President Theodore Roosevelt once observed: “No nation has the root of greatness in it, unless in time of need, it can rise to the heroic mood.” Whether it’s Veterans Day, Memorial Day or July 4th, the self-evident truth of this statement can be readily found among countless monuments and memorials that populate Frederick’s Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Many know Mount Olivet as the final resting place of Francis Scott Key and Barbara Fritchie, two former residents of town who gained national fame thanks to a song and a poem—both written about the US flag under attack by the enemy. In addition, Mount Olivet is also home to over 4,000 veterans connected all major military conflicts of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
While it’s easy to fathom Revolutionary, Civil War and World War II soldiers, it’s the other wars that get overshadowed by romantic nature of the fore-mentioned “Big 3.” The most popular wars that people forget are the War of 1812, the Mexican War and World War I. And it’s this latter conflict which currently has the best chance for remembrance as 2017-2018 marks the centennial commemoration of US involvement in the first ever World War.
In a recent study of all cemetery records, we have found nearly 500 veterans of World War I resting in Mount Olivet. Only 14 individuals are known to have been killed in action and/or service-related deaths. The vast majority of veterans of this conflict succumbed years and decades later from a myriad of things. The last of which to enter Mount Olivet was a veteran of great distinction who died 90 years after first entering military service. Contrary to popular belief, this individual was also a woman—a lady by the name of Charlotte Louise (Berry) Winters.
Charlotte Winters died on March 27th, 2007 and was laid to rest in the FF Area of Frederick’s Mount Olivet Cemetery. She had attained the age of 109. Mrs. Winters was the oldest Navy veteran at the time of her death, and more so, the final living female veteran of World War I. She was among a select group of 10 surviving veterans from this conflict. In case you were wondering, here is a list of “the last” from each military branch:
Air Force Homer Anderson (d. September 23, 2006 at the age of 108)
Army Frank Buckles (d. February 27, 2011 at the age of 110)
Navy Charlotte Winters (d. March 27, 2007 at the age of 109)
Navy Lloyd Brown (d. March 29, 2007 at the age of 105)
As can be seen, the last Navy veteran of World War I, Lloyd Brown died just two days after Charlotte. The last veteran of the war, Frank Buckles, died in 2011. He was a resident of nearby Charles Town, WV. Charlotte lived out her final years in close proximity to Buckles, just north of the Potomac River at a nursing home in Boonsboro, MD.
A funeral church service was held in Charlotte’s honor at Frederick’s All Saints’ Episcopal, an event which included attendance by several members of news media and honor guard, pall bearers, and firing party from the Navy Ceremonial Guard. Adm. Mike Mullen, Chief of Naval Operations, attended the service and remarked: "Every Sailor in our Navy joins me today in mourning the passing of our shipmate, Charlotte Winters. We offer her family and friends our deepest sympathies and most heartfelt condolences."
Charlotte Berry was born November 10th, 1897 in Washington, DC. She was the daughter of Mackall Cox Berry and wife Louise Bild. She had a younger sister, Sophia. Mr. Berry was a Baltimore native and worked as a manager at a clothing store. Charlotte's mother was the daughter of Prussian immigrants.
The family lived at 22nd and Channing streets in the Langdon Park neighborhood located in the northeast part of the District of Columbia. Sadly, Charlotte lost her mother when she was 12 years old in 1909. Her namesake paternal aunt, Lottie Berry, would move in with the family and help Mackall raise his two daughters into adulthood.
At the age of 19, Charlotte had a desire to join the US Navy. This could have been influenced by a childhood next-door neighbor who worked as a machinist at the Washington Naval Yard. There was no opportunity or place for women to serve in this military branch at the time. Charlotte’s father was friends with Franklin D. Roosevelt, currently serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time. This relationship likely gave an opportunity for Charlotte to earn a meeting with Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy. The young lady raised the question of why women could not serve their country through the military branches.
This conversation occurred in 1916, and Charlotte’s query successfully helped persuade the Secretary to allow women to join the cause. Daniels investigated the matter and found that there was no prohibition against women serving in the Navy. Charlotte, along with younger sister Sophie Berry, immediately enlisted after the US entered into the war in April, 1917. Thousands of other women would follow her lead.
In the Navy
Charlotte’s first assignment was at a stateside gun production facility—the Washington Navy Gun Factory, better known as the Washington Naval Yard. She held the rank of Yeoman 3rd Class (F), the “F” standing for female. A yeoman is an enlisted person within the United States Navy that performs administrative and clerical duties. In most professions and settings, this individual would work under the job title of administrative assistant.
The yeoman of yesterday, and today, deals with protocol, naval instructions, enlisted evaluations, commissioned officer fitness reports, naval messages, visitors, telephone calls and mail (both conventional and electronic). They organize files, operate office equipment, and order and distribute office supplies. A Yeoman also writes and types business and social letters, notices, directives, forms and reports. The Yeoman (F)s, were popularly referred to as Yeomanettes, however, many were not fond of this play on the moniker.
At the time Charlotte Berry entered military service, the Navy and Marines were the only branches of the US armed forces to enlist women to serve in a similar status with men. The expanding Navy and Marines had a dire need for more clerks and stenographers, while also needing to free male Sailors and Marines for fleet duty. Recruited at first just for clerical duties, by the end of the war their jobs included being language translators and making munitions in factories.
Records show that 11,000 Yeoman (F)s, 1,713 female nurses, and 269 women Marines (Marinettes) served in World War I. For many years, they, along with Army nurses, were the only women eligible to join the American Legion, and the only ones eligible to receive a bonus voted to veterans of "the Great War."
Charlotte served at the Washington Navy Yard in Building 57, current home of the Naval Historical Center. She was one of the last Yeoman (F)s associated with World War I to be discharged. This was in late July of 1919, but Charlotte was immediately hired by the Navy as a civilian to fill her active-duty job. Winters was assigned to the Washington Navy Gun Factory, where she was a typist throughout the war.
In his eulogy of Charlotte in 2007, Admiral Mullen remarked: "Ms. Winters was a trailblazer, one of a relatively small group of women to serve in our Navy during World War I. She did so honorably and nobly, helping through that service to bring freedom to millions of people all across Europe and hope to thousands of young women all across America. She and her shipmates answered the call when the nation needed them most. They worked hard. They struggled. They persevered, and they set a shining example. And, as in Ms. Winter's case, some stayed on to prepare the Navy to fight and win yet another World War. They were patriots, and we will remain forever in their debt."
The Yeoman (F)s were of such invaluable service to the country that there was no question of women returning to Navy service during World War II as the WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service). The success of the WAVES in turn paved the way for the permanent establishment of women in Navy in 1948.
Charlotte Berry was a founding member of the National Yeoman (F) veterans' organization in 1926, and served as its eighth commander from 1940-1941. She was also a member of the American Legion for 88 years and one of 20 enlisted Naval Reserve women to found one of the first Legion posts in her native Washington, DC.
Retiring in 1953, her connection with the Navy spanned from World War I through the Korean War. She would attain the rank of Yeoman (F) Second Class. The US Navy had major implications on Charlotte’s personal life as well, as her husband was a Navy man. She met and married John Russell Winters, a machinist at the Washington Navy Yard. The two wed on November 23, 1949. Before this time, Charlotte had continued to live with her widowed father and aunt on V Street in Northeast DC.
The couple would not have children, but kept busy with hobbies, travel and interests. Until the early 1980s, Charlotte and John visited Revolutionary War and Civil War battlefields. They documented battle strategies and the lives of the soldiers who had fought there. They visited every state, except for Hawaii.
After spending the majority of their lives in Washington DC, the Winters chose the Maryland county named for our first president to call home. They were introduced to Washington County through many pleasure and research trips to Antietam National Battlefield, and nearby South Mountain State Battlefield.
Charlotte would donate her documentation of thousands of Civil War graves to the Washington County (MD) Public Library. This can be found in the Western Maryland Room. Charlotte donated her uniform and other military objects to the Navy Museum in Washington, DC. The Yeoman (F)s like Charlotte would set a standard of excellence for women in the U.S. military which is carried on to today.
John Winters died in April, 1984. He would be buried in Mount Olivet, a choice made due to the fondness of the couple of the patriotic and military spirit encompassed here.
Charlotte died nearly 23 years later on Tuesday, March 27th, 2007 at the Fahrney-Keedy Memorial Home and Village, located in Boonsboro. She was 109 years, 4 months and 17 days, but who’s counting, right. Her obituary appeared in newspapers across the country. Charlotte Louise (Berry) Winters was laid to rest by her husband's side on March 30th, 2007 in Area FF/Lot 69. Her flag-draped coffin was carried to her gravesite by the Navy's Ceremonial Guard.
So much for old “patriot-related” superlatives…it’s time to re-evaluate. Many think of Francis Scott Key and Thomas Johnson, Jr. to be the greatest patriots in Mount Olivet. In the same breath, you would assume Barbara Fritchie to be the cemetery’s top female patriot, while being the oldest living patriot at the time of her death. Now it’s time to include supercentenarian Charlotte Berry Winters in the conversation, and give praise and remembrance to each and every military veteran that has Mount Olivet Cemetery as his, or her, final resting place. Thank you all for “rising to a heroic mood.”
(Special thanks to the US Navy and Charlotte Winters' beloved niece, Kelly Auber, for many photographs used in this story)
“Election Day” is upon us once again. Most of the country’s voters will head to the ballot box on Tuesday, November 7th. Why is this day chosen for that of “election day” you may ask? Well, it goes back to following a federal statute dictating general elections of federal public officials—that elections for various federal, state, county and municipal public offices will take place on "the Tuesday next after the first Monday in the month of November" or "the first Tuesday after November 1st.”
In 1792, US federal law allowed states to conduct presidential elections in which to choose their presidential electors. This could occur at any time in a 34-day period before the first Wednesday of December, the day set for the meeting of the Electoral College in respective states. An election date in November was advantageous because the harvest would have been completed, and winter weather would not be as harsh as subsequent months.
This worked for 52 years up until 1845, when the US Congress picked a uniform date for choosing presidential electors. The country was still largely an agrarian society, and Tuesday was chosen because farmers often needed a full day to travel by horse-drawn vehicles to county seats to vote. Tuesday was established as “election day” because it did not interfere with Sundays (Sabbath days) or Wednesdays (traditional market days in many towns).
On the federal level, we’ve had some memorable US presidential elections over the last two decades. One such was the “dangling chad” victory by George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000. Eight years later, Barrack Obama, the country’s first black president was elected in 2008. Another eight years passed without major fanfare until last year’s monumental election. It was a day to remember for sure, and one of the biggest upsets in our country’s election history, comparable to Abraham Lincoln’s victory in 1860. You can say that both elections (2016 and 1860) brought out plenty of ugliness from supporters and opponents of each candidate. In time, the consequences resulted in “civil wars,” and in many cases pitted “neighbor against neighbor,” “co-worker vs. co-worker,” and “brother against brother.” A sign of the times, most of the “fighting” associated with the 2016 contest has played out through mainstream and social media, not through armed conflict. Luckily, the 2016 election, unlike that in 1860, hasn’t resulted in wide-scale violence or bloodshed—or has it?
The presidential race, along with gubernatorial contests can get quite messy at times as emotions can run high in both supporters and adversaries of candidates. The same can be said for congressional seats and state legislature “battles.” And yes, we have even seen unpleasantness displayed at the local county and municipal level. However, everything is relative, and although some emotions can run high, by in large, lesser stakes are easier to forgive, and move forward from.
Election Day 2017 in Frederick pits some great candidates against one another. It’s an exciting time for political wonks and those who exercise their right to vote, while many others decide not to participate at all. In any case, all shall be congratulated for making an effort, as most everyone involved wants our town, county, state and country to prosper, regardless of political affiliation. Let’s just hope we bypass events such as those which occurred here in Frederick during the elections of the early 1880’s. The Frederick community, along with the local news media, was dumbfounded by the “results” of the day.
Front Page News
Started by local printers Thomas Schley and William T. Delaplaine, The Frederick News appeared in October, 1883. Their first edition hit the streets on October 15th. Not having a month of producing a daily paper under their belts, Schley and Delaplaine eagerly prepared staff for their first election coverage on Tuesday, November 6th. The election included the Maryland gubernatorial race, State Senate and House of Delegates races, and various county races including county commissioner, orphans court judge, states attorney, sheriff and surveyor.
It was this Election Day edition that carried a proclamation from town mayor Hiram Bartgis:
To the Citizens of Frederick:
To prevent a recurrence of the disorderly and riotous conduct which disturbed the peace and brought discredit upon the reputation of our city the day of the election last year, I earnestly appeal to all good and law-abiding citizens to unite with me in strenuous efforts to preserve order and quiet, and the observance of the law on Tuesday next before and during the hours the polls are open, and after their close. It is made my duty as Mayor of the city to enforce the ordinance for the preservation of peace and order. In the performance of that duty I invoke the cordial cooperation of my fellow citizens of both parties that a united public opinion may give strength to the arm of the law, as I am determined under all circumstances that the law must and shall be observed and obeyed.
Nov. 5 1883
Apparently, not everyone heeded the mayor's proclamation. The headline story to appear on The Frederick News’ front page (and above the fold) on the following day had nothing to do with a candidate race or contested seat. No sir, it was about an election day outburst that left a young man shot to death in a local social hall in downtown Frederick. The victim was 29 year-old Charles F. Topper, an ex-policeman said to generally be of a quiet and intelligent disposition. The assailant, Daniel Kennedy worked as a brick-maker and quarryman and described as “a well-known rough character.” The place was Groff Hall, where black voters of Frederick had been invited and were being served whiskey and other liquors, while being influenced for their votes later in the day.
Charles F. Topper lived on East Patrick Street, within the hostelry owned by his father on the southwest corner of E. Patrick and Water streets. The victim’s late father, Anthony J. Topper (1827-1876), was originally from Liberty Township, near Fairfield in Adams County, Pennsylvania. He was well-known in town as the proprietor of the aptly-named Pennsylvania Hotel, commonly referred to by townspeople as the Topper Hotel. The lodging space was regularly frequented by train travelers coming into town on the Frederick & Pennsylvania Line Railroad which once graced Frederick’s East Street.
Charles assisted with the hotel operation, taken over by his mother upon his father’s death. He worked as a carpenter and appears to have had a feisty streak. I don’t know why he left the police force, but at the time in question he was said to have been associating with some people of "questionable reputation." Meanwhile, Daniel Kennedy was a resident of the area near the Brengle Lime Kilns east of downtown, located along the western boundary of the Great Frederick Fairgrounds. Kiln owner Fairfax Schley built housing for his workers on the south side of E. Patrick Street (closer to the main, and south east gates of the fairgrounds). The cluster of rowhouses east of Franklin Street would take the name of Schleysville, and was originally inhabited by Schley's quarry workers. Daniel Kennedy married Mary A. McLaughlin around 1861, but had no children.
On “Election Day Eve” of 1883, both gentleman found themselves in the raucous confines of W. Fourth Street’s Groff Hall, a social place of entertainment and amusement that catered to both black and white residents of town. Capt. Joseph Groff and wife Susan ran this operation, along with a popular hotel located by the ornamental fountain at the intersection of N. Market and 7th Street. Groff Hall would later boast a roller rink, operated 25 years later by John H. Frazier and named the Diamond Roller Rink. On this particular night, and into the early hours of the next day (November 6th), Groff Hall was the scene of intense electioneering by candidates, politicians and other community leaders.
On this early morning of November 6th, a fight started between black patrons of Groff Hall well after midnight. Luckily it was quelled before getting out of hand. However, this wouldn’t be the case with Charles Topper. The incident, it was reported, “seemed to fire Topper’s blood for a row.” He apparently used the opportunity to taunt and sling slurs at his old rival who appeared to be minding his own business, conversing with acquaintances.
Topper went to where Kennedy was sitting and replied: “Dan I can whip you.” This was answered by Kennedy, but both combatants were calmed by black patrons. The Frederick News claimed that they even went as far to shake hands afterwards. Shortly after, Daniel Kennedy and a friend (James Rogers) walked downstairs with the intention of leaving the club. Charles Topper followed, and yelled down to Kennedy, “Dan, you Son-of-bitch, are you going to leave me?”
Daniel Kennedy is said to have replied, “Charley go away, I don’t want to have any disturbance with you.” Kennedy and Rogers promptly left, and Topper returned to the main social room of the hall. This was around 2:00am.
About ten minutes later, Daniel Kennedy and James Rogers returned from a jaunt down the street. They sat at the opposite side of the room from Topper, and began a conversation with Vincent Beander, a man of color. Meanwhile Charles Topper was having a conversation with Judge, and former Frederick mayor, Thomas M. Holbrunner. When Topper noticed Kennedy, he politely excused himself and made his way over to where Kennedy was sitting. Topper taunted his foe again, saying “Dan, you cannot whip me.” Kennedy replied that he could, and driven to despair, went one step further. He pulled a revolver from a pocket and fired a shot at his antagonist.
Charles F. Topper dropped to the floor on his knees with his head and arm resting on a bench. Daniel Kennedy advanced toward Topper in this position and fired three more shots. He was heard to say, “That will fix him.” Kennedy calmly put his firearm back in his pocket and left Groff Hall. He immediately gave himself up to the first Frederick policeman he saw, one named Christian Lerch.
Officer Lerch took Kennedy to the Mayor’s Office located above the Market House, current site of Brewer’s Alley Restaurant. After the story was recounted, Constable Christian T. Albaugh took charge of the prisoner and brought him to the Frederick jail and placed him within cell #7.
The initial newspaper story reported that Daniel Kennedy was sober, and said that the killing was done in self-defense. The reports went on to say that on the previous night, Charles Topper told him to prepare himself for trouble. A later trial would show that both of these statements were not exactly true. Add to this the fact that Charles F. Topper was far from sober as well.
Topper’s body was kept at Groff Hall until after the coroner’s inquest. Many of the dead young man’s friends had the unfortunate opportunity to view his bullet riddled corpse. Some stopped to “meditate” over the 33-year old man’s body, some shedding tears.
The fallen citizen was buried the next day, with a funeral launched from his family home of East Patrick Street. It culminated with a burial service in Mount Olivet’s Area C/Lot 47. Topper was buried beside his grandmother, Mary A. Keller, a woman who lived to be 92. On hand at the graveside service were members of the Junior Fire Company, the Frederick Board of Alderman and the police department. Topper’s mother, aunt and first cousin would we interred in this lot over the next 22 years. The majority of his family (including his father) were laid to rest in Frederick’s St. John’s Catholic Cemetery.
Daniel F. Kennedy would have his day in court four months later in mid-March of the the following year. The trial received great attention and articles appeared in The Frederick News, and also The Baltimore Sun. On March 18th, Judge Lynch of the Frederick Circuit Court convicted Daniel Kennedy of manslaughter and sentenced him to five years in the State Penitentiary. Kennedy would return to life in Frederick. He lived to experience the 25th anniversary of his slaying of Charles Topper, but died of stomach cancer just five days later. He would be laid to rest in the cemetery’s Area L/Lot 209, only about 10 yards from the grave of the Groffs who owned Groff Hall, the scene of the crime.
In case you are wondering who won the presidential election of 1908, this occurred one week prior to Daniel Kennedy's death on November 3rd. Kennedy, alleged to have been a Democrat, must not have been to pleased with the outcome of, what would end up being, his last election. The Republican candidate William Howard Taft received 321 out of 483 electoral votes to defeat challenger William Jennings Bryan to become our 27th president of the United States.
Three years and four days after Daniel Kennedy's death, President Taft would come within 100 yards of Kennedy's grave site in Mount Olivet Cemetery. He was here in town on November 15, 1911 to give a speech on international trade at the Old Opera House (today's Brewer's Alley). The president made a visit to the grave/monument of Francis Scott Key. At the twilight's last gleaming, our largest president (to date) placed a decorative wreath at the foot of the FSK monument.
Welcome to Halloween time and all is quiet in Mount Olivet Cemetery. Some people think that this is a big night for graveyard activity, but I can vouch for the same tranquil and peaceful atmosphere as the other days and nights throughout the year. It’s “the living creatures” that cause the mayhem and merriment—not the dead. Halloween is a contraction of All Hallows’ Evening. The word hallow is defined as a holy person or saint. The past tense, adjective means revered or respected, such as the popular expression “hallowed ground.” Battlefields and cemeteries are great examples of hallowed ground, where the living lost lives, or ground where the once living still reside.
All Hallows’ Eve is a celebration observed on October 31st in a number of countries. This marks the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows' Day, better known as All Saints Day, and also referred to as All Soul’s Day. Both days are part of a three-day period that comprises Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed. It would not be wrong to refer to this time as “Allhallowmas,” just like the widely accepted term Christmas, but seldom do.
And just like Christmas, popular culture and capitalism have claimed a greater share of attention than religious early origins and traditions such as attending church services and lighting candles on the graves of the dead. Commercial Halloween activities include “trick-or-treating,” attending costume parties, carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples, playing pranks, visiting haunted houses and corn maze attractions, telling scary stories and watching horror films. One of the most popular things to do at this time of year is “ghost hunting.”
Although traditional science doesn’t support the existence or possibility of ghosts or spirits roaming or interacting with the living, there are plenty of people that do. As a matter of fact, we are in the midst of conducting our 6th year of the Mount Olivet cemetery Candlelight History Tour. I have had the pleasure of conducting these nocturnal walks each fall. I tell participants stories of the cemetery’s history, the evolution of the funerary business and best of all, tales of just a few of the 40,000 persons that have been interred here in this beautiful “garden-style” cemetery since it opened in 1854. A few weeks back I received a very kind, and thought-provoking email from a tour participant named Tera. She had just taken to tour the night before (October 14th) and attached a photo. Here is the content of her communication to me:
I was on the walk on sat night and took this picture of you. On my I phone I took it in live mode and it comes down from the trees and surrounds you. I took many photos that night and this is the only one like this. Not sure how you feel about orbs? Anyway....Thought you would be interested. I can stop by sometime and show you on my phone so you can see how it moves. It was at our first stop on the tour. The first person buried there.”
The grave site stop was that of Mrs. Ann Crawford, the cemetery’s first interment who I have been introducing tour participants to for years. She was laid to rest May 28th, 1854 and I featured her as the subject of a “Stories in Stone” last January, and entitled The First Burial.
I don’t quite have a handle on the supernatural, as I’m just a humble historian, who occasionally loves to “mythbust.” At the same time, however, I love the challenge of proving myths true. I consulted with a few of my friends, more versed on the subject. From what I gleaned, my spirit encounter captured by Tera’s camera, seems to point to the fact that spirits are fond of me. More so they trust me, and are thankful that I’m doing these tours and writing these stories. So I’ve got that going for me.
I recently performed a diligent search of old Frederick newspapers for any published ghost stories attributed to Mount Olivet Cemetery. Unfortunately, I found none, but will continue to look. In my hunt for ghosts, I did stumble across a short feature piece from late August, 1982 in the Frederick News. It was written by Alyce T. Weinberg of Frederick. Mrs. Weinberg, and husband Dan, gave Frederick the majestic, historic downtown theater that bears the couple’s name.
Mrs. Weinberg’s evocative column featured a remembrance of Frederick resident Effie Spurrier, coming just over a week after the latter’s death at the age of 96. Mrs. Weinberg had interviewed “Miss Effie,” as she called her, a few years prior for inclusion in a book entitled Spirits of Frederick, written in 1979 and published by Studio 20 of Frederick.
Another unexplained brush with the supernatural came after Effie’s mother claimed to have heard a noise outside the house after bedtime. Young Effie ran to a window, and to her amazement, witnessed “a woman in flowing white on a white horse, and her mother told her that was a bad omen.” Supposedly a daughter died a short time later.
I looked into this and found that Effie’s older sister, Lola May Harris, died on October 30th, 1903. Ironically, this occurred on “Halloween Eve,” for those that want to look for more symbolism. Lola may was 26 years of age at the time of her death. I tried to find information on the cause, but found nothing. I did see articles in spring of 1897 where the young woman almost died of pneumonia, but made a phenomenal recovery.
Effie would marry Jessie E. Bell in December, 1905. The couple would have a daughter, and named her Lola— either after Effie’s fore-mentioned late sister, or Lola V. Bell, a sister of Jessie. That alone is eerie, as Lola is not an overly common name. The family lived in Jessie’s birthplace of Harmony Grove, a small hamlet once comprised of a slew of houses along the Old Emmitsburg Pike north of Frederick.
Nearby was the original Worman’s Mill, namesake of the large residential community that would come less than a century later. Many dwellings were lost in the 1960’s and 1970’s as the highway of US15 was dualized and designed to bypass sleepy Harmony Grove. Another interesting thing to mention here is that one of the original land patents comprising this particular area was Stephen Ramsburg's 473 -acre parcel carved from Daniel Dulany's Taskers Chance tract in 1746. Ramsburg named his property "Mortality."
Effie told Mrs. Weinberg that she lived with her husband’s family here when she first married. She inferred that the locale could have been watched over by the spirits of native Indian peoples that originally inhabited this higher ground in close proximity to the Monocacy River. The greater location has a rich Native American story with the famed Biggs Ford site to the north, and a tract named "Indian Fields" in colonial days, to the west. This latter location would become Rose Hill Manor.
Traces of ancient life have been found by farmers, archeologists and relic hunters alike. These have come in the form of spear points, pipe and bowl fragments, found regularly in the nearby fields. “We heard something go upstairs anytime, opening and closing doors. Couldn’t keep the covers on the bed in one room, and the furniture rattled and moved around by itself. We weren’t afraid if we burnt the light all night, and the covers stayed on too.”
Interestingly enough, the Bells regularly heard mysterious “bell” sounds coming from their chimney. Her husband and male relatives would regularly experience this while engrossed in playing card games. They also would see lights in the Worman’s Woods “going round and round.” Effie topped her tale by telling Mrs. Weinberg that on one particular night, “a ball of fire traveled inside the room until it found an open window.” Was there an ancient Indian burial ground here that was disturbed by later growth and development leading up to the early 1900’s?
Today, the Bell home is gone. What remains of Harmony Grove lingers in the shadow of Clemson Corner, the 37-acre shopping mecca and bookend Market Square, both conveniently located off MD route 26. When Effie lived here, it was a much quieter time, long before the modern-era defined by Wegmans, Lowes, Chipotle and a Super Wal-Mart. I venture to guess that the native spirits are beyond incensed at the sprawl here over their former tribal village site, but It’s simply much too congested for ghosts and spirits to even bother haunting today’s residents here, I suppose.
Effie and Jessie Bell split sometime between 1910 and 1919. She would eventually remarry in 1919. This was to second husband, Harvey Ray Spurrier, a Mount Airy boy and World War I veteran. Harvey would work as a custodian of the Frederick Post Office for 27 years.
The Spurriers moved into Frederick City and could be found living at 11 E. Fourth Street in the 1920 US Census. At this point in time, Effie was duly employed at the Ox Fibre Brush Company on East Church street extended (today the site of Goodwill Industries). Ten years later they would be living at 710 N. Market Street. They remained here until Harvey’s death on May 17th, 1963. He would be interred in Mount Olivet’s area AA/Lot 30. I give these addresses, as potential spots for supernatural activity, as Effie seemed to be followed throughout her days.
Effie Spurrier lived 19 more years beyond Harvey. She had been living with her daughter when she passed at the age of 96 on August 18th, 1982. The ghost expert would be laid to rest at Harvey’s side in Mount Olivet on August 21st.
Perhaps Effie is still visited by those old “haunts,” or maybe she takes her turn roaming our cemetery grounds or her past residences. Whatever the case, I hope to remain in her good graces, as it has been a pleasure getting to know a little about her through writing this article. I also owe a debt of gratitude to Mrs. Weinberg, who we lost in 1987. She wrote a great book, one of many gifts she (and her husband) gave to Frederick, Maryland. Oh yeah, and Happy Halloween to both of you!
I borrow the title of this week’s article from a popular guided night hike that occurs this time of year up at the historic Catoctin Iron Furnace and surrounding village. Located just below Thurmont, this seasonal offering features tour stops at historic structures such as workers’ homes, an ancient slave cemetery, Harriet Chapel, the remains of the Ironmaster’s House, and best of all, “Isabella”—the iconic second stack structure of the once-booming pig-iron furnace operation.
Here in Mount Olivet Cemetery, a trio of lonely looking gravestones can be found in the southernmost section of Area H. They have direct connections to the north county furnace industry and encompass a sort of transient spirit, one that can be traced to their removal here in the cemetery’s first year of existence. This was 1854, and two of the graves within Lot #416 were opened on October 24th of that year. Received were two young daughters of a prominent businessman named Peregrine Fitzhugh. Perhaps I perceive “loneliness” because these women are resting some 2,775 miles from their parents and siblings, interred on the other side of the continent.
To give some context, I want to bring into the story former Frederick resident Thomas Johnson , Jr. (1732-1819).
TJ, as he is often referred to, has his name on a local high school (my alma-mater), a county park and children’s museum (Rose Hill Manor), and a roadway in town which contains a cornucopia of medical offices and offerings—Thomas Johnson Drive. More importantly, Mr. Johnson rests in peace in Mount Olivet. His grave monument lists his many accomplishments in life: lawyer, planter, Continental Congress member, Revolutionary War veteran, Maryland’s first elected governor, surveyor of the District of Columbia and US Supreme Court justice.
Johnson was also a successful businessman, and we generally give him credit for creating, and operating, the famed Catoctin Furnace. The truth is that Thomas’ brother, James, (also buried here in Mount Olivet), was the true force behind the furnace’s first iteration, and was followed by a long list of subsequent operator/owners up through the early twentieth century. One of these “unsung heroes” was the gentleman mentioned above, Peregrine Fitzhugh.
A Wandering Man
For starters, I had never seen the name Peregrine before. So I looked it up in the online dictionary. It is defined as: “having a tendency to wander.” After looking into this man’s past, I can vouch that Peregrine Fitzhugh certainly did his share of “wandering” over his lifetime.
Born on the 8th of February, 1815, Peregrine Fitzhugh was the son of William Fitzhugh (1784-1819) and Sophia Claggett (1792-1884). He was named for his grandfather, a wealthy planter of Virginia and officer in the American Revolution. Peregrine’s grandmother, Elizabeth Chew, was a native of early western Frederick County (today’s Washington County). These people came from Chewsville, located midway between Hagerstown and Smithsburg. The hamlet obviously took its name from the Chew family, but some old histories say the place name is derived from a shortened, slang version of Fitzhughsville—hence Chewsville.
In the early 1840’s, the Catoctin Furnace was owned by John McPherson Brien (son of former Catoctin Furnace owner John Brien and grandson of another, Col. John McPherson). The young Brien had bought the operation from his late father’s estate in 1841, but he instantly encountered financial trouble and found himself in the position of having to sell the floundering operation. This occurred in April, 1843, a time of drastic change in the furnace industry based on the introduction of coke as a coal-based combustible agent over charcoal (created from bark and timber). Enter the “wanderer” from Chewsville, Peregrine Fitzhugh.
The Fitzhughs were connected through marriage to other “furnace-experienced” families of Maryland including the fore-mentioned McPhersons, and the Hughes. As for his own upbringing, Peregrine enjoyed the childhood that Washington County afforded. Family members were plentiful in the area. This was fitting because his grandfather had named his family plantation “the Hive,” because he saw it as the center of social, economic and familial life in its remote, rural setting.
As for employment, Peregrine supposedly had some prior introduction and experience in the furnace and forge industry. I found an advertisement in an 1834 Hagerstown newspaper in which he was operating a general store. This operation offered groceries, wine and liquor.
Peregrine Fitzhugh married Sarah Margaretta Pottinger (1816-1900) on September 24th, 1833. The couple welcomed their first child, a daughter, on September 6th, 1835 and named her Henrietta Maria. More daughters would follow: Mary Pottinger (b. 1837), and Sophia (b. 1840). The 1840 US census shows Peregrine Fitzhugh’s family living in Williamsford, known today as Williamsport.
Home and Hearth
After purchasing the Catoctin Furnace in April, 1843, Peregrine took up residence at the Auburn mansion, formerly inhabited by distant ancestors and cousins, not to mention the stately home’s builder Baker Johnson, another brother of famous Thomas.
As Peregrine dealt with the challenges associated with running a furnace operation, he would also be faced with familial triumphs and tragedies. A fourth daughter, Isabella Hudson, would be born in January, 1844. It’s interesting to note that this was nine months after the Fitzhughs took ownership of the furnace. This daughter was such a welcome addition and favorite of her father that her name would be used to grace a later built feature of the Catoctin operation. Another baby girl, Amelia, would follow, in 1845. Unfortunately, she would die shortly after on June 19th, 1845.
While in the midst of mourning their infant daughter, the Fitzhugh’s oldest child, nine year-old Henrietta, would pass on July 9th. Just 20 days separated the deaths of these sisters. Both girls were laid to rest in the old burying ground of the All Saints Episcopal-Protestant Church congregation in Frederick City, located between Carroll Creek and East All Saints Street.
Life at the furnace went on for the Fitzhughs. The family welcomed yet another little girl in 1846 and named for her mother, Sarah Margaretta. She would be given the nickname “Meta.” The next year, Peregrine received a financial boost when a wealthy great aunt died, leaving him a large chunk of money from her estate. This allowed Fitzhugh to make necessary improvements to his pig iron operation. He also took the opportunity to recruit some talented work associates with the mission of making the entity profitable again. This was exemplified by a man named Michael M. Ege. Another daughter, Emma Katherine (Kate), was born in 1848.
Business success was short-lived, however, and a financial downfall would beset Peregrine Fitzhugh in the early 1850’s after the departure of Mr. Ege. Production was at a minimum, and little iron shipped out. The family would be forced to sell their spacious home of Auburn mansion, plus surrounding lands. With debts mounting, Peregrine borrowed heavily from relatives, namely his wife and mother. He would have to enter into a business partnership with Jacob M. Kunkel of Frederick. This occurred in 1856.
Kunkel’s money allowed Fitzhugh to “right the ship” so to speak. Debts were paid and more improvements were made to the furnace. He installed a “mule powered” rail line to move ore from the banks to the furnace. He also built a second furnace stack next to the original. This steam-powered, hot-blast charcoal furnace was given the name Isabella, after Peregrine’s daughter.
Peregrine was also a highly religious man and did his part to continue a close relationship between both his faith and furnace. He was a member of All Saints Parish in Frederick and was supportive of the previously built Harriet Chapel within the Catoctin Furnace hamlet. Fitzhugh deeded seven acres of land surrounding the small, stone chapel and went on to help build the Catoctin Parish Rectory.
In 1854, a boy was born to Peregrine and Sarah Margaretta—William McPherson Fitzhugh. Another momentous thing happened within that year, Mount Olivet Cemetery opened in late May. Peregrine would invest money into the newly incorporated Mount Olivet Stock Company, buying five cemetery shares for a total outlay of $100. In return, these shares were surrendered for five burial plots in Area H. He would have his two deceased daughters removed from All Saints Cemetery and brought to the new non-denominational, “garden” cemetery for re-burial. Henrietta and Amelia would be re-interred into Mount Olivet on October 24th, 1854.
While Jacob Kunkel now held the property mortgage, Peregrine continued the day-to-day management of the furnace, and his family lived in the Catoctin Manor house, also known as the Ironmaster’s home, located immediately north of the furnace operation. A few years went by and Peregrine worked diligently to pay off debts. Two more setbacks would hit the Fitzhughs in 1858. First off, Peregrine was severely burned by an explosion of gas at the furnace in January. Second, debtors brought suit against Fitzhugh and a local court actually appointed trustees culminating in a trustee’s sale. The furnace was bought by Jacob Kunkel’s father (John Kunkel) as an investment.
After the sale of Catoctin Furnace, Peregrine left the area and headed west to find subsistence for his family. He went to Texas, and a few accounts say that he studied opportunities in the oil well business. Meanwhile, his name was constantly appearing in the newspapers back home, having lawsuits brought against him. This would continue in earnest over the next 3 years.
Whatever the case may have been, Sarah Margaretta Fitzhugh and the children had been left behind at the Catoctin Furnace vicinity, still living within the Ironmaster’s House. Apparently, the records of the business were left in a drawer of Peregrine’s private desk. Mrs. Fitzhugh would soon be evicted when Jacob Kunkel’s brother (John Baker Kunkel) moved into the Ironmaster’s residence. From here Mrs. Fitzhugh migrated back to Auburn to live. Peregrine reappeared in spring of 1859, and immediately went about the process of relocating his family to the other side of the country.
I guess you could say that their family wandered off. Thomas J. Scharf’s The History of Western Maryland (published in 1882) says this about the Fitzhugh family:
Thomas J. Scharf’s The History of Maryland says this about the family:
“This business catastrophe was promptly ascribed by the opposition papers to the effects of the Democratic tariff of 1846. Peregrine Fitzhugh left the county after the sale of his property in Washington and Frederick counties, including the Catoctin Furnace. In California there were a number of leading citizens including Major Richard P. Hammond, the surveyor of the Port of San Francisco during President Pierce’s administration, who had gone from Western Maryland and a few years after Mr. Fitzhugh left Catoctin Furnace he joined the Maryland Colony in California with his family consisting of his wife, a son and five daughters.
Most articles say that the Fitzhughs actually left Maryland around 1862. Perhaps the American Civil War helped influence the family to vacate Maryland for the less chaotic environs of San Francisco. They likely sailed out of Baltimore to the West Coast. Once there, Peregrine found work as a land clerk, and later became a real estate mogul. He did very well for himself, as did his offspring. The California experience for beloved daughter Isabella Fitzhugh was short-lived, however. She would die in San Francisco not long after her marriage to Rev. Edward G. Perryman, at the age of 20. She had a child named Fitzhugh Perryman in 1863, who would be raised in part by his maternal grandparents. Isabella’s body would be shipped back to Frederick and Mount Olivet. She was placed next to her sisters Henrietta and Amelia, buried here a decade earlier.
Amy’s body would be transported back to Frederick by train from Boston. Three of her sisters were waiting for her in Mount Olivet Cemetery in the old Fitzhugh family lot. I’m glad to know that these four “Spirits of the Furnace” could be reunited here in Mount Olivet.
“Up from the meadows, rich with…snakes?”
Last month, I stumbled across an interesting article appearing in the Frederick News, dated September 4th, 1912. Apparently there was a problem with hostile reptiles at the sacred gravesite of Frederick’s beloved flag-toting heroine, Barbara Fritchie. This occurrence took place in the old German Reformed Cemetery, once located at the corner of N. Bentz and W. 2nd streets. These days, this locale is more commonly known as Memorial Park. Of the many factors that would lead to Dame Fritchie’s re-interment to Mount Olivet Cemetery the following May (1913), I was quite surprised to learn that snakes may have played into the equation.
Today, I can say with confidence, that you would have a better chance encountering “snakes on a plane” than encountering these creatures on, or around, Dame Fritchie’s grave. However, I find it quite ironic that just fifty yards east of Barbara’s grave, there lies a gentleman that made his reputation and livelihood on the limbless reptiles. His name was Gordon Gaver.
Gordon Paul Gaver was born February 2nd, 1904 on the Carroll County side of Mount Airy, Maryland. His father, William E. Gaver, was a local physician who originally hailed from Middletown. His mother, Laura Eugenia Urner came from one of the most prominent families in the county. Her father, Milton G. Urner was a local lawyer, who served Frederick County as State’s Attorney and two terms as a US Congressman. The Urners lived in downtown Frederick’s Court Square area behind the Frederick County Courthouse on Record Street.
Gordon, brothers William and John, and sister, Laura Ann (Mrs. Richard Biggs), grew up on the family farm in Mount Airy. Like many kids of agricultural upbringings, the Gaver children developed affinities for animals. However, young Gordon would take an interest in a non-traditional member of farming life— one not found in the ever-popular “Ol’ McDonald” song.
At the age of five, Gordon was presented with a peculiar new pet by a neighbor—a garter snake. From that point forward, the boy became fascinated with snakes and reptiles of all varieties. He would begin to obtain specimens from his family farm, and other areas throughout the county stretching from the Monocacy and Potomac River environs to the wooded elevations and rock outcroppings of Catoctin Mountain. Whether willingly, or not, his parents seemed to have supported his unusual hobby.
Gordon attended the Tome School for Boys, located in Port Deposit in Cecil County. At the time, this was a nonsectarian college preparatory school for boys. Interestingly, Gaver would not go on to college. It was said that his one ambition in life was to work for a large zoo, turning his hobby into a profession. He would acquire a great knowledge of snakes through self-induced reading, and contact with herpetologists.
Throughout the Roaring Twenties, Gaver continued to capture and collect local species of reptiles, including poisonous snakes such as copperheads, rattle snakes and moccasins. He was contracted to supply specimens to zoos throughout the country.
I haven’t found out to much else about Gordon’s personal life as it pertained to relationships. From an article found in a 1925 Frederick newspaper, Gordon’s thoughts about the perfect female were documented as he was briefly interviewed for a local “man on the street” article. Gaver told a reporter: “For myself, I like them to be quiet and sensible. I like those who are not fresh and those who you can depend upon not to lose their nerve and go back on you in anything.” He would eventually marry later in life, and it seems now as no surprise why. He appears to have enjoyed the same “quiet” and “sensibility” in his pet snakes.
Apparently Gordon Gaver tried to obtain employment with the Washington National Zoo, but was unsuccessful. He then tried his luck at various other careers. In 1927, Gordon found employment on a ship’s crew out of Baltimore. He traveled to South America with visits to Buenos Aires, Montevideo and Sao Paulo. Unfortunately, he wasn’t cut out to be a sailor. From here, he experienced working the oil fields of Texas—not a strong fit either. Although temporary, these short-lived ventures provided the young Marylander the opportunity to see additional species of indigenous snakes and other critters in their natural environments.
In 1930, Gordon could be found living in an apartment in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and working as an artist for an advertising firm. He had gone north in hopes to get hired by New York City’s Museum of Natural History. This never materialized either, and Gaver would relocate to Baltimore a year later. Throughout these moves, he was accompanied by many of his scaly pets. Gordon took opportunities to make a few extra bucks by exhibiting these to the public. In one such case, he was invited to show his small collection of American reptiles to groups in Europe. He did this in 1931.
Gordon Gaver would return to Frederick with renewed optimism. He would forge ahead with his long-burning ambition to promote and educate others on his favorite topic—snakes. In 1933, Gaver set his dream in motion by opening a roadside attraction in the Old Catoctin Furnace schoolhouse. This dilapidated weatherboard structure was located a few short miles south of Thurmont along the newly designated US Route15 (1927), formerly the Frederick and Emmitsburg Turnpike.
Gaver’s Catoctin Snake Farm became an interesting spot for local curiosity seekers and wayward motorists traveling between South Carolina and New York State. His first “star performer” was an 11-foot python, bought from a New York dealer. Also showcased, in the early exhibit, were 11 other specimens, less imposing than the large python.
The enthusiasm of starting his new business must have gotten the best of Gordon, as he made the local newspaper for all the wrong reasons. On August 31st, 1933, Gaver was arrested by police authorities near the Square Corner in downtown Frederick. It was late in the day on a Thursday afternoon, and Gaver was heading southbound through Frederick on N. Market Street. This was a time of two-way traffic on the major north-south route through town, doubling as the city’s stretch of US 15, decades before a bypass.
Gaver apparently crashed his automobile into the car of Augustus Boyne of 515 N. Market Street. This occurred near the 7th Street intersection, where the fountain is located. Gordon promptly left the scene of the accident in his Ford sedan, continuing southward on Market Street. He must have turned around somewhere along the route, and backtracked, because his next feat included an approach to the Square Corner coming from S. Market St. He swerved wide through the intersection onto W. Patrick Street, nearly hitting the posted traffic officer. Gaver became entangled in a traffic back-up and was duly pulled over at this point and arrested by special deputies Nusz and Redmond.
Officers found an empty pint alcohol bottle, along with a full pint in Gaver’s possession. The deputies would soon find something even more disturbing. The Frederick News of September 16th, 1933 reported:
“In the back of his machine was found a cotton bag containing two large rattlesnakes and a copperhead. Deciding discretion the better part of valor, police impounded the snakes with the car in a local garage.”
Gaver admitted his guilt of driving under the influence when arraigned before Justice Alton Bennett. He was fined the minimum of $100, along with court and restitution costs. Officer J.R. Miller of the Maryland State Police, withdrew the charge of failing to stop after an accident when it was pointed out that Gaver was too drunk to know what he doing, and consequently could not be found guilty on the charge.
Gaver found himself partnering with the Washington National Zoo and others throughout the mid-Atlantic, as his animals needed suitable winter quarters.
Less than a year later, Gordon P. Gaver would pass away at the age of 60, after suffering a heart attack in his Thurmont home on August 1, 1964. He had turned a hobby into a fulfilling career, spending three decades at the helm of his own serpentarium, preceded by a decade of chasing snakes and further learning. Gordon was buried beside his parents in Mount Olivet’s Area Q/Lot 83 on August 4th, 1964.
Gordon Gaver’s legacy certainly lives on. Following the snake expert’s death, the Jungleland Snake Farm would be sold to Gaver’s employee Richard Hahn, who eventually changed the operation’s name to the Catoctin Mountain Zoo Park. The Hahn family continues to run this attraction to this day.
I’d like to add an additional note on one of Gordon Gaver’s siblings. As snakes encompassed Gordon’s world, brother John "Jack" Milton Gaver, Sr. loved horses. In fact, he was a lifelong trainer of thoroughbreds, and is a 1966 inductee to the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame.
Jack Gaver (1901-1982) would become associated with the fabled Greentree Stable of Red Bank, New Jersey. In 1939, he was appointed head trainer, a position he held for the next 38 years. During his time with Greentree, Gaver conditioned 73 stakes winners, including winners of five American classics, four champions, and two Horse of the Year honorees.
Gaver won two legs of the Triple Crown twice. He conditioned Shut Out to victories in the 1942 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and Capot won the 1949 Preakness and Belmont. He also won the 1968 Belmont with Stage Door Johnny. Gaver’s four champions were Devil Diver (1944 Champion Handicap Male), Capot (1949 Horse of the Year), Stage Door Johnny (1968 Champion 3-Year-Old Colt) and Tom Fool (1953 Horse of the Year).