful veterans' organization consisting of former Union soldiers and sailors. In 1868, Logan ordered all G.A.R. posts to decorate the graves of Union soldiers on May 30th, the optimum time for flowers in the North. That first year, 103 posts held Memorial Day services, a number that grew to 336 in 1869 and continued to increase afterwards. Now we had a solid holiday in hand. What soon became known as Memorial Day spread to towns, cities and crossroads communities in both North and South. Interestingly, Waterloo, NY changed their decoration date to May 30th in 1868—“chicken, or the egg,” I ask.
Meanwhile, a short distance away, another solemn memorial ceremony would begin at 3pm in a home located just blocks from the cemetery on W. South Street. This was the funeral of 12-year-old Charles A. Poole, Jr. The boy had been killed two days prior in one of Frederick City’s worst accidental tragedies. Thankfully the event, known as the Zeller’s Store explosion, would only claim one life—it could have easily taken many more.
Charles Edward Zellers was a 37 year-old merchant who ran a grocery store on the northeast corner of S. Market and E. South St. A native of Frederick City, he was the son of German immigrants John Frederick and Dorothea Zellers. The Zellers arrived in the US from Odelsheim, Hesse-Cassel (Prussia) in the year1853.
Born November 7th, 1850, Charles was one of four children and attended local schools in town. He grew up on E. South Street , near today's intersection with S. Carroll, and would eventually wed Mary E. Baer in 1875. They would have eventually have eight children, although three never reached adulthood.
Mr. Zellers was a dealer in groceries, liquors, provisions, and dinner plates and accessories ranging from wood ware, queens ware, china and willow ware. His store was located on the northeast corner of S. Market and E. South streets. He had occupied this location for years, perhaps as early as 1880, if not earlier.
Young Charles A. Poole, Jr. lived in the vicinity of the store on S. Market St., and later W. South St. in Frederick. In the spring of 1888, the 12 year-old house carpenter’s son of was in the employ of Charles Zellers, working at the market. On that fateful day of May 28th, young Charles Poole made a mistake which would cost him his life. It almost cost the lives of several townspeople as well, however this would not be the case. The heroes of the day involved several local fire companies who contained the blaze and administered care to the wounded sea of bystanders.
Here is the story as told by the Frederick Daily News edition of May 29th, 1888:
“One of the most terrible disasters that has ever occurred in this city happened last evening at quarter of seven o’ clock. The result is the destruction of the extensive retail grocery store of Charles Edward Zellers, situated at the northeast corner of Market and South streets, the killing of Charles A. Poole, Jr., a lad of about 11 years and the injury of upward of seventy men, white and colored, ranging in age from twelve to sixty years. About half past six last evening, Mr. Zellers sent a young lad employed at the store to draw five gallons of gasoline from a barrel in the cellar beneath the rear warehouse. It is stated that the lad in the endeavoring to use a lantern for the purpose of performing the duty upon which he had been sent accidentally ignited some of the gasoline that had leaked from the barrel. The lad immediately rushed from the cellar and an alarm of fire was given. Smoke issued from the windows of the cellar and soon filled the store room and adjoining house. The family of Mr. Zellers was promptly removed from the building.
The general alarm of fire which had been sounded brought the members of the three fire departments on the scene with their apparatus. The first stream of water had hardly been thrown before a low rumbling sound, followed by a terrible sharp concussion, told the terrible story of one of the explosion usual in the case of fires at such places, where combustible material is stored in the cellar for sale. Of the ten or fifteen barrels of oil, gasoline and whiskey in the cellar at the time it is believed that all exploded but five or six. The wall of the warehouse fronting on South Street was laid over into the street, the roof was thrown back into the yard, the entire lower front of the building, consisting of heavy plate glass doors and windows was hurled in small atoms across Market Street into the midst of a crowd of spectators.
Scarcely had the noise, dust and smoke of the explosion cleared away that the air was filled with the cries of frightened and weeping women, calling for their sons, husbands and brothers. For the space of 15 minutes, the scene was one of the utmost sadness and horror and many of the brave men who had entered the building to fight the flames emerged from the ruins cut, bruised and with broken limbs, while the groans of those who had been caught in the debris could be heard for half a square. As soon as possible the work of rescuing the injured and dying was commenced. The houses of those residing in the neighborhood were thrown open to the unfortunates and as soon as the physicians of the city could be summoned, the work of caring for the wounded began. On all sides the expression was that of horror. It is quite certain that the people of quiet Frederick were never before witnesses to so severe a catastrophe.”
(NOTE: I've included another article with more on the aftermath of the event at the end of this blog).
Charles A. Poole, Jr. had made it up from the basement and sounded the warning to others. Sadly he was killed when struck by falling debris from the explosion. His neck was broken. Although initial reports predicted more fatalities, this did not come to fruition. It was estimated that nearly 110 people were treated by local physicians, including 31 members of the United Fire Company, the first responders to the scene. One of these was Uncle Joe Walling, the featured star of an earlier "Stories in Stone" writing from 2017. Walling was the man who made several cross-country treks by foot and horse.
Poole's body would be brought to Mount Olivet from his home on W. South Street. His burial occurred amidst the Memorial Day related exercises being held at Mount Olivet on that day in late May, 1888.
Along the way through my research, I found it fitting that Poole’s father was a Union veteran with Company E of the 11th Maryland Infantry Regiment. Dying in October of 1933, the elder Poole would live to endure 45 "memorial days" marking his son's premature death. He would join his son in the family lot within the cemetery’s Area P. Wife Victoria would follow a year later.
As for Charles Zellers, both his commercial building and merchandise had been under-insured. The day after the catastrophe, a team of volunteers worked carefully to remove debris on the premises. Zellers needed to reopen as fast as possible. He would do this, and it was reported in the newspaper that a special cornerstone was placed that included photographs and newspaper accounts of the May disaster. Zellers and wife Mary continued to run the downtown market until the early 1900’s. They would relocate to Baltimore in 1909. Charles E. Zellers lived to be 70, and his body returned to Frederick for burial at Mount Olivet in 1921. (Area R/Lot 27).
I've deducted that the original family farm of Charles E. Zeller's parents (John Frederick and Dorothea Zellers) was located just east of the intersection of E. South and S. Carroll streets near the FCPS Headquarters. A mortgage record shows that the family built 6 townhouses on the south side of E. South St. almost to the brickyard property of B.F. Winchester @1875. This was commonly referred to as "Zeller's Row."
Aftermath article from the Frederick News (May 30, 1888), giving updates on many of the townspeople injured in the Zeller's Store explosion.
Question: If April showers bring May flowers, then what do intense May showers bring… other than flooded basements, closed roads, un-mowed lawns and canceled baseball games? Here in Frederick we will just have to wait and see as we have been deluged by an unusually high rain amounts of late.
This past weekend, Mount Olivet Cemetery participated in the popular Beyond the Garden Gates Garden Tour put on by Celebrate Frederick in conjunction with the City of Frederick’s Office of Special Events. You may be saying to yourself, “Hey, wait a minute! I thought this was an annual tour of featured backyard gardens of Downtown Frederick homeowners? Why is a cemetery part of it?”
Well, the answer may sound contrived to some, but will be crystal clear to others—Mount Olivet Cemetery is a special burying ground, known as a “rural,” or “garden” cemetery. The Charter of Mount Olivet Cemetery was recorded among the Land Records of Frederick County on October 4th, 1852. Thirty-two acres were purchased through stock sales, and a rural architect from Baltimore named James Belden was hired to design and lay-out Frederick's new burying ground. This would be located on the far outskirts south of downtown, even past the ancient Hessian Barracks on Cannon Hill. The cemetery was dedicated on May 23rd, 1854 amidst great fanfare, and received its first interment on May 28th, 1854.
The "rural" or "garden" cemetery movement was a new school of thought, having origins in the large cities of the northeast. The first of this genre in the United States is Mount Auburn Cemetery, located on the line between Cambridge and Watertown, Massachusetts roughly four miles west of Boston.
Dedicated in 1831 and set with classical monuments in a rolling landscaped terrain, Mount Auburn marked a distinct break with Colonial-era burying grounds and church-affiliated graveyards. The appearance of this type of landscape coincides with the rising popularity of the term "cemetery," derived from the Greek for "a sleeping place." This language and outlook eclipsed the previous harsh view of death and the afterlife embodied by old graveyards and church burial plots.
The "garden" cemetery movement promoted larger, park-like spaces on the outskirts of town. These grounds were planned as public spaces from their inception, and provided a place for all citizens to enjoy refined outdoor recreation amidst art and sculpture. Elaborate gardens were planted, tree-lined and family outings to the cemetery became popular social activities. Mount Olivet certainly filled this role here in Frederick, at a time period before Baker and Gambrill parks, and museums such as the Historical Society of Frederick County and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.
Victorian Style, "the Language of Flowers"and Symbolism
Mount Olivet’s grounds are made up of hundreds of individual lots, each belonging to individual families. Though little more than cleared farmland in the beginning, early depictions show that many hedges were installed to delineate these property lines and young trees were planted to break the heat of the summer sun. Today these saplings are towering giants that pay homage to all who have passed beneath them.
The families continued developing their lots and pictures from the turn of the century show the refinement that had occurred. Walls, fountains and ornate iron fences had been added to grace the gardens.
The Victorian Period (1837-1901) defines the period of Queen Victoria's reign over Great Britain. This measured era of both European and American history brought a fascination with the natural world and a keen interest in plants. It became quite fashionable to decorate one's home with exotic, often tropical, plants. This would carry over to cemeteries as well. Palm trees and other rare species (to Maryland) would become part of the Mount Olivet landscape here, necessitating the cemetery's first greenhouse, built to "winter" these tender plants in addition to growing flowers.
Many plants and flowers were symbolic to those of the Victorian Age, either through their ‘language of flowers’ or religious beliefs. Lilies, symbolizing resurrection, weeping willows for sorrow and palm fronds and laurel to indicate triumph of the soul are frequently seen on grave markers. A bouquet could be used to send a private message telling of one’s love. You could also see these plants growing nearby within the cemetery, and in other cases, actually carved in stone on monuments.
The cemetery’s managers met in late September, 1907 in order to select a new superintendent. Mount Olivet’s original superintendent was William T. Duvall who served from 1854 until his death in 1886. The job of caring for a “garden” cemetery was much different than that of the traditional church sexton of past history. A sexton was an officer of a church, congregation, or synagogue charged with the maintenance of its buildings and/or the surrounding graveyard. Yes, he had charge of burials, but unlike the cemetery keeper, he was also charged with caring for “living things,” if you catch my drift. These were things like trees, plants and flowers.
Mount Olivet’s Superintendent Duvall was followed by Edward Herwig (1887-1893) and Daniel Jerome Michael (1893-1907). After a 17 year stint, Mr. Michael was forced to give up his duties due to health reasons in late September of 1907. The Board of Managers acted quickly in filling the position with a capable candidate. They found what would prove a very good choice in Albert B. Routzahn.
Albert Bowlus Routzahn was born near Middletown on October 27th, 1863 on the family farm of parents Hezekiah Routzahn and Elizabeth (Bowlus) Routzahn. This was located northwest of Middletown on the east side of Old Hagerstown Road between the intersections with current day Palmer and Station roads. From census records, he appears to have been the youngest of eight children who would live into adulthood.
Albert attended local schools of the area and continued working on the Routzahn farm until the death of his father in 1891. He had married Miss Laura Gaver two years earlier on Valentine’s Day, 1889. The young couple would relocate to Frederick sometime around 1892-93, and can be found living with Albert’s mother and sister at 162 W. Patrick St. Today, this property is the site of the Serenity Tea Room, the original townhouse having been demolished years ago. Albert took up work as a salesman for the successful firm of Price & Ordeman, a hardware and agricultural implements dealer located on the southwest of Frederick’s Square Corner. This is the current-day site of Colonial Jewelers.
The ability to grow and nurture plants was certainly in Albert B. Routzahn’s blood, and he likely had regular contact with Mount Olivet’s previous superintendent and administrators in relation to purchasing tools, equipment and perhaps gardening supplies. Albert found himself at the helm of the cemetery in the fall of 1907.
It was an exciting time of new growth, both figuratively and literally, for Mount Olivet under Superintendent Routzahn. One year after Routzahn took the job, the Board of Managers decided to build a greenhouse on the cemetery grounds. Perhaps this was a reward for good service by the new head employee, who was chock-full of new and innovative ideas. He certainly made an impact over his first two-and-a-half years on the job as his salary was raised to $50/month at the annual meeting of the Board of Managers in May, 1910.
A series of old photographs taken around 1910-11 still survive, and give a visual impression of the grounds and structures long gone. These include exquisite plantings, the public vault and the original superintendent’s house. In the year 1911, the above-ground portion of the public vault was removed, and the current-day, Key Memorial Chapel was constructed on the space. Contract builder Harlan W. Hagan also busied himself at this time with dismantling the superintendent’s house in favor of reconstructing a larger home for the cemetery’s keeper. Meanwhile, a nearby house was rented by the company for Mr. and Mrs. Routzahn to reside temporarily.
An additional title would be bestowed on Albert Routzahn in May of 1913. He became Mount Olivet’s “Landscape Gardener“ in what appears from the cemetery Minute Books to be a separate position in addition to superintendent. Better yet, it came with a salary of $20/month. Routzahn was the first to regularly mow the grass at the cemetery, creating a “gorgeous, green velvet carpet” as reported by one newspaper. Anecdotes like this had earned a bit of local celebrity for the superintendent over the previous few years. Articles hyped his experimental plantings of exotic flowers, ferns and palms on the cemetery grounds. Stories in local newspapers heaped praise on the “master gardener of Frederick’s City of the Dead” as residents were encouraged to see the superintendent’s hand-work and creations for themselves. Apparently Routzahn would use that new greenhouse to the utmost as “winter storage” for his tropical specimens.
The superintendent’s top attention getters came from seeds and shoots planted in 1910. These were banana trees, the gift of Luther Derr, superintendent of the Maryland House of Corrections. The plants came to full “fruition” and there exists visual proof to go along with several newspaper articles dating to 1911-12. The Historical Society of Frederick County, better known these days as Heritage Frederick, has a photograph postcard in their rich collection of historic images that dates to 1911, showing one Superintendent Routzahn’s prized accomplishments.
And speaking from a Frederick history perspective, Albert Routzahn also supervised the re-interment of Barbara Fritchie in the summer of 1913 from the German Reformed Burying Ground (present-day Memorial Park) to Mount Olivet. A fine monument would be dedicated the following year. Also in 1914, Superintendent Routzahn received an interesting, new charge from his Board of Managers at a meeting held on July 9th, 1914:
“It was resolved that the President of the Company be directed to provide at the expense of the Company, a flag of the United States. And direct the Superintendent to keep the flag afloat over the grave of Francis Scott Key from May 30th to September 25th in each and every year, and on all National holidays. To renew and replace the flag from time to time as may be necessary.”
I couldn’t glean much more about the life of Albert B. Routzahn, outside the fact that he served on the Board of Directors of the Home Building and Loan Association of Frederick in 1914. In the mid 1920’s, advertisements appear touting offerings from the Frederick City Peach Orchard, of which Mr. Routzahn was proprietor. This was located on the property north of the cemetery between Fox’s Alley and South Street.
Albert Routzahn kept himself most busy by caring for the cemetery. And this is where he died at 3 o’clock on the afternoon of October, 23rd, 1932. Although reports said that he had been ill of late, Routzahn’s death just four days shy of his 69th birthday came as a surprise to the community. He would be buried in a grave in Area R, among newly laid out sections by his own hand just a few decades earlier. His wife Laura would join him in Area R’s Lot 73 upon her death in 1951.
Jacob Bowlus Routzahn was more than just a superintendent of Mount Olivet, he was a man who breathed life into the cemetery and tended its growth—things not particularly synonymous with burying grounds of old, yet the essence of the “garden” cemetery movement.
Today, there are no banana trees or exotic palms on the property at present. However, the cemetery’s greenhouse has been home over the last few months to tropical waterlilies, part of the amazing aquatic garden that takes over Carroll Creek Park each summer. The program goes by the name of “Color on the Creek.” Dr. Peter Kremers and his talented staff of volunteers have been cultivating plants from the Amazon and other remote locations in a series of water troughs recently constructed within the Mount Olivet greenhouse.
I find it ironic that traditional lilies of the land variety are said to symbolize resurrection. I guess you could apply this meaning to the water variety as well…a lily is a lily isn’t it? Regardless, I’m sure Superintendent Routzahn would be pleased at this recent partnership—one which adds to Downtown Frederick’s “garden-like” beauty and grandeur.
Like so many of these “Stories in Stone,” I seem to just fall into them by accident every once in a while. Something usually catches my eye, be it an interesting name, an intriguing newspaper story, an anecdote from a visitor or family historian, a trigger relating to one of my past research projects, or in this week’s case—it’s “the stone” itself that got me thinking.
Mid-last week, I found myself walking around Area B, one of Mount Olivet’s oldest sections, not far from the cemetery’s main entrance. I was taking photographs of World War I veteran graves for our www.MountOlivetVets.com website when a large monument came clearly into view. It was roughly 12-foot tall and I had never really taken notice of it before. The memorial is a very attractive marble monument, with intricate architectural features and topped with a shaft with an urn at the top. Around the shaft is a sculpted laurel wreath which is said to represent great distinction and “victory over death,” in the form of eternity or immortality.
Samuel Hinks (1815-1887)
MSA SC 3520-12475
Samuel Hinks was Mayor of Baltimore from November 13th, 1854, to November 10th, 1856.
During this administration an ordinance authorizing the erection of a new City Jail was passed and the contract for the building was signed. The waterworks, which supplied Baltimore, were acquired from the Baltimore Water Company and a Water Department was organized to operate the system as a municipal plant. An ordinance passed during the latter part of this administration provided for taking water from several mill-dams on the Jones Falls and Stony Run, conducting this water to a reservoir and thus supplying the City. Other legislation authorized the construction of a new Western Female High School, Fayette, near Paca Street; two other school buildings and establishing a floating school for training youths for nautical pursuits. Provision was made for placing iron bridges over Jones Falls at Pratt, at Gay and at Baltimore Streets, and for a new market house for Lexington Market from Paca to Greene Streets. Legislation to open large portions of Hanover and Eager Streets was approved. A Councilmanic resolution was passed requesting Congress to establish a Marine Hospital at Baltimore. Agents representing the City in executing the McDonogh will were named and directors for the school (McDonogh) were appointed. Authority to sell the City's interest in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was granted. A resolution petitioning the Legislature against a bill then pending to erect the Long Bridge over the Patapsco River and Middle Branch was passed. The bridge, however, was built and but recently razed, being replaced by the new Hanover Street structure. The House of Refuge (Maryland School for Boys) on Frederick Road was opened. One of Mayor Hinks' messages contained a proposal to sell Richmond and Cross Street Markets.
The Continued Search
The Maryland archives page gave me a pretty good start. I was fascinated with the fact that we had a mayor of Baltimore buried here in Mount Olivet, something likely not known by cemetery staff and local historians over the last century. My questions now centered around the obvious:
“Why was he buried here in Frederick, and not Baltimore?”;
“Did he die here?”;
“Was he originally from Frederick?”;
“Are other family members buried within Mount Olivet?”
I knew I’d soon be looking at such local sources such as Mount Olivet’s cemetery records, Ancestry.com, T.J.C. Williams History of Frederick County, and Jacob Engelbrecht’s Diary. Before I did, however, I wanted to see what the Wikipedia page for Samuel Hinks had to say. It was definitely less flattering than the State Archives biography, possessing the innuendo that Hinks perhaps acquired his job by “mob rule,” both literally, and figuratively.
Here is what Wikipedia had to say:
Samuel Hinks was born in Ellicott City, May 1st, 1815. In early life he followed the occupation of steam engineer. Removing to Baltimore he entered the grain and flour commission business, later establishing a partnership with his brother, Charles Dent Hinks. Samuel Hinks was elected Mayor by the "American Party" in 1854. In 1860 he retired from the grain commission business and shortly thereafter was elected Water Registrar, which position he held until 1863. He died November 30th, 1887.
In 1854 Samuel Hinks was elected Mayor of Baltimore, standing as a candidate for the nationalist anti-Catholic “American Party.” Members of the party were popularly known as "Know-Nothings" because, when asked about their secret organizations, their members were said to reply "I know nothing.”
I learned that this led to something referred to as the Know-Nothing Riot of 1856. I quickly switched gears to find out what that was all about.
The Know Nothing Riot of 1856 (courtesy of Wikipedia)
During the mid-1850s, public order in Baltimore had been threatened by the election of candidates of the American Party. As the 1856 Mayoral elections approached, Samuel Hinks was pressed by Baltimorians to order the militia of General George H. Steuart in readiness to maintain order, as widespread violence was anticipated. Hinks duly gave Steuart the order to ready the militia, but he soon rescinded it. In the event, violence broke out on polling day, with shots exchanged by competing mobs. In the 2nd and 8th wards, several citizens were killed, and many wounded. In the 6th ward, artillery was used, and a pitched battle fought on Orleans St between gangs of Know Nothings and rival Democrats, raging for several hours. The result of the election, in which voter fraud was widespread, was a victory for the Know Nothing candidate, Thomas Swann, by around 9,000 votes. Swann duly succeeded Hinks as Mayor of Baltimore.
Wow, this info all came to me thanks to curiosity in wanting to know who was buried under that handsome monument in Area B of Mount Olivet. I would have been simply satisfied with his accomplishments as mayor, but I had learned that this was a man embroiled in an amazing time in our history—the eve of American Civil War. Baltimore would serve as a microcosm of what was taking place on the national stage.
Civil War Connections
A few years ago, I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to work with some of the best Maryland Civil War authors and historians, as I assisted in producing a film documentary with Maryland Public Television entitled “Maryland’s Heart of the Civil War.” One of the “on-camera” commentators for the project was a great historian named Daniel Carroll Toomey. Dan recently served as special curator for the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore throughout the 150th Sesquicentennial commemoration of the “war between the states.”
One of the topics I asked Dan to talk about (within the documentary) was the infamous Baltimore Riot of 1861, commonly called the "Pratt Street Riots.” This was a civil conflict that took place on Friday, April 19, 1861, on Pratt Street, in Baltimore. The combatants were anti-war "Copperhead" Democrats (the largest party in Maryland) and other Southern/Confederate sympathizers on one side, and members of Massachusetts (and some Pennsylvania) state militia regiments en-route to the national capital at Washington. These men came to Baltimore via the railroad as they had been called up to protect the Union capital in response to recent actions at Fort Sumter and the secession of states.
The fighting began at the President Street Railroad Station, spreading throughout President Street and subsequently to Howard Street, where it ended at the Camden Street Station. The riot produced the first deaths by hostile action in the American Civil War and is nicknamed the "First Bloodshed of the Civil War.” The gangs of Baltimore played a large role in the violence, thus resulting in Baltimore being put under martial law for the duration of the ensuing war. Federal Hill was constructed by the Union Army, and large artillery guns were pointed at Baltimore’s harbor and center city area as a deterrent.
Dan Toomey shared with viewers the fact that Baltimore was often seen as the northernmost “Southern city,” having more in common with Richmond (154 miles away) than with Philadelphia, only 89 miles distant. Add to that a penchant for raucous gang activity, and you surely have a powder keg on your hands. So seldom do we see unhappiness with particular politics actually escalate into anger and irrational behavior. I’m being sarcastic of course.
In case you are interested in learning more about the Pratt Street Riots, click on the following link to see our MPT interview with Dan Toomey regarding the April 19th, 1861 event: https://vimeo.com/95439373
I set out to glean some information on gang makeups in Baltimore preceding the 1861 Pratt Street event. I also had a small visual in my head from modern times, in which many of us saw a more recent riot play out 154 years later live on our television and electronic device screens just three years ago on April 27th, 2015. This ugly episode was brought in response to the death of 26-year-old Freddie Gray at the hands of officers with the Baltimore City Police Department. Following Gray’s funeral, civil disorder intensified with looting and burning of local businesses and a CVS drug store, culminating with a state of emergency declaration by the governor. Maryland National Guard was deployed to Baltimore, and a curfew was established.
Another major period of unrest and upheaval occurred 50 years ago this month in Baltimore with the infamous race riots of 1968. This followed the April 4th assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
To get a feel for the earlier Civil War period that preceded the Civil Rights movement by a century, there is no better illustrative tool than the 2002 Martin Scorsese film “Gangs of New York” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day-Lewis. Saying this feature includes a pretty violent depiction of large city “gang life” of the mid-nineteenth century is an understatement. As the title implies, this movie is about New York City’s historic gangs that were centered in the Five Points area of lower Manhattan. Elements of ruthless crime and political corruption pepper this film, amidst the legendary historical event of the New York City Draft Riots of July 13-16th, 1863.
So what was the “gang atmosphere” like in Baltimore at the time of Samuel Hinks’ rise to power in the 1850’s? Well, I checked another source to learn more about Baltimore’s earlier nickname, the one before “Charm City.” It was known as “Mobtown.” The earliest print documentation of the term Mobtown occurs in an 1838 copy of The Baltimore Sun; yet, it is said that by that time the name was already well established.
One of the earliest tales comes from the turmoil of the American Revolution in 1777. A group of anti-British Baltimoreans called the Whig Club congregated outside the home of William Goddard. Goddard was the editor of the Maryland Journal who expressed pro-British sentiments. The mob forcefully removed him from his home and tarred and feathered him in the street. In response to the violence of the Whig Club, then Governor of Maryland stated the following on April 17, 1777 “all bodies of men associating together… for the purpose of usurping any of the powers of government, and presuming to exercise any powers over the persons or property of any subject of this State, or to carry into execution any of the laws thereof on their own authorities, unlawful assemblies.”
A similar attack would happen to Federalist publisher Alexander Contee Hanson who successfully warded off a mob during the War of 1812. Ironically, Baltimore would erupt in riot in protest again in 1835 and 1839 in addition to the aforementioned 1856 and 1861 unfortunate events—all connected with local and national political developments. As stated before, Samuel Hinks was associated with the Know Nothing faction. To review, this group earned its name because members answered that they “knew nothing” when questioned by authorities regarding their aggressive activities. The Know-Nothings were particularly strong in Baltimore, where they included groups in the majority of wards with such unusual and colorful names as the Blood Tubs, McGonigan’s Rip Raps, Natives, Rough Skins, Tigers, Black Snakes, Wampanoags, Regulators, Double-Pumps, Hunters, American Rattlers, Butt Enders, Blackguards and so on.
I found other great sources for information on these gangs courtesy of the Baltimore Sun with an article from May, 1951 by Ernest V. Baugh, Jr.; and by content provided on the Baltimore City Police Department website. The following is an excerpt from the history section of the website:
“Gangs of young men parade public thoroughfares, armed with knives and revolvers,” wrote the Baltimore Sun in 1857, describing the makeup of these groups, which relied on violence and intimidation. “Collisions have been frequent between Americans and citizens of Irish and German extraction. The most bitter hostility has been encouraged between native and foreign-born citizens.”
One of the most notorious gang of Know-Nothings in Baltimore was called the Plug Uglies. In 1857, the Washington Star called it “as pestilent and scrofulous a brood of scoundrels as hell itself could vomit from its vilest crater.” Growing out of the Mount Vernon Hook-and-Ladder Company—an all-volunteer firefighting group—the Plug Uglies were nasty, contemptible political gangsters who generally ran with McGonigan’s Rip Raps and often tangled with any Democrats in the city. According to folklore, the name “Plug Ugly” possibly refers to a specific gang member who was considered ugly to look upon but generous with his tobacco plugs—an inverse of the expression “ugly plug” or the “ugly blows” the gang delivered in its fights. Eventually, the term would be linked to anyone who was considered a “rowdy.”
Members took pride in their brutal actions, even composing songs about their “valor” and strength. One such ditty was entitled “The Plug Uglies!” The song praises the gang’s ability to help elect or run out particular political candidates, including mayoral candidates, as well as former president Millard Fillmore, who ran an unsuccessful reelection campaign in 1856 as the American Party candidate. During the election, he only carried Maryland. In 1858, Maryland would receive its governor, Thomas Holliday Hicks, courtesy of the American Party and its Know Nothings.
Although it may sound strange today to hear of a firefighting company described as violent, members of the Plug Uglies’ Mount Vernon Hook-and-Ladder Company were just as likely to get into a fight with a rival company while on the scene to extinguish a fire. As flames raged and threatened surrounding buildings, the firefighters would regularly ignore their duties to engage in “battle royales” with one another, using their axes, picks, hooks and even the street cobblestones and sidewalk bricks. In fact, some of the members were accused of starting several fires.
So our Samuel Hinks must have quite an individual to have gained the support of the Plug Uglies, at least in that municipal election of 1854.
Samuel Hinks (before Baltimore mayoral term)
TJC Williams’ “History of Frederick County” states that Samuel Hinks was a native of Frederick County, where he was born on May 1st, 1815. This already contradicts the Wikipedia biography which claims that he was born in Ellicott City. Samuel’s father, William Hinks was associated with Ellicott City, however, and the town’s namesake progenitors—the Ellicott brothers. William Hinks was a machinist who would supposedly serve as superintendent of the Ellicott Mills operation. Through further research, I found that, in the year 1823, William Hinks purchased a stone dwelling structure from the trustees of John Ellicott. The location is on the eastern approach to Ellicott Mills coming from Baltimore on the famed roadway that would become known as the National Pike. This building is still standing and is commonly referred to as the Bridge Market house.
In 1828, William Hinks received a contract from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad “to lay the first track, on about seven and a half miles, of the second division, next above Ellicott’s Mills.” This was a big deal as the famed railway broke ground on July 4th, 1828. It would reach Frederick in December, 1831. I read that Mr. Hinks also had a hand in the design of the first railway carriages, pulled at first by horses, and then by the initial iron steam engine developed by Peter Cooper and named “the Tom Thumb.”
Samuel Hinks is said to have worked for the B & O as a “steam engineer,” which seems to make perfect sense as his childhood home was next to the tracks, built in part by his father. He next moved to Baltimore and joined his brother, Charles Dent Hinks, in operating the firm C. D. Hinks & Company, a flour and grain dealer that had a siding connecting to the B & O. The Hinks brothers were known for their “forceful personalities,” which helped give their business in prosperity and prestige. Apparently Samuel “directed the affairs of the establishment with an ability, foresight and sagacity that stamped him as a man of high executive and business capacity. Within no time, he would become highly active in Baltimore civic causes, politics and political circles.
On October 17th, 1842, Samuel would marry a local Frederick girl by the name of Susan Nixdorf. They would go on to have seven children, the first, a boy named William Henry, in 1844. In 1845, Samuel Hinks became treasurer for the Relief of the Poor in Baltimore’s 12th Ward. He would eventually take up residence in the city’s 14th Ward.
The Hinks brothers were entrenched in this group, belonging to a secret lodge. Up to this point, Samuel Hinks had never held a public office. He announced his candidacy only two weeks before the mid-October election, and followed by doing little if no campaigning. Even the convention that nominated him was held in secret. On Wednesday, October 11th, Hinks won by a margin of 2,741 votes—13,845 to 11,104 over Democratic challenger William G. Thomas. The total vote tally in this municipal election had even bested the presidential election of the previous year. Hinks’ victory came as an utter shock to the Democrats who had controlled the city for the past decade.
It was business as usual again for the Know Nothings. In opposition, Baltimore’s pro-slavery segment consisted of an uneasy coalition of “conservative businessmen, partisan Democrats, and beleaguered immigrant groups that had spent six years battling Know Nothing Rule.” These groups united to form the Reform party to challenge the Know Nothings in 1859. They would regain control in 1860—just in time for the Civil War.
Samuel Hinks (after Baltimore mayoral term)
In 1860, Samuel Hinks retired from the grain commission business and shortly thereafter was elected Water Registrar of Baltimore. In addition, he was a director of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. He even was nominated for president of the railroad, but lost convincingly to incumbent John W. Garrett.
In 1863, Hinks experienced health issues, necessitating him to give up his municipal post. He also made the decision that country life would help him regain his health. He moved to Frederick County, and to the former 128-acre estate owned by Susan’s Nixdorf family, more recently known as the Dudderar Farm. Today, this comprises the Villages at Urbana subdivision. For his domicile, Samuel Hinks would purchase the neighboring Landon Academy structure (Landon House), scene of J.E.B. Stuart's Sabres and Roses Ball in September, 1862.
He settled into the role of country farmer quite nicely, far from the intricacies of Baltimore. Hinks used the opportunity to further groom his oldest son, William Henry, in the art of politics. William H. Hinks (1844-1912) had worked in the family grain business in Baltimore as a teenager, but would go on to study law at the University of Maryland, graduating in 1872. He moved to Frederick with his parents and was admitted to the Frederick Bar. William H. Hinks would gain election as a state delegate representing Frederick County to the Maryland General Assembly for two terms, 1875-79. In 1895, he was nominated to be a Republican candidate for Mayor of Frederick. Ironically, he would lose by a total of 11 votes. Shortly thereafter, he was nominated for State’s Attorney and elected.
As for Samuel, he stayed active in Frederick affairs, moving to Frederick City’s West Third Street after selling his Urbana estate to Luke Tiernan Brien in 1883. He would die four years later on November 30th, 1887. Hinks obituary was featured in several newspapers around the state and many attended his funeral service at Mount Olivet, held Saturday, December 3rd. Susan would live to the ripe age of 92, joining her husband under the shadow of their fine monument on May 5th, 1909. William H. Hinks and second wife Janet Chase Hinks would also be laid to rest in Area B/Lot 21.
Mount Olivet Cemetery serves as the final resting place to a true legend in American broadcasting. His name is Edward Heston Walker. You may not be familiar with the name, but man, you should have heard Ed Walker on the radio during an illustrious career spanning six and a half decades!
Long before the advent of television, there was radio—the very first broadcast medium. Radio became popular in the early 1920’s and over the next few decades, home devices became readily available to the populous.
It was not uncommon to find families of varying socio-economic levels gathered around a home radio in evenings and intently listening to things such as popular variety shows, presidential addresses, and boxing matches. This was reminiscent of earlier generations in the mid-19th century who regularly assembled around the fireplace at night to read aloud classic works by New England-based poets such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Cullen Bryant, James Russell Lowell, Oliver Wendell Holmes and a man with special ties to Frederick—John Greenleaf Whittier. They were fittingly known as the “Fireside Poets,” and had gained great popularity by presenting domestic themes and messages of morality within conventional poetic forms. In other words, this was a great way to get children of all ages to take history-themed “moral medicine.”
Through a rhyming couplets and lyrical cadence, kids and adults alike could "joyfully" learn about historical events, all the while conjuring up amazing scenes in the mind's eye of participants. Among the most popular of these offerings were Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride,” Holmes’ “Old Ironsides,” and who can forget a little ditty about Frederick, Maryland by John Greenleaf Whittier entitled “Barbara Frietchie.” The latter presented readers and listeners around the country (and world) an opportunity to entertain (in their brain) our aesthetic local surroundings that included “meadows rich with corn,” green-walled hills” and “clustered spires.” These visuals were simply a backdrop for the theatrics at hand which involved our brave nonagenarian reportedly waving her Union flag in the face of Gen. Stonewall Jackson and the Confederate Army.
John Greenleaf Whittier, the Quaker abolitionist from Amesbury, Massachusetts, painted quite a dramatic picture of Barbara Fritchie’s defiant stand from the second-story dormer window of her home on W. Patrick Street. Shots were fired at her, actually breaking the staff, but 95-year old Barbara remained unshaken and vigilant. Whittier’s pen, and poem, put Frederick on the map “so to speak,” and countless visitors from across the world yearned to see the location with their own two eyes. One such would be the future Prime Minister of Great Britain—Sir Winston Churchill. Churchill learned the "Barbara Frietchie" poem as a boy, as it was oftentimes a staple taught in Britain's grade schools. In 1943, while en-route to the presidential retreat with President Roosevelt, he would get the chance to feast his eyes on the actual home of Whittier's heroine—Frederick, Maryland.
In late 1989, I began a job with our local cable company (Frederick Cablevision) which had a small television production unit. For me, this would eventually turn into a 17-year career at the helm of local Cable channel 10. Aiding in my departure from future radio pursuits was my fascination with historical documentary television. Ironically, this would come in part due to a documentary on the history of radio by documentarian extraordinaire, Ken Burns. The work in question was his 1992 follow-up to his legendary “The Civil War,” entitled “Empire of the Air: The Men who Made Radio.”
The end result is that this history of radio made me love the medium of television even more than I had before. And it was television’s popularity in the 1950’s and onward that supplanted radio, or at least what we know as “the Golden Age of Radio.” In 1980, a British music group called The Buggles had the distinct honor of having their song "Video Killed the Radio Star" be the first-ever music video played on an upstart cable television network called MTV. I guess it’s safe to use the old adage: “What comes around, goes around” I guess, because this is what radio did to the popularity of those“Fireside Poets” earlier in the century.
Now radio is still around today, and is remains an important mode of news, information, sports and entertainment for listeners engaged in the act of driving where eyeballs should be on the road, not a video screen. Conversely, over the years, as families began to gather around the television, home usage of radio declined as people yearned for visual stimulation to go along with the audio. However, the growth of automobile travel helped bolster radio's importance, as it still does today. Satellite radio has offered additional opportunities over the last two decades, much in the same vein as what cable television did to mainstream broadcast television and its original handful of channels, based, of course, on the technological ability to pick up signals with an antenna.
The Golden Age
Old-time radio, sometimes referred to as the Golden Age of Radio, was the medium of choice for scripted programming, variety and dramatic shows. According to a 1947 survey, 82 out of 100 Americans were radio listeners. A variety of new entertainment formats and genres were created for the new medium, many of which later went to television such as mystery serials, soap operas, radio plays, quiz shows, variety hours, play by play sports, children’s shows and variety hours.
Long about the 1950’s, commercial radio programming shifted to more narrow formats of news, talk, sports and music. It was around this time that two, local college students from the DC metro area first met while attending American University. Both would become legendary in the field of radio broadcasting, one day becoming enshrined in the National Radio Hall of Fame, located in Chicago.
These young men had an uncanny knack for writing and performing sketch comedy on the radio, and like the “Fireside Poets” of yore, each could easily conjure up amazing visuals in the mind’s eye of their listeners. This was particularly fascinating in the case of one of the duo, Ed Walker, a gentleman who had been blind since birth. His partner is a little more well-known because of his years as the original, “loveable” weatherman on NBC’s Today Show—Willard Scott.
Ed Walker died in late October, 2015 and was buried here in Mount Olivet nearly a month later. He was born April 23rd, 1932. He was not a Frederick native—but married one however, and that's what brought him to Frederick's "garden cemetery." Ed's beloved wife, Nancy, passed just over eight months after her husband. She was the daughter of Frederick plumber Charles F. Murphy. Mr. Murphy opened his popular business in 1953 after working many years under other Frederick plumbing contractors. He was aided by his wife Kathleen and the business grew to include their sons, a son-in-law, daughter-in-law and a grandson. The business still exists today, located off Rosemont Ave/Yellow Springs Road (near the Old Farm Shopping Center)
Originally from Illinois, Walker moved with his family to Washington, DC as a boy. As the first blind student accepted by American University, Ed Walker went on to help found WAMU-AM in 1951. He would later help secure the 4,000 watt transmitter from WGBH in Boston that launched WAMU-FM on October 23, 1961. After graduation from American University, Ed Walker and Willard Scott teamed up for the "Joy Boys Radio Program," a nightly drive-time offering of NBC-owned WRC radio in Washington, DC.
The tandem performed in this capacity from 1955-1974, the final two years being on WWDC. Scott routinely sketched a list of characters and a few lead lines setting up a situation, which Walker would commit to memory or make notes on with his Braille typewriter. In a 1999 article recalling the Joy Boys at the height of their popularity in the mid-1960s, The Washington Post said Walker and Scott "dominated Washington, providing entertainment, companionship, and community to a city on the verge of powerful change.” It wasn't just a professional relationship between the two men, as Ed Walker and Willard Scott were said to have been "closer than most brothers."
I found a fabulous biography online in the form of Ed’s obituary, magnificently written and published in the Washington Post. Here is a glimpse of the wonderful life of a true radio pioneer, one I would have emulated as a child, and surely respect and appreciate as a learned adult.
Edward Heston Walker
Washington Post Obituary
Ed Walker, who amused and entertained a generation of Washington-area listeners as half of “The Joy Boys” radio team with Willard Scott and spent 65 years on the local airwaves as a deejay, news host and genial raconteur, died Oct. 26 at a retirement community in Rockville, just hours after his final broadcast. He was 83.
Mr. Walker had been undergoing treatment for cancer, said his daughter, Susan Scola.
A lifelong radio connoisseur, Mr. Walker became one of its most skillful practitioners over his long career. For the past quarter century, he hosted a popular weekly radio-nostalgia program, “The Big Broadcast,” on public radio station WAMU-FM (88.5). Each week, he invited listeners to “settle back, relax and enjoy,” as he discussed and introduced replays of such golden-age programs as “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar,” “Dragnet” and “Gunsmoke.”
He recorded his last “Big Broadcast” on Oct. 13 from a hospital bed while being treated at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington. Mr. Walker listened to the final broadcast Sunday night on WAMU, surrounded by his family, a few hours before his death, according to the station.
Born blind, Mr. Walker grew up with radio as his constant companion from an early age. By age 8, he was operating a low-power radio transmitter in his family’s basement, beaming music to his neighbors’ houses down the block. He would go on to spend almost all of his adult life involved in the medium in some way, all of it on stations in Washington. It was “The Joy Boys” — a gently humorous, somewhat anarchic and broadly popular daily program — for which Mr. Walker is perhaps most fondly remembered.
Mr. Walker and Scott became friends while working on American University’s campus radio outlet, WAMU, then an AM station. They got their professional start in 1952 doing short comedy bits on a weekend radio show on WOL called “Going AWOL.” In 1955, they moved to daytime on NBC-owned WRC with a show called “Two at One.”
When the show became a local hit, they moved into the evening hours as “The Joy Boys.” Mr. Walker conjured up a series of characters and situations, some of them topical. He did the voices of such characters as Old Granddad and Bal’more Benny (“the poet of the Patapsco”) while Scott played the straight man. They parodied NBC’s leading newscast, “The Huntley-Brinkley Report” with “The Washer-Dryer Report” and a popular soap opera with a continuing bit called “As the Worm Turns.”
The duo took “Joy Boys” from the nickname used by student radio technicians at an engineering school in Washington, Scott said. For years, they used a jaunty theme song: “We are the joy boys of radio; we chase electrons to and fro.”
The program traded off the improvisational skills of the two men and their on-air chemistry. Scott was typically the writer of their bits, which were roughed out in outline rather than fully scripted. Mr. Walker was the “talent,” according to Scott, who would take the comedy in unexpected directions.
“We were like brothers,” said Scott, who would go on to become the weatherman on NBC’s “Today” show, in an interview. “I never had a better friend.” “The Joy Boys” would feature occasional guests; over the years, these included comedian Bill Cosby, “Get Smart” actor Don Adams and novelist and quiz-show panelist Fannie Flagg. As Mr. Walker recounted on his final “Big Broadcast,” the duo scored an interview in 1968 with the radio, TV and film star Jack Benny and performed a brief sketch with him.
One of Mr. Walker’s characters was Mr. Answer Man, who served up lame jokes in a monotone. “What was the inspiration for the song ‘Melancholy Baby’?” a listener from Falls Church once asked. “The composer had a girlfriend with a head like a melon and a face like a collie,” Mr. Walker replied. “Hence ‘Melancholy Baby.’ ”As Scott said in an interview in 1999, “The Joy Boys’ bits were corny; for the most part, they were terrible. But there was a certain spirit.”
A link to radio’s classic era of family-friendly entertainment, “The Joy Boys” aired on WRC from 1955 to 1972, and on WWDC from 1972 to 1974. It was cancelled by WWDC to make way for the station’s switch to rock music, a change that reflected the growing dominance of baby boomers over Washington’s, and the nation’s, popular culture.
Mr. Walker went on to work at radio stations WPGC and WMAL and television stations WJLA and Newschannel 8. Among the programs he hosted on WMAL was “Play It Again,” a retrospective of music from the big band era. He also hosted a weekly magazine show for NPR aimed at the disabled called “Connection.”
In 1990, Mr. Walker took over hosting another kind of nostalgia show, “The Big Broadcast.”
The program had begun as “Recollections” in 1964 by John Hickman, who had appeared from time to time on “The Joy Boys” as a performer. When Hickman’s health began to fail, he asked Mr. Walker to take over the program.
Edward Heston Walker was born in Fairbury, Ill., on April 23, 1932. His family moved from Forrest, Ill., to Washington when he was 4. His father, a former railroad telegrapher, joined the federal Railroad Retirement Board. His earliest memories involved listening to the radio. He recalled ringing a toy cowbell as small child along with the performers and audience he’d hear on a program called “The National Barn Dance.”
“Most kids [got] a kick out of comic books, and funny papers and stuff like that” he said in an interview with NPR’s StoryCorps in 2012. “To me, radio is it. The sound effects to me were most important. . . . I absorbed [the medium] very well because I was listening very intently.”
Mr. Walker graduated in 1950 from the Maryland School for the Blind in Baltimore and was the first blind student to attend American University. The District’s vocational rehabilitation agency, which funded his college scholarship, wanted him to study sociology in order to become a social worker, one of the few professional career paths open to the blind at the time. Mr. Walker insisted on pursuing a career in broadcasting. He completed his communications degree in 1954.
Besides his daughter, of Potomac, survivors include his wife of 58 years, Nancy Murphy Walker of Rockville; and eight grandchildren. Another daughter, Carole Potter, died in 2004.
Long after “The Joy Boys,” he continued to work with Scott when his old friend was on “Today.” Among other duties, Mr. Walker handled the crush of people seeking recognition for a friend or relative celebrating their 100th birthday. Mr. Walker helped produce the short tributes that Scott read on the air.
Mr. Walker never attempted to conceal his blindness, but he didn’t often speak about it on the air. “When I first got into this business, I never let it be known on the air that I didn’t see,” he told The Washington Post in 1985. “Not that I was ashamed of it. It was in my mind that if I was going to be successful in this business, it was because I was a good performer, not because people felt sorry for me.”
From his earliest days on the air, he used a Braille typewriter to produce scripts. While on the air, he kept his left hand on a Braille clock to maintain the precise timing necessary to hit the “marks” for commercials or the end of his show, said Lettie Holman, program director at WAMU, who worked with Mr. Walker for years. He was so skilled that most listeners were surprised when they learned, often many years into his career, that he was blind.
He was inducted into the National Radio Hall of Fame in 2009 as a local-radio "pioneer."
Final Resting Place
Ed Walker was preceded in death by a daughter, Carole Walker Potter (1962-2004), also buried in Mount Olivet. He left behind his wife of 58 years (Nancy) and another daughter, Susan, and a slew of grandchildren. Nancy M. (Murphy) Walker died on June 21st, 2016. She was a beloved schoolteacher in Montgomery County Public Schools for 40 years, teaching at Bradley Elementary, Westbrook Elementary and finally Somerset Elementary before retiring in 2004.
Nancy had attended Towson University before moving to Bethesda, Maryland. She was active as a deacon and volunteer at her church, Fourth Presbyterian in Bethesda, and was also a volunteer at Sibley Hospital.
Ed and Nancy are buried in the Murphy family plot located in Mount Olivet's Area GG (Lot 207) beneath a fine, flat monument. This memorial announces their professional accomplishments--ones that certainly brought joy to the countless thousands of listeners and students they inspired, and entertained, along the way.
(Note: I've included a few video link buttons below featuring Ed Walker tributes and radio skits.)