Photo: Rex from the UK Telegraph article.

Here’s a weird historical story for Halloween. Earlier this month, the UK Telegraph reported at a “vampire grave” had been found in the ruins of ruins of Perperikon, an ancient Thracian city located in southern Bulgaria.

The evidence that the grave had been believed to be the resting place of a vampire was a metal stake driven through the man’s chest. Professor Nikolai Ovcharov unearthed the body while doing excavations in the city.

Perperikon was discovered 20 years ago and believed to be the site of the Temple of Dionysius, who was the Greek God of wine and fertility. Perperikon is also located near Bulgaria’s border with Greece.

“We have no doubts that once again we’re seeing an anti-vampire ritual being carried out,” Professor Ovcharov is quoted in the newspaper. “Often they were applied to people who had died in unusual circumstances – such as suicide.”

Ovcharov explained that the stake was supposed to stop a bad person from rising from the dead. This particular “bad” person was a male between 40 and 50 years old when he died in the first half of the 13th century. A piece of ploughshare has been hammered through his chest. The lower left leg had also been removed from the body and placed beside it. The newspaper doesn’t note whether this happened before the man died and was, perhaps, the reason he died, or whether it was an extra precaution taken after death.

This is the third vampire grave discovered in Bulgaria in recent years. Two other graves were discovered in 2012 and 2013 in Sozopol, about 200 miles east of Perperikon. The inhabitants of these graves were called “the twin vampires of Sozopol”, according to the Telegraph.

Overall, about 100 vampire graves have been found in Bulgaria, which is the country south of Romania. Dracula was said to be from Transylvania, which is part of Romania.

Also, last year, skeletons were found in Poland with their heads removed and placed on their legs. Archeologists believed that this was done as part of a ritual to keep them from rising from the dead.

“Sometimes they would be decapitated, while another punishment involved hanging from a gibbet until decomposition resulted in the head separating from the body. In both cases the head was then laid on the legs of the victim in the hope that an inability to locate their head would hinder the progress of those intent on rising from the grave,” the Telegraph reported.

These bodies were found on a construction site. Although quite old, archeologists were having trouble dating the bodies because there were no cultural clues found in the graves.

Here is the link to the Bulgarian vampire story: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/bulgaria/11153923/Vampire-grave-found-in-Bulgaria.html


A shot of the Gettysburg WWII POW camp. Courtesy of the Adams County Historical Society.

Though no battles were ever fought in Gettysburg during World War II, German soldiers were sent to the county and other locations around the country. It wasn’t to fight, though. The soldiers were sent here as prisoners of war.

On May 31, 1944, 50 prisoners of war were transferred from Camp Meade in Maryland to Gettysburg. The U. S. War Department set up hundreds of POW camps throughout the country during the war. Similar camps could also be found nearby in Frederick, Md., and Pine Grove Furnace Park.

However, when the prisoners arrived in Gettysburg, there was no camp in which to house them. The POWs were set to work building a 400-foot by 600-foot stockade surrounding the camp along Emmitsburg Road next to the old Home Sweet Home Motel. During this construction phase, the prisoners were housed at the National Guard Armory on Confederate Avenue.

Three days after the first arrival of prisoners, another 100 joined them and then an additional 350 came a week later.

The tent camp was ready for occupancy on June 20, 1944. The POWs moved into the new camp and 425 of them began working at local farms helping with the pea harvest.

Pea farmers weren’t the only ones who could get prison laborers. All a farmer had to do was apply to the employment service in Gettysburg.

“Use of German prisoners of war in Adams county’s canneries and orchards during the last two years allowed the production of thousands of dollars worth of food that otherwise would not have been processed, E. A. Crouse, head of the local USES office, said today in releasing figures on the amount of work performed by the POWS,” the Gettysburg Times reported in 1946.

Prison labor wasn’t used to replace the existing labor force in the county but to supplement it. Civilians were always given first preference at the work, but there wasn’t always enough interest in filling the jobs. Crouse noted in one instance that 5,000 letters had been mailed asking for workers to help cut pulpwood. Only 15 replies were received.

Even with a need for the workers, the Gettysburg Times noted, “Some canners and others refused to have anything to do with the former enemy troops and some employe(e)e who would have had to work beside the Germans refused to do so.”

However, need outweighed distaste and POWs worked alongside civilians. This helped break down some of the prejudice against the prisoners as the civilians realized things they had in common rather than the differences between them.

For their efforts, the prisoners received 80 cents a day. The remaining amount of their daily earnings, which was usually between 50 and 60 cents an hour, was sent to the federal government. According to the National Park Service, the federal government received $138,000 from the Gettysburg POW camp from June 8 through November 1, 1944. On days that a prisoner didn’t work, he received 10 cents a day. The prisoners were paid in coupons, which they could use as cash in the camp exchange.

Besides peas, the prisoners helped with cherry and apple harvests. The Gettysburg POWs were sent with a guard detail to work in canneries, lumber mills and farms in Littlestown, Biglerville, Hanover, Chambersburg, Middletown and Emmitsburg.

As the harvests ended and winter approached, temperatures began to fall. Many of the prisoners were moved to Camp Sharpe (the former Camp Colt). After Camp Colt had closed at the end of World War I, the barracks had been used to house Civilian Conservation Corps workers during the Great Depression era. They had been refurbished and put back into military use as Camp Sharpe.

Though the prisoners were generally docile, there were some problems. One prisoner hanged himself in an Aspers cannery. Two other prisoners escaped but were recaptured eight days later. The prisoners even tried to unsuccessfully strike a couple times.

The camp commander was Capt. Laurence Thomas, a former school superintendent. He also managed the camp at Pine Grove Furnace State Park. He was a good choice because he could speak German and was able to communicate with the prisoners and diffuse a lot of issues before they became problems.

Many times, this simply involved separating the hardcore Nazi and SS soldiers from the common soldiers. Most of the soldiers simply wanted to get through the war and realized that the conditions in the American camps, which followed the Geneva Convention, were not harsh.

Camp Sharpe closed in February 1945, though a skeleton crew of soldiers remained for another year to close down the camp. At its peak in July 1944, the Gettysburg POW camp held 932 prisoners of war, some of whom returned after the war to visit Gettysburg as guests.


Facts in Five

Originally posted on Practically Historical:

Don’t call him “Teddy” edition

  • No one called him “Teddy” to his face; the nickname he preferred was  TR.
  • TR claimed he decided to be a Republican after watching Lincoln’s funeral parade from his grandfather’s Manhattan townhouse.
  • Frightened of his activism, the Republican party decided to “hide” Roosevelt on McKinley’s ticket in 1900
  • Roosevelt’s Progressive politics can be traced to the time he spent representing a poor, predominately immigrant district in the New York legislature
  • It was TR that ordered Commodore George Dewey’s squadron to the Philippines in anticipation of war with Spain
Always be ready to use the Big Stick

Always be ready to use the Big Stick

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trolley_pic-4 (2)

February 20, 1954, was an overcast Saturday morning that drizzled rain in Frederick County. The somber weather matched the feeling a many people as they watched trolley cars No. 171 and No. 172 pull out of the East Patrick Street car barn in Frederick and head north. About 100 people crammed the trolley, which is more passengers than it had seen on a single trip in a long time. One report noted that the leather hand straps riders could hold onto inside the trolley cars were as good as new. This was because the cars were rarely crowded enough for them to be used.

The Thurmont Trolley had transported 3.8 million riders around Frederick County in 1920, but by 1940, that number was down to 500,000 riders.

With ridership dropping and the popularity of cars skyrocketing, the decision had been made to end trolley service between Frederick and Thurmont. It was the last interurban trolley in Maryland.

“The last interurban passenger trolley in Maryland, the Frederick-Thurmont line, will roll into discard and the occasion can only put mist in the eye and a sentimental ache in the heart of the middle aged,” Betty Sullivan wrote in The Frederick Post. “To them the clang, clang, clang of the trolley turns thoughts backward in a time when life still centered in the local community and a twenty-mile journey was a venture abroad to be undertaken with forethought and definite plan.”

Each passenger on this final journey had a souvenir ticket to mark the occasion. The exterior of the trolley had been decorated with bunting so that it could proudly make its final 34-mile roundtrip.

“Uncounted hundreds of rolls of film were consumed during the event, by dozens of people who turned out at every hamlet along the trolley’s route, and by the passengers. Some persons brought along movie cameras. One unidentified man drove from Allentown, Pa., in time to accompany the trolley to Thurmont and back, via auto. Driving along the roads that came closest to the trolley’s tracks, he made an endless series of moving picture scents of the vehicle in progress, because his hobby consists of taking pictures of trolley cars,” reported The Hagerstown Daily Mail.

Inside, the riders could see one of the reasons the trolley service was ending. The trolley was antiquated. “The no-spitting sign is yellow with age. Some of the advertising signs had been there since the days of World War Two, because they referred to beer that would still lead the field after peace came,” reported The Hagerstown Daily Mail.

However, the aged appearance of the trolley cars didn’t keep the passengers from reminiscing about their time on the trolley during the hour-long ride. It may have even encouraged it.

The Thurmont Trolley began life in 1886 when the Monocacy Valley Railroad Company built a steam train line to haul iron from Catoctin Furnace to Thurmont and the Western Maryland Railroad. Two years later, the Northern Railroad Company extended the line to Frederick. In 1908, the lines became electric. Finally in 1913, the Northern Railway Company connected to the Washington County railroad lines and the Hagerstown and Frederick Railway Company was formed.

The Thurmont Trolley was unique because it operated on tracks that were of regular width for trains. Trolleys generally used narrower rails. It was this fact that allowed it to have a life beyond that of a passenger trolley.

When the last trolley arrived at the Thurmont station, it was greeted by a small crowd of about 100 people. Thurmont Mayor Ray Weddle, Jr.; Potomac Edison President R. Paul Smith and Frederick Mayor Donald Rice made short remarks to the gathering because of the rain. The trolley then began its return to Frederick.

On the return trip, The Hagerstown Daily Mail noted, “Passengers sang ‘I’ve Been Working on the Railroad’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ and stops were made at two points—Yellow Springs and Lewistown.”

When the trolley returned to the car barn, buses took the passengers to a luncheon at the Francis Scott Key Hotel. During the luncheon Smith said, “Progress eventually overtakes all of man’s previous works. This is true in existence of the trolley car, as it was when it first came into being. The passing of the trolley closes, except in our memories and to those contributions to our lives both socially and economically, a great era of expansion and development.”

Though trolley service had ended, former passengers could ride a bus between Frederick and Thurmont. The tracks continued to be used for regular railroad freight service that continued until 1958.

The Thurmont Trolley’s impact on the region is still felt. Because of the power demands for electric trolleys, their existence necessitated the creation of a high-capacity power generating plant. It’s this power network that grew profitable while the trolleys it powered became less profitable. The Hagerstown and Frederick Railway became the Potomac Edison Company in 1923.

Thurmont also turned its trolley right-of-way into a walking path through town and the town continues to restore one of the trolley cars that used to run on the line.


Here’s a radio interview I did about my book, Battlefield Angels: The Daughters of Charity Work as Civil War Nurses”. I’ve done a few of these over the years. I always wonder if I’ll have enough to say, but then I get talking about subjects that I enjoy and it’s easy to keep going. In this case, I shared some of the stories about the Daughters of Charity, who were the only trained nurses in the country at the start of the Civil War. They were allowed to cross the border between North and South early in war because both governments trusted them and their services were needed.

My part of the show starts around the 20 minute mark. http://reasonablycatholic.com/2014/09/02/battlefield-angels-civil-war-wounded-on-the-north-and-south-relied-on-the-daughters-of-charity/



When the sale, production and transportation of alcohol were banned in the United States in 1920, Western Marylanders had to choose between becoming teetotalers or criminals. Many law-abiding citizens chose the latter.

“Illicit liquor, manufactured in countless stills in homes, farmyard barns, and even auto repair shops, could be bought all over the county.” Harry Stegmaier, Jr. wrote in Allegany County – A History.

One of the first raids in the county on these places where illegal liquor was sold and produced came about almost accidentally. On June 2, 1920, Elmer Dumar, owner of the Vimy Restaurant on North Mechanic Street was not very happy. His wife, Jennie, had spent part of the evening flirting with “a Spaniard,” according to the Cumberland Evening Times. Dumar finally lost his patience and got into a fight with the Spaniard. The man ran off and called the police.

“The Vimy Restaurant had long been a source of trouble for the local police and it was suspected that whiskey was either being sold outright in one of the rooms adjoining the restaurant, or else being made somewhere on the premises. The police chief decided once and for all that the local police department would get the inside story of the numerous fights that had kept them busy running to the Vimy during the past year,” Herman Miller wrote in Cumberland Through the Eyes of Herman J. Miller.

The police raided the restaurant and the Dumar apartment above it.  They found two moonshine stills, six barrels of corn mash, four gallons of moonshine and other equipment for producing liquor. The Dumars and three other men were arrested.

Unpopular law

Though Prohibition was not popular nationwide, Maryland was nearly defiant in its attitude toward the law. Maryland was the only state not to pass an enforcement act and it still called itself a “wet”, not “dry”, state.

A Cumberland Evening Times editorial proclaimed in 1920, “On the bootlegging proposition the police commissioner is probably right in his conclusion that the. United States army would not be able to stop drunkenness entirely. This probably would be true so long us preventing drunkenness depends upon the enforcement of so extreme and unreasonable a measure as the Volstead act which, in its entirety is not respected by one reasonable person in ten.”

The mayor of Lonaconing, John H. Evans, must have agreed with the sentiment. He was arrested for moonshining in 1942.

However, no matter how unpopular Prohibition was, law enforcement officials did their jobs. According to Miller, so many arrests were made for bootlegging and illegal liquor sales during Prohibition that the Allegany County Jail couldn’t hold everyone at times and the excess prisoners had to be kept in the Garrett County Jail in Oakland.

George Hawkins

One of the reasons for so many arrests in Allegany County was due to the work of federal agent William R. Harvey. He could be considered Allegany County’s Eliot Ness.

“He could not be bribed, and he achieved quite a local reputation for his persistence in tracking down illicit whiskey. At one point, he trailed a bootlegger through the snow for several miles, from the swamp where the man confiscated a cache of moonshine,” Stegmaier wrote.

He became such a thorn in the sides of bootleggers that they backed his campaign for Allegany County Sheriff in 1926 because they thought it would give him additional work to do besides coming after them. Harvey won the election and served as sheriff for a time, but he eventually returned to working for the federal government.

If Harvey was Allegany County’s Eliot Ness, then Harry Klosterman of LaVale was probably the county’s Al Capone. Klosterman was the “king of local bootleggers,” according to Stegmaier.

“This amazing gentleman had stills scattered all over the area, including one in a house on Washington Street in Cumberland, right under the nose of the chief federal agent in the area, who lived nearby,” Stegmaier wrote.

Despite the comparisons, Western Maryland actually had very little problem with organized crime, such as what was seen in Chicago, during Prohibition. The reason for this is because nearly all of the moonshine in Mountain Maryland was made locally so organized crime never had much of an opportunity to get its foot in the door here.

Poole’s Garage

On the night of January 23, 1923, Hawkins led a raid on Poole’s Garage at 361 Frederick Street in Cumberland.

“The raid, according to Agent Hawkins, resulted in the capture of one of the largest stills in this section and perhaps the largest in the state,” Miller wrote. “Agent Hawkins destroyed the $8,000 miniature distillery found on the third floor rear of the garage building. In addition to three forty-five gallon copper stills, which were in operation when the officers entered the place, they found six 500 gallon steel vats containing about 2,300 gallons of corn mash in the first stage of fermentation, three 50 gallon barrels of 126 proof liquor, six new empty-barrels, hundreds of empty bottles, jugs and jars, and all the conveniences of an up-to-date bootleg factory. In all, there were about 295 gallons of finished liquor in the room, ready for delivery.”

It took an hour to destroy the illegal liquor and dismantle the stills. Agents took samples of each barrel and then poured kerosene into the barrels. B.A. Poole, the garage owner’s son, was then called in to witness that each vat of corn mash had been poisoned with bichloride of mercury.

Hiding the stills

Because manufacturing liquor was illegal, the stills needed to be hidden out of sight of law-enforcement officials.

“In the Georges Creek region, abandoned mines proved convenient for housing stills and storing moonshine,” Stegmaier wrote.

One still was found in a hidden room in a house on Roberts Streets when an oil stove exploded in the room on July 11, 1925. The room was in the cellar of James R. Smith’s house. The explosion caught the house on fire, but when firemen arrived, they could see smoke coming through the parlor floor and through the floor around the flue in a front bedroom on the second floor but they couldn’t find the source.

“Finally, against the strenuous protest of the family, they began to dig through the floors of the parlor and the bedroom. Beneath the parlor floor they found a layer of earth about a foot thick and then a rough board ceiling, which covered a secret room in the cellar,” Miller wrote.

The flue from up to the second floor was four-feet wide, but from the second floor up to the roof, it was only 18 inches wide. A ladder in the wide flue led down to the secret room.

Another bootlegger who lived on North Mechanic Street had a platform constructed outside of a second-story window so that it hung over Wills Creek. It was designed so that if the house was raided, the bootlegger need only pull a rope and the bottom on the platform would drop and anything on the platform would crash into the rocks of Wills Creek destroying any evidence.

Another Cumberland bootlegger wore an overcoat wherever he went.

“People who didn’t know him thought he was an eccentric, but he had a half dozen pockets inside the coat in which he carried his stock of whiskey for sale,” Miller wrote.

Bars, which were called “speakeasies” during Prohibition, also had to be hidden out of sight. Some of Cumberland’s speakeasies could be found on Harrison Street near the American Legion, on Cumberland Street between Baltimore and Market streets and in many restaurants in the city.

The end of prohibition

Due to its unpopularity, Prohibition soon ended after the election of Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. However, Allegany County lagged a bit behind the rest of the state in switching over to selling alcohol. A bill passed in the state legislature stipulated that county beer permits didn’t become effective until seven days after the sale of beer became legal, which happened on April 7, 1933.

“You could buy beer on the first day of repeal in Pennsylvania. A store just over the state line on the Bedford Road was selling beer on the first day. A steady stream of Cumberlanders took advantage of the beer sale,” Miller wrote.

On April 14, beer sales finally became legal in the county and the speakeasies came out in the open to handle the steady business that now came their way.



I didn’t know much about Harry Houdini before reading The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero. I remember seeing an old TV movie about the escape artist, but I really didn’t remember much about it. I also liked the fact that William Kalush, one of the authors, was a magician himself.

He and co-author Larry Sloman do a wonderful job of bringing Houdini to life on the pages of the book. They explore all aspects of his life from his childhood to his rise to fame to work debunking spiritualists. It also gives non-magicians like me a unique peek behind the curtain to see how magic is made.

I have to give Sloman and Kalush credit. They have written an exciting biography. Although Houdini led an interesting life, they still could have written a boring book. I am reading another biography now about an exciting man and yet, I find this particular book boring. So they deserve credit for making a larger-than-life character very alive.

Though Houdini made a career manipulating people, he was actually a very nice person who mentored other magicians. He was a strong family man. He also wore a lot of hats in his life: magician, escape artist, husband, son, brother, spy, actor and debunker of spiritualists. You get an excellent perspective of all these roles in the book.

So do yourself a favor. Read an exciting, true book about one of the most-interesting people you will ever get a chance to know.


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