Frederick, Maryland is patriotic, and has always been dating back to July 4th, 1776. For this, we can credit many of those that repose in Mount Olivet Cemetery, be them military veterans, or just plain, good Americans. As we embark on the most popular day, and week, of summer, I wanted to look back at our town (and county) and its relationship to the July 4th holiday. For those on vacation, and others attending a friendly barbecue, Independence Day is generally characterized by the other 3 “R’s”: relaxation, reflection and revelry. Some have labeled July 4th, “The Sunday of the Nation.”
The word that best sums up the feeling on this day should be contentment—content by having freedom, possessing unalienable rights and just plain, being proud to be an American.
This was also the message given a century ago on July 18th, 1918 by President Woodrow Wilson. The nation was in the midst of World War I, a conflict that involved thousands of Frederick County residents—500 of which are laid to rest here in Mount Olivet Cemetery.
President Wilson delivered an address at Mount Vernon (Virginia) where he sought to link the endeavors of George Washington and the other Founding Fathers of the United States with the present efforts in the battlefields of Europe. Wilson told his audience the following:
We intend what they intended. We here in America believe our participation in this present war to be only the fruitage of what they planted. Our case differs from theirs only in this, that it is our inestimable privilege to concert with men out of every nation what shall make not only the liberties of America secure but the liberties of every other people as well.
It’s ironic that this holiday has roots going back to the specific day in 1776 where the mood of the general populous was one of discontent. The people of Frederick County, Maryland, and countless inhabitants of the other 12 colonies were not pleased with their governance under Great Britain’s King George III, son of our county/city namesake—Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales (1707-1751).
From a historical perspective, it’s interesting to look back and read about past "Independence Days" here in Frederick. A few years back I was contemplating the subject and arbitrarily picked 1893 for some odd reason—a year that certainly does not roll off the tongue for its contribution to county, state or nation. This was 25 years before President Wilson's sojourn to Mount Vernon, and Grover Cleveland was the sitting commander-in-chief.
To my surprise, and delight, I found major discontent surrounding the holiday here at home, mainly because residents of Frederick City would/could have no fireworks. Newly elected Mayor John E. Fleming had issued a proclamation on June 23rd (1893) re-stating the city ordinance prohibiting “the firing or discharging of any gun, pistol or other firearms, squib or cracker within the limits of the Corporation.” Mayor Fleming cautioned that this would be rigidly enforced on July 4th.
In essence, this was the 4th of July equivalent of the movie Footloose. Many townspeople were livid, especially wayward teens and ornery children, not to mention more than a few uppity adults. Now in Mayor Fleming’s defense, this particular "Fourth" fell on a Sunday, aka the Lord’s Day. Some decorum needed to be shown churchgoers, because firecracker hijinx was not just something that happened after dusk as we know today. In addition, things had gotten wildly out of hand over the years with the high frequency of firework-related accidents, mamings, etc., especially involving young people. Over the years, the newspapers could always count on these stories to help fill content. Fire risk was also a reality. The mayor had been working hard for months on creating fire-related ordinances and strengthening support for the volunteer fire departments of Frederick. Lastly, who needs people shooting off firearms in town, especially after a long day of celebratory alcoholic libations?
To the average Joe “Son of Liberty,” this rationale seemed to buck tradition, looking more like an infringement on God-given rights. Isn’t there a Constitutional amendment providing for the right for American citizens to spend Independence Day doing whatever the heck they wanted to show their patriotic devotion to flag and country? The famed "Bentztown Bard," Folger McKinsey, wrote in the Daily News another signature "tongue in cheek ditty":
"I believe in letting the eagle scream
On the glorious Fourth of July;
As firmly I believe that mankind,
Would perish 'twere not for pie."
After reading an account of a young doctor attending a party in nearby Jefferson, I certainly have a new view on what was considered “fireworks fun” during the period. It appears that this gentleman was lured in by a flirtatious group of young ladies working in tandem with a group of young hooligans. The boys attached, and lit, a bundle of fireworks to the physician’s frock coat. Luckily he escaped injury, but I can surely think of safer and less stressful ways to celebrate the independence of our nation. Luckily things got back to normal, "July 4th-wise" when Mayor Fleming left office in 1895.
As for the good mayor, he rests in an unmarked grave in Mount Olivet's Area H (Lot 162) in between both his first wife Anna A. (Keller) Fleming (1841-1875) and second wife, Sallie Ann (Kehler) Fleming (1850-1934). He passed away on December 12th, 1917 as the United States was mobilizing for that first World War. I find it heartwarming to think that Mayor Fleming has a front-row seat for the nightly fireworks displays presented after Frederick Keys games throughout the summer.
So in closing, I wish you and yours a very happy Fourth! ...but please think twice before shooting off your bottle rockets, cakes, and Roman candles this holiday as the ordinance is still in effect within the corporate boundaries of Frederick. You can still enjoy sparklers without repercussion, both literally and figuratively. All these years later, the municipal government does a fine job of putting on a great rundown of 4th of July activities for its residents, capped with the annual fireworks display. One of the best vantage points for viewing these is none other than Fleming Avenue, of course.
While we can demonstrate the proper spirit of patriotism in many ways, take a few minutes to remember why we continue to have the right to celebrate such an incredible annual event and explain this to a young person. Better yet, take a leisurely ride or walk through Mount Olivet as the point will be punctuated by the monuments to Francis Scott Key, Barbara Fritchie, Gov. Thomas Johnson, and graves of service men and women connected to World War I and all other conflicts in which our nation has participated. Because of them, we not only have our freedom, but so much more. Talk about being content!
One of the most iconic things to come out of World War I, fought a century ago, was the war poem entitled "In Flanders Fields." It was written by a Canadian physician named John McCrae who was inspired to write after presiding over the funeral of a fellow soldier. As a result of its immediate popularity, parts of the poem were used in efforts and appeals to recruit soldiers and raise money selling war bonds. Its references to the red poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers resulted in the remembrance poppy becoming one of the world's most recognized memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict.
Flanders is a village in northwest Belgium. Those native peoples hailing from the area of Flanders, along with those speaking the Flemish-language, are known as Flemings. Although Mayor John E. Fleming may not have given Frederick what it truly wanted on July 4th 1893, possible distant cousins of the man could have more than made up for it: Alexander Fleming who gave us penicillin (1928), Ian Fleming gave us James Bond, and Peggy Fleming who gave us the joy of IceCapades.
Now let's make some noise for the Flemings, and more importantly, all Frederick County's patriots, past and present!
Information coming soon on special commemorative programming at Mount Olivet over the weekend of November 10-11, 2018 (Veterans day). To learn more about World War I veterans in Mount Olivet Cemetery, visit our auxiliary website: mountolivetvets.org
The site features comprehensive memorial pages for WWI vets buried in the cemetery.
It’s no surprise to see flowers in a cemetery, especially a “garden cemetery” like Mount Olivet. Yes, graveside ceremonies are commonly marked with floral arrangements, and plenty more are placed during holidays such as Mothers Day and Fathers Day. Many stones are annually decorated “to the nines” by family members with beautiful care each spring, giving way to the artificial variety (of flowers) in cold weather months. And then there are the occasional flower pots and special plantings located next to specially endowed lots.
Some of the most fascinating flowers of all in Mount Olivet actually appear on gravestones themselves, not just adjacent them. Symbols have been used for centuries, however common people could first employ statues and elaborate carvings of tombstones in the mid-nineteenth century.
This was the time of Queen Victoria of England, hence giving rise to the moniker of the “Victorian Era,” an age best defined by peoples’ love of ornate designs. Gravestones were no exception, as stone carvers were often commissioned to produce small works of art. “Garden cemeteries” such as Frederick’s Mount Olivet became the local art gallery, so to speak, as everyday people got to view intricate carvings, majestic statues, and iconic shapes used to embellish grave markers.
People of the era were enamored with floral themes. Plants and flowers were held up to remind others of the beauty and brevity of life. Flowers have served as symbols of remembrance since the beginning of memorialization in cemeteries. The Victorians took great pains to offer special flower attributes, adapting many ancient myths to Christian symbolism.
The Victorians thought flowers had their own language. Red roses signify love, yellow roses indicate friendship, and a white rose meant innocence, or secrecy. It’s no wonder they carried this silent language on to the grave.
Roses on a tombstone can have several meanings, depending on the number shown, and if the rose is in bud or bloom. A rose symbolizes love, hope and beauty. Two roses joined together signified a strong bond, as on a couple’s stone. A wreath of roses stands for beauty and virtue. Age could also be noted with a rose bud indicating the grave of a child. A partial bloom was used to show someone who had died in his or her teens or early adult life. And a full bloom signified someone in the prime of life. A broken blossom, whether a rose or another flower, indicated that someone had died too young.
Another flower that is abundant in the cemetery is the lily, which reverberates innocence and purity. There are several various types of lilies used on gravestones, each with a slightly different meaning. The most popular is the Easter Lily, which represents resurrection and the innocence of the soul being restored at death. Calla Lilies represent marriage and fidelity. A Lily of the Valley signifies innocence, humility and renewal. The Fleur de Lis is actually a stylized lily that represents the Holy Trinity.
The daffodil, also part of the lily family, indicates grace, beauty and a deep regard. Usually, live daffodils are abundant in older cemeteries during the spring. Other flowers used on gravestones include the daisy, which means gentleness and innocence, and the morning glory, which suggests mourning, mortality and farewell.
Greenery is also used to convey unspoken thoughts. Many stones are covered in Ivy to imply faithfulness, undying affection and eternal life. The fern was very popular in Victorian times as an indicator of sincerity and solitude. And the palm, another plant associated with Easter, signified triumph over death, and a forthcoming resurrection.
Several stones in Mount Olivet have flowers carved into their faces. I recently decided to take a stroll in the cemetery’s historic section, and see what I could find in reference to flowers. Here are three that I found to fulfill my quest, all maiden females who would never marry by choice, accident or God’s will. I have tried to find out as much as I can about each of these ladies to perhaps find some context to their floral themed grave monuments.
Of Rice and Roses
Two maiden sisters reside in Mount Olivet’s Area C/Lot 69. Here is the floral engraved gravestone of 62-year-old Ella Jane Heffner (b. 12/15/1866) and 67-year-old Lulu Sophia Heffner (b. 10/12/1864). As for their stone, one can find what appears as three, fully blossomed roses on the monument’s face.
Both women were the daughters of John P. Heffner (b. 1834) and Drucilla Rice (b. 1834), a couple who married here in Frederick during the height of the American Civil War in 1863. In the 1870 census, the young family could be found living just a few doors down from Mount Olivet at 109 S. Market St.
The girls’ mother (Drucilla) died in 1873 at the age of 39, and Mr. Heffner remarried a woman named Sarah Miller Rice in 1879. The interesting thing about Sarah (b. 1849) is that she was also the girls’ maternal aunt, as she had married Levin Tyler R. Rice, Drucilla’s brother. Sadly, Levin died in early 1872, three years after his marriage to Sarah. She was left to raise a son, Walter Levin Rice (b. 1869).
As was often done in those days, in-laws such as John P. Heffner and Sarah Miller Rice simply turned to each other for companionship as both had lost their respective spouses and had children in need of parenting. Lulu and Ella Mae were nine and seven respectively at the time of their mother’s death. Sarah helped raise them into adulthood, as John did the same for Walter Levin. The blended family would continue living in the home on S. Market St. John P. Heffner died in 1901, and the girls continued to live in their childhood home along with stepmother Sarah Miller Heffner.
As was stated at the onset, the two girls would never marry. They remained by each other’s side for the duration of life. Ella Jane Heffner died on September 11th, 1929. Lulu would succumb on January 5th, 1932.
The Maiden of Mount Pleasant
A few years ago, assistant cemetery superintendent Rick Reeder pointed out the beautiful grave monument belonging to one, Nellie Burrier. This can be found on Area OO/Lot 61, with a backdrop of Harry Grove Stadium. Miss Burrier was born on May 9th, 1886, the daughter of Charles D. Burrier (1841-1892) and wife Catherine Hoke Burrier (1846-1935). Catherine Hoke Burrier was the daughter of Samuel Hoke, who possessed a sizeable series of farmsteads in the vicinity of Ceresville, with a home dwelling across from the famed Ceresville Mill. Nellie was the youngest of eight siblings and raised on her family’s farm located in Mount Pleasant, just east of Ceresville and northeast of Frederick City. Just as the Hefner girls lost their biological mother as youngsters, Nellie’s father passed away when she was five.
A mixture of different flowers rises from a sculptured scroll, unrolled, and perfectly balancing on a “half-column,” generally used to denote a life cut short. Indeed, this was the case of Marcia Virginia Thomas. The 22-year-old from Baltimore was innocently vacationing with her family at Rangeley Lakes, Maine in the summer of 1892. Mr. William Hamilton Thomas (1835-1917) had roots in Frederick, as did his wife, and had done very well for himself going into his father Edward C. Thomas’s oyster and fruit packing business, started several decades before in Charm City.
Success and hard work did take a noted toll on Mr. Thomas’ health and well-being, however he would combat the unfortunate fate suffered by the Heffner sisters and Nellie Burrier by the family had embarked on this trip in hopes that health would be fully restored to Mr. Thomas, an escape from the hustle and bustle of work responsibilities and big-city living. The mountainous environs of northwestern Maine seemed to be “just what the doctor ordered.”
Marcia’s family unit in 1892 consisted of two other sisters, Florence and Fannie, and mother Susannah Hanna Thomas (1835-1920). The Thomas’s were staying in a cabin adjacent Greeley Pond, and had the services of a local resident to serve as a guide for nature and social activities with the intended design of aiding the family enjoy their “rustic” stay. Marcia spent much of her stay improving her skills as a sketch artist. Unfortunately, this talent would be a contributing factor toward her early demise on the morning of Friday, September 2nd, 1892. A chilling account would appear in the Baltimore Sun the following Monday, September 5th.
The Frederick News also carried the tragic story of Marcia’s death on Monday, September 5th. Also added was information pertaining to Marcia’s body arriving at the Frederick B & O Railroad Depot from Maine by way of Baltimore. The elaborate casket was brought to Mount Olivet, and a funeral service took place on Tuesday the 6th. Her gravesite is located in Area F/Lot 52.
In my research, I was very interested to find that Marcia Thomas’ maternal grandmother, Martha Ritchie (Knight) Hanna, had a direct link to one of my past “Story in Stone” entry written about young John Knight McDannold. She was McDannold’s maternal aunt, and a longtime resident of Frederick, although a native of Indiana. As for John Knight McDannold, he was a popular, 25-year-old socialite who had big plans for spending the winter of 1899 in Cuba.
Unfortunately, John would succumb to pneumonia in February, 1899 while en-route to the Caribbean destination. His gravesite in Area F/Lot 53, is within ten feet of his Aunt Martha (who passed in 1887) and is marked by a Celtic cross made by the Tiffany’s Company of New York. It is highly likely that Marcia, herself, and the Thomas family attended John Knight McDannold’s funeral, heralded as one of the largest in the cemetery’s history up to that time.
Marcia’s unique monument, not unlike that of cousin John’s, a few yards away are two of the finest in the cemetery. William H. Thomas died in late August, 1917, a few days shy of the 25th anniversary of Marcia’s drowning. He would be buried next to his mother-in-law and soon joined by his wife Susannah less than three years later in February, 1920. All three grave monuments include the same sculpted floral design.
“From my body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity.”
In closing, I leave you with the above quote from Norwegian Symbolist painter and printmaker Edvard Munch. He was an important figure in art history, best known for his 1893 oil painting entitled “The Scream.” Another one of Munch's highly acclaimed paintings titled The Sick Child is said to have helped inspire the Expressionistic art movement, a style of painting, in which the artist seeks to express emotional experience rather than impressions of the external world.
A fitting Munch considered The Sick Child, his first “soul painting,” a break from impressionism. “As for The Sick Child,” Munch wrote, “it was the period I think of as the age of the pillow.” Many artists did pictures of children on their pillows. Since hailed as the first expressionist masterpiece, the painting shows his sister Sophie, on her deathbed, turned toward a dejected figure nearby. The Sick Child portrays a dying adolescent, her physical and spiritual attractiveness heightened, as was believed, by her very illness. Therefore, beauty, joy, and life are valuable because they are transitory and eventually become their very opposites. Flowers are perfect representations of this concept as well—vibrant, colorful and beautiful today, but soon to be brown and withering.
However, when flowers are depicted in sculpture on gravestones, these floral displays have eternal beauty, and will not fade—not unlike the happy memories and appearances we wish to remember about those who have gone before.
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.