The Arion Band performing in 1908 in Frostburg. Courtesy of the Albert and Angela Feldstein Collection.

For longer than anyone has been alive today, Frostburg, Md., has always had the Arion Band. Before Alexander Graham Bell said, “Mr. Watson, come here I need you,” Watson could listened to the band playing a march or other popular piece of music.

Through the Great Depression and victory at war, the Arion Band brought joy to Western Marylanders and celebrated with them whether it was a holiday or victory at war. Even as music styles changed, the Arion Band kept up with them and adapted.

“The Arion Band is believed to be the oldest, continually operating band in the country,” says Blair Knouse, president of the band. You might find bands that have been around longer, they have gaps in their history where most likely they weren’t performing for a time.

While the Arion Band’s membership fluctuates from season to season, it maintains about 30 active members who love making music, much like the founders of the band. Knouse has played flute with the band for five years.

Back in 1875, German coal miners in the Frostburg area formed a chorus that performed locally. The following year, the chorus purchased instruments so that the singers would have some accompaniment. Local furniture maker Conrad F. Nichol organized the musicians into the German Arion Band and became its first director.

“By 1877, they were saying, ‘This is fun. Let’s forget about singing,’” says band director Ron Horner, who has been in that position since 1995 and is only the seventh director that the band has had.

The band started practicing at the Gross and Nichol Furniture Store on February 5, 1879. This was where they continued to practice until the store burned down in 1888.

“The blaze claimed instruments, uniforms, music, and even the director as Mr. Nichol set about rebuilding his business,” Jay Stevens wrote in his history of the band, which was included in the program for the 125th anniversary performance.

Band members and residents of communities in the area bought new instruments for the band and rehearsals continued in the Odd Fellows Hall in Frostburg.

In 1889, while under the direction of the second band director, John Miller, the band was sworn in at the 4th Battalion Band, a component of the Maryland State Militia. The band nearly went to war during the Spanish-American War.

“The entire band was drafted en masse as an army band, but then the war ended so they wound up not going into the war,” Knouse says.

As anti-German sentiment rose during World War I, the band, under the direction of its third director, George Vogtman, decided to drop “German” from its name.

During the Great Depression and much of World War II, R. Hilary Lancaster led the band. He was followed by Darrell Zeller, who led the band from 1943 until 1989. George McDowell led the band from 1989 until 1995.

Now in its 138th year, the Arion Band continues playing each summer season from mid-May through mid-September. During the season, they will play around 10 performances. They stay local playing at festivals, nursing home, and sporting events. Practices are held in the Arion Band Hall on Uhl Street, which was built in 1900.

“The furthest we’ve ever traveled since I’ve been a member is Altoona to play for at an Altoona Curves baseball game,” Knouse says.

However, the band did travel by train to Luray, Va., where it performed in the caverns, according to Stevens’ history.

The band gets its name from the ancient Corinthian, Arion He was a poet who was known for his musical invents, including the dithyramb. He is also remembered for the Greek myth of being kidnapped by pirates and thrown overboard, only to be rescued by dolphins.

All of the members are volunteers, who participate because they love playing music. They range from middle-school students to retired musicians.

“We have a lot of nice history and multiple generations playing,” Knouse says. This includes a father and daughter who play trumpets, in-laws, aunts, and cousins from local families.

There was time in its early years when musicians had to try out for the band. Once in the band, there was competition to play in the first seat for a particular instrument. This meant that musicians were serious about their practicing.

“If you were talking, they could hold your instrument for a week so that you couldn’t practice,” says Vice President Jeanette Tucker.

In modern times, the band has been open to anyone who has a desire to play music.

“We will work with whoever comes to play,” Tucker says. “The ones who don’t fit in kind of weed themselves out.”

She joined the band 19 years ago after she heard them performing at the Frostburg Soapbox Derby Day.

“I heard them play and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to be a part of,’” Tucker says.

Any money the band gets from its performances are used to pay the band’s expenses, such as travel and hall upkeep.

“We keep going because we have a sense of responsibility to keep the tradition alive and keep it going,” Horner says.

One way the band keeps that tradition alive is through their music choices. Horner’s job as director is to find the music that will appeal to the audiences that they play for. This has led to an evolving repertoire that remains top quality.

The musicians themselves are another reason for the longevity of the band. Once members join, they tend to remain with the band because it is fun and they form close relationships with the other members.

“We create something together that no one can do individually,” Horner says.


Editor’s Note: This is the final article in a series of three articles about the great Ransom train wreck in 1905.


Courtesy of Thurmontimages.com.

The first report of the deadly Western Maryland Railroad train wreck to reach Thurmont was on Saturday, June 17. It said that 40 to 60 people had been killed. The numbers slowly dropped as more became known and passengers and crew were accounted for. In all, 26 people died and 11 were injured. It was, and remains, the worst accident in the history of the Western Maryland Railway.

“The scenes of agony and distress at the homes of dead victims of the accident cannot be described. They were harrowing in the extreme, and those who witnessed them will never forget the wails of widowed women, orphaned children and relatives of the dead,” the American Sentine reported.

It could have been worse, though. Reports credit the Engineer George Covell of the No. 5 with reducing the casualties, though he didn’t survive himself. He applied the emergency air brakes as soon as he recognized the problem. The track was curving at the collision point so that “the force of the impact was much less upon the coaches than it would have been in a direct line. Railroad men say it is extremely probable that if the collision had occurred on a straight track the coaches would have been telescoped and the passengers subjected to frightful loss of life,” according to the American Sentinel.

The towns affected the most by the wreck were Thurmont and Catoctin Furnace, having 17 of their men killed and seven injured. It also left 13 women widowed and 38 children fatherless according to The New York Times.

“Close family ties and friendships existed among these people. No one was untouched by the tragedy which left a number of widows and fatherless children and dominated thinking in the village for Catoctin Furnace for years,” Elizabeth Anderson wrote in Faith in the Furnace.

With such a large number of the dead coming from a small community, many of the dead were related. McClellan Sweeney was the father of Frank and William Sweeney and brother of Harry. Charles Miller and Charles Kelly were brothers-in-law and E. M. Miller was Charles Miller’s son.

E.M Miller, who escaped injury, helped the reporters identify many of the dead and would not take any payment for the service. When he had finished helping the reporters, he turned to them and said, “My father, Charles T. Miller, and my uncle, Charles Kelly, are both in the wreck and I am sure they are both dead.” He said it with dry eyes, but the newspaper report noted that it was apparent he was “stunned and dazed by the magnitude of the calamity,”  American Sentinel reported.

Residents poured out to the local train station in a macabre replay of the townspeople’s regular Wednesday ritual.

“Many of the locals would go to the Thurmont station every Wednesday and take baskets with good things to eat,” George Wireman wrote about the wreck. “They sent them down the line to their family who were working on the railroad.”

On this June night, food was far from their thoughts as residents gathered to await word of whether their sons, fathers and brothers were among the casualties.

Some survivors arrived after midnight, bringing more accurate and horrifying accounts.

On Sunday, June 18, word spread that a train would arrive with the dead at 7 p.m. The train didn’t arrive until about 12:30 a.m. Monday, but the people were still waiting, as was a hearse driven by undertakers Clarence Creager and Elmer Black.

“During that whole of Sunday great throngs of people were at the station waiting for the train that should bring home the silent disfigured forms of those who had gone forth strong and well. It was about 12:30 a.m. when the first shipment of bodies arrived and then came the long procession of hearses and wagons through the town and in the peaceful moon light wended their way to the Catoctin grief stricken homes where the majority of the dead men lived in life,” reported The Catoctin Clarion.

Seventeen funerals were held in Thurmont over the next two days. Out of respect for the town’s loss, all the local businesses in Thurmont closed Monday during the funerals.

Because the dead were all employees of the Western Maryland Rail Road, it quickly became apparent there was no relief plan to help the families with their loss.

“If there had been, these unfortunate men would have under that system, provided for their families in case of death,” a newspaper editorial in The Catoctin Clarion noted.

The Western Maryland Rail Road was running its normal schedule two days after the accident; the same day the dead in Thurmont and Catoctin Furnace were being buried. The accident didn’t tear up any track so the only impediment was the wreckage that needed to be removed. For them, business would go on as usual.

The legal authorities in Carroll County where the wreck happened decided not to hold an inquest about the accident for which they received a lot of criticism, according to the American Sentinel.  The State’s Attorney decided that the inquest was not needed because not only was the cause of the accident known but those responsible for the accident had been killed in the collision. Just a week earlier the Carroll County Commissioners had passed an order that the county wouldn’t pay for inquests that weren’t required. “Under the provisions of these articles inquests are only necessary in the cases of persons who die in jail or when the cause of death is unknown and there is a reason to suspect a felony. Neither of these contingencies are applicable to the wreck case and Mr. Steele considers that it would be an unnecessary expenditure of the people’s money to hold an inquest in the case,” the American Sentinel reported.

Even if the state’s attorney had been able to prosecute those responsible for the accident, it wouldn’t have brought back the fathers, brothers, husbands and son who died on the tracks at Ransom.


Research can be addictive.


… And helps with historical treatment.

I hated history in my youth. But now? I love research. It takes my mind to places that existed long before and can exist again in a historical novel.

The Library of Congress – Historical Newspapers – can take you back to the late 1800’s. I needed 1901 so I found myself in good shape (except I spent hours upon hours finding interesting articles that had nothing to do with my MS, The Last Bordello.) Once I focused, ALL these articles played a pivotal role in my plot line. (I had many more, these are just a few.)

Let’s start with the secondary, still-important, characters and work our way down to Madam Fannie Porter.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union:


Now, for a sense of place:


The politicians, Mayor Hicks, former Mayor Bryan Callaghan, Captain James Van Riper:


The “then” never solved murder ofHelen…

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Two trains collide in Ransom

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of three articles about the great Ransom train wreck in 1905.


Courtesy of Thurmontimages.com.

On June 17, 1905, around 5:55 p.m., near Ransom, a little village southeast of Patapsco, Md., in Carroll County, the Blue Mountain Express and a freight train collided head-on.

“Just west of the bridge, they came together with terrific force, the three engines being piled one upon another, fortunately in such a manner that sufficient steam connections were broken, to relieve the boilers, and thus prevent the further horror of one or more explosions,” reported The Washington Post.

“After the freight train whizzed past Patapsco, it was only a couple of minutes and it sounded like the whole train rolled down the track. The noise was terrific! I never heard such an awful noise like that!” said 13-year-old Emil A. Caple who was walking near the tracks on his way to the Patapsco Post Office and General Store.  

George C. Buckingham was a conductor on the freight train. He had just looked at his pocket watch and thought the train would be able to make up the five minutes it was running behind. As he put his watch back in his pocket, he felt “the awful plunging jar, crash and grind of wood and steel.”

“There was no time to move. The man ahead of me, a Washington doctor, dived out of his window; we were two seats from the front of the first coach, and I sprang to my feet and amid the groans and shrieks of the injured, I made my way out,” Cunningham told the Hagerstown Daily Mail.

The Frederick Daily News reported that the men who were sitting on the bumper suffered the greatest casualties.

“When the crash came the more fortunate, who were on the engine, jumped or were thrown from the train and were only injured. Those in the baggage car were terribly mangled, and the crews of all three engines were killed. Their bodies all believed to be under the wreckage of the engines,” reported The New York Times.

Flagman George Lynch was at the back of the freight train at the time of the collision. He was the only one of the nine crew members on the three engines to survive.

“There was a jar and then a succession of bumps, but I was not thrown down,” Lynch said.

Despite the impact of the engines in which “the three steam monsters were reduced to scrap iron,” none of the passenger coaches derailed. They all survived because of this, and “none of the passengers were injured aside from slight cuts, bruises and shocks,” according to one newspaper report.

Caple said that everyone who had heard the wreck came running. “I ran right along with them as fast as my legs could carry me. On the way down, we passed a man with a railroad flag in his hand running towards the Patapsco store. Somebody asked him, ‘What happened?’ He said, ‘My god, I don’t know.’ He ran up the track to telephone Westminster,” Caple said.

When Caple arrived at Ransom, it was hard for him to see the actual wreck because of all the steam escaping from busted engines and what he did see, he wished he hadn’t.

“People were crawling from the wreck scalded. Some were laying with arms and legs chopped off and screaming and crying were terrible. Carloads of lard in wooden barrels had burst open and many passengers were covered with it and rescue crews had to work in it up to the knees to pull people out. They told all of us to either help or we would have to leave. So no matter what age, every one of us pitched in to help.

“I helped pick up arms and legs. No one knew for sure who they belonged to, so they told us to give them to anybody who didn’t have one that it looked like they belonged to. I helped another man who was scalded. He kept crying that he was so cold, so I got a coat and put over him. They said he had been scalded inside and I believe he died.

“The whole bottom just west of the Patapsco River was strewn with wreckage and bodies and people calling for help.”

Westminster knew of the crash minutes after it happened. Captain H. Clay Eby, a former conductor on one of the trains involved in the crash, lived near the crash site. Though he couldn’t see the collision, he had recognized the sound and what it meant. He had a telephone in his house, so he called E.O. Grimes, the railroad agent in Westminster, and alerted him to the collision.

Once news of the wreck got out, a relief train was put together at Westminster and sent out to help. The injured were taken by train to a hospital in Baltimore. “Just before the first relief train taking the injured to the hospitals of Baltimore left the wreckage began to burn.”   Ambulances were also ordered to the scene. An express train following the freight train acted as a relief train for the other side and the passengers on both trains gave all possible aid to the victims.

George Stimmel, a laborer from Thurmont, was one of the passengers taken out of the wreck alive. He was taken to the Hotel Albion in Westminster, but he died the next morning. While on the relief train to Westminster, he “offered a touching and pathetic prayer for his wife and children, pleading earnestly that they might be supported by Almighty God and that the wife might be enabled to train up the children in the paths of christianity and righteousness.”

About 75 men from the Western Maryland and Northern Central railroads used two steam cranes to clear away the wreckage. “With two great steam cranes the three engines were righted and placed upon the tracks, then slowly towed down to the siding near Lawndale. The overturned cars, the broken and twisted axles and machinery were hauled out of the way, and watches, pocketbooks, blank books and other effects belonging to the victims of the wreck were collected,” reported The Catoctin Clarion.

Here are the other parts of the story:




On the road to disaster


Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of three articles about the great Ransom train wreck in 1905.

Train Wreck 003

Courtesy of Thurmontimages.com.

Perhaps the railroaders’ minds were on a tomorrow they would never see. Such thinking might, in part, explain some of their actions on June 17, 1905.

The Western Maryland Rail Road train schedule would change on Sunday, June 18, 1905, but that was tomorrow. On Saturday, June 17, Flagman George Lynch and other members of the freight train crew were waiting with their train on a siding at Gorsuch, Maryland.

Lynch’s eastbound train had pulled onto the siding at 4:25 p.m. to wait for three westbound trains to pass.

“While we were waiting we all got down from the train and sat on a pile of ties near the track. The two engineers and the conductors had their time cards and schedules and we talked for awhile about the time we were making, how long we had to wait for No. 5 and where we would run to after she passed,” Lynch recalled for the Catoctin Clarion.

Drawn by engines 41 and 43, Lynch’s freight train was 18 cars long and heavily laden with coal. Once the three westbound trains had passed, the line would be open for Lynch’s train to continue its eastbound journey to Baltimore, but with only one set of tracks to travel, the other trains had priority.

The crew waited for “considerably” more than an hour. The Union Bridge Accommodation, No. 17, passed on time. Then came the No. 11 Blue Mountain Express, also on time for its first trip of the season.

Lynch retold the events that followed to a newspaper reporter for the Catoctin Clarion.

With a few minutes left before the third westbound train, the No. 5 Thurmont Express, was scheduled to pass, Lynch walked away from the group to get some water at a nearby spring. When he returned, the engineers were in their respective engines. The firemen were shoveling coal into the fires to build up a head of steam.

“Jump on board if you’re going,” one of the engineers called.

Lynch looked at his watch once again. By his reckoning, they still had a few minutes before the train could leave, but he wasn’t going to be left behind. He grabbed a handrail and pulled himself aboard the moving train.

“Where are you fellows going to pass the No. 5?” Lynch called to the fireman.

“At Lawndale,” was the answer he thought he heard over the noise of the steam engine gathering speed.

Lynch couldn’t believe the answer. There wasn’t enough time to get to Lawndale if the No. 5 hadn’t already passed.

“For God’s sake, look at your watch!” Lynch shouted.

The fireman waved his hand at Lynch as if nothing was wrong. Lynch wondered if his watch was simply wrong.

“There were two engineers, the two conductors, and the fireman, five in all, who had the time and knew the schedules as well as I did,” Lynch said.

“Evidently, the engineers or conductors had gotten confused as to how many trains went by,” said local Thurmont historian and train enthusiast George Wireman in a 2005 interview. “But how they could get so mixed up about ordinary work has been a question mark for years.”

One suggestion raised by The Washington Post was, “The fact that a new schedule goes into effect tomorrow may have caused some confusion.” The new schedule had the westbound No. 5 nine minutes slower in reaching Westminster, Md., because a stop in Glyndon, Md., was added. If the crew was thinking that day that the No. 5 was on the new schedule, then they would have thought the train was further east, possibly about 4.5 miles further east than it was. Had this been the case, the freight train would have had time to reach the Lawndale siding.

Another possibility is that since the Blue Mountain Express was making its first run of the season that day, the crew might have been expecting only two trains and not three. However, according to Lynch’s version of events, the crew knew a third train was coming and thought they would have time to pull over.

Lynch said in the Frederick Daily News that he considered pulling down the air brakes, but he deferred to the greater experience of the other crewmen.

The No. 5 had left Hillen Station in Baltimore City, Md., on time at 5 p.m. About 100 passengers were aboard. The train had three passenger coaches and a baggage combination car. Most of the passengers sat in the coaches. It was eating up the route at 30 miles per hour.

The baggage car was filled with railroad workers, many of whom lived in Thurmont, Md. and Catoctin Furnace, Md., two towns next to each other in northern Frederick County. The workers – they were called “floaters” because they traveled to where they were needed to work – had boarded the train at Mount Hope, Md., where they had been working to repair the damage from a small freight wreck there during the week prior. The train was so crowded that some of the men had to sit on the bumpers between the baggage car and the engine tender and between the baggage car and the first passenger car.

It was a choice most of them would not live to regret.

Here are the other parts of the story:



Bertel_Thorvaldsen_-_CupidIt was a bit early for Valentine’s Day, but Gettysburg Burgess William G. Weaver was called on to serve a cupid in January 1950.

He announced at a meeting that he had received a letter addressed to the “Burgermeister” of “Gettysburgh.” The letter was “printed in German script,” according to the Gettysburg Times and was from two women in Hamburg, Germany.

Amelie Schmidt, 48, and Margarethe Lange, 45, wanted to correspond with single men in Adams County. Schmidt wrote that she weighed 170 pounds and Lange wrote that she weighed 155 pounds. Both women said that they were good cooks and housekeepers and they included pictures with the letters. However, since the women only spoke German, any interested male needed to be able to read and write German.

“Through a somewhat sketchy interpretation of it, the burgess deduced that the two women think they would like the United States much better than Germany, and would like to come here,” the Gettysburg Times reported.

Weaver announced a week later that he had gotten his first “nibble” from a man interested in the “friendship circle.” It didn’t come from an Adams County man, though. An unnamed Carlisle man called the burgess asking for the names and addresses of Lange and Schmidt.

“Adams county men may be more cautious, or maybe they haven’t got around to inquiring yet, but the female of the species has not been backward about expressing opinions,” the newspaper reported.

Weaver said that he had also received calls from two women who were outraged that Weaver announced the letter and its contents. Weaver told the newspaper that the gist of the calls was, “We’ve got enough old maids in Adams county now, we don’t need any more.”

The mail-order bride industry can trace its roots in the United States to the American West. The number of men in the West far outnumbered the women so it was difficult for men to find themselves wives.

Asian workers would arrange with a mail-order bride service for brides to come from China or other Asian countries to marry them. It was the business version of arranged marriages.

Successful western farmers and businessmen would write to churches and family in the East or ran advertisements looking for wives. The women would write and send pictures and a courtship would take place via mail until the women agreed to marry a man they had never met in person. They were willing to do this as a way to gain financial security and even explore life on the frontier.

The 1950 incident wasn’t the first time that the Gettysburg burgess had been asked to help arrange marriages. In the lead up to the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1913, a resident of St. James, Mo., wrote to Burgess J. A. Holtzworth in late May. He noted that he and a group of four or five other Missouri veterans were coming to Gettysburg for the reunion. They aged veterans were hoping that the burgess could direct them toward some single women.

The Missourian wrote, “…if you have got a few good widows or old maids who would like to marry and go west, we can accommodate a few. They must be good housekeepers and not too young.”

The Gettysburg Times reported that the burgess would forward the names and contact information of any women who were interested in applying “for the position of unsalaried housekeeper.”

It’s wasn’t reported whether the burgesses had any success in arranging marriages.

Some other Gettysburg stories that you might like:

Let it snow! Oh, no!



A road cleared of snow during the 1958 blizzard in Garrett County.

The call came in that Thomas J. Johnson needed an ambulance. He was seriously ill and needed to get to the hospital. Normally, it wouldn’t be a problem, but in early 1958, getting anywhere in Garrett County, Maryland, was to say the least difficult.

The ambulance attempted to reach him, but it couldn’t get through to Johnson’s Herrington Manor home. Help came in the form of bulldozers and snow plows that struggled to carve a path through drifting snow as high as 15 feet. It took six hours for the plows to reach the 67-year-old Johnson and rush him to Garrett Memorial.

During another incident that winter, Trooper First Class Robert Henline walked three miles through deep snow that vehicles couldn’t get through to deliver medicine to a desperate family near Gorman.

Other incidents occurred, some serious and some just major inconveniences, but there were a lot of them. In seven weeks in 1958, nearly 112 inches of snow fell on the county, beating out the previously bad winter of 1936. No other winter in the 20th century to that point even came close.

The Cumberland Sunday Times reported that the bad weather “practically isolated most of the county despite heroic efforts of State Roads and county roads crews, National Guardsmen and other volunteers.”

Although the first snows of the new year had fallen mid-January, the first big storm came at the end of the month. Ten inches of snow fell on January 24 followed by three more inches two days later. “For a short time on Friday afternoon there was snow, sleet and ice falling at the same time,” The Republican reported. A heavy fog also slowed things down.

The heavy snows led to the rare occurrence of closing Garrett County schools in the county for three days at the beginning of February.

“It was the first time in several years that there had been the loss of even one day of school,” The Republican noted.

School Superintendent Willard Hawkins said he “was afraid to put the buses on the roads because of poor visibility and icy conditions.” The Republican reported that Hawkins had intended to resume school on the third days until he found out that many children and teachers were still snowbound.

A week later nearly 10 inches of snow fell on three consecutive days. Pleasant Valley, Kempton, North Glade, Sanders Lane, and Herrington Manor were the worst hit, reporting snow drifts of 15 feet or more. With visibility near zero, the Maryland State Police issued an emergency travel only order.

The blizzard left about 40 percent of the county roads impassable for two days, according to Paul DeWitt, assistant county engineer. Garrett County had 140 men working 45 snow plows around the clock to try and open and clear the 740 miles of county roads.

State road crews were running 20 snow plows and a giant snow-blower over the 158 miles of state roads in the county. The only state road that was impassable was Route 495 between Bittinger and Grantsville.

With so much snow on the ground, the snow plows were only able to push it so far off the road before running into previous piles of snow that had been pushed off the road. “By that time there was no place to push it and consequently many of the highways drifted completely over,” The Republican reported.

In Oakland, snow and vehicles competed for space and the snow often won. “Parking space was at a premium and many of those who found places at the edges of the drifts found themselves unable to move when they returned to their cars,” The Republican noted.

All of the snow busted the county’s budget that year with rented equipment costing $1,000 a day and snow removal equipment using 2,000 gallons of gasoline a day.

Although the snow totals blew away previous snowfall records in the county, at least the temperature records still stood. In 1958, the temperature fell to -17 degrees, but the 1912 record was -40 degrees.

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