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UntitledHere’s the cover for my next book, Secrets of the C&O Canal: Little-Known Stories and Hidden History Along the Potomac River. It is also the third book in my “Secrets” series.

Secrets of the C&O Canal contains 29 true stories about the canal and 67 photos and illustrations. My favorite stories include:

  • The chapter about where the original destination for the C&O Canal was. Hint: It wasn’t Cumberland, Md., or the Ohio River.
  • The sad story of the Spong family and how they met their tragic end on the canal. This one might give you nightmares if you’re a parent and even if you aren’t.
  • My third-favorite story is the one of about the connections between the canal and the JFK assassination. Let that sink in. The C&O Canal closed in 1924, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, and this story takes place in 1964.

It should be no surprise that the C&O Canal is a favorite topic of mine. I’ve written three novels, a novella, and dozens of short stories about it. I’ve even got an outline for another non-fiction book that I want to write about the canal.

One thing that I find fascinating about the canal is that although it closed in 1924, we are still learning new things about it nearly 100 years later.

Secrets of the C&O Canal will retail for $19.95 when it is released next month. You can pre-order a signed copy and get it shipped free to your home (U.S. addresses only) at this link.

If you’d like to take a look at the other books in the series, take a peek at their Amazon pages.

3 Secrets

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The Cumberland Colts Baseball Team

As the baseball game drew to a close on the afternoon of August 27, 1917, the Frederick (Md.) Hustlers had managed to pull away from the Cumberland (Md.) Colts due to some questionable calls by the umpire. After the Hustlers pitcher Bill King allowed only eight hits, the final score was 5-3.

 

The Cumberland fans weren’t happy.

“Almost 2,000 Cumberland rooters rushed to the field after the game was over to get a carck at the ump, but the Queen City police force was on the job and the crowd was kept back. League President J. V. Jamison was present at the game and it was through his efforts that the umpire was seen safely back to the city. He escorted the ump to his automobile and took him to a place he could rest peacefully,” the Frederick Post reported.

This was the early days of professional baseball in Allegany County when the county had not one, but three professional baseball teams that fans could turn out to cheer on.

The Potomac League

 

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Fuller Barnard, Jr.

Fuller Barnard, Jr. was a Cumberland lawyer and a big baseball fan. He formed the Potomac League in 1916. This was a Class D professional baseball.

 

“It was entry level baseball,” says Robert Savitt, author of The Blue Ridge League and a Myersville resident. “Even though the players got paid, they still needed to have other jobs.”

The league was composed of four teams – the Cumberland Colts, the Frostburg (Md.) Demons, the Lonaconing (Md.) Giants and the Piedmont (W. Va.) Drybugs. Though the Drybugs were technically a West Virginia team, they played their games on Potomac Field in Westernport, Md.

Unfortunately, the league struggled from the start. The Giants disbanded in July after having played only 44 games. The Demons quit the league in August due to financial problems. With only two teams left, the Potomac League was forced to disband as well.

“At the time the league stopped, Frostburg was leading in the standings with a 33-25 record, six games ahead of 2nd place, Piedmont (26-30). Cumberland was 23-35,” according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Although Allegany County’s own professional baseball league had folded, opportunities still existed for the teams to play professional baseball.

The Blue Ridge League

Further east, in Washington County, Charles Boyer, a former president of the South Atlantic League, had moved back to the Hagerstown area in 1914. He watched the town teams playing against each other and saw that there was talent among the players that deserved to be rewarded.

He had purchased the Hagerstown team and set to work forming a new baseball league that would soon be named the Blue Ridge League. It was made up of six teams from Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

The league started playing in 1915 and was subject to the same financial pressures that had faced the Potomac League. However, as teams dropped out, other teams found a home in the league, which allowed it to continue.

When the Chambersburg (Pa.) Maroons quit the league, the Colts sought to replace them. “One of the sticking points in Cumberland’s efforts to join the Blue Ridge League was its desire to schedule games on Sundays to attract fans,” Savitt wrote in The Blue Ridge League. The team finally was able to enter the league in 1917 when it agreed to take over the debt of the Maroons.

“Until Cumberland came on, no one played Sunday in baseball in the Blue Ridge League,” said Mark Ziegler, who runs the website, BlueRidgeLeague.org.

 

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Game card showing a match-up between the Cumberland Colts and Piedmont Drybugs

Sunday games were controversial and outside of Allegany County, there were incidents where the police would arrest the players before a Sunday game for violating the community’s Blue Laws. They were usually taken into the nearest police station and booked. Then when the police released the players, they returned to the field to play the game.

 

The Drybugs also entered the Blue Ridge League the following year in 1918, though by this time they recognized their affiliation with Allegany County and were called the Piedmont-Westernport Drybugs.

However, the Blue Ridge League faced two major problems in 1918. The World War I draft continued to make soldiers of many of the players, making it hard to field a team. In addition, the Spanish Flu sickened and sometimes killed both players and fans. The Drybugs’ official scorer, Walter Biggs was one of the flu’s many fatalities, according to Savitt. Because of these problems, the Blue Ridge League’s 1918 season ended after only three weeks.

Though league play would resume in 1920, neither Allegany County team would be a part of it.

The Middle Atlantic League

While the Drybugs disbanded after 1918, the Colts actually took a step up in its professional status by joining the newly formed Middle Atlantic League, a Class C professional baseball league in 1925.

The Colts thrived in the Middle Atlantic League and were the league champs in 1927 and 1928.

Once the Blue Ridge League resumed its play, it pioneered a couple of changes that affected the Colts in the Middle Atlantic League.

“The Blue Ridge League was a pioneer league in the formulation of the farm system,” Savitt said.

As Major League teams recognized the opportunity to develop future Major League talent by buying lower-class teams, the Colts eventually became a farm team of the New York Yankees. This allowed Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to come to Cumberland in 1932 as part of an exhibition game between the Colts and Yankees.

The Blue Ridge League was also one of the first leagues to introduce night games, but the Middle Atlantic League added them shortly thereafter.

Cumberland’s first night game was played at Community Baseball Park on August 4, 1930. Not only was it the introduction of night play, but the Williams Piano and Furniture Company supplied broadcasting equipment “for the broadcasting of music with special microphone attachment for the speakers and amplifiers that will make the music and announcements audible all over the park,” according to the Cumberland Evening Times.

Though the Middle Atlantic League continued until 1951, the Cumberland Colts left in 1932 and the era of professional baseball in Allegany County ended as well, though fan enthusiasm continues just as strongly today.

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alexandria-canal-and-wharf_12659630893_o.jpgIn C&O Canal National Historical Park Librarian Karen Gray’s study of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, she divides the canal’s existence into the three periods. The first period is the time up until the canal opened to Cumberland. During this time, the canal was being built, but it had partial operations for different types of boats. From 1850 to the turn of the century, the canal operated independently for the most part and also had its golden age. From the turn of the century until the canal closed, it operated primarily under the Canal Towage Company at a reduced capacity. The research has even turned up a couple mysteries that have yet to be solved.

Before the canal was fully completed to Cumberland in 1850, flatbed riverboats used to travel the Potomac River and enter the partially open canal at the dam near Williamsport. From there, they could continue their journey to Georgetown.

The question is how did they continue their journey? Riverboats were carried by the current with the crew using poles to guide the boat. Poles could not be used on the canal, though, or the clay berm would have been damaged. So how were the boats moved through the canal?

“Most likely, someone rented mules at Williamsport, but we don’t know for sure,” Gray said.

Perhaps the biggest mystery is how canal boats that were supposed to be 92-feet long fit into some locks that could hold boats no longer 85 to 90 feet. The 92-foot boat length comes from a single boat that was used to make drawings from. At the time the drawings were made, the boat had been out of the water for years so it is probable that frame may have loosened somewhat, adding length and width to the dimensions. This is only a guess at this time, though.

“All of this information is a great resource that we’ve been able to make available to the world so that future researchers and future students can dig down and do deep analysis,” Bill Holdsworth, president of the C&O Canal Association, said.

He said that since much of the current beliefs about the canal come from oral histories of canallers and information from the canal’s last days, this new information is changing people’s impressions of the canal. canal-boat-crossing-aqueduct_12256215046_o.jpg

Catherine Bragaw, chief of interpretation for the C&O Canal, said that rangers are always looking for stories that people can relate to and that as more research becomes available, it may change the stories.

“It’s not unusual for history to change,” Bragaw said. “Some history stays consistent. Some is dynamic as more is uncovered.”

She said that interpretation is an art because different people can focus on different aspects of the subject. That, in turn, affects, the stories and information they incorporate into their presentations.

“It’s fascinating to unlock the mysteries,” Bragaw said.

That’s just what this new research continues to do. It is unlocking the mysteries of the early days of the canal and discovering new ones that need to be solved.

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great-falls-nationalAs canals became popular in Europe in the 18th Century, it shouldn’t be surprising that Americans also recognized the benefits of an artificial waterway.

The United States had plenty of rivers, but not all of them ran close to cities or ports and certainly all of them weren’t navigable. However, all that water would flow through artificial channels.

Why Americans Wanted Canals

As America moved west, Americans in greater numbers sought ways to follow. In 1800, only a million people lived west of the Allegheny Mountains. Thirty years later that number had grown to 3.5 million. This westward expansion fueled the need for internal roads.

The National Road reached Wheeling, Va. in 1818 and sped up the movement of goods from the west to Baltimore and Washington.

A beneficial as the road was, transporting goods on it was 30 times more expensive than canal transportation. At the time, it was said that 4 horses could pull a 1-ton payload by wagon on an ordinary road 12 miles in a day. On a turnpike, the same team could pull the wagon 18 miles. But on a canal, the team could pull 100 tons 24 miles in a day.

seal_patowmackEarly Canal Ideas

Early on, Americans saw canals as a way to open up routes into the country’s interior and bring out its rich bounty of natural resources. Canals were untaken from the Chesapeake Bay to the Delaware River, from the Tioga to the Allegheny, from the Susquehanna to the Delaware, from Lake Ontario to the Delaware, and from Lake Erie to the Allegheny.

Washington’s Dream

George Washington began work on his version of a canal in 1785. His idea was to build canal locks at strategic places along the Potomac River in order to make it navigable. With a short portage between the headwaters of the Potomac and the Ohio, trade from the Mississippi could come east rather than south to reach a seaport city.

The trip became faster, but boaters still faced the dangers of the river. However, merchants were willing to take the risk. In one year, 1300 boats made the journey from Cumberland to Georgetown using Washington’s Patowmack Company skirting canals.161525pv

Success of the Canals

New York began construction of the Erie Canal in 1817. It was completed in 1825 and covered 363 miles from Buffalo, N.Y. to Albany, N.Y. It linked the Hudson River with Lake Erie.

With the opening of the canal, merchants in the then-west no longer had to ship their goods down the Mississippi to a port or overland on the more-expensive National Road.

Almost overnight, the cost to transport goods from places like Montreal, Canada to New York City fell from $100 per ton to about $12 and a 3-week journey took little more than a week.

End of the Canal Era

Canals made early American road obsolete. In turn, railroads made canals obsolete.

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LBAmazon.com has temporarily dropped the price of Looking Back: True Stories of Mountain Maryland by 83 percent! You can now get the book for 99 cents.

From the unsolved to the unusual. From the historical to the hysterical. From the famous to the friendly. This is life in the Maryland mountains.

Did you know that a Russian prince once worked as a priest in Cumberland?

Have you heard the story about the German POW camp near Flintstone during WWII?

Do you know about the mining wars that were fought to try and unionize the coal mines in the Georges Creek region?

Do you know the story behind Cumberland’s only lynching?

Have you heard the story about the baseball game played between the Cumberland Colts and the New York Yankees?

These are the stories of Allegany and Garrett counties in Maryland found in old newspapers, history books, journals, and other places. It’s the stories of people who tamed the mountains, established cities, raised families and lived their lives. Journey back in time and look beyond the photos that so well document the region’s history. This collection of 40 stories spans 220 years of life in Western Maryland.

Originally published in the Cumberland Times-News and Allegany Magazine, some of these stories have been expanded as new information has been uncovered and new photos accompany some of the stories.

Visit the Looking Back Amazon.com page.

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A “doctor” presenting his miracle cure at a medicine show.

The men stood on platforms so they were a few feet off the ground. That way, the crowds could see them and, more importantly, they could see the displays behind the men at the corner of Baltimore and Liberty streets in front of the Second National Bank in Cumberland. The men called out to the crowds. They cracked jokes, made sales pitches and overstated promises as they tried to sell homemade medicines.

 

On March 30, 1878, The Alleganian reported on the appearance of two worm medicine men who had “eloquence, stale jokes and slang phrases that have emanated from the street orators and wayside druggists. With stentorian lungs of wonderful endurance, they have shouted aloud, all the symptoms that indicate the presence of tape and all other kinds of worms that have ever afflicted humanity.”

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One of the products sold at a medicine show.

 

The men were convincing in their pitches because a majority of the crowds that gathered around them seemed willing to buy a bottle of the medicine. Part of their effectiveness was that the medicine men mastered the fear factor and convinced listeners that “every mother’s son of them had from a quart to a half bushel of the parasites feeding upon his ‘inward,’ and others were satisfied that they had tape worms varying in length from thirty feet to thirteen miles.”

Sickness was something that most people dealt with on their own at this time in Cumberland’s history. The area had only eight doctors at this time to treat more than 11,000 people in the city, not counting anyone outside of the city limits. This created a ripe field for medicine men who promised easy answers to health problems.

As the years progressed, the shows became more refined and elaborate. By the 20th Century, the shows would set up tents on vacant lots in town and advertise their shows in the newspapers. The crowds would come to see the shows.

“Most of these medicine shows had Black musicians and entertainers, but the show would be directed by white owners,” Herman Miller wrote in Cumberland, Maryland, through the Eyes of Herman Miller.

Once the crowd had gathered, the medicines were sold before the entertainment began.

Miller described a snake oil medicine show, which he calls, “One of the most colorful of all sellers of cure-alls.”

A group came to town and rented a room in the building in that existed before the Fort Cumberland Hotel. The showmen keep rattlesnakes in a box that they would take out and drape over their necks and arms. The snakes were defanged, though not everyone realized this.

“The salesmen would then go to work telling all the benefits of rattlesnake oil. They were told the oil would cure everything from toothache to the common cold, bruises, sprains, skin diseases and other ailments,” Miller wrote.

The cost for this miracle cure? A dollar a bottle.

Medicine shows died off as medicines became more regulated and getting healthcare from a doctor became easier.

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A young boy has his first experience using ration cards. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

During 1942, the people of Cumberland were worried about things. The Nazis were on the move and their sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers were being drafted. However, as summer turned to fall, a new worry entered their daily conversations.

 

Coffee was going to be rationed.

“Judging from the talk we have heard for several weeks past, there are those in this community – and the same is likely true elsewhere – who consider coffee, rather than bread, the real staff of life and have been in mortal terror lest this so-called necessity would be completely taken from them,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

Coffee wasn’t the only thing or even the first thing to be rationed in order to make sure American servicemen didn’t have to go without, but it seemed to be the one raising the most concern.

Rationing began with tires in January 1942 because the Japanese had interrupted the supply of rubber used in making them. Gasoline soon followed. By the summer, plans were in the works to ration food items. By the following year, coffee, sugar, meat, cheese, butter, lard, margarine, canned foods, dried fruits, jam, gasoline, bicycles, fuel oil, clothing, silk or nylon stockings and shoes had also been added to the list of rationed items.

Early in November 1942, the Cumberland War Price and Rationing Board, a volunteer three-person board, announced that coffee would begin being rationed on November 26. To prepare for it, not coffee would be sold during the week prior to the rationing.

This quickly led to hoarding, particularly when it was announced that the allotment would be one pound of coffee every five weeks for everyone over 15 year old. The board stressed that overall this should only represent a small reduction in a coffee drinker’s usual intake.

“In virtually every large family there is somebody who does not drink coffee at all or who drinks it sparingly. These persons, provided they are more than 15 years old, will, of course, be entitled to a ration book and there is no reason why their share of the coffee shall not go to other members of the family,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

It was estimated that a pound of coffee could be used to make 50 cups. Some estimates were even higher, but the more coffee each pound made, the weaker the coffee. For a stronger cup of coffee, newspaper articles recommended coffee essence, which had no coffee in it. When mixed into a cup of coffee, it made it stronger.

The Rationing Board also tried to discourage hoarding by writing that a count of coffee on hand would need to be taken before anyone was issued a war ration coupon book and for each pound over the first pound, a coffee ration coupon would be removed from the book.

Each person in the country was issued a war ration coupon book with a set of coupon stamps in them. The OPA then set what each coupon could be used to purchase, how much of the product could be purchased with it, and when the coupon was valid.

 

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A WWII  ration book.

Cumberlanders adjusted to drinking little or no coffee. It was the least they could do for the war effort.

 

Then at the end of July 1943, the Cumberland Evening Times announced that due to ships being built with more cargo space and the success of Allied forces against German U-boats, coffee rationing would be lifted. When President Franklin Roosevelt made the announcement, he also hinted that the war ration of sugar would soon be increased. That was certainly good news to people who liked their coffee sweet.

Almost as soon as people started celebrating that their coffee was back, rumors started around town that coffee would soon be rationed once again. Some people started hoarding their roasted coffee.

The Cumberland Evening Times ran a story saying, “While it is true that the forthcoming Ration Book No. 4 contains coffee stamps, these will be removed before the book is issued, or else made applicable to some other commodity.”

The lifting of coffee rationing could be considered an early victory in WWII. It showed progress was being made in the war and it lifted people’s spirits. All rationing was finally ended in 1946.

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