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masonicstructureA lot has changed over the past 200 years, but Freemasons of the Columbia Lodge of the Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons are still conducting their meetings as if it were 1815.

“The meetings are the same as they were 200, 300, 400 years ago,” Matthew Sanders, Worshipful Master of the Columbia Lodge, said. Worshipful Master is a position equivalent to an organization’s president.

Masons are the largest and oldest fraternal organization in the world. For many people, their only exposure to the Masons is through the National Treasure movies. However, while the Masons have rites they keep private, they are open to visitors for the most part.

“We don’t go out and see people to become members,” Sanders said. “People who want to become a member seek us out.”

The idea behind this is that being a Mason requires a certain degree of commitment and if someone is pushed to join, he might not be as committed as someone who wants to join.

The goal of masonry is to create a better person, and thereby, improve the world. According to the Masonic pamphlet, What’s A Mason?, “Masonry is deeply involved in helping people—it spends more than $2 million dollars every day in the United States, just to make life a little easier. And the great majority of that help goes to people who are not Masons.”

Much of it goes to charitable institutes and programs like Crippled Children’s Hospitals, Burns Institutes, and Childhood Language Disorder Clinics.

thColumbia Lodge No. 58

The Freemasons came to Maryland in 1750, not in Baltimore, which was the largest population center at the time, but in Leonardtown. They weren’t established in Frederick County until just before the Revolutionary War. Not much is known of the early lodges in the county. According to the Columbia Lodge’s history, the first Masonic Lodge in Frederick County met in the home of William Downey near New Market.

During the Revolutionary War, Frederick County had an Army Lodge that was comprised of Maryland troops and Frederick County Masons, even though it was chartered by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania.

After the war, John Frederick Amelung and George Fearhake formed a lodge near Urbana.

Then in 1799, Hiram Lodge No. 28 of Fredericktown was chartered with 30 members.

All of these lodges are gone now. They either surrendered their charters or were folded into other lodges. Some of the smaller lodges combined to help form the Columbia Lodge No. 58, which was chartered on November 7, 1815.

“The Masons met in a home at the corner of Market and Second Street,” said Kenneth Wyvill, Grand Master of the Maryland Masons.

This combined lodge was large enough to meet the needs of Frederick County Masons for 66 years. However, in its first decade, the Columbia Lodge had no permanent home. It met in five different locations, usually a Mason’s home.

Gen. Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, who was the French hero of the American Revolution visited Frederick and attended a Masonic meeting on December 29, 1824, in the House of Henry Bantz on West Second Street. LaFayette presented his Masonic apron to Mason William Bear, who in turn donated it to the lodge.

The apron is still on display in the lodge museum.

The 1830s saw a period where Masons were persecuted in the country and the Columbia Lodge decided on June 7, 1830, ceased their meetings.

“There is no evidence of the existence of any Masonic Lodge during the years 1830 to 1842 in Frederick County,” according to the pamphlet, Ceremonies of Cornerstone Laying and Dedication, which was printed for the dedication of the new Masonic Lodge in 1999.

In 1842, a number of Masons in Frederick met in a schoolhouse on the north side of West Church Street where the Evangelical Reformed Church now stand to petition the Grand Lodge of Maryland to reinstate the Columbia Lodge’s charter.

The new charter was approved on November 6, 1842. Although a new charter was issued, the Columbia Lodge still retained its original lodge number (No. 58). This means that it was the 58th lodge ever chartered in Maryland and today it is the 10th oldest lodge in the state, according to Sanders.

Lynch Lodge

“As population centers grew and shifted, Masons would decide to form new lodges,” said Wyvill.

The first lodge to break away to form another lodge in a different area of Frederick County was the Acacia Lodge in 1871. It formed in Thurmont to serve northern Frederick County.

The Lynch Lodge chartered in 1873 was formed not because of a desire to have a lodge closer to home but because the Masons were in danger of violating one of the two taboo subjects that aren’t discussed in a lodge—politics and religion. These subjects tend to create hard feelings between people and the Masons are about brotherhood.

Although the Civil War had ended in 1865, hard feelings still existed between those who supported the Union and those who supported the Confederacy. The two lodges remained separate until 1994 when they merged back into the Columbia Lodge.

Currently, there are six Masonic Lodges in Frederick County. The others are in Brunswick, Thurmont, Emmitsburg, Point of Rocks and New Market.


While there is much fellowshipping among the Masons, there is also instruction. Masons learn various speeches, passwords, and signs to move through different degrees.

Though generally believed to be a Christian group, Masons include many faiths. The one requirement is that Masons must believe in a higher being. Each lodge has a book of faith on its central altar. This can be a Bible, but it could also be the Torah, Quran, or more than one.

“The only person we won’t accept is an atheist,” Sanders said.

Masons are involved in many civic activities and participate in parades and building dedications. They can be identified in full regalia that includes tuxedos, top hats, and aprons.

The Columbia Lodge Today

The cornerstone for the current lodge hall on Blentlinger Road was laid in 1999. The three-floor brick building has a lodge room, social hall, museum, and other rooms. The walls are adorned with pictures and artifacts that tell the story of the Masons in Frederick County.

“Everything you see as you walk through here has meaning for us,” Sanders said.

The Masons of the Columbia Lodge will be celebrating their 200 years in Frederick with a party at Dutch’s Daughter.

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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.


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.


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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Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series about UFOs in West Virginia.

new-blue-project-docsMore-official accounts of UFO sightings in West Virginia abound in the reports of the Air Force’s Project Blue Book. From 1947 until 1969, the Air Force collected and investigated reports of unidentified flying objects. Here are some of the many West Virginia reports:

  • November 1, 1957 – A woman in Huntington heard a crash, the sound of a jet engine and then beeping. When she went outside to see what caused the noise, she saw an “object like two (2) hemispheres joined off center.” She said the object was metallic and the size of a car. The bottom hemisphere appeared to provide the power as the object vibrated and rotated. She watched the object until it rose straight up and disappeared.
  • March 11, 1949 – A man wrote a letter to Air Force officials describing an object he had seen that looked like a flattened funnel as it flew. “I have not spoken to anyone about the incidents because you have to see them to believe they exist,” the man wrote in his letter.
  • March 25, 1949 – A witness in Morgantown saw a red-gold object as large as two city blocks hovering about five feet off the ground.
  • March 8, 1955 – Witnesses in Morgantown reported a round object “brighter than the sun on aluminum” that had no edges and made no sound.
  • June 1956 – A young boy reported seeing a silver-colored object the shape of a reverse teardrop flying at an altitude of around 8,000 feet.

The Air Force then commissioned a study to be done of the reports. The University of Colorado conducted the Condon Report. The Air Force had investigated 12,097 UFO sightings and the Condon report found that only 697 could not be identified. Common identifications included UFO’s were bright stars, planets, comets, meteors, satellites, aircraft and weather balloons. For instance, the March 8, 1955 incident above was classified as a weather balloon sighting. The report also found “no direct evidence whatever of a convincing nature for the claim that any UFOs represent spacecraft visiting Earth from another civilization.”

UFO supporters claim the investigations were poorly handled and researchers were too eager to list objects as identified when they really weren’t.

So the question remains…are we alone in the universe or have we been visited by ships and creatures from other worlds? And why do so many of them seem attracted to West Virginia?

What have you seen in the sky?

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Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series about UFOs in West Virginia.


The drawing made of the Braxton County Monster.

West Virginia’s most-famous UFO sighting is also part monster story. On September 12, 1952, Edward May, 13; his brother Fred May, 12, and their friend Tommy Hyer, 10, saw a bright object in the sky near Flatwoods that seemed to come to rest on a nearby field. The boys told the May brothers’ mother, Kathleen May, what they had seen. She, the boys, and Neil Nunley, 14; Ronnie Shaver, 10, and Gene Lemon, 17, went to try and locate the UFO.

At the top of a hill, they saw a large, pulsating “ball of fire.” Lemon also noticed small lights near the object. When he shined his flashlight toward the lights, he saw a creature. Though the descriptions of the creature vary somewhat, most agree it was about 10 feet tall with a red face that glowed from within and a green body. The body was man-shaped and wore a skirt.

Both the creature and witnesses fled the scene. The group reported the event to Sheriff Robert Carr who went to investigate the incident with a deputy.

When A. Lee Stewart, co-owner of the Braxton Democrat visited the scene later that night, he found “there was a sickening, burnt, metallic odor still prevailing.” The following day he visited again and found elongated tracks on the ground and a thick, black liquid. He reported the incident as a possible UFO landing.

Was the sighting real? That’s still being debated today. At least one report says it was a hoax.

Adrian Gwin of the Charleston Daily Mail wrote a 1977 article that said Flatwoods resident Bill Steorts had written the paper a letter saying that he and A. Lee Stewart, Jr., the son of the owner of the Braxton Democrat, had invented the Flatwoods Monster.

“Being slightly intoxicated, we fabricated the story of the Braxton County Monster.  … From there it just mushroomed. Kathleen and her children went to New York on a TV show. Scientists from all over came to investigate. We sat back and laughed. My father knew what we boys were doing but his store was doing a booming business from the tourist trade …,” Steorts wrote in the letter published in the Daily Mail.

One report says the pulsating light could have been a meteor (there was one in the region that night) and the creature an owl (though the witnesses’ perceptions were distorted somewhat by their anxiety). Also, the tracks were later identified as belonging to a pick-up truck driven by Max Lockard who had gone to the site to look for evidence of a UFO.

The Braxton County Monster also has a famous cousin in West Virginia Lore called the Mothman.

The Mothman was first seen on November 15, 1966, near the West Virginia Ordnance Works at Point Pleasant. David and Linda Scarberry and Steve and Mary Mallette were driving in the Scarberry’s car when they saw two red lights near the plant gate. When they stopped to investigate, they discovered the red lights were the eyes of animal that “shaped like a man, but bigger, maybe six and a half or seven feet tall, with big wings folded against its back,” according to Roger Scarberry. When they tried to drive off, the creature chased them even when their speed was 100 mph.

The group told their story to Deputy Millard Halstead at the Mason County Courthouse. He investigated but found no sign of the creature. However, several sightings over the next year described roughly the same creature.

Sightings diminished after the collapse of the Silver Bridge between Point Pleasant and Kanauga, OH, that killed 46 people. This gave rise to the story that the Mothman appears before upcoming disasters.

However, one explanation of the Mothman is that it was a sandhill crane. They were known to be in the area and they could grow to large heights. They also had large wingspans. They also have an unusual shriek.

While there is no spaceship involved in the story, the Mothman himself is an unidentified flying object and many believe him to be an alien.

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Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series about UFOs in West Virginia.


A photograph of a UFO supposedly sighted in West Virginia in 2016.

Tad Jones was driving to work one January morning in 1966 when he saw something blocking the two westbound lanes of Interstate 64 about a mile from the Institute exit. Jones told the Charleston Daily Mail that he drove his truck within 10 feet of a “dull aluminum sphere which hovered about four feet above the ground.”

He further described the unidentified object as being about 25 feet in diameter with two antennae protruding from the top and four legs and a propeller on the bottom of the sphere.

“He said it was rotating slowly when he stopped his truck. Jones said he did not leave his vehicle, watched the propeller start spinning, and that then the object rose swiftly, without noise, odor, exhaust or any sense of heat, and disappeared skyward like ‘it had been shot out of a gun,’” according to an article in the Daily Mail.

Two years later, a reporter tracked Jones down and asked him if he still believed he had seen an unidentified flying object.

Jones told the reporter, “I believe what I saw. It was there. I never saw anything like it before, and I haven’t seen anything like it since, but it was there that morning on I-64.”

Jones’ story is one of the many stories West Virginians can tell of objects, lights and spheres they have seen that defy explanation or identification. At one time, West Virginia had the reputation as the UFO capital of the world.

The reason?

“Seeing is believing, and more people in West Virginia have seen unidentified flying objects than people in any other state,” J. Ralph Jarrett, president of UFO Investigators, told a newspaper in 1969.

Reports of spaceships date back to Biblical times when Ezekiel wrote, “And when the living creatures went, then wheels went by them: and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up.” Ezekiel’s account is also believed by some to include a description of aliens.

The Beckley Register and Post-Herald also noted in 1972, “Granite drawings, estimated to be 47,000 years old now at the University of Peking, show people on ground level looking up at cylindrical objects in the sky. Carvings of sculptured rocks in the Sahara Dessert (sic) traced by the carbon method of the year 6000 B.C. show earth people staring at ‘human beings’ with strange round heads and other mystifying characteristics.”

UFOs and flying saucers became part of the American vocabulary on June 24, 1947 when the first report of a flying saucer was made. Kenneth Arnold was flying his private plane when he saw “a chain-like formation of disc-shaped objects” near Mt. Rainer, Washington.

Though West Virginia wasn’t the location of the first sighting, it soon became a popular destination for UFOs.

Charlie Connor of the Daily Mail wrote tongue-in-cheek, “We may be at the bottom of a lot of other activities, but we’re up among the top in UFO sightings. When the unknown beings from outer space decide to colonize Earth, there is no doubt they’ll settle among the hills and valleys of West Virginia where they’ve had such a receptive audience in the past.”

Some other West Virginia reports of UFO’s include:

  • July 7, 1966 – Victor Camp, 18, John Parker, 18, and John McVay, 16, all from Clendenin, reported they saw a UFO that came so close that their car engine and radio quit, and they jumped out of the car and scattered.
  • March 4, 1967 – Night supervisor Adam Rohrig of the FAA control tower at Kanawha Airport reported that controllers there saw a formation of three lights crossing from southwest that moved “slower than meteorites but faster than jets.”
  • June 5, 1968 – Dr. John Herlihy observed a UFO from his porch in Charleston and Charles O’Dell and Shirley Shelton, both of Summersville, said a UFO flew parallel to them along U.S. 60 near Shrewsbury.
  • Jan. 6, 1969 – Air-traffic controllers Paul Anderson and Ted Curtis of the Mercer County Airport said they witnessed a mysterious, pear-shaped object over Bluefield several nights.
  • Oct. 26, 1978 – Many people see unidentified lights in the sky during the week, including 11 police officers who saw unidentified lights hovering over Parkersburg before they moved off.
  • Sept. 15, 2002 – A group of people, including a guard at the Snowshoe Mountain Resort, saw an object that hovered over Cheat Mountain and “looked like a child’s top with green, red and clear flashing lights, but there was no sound coming from the object.”

There seems to be no reports or few reports of UFOs in West Virginia in the 1980s and 1990s. Since the dawning of the new century, though, reports have begun to pick up.

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In 1921 and 1922, salesmen from the Point of Purchase Advertising Association visited retail businesses across the country with a simple pitch. If the business joined the advertising association, then it was eligible to receive a dollar a month (roughly $15 today) for each electric sign from a national advertiser that it placed in its business windows. Business owners could not only continue to generate their own sales with products advertised in their windows, but just the act of advertising them would generate income for the business.

“The Point of Purchase bid fair to reap a golden harvest for its promoter, due to the fact that it sounded feasible to retailers,” the York Dispatch reported.

Then in mid-June 1922, the officers of the association were arrested at their York headquarters. York Police took LeGrand Dutcher, president; Charles A. Hoffman, vice president; and Charles W. Newport, secretary, into custody and held on $5,000 bond each. The National Vigilance Committee of the Advertising Clubs of the World had investigated the company and shown their findings to the legal authorities. The investigation showed that the Point of Purchase Advertising Association was running a fraud scheme on the unsuspecting business owners.

The officers were charged with making “Fraudulent representation to organizations using prominent national retailers enabled Point of Purchase to make headway in a national membership campaign,” according to the York Dispatch. The newspaper also pointed out that the case was the first national fraud of its type.

The salesmen sold the membership contracts to retailers who then agreed to place the flashing electric signs in their storefront windows. In exchange for providing window space for the advertisers, the business owners expected a monthly check. The problem was that the retailers were led to believe that plenty of national retailers had signed up to have their businesses advertised when, in fact, they hadn’t.

“In many cases the first intimation they received that their name was being used to sell signs came from the national vigilance committee,” the York Dispatch pointed out.

Attorneys pointed out that the Point of Purchase Advertising Association’s name had been chosen with special consideration. The name reassured retailers who believed that national advertisers were anxious to reach customers at the local level where they purchased their goods.

What made things worse was that as the plan started to unravel, the salesmen went rogue. They would sell memberships and keep the money for themselves. They would call on the business once to collect the membership fee and were never seen by the business owner again. Some memberships were even sold to businesses that didn’t have the proper electrical service to operate the flashing signs.

The York Chamber of Commerce and York Police started receiving telegrams early in 1922 asking for information about the Point of Purchase Advertising Association and whether it was a legitimate business. The police department got so many telegrams that it created a form letter that outlined the scant details that the department knew. These letters were sent in reply to each person who sent a telegram.

Because the scheme had crossed state lines and used the U.S. Mail, the legal case also involved the Office of the U.S. District Attorney, Middle District Pennsylvania. Andrew Dunsmore prosecuted the case and won convictions of the officials.

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