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christmas-snapshot3The “date which will live in infamy” cast a large, dark shadow over Christmas 1941 in Allegany County.

As Thanksgiving 1941 approached, the war in Europe was on people’s minds but it wasn’t the dominant story of the day. Residents were more concerned about a coal strike that had started in Pennsylvania and was spreading around the country. At times, it appeared more dangerous to Americans than the war. The headlines on the Cumberland Evening Times the day after Thanksgiving showed Allegany County’s priorities:

GUNS CONTINUE TO BLAZE IN MINE STRIKE

Roosevelt Indicates Federal Action Is Probable

BRITISH-AXIS SHOWDOWN IN LIBYA NEAR

The day before Thanksgiving, an editorial in the Cumberland Evening Times noted, “Although some American ships have been sunk, some American lives have been lost and we are far nearer war than we have been at any time since the new conflagration was lighted in Europe, we are in a manner of speaking, still at peace. Whether this condition will continue we do not know, but at least we should be thankful for the blessings we enjoy at present.”

The Christmas season kicked into gear with ads for sales and specials for stores like Rosenbaum’s and Lazarus. However, officials encouraged early shopping because shortages were expected before the end of the year. Although the United States had not declared war against Germany, Japan, and Italy, many people expected it to happen, and with war, came a reallocation of resources to provide the soldiers on the front with the equipment and food they needed. However, this also meant that on the home front, there was often rationing.

City workers made for a gala on Dec. 27 to honor servicemen from the area. It was thought that about 1,000 men who had already enlisted could get passes to return to Cumberland for the celebration.

That was before Dec. 7.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, the United States became a country formally at war. The focus shifted to war-time production of goods and raising a fighting army. Even the coal strike, which had caused so much worry at Thanksgiving, was set aside as the government drafted miners. The United Mine Workers and management agreed to work together for war production.

Though not a heavy presence in daily life at this point, what presence there was was growing, and the newspaper noted that it put a “damper” on the holiday celebrations. Notes about the selection of air raid wardens for 26 different areas of the city crept in among the notices about holiday parties. Even editorial cartoons reflected both the holiday and the war. The city’ conducted its first blackout test the day after Christmas with every home and business within a 10-mile radius of Cumberland expected to douse their lights for 15 minutes once the warning went out.

While a gift-buying boom was expected at Christmas, Christmas 1941 saw another boom. “War brides’ brought a boom yesterday at the marriage license bureau with Court House clerks swamped with altar-bound couples before noon, and the usual Christmas business for Dan Cupid will be increased by khaki-clad young men getting married while home on brief furloughs,” reported the Cumberland Sunday Times. The newspaper noted that 49 couples applied for licenses on Dec. 20.

The city also organized a Civil Air Patrol to protect the skies over Allegany County. About 100 pilots in the area volunteered to help in this endeavor. The need was only heightened when two days before Christmas bombers were seen flying over the city. Fortunately, they were American bombers on maneuvers.

Not so fortunate was the report from the WPA supervisor in the area that a cache of dynamite at the airport was tampered with. “Fifth column” sabotage was suspected and the dynamite was moved.

The newspaper tried to put everything in perspective for its readers with an editorial that read, in part: “It is important that we bring about a condition of worldly peace and that this may be accomplished we must vanquish those responsible for its disruption. The thought of Christmas and all that it means should strengthen us in this task. If we are to make such a peace enduring, then we must cultivate that spirit of good will without which there can be no real peace. If we do not do this, then all our sacrifice, all our anguish, all our suffering shall have been in vain. If during this Christmas season we seek that peace of which the herald angels sang, then we can hope for that lasting peace promised unto us. So it is not incongruous to observe Christmas in time of war for the peace of Christmas is in the heart.”

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Note: This is the third part in a three-part series about Samuel Dana Greene and Cumberland (MD)’s connections to in the epic battle between the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia.

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Samuel Greene

The nature of naval warfare had changed in the morning of March 9, 1862. The C.S.S. Virginia had retreated leaving two destroyed wooden warships behind, but also a victorious ironclad called the U.S.S. Monitor.

Because of the battle fought at Hampton Roads, Virginia, the world’s wooden navies had become obsolete.

During the battle, Cumberland-born Samuel Dana Greene had commanded the turret of the Monitor as executive officer. He had chosen the targets and fired each round. When Captain John Worden was wounded, the 22-year-old Greene took command of the Union ironclad.

Worden wrote of Greene in his report to the Secretary of the Navy, “Lieutenant Greene, the executive officer, had charge in the turret, and handled the guns with great courage, coolness, and skill; and throughout the engagement, as in the equipment of the vessel and on her passage to Hampton Roads, he exhibited an earnest devotion to duty unsurpassed in my experience.”

When Worden gave Greene command of the Monitor, Greene had moved the ship to shallow water to determine whether it could continue fighting. When the Monitor moved back into action, the Virginia was already moving toward Norfolk. Rather than pursue, Greene had returned to protect the U.S.S. Minnesota, which had been its primary duty.

The next morning as the Monitor moved through the fleet. “Cheer after cheer went up from the Frigates and small craft for the glorious Monitor, and happy indeed did we all feel,” Greene wrote.

Later the crew received a hero’s welcome in Washington City and a visit from President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton.

To the Union, the victory was clear; the Virginia had abandoned the battlefield. That traditionally meant the Monitor was victorious. However, the South refused to admit the loss. They claimed that when Greene pulled away to check the steering gear during the battle, the Monitor had retreated, and the Virginia had then chosen to leave to keep from being trapped by the low tide.

On March 10, Greene was relieved of command because he was thought to be too young and inexperienced to serve as captain. Greene remained with the ship as the executive officer.

The two ironclads would never meet in battle again. Only two months later, with Union troops advancing on Norfolk, the Virginia could retreat no further up the James River because the water was too shallow. She was ordered grounded and blown up to keep from being captured.

The Monitor’s fate was no better. “We returned to Hampton Roads in November, and sailed thence in tow of the steamer Rhode Island, bound for Beaufort, N. C. Between 11 P. M. and midnight on the following night the Monitor went down in a gale, a few miles south of Cape Hatteras. Four officers and twelve men were drowned, forty-nine people being saved by the boats of the steamer. It was impossible to keep the vessel free of water, and we presumed that the upper and lower hulls thumped themselves apart,” Greene wrote.

Greene was ordered to the U.S.S. Florida as executive officer and later transferred to the U.S.S. Iroquois. Following the war, he served as an instructor at the Naval Academy.

Though he had a successful career, his failure to sink the Virginia and the Confederacy’s unwillingness to admit the defeat of the Virginia seemed to haunt him. In 1885, Greene wrote a lengthy article about his experience on the Monitor, and shortly before it was published, he committed suicide by shooting himself.

However, history remembers Greene better than he remembered himself. In 1918, the Navy launched the U.S.S. Greene, which would serve until the end of WWII.

In 2002, the Monitor’s turret and other artifacts, including the remains of two of the lost seamen, were recovered in a Navy salvage operation and are on display in the U.S.S. Monitor Center in the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia.

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Note: This is the second part in a three-part series about Samuel Dana Greene and Cumberland (MD)’s connections to in the epic battle between the U.S.S. Monitor and the C.S.S. Virginia.

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Officers on the deck of the U.S.S. Monitor. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The crew of the U.S.S. Monitor wasn’t sure what they would find when they steamed into Hampton Roads on March 8, 1862. The sounds of thunder they had heard were now believed to be the sounds of cannon booming during a great battle.

The crew suspected what the C.S.S. Virginia could do, but the report sounded like tall tales. An iron hull that the largest cannonball only bounced off of? A ram that would sink a warship in a single blow?

Impossible. Yet this was a new age, an age in which iron could float and, as the crew was about to discover, fable could become fact.

“As we approached Hampton Roads we could see the fine old Congress burning brightly, and soon a pilot came on board and told of the arrival of the Merrimac, the disaster to the Cumberland and the Congress, and the dismay of the Union forces,” Monitor Executive Officer Samuel Dana Greene wrote in an article in The Century Magazine in 1885.

Born in Cumberland, Greene had entered the navy as an “acting midshipman” in 1855 at the age of 15. He volunteered for duty on the Monitor and because of the shortage of junior officers in the navy, he was made executive officer. Greene’s assigned crewmen to their watches and quarters. He was also gunnery officer and trained the crew on the two Dahlgren guns in the turret.

The U.S.S. Minnesota had been headed to assist the U.S.S. Cumberland and the U.S.S. Congress in their losing battles against the ironclad Virginia, resurrected from the sunken U.S.S. Merrimack. The Monitor dropped anchor beside the Minnesota to give the wooden ship the protection of the Union’s hastily built ironclad.

In August 1861, the Navy Department had solicited ideas for ironclad vessels and selected John Ericsson‘s unique design. The ship had been built in less than 100 days. When in the water, the ship’s deck rode only a foot above the water. One Confederate naval officer described the Monitor as a cheese box on a shingle.

Early tests of the ship’s abilities hadn’t been heartening, but it was the Union’s only hope to stand against the Virginia which had so easily proved victorious over two wooden ships on March 8.

“Between 1 and 2 A. M. the Congress blew up, not instantaneously, but successively; her powder-tanks seemed to explode, each shower of sparks rivaling the other in its height, until they appeared to reach the zenith — a grand but mournful sight. Near us, too, lay the Cumberland at the bottom of the river, with her silent crew of brave men, who died while fighting their guns to the water’s edge, and whose colors were still flying at the peak,” Greene wrote.

The Confederate sailors celebrated their victory throughout the night and in the morning, headed toward the Minnesota to sink it as well. The Virginia came within a mile of the Minnesota and opened fire.

The Monitor moved alongside the Virginia, swiveled its turret so the twin guns faced the Virginia and Captain John Worden ordered, “Commence firing!”

“I triced up the port, ran out the gun, and, taking deliberate aim, pulled the lockstring. The Merrimac was quick to reply, returning a rattling broadside (for she had ten guns to our two), and the battle fairly began. The turret and other parts of the ship were heavily struck, but the shots did not penetrate; the tower was intact, and it continued to revolve. A look of confidence passed over the men’s faces, and we believed the Merrimac would not repeat the work she had accomplished the day before,” Greene wrote.

As the gunnery officer, he personally chose the target and fired each shot from the Monitor.

The Virginia wasn’t prepared to fight another ironclad. Its guns were loaded with grapeshot and explosive shells, which had no effect on an ironclad. Meanwhile, the Monitor was firing 168-pound balls from 17,000-pound guns.

Captain Henry Van Brunt of the Minnesota wrote, “Gun after gun was fired by the Monitor, which was returned by whole broadsides from the rebels with no more effect, apparently, than so many pebble stones thrown by a child.”

The intense firing caused so much smoke that spectators couldn’t see the battle at times. The smaller Monitor would move in close to the Virginia, sometimes even touching the other ship, and fire both guns. Then the Monitor could quickly move to a new location, swivel the turret to redirect the guns and fire again.

Inside the turret, the men, including Greene, were black with powder and nearly deaf from the sound of hits against the iron skin of turret. The turret took at least nine direct hits with the worst damage being dents.

At one point, the Monitor tried to ram the Virginia, but a steering malfunction caused the Monitor to barely miss it. In the pilot house, Worden was looking out when the Virginia fired on the passing Monitor and hit the pilot house.

Blinded, the captain was carried to a sofa and Greene was called from the turret. Greene arrived and saw the captain. “He was a ghastly sight, with his eyes closed and the blood apparently rushing from every pore in the upper part of his face. He told me that he was seriously wounded, and directed me to take command. I assisted in leading him to a sofa in his cabin, where he was tenderly cared for by Doctor Logue, and then I assumed command,” Greene wrote.

Uncertain of how badly the steering gear had been damaged, Greene ordered the Monitor to break off the fighting. When Greene found the damage was not so serious that the Monitor couldn’t fight, the ship reentered the engagement. However, the Virginia was itself retreating from the battlefield in order to keep from being trapped by a low tide.

“We of the Monitor thought, and still think, that we had gained a great victory. This the Confederates have denied. But it has never been denied that the object of the Merrimac on the 9th of March was to complete the destruction of the Union fleet in Hampton Roads, and that in this she was completely foiled and driven off by the Monitor nor has it been denied that at the close of the engagement the Merrimac retreated to Norfolk, leaving the Monitor in possession of the field,” Greene wrote.

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Coming in September! Smoldering Fire, a new historical fiction series from the author of Canawlers and October Mourning.

Is Matt Ansaro a spy, coal miner, or loyal family member? Sometimes even Matt isn’t sure.

SB Cover.jpgMatt Ansaro returns to his hometown of Eckhart Mines in the Western Maryland coal fields. It has been five years since Matt was here, and he swore when he left in 1917 that he would never return. Although Matt’s parents are dead, the rest of his family welcomes him home with open arms.

Joseph McCord, the superintendent of the Consolidation Coal Mines and a classmate of Matt’s, is not so happy to see Matt return. He has plans for Matt’s old girlfriend, Laura Spencer, and Joseph thinks he will need to compete with Matt for her attention.

Matt has his own plans. He is a Pinkerton detective, and he has been sent to spy on his former neighbors for the Consolidation Coal Company. The coal company owners want to know about union activity in the town and shut it down before it can gain a foothold.

Matt takes a job in the mines and works to re-establish his connections with his family and neighbors, including Laura. He also finds himself attracted to Samantha Havencroft, a suffragette and daughter of a college president.

Matt is walking a tightrope. If the miners find out he is a detective, he could be attacked and driven from town. However, if the coal company or Pinkerton Agency discovers Matt’s real reason for returning to Eckhart Mines, the result could be just as bad. He is a man alone, trying to do what he sees best, even as a national coal strike looms.

Smoldering Betrayal is the first book in the Black Fire series and full of action, intrigue, drama, and romance in the 1922 Western Maryland coal fields.

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 Editor’s Note: This is the second of two posts about the murder of Jean Welch in 1965.

On May 17, 1965, Jean Welch, a young mother, was murdered while her children were in another room of her home in Cumberland, Md.

Though Cumberland was a city, it was not plagued by a high murder rate as seen in many cities. The number of murders each year could be counted on one hand, usually one finger.

The case fell under the jurisdiction of the Cumberland Police Department but because of the violent nature of the crime, a multi-agency investigation team was formed. It included Deputy Maryland States Attorney J. Frederick Sharer, Cumberland Detective Lieutenant Thomas See, Cumberland Detective Harry Iser, County Investigator William F. Baker and the deputy Allegany County Medical Examiner.

At least 10 police officers were assigned to the case full time. They began going door to door, questioning neighbors. They also visited with friends and relatives of the Welch’s. Within a week, more than 300 people had been interviewed and their statements recorded.

Cumberland Police Detective Capt. James Van and other officers stopped cars along Oldtown Road during the time period the murder might have occurred and questioned the drivers if they had seen anything on the day of the murder.

“The residents of Oldtown Road area have been cooperative and many have cut their lawns, trimmed their hedges seeking the murder weapon in an effort to assist police,” reported the Cumberland Evening Times.

Besides the murderer, the murder weapon continued to elude the invesigators. Police searched trash cans, a nearby lake and construction sites. The Cumberland Sewer Department personnel cleaned out catch basins and sewers around the Welch’s apartment hoping to find the weapon. City workers also cut grass on nearby open lots, hoping the weapon might simply have been tossed away.

It was never found or identified.

No clear motive was ever established, either, though sexual assault was alluded to in some reports.

Cumberland Police Chief B. Frank Gaffney told the newspaper, “As of now there has been no basic motive established and we are operating on all theories. The murderer could be a friend or stranger, local or transient.”

Jean was buried March 20, but the investigation and rumors were just beginning. The rumor mill was naming the killer even though the police had no evidence to support the accusations, though each one needed to be investigated. The rumors resulted “in some leads, on the other hand, they have necessitated many endless hours of checking for county, city and state officers,” reported the Cumberland Sunday Times.

They logged thousands of man-hours of leg work searching for the killer. The volume and nature of the rumors became so bad that State’s Attorney Donald Mason warned the public, “Persons who start or repeat these false rumors are subject to legal action for civil slander by persons whose names are mentioned. These false rumors also hinder the work of the investigating officers who are working tirelessly on this case.”

The target of many of those rumors was Dale Welch. This is not surprising since the spouse is usually the prime suspect in such a case, but Welch had an air-tight alibi. He had been playing golf miles away from the apartment with a number of other men who testified to that fact.

When the Cumberland Police brought in a lie detector with a trained Maryland State Police examiner to use with some key witnesses, Welch volunteered to be tested, hoping to clear his name. He passed two separate tests, showing he had no knowledge relating to the death of his wife. It was enough for the police, though rumors would always surround him about what he knew about his wife’s death.

Despite the diligence of the police during the investigation, they had mishandled the crime scene during the first day. Blood samples and fingerprints had been lost due to mishandling. Though a large number of investigators were needed to handle the searches and interviews, it may have led to a case of having too many fingers in the pie.

“It wasn’t that someone committed the perfect murder and got away with it. Things got messed up,” said Loy Capshaw, the adult Loy Lee Welch.

At the investigation’s peak, 10 officers were assigned full-time to the case with many other people from different agencies looking at it on a part-time basis. Sylvester J. Smith, president of the Air-Flow Roofing and Siding Company where Welch worked, offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Jean’s killer. This only added to the volume of tips and leads that police needed to investigate.

No one was ever arrested and the killer remained at large.

Capshaw noted the fact that the case was never closed haunted her father until his death. He had always hoped that the killer would be found so that he could have closure.

For a short time, it seemed like that might finally happen. Sources familiar with the case were saying that an under-the-radar investigation by the state’s attorney office in the early 2000’s had found forensic evidence that indicated a living family member might be the murder. If true, this would not have been Welch because he had already passed away. However, no one was ever indicted and the case was not reopened. It remains unsolved and part of the Maryland State Police’s cold case file.

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 Editor’s Note: This is the first of two posts about the murder of Jean Welch in 1965.

WELCH 1

The last photo of Jean Welch. She holds her daughters, Loy Lee and Dee Dee, on her lap.

Jean Welch carried her basket of wet laundry outside to hang it on the clothesline to dry behind her apartment. May 17, 1965, was a sunny, spring day in Cumberland, Maryland, and besides being warm enough to hang clothes on the line, Jean had traded her winter clothes for shorts and short-sleeved blouse.

Cumberland had once been the second-largest city in Maryland. Located in the Appalachian Mountains in Western Maryland, the city had boomed with the coal and railroad industries. However, as those industries struggled and declined, the city’s population had peaked in 1940 and had been falling since then to around 31,000 in 1965. Because it was such a small city, it contained neighborhoods that looked more as if they belonged in the suburbs rather than a city. Jean Welch and her family lived in one of these neighborhoods on Cumberland’s south side.

Jean was an attractive brunette and looking at her, one might find it hard to believe she was 33 years old, let alone the mother of three children. And someone was looking at her as she hung the clothes. A witness would later tell police she had seen Jean hanging the laundry around 1:30 p.m.

Someone else most likely saw her, too. This person wouldn’t give a statement to police. The police would never know his name. They would only know what he did.

Jean lived in her apartment on Oldtown Road with her husband, Dale, and their three daughters. Two families lived in apartments on the second floor of the building. No one was home that afternoon in one of the apartments, but in the other, a woman inside going about her day. She noticed nothing amiss.

“One woman from the other second-floor apartment was at home and investigation revealed she had heard a knock on the Welch’s sidedoor,” reported the Cumberland Evening Times. The side door was located on New Hampshire Avenue and it was used more often by family and friends than the front door on Oldtown Road.

Neighbors across the street were sitting on their front porch watching the people walk by and traffic zip up and down Oldtown Road. No one would later recall anyone approaching the front door to the Welch apartment. However, they did recall that the drapes in the large picture window of Welch’s apartment had been open when Jean was hanging clothes, but by 3 p.m. someone had closed them. Given that the day was so lovely, it was odd enough for the couple to recall them being closed, though they didn’t notice anyone pulling them shut.

Around 4 p.m., Judy Woodson, Jean’s 13-year-old daughter from a prior marriage, returned home from school and entered the apartment. She found it a mess, which was unusual. Her mother was a good housekeeper. Then Judy found her 1-year-old sister Dee Dee strapped to her training potty in the back bedroom. Judy’s other sister, 2-year-old Loy Lee was also in the apartment and crying.

Loy Lee explained what happened next decades later.

“Mom!” Judy called.

No answer.

She looked in her mother’s bedroom but it was empty. The door to the bathroom was closed. If her mother was in there, why hadn’t she answered Judy’s call. Judy knocked on the door.

“Mom?”

When there was no answer, Judy opened the door.

Her mother was inside. The sight would haunt Judy for many years to come. Jean was laying face down in a partially filled tub of water and not moving. Judy screamed.

Dale Welch had spent the afternoon playing golf. He had been at the Cumberland Country Club since noon. He finished his round of golf around 4:15 p.m. and got in his car to head back to Air-Flow Roofing and Siding Company where he was vice president.

“While en route from the golf course to the office, Mr. Welch was advised on his two-way car radio that there was ‘an emergency’ at his home,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

Welch rushed home and was met by police at the apartment who showed him his wife’s body. They then led him to where his daughters were and began questioning him.

The deputy county medical examiner determined that the killer had struck Jean several times with a blunt instrument. Unfortunately, no one could find the murder weapon. Besides striking her, the killer had strangled Jean with a drapery cord and pushed her face down into the tub to drown her. Her time of death was estimated to be around 2 p.m., shortly after she was last seen hanging laundry.

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Photo courtesy of the Garrett County Historical Society.

“My camera lens does not lie. It took just what it saw, no more, no less,” Leo J. Beachy once wrote.

 

His camera captured faces and scenes of Garrett County in the early 20th century. Horse-drawn wagons. One-room log schoolhouses. Historic buildings that have since been destroyed. Weddings and school classes. Dirt roads and mud streets.

“Of all the early Maryland photographers whose work I have seen,” photographer Marion E. Warren said in The Eye of the Beholder: Photographs by Marion E. Warren 1940-1988, “Leo Beachy had a sensitivity for human interest that was unique.”

It is a world that now lives only in the memories of the oldest citizens and for decades after Beachy’s death in 1927, it was believed as lost as the time that had spawned it.

Life as a Backwoods Schoolteacher

Leo Beachy was born in 1874 on a farm call Mt. Nebo near Grantsville. He was the seventh of 10 children born to Jonas Beachy and Anna Youtzy. Leo lived on the family farm his entire life never marrying or having children.

As an adult, he became a school teacher, teaching in small one-room schoolhouses, such as Negro Mountain School, Engle School, and Compton School.

“He wrote an article called ‘My Life as a Backwoods School Teacher.’ It was so sad to read. He was very unhappy,” his niece, Maxine Beachy Broadwater said.

According to the book, Legacy of Leo J. Beachy, Leo won a small Kodak camera as a sales premium from E. L. Kellogg & Co. With this camera, he took his first picture. It was of his mother staring up at the sun.

“When he developed the picture, he wrote, ‘Lo and behold, I thought I was Rembrandt,’” Broadwater said, recalling some of her uncle’s writings.

His interest in photography sparked, he soon found himself a larger camera that took pictures on glass plates. However, he didn’t do much with it at the time and stored it away in a trunk.

“What induced me to take up photography was that I wanted our home photographer to go to that old log school where I taught my first school and take some pictures of it and the great hills lying about it and the rocky Savage River. He never got the pictures for me,” Beachy wrote.

He remembered his camera and took the picture himself. Pleased with the results, he began taking other pictures of classes, places, and people of Garrett County.

Beachy suffered from a crippling disease that caused him to give up teaching. Today, the disease can be identified as multiple sclerosis, though it did not have a name at the time.

Beachy threw his work efforts into photography.

“Aunt Kate would carry him on her back to the wagon and get him on. Then he would drive to where he needed to be and someone there would carry him off,” Broadwater said.

Over the next two decades, it’s not known how many glass-plate photos that Beachy took, but the estimates are in the tens of thousands. He also began making a national name for himself. Motor Trend ran some of his National Road photos in 1925 and National Geographic ran at least one of his photos in 1926 of a Garrett County snow scene.

Former President Theodore Roosevelt also admired Beachy’s work when he judged a photography contest. Beachy had entered a picture of “Speedy” Bittinger on his motorcycle and sidecar delivering mail along the National Road and won the national contest.

Beachy died from complications of multiple sclerosis on May 5, 1927. He was only 53 years old. He is buried in Otto Cemetery, near Grantsville.

beachy_cove_garrett_coA Legacy Lost

Broadwater was only six years old when she helped her brothers load boxes of her uncle’s glass plates onto a wagon to clear out Beachy’s studio so that it could be converted into a chicken house.

“I still feel guilty about it today, but I was young and I did what I was told,” Broadwater said.

The glass plates were taken to a creek and dumped into it where they shattered.

Luckily, Beachy had been a prolific photographer and the boxes dumped into the creek were not the only boxes of his photographs.

A Legacy Found

In 1975, a friend came into the library where Broadwater worked and showed her a set of 75 glass-plate negatives.

“The minute I saw them I knew they were Uncle Leo’s,” Broadwater said.

Then a few years later a man who was renting property next to the old stone Casselman River Bridge, commented to Broadwater that he wished that Dr. Alta Shrock, the founder of Penn Alps, would get rid of the boxes of old glass plates in the old wash house. The boxes were so heavy that they were collapsing the old shelves they were sitting on.

Broadwater called Shrock, who gave her the plates, around 2,500 of them. They had been rescued from a dump many years before, stored away, and forgotten. Kate Beachy had apparently held back some of her brother’s glass plates to preserve them. She eventually forgot about them and when she moved to New York, the new owners of the house found the boxes of glass plates and took them to the dump. Luckily, someone realized they had historic value and rescued them, although he, too, eventually forgot them.

Since that time, Broadwater has worked hard to preserve her uncle’s legacy by caring for the glass plates and displaying the scenes captured on them.

“I never met Uncle Leo, but I feel as though I know him through working on the glass-plate negatives,” Broadwater said.

Her efforts had paid off as he uncle’s talent has come to be appreciated.

In his book, Maryland Time Exposures, 1840-1940, William Stapp, curator of photography for the National Portrait Gallery, wrote, “Beachy’s photographs are entrancing pictures, composed with naïve charm … (They) are compelling, summoning up visions of a style of life blessed by innocence … They reassure us about our past, and thus give us comfort for the present and for the future. That is no mean accomplishment for an unpretentious small-town photographer.”

Remembering Leo Beachy

You can view a documentary about Beachy, “Leo Beachy: A Legacy Nearly Lost”, on the Garrett County Historical Society website. The documentary originally aired on WQED in Pittsburgh.

Life Magazine also published many of his photos in 1990 in a 10-page feature. You can view many of the photographs on the Garrett County Historical Society website or by visiting the Grantsville Museum.

The Maryland Historical Society also has a small collection of Beachy’s glass-plate negatives that it acquired in 2010.

Broadwater has also published four volumes of small books with hundreds of Beachy’s photographs reprinted in them.

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