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.


As Paul Harvey used to say, “Here’s the rest of the story” about the Gettysburg man who tried to fly a plane to Mars.

People thought Cheston Eshleman, a Gettysburg High School graduate, was crazy when he tried to fly to Mars in a small airplane in 1939. Maybe they were right, but there’s a fine line between crazy and genius.

Eshleman’s flight of fancy cost him his pilot’s license, but it didn’t stop him from thinking about flying and how it could be done better. One of the things he thought about was how an airplane might be improved so that he could have had a better chance of flying further, although not necessarily in outer space.

One of his designs was called a “flying flounder” or “flying pancake” by people who saw it, but Eshleman called it his “flying carpet.” In 1942, the Gettysburg Times reported that the odd plane “has aroused the interest of Army and Navy officials.”

Eshleman, who was 25 years old, had been testing his new plane in Baltimore since January of 1942. By late July, it had flown successfully 62 times.

“A friend pilots the ship on its tests for Eshleman has been unable to fly since his license was revoked after a fishing boat picked him up at the end of his ‘Mars’ flight,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

Eshleman’s “flying carpet” was 24 feet long and 12 feet wide. It was made entirely of plastic except for some electronics and wiring. Eshleman and six other men had built the airplane in eight weeks at a cost of $5,000 (about $73,000 today). He told reporters that he believed that he could build a larger version of the plane in half the time.

“The wingless construction, he states, has reduced drag or wind resistance 30 per cent providing for speed increase. The aircraft, he asserts, retains normal lifting power, can land in a very small space, and will make 190 miles an hour when powered by a 130-horsepower motor. It has a normal tail assembly and a propeller in front,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

While most of the bugs had been worked out of the design by July, the maiden flight of the plane had been disappointing at best.

“The craft got a few feet off the ground, bounced back to earth, and caught fire. It looked like the end of an experiment which in a letter to President Roosevelt Eshleman had said would ‘cause all existing aircraft in the world to become historic,’” the newspaper reported.

Eshleman’s airplane designs were patented in 1943 and his start-up company began building light, commercial aircraft in Dundalk, Md.

After World War II ended, his attention seemed to shift from aircraft to other types of machinery. The Cheston L. Eshleman Company in Baltimore built lawn mowers, plows and garden tractors.

Then in 1953, his attention shifted again and he began building small, one-cylinder automobiles, golf carts, boats, and scooters. Though no longer building planes, he paid homage to his interstellar dream by calling his boat design, the “Rocket Boat,” which was built from surplus military aircraft wing tanks.

The one-cylinder, air-cooled, two-horsepower engine powered the car up to 15 mph and cost $295. It was sold as a child’s car while the adult car cost $395 and had a three-horsepower engine that could travel at 25 mph. The small cars featured battery-operated head and tail lamps, upholstered seats, and rocket emblems (an Eshleman trademark feature) on the flanks. The cars could also get 70 miles per gallon.

Eshleman ran an effective mail-order campaign to sell most of the vehicles. However, this proved a detriment when many people were disappointed at the small size of the cars, which were 54 inches long, 24 inches wide and 23 inches tall. They quickly returned the vehicles.

After a fire destroyed the Baltimore factory in 1956, the company moved to Crisfield, Md., and renamed itself the Eshleman Motor Company in 1959. It also started building slightly larger cars that were up to 72 inches long and 60 inches tall.

While the company continued building cars, Eshleman moved to Miami, Fla., and began working on new design for a front bumper. Eshleman called it a “crash absorber” and made it from a tire. It was impact resistant up to 15 mph.

Though he continued to invent and earn patents, Eshleman largely retired from the business world in 1967.

Eshleman died at age 87 in 2004, never having reached Mars, though he had certainly seen his dreams soar.






My writer’s group just had a discussion about Son of the Morning Star and the consensus was that despite its flaws, it was the best of the Custer movies.

Originally posted on Practically Historical:

An earlier post pilloried poor historical dramas…this list contains superior efforts.

31 seconds to infamy

     Tombstone-1993:  No movie will ever accurately portray the life and character of Wyatt Earp, he’s not nearly likable enough; but Tombstone comes close to capturing the tumultuous two-year period the Earp clan resided in Southern Arizona.  Kevin Jarre crafted a remarkably accurate and detailed script and was granted permission to direct the film.  Shortly after filming began, studio hatchet men fired Jarre and stripped much of his work from the final product.  The production values remained high featuring authentic costuming, gun play, and a detailed recreation of Arizona’s biggest boom town.  Enough of Jarre’s script remains giving Val Kilmer’s sly Doc Holliday plenty of saucy one liners to balance Kurt Russell’s conflicted Earp.  Put Sam Elliot on a dusty street with a gun and a Stetson, good things will happen.  The film takes liberties with history (Holliday was…

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eshelman01On Monday morning June 5, 1939, 22-year-old Cheston Lee Eshleman climbed into the cockpit of a small plane in Camden, N. J. and flew it east. His goal wasn’t to cross the Atlantic Ocean. No, the Gettysburg High School graduate had a much further destination in mind.

He was going to fly to Mars.

He had given a letter to a “jittery citizen” at the airport asking that it be mailed to the Philadelphia newspapers. The letter noted his interstellar destination and said that Eshleman wanted to return the “visit to Mars on Sunday evening, October 1938 (the night of the Orson Welles radio broadcast),” according to the Ironwood (Mich.) Daily Globe, one of the many newspapers nationwide that carried the story. Orson Welles’ adaptation of War of the Worlds during a radio program on Halloween night 1938 had sent many people into a panic who missed the introduction to show and believed it was a real news program about an alien invasion.

Another reason for his trip was “To survey a temporary hideout for the harmless people so they may escape in time of war the slave-enforced ultra-tragedy when the maniacs versus the he-man feud to destroy themselves and their possessions,” the Daily Globe reported.

Eshleman was born in McKnightstown on January 23, 1917. His parents, Samuel and Bertha Eshleman, owned the Fox Hill Orchards.

However, out on his own, Eshleman had dreams beyond agriculture. Those dreams took a turn for the worse, though, when the airplane that he had rented for $11 an hour developed problems over the Atlantic Ocean. A gas line broke in the aircraft and kept reserve gasoline from being pumped into the main fuel tank.

“This kid just went frantic with fear when he lost the radio beam out of Newark,” Edward Walz, the owner of the airplane, told reporters. “He didn’t know which way to go out there over the water. So he came down the first chance he got.”

The plane crashed into the water about 200 miles east of Boston. Eshleman escaped but the plane sank. Eshleman was left floating in the water until fishermen pulled him aboard their fishing trawler. He had spent 13 hours in the water.

Once ashore, Eshleman was arrested for larceny of the airplane and jailed in the little township jail in Pennsauken, N.J. where he was the sole prisoner.

When arraigned, the blue-eye, brown-haired Eshleman told court reporter George E. Yost that he had planned for a 15-hour flight.

“Where?” Yost asked him.

“Mars,” Eshleman replied with a smile. Then he added, “But there has been one serious misstatement. I’m not a thief. What I planned to do was to pay the $11-an-hour rent for the plane out of my earnings after the trip.”

He apparently figured that a trip to Mar and back would bring him fame and fortune, and it certainly would have if it could have been done.

The police doubted that Mars was Eshleman’s actual destination. They argued that the maps and letters they found in Eshleman’s room at the YMCA said it was more likely that the young man was hoping to reach an airfield in Scotland.

Eshleman was held on $5,000 bail. His parents managed to post a bond and a settlement was worked out with the Walz Flying School. In August, Eshleman’s hearing was postponed indefinitely after his family agreed to pay for the lost airplane.

One might think that after this experience, Eshleman would have been committed to mental institution and would have never flown in an airplane again.

One would be quite wrong. More on that to come.


babe ruth006          Word had gotten around that Babe was back, the home run king of the American League had returned. Those who heard came to see him; some even took the trolley from Frederick to Thurmont and then switched to the Emmitsburg Railroad to make the rest of the journey to Emmitsburg. So when George Herman Ruth walked onto Echo Field at Mount St. Mary’s College on May 7, 1921, a crowd was there to greet him.

The Babe Discovered

It was far larger than the one that had greeted him when he made his first appearance on the field in 1913.

At that time, Ruth was a young man of 18 years who was playing baseball with the team from St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys of Baltimore. The school was a reformatory and orphanage. Ruth had been there since he was seven years old because his parents couldn’t care for him.

Brother Matthias Boutlier, the Head of Discipline at St. Mary’s Industrial School, introduced Ruth to the game of baseball, which he quickly took to. The team made the trip to Mount St. Mary’s in 1913 to play a commencement day game against the Mount St. Mary’s freshman baseball team as an opener to the alumni game that featured college alumni playing against the varsity team.

The odds looked good for the alumni to win in 1913. They had Joe Engel, a pitcher for the Washington Senators, on the mound for them. He was able to play in the game since Sunday baseball wasn’t allowed in Washington D.C. at the time and so he was off work.

Engel had once been something special in his own right. When he had attended the Mount, he had lettered in track, baseball, basketball and football. He also pitched a perfect game while on the Mount baseball team. He pitched in the Major League from 1912 until 1920. Once he was sent to the Minor League, Engel would show himself to be an excellent scout. He eventually became known as one of the greatest scouts and baseball promoter in the history of the game.

It could be argued that that talent first began to show itself in Engel in 1913. He was among the crowd who watched Ruth, who stood 6 foot 2 inches tall and weighed 170 pounds, strike out 18 of the 20 batters he faced.

“The St. Mary’s pitcher caught Engel’s eye, partly because of his fastball and partly because of his haircut. Ruth—he was the pitcher, of course—no longer wore his hair cropped short but instead was wearing it in the most mature hair style, that he, Engel, had ever seen on a school kid,” Henry Thomas wrote in Walter Johnson: Baseball’s Big Train. The haircut apparently was tightly clipped on the sides and “roached” or waved over his forehead. According to Thomas it was “in the mode highly favored by bartenders and other cool cats of the day.”

Engel said later of his first impression of Ruth, “He really could wheel that ball in there, and remember, I was used to seeing Walter Johnson throw. This kid was a great natural pitcher. He had everything.”

Then once the game had ended, Ruth cleaned himself up and joined the band to play the bass drum.

That evening on a train to Baltimore, Engel ran into Jack Dunn, the owner and manager of the Baltimore Orioles, which was a Minor League team that had no connection to the current Major League team with the same name. Engel knew Dunn professionally and the two began to talk during the ride. When Dunn heard that Engel had been playing in his alma mater’s alumni game, he asked if anyone on the college’s team showed promise. Engel began talking about the young pitcher he had seen who could also play the drums.

“He’s got real stuff,” Engel told Dunn.

It was the first time Ruth’s name was mentioned professionally, according to Tom Meany a writer who has written extensively about Babe Ruth.

Dunn made a note of the name, but he didn’t immediately act on it. That came later when another person with a keen eye for baseball praised Ruth’s ability.

“Then Dunn heard the same name from Brother Gilbert when he went to scout a possible pitcher at St. Joseph’s. Brother Gilbert, wanting to keep his own player in school and pitching for St. Joseph’s, began to extol the natural talent of a kid named Ruth over at St. Mary’s. Dunn decided it was time to see for himself,” wrote Wilborn Hampton in Babe Ruth: A Twentieth-Century Life.

Dunn went to St. Mary’s Industrial School and watched Ruth pitch during a workout for half an hour and signed him to a contract for $250 a month on February 14, 1914.

babe ruth002George Becomes Babe Ruth

By July, Ruth had made the jump to the Boston Red Sox to play in the Major League. He got his first victory pitching during his major league debut on July 11. He was sent back to the Minor League for awhile and returned as a starter the following year. That season his record was 18-8 and his batting average was .315. The Red Sox won that year’s World Series and though Ruth played in it, he grounded out during his only time at bat.

By 1918, the Red Sox began to recognize Ruth’s ability as a hitter. They began using him less as a pitcher and more as a hitter. That year, he led the American League in home runs and the following year, he would set his first single-season home run record (29 home runs).

Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees in December 1919. During the 1920 season, Ruth hit 54 home runs with a .376 batting average, again setting records. His .847 slugging average would stand for more than 80 years.

This was the legend that returned to Mount St. Mary’s. Discovered as a teenage pitcher here, he was now returning as the home run king.

The King Returns

It was big news for Frederick County. Although The Frederick Post didn’t routinely report on Emmitsburg news, it included a paragraph in its May 7 edition noting: “’Babe’ Ruth, the home run king of the American League, spent last night at Mt. St. Mary’s College. He passed through Frederick by auto about  8:30 o’clock yesterday evening. He will return to Frederick early this morning making the return trip by automobile. He will pass through Frederick again between 8 and 8:30 o’clock.”

When Ruth had arrived at Mount St. Mary’s College on Friday evening, he visited the faculty and met them. Then visited a study hall to meet with students there and talk with them. It was there that the students convinced him to spend the night and give a demonstration of the talent that had made him a legend the next morning.

The good-natured Ruth relented and word spread quickly that Ruth would be giving a hitting demonstration the next morning. And so, when Ruth stepped onto Echo Field the next morning, a crowd had gathered to see the man who was on his way to becoming a baseball icon.

“Time after time mighty shouts went up as the Terror of Twirlers sent the white pellet first over the tennis courts in right field and then over the bank in left. For nearly an hour, the King of Swat stood up to the plate and golfed the horsehide to all corners of the lot. He slammed them anywhere and everywhere. Slow ones, fast ones, it made no difference to the ‘Bam,’ he hit them all right on the old nose,” The Mountaineer reported.

Mike Gibbons, director of the Babe Ruth Museum, said, “He hit monstrous flies and let people catch them. He also let the pitcher strike him out, which the crowd loved.”

Ruth stopped only because he needed to get on the road to be elsewhere, but he was besieged by fans who wanted a picture with him or signed balls and bats and “one guy presented a tattoo needle to stamp a little remembrance on for keeps,” according to The Mountaineer.

Ruth left Emmitsburg and drove to Washington where he played in a game against the Senators where he hit his eighth home run of the season.

The 1921 baseball season was a good year for Ruth. He hit 59 home runs, batted .378 and had a slugging average of .846 and led the Yankees to their first league championship.

babe ruth001





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