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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.


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.



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