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

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

 

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

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One of the products sold at a medicine show.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Coffee was going to be rationed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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A WWII  ration book.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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clarysvilleWhen the Indiana Zouaves arrived in Cumberland in June 1861, they attracted a lot of attention from the residents and understandably so. Hundreds of the soldiers arrived at one time wearing brightly colored uniforms.

Another group of soldiers began arriving around the same time. These men didn’t march down Baltimore Street in groups to display themselves. They arrived by train and wagon, even canal boat, at all hours of the day and were carried into hotels and warehouse out of public view.

The pageantry of the Civil War had quickly given way to the reality of soldiers who needed treatment. Because of Cumberland’s location at the nexus of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, and National Road, it became an ideal location to concentrate medical services. The wounded could be taken from the battlefronts by wagon and driven to Cumberland or loaded onto rail car that would speed them on their way there.

Once in Cumberland, military doctors, local physicians, Catholic sisters and volunteers took care of their needs.

With soldiers facing a much longer recovery time than they do nowadays, the beds in the dozens of temporary hospitals throughout Cumberland filled quickly. More wounded were coming into the city than were being released from the hospitals or buried in the graveyards. Supplies to treat all of them began dwindling.

In March 1862, the Wheeling Daily Press published a letter from a Cumberland surgeon thanking the U.S. Sanitary Commission in Wheeling for the supplies that had been sent to Cumberland. The surgeon wrote, in part, “We need them badly and they are doing our soldiers much good. We have about 1200 sick. In consequence of our increasing numbers we have not yet a sufficient supply of bed ticks, comfortable pillows, pillow cases, etc.”

Besides needing supplies, Surgeon-in-Charge George Suckley wanted to get the wounded out of the drafty warehouses, engine houses and other buildings that were not intended to house people. He began searching for a location where the wounded could be brought that wasn’t strung out among two dozen locations throughout Cumberland.

The answer came from an unlikely source.

Mary Townsend came from Frostburg one day to visit her husband who was a local doctor helping care for the wounded soldiers. She sat in Dr. Suckley’s office listening to the doctor and her husband discuss the condition of the soldiers as she recounted decades later.

“Can’t you think of some place near here where these convalescent men, who are not improving in this dreadful heat, could be transferred?” Dr. Suckley asked Dr. Townsend.

Mrs. Townsend didn’t even wait for husband to reply. She said that she knew of a place that was 8.5 miles from Cumberland in a “delightful valley I came through this afternoon with the finest spring water, a large tavern, several houses and three large barns not used for years.”

Her description appealed to Dr. Suckley who drove out to Clarysville to see it for himself. “The next day the barns were cleaned and fresh hay put on the floor, then the men were taken up with their blankets and laid on the flood. Many said they had never slept so well, it proved an ideal spot and hundreds of men were saved by the easy transfer,” Mrs. Townsend wrote.

Records show that Dr. Suckley, Dr. Townsend and the assistant quartermaster visited Clarysville on March 4, 1862. They liked what they saw and agreed with Mrs. Townsend that the site would make a fine hospital.

Brigade Surgeon John Carpenter wrote later that hospital buildings were “admirably located at a point sufficiently near for comfortable transportation, and sufficiently distant to enjoy all the advantages of a pure atmosphere. The seclusion of the position is such as to allow the convalescent abundant liberty for suitable exercise in the open air, and its purity produces the most admirable tonic effect upon the enfeebled sick. The supply of water is abundant and its quality excellent.”

Suckley made arrangements with Rebecca Clary, who owned the property, and Mrs. George Clise, who was renting the property, for the U.S. Government to use it. On March 6, 1862, 100 soldiers helped Mrs. Clise move into a nearby vacant house and the transformation of the inn into a hospital began.

The Clarysville Inn had been built in 1805 and became a popular stop along the National Road. However, it was obvious from the start that the two-story brick inn would not offer sufficient space to bring all of the wounded from Cumberland to Clarysville.

Construction soon began on additional facilities. Within a short time, six wards (150 feet long), three wards (130 feet long), a 100-foot-long ward, a 90-foot-long dining room, a70-foot-long kitchen, a 38-foot-long storehouse, a 50-foot-long guard quarters, a 44-foot-long bake house and eight waters closets (10 feet long) were built, according to a report written by Capt. George Harrison, assistant quartermaster in 1865.

“These buildings, though well adapted for use in warm weather, do not afford sufficient protection from the cold of winter for sick and wounded men. the declivity of the ground causes them to stand high, the sides are of rough upright boards with crevices not battened to their full height, and the ridge ventilators having no sash to close, the cold wind and snow penetrate to an extant unbearable by the patients,” Dr. George Oliver, the surgeon in charge following Dr. Suckley, wrote.

Each ward had two rows of iron cots with an aisle down the center, according to Robert Bruce in The National Road.

The influx of wounded continued, though, and even overflowed the capacity of the Clarysville Hospital and filled 15 temporary hospitals in Cumberland and one site in Mount Savage.

The hospital continued serving soldiers until August 1865 when its designation was changed from a General Hospital to Post Hospital. The structure and contents were sold and the government returned the inn to the owners.

The Clarysville Inn remained an operating inn until it burned down on March 10, 1999.

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LBToday is the last day to get the Amazon.com bestselling book Looking Back: True Stories of Mountain Maryland as a FREE Kindle e-book.

The book is filled with true stories about Western Maryland that will keep you reading whether you’re a native of Western Maryland or just someone who has heard about it.

  • Did you know that a Russian prince once worked as a priest in Cumberland?
  • Have you heard the story about the German POW camp near Flintstone during WWII?
  • Do you know about the mining wars that were fought to try and unionize the coal mines in the Georges Creek region?
  • Do you know the story behind Cumberland’s only lynching? Have you heard the story about the baseball game played between the Cumberland Colts and the New York Yankees?

These are the stories of Allegany and Garrett counties in Maryland found in old newspapers, history books and other places. It’s the stories of people who tamed the mountains, established cities, raised families and lived their lives.

 Journey back in time and look beyond the photos that so well document the region’s history. This collection of 40 stories spans 220 years of life in Western Maryland.

Looking Back hit no. 1 in Amazon’s Mid-Atlantic E-book category yesterday (I took a screenshot to mark the occasion) and has since climbed into the top 500 of non-fiction e-books. 071216-First No 1

Grab your free copy today and let me know what you think by leaving a review. That will help my future marketing efforts for the book.

Here are some of the types of stories that you’ll find in Looking Back: True Stories of Mountain Maryland:

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Author’s Note: I was told this week that this pair of columns, which ran in the Cumberland Times-News last year, won a local column award from the Maryland-Delaware-DC Press Association. Since I like the story, I thought I would share it with those of you who live outside of the Cumberland, Maryland, area.

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The Elosser home in Cumberland, Md.

January 1, 1911 was supposed to be a special day in the lives of Charles Twigg and Mary Grace Elosser. It was their wedding day. Unfortunately, the night before was their death day.

The discovery of their bodies on New Year’s Eve 1910 was a shock to everyone who knew them. The young couple was happy and in love.

Twigg was a fruit grower from Keyser, W. Va. He was also a widower whose wife had died four years previously and his infant child had died three years ago. Elosser, who was a young divorcee, had seen her own share of sadness in her life.

“Losing his heart to her in the Indian Summer of the last Autumn, his impetuous wooing soon won her for himself,” the New York Times reported.

On the day he died, Twigg arrived in Cumberland to prepare for his wedding. He purchased a wedding ring for his new bride and train tickets to Florida for their honeymoon. He also bought himself a new suit that he planned on wearing to his wedding.

Errands done, he called his fiancée on the phone.

“She laughingly told him that she was up to her eyes in the work of preparation for their marriage on the next day, and did not have a moment’s time for him that afternoon,” the New York Times reported.

He convinced her to meet with him for just a few minutes, though. Tradition says that it is bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding and so it proved to be for these lovebirds.

“Charlie is the best man that ever lived and I am the happiest girl in the world to get such a treasure,” Elosser told one of her close friends on New Year’s Eve.

Twigg arrived early in the afternoon and the couple met in the parlor. Although they were alone, there were plenty of people in the house. Grace’s mother, Anna Elosser, popped in after half an hour to tell Grace that her seamstress for her gown needed to speak with her on the phone.

Twigg talked to his future mother-in-law until his fiancée returned.

“When Grace returned, Mrs. Elosser left, playfully shaking her finger at the couple as they sat cosily on the divan and warning them that time was too precious to spend in loverlike endearments when there was so much in the way of preparation for the wedding,” the New York Times reported.

An hour later, Anna Elosser interrupted them again to find out what arrangements had been decided on their wedding tour.

Grace’s mother told a New York Times reporter, “I knocked on the door with a smile on my face for when I had been in the parlor before both Grace and Charlie Twigg seemed so supremely happy that I could not but smile at the recollection of it. I gave a short knock and entered without waiting a reply. The doorway though which I entered is on the same wall as that against which was the sofa whereon Grace and Charlie sat. I did not fully enter the room, but merely thrust in my head, saying as I did so, ‘Grace, dear, I want to ask you something. You won’t mind my coming in, will you?’

“And then I stopped. There was a silence in the room, a queer, strange silence. Looking towards the sofa I saw the odd, strange attitudes of my daughter and her betrothed. It looked as though they had fallen asleep, but in a most grotesque position.”

Twigg’s head was resting on Elosser’s shoulder. Her head was tilted back staring upward. Their hands were clasped together.

The young couple were dead, but just what had happened?

I’ll post part II next week. 

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The Cumberland (Md.) Municipal Airport has never been busier than when sports cars raced around its runways.

Yes, sports cars. Not airplanes.

Each May from 1953 to 1971 racers from across the country would travel to Cumberland to test their sports cars against other top cars to see whose was the fastest.  Roger Penske, Shelby Briggs and Carroll Shelby all raced at the Cumberland Airport. The races featured some of the greatest racing cars of the time: Birdcage Maserati, Ferrari Testa Rossa, D Type Jaguar, Porsche 356 Speedster, Cobra, Mustang, Camaro, Sunbeam Alpine, Austin Healy 100, and the Howmet Turbine Car.

“It was a great time,” said Dave Williams. “A who’s who of American sports car racing came through Cumberland.” Williams watched many of those old races as a young man and he remains a racing enthusiast and promoter of sports car racing today.

The Cumberland Municipal Airport offered a 1.6-mile-long course for the racers. In the days before permanent automobile racetracks became common, airport runways offered a satisfactory alternative.

Cumberland Lions Club staged the annual races and their proceeds helped provide free eye exams and glasses for needy children in the county, helped build Lions Manor Nursing Home, contributed to the Wilmer Eye Clinic at Johns Hopkins and provided funding to the local Salvation Army, Boy Scouts of America, and YMCA.

May 1953 saw the first races at the airport. It was a result of months of planning between officials from the airport, Cumberland Lions, and Pittsburgh Steel Cities Region – Sports Car Club of America.

“The initial 1953 event started as Steel Cities/Pittsburgh Regional Races with 80 entries and a rather sparse group of spectators,” Bob Poling and Bill Armstrong wrote in Wings over Cumberland: An Aviation History.

Word spread locally and through the racing community that the airport in Cumberland was a great track on which to race.

The following year 122 racers and their cars showed up to compete before a crowd of around 12,000 people. This led to Cumberland’s regional event becoming a national one.

“Being a national event meant that it was the most-important event in your region in a year,” said Williams.

It also meant that only racers with a national competition license could compete at Cumberland. There were only 1,100 nationally licensed drivers in the country at that time and 284 of them showed up in Cumberland to race in 1955. They came from 40 of the 48 states, Washington, D.C. and Canada. The racers competed in 11 races from 8:30 a.m. until 4:15 p.m. giving racing fans a full days of thrills.

 

As a national event, Cumberland began getting featured in media across the country. Sports Illustrated listed the Cumberland Airport Races among the big coming events in the world of sports.

“It represented the largest car race conducted in the US and included many prominent racing figures such as the Briggs Cunningham team of Maseratti race cars. Also, the American manufactured Corvette was making its presence known,” wrote Poling and Armstrong.

The Cumberland Sports Car races continued to grow in popularity with fans. Some of the highlights over the years include:

  • 1956 – Band leaders Paul Whiteman and Skitch Henderson along with actor Steve Allen race in Cumberland.
  • 1957 – Famed racer Carroll Shelby wins the main event at Cumberland.
  • 1958 – Roger Penske taking his SCCA driver’s test in Cumberland in a 283 Corvette. Penske got his license at the cost of his car. He blew the engine and then it fell off the trailer as he took it home.
  • 1965 – The new GT Mustang driven by Bob Johnson wins the Production Car race.
  • 1966 – The Walt Hansgen Memorial Trophy is awarded in memory of a five-time winner at Cumberland. Hansgen was killed in a crash at LeMans earlier in the year.
  • 1967 – What would become a classic—the Z28 Camaro—won its first race.
  • 1968 – Ray Heppenstal drove the turbine-powered Howmet TX Turbo car. Billed as the “car of the future”, it lost its race to Bob Nagel’s McKee Ford 427.

The peak year for the races, as far as attendance goes was 45,000 people in 1958. This was also the year a racer went over the embankment at the airport. Louis Jeffries was driving a Siata Special when the brakes failed coming off a long straightaway. The car went over the embankment, rolling several times until it reached the bottom. Jeffries was injured but not seriously. It was the only time that this type of accident happened during the races.

“By the early 1960’s, though, airport courses were being replaced by permanent sports tracks and attendance at airport races declined,” said Williams.

Though the community supported the races, some people were starting to complain about the ground at the airport being torn up and that the cars racing at Cumberland were starting to show their age.

Then the Cumberland Mayor and City Council voted to ban car races at the airport after June of 1971. This allowed the 1971 race to go on. Only 200 cars entered the races and competed against each other before 12,000 fans. Almost as if to mark the sadness of the last airport races in Cumberland, it rained through much of the day.

The Federal Aviation Administration agreed with the actions of the city government. In a letter to the city, an FAA official wrote that “it is evident that increased use of the airport requires that all facilities be available for aviation purposes.”

Amateur racing had been struggling in recent years not only because access to airports was being denied organizers, but insurance costs for such events were rising dramatically. Also, many of the big-name draws for these events had turned professional, taking much of the fan base with them.

Allegany County continues to have autocrosses but nothing like the head-to-head competition that once thrilled residents.

 

For a great selection of historic pictures and information about the Cumberland Road Rally, visit http://www.nationalroadrally.com/index.html.

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gcct030sWhen Lawrence B. Finzel trudged home from the Western Maryland coal mines each day, he knew he had done a good day’s work. In fact, he knew he’d done a good two or three days work.

In 1917, Finzel was called the champion coal miner of the world “who just before the recent wage increase became effective earned $347.92 in one month mining coal,” according to The (Oakland) Republican.

He accomplished this by mining an average of 12 tons of coal daily at a time when a good day’s work at the region’s mine was five tons of coal.

“He leaves his home with his fellow miners and returns with them and does as much work as two or three ordinary miners with apparent ease,” the Cumberland Evening Times.

Though he accomplished this great feat in Hooversville, Pa., Finzel was born in Garrett County and had worked in mines in Maryland and West Virginia, accomplishing similar feats.

He came from a mining family. His father, Henry, was a German immigrant who settled in Garrett County and mined for half a century. Finzel was one of six brothers who were taught to be industrious not only in the coal mines but on the family farm.

“When the farm was in good state of cultivation and the work could be done by the boys in the evening, the boys went into the mines. After digging coal the greater part of the day, they came home and worked on the farm,” The Republican reported.

His industriousness paid off for him. Coal mining pays miners by the amount of coal they mine. When Finzel worked for the Consolidation Coal Company, he was “drawing the largest pay for any miner in the small-vein mines in that region,” according to The Republican.

He took a job in West Virginia working for the Saxman Coal and Coke Company near Richwood. “Working in a seam of coal three feet high, he earned $2,360 in one year, and average of $196 per month. He loaded 4,000 tons of coal, an average of 12 tons daily. This is believed to be the greatest amount of coal ever dug by one miner in the State of Virginia,” The Republican reported.

He then moved his family to Hooversville to work for the Custer & Sanner Coal Company. He was told that the previous earnings record for a miner was $175 in two weeks. Finzel set to work to break the record. During the first two weeks of October 1917, he earned $136.97 (with a poor car supply) and during the back end of the month, he earned $211.05, which broke the previous record handily. Finzel even thought he could have done $400 during the month if he had had a good car supply in the early part of the month.

It was such an accomplishment that it made news around the country, particularly in newspapers in coal-mining regions.

He also held a record for mining 600 tons of coal in a month, according to the Cumberland Evening Times.

“On one occasion he was given a heading to drive and two other miners were given an air course. In one month Finzel had driven the heading sixty feet deeper in the coal than the others had driven the air course,” the Connersville, Ind., Daily Examiner reported.hines

For all his great accomplishments in the mine, Finzel was not a large man. He was described as being of medium height and his friends called him “the little big digger.” Because of his great feats, he was often examined by doctors looking for something that made him special. The Cumberland Evening Times noted that “a physical examination at John Hopkins Hospital he was pronounced the finest muscled man that ever came to the institution.”

Finzel died two years later after his record-setting month, on January 19, 1919, from complications from pneumonia. He left behind a wife, a daughter, and three sons.

According to the Charleston (W. Va.) Gazette, Finzel’s headstone read: “He led the world in coal mining during the World war.”

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