Handlers at the Catoctin Zoo tape an alligator’s jaws shut to prepare it for transport to its winter residence.

Nowadays seeing exotic animals in Thurmont is no big surprise. The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo has around 400 wild animals on display across 50 acres.

However, 139 years ago, Thurmont’s animal population was lots of cows, pigs, dogs, cats, chickens…and one alligator.

Andrew Sefton was one of Thurmont’s leading citizens in the 19th Century. He arrived in Thurmont, which was then known as Mechanicstown, in 1831. The town at that time had a population of around 300 people, according to Sefton. Not only was there no Catoctin Zoo, the town had no churches (though the United Brethren in Christ Church was under construction) and no street lights.

Sefton wrote, “the streets were lit up a night from the doors and windows of the merchants’ shops, which made them very brilliant.”

He listed the town and nearby vicinity as having seven tanners, two blacksmith shops, a tilt hammer, grand stone, polishing wheel and turning lathe, all propelled by water power, one wool and cloth factory, two shoemaker shops three tailors, three weavers, one gunsmith, one silversmith, two wagon and coach shops, two mill-wrights, three cabinet maker and house carpenter shops, one saddler, one hatter, one doctor, three stone and brick masons, three hotels and a match factory.

After living in town for about 18 months, Sefton was able to purchase a piece of property on East Main Street. Sefton quickly set to fixing up the property.

Around that time, he also married Elizabeth Weller, the daughter of Jacob Weller, B.S., on March 18, 1833.

“We at once occupied our newly repaired and windows home and have been living in the same house ever since. We have had seven children born to us in this house, five sons and two daughters, all of whom are living, and at this time they are living in four different States of the Union,” Sefton wrote in the Catoctin Clarion.

In 1876, one of the Seftons’ sons, Joseph, was traveling in Florida. On his journey, Joseph thought he had found the perfect gift for his father. He bought it, had it boxed up and shipped to his father.

It arrived here in mid-October. Sefton opened up the box and found that his son had sent him an alligator. It was a young one that was about two feet long and was “greatly admired by the many—male and female—who have gone to see it,” according to an article in the Catoctin Clarion in 1876.

American alligators are found in the southeast United States. Louisiana has the largest alligator population. They live in freshwater as ponds, marshes, wetlands, rivers, lakes, and swamps. As reptiles, they need warm temperatures to regulate their bodies and an environment that doesn’t freeze over.

“Mr. S. is very anxious to keep it alive, but those who understand the nature of these animals say it will be impossible to do so, as the climate and water of this State are not adapted to the culture of alligators,” the Clarion reported.

While Sefton’s alligator was only two-feet long, large adult alligators can grow to around 13 feet and weigh 800 pounds. They can also live to be more than 70 years old.

“Should it live and grow to be a big one, no doubt there will be a scarcity of babies and small boys in this neck of the woods some day, as it is said they have a peculiar faculty for clawing up children and [African Americans],” the Catoctin Clarion reported tongue-in-cheek.

There’s no reference in the newspaper as to how long the alligator lived, but there also wasn’t a long list of missing children from town a few years later.

Andrew Sefton died in 1887.

Though the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo has a large alligator swamp, the alligators can’t remain there year round. Each year, the zoo features a Gator Round Up in late October or early November. Visitors can come and watch the zoo keepers collect the alligators and transport them to their winter quarters.

Cracker_Jack_BoxCracker Jack has delighted children for more than a century as they dig into a box, or nowadays, a bag of the caramel-coated popcorn and peanut treat searching for the prize inside. It’s in baseball stadiums across the country where the snack truly stands out, though, as thousands of fans sing out “Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack!” as part of baseball’s unofficial anthem, Take Me Out to the Ball Game.

“So what’s Cracker Jack’s secret?” Susan Feeney asked in her 2002 NPR report. “Three little words: toy surprise inside. One of the main ingredients that has helped Cracker Jack make a lasting impression, not to mention one of the first things that kids will look for on popping open a box, is the prize.”

The earliest version of Cracker Jack was introduced at the 1893 Columbian Exposition. “Candied Popcorn and Peanuts” was the creation of Frederick and Louis Rueckheim. It wasn’t an instant hit.

“People at the World’s Fair didn’t like the stickiness and the hardness of the early Cracker Jack,” wrote Linda Stradley, author of What’s Cooking America. “So Louis made a formula that made a great molasses coating that was crispy and dry. This secret formula is still a secret in the Cracker Jack Company today.”

Jim Davis, who has written two books about Cracker Jack prizes and prize collecting, said the World’s Fair story may not be entirely accurate. “Documentation says just the opposite; the Rueckheims were not listed among a detailed and comprehensive list of World’s Fair vendors. They could have been outside the gates, I suppose,” he says.

While coming up with the new recipe took time, coming up with a name took three years. According to the Odebolt Chronicle Progress Edition, a company salesman and Frederick were sampling the latest batch of the popcorn confection, when the salesman said, “That’s a cracker jack!”

“Why not call it by that name?” Frederick said.

“I see no objection,” the salesman said.

“That settles it then.”

And Cracker Jack was born.

The name, along with the slogan, “The More You Eat, the More You Want,” was copyrighted later that year and has been used ever since. 9790051_1

H.G. Eckstein joined the company in 1896 after he came up wax packaging that kept the popcorn from sticking together in one large clump and ensured freshness. This expanded the market for Cracker Jack tremendously since it could be shipped much further away. “In 1902, Cracker Jack was featured in the Sears catalog which meant that even individuals without access to a large city grocery store could order the product through the catalog and when it arrived it would be fresh,” Jim Trautman wrote in his article, “Crackerjacks and Those Wonderful Prizes.”

Cracker Jack’s big competitor in the early 20th century was Checkers. Checkers’ edge was that it offered prizes in each box. At the time, Cracker Jack offered coupons that could be redeemed for premiums. “You could save up the coupons and redeem them for big items like furniture and appliances,” says Harriet Joyce with the Cracker Jack Collectors Association.

Such premiums appealed to adults, though, and the bulk of the Cracker Jack market was children. In 1912, the Rueckheims copied a good idea and began offering their own prizes. They improved on the idea, though, by offering the prizes in series to encourage repeat business. That, plus a better product, allowed Cracker Jack to overtake Checkers in sales and eventually buy the company that made the popcorn treat.

As America entered World War I, expressions of patriotism could be seen everywhere. Cracker Jack introduced the red, white, and blue stripes to its boxes and created a patriotic mascot.

F.E. Ruhling, general sales manager for F.W. Rueckheim & Bros., wrote in the April 7, 1921, issue of Printer’s Ink, “It was entirely logical, therefore, that the trade character which we created should be a boy, jovial, happy, his arm full with three packages of his favorite. It is a trade character designed to appeal to children to work its way into their memory and make friends of them. And because every boy should have his dog for a pal, we gave the Cracker Jack boy his Bingo—a hybrid pup of questionable pedigree, but just the sort that every boy loves.”

The model for Sailor Jack is said to be Robert Rueckheim, Frederick’s grandson.

“I’ve seen a picture of Robert in the white sailor suits that were popular at the time,” Joyce said. “He was a blond-haired boy, but he didn’t look anything like Sailor Jack.”

That’s probably just as well since Robert died from pneumonia in 1920 at the age of 7.

Bingo is said to have been based on a stray dog Eckstein had adopted named Russell. Russell died in 1930.

The initial Sailor Jack advertising campaign in 1918 was followed by consumer testing to see if they both liked and remembered Sailor Jack and Bingo. Due to an overwhelming positive response, Sailor Jack and Bingo were added to the packaging a year later, according to Ruhling.

Cracker Jack continues to be popular today, though it has gone through a couple of corporate changes and has been owned by Frito-Lay since 1997.

You can even find collectors clubs made up of people with a passion for collecting the different prizes that Cracker Jack boxes have hidden over the years. Some of them can be worth thousands of dollars, depending on their rarity. Trautman wrote that the Chicago office of Cracker Jack kept in a vault at least one of every item ever manufactured.

Cracker Jack also remains available in every Major League Baseball stadium, where it can sell more than 1,000 bags a game, depending on attendance. When the New York Yankees tried to change the popcorn treat in their stadium, fans were outraged, and within two months Cracker Jack was back. Yankees’ chief operating officer, Lonn Trost, said at the time, “The fans have spoken.”

President Ford meeting with members of the Olson Family.

President Ford meeting with members of the Olson Family.

The doorman at the Statler Hotel in New York City had taken a break early around 2:30 a.m. on the morning of November 28, 1953, to go for a drink at the nearby Little Penn Tavern. As he turned a corner, he saw something falling through the air.

“It was like the guy was diving, his hands out in front of him, but then his body twisted and he was coming down feet first, his arms grabbing at the air above him,” the doorman told Armond Pastore, the hotel’s night manager, according to H. P. Albarelli Jr. in A Terrible Mistake.

The body hit a wooden partition shielding work being done of the hotel and then the sidewalk. Frank Olson was dead.

A week and a half earlier, Olson had been unknowingly dosed with LSD while staying at a cabin at Deep Creek Lake. Once he discovered what had happened to him, it had changed his life, albeit for a short time.

The investigation by the CIA, which Olson worked with as part of Camp Detrick’s Special Operations Unit, found that Olson had died as “the result of circumstances arising out of [the Deep Creek Lake] experiment,” and there was a “direct causal connection between that experiment and his death,” according to the CIA’s general counsel report, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Although these conclusions had been reached within two weeks of Olson’s death, his family was only told that he had died in the course of his work. This allowed the Olson family to collect federal death benefits, while the official results of the death investigation remained classified.

More than 20 years later, a presidential commission investigating CIA activities inside the U.S. found that an Army scientist had fallen to his death from a hotel room in New York after the CIA had given him LSD in 1953. The Olson family confronted Vincent Ruwet, Olson’s division chief and friend, who admitted that the scientist was Frank Olson.

The family then started on a campaign to fully find out what had happened. President Gerald Ford invited the family to the White House and apologized for the death. The family also received a $750,000 settlement from the government.

However, Olson’s sons still weren’t satisfied that they knew the truth. They had their father’s body exhumed in 1994. A modern autopsy found that Olson had suffered a blow to the head before he fell from his hotel window. According to the autopsy report, the wound was suggestive of a homicide.

“The Manhattan district attorney’s office opened a homicide investigation in 1996. While they were unable to bring charges, they changed the official cause of death from ‘suicide’ to ‘unknown’,” The Baltimore Sun reported.

His family filed a lawsuit against the government in 2012, claiming that the CIA is still holding back files about Olson’s death.

“The evidence shows that our father was killed in their custody. They have lied to us ever since, withholding documents and information, and changing their story when convenient,” said Eric Olson told The Business Insider. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2013 when a judge ruled that it had been “filed too late and is barred under an earlier settlement,” according to Bloomberg Business.

Will the full truth about what happened to Frank Olson ever be known? It remains to be seen how the journey that began in a cabin by the lake will end.

Dr. Frank R. Olson, a former biochemist on July 10, 1952 at Fort Detrick, near here, allegedly committed suicide in 1953, when he jumped or fell from the tenth floor of a New York building. Olson's family is suing the CIA in regard to the death. (AP Photo)

Dr. Frank R. Olson, a former biochemist on July 10, 1952 at Fort Detrick, allegedly committed suicide in 1953, when he jumped or fell from the tenth floor of a New York building. Olson’s family is suing the CIA in regard to the death. (AP Photo)

Two bottles of Cointreau sat on the table in front of Frank Olson. Both were open. Both were the same. He reached out for one of the bottles to pour himself an after-dinner drink. He was relaxing in a cabin with other men who had been forced to attend a three-day retreat at Deep Creek Lake from 11/18-20.

He hadn’t wanted to attend. He was having doubts about the ethicality of his work. He didn’t need to about the results of the work in which he was involved at Camp Detrick, in Frederick. He needed to think and clear his mind.

He knew the men he was sharing the large cabin on the lake with. They were members of the Special Operations Division and the CIA. Vincent Ruwet, Olson’s division chief and friend, had picked him up at his house and they had driven west to find this somewhat isolated cabin. It was a large, two-story rental cabin, off of Route 219 about 30 yards from Deep Creek Lake and 100 yards from the nearest neighbor.

The invitation to the “Deep Creek Rendezvous” said that a cover story had been given for the meeting. “CAMOUFLAGE: Winter meeting of script writers, editors, authors, lecturers, sports magazines.”

Olson believed they were there to talk about the joint projects of the Special Operations Division and CIA involving things like biological warfare and using drugs for mind control.

Unbeknownst to Olson, this was also a camouflage story to get him and others to the cabin for an experiment.

The men enjoyed a hearty dinner on Thursday, November 19, and then settled down in the cabin’s living room for after-dinner drinks. Robert Lashbrook, a CIA employee and one of the attendees, poured drinks for eight of the men present. He served the drinks and then poured himself and Sidney Gottlieb drinks from a separate bottle, although there was still liqueur in the first. If it struck anyone as odd or if anyone even noticed, no one remarked on it. Olson took the drink offered him. It was a simple choice, but one that would cost him his life.

He drank the Cointreau and then lost himself in his own thoughts. Sometime between then and Friday afternoon, Olson and the men were told their drinks had been dosed with LSD, according to the Church Committee report.

When Olson returned home that evening, his wife, Alice, “sensed something was wrong the moment he walked in the door. There was a stiffness in the way he kissed her hellow and held her. Like he was doing something mechanical, devoid of any meaning or affection,” H. P. Albarelli wrote in A Terrible Mistake.

Olson’s thoughts now were definitely elsewhere. Later that evening, he admitted to her, “I’ve made a terrible mistake.”

On Monday morning at 7:30 a.m., Olson was waiting for Ruwet when he arrived. Olson admitted he doubts about the work he was doing and said that he wanted to resign.

Olson told his wife later, “I talked to Vin. He said that I didn’t make a mistake. Everything is fine. I’m not going to resign.

The next day, Ruwet and Lashbrook convinced Olson to see a psychiatric doctor in New York. Actually, he was meeting with Harold Abramson, an allergist-pediatrician, who was working with the CIA.

Lashbrook and Olson shared a hotel room on the 13th floor of the Statler Hotel. Early in the morning of November 28, a loud crashing noise woke him up. According to the CIA, Olson threw himself out of the window, committing suicide.

The truth turned out to be something far darker and disturbing.


A Daughter of Charity provides care to a wounded soldier during the Civil War.

No one would look at a Daughter of Charity and see the steel in their personalities that gave them the ability to venture where women rarely went in the 1860’s. They ran schools, among which was St. Philomena’s School in St. Louis. They ran DePaul Hospital in St. Louis, which began as the St. Louis Mullanphy Hospital in 1828.

The latter was frowned on. Nursing wasn’t considered a suitable profession for women. Nursing in public hospitals was often done by other residents of the hospital or the poor. No formal training program existed.

That way of thinking began changing in the 1850’s, though. The French Daughters of Charity had served as battlefield nurses caring for French soldiers during the Crimean War. Their service had been so exemplary that many people began looking at the American Daughters of Charity and wondering if they could do the same thing once the Civil War began.

As the United States broke apart, Daughters of Charity from Emmitsburg found themselves serving soldiers in both the Union and Confederacy.

Father Francis Burlando and Mother Ann Simeon visited St. Philomena’s in 1861. Foreseeing that the sisters in Missouri might be called on to serve as nurses as they were in other states, they left directions for how the sisters in Missouri should handle the request when the time arose.


Catholic sisters and war

Nearly 700 Catholic sisters from 22 orders provided some sort of service during the Civil War. The Daughters of Charity provided the largest number—around 300—to serve in the war.

“The country had only 600 trained nurses at the start of the Civil War. All were Catholic nuns. This is one of the best-kept secrets in our nation’s history,” Civil War chaplain Father William Barnaby Faherty once said.

Though the American Daughters of Charity had been in existence for 52 years by 1861, their mother organization in France has existed since 1617. Even before the Civil War, the Catholic sisters’ future was tied to war. Not long after their founding, Founder Saint Vincent de Paul told the sisters, “Men go to war to kill one another, and you, sisters, you go to repair the harm they had have done… Men kill the body and very often the soul, and you go to restore life, or at least by your care to assist in preserving it.”

The American Sisters of Charity started gaining experience in health care when they took over the administration of the Baltimore Infirmary in 1823. Their success with the care of the sick in the hospital led to them opening the first hospital west of the Mississippi River, St. Louis Mullanphy Hospital. They gained experience working with victims of violence, accidents, yellow fever and cholera. As their reputation grew as nurses, they opened additional hospitals and they were asked to assume the administration and nursing duties of others.

These varied experiences in dangerous surroundings became the training ground for what they would face in the war. In doing so, they also became the only source for trained nurses, according to Sister Mary Denis Maher in her book, To Bind the Wounds: Catholic Sister Nurses in the U.S. Civil War.



An old postcard of the St. Louis Mullanphy Hospital in Missouri. The Daughters of Charity started the hospital before the Civil War.

In Missouri   

On August 12, 1861, Union Major General John C. Fremont “desired that every attention be paid to soldiers who had exposed their lives for their country, visited them frequently, and believing that there was much neglect on the part of the attendants, applied to the Sisters at St. Philomena’s School, St. Louis, for a sufficient number of sisters to take charge of the hospital, promising to leave everything to their management,” according to the Daughters’ Annals of the Civil War. Because of the reputation of the Daughters of Charity, he promised he would leave the management of the hospital as well as the care of the sick and wounded in the hands of the sisters.

Twelve sisters from St. Philomena’s went to the Military Hospital House of Refuge in the suburbs of St. Louis. The sisters took charge of the hundreds of patients in the wards and whatever related to the sick and wounded. Peter Kenrick, Archbishop of St. Louis, sent a chaplain to say daily Mass for them. It soon became the primary location to send wounded Confederate POWs who were brought up the Mississippi River on hospital steamboats. The Union wounded were sent to City Hospital.

At first, the sisters were a wonder to behold because of their strange dress and some patients asked them if they were Freemasons. The patients were grateful for the fine care they received, and because of that, they gave the sisters their respect and cooperation.

Women from the Union Aid Society visited the soldiers every other day. These women grew to admire the peace that reigned in the wards overseen by the Daughters of Charity and found the patients “as submissive as children,” George Barton wrote in Angels of the Battlefield.

St. Louis was inundated with wounded soldiers after battles. Hospital steamboats would pick up patients from battlefields, treat them and take them to St. Louis for further treatment and recuperation there. More than 800 wounded were known to arrive in the city in a single day and the Daughters of Charity cared for many of them.

Often when the soldiers returned to their regiments, they told other sick or wounded soldiers, “If you go to St. Louis, try to get to the House of Refuge Hospital. The Sisters are there, they will make you well soon,” according to Notes of the Sisters’ Services in Military Hospitals, 1861-1865.

Sisters from St. Louis also visited Jefferson Barracks Hospital, nine miles from the city. The primary duty of the military camp would shift from training soldiers to saving their lives by 1862 when it became a Union hospital with more than 3,000 beds.




Easter at Camp David

The Nixons leaving Easter services in Thurmont in 1971.

The Nixons leaving Easter services in Thurmont in 1971.

Anyone with eyes knew just where President Richard M. Nixon and his family were Easter Sunday morning in 1971.

It was pretty widely known through town that the Nixons would be spending the weekend at Camp David, a favorite retreat for the president. Since it was also Easter weekend, speculation was on whether they would attend church on Sunday and which church they would choose.

“Gold Cadillacs, television cameras, photographers, newsmen, and Secret Service agents do not stand outside of a church in Thurmont for the average person,” the Catoctin Enterprise reported.

The church was the Thurmont United Methodist Church where the Reverend Kenneth Hamrick was pastor.

Prior to the Easter service, Mrs. Hamrick had received a call from Camp David asking for her husband. Rev. Hamrick was officiating at another church, but when he returned home, his wife had him return the call. That is when he found out that he would have special guests during his service that day.

This visit apparently came about because of Mrs. Hamrick. “Rev. Hamrick, a part-time White House employe[e], attended a staff reception last Christmas at which time Mrs. Hamrick had asked Mrs. Nixon to bring the President to her husband’s church sometime in the future,” The Frederick Post reported.

Not only did the president and first lady attend, but they were joined by Julie and David Eisenhower, former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower, and Tricia Nixon and her fiancée Edward Finch Cox.

“I didn’t mention their presence to others attending the services,” Hamrick told The Frederick Post. “I did mention the President, as well as other world leaders, in my prayers at the end of the service.”

Rev. Hamrick’s sermon dealt with the rejection of both Christ and Christianity in biblical and modern times.

Afterwards, Hamrick told the Catoctin Enterprise, “The President said the sermon was ‘very good, very pertinent’ and it appeared that I ‘had done my homework’.” He added that the first lady told him, “It made my Easter Day.”

The Nixons and their guests then returned to Camp David for an Easter dinner. Two months later, Tricia Nixon and Edward Cox would return to Camp David to spend their honeymoon there after their June 12 wedding.

President Nixon enjoyed spending time at Camp David. It was a place where he could think, relax, and get work done. He had worked on his first acceptance speech as the Republican presidential nominee there as vice-president. Although John F. Kennedy won that election, Nixon would return to Camp David in 1968 as president.

Dale Nelson tells a story in The President Is at Camp David that Nixon speechwriter William Safire tried making a case to Nixon’s appointment secretary, Dwight Chapin, that the president should spend more time in the White House not on an isolated mountain.

“Do you want to be the one who tells the president he can’t go to Camp David? Because it sure as hell isn’t going to be me.”

According to Nelson, when former President Dwight D. Eisenhower died in 1969, Nixon wrote his eulogy at Camp David. He made the decision to order troops into Cambodia during the Vietnam War there. He wrote his 1972 presidential nomination acceptance speech there.

The Nixons also spent Easter 1972 at Camp David. They also celebrated David Eisenhower’s 24th birthday during that Easter weekend.

The boys of Arendtsville Vocational High School stopped at Lake Erie on their return trip to Alaska in 1937. Photo courtesy of Gary Weikert.

The boys of Arendtsville Vocational High School stopped at Lake Erie on their return trip to Alaska in 1937.

The boys of Arendtsville Vocational High School had already seen so much during the summer of 1937. They had traveled across the United States, down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and upon an ocean to reach Alaska. It was almost too much to take in fully, and yet, their journey wasn’t complete.

From Vancouver, British Columbia, they climbed aboard a half-ton truck that they had specially outfitted to carry the 25 boys and their teacher, Edwin Rice.

“Most of the roads in British Columbia are dirt and not very good at that,” Rice wrote in a letter to The Gettysburg Times. “We were saturated with dust when we got to Asveyoos.”

They drove into Washington State where they watched the construction of the Grand Coulee Dam.

“Today it is one of the largest dams in the world, but then it was only about 50 feet high under construction,” Wayne Criswell said in the unpublished article, “The Journey of a Lifetime Summer 1937” about Criswell’s memories as told to James Wego.

The boys also stopped in Yellowstone National Park where they tried to take a swim in the hot springs. Criswell noted in the article, “a mistake, really hot!”

Whereas, their trip to the West Coast had followed a southern route across the country, their journey home took them along a northern route. They passed through the Dakotas, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. They crossed into Canada to travel to Niagara Falls and traveled south into the United States and over to Erie, Pennsylvania.

They returned home on August 3, having been gone for a little over six weeks.

“It was a fantastic trip, but it was good to see little, but beautiful Arendtsville,” Criswell wrote. “I had enough of travel for awhile.”

They had visited two countries and 24 states and territories as they traveled more than 9,000 miles. It truly was the adventure of a lifetime.

Criswell also recognized that it wouldn’t have happened it not for Rice, a teacher who went beyond the call. “Arendtsville High School and our group of students were lucky to have a teacher like Professor Rice,” Criswell said. “One who was interested and dedicated to broadening the experience and interests of so many young people. We all recognized, no doubt much later, just how much effort and hard work that he had expended to give us the very special experience and how much it had contributed to our knowledge and awareness of the world around us.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,644 other followers

%d bloggers like this: