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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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beachy-with-kids

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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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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cumbercolts

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

 

8239051

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.

 

8239053

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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