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The Last Reunion (part 2)

Note: As the publication of my new book, Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy draws closer, I thought that I would give you a preview of the book by publishing the first chapter over the next few weeks. The story is a biography of Chuck Caldwell, a WWII Marine who fought at Tarawa and Guadalcanal. He also worked in Nevada with the above-ground atomic bomb tests, attended the 75th, 100th, 125th and 150th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg, and is a sculptor of miniature figures that are highly sought after. If you are interested in pre-ordering a copy of the book at a 25% discount off the cover price and free shipping in the U.S., contact me at jimrada@yahoo.com. As always, let me know what you think.

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Chuck Caldwell at age 14, posing for a picture with Stephen Howe, a Confederate Civil War veteran, at the 75th reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1938.

When the Caldwells finished their vacation in Gettysburg, they drove further east through York, Pennsylvania[i], which had served as the national capital in 1777 when the British drove the politicians from Philadelphia, and then through the heart of Amish country in Lancaster County. They finally stopped at Valley Forge. Oddly enough, the Revolutionary War site where Gen. George Washington’s Continental Army had encamped for the winter and suffered through starvation, disease, and malnutrition brought back memories of Chuck’s paper route in Orrville.

Chuck delivered the Courier-Crescent, Orrville’s daily newspaper, tossing papers to front stoops as he pedaled his bicycle through his hometown. On one section of his route, though, he had to dismount his bike and hike up a steep hill past the Crown Hill Cemetery at the intersection of Crown Hill Road and West High Street.

“On winter days, I was always imagining myself at Valley Forge, climbing up this hill in the deep snow and then having the person I was going to see not pay me for the week,” Chuck recalled.[ii]

He enjoyed the visit to Valley Forge, but it was the Civil War and the Battle of Gettysburg that stuck in his memory. Part of the reason for his interest in history, and in particular, the Civil War, was that his great-grandfather had fought in the war.

Private Isaac Caldwell had served in the First Tennessee Volunteers as part of Archer’s Brigade.[iii] A Union cavalry officers is believed to have fired the first shot in the Battle of Gettysburg at 7:30 a.m. on July 1, 1863. When the Confederate Army was still three miles west of Gettysburg. The Confederate Army halted and sent out skirmishers. Confederate General James Archer’s brigade encountered little resistance at first. Union infantry flanked Archer and caught him by surprise. Archer started a retreat through the woods and across Willoughby Run. Archer and 300 of his men were surrounded and captured.[iv] Private Caldwell’s company had marched near the front of the Confederate Army as it approached Gettysburg. Isaac was also one of the early casualties in the battle when he was wounded at Willoughby Run.[v] He had survived the battle and the war, though, unlike thousands of other men.

In the 1930s, those whom the Civil War had not taken were slowly being picked off by time. Isaac Caldwell had died in 1885 and by 1938, only an estimated 8,000 Civil War veterans were still alive out of the more than 3.2 million men who had served in the armed forces.[vi] Chuck wished that he could have met all of them. He certainly gave it his best effort, but there was only so much that a fourteen-year old could do.

His father, George, who was the pastor at the Orrville Presbyterian Church, often spoke at other churches or meetings of pastors that were held outside of Orrville. Whenever he did, George would pour through the local newspapers and ask about whether there were any Civil War veterans living in the towns he visited. If there were, George would call them and make an appointment to stop by and get a picture, autograph, and some biographical information about them. Then he would give Chuck the mementos when he returned home.[vii]

Family members who knew of Chuck’s interest would save stories about Civil War veterans that popped up in their hometown newspapers from time to time. They would clip them carefully and mail them off to Chuck. He would open the envelopes like they were Christmas presents and read the stories looking for new information and names. Then he would paste the clippings into a scrapbook.

Chuck would often write to the veterans whose addresses he could find. He would pepper them with questions about their service in the Civil War, the battles they had fought, the hardships they had endured, and the training they had received. A good number of the veterans wrote him back. Chuck corresponded with some of them right up until they died.[viii]

Clay Soldiers

[i] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

[ii] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

[iii] Diana Loski, “A World War II Veteran Remembers,” The Gettysburg Experience, July 2014, 25.

[iv] Tim Smith, “The First Day at Gettysburg: Then and Now,” Civil War Trust (http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/gettysburg/gettysburg-2011/gettysburg-then-and-now.html?referrer=https://www.mypoints.com/) accessed October 16, 2015.

[v] Diana Loski, “A World War II Veteran Remembers,” The Gettysburg Experience, July 2014, 25.

[vi] Frank N. Britchner Collection scrapbook. Unsigned article. “Camp Aftermath.” The Frank N. Britchner Collection scrapbook is part of the Adams County (Pa.) Historical Society collection. It is part of a donation by a pharmacist who lived in Gettysburg at the time of the fiftieth reunion of the Battle of Gettysburg. The scrapbook is a collection of articles written during the 1913 and 1938 reunions. Many come from the Baltimore American, but many others have been clipped from the newspaper and so the origin is uncertain.

[vii] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

[viii] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

The Last Reunion (part 1)

Note: As the publication of my new book, Clay Soldiers: One Marine’s Story of War, Art, & Atomic Energy draws closer, I thought that I would give you a preview of the book by publishing the first chapter over the next few weeks. The story is a biography of Chuck Caldwell, a WWII Marine who fought at Tarawa and Guadalcanal. He also worked in Nevada with the above-ground atomic bomb tests, attended the 75th, 100th, 125th and 150th anniversaries of the Battle of Gettysburg, and is a sculptor of miniature figures that are highly sought after. If you are interested in pre-ordering a copy of the book at a 25% discount off the cover price and free shipping in the U.S., contact me at jimrada@yahoo.com. As always, let me know what you think.

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One of the more than four dozen Civil War veterans whom Chuck Caldwell met at the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. He had each one sign his autograph book and have his picture taken with Chuck.

Chuck Caldwell woke in the morning and wondered if he should cluck. The fourteen-year old boy had spent the night sleeping in a chicken coop with his father.[i] Not that the chickens were sharing the drafty wooden building with them. The roosts and nest boxes were empty, but the smell of feathers and feces hung in the air to remind him that clucking hens had once called the building home.

 

The chickens could have it back as far as Chuck was concerned. The low, wooden building with rows of wooden boxes mounted on three walls might be a fine home for chickens, but it hadn’t been the most-comfortable place for Chuck to sleep. Throwing a mattress into a chick coop hadn’t turned it into a bedroom, either. Whenever Chuck had shifted on the thin mattress, he could feel the wire-mesh that served as a floor sink under him.[ii] If he looked over the edge of the mattress, he could stare through the mesh to the hard-packed earth two feet below him. He actually hadn’t minded the open floor too much. It had provided ventilation to keep it from getting too hot in the small building during the warm July night. The gentle draft from below also kept the smell from becoming overwhelming. However, it had also allowed mosquitoes and other flying insects into the coop to disturb their sleep.

Chuck’s mother and older sister would be glad that they hadn’t come along on this trip. He didn’t think that they all could have fit into the cramped eight-foot-by-eight-foot building, and Chuck couldn’t imagine them sleeping here. When Barbara heard about this, his sister would probably start calling him some stupid name like “Chuck the Chicken” or “Cluck Cluck Chuck.” The taunts would be worth it, though. He and his father were here. He was in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where the tide of the Civil War had shifted.

The last day of June 1938, Chuck and his father had driven from their home in Orrville, Ohio, east along the Lincoln Highway.[iii] It was the first paved highway in the country and ran from New York to California.[iv] It made for a smooth ride in their Essex sedan, but it didn’t make the 315-mile trip any shorter. They had traveled over the Appalachian Mountains, through small towns with interesting names like Freedom, Turtle Creek, and Ligonier, and the big city of Pittsburgh, which was 150 times larger than Orrville.

The drive had taken most of the day. They had stopped for food and gas along the way, but the breaks were as short as Chuck could make them. He urged his father on, and they arrived in Gettysburg late in the evening, although it was still light out. When the sedan parked along Chambersburg Street, both Chuck and his father were anxious to get out of the car. George Caldwell had needed to stretch his cramped body, but Chuck had wanted out because they were in Gettysburg. The Gettysburg.

It was a legendary, almost mythical, place to the young teenager. Gettysburg was a town that was forever stuck in its past because of its connection with the pivotal battle of the Civil War. It had been a town of around 2,000 residents in 1863 when 150,000 troops fought on the fields around the town and in the streets of Gettysburg.[v] Chuck knew the names of the generals and officers who had fought there as well as he knew the names of his favorite baseball players. Lee. Meade. Chamberlain and so many others. Some were considered heroes, others villains, but they were all legends in Chuck’s mind.

Seventy-five years after the famous battle, the population was around 5,800 and that’s only if you counted permanent residents. In the summers, the population was at least double that as tourists visited the battlefield driving across the field where armies had once fought and thousands of soldiers died. Now hundreds of monuments had sprung up across the land like lonely sentinels to remind those visitors that they were on hallowed ground.

It wasn’t the Caldwells first visit to Gettysburg. That had been two years earlier in 1936 when Chuck had been twelve years old.[vi] That summer, the entire Caldwell Family, including Chuck’s mother, Ellen, and sister, Barbara, had arrived in Gettysburg for a family vacation. For Chuck, it had been a dream come true. There’d been no chicken coops for a bedroom then. The family had stayed at a tourist court in town and had hired a guide to lead them on a tour of the Gettysburg battlefield.

During the driving tour of the battlefield, Chuck marveled at the open, green fields interrupted occasionally with large stone monuments. The largest of them was the 110-foot-tall Pennsylvania State Memorial. It commemorated the 34,530 Pennsylvania soldiers who fought at Gettysburg, and it had been dedicated just in time for the last great reunion at Gettysburg in 1913. The 100-foot-square pedestal made from North Carolina granite had four corner towers connected by arches that support a dome and observation deck. The deck could be reached by a spiral staircase in the tower. Besides the panels with soldiers’ names, the walls also hold bas-relief sculptures. The memorial contained more than 1,400 tons of broken stone, more than 1,250 tons of granite, 740 tons of sand, more than 360 tons of cement, 50 tons of steel bars and 22 tons of marble.[vii]

Chuck had climbed one of the staircases in the towers to reach the deck. From the top of the monument, he had a commanding 360-degree view of the battlefield. He could see miles in any direction. He imagined soldiers dressed in blue or gray on foot and on horseback charging and firing rifles at each other. He looked at the tree lines, searching for cannons. He would have stopped at every gray stone monument if he had been able to in order to read what had been inscribed in stone.

For most of the tour, the guide sat in the front of the old Essex describing how the three-day battle in 1863 had progressed.

“As we would drive by the Peach Orchard, he’d tell us about it and then say, ‘And the fighting was mighty, mighty severe.’ Then we’d drive by the Wheatfield and he would tell us about what happened there and then say, ‘And the fighting was mighty, mighty severe,” Chuck recalled.[viii]

By the time the Caldwells reached their third or fourth stop on the tour where “the fighting was mighty, mighty severe”, Chuck and his sister were hiding their faces behind their hands, giggling and trying not to laugh out loud from the backseat of the car.[ix]

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The cover of Clay Soldiers, which will be available this spring.

[i] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell. Because of the number of interviews conducted with Chuck Caldwell between 2015 and 2016, they will be referred to as if they were a single interview.

[ii] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

[iii] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

[iv] Nebraska Tourism Commission, “History,” LincolnHighwayNebraskaByway.com (http://lincolnhighwaynebraskabyway.com/history) accessed August 26, 2015.

[v] Civil War Trust, “Ten Facts About Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863,” http://www.civilwar.org (http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/gettysburg/assets/ten-facts-about/ten-facts-about-gettysburg.html) accessed August 26, 2015.

[vi] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

[vii] Fiftieth Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, Report of the Pennsylvania Commission (Harrisburg, PA: William Stanley Ray, State Printer, 1913) p. 24.

[viii] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

[ix] Author interview with Chuck Caldwell.

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An old Bakerlite telephone. They were heavy, connected to the wall, and actually had to be dialed.

At 2 a.m. on January 5, 1958, the Fayetteville operator-assisted phone system went dead. The signal lights on the switchboards blinked out and would never again notify an operator of an incoming call. Paul Musselman, district manager for United Telephone, flipped a switch and a new system of circuits and lights sprang to life. Fayetteville had entered the modern communications age.

“We are sure our customers will like this new, faster and more versatile telephone service. It is easy to dial, and if customers follow the brief instructions which appear in the new telephone directory, they will enjoy fine results,” Musselman told the Public Opinion.

Residents could call directly between Fayetteville and Chambersburg, though long distance and information services still required operator assistance. The operators in the Fayetteville office of United Telephone at 250 Lincoln Way East had been allowed to transfer to job openings in Chambersburg or take early retirement.

United Telephone Company of Pennsylvania had previously been known as the Cumberland Valley Telephone Company of Pennsylvania based in Carlisle when it began offering phone service in 1915. Today, United Telephone is a subsidiary of  CenturyLink, Inc.

The switch from operator-assisted phone calls to direct dialing had been planned and worked on for months. With help from the Stromberg Carlson Company, United Telephone had strung miles of wire, installed new equipment and added circular phone dials to each phone in the Fayetteville area. Phone directories with all of the 1,000-plus phone numbers also had to be printed up.

The switchover was not unexpected. Fayetteville was a growing area and the time had come where the existing phone system needed to be expanded to handle the additional capacity.

“Fayetteville, one of the fastest growing telephone exchanges in Pennsylvania, now serves over 1,000 telephones, an increase of approximately 300 per cent in ten years,” the Public Opinion reported.

When a customer picked up a phone handset, he now heard a hum instead of an operator saying, “Number please.” However, customers couldn’t simply dial the phone numbers they used to ask an operator for. The changeover in systems also required that each user get a new phone number.

All of the new phone numbers in Fayetteville began with FL and were followed by five digits. When speaking a telephone number like FL65032, a person would say, “I need Flanders 6-5-0-3-2.”

The call volume after the switchover was light at first, but then it quickly picked up. By the afternoon of the first day for the new system, it was handling double the volume of phone calls that the old system had handled.

Because direct phone dialing was a new concept to most residents, seminars were set up at the local school to provide instruction on how to use the new phones to both students and adults.

While many areas did not get direct dialing until the 1950’s, it had been around since the 1930’s, though only in smaller areas. By 1959, when Fayetteville got direct dialing for local calls, direct-dialing long distance had been around for more than seven years.

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Many switchboard operators had to look for new work as direct dialing telephone service was introduced throughout the United States in the mid-20th century.

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Rapunzel’s Castle at Fantasyland.

When Fantasyland opened in Gettysburg, Pa., it was immediate hit. The Gettysburg Times noted in 1959, “’Fantasyland,’ which is Gettysburg’s newest major tourist attraction, outgrew its facilities for handling crowds on the second day of its operation.” During the opening weekend, 4,500 people entered the park and that number quickly grew to 4,800 by the third weekend. Weekdays saw 500 to 700 people a day visiting the park.

“We never turned anybody away,” Jacqueline White said. She is the daughter of Kenneth and Thelma Dick who owned the amusement park.

A second entrance even had to be built to handle the weekend crowds.

White started working at the park when she was only eight years old. She played Little Red Riding Hood walking through the park and talking to the visitors. As she got older, she was assigned other duties. Even once she was married and working as a teacher, White and her husband still worked summers at the park.

“My husband, John, went to Dickinson Law School and worked at the park in the summer. I taught at Cumberland Valley High School and in summers worked at the park,” White said.

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The popular train ride around the park at Fantasyland.

Like their sister, Stephanie and Cythia, also grew up working in Fantasyland doing a variety of jobs.

“My oldest sister was mentally retarded and my parents always said that part of their reason for doing Fantasyland was to give her something to do,” White said. “She loved it there. She was down there all of the time.”

The park was also the first job that a lot of people in the area had since they could start working there as young as 14. During the season, the Dicks employed three dozen people at the park. Throughout the life of the park, White says there were more than 200 different employees.

“I still get people coming up to me and saying that working at Fantasyland was their first job,” White said.

The park even had the distinction of being visited by First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and her children, Caroline and John John, a couple times.

“The youngsters both had special things they wished to show their mother and sometimes, like most mothers with two small children, Mrs. Kennedy found herself being tugged in two different directions at once.”

President Eisenhower’s grandchildren also enjoyed visiting the park from time to time. In fact, Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Ann Eisenhower, worked at the park.

“Ann was Mother Goose when Jackie Kennedy came,” White said. “She talked to the kids and then ran down the stairs because one of the Secret Service men had been her Secret Service man, and she wanted to say, ‘Hi.’”

Not everything went smoothly at the park, though. Once the sky ride started making a funny noise, so the operator hit the emergency button and the ride halted with people still on it. The fire department had to come in with ladder trucks to get the stranded riders down.

White remembers another time when the squirrel monkeys and chimpanzees got loose from the live animal show.

“They ended up in Colt Park,” White said. “I remember the police running around trying to catch them. It was funny. I don’t remember how they did it, but they did finally trap all of them.”

The park also had its detractors who claimed that Fantasyland represented the over-commercialization of Gettysburg. During its first year in operation, the entrance to the park was opposite Meade’s Headquarters. Some editorials were written opposing the park’s location, but nothing could be done about it at the time.

Then in 1974, the National Park Service bought the property, but allowed the park another 10 years of operation. White said that the money was too much for her parents, who had grown up poor, to pass up.

Once the park was sold, the Dicks advertised through trade associations that the equipment and shows were for sale. Sports Paradise in New Concord, Ohio, eventually purchased everything. The park’s final season was 1980.

“They came in and cut the buildings apart, loaded everything on trucks and hauled it away,” White said.

You can still find some of the remnants of Fantasyland at other parks around the country. The carousel is at a park in Austin, Texas, and Mother Goose is at Storybook Land in New Jersey.

“I still go there sometimes just to see her,” White said. “They [the park owners] told me that people have come there and see her and recognize her as being from Fantasyland.”

Signs of the park locally are long gone and the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor’s Center now occupies land that was once part of Fantasyland, but there are still plenty of people in Gettysburg who remember when fairy tale characters used to live in the woods.

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Another local business, Musselman’s Apple Products, sponsored this attraction at Fantasyland.

 

 

 

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Children entered Fantasyland through a low entrance in a storybook.

It was a place a place where happy family memories were made, and now it only exists as happy family memories. Fantasyland entertained tens of thousands of youngsters and the young at heart from 1959 to 1980.

Kenneth and Thelma Dick had taken their family to the shore for a vacation in 1957. On their way home, they stopped at Storybook Land near Atlantic City, N.J. It was a small park, planned to entertain young children like the three Dick girls.

“My mother kept saying the whole time, ‘I could do better than this. This is so okay, but I could do something so cute,’” Jaqueline White said. She is the middle child of the three Dick girls between her sisters, Stephanie and Cynthia.

White’s parents spent the four hours of the drive home, planning the park and how they would market it. Because they wanted to locate it where there were a lot of people, the Dicks had decide on whether they would build their park in Lancaster or Gettysburg.

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Mother Goose greeted children as they entered Fantasyland.

Gettysburg won, in part because Kenneth Dick was from this area and was a graduate of Biglerville High School. However, the Dicks also had a strategic reason for locating the Fantasyland in Gettysburg.

“Parents bring their children to Gettysburg, and they will climb on the cannons and run across the field, but after an hour, they’ll be saying, ‘Dad, what else is there to do?’ Fantasyland gave little kids something to do,” White said.

The park opened in July 1959 and was called Fantasyland 1863. “This is Fantasyland…,” the brochure promised. “a world set apart…a world where stories…and dreams…of elves and fairies…and all the storybook characters come to life…in a beautiful setting with the ‘gentle look’ of long ago.”

To enter the park, you had to walk through a short door that part of a large storybook. The door was only five feet tall. If a person walked in without stooping, he or she was charged the children’s price of 60 cents. People who stooped were charged adult admission of a dollar.

“We had a lot of grandmothers get in for the children’s price,” White said. “They loved it.”

The first thing a person saw walking into the park was a 23-foot-tall Mother Goose statue with her goose. A girl in the storybook office could see visitors approaching the statue and speak to them through a microphone, which delighted the younger children. A few keen observers will note that Mother Goose changed her appearance during the park’s life. A fire burned the original statue’s head off and a new one was built to replace it.

Children could also talk to a number of different live costumed characters, such as Raggedy Ann and Andy, Little Bo Beep, the Easter Bunny, or a Fairy Princess.

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The cover of the original park map for Fantasyland.

The park was originally 23 acres, but grew over time to 35 acres as new attractions were added. While most of the attractions had a storybook character theme like the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe or Rapunzel’s Castle, you could also visit Santa’s Village, watch a Wild West Show, take in an animal show where rabbits and chickens had been trained to play baseball, basketball, and the piano. The park featured 11 rides, four live shows, and a number of displays.

“The Winter Wonderland started out as a scary inside ride, but we bought it and my mother transformed it into the Winter Wonderland,” White said.

Thelma had a gift for things like that. She created beautiful gardens throughout the park and designed many of the attractions. On a Christmas trip to New York City, she enjoyed the window displays in Macy’s so much that she walked into the store and bought all of the displays. She then had buildings constructed with each one holding a moving Christmas display. This became Santa’s Village. Musselman’s even paid for apple-oriented attraction to be constructed at the park.

“I liked it best at night,” White said. “We stayed open until 10 p.m. and we had the trees full of colored lights that we turned on. It was beautiful.”

This was all amid a wooded setting with trails that wound through landscaped gardens. You could also see plenty of live animals, such as tame fawns, trained rabbits, calves, and raccoons.

1280px-Approaching_OmahaDonald Lewis stood crammed among a group of friends and fellow soldiers trying not to lose his balance. The landing craft they were on was pushing toward its destination on Omaha Beach at Normandy, France. A strong current threatened to pull them away from their destination.

Lewis was a long way from his hometown of Thurmont, but he along with millions of other young men had been drafted to serve in the armed forces during World War II. Though he had entered the army as a private, he had risen to the rank of staff sergeant.

Lewis stood at the front of the landing craft hanging onto the edge of the wall. Around him, he could hear the explosion of artillery and see the explosions on the water or beach. Things seemed a mass of confusion, but it was all part of the largest seaborne invasion ever undertaken. The coordinated D-Day attack on German forces at Normandy, France. The invasion involved 156,000 Allied troops. Amphibious landings along 50 miles of the Normandy Coast were supported by naval and air assaults.

Lewis’s job in the invasion seemed simple. He was to go ashore first and mark paths across the irrigation ditches that crossed the beach.

However, the landing craft couldn’t make it to the beach. It grounded on a sandbar.

Lewis and the other men were still expected to take the beach, though. The front ramp of the landing craft was lowered and Lewis ran into the water. He suddenly found himself in water over his head, weighed down by a heavy backpack.

“I just had to hold my breath and walk part of the way underwater until my head was above water,” Lewis said.

The Germans started firing on the beach and the landing craft. Lewis focused on his job and began marking the paths where troops could cross.

“When I looked back, men were laying everywhere,” Lewis said. “Just about everyone on the boat was dead.”

After the war, when he was invited back to Normandy for the anniversary of the D-Day invasion, Lewis always turned down the invitations. Now 96 years old, he has never returned to Omaha Beach.

“I’ve seen all I wanted to,” he said.

Though amazingly not wounded during that invasion, he was later wounded in the leg during an artillery barrage. He wound was near his groin and barely missed his groin. Lewis remembers laying in a hospital in England waiting to be taken into surgery.

“A big, ol’ English nurse comes walking up and she pulls back the sheet and looks at the wound,” Lewis said. “Then she said to me, ‘Almost got your pride and joy, didn’t they?’”

1010141238Another time, Lewis barely escaped being killed. He and other soldiers were up in trees along a road, waiting to ambush the Germans. However, the Germans were being careful that day.

“A sniper must have spotted me up there,” Lewis said. “I knew he hit my helmet. I started down that tree as fast as I could grabbing limbs and dropping.”

When he got to the ground, he took off his helmet and saw that there was a hole through the front of it and a matching one through the back of it. Only the fact that his helmet had been sitting high on his head saved his life.

“People wondered why I didn’t bring the helmet home as a souvenir, but I didn’t want anything to do with it,” Lewis said.

Perhaps his most-pleasant memory from the war was when he was discharged from the army. He was in line with other soldiers being discharged after the end of the war. The soldier at the front of the line would walk up to the officer at the front of the room, receive his discharge papers, salute, and walk away.

“When I got my papers, I let out a war whoop and woke that place up,” Lewis said.

Once back in Thurmont, Lewis went to work on the family farm. He met his wife, Freda, who was a farm girl also from Thurmont and they married in a double ceremony with a couple they were friends with.

Lewis also had a political career. He served two terms as Mayor of Thurmont and one term as a Frederick County Commissioner. He said a group of people tried to talk him into running for governor, but he turned them down, saying, “I’m too honest for that.”

He is now 96 years old and still living on his own. “I want to live to be 100,” he said. “After that, I’ll take what I can get.”

Veterans’ Day is on Nov. 11. Make sure to thank any veterans you know for their service and attend one of the special Veterans’ Day activities going on in the area.

 

 

 

 

 

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On the day that construction began on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal on July 4, 1828, the pressure was on the work crews to get dig the 184.5-mile-long ditch to Cumberland as quickly as possible.

Why the rush? The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad broke ground in Baltimore for its construction began on the same day and Cumberland was the prize for both the canal and railroad.

The C&O Canal crews worked hard digging the canal and building 160 culverts, 74 lift locks and 11 aqueducts. However, the canal has only one tunnel—the Paw Paw Tunnel—and it was a major reason why the B&O Railroad beat the C&O Canal to Cumberland by eight years.

Construction

When planning out the route of the C&O Canal, it could have continued to follow the Potomac River through southeastern Allegany County, weaving along the Paw Paw Bends or cut through a mountain. Following the bends in the river would have been the easier course, but cutting a tunnel through the mountain would save five miles and could be done in two years, according to the engineering estimates.

The contractor chosen to dig the tunnel was a former Methodist minister named Lee Montgomery. He began hiring men to work on the tunnel in June 1836. The crews worked from either end of the tunnel digging into the mountain and from above cutting down into the mountain.

Four shafts were dug into the mountain to work from above the mountain. They were set in pairs; one shaft of each pair allowed for debris removal and the other was for ventilation. The northernmost pair of shafts was 122 feet deep and the southernmost pair of shafts was 188 feet deep.

The crews initially blasted away large areas of rock with black powder and then shaped the tunnel with picks and shovels. The rubble was hauled out of the tunnel with horse carts.

“The workers were not experts at blasting, and there was a great deal of overbreakage; the excavation was 40 percent larger than needed,” Elizabeth Kytle wrote in Home on the Canal.

Once excavated, the tunnel arch was formed from layer upon layer of bricks. According to Kytle, the Paw Paw Tunnel lining is 13 layers of brick deep with some places having up to 33 layers. Any open spaces remaining above the arch were backfilled with the excavated material.

“The slaty rock was reasonably hard, but loose enough to make frequent trouble by caving in. It was dangerous work and it went at a snail’s pace,” Kytle wrote.

Montgomery had projected before construction began that his crews would be able to bore out seven to eight feet a day. The reality turned out to be that his crews working three shifts each day only managed 10 to 12 feet a week.

Because of the C&O Canal Company’s financial problems, work was suspended on the tunnel from 1842 to 1847 and construction didn’t restart until November 1848. It was completed by a different contractor, McCulloh and Day, and opened for navigation on October 10, 1850.

The final 3,118-foot-long tunnel is called “the greatest single engineering achievement on the canal,” by the National Park Service. It is 22 feet wide and 24 feet wide and sheathed in more than 11 million bricks.

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Though the Paw Paw tunnel was an engineering marvel, it was narrow for purposes of the canal. While the canal was designed so that boats could pass each other going in opposite directions, the towpath and canal bed through the Paw Paw Tunnel were both only wide enough for one set of canal mules and one canal boat to move through the tunnel.

Because of the length of the tunnel, a canaller upon reaching one entrance of the tunnel could tell if another boat was already in the tunnel, but it was impossible to tell if the boat was approaching or heading away. The canallers started lighting colored lanterns fore and aft on their boats to distinguish direction. A green lantern was hung fore and a red lantern was hung aft. That way, other canallers could tell whether boats in the tunnel were coming or going.

If the boat was showing a green light, the canal boat captain knew that the boat was approaching and pulled over to wait.

Not that problems still didn’t arise.

Some canal boat captains who were in a rush or just plain cranky, refused to yield the right of way to boats in the tunnel. George Hooper Wolfe tells one of the stories in his book I Drove Mules on the C&O Canal.

Two captains—Jim McAlvey and Cletus Zimmerman—and their boats met in the middle of the tunnel. Neither man wanted to back up, and the captains got into a fist fight over who had the right of way. Then things escalated.

“A gun was drawn and would have been used but for the quick action of a mule driver who knocked the gun from the captain’s hand into the Canal,” Wolfe wrote.

Other boats began entering the canal from both ends of the tunnel and soon the tunnel was filled with boats. As day gave way to evening, crew members of each boat began starting corn cob fires in their cabin stoves to cook meals. Before too long, the tunnel began filling with smoke from the stoves and making staying in the tunnel very uncomfortable.

This sped up negotiation and the captains reached an agreement so that the boats could start moving again.

When traffic on the canal reached its peak during the 1870’s, a watchman was hired to help regulate the traffic at the Paw Paw Tunnel and keep it from becoming a bottleneck. The watchman enforced the Canal Company rules for using the tunnel and could fine canal boat captains $10 for violating them.

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The Tunnel Today

After decades of struggling to be successful, the C&O Canal closed for good in 1924. The federal government eventually bought it $2 million, originally planning to turn it into a parkway. However, public sentiment changed the government’s intention and the C&O Canal became a national park instead.

Even today, the Paw Paw Tunnel is still an impressive structure on the C&O Canal and it is still isolated. While there is a parking area just off Route 51 between Paw Paw, W.Va., and  Oldtown, visitors still have to walk about half a mile along the towpath to reach the tunnel.

A flashlight is recommended if you want to walk through the tunnel since it is quite dark and there is no interior lighting. It will also allow you to see some of the features of the tunnel, including the weep hole (openings in the brick liner that allow water to pass through), the rope burns on the wooden railing and the brass plates the serve as 100-foot markers inside the tunnel.

Visitors can also hike a steep two-mile long, Tunnel Hill Trail, over the mountain. This trail passes by where the canal builders lived while the tunnel was being built.

 

 

 

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