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Victor-Victrola.jpgWar can certainly be a time of danger, but there are other times when soldiers are in camp stateside or behind the lines when they can relax.

Camp Meade near Laurel was named for Maj. Gen. George Meade. It became an active army installation in 1917. During World War I, more than 400,000 soldiers would pass through the camp to be trained for the war. It was the training site for three infantry divisions, three training battalions, and one depot brigade.

During the course of the war, 704 Garrett Countians would serve in the military and most of them were sent to Camp Meade for training. The Garrett County boys in Camp Meade in October 1917 were part of a company of 250 men from Garrett and Allegany counties and Baltimore City. The traveling agent with the B&O Railroad who had charge of the Garrett County recruits when they were taken to Camp Meade, said of them, “The boys from Garrett county were the finest bunch I have so far taken to any camp.”

Once at camp, their training went well. “We arrived safely in camp, and most everyone is well and getting along fine with our drills, considering the time we have been here,” six of the recruits – Henry Byrn Hamill, Earl W. Alexander, Harry M. Setzer, Paul R. Liston, Robert R. Glotfelty, John W. Livengood – wrote in a letter to The Republican.

They were healthy and happy. The Republican described them as “the finest specimens of young manhood in the country.”

They were bored, though.

The six recruits, who were representing all of the Garrett County recruits, asked if a subscription fund could be started to buy them a Victrola “as the time when off duty would pass much faster if we had a Victrola to cheer up the boys from ‘Old Garrett,’ and serve to keep them from getting blue,” the letter read.

Although today, Victrola has become a generic term for old phonographs, back then a Victrola was a brand of phonographs with an internal horn that was manufactured by the Victor Talking Machine Company. They are not the older versions of phonographs that Victor used in its logo. This version had an external horn, and a dog sat in front of the horn to hear his master’s voice.

True Victrolas were first marketed in 1906 and quickly gained popularity. That popularity helped bring down the price to roughly $100 ($1,870 today) depending on where it was purchased.

The Republican staff jumped into action starting the subscription fund not only for a Victrola but also records that could be played on it. Not waiting for the next issue, staff began notifying people in town about the request.

Within an hour after the subscription efforts began, $46.50 in donations had come into the news room from 41 donors. E. H. Sincell pledged the most ($5) and some people pledged as little as 25 cents.

One minister gladly donated a dollar to the fund, telling the editor, “Never do you start anything for the boys again unless I am in on the ground floor. If this is insufficient for the purpose or if you want to raise another fund for anything else to come to me.”

The citizens of Friendsville took up a collection and raised $11 from 11 donors. The Girls Club of Gormania raised another $5 and mailed it to the newspaper office.

After a week, $83 had been raised from 74 donors. Within two weeks the $100 goal had been surpassed, and the boys from Garrett County had an enjoyable way to pass the time by the end of October.

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WAR & CONFLICT BOOKERA:  WORLD WAR II/WAR IN THE EAST/THE PHILIPPINES

Three Japanese snipers who got into a shoot out with U.S. troops and lost during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Battle of Leyte Gulf is considered by many to be largest naval battle during World War II, so it is often forgotten that troops were sent ashore to capture Leyte Island once the gulf was won.

The United States’ victory in October 1944 secured the seas around the islands in the Leyte Gulf, but the Japanese still held the islands. On December 7, the 77th Infantry Division, under the command of Major General Andrew Bruce, made an amphibious landing at Albuera, a city on Leyte Island. The 305th, 306th, and 307th Infantry Regiments came ashore without incident, but that peace wouldn’t last.

Kamikaze attacks sunk U.S. destroyers. Japanese troops on the island regrouped and began fighting back against the Americans. Private Denver C. Sharpless of Deer Park, Md., was among the U.S. troops taking fire.

He had been overseas for a year after having gone through basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. He had enlisted in the army at Fort Meade in April 1942 for the “duration of the War or other emergency, plus six months,” which was a standard enlistment for WWII.

The 30-year-old infantryman had just taken cover in a ditch during a firefight when he saw a Japanese soldier emerge from his cover.

“He was the biggest Jap I ever saw,” Sharpless told an interviewer while he was in the hospital recovering from a nerve ailment in his right leg. “Must have been more than six feet and I’m not exaggerating when I say that his head was as big as one of our helmets.”

The average height of Japanese soldiers during the war was under five feet five inches. Sharpless himself was only five feet eight inches tall and weighed 152 pounds.

Sharpless wasn’t too scared of the Japanese solider. Sharpless had found cover and he had his rifle. And that big, hulking soldier made an easy target.

Then the Japanese soldier saw Sharpless and dropped out of sight. The Japanese soldier began crawling and Sharpless saw him again when he passed through an open area 25 yards away.

“Then I began to get frightened because, when I pulled the trigger, my M1 wouldn’t fire,” Sharpless said. “I yanked open the bolt and saw that the firing pin was broken.”

Sharpless was considering scurrying away so he didn’t fall within the soldier’s sights. Then Sharpless saw another American with a Browning Automatic Rifle coming toward him. The American soldier had also seen the Japanese soldier.

Sharpless asked to borrow the man’s rifle, but the soldier told him that he wanted to take out the Japanese soldier. He fired a couple shots and the Japanese soldier went down.

“I wished at the time that I had a camera to take his picture,” Sharpless said. “He looked like one of those oversize freaks you see in comic strips.”

Besides fighting at Leyte, Sharpless also fought on Guam. He earned the Combat Infantry Badge for exemplary conduct under fire and the Philippines Liberation campaign ribbon. Despite surviving enemy fire, the nerve ailment manifested itself a few months later. It severity required that he be sent to a California hospital for treatment.

He was the son of Robert and Bertha Sharpless. His parents had divorced at a young age, though, and he had been raised by his mother in Deer Park. His father was a coal miner who lived in Swanton and had remarried.

Denver died in Ohio in 1991.

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A road cleared of snow during the 1958 blizzard in Garrett County.

The call came in that Thomas J. Johnson needed an ambulance. He was seriously ill and needed to get to the hospital. Normally, it wouldn’t be a problem, but in early 1958, getting anywhere in Garrett County, Maryland, was to say the least difficult.

The ambulance attempted to reach him, but it couldn’t get through to Johnson’s Herrington Manor home. Help came in the form of bulldozers and snow plows that struggled to carve a path through drifting snow as high as 15 feet. It took six hours for the plows to reach the 67-year-old Johnson and rush him to Garrett Memorial.

During another incident that winter, Trooper First Class Robert Henline walked three miles through deep snow that vehicles couldn’t get through to deliver medicine to a desperate family near Gorman.

Other incidents occurred, some serious and some just major inconveniences, but there were a lot of them. In seven weeks in 1958, nearly 112 inches of snow fell on the county, beating out the previously bad winter of 1936. No other winter in the 20th century to that point even came close.

The Cumberland Sunday Times reported that the bad weather “practically isolated most of the county despite heroic efforts of State Roads and county roads crews, National Guardsmen and other volunteers.”

Although the first snows of the new year had fallen mid-January, the first big storm came at the end of the month. Ten inches of snow fell on January 24 followed by three more inches two days later. “For a short time on Friday afternoon there was snow, sleet and ice falling at the same time,” The Republican reported. A heavy fog also slowed things down.

The heavy snows led to the rare occurrence of closing Garrett County schools in the county for three days at the beginning of February.

“It was the first time in several years that there had been the loss of even one day of school,” The Republican noted.

School Superintendent Willard Hawkins said he “was afraid to put the buses on the roads because of poor visibility and icy conditions.” The Republican reported that Hawkins had intended to resume school on the third days until he found out that many children and teachers were still snowbound.

A week later nearly 10 inches of snow fell on three consecutive days. Pleasant Valley, Kempton, North Glade, Sanders Lane, and Herrington Manor were the worst hit, reporting snow drifts of 15 feet or more. With visibility near zero, the Maryland State Police issued an emergency travel only order.

The blizzard left about 40 percent of the county roads impassable for two days, according to Paul DeWitt, assistant county engineer. Garrett County had 140 men working 45 snow plows around the clock to try and open and clear the 740 miles of county roads.

State road crews were running 20 snow plows and a giant snow-blower over the 158 miles of state roads in the county. The only state road that was impassable was Route 495 between Bittinger and Grantsville.

With so much snow on the ground, the snow plows were only able to push it so far off the road before running into previous piles of snow that had been pushed off the road. “By that time there was no place to push it and consequently many of the highways drifted completely over,” The Republican reported.

In Oakland, snow and vehicles competed for space and the snow often won. “Parking space was at a premium and many of those who found places at the edges of the drifts found themselves unable to move when they returned to their cars,” The Republican noted.

All of the snow busted the county’s budget that year with rented equipment costing $1,000 a day and snow removal equipment using 2,000 gallons of gasoline a day.

Although the snow totals blew away previous snowfall records in the county, at least the temperature records still stood. In 1958, the temperature fell to -17 degrees, but the 1912 record was -40 degrees.

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Having no children of his own, 49-year-old Leroy Campbell enjoyed the laughter and squeals of the children he drove to and from school each day, but it was their screams of terror that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

Campbell had a perfect driving record and he had driven a school bus for the Garrett County Board of Education for eight years by 1959. He picked up children in the Loch Lynn and Mountain Lake Park areas and delivered them to Southern High School and Dennett Road Elementary every day school was in session.

On the morning of September 10, 1959, Campbell had picked up 27 students and was heading towards the schools where he would drop them off. As he was crossing the railroad tracks at Route 560 in Loch Lynn, the bus stalled.

He was attempting to restart the engine when the bells crossing lights started flashing and the bells started ringing. Campbell looked up and saw the eastbound Diplomat passenger train from St. Louis fast approaching on its way to Washington.

Roy Dixon, a 12-year-old student on the bus, said later, “I’ll never forget the look on Mr. Campbell’s face. He looked like he was scared to death. But he’s a good driver and he helped to get some of the kids off the bus.”

Campbell ordered the children off the bus through the front door. Campbell said the rear exit was not opened because it would have let the children out right on the railroad tracks.

“Everybody knew the train was going to hit us. Everybody wanted to get out. Everybody rushed to the doors of the bus all at one. One girl, she got stuck in the door. I didn’t know what to do. Finally, somebody pushed her out,” Roy said. His story is part of a display about the accident at the Garrett County Museum of Transportation.

Delores Shaffer was the girl pinned in the door until someone pulled her free. She and eight other children managed to get off the bus.

Engineer Otto Droege saw the bus and thought it would cross over the tracks. When he realized it was stalled, he applied the emergency brakes of the train. The train lurched and the brakes squealed.

Roy said, “I grabbed [my younger sister, Gladys] by the hand and we jumped. I ran down the track and saw fire flying from the wheels of the engine. Then I looked back and saw the train hit. There was a big cloud of dust, then kids came flying out through the windows.”

The train quickly slowed from 50 mph (the legal limit), but it was still going 20 mph  when it hit the bus and pushed it down the track until it wrapped around a utility pole.

“The train hit and it jerked me,” Mary Ellen Itnyre, a 14-year-old student on the bus said later. “I was knocked under the front seat. There was a lot of dust and it was dark and I thought the train was carrying me away with it. All I could hear after the crash was the moaning and groaning from the rest of the kids in the school bus.”

Phyllis Paugh, lived in an apartment next to crash scene. When she heard the crash, she ran outside to see what had happened. “When I got outside, I got a little weak. There were children screaming…some had blood on them…they were crying, and there was a lot of confusion. The children’s bodies were scattered along the track. Some were hurt, but some of them looked dead. They were lying along the tracks from the crossing where the train hit, down to where the bus had stopped,” Paugh said.

Seven ambulances and two station wagons quickly responded to the scene. Some of the vehicles couldn’t speed while transporting the children to the hospital because they were so seriously injured that they needed to be given blood transfusions while en route, according to the Cumberland Evening Times. Injured children were taken to Garrett Memorial Hospital, but the available beds there were quickly filled. Children were also sent to Sacred Heart Hospital in Cumberland and Preston Memorial in Kingwood.

Roy was scared, not only about what had happened to the bus, but he couldn’t find his older sister, Frances. He feared that she was dead, but he later saw her at Garrett Memorial being unloaded from an ambulance.

Roy, Frances, and Gladys were lucky. Seven children weren’t so lucky. Janet Deem, 12; Nancy Deem, 15; Merle Harvey, 11; Nancy Harvey, 12; Richard Hinkle, 11; Lee Hoffman, 11; Shirley Lee, 12, all died in the accident.

Frances Dixon was among the 11 children who were seriously injured. She had a broken back, a broken collar bone, a broken cheek bone, and a torn Achilles tendon. She spent the next four months in a body cast, but she survived.

You can learn more about the accident from the display at the Garrett County Transportation Museum.

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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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Kitzmiller Bank

The site of the former Kitzmiller Bank as it looked in the 1980s.

Around lunch time on a nice May day, three men walked into Charles Spragne’s restaurant in Kitzmiller. Their faces were blackened with cork and they wore miner’s caps. They were unfamiliar to Charles and his wife, but they were used to seeing new miners in town from time to time.

Spragne’s wife spoke to one of the men, “thinking he was a local miner but did not notice that either of them were masked,” the Republican reported.

The men finished their lunches, paid their bills, and then walked across the street to the First National Bank of Kitzmiller around 11:45 a.m. As they entered, the men drew large revolvers.

One of the men stepped around Cashier Barclay V. Inskeep’s desk and pointed his pistol in Inskeep’s face. Sue R. Laughlin, Inskeep’s assistant, screamed.

A second man pointed his pistol at Laughlin and told her, “If you scream again. I will kill you.”

Laughlin stared at the pistol and then collapsed to floor in a faint.

With one man covering Inskeep, the other two men quickly gathered what money they could find. Then they cut the wires for the long-distance phone and ran out of the bank, weighed down by the money they were carrying. It was later tallied that the robbers took $9,975.25 with them or roughly $185,000 in today’s dollars. One of the men was carrying a bag of nickels, which weighed more than 20 pounds.

In their rush to make their escape, the robbers had not only overlooked $13,000 in paper money that was nearby, but they had also failed to cut the wires for the local telephone at the back of the building.

Inskeep ran out of the bank to the Hamill Coal and Coke Company General Store and reported the robbery. When he ran back outside, he saw the bank robbers starting across the bridge over the Potomac River to Blaine, W.Va. He saw Paul Junkins who was driving a coal company wagon across the bridge to Kitzmiller and called for Junkins to stop the men.

“Junkins climbed from the wagon and told them to stop when one of the men pulled a large revolver from his pocket and commanded him to get back on the wagon and drive on,” the Republican reported.

Junkins had no wish to be shot so he obeyed. When he got to Kitzmiller, he was met by a small posse. Junkins got a pistol from one of the men and then joined them in the hunt. Everyone who could carry gun soon joined in the hunt for the bank robbers, including one man who only had a pick handle.

Meanwhile, Inskeep went back to the back and climbed in his car to drive to Elk Garden, W.Va., hoping to head off the robbers.

The robbers continued on their getaway, walking down the Western Maryland Railway tracks about 200 years and then climbing the bank beside the tracks and heading into the woods. There, they hid among the rocks and fired on the posse as it approached. Junkins who was leading the posse at that point was hit three times—in the arm, the leg, and the forehead. Junkins jumped behind a tree until the robbers stopped firing and fled through the woods again.

The robbers also shot posse member William Schenk in the hand when he stepped from behind a building at the edge of the woods. During the gunfire exchange Constable Sharpless from Kitzmiller believed that he had shot one of the men in the chest. A member of the posse accidentally shot Sharpless when he was mistaken for one of the robbers.

A fourth man wearing a red sweater joined the three robbers and led them off through the woods where he had a car running. The men jumped in the car and traded their miner’s caps for automobile caps. They sped off up to the mountain toward Elk Garden.

By the time the car raced through Elk Garden, witnesses reported seeing only three men in the car. They simply thought the men were joy riding because news of the robbery hadn’t reached the town yet.

Inskeep later told the newspaper, “I do not believe the man who held me up was a professional. Of course I was excited, but believe me, he was trembling all over, too.”

He added that the bank and its depositors’ wouldn’t suffer any loss because the bank carried $15,000 in burglary insurance that would cover the loss.

Four months later, the robbers were finally brought to justice in Woodstock, Va. Paul Neff, Dave Neff, and “Boots” Fry were arrested for different robberies and a group from Kitzmiller, including Inskeep, drove to Woodstock to see if they recognized the men.

“One of the men from the mines identified the Neffs as miners who were at work there until the robbery and then disappeared,” The Republican reported.

Inskeep also identified the men as the bank robbers.

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Midland

Courtesy of the Albert & Angela Feldstein Collection.

Herds of ponies once roamed Maryland, though they were rarely seen my most people. They were mining ponies whose job it was to haul the coal from Maryland’s coal mines.

In one instance, Ray O’Rourke wrote for the Baltimore Sunday Sun Magazine, “Twenty-odd ponies that haul coal from under some 2,000 acres of Maryland territory are never seen in this State, and never breathe the air over it.”

These ponies hauled coal for the Stanley Coal Company in Crellin, Maryland. Though the mine was under Maryland, the entrance was in nearby West Virginia. Miners had to walk from Crellin across the state line and then backtrack once they were in the mine.

The mine’s location also created some political headaches with Maryland and West Virginia governments fighting for the tax revenue from the mine. Eventually a compromise was reached where West Virginia inspected the mine while the miners paid Maryland income taxes and the Stanley Coal Company paid unemployment taxes to Maryland.

The ponies were stabled near the mine entrance in West Virginia so that is where Okey Jenkins, the stable boss, lived. At any given time, he had about 20 ponies that he cared for. Jenkins was a large man weighing in at 305 pounds at age 63. Besides stable boss, he also functioned as the harness maker, veterinarian, pony trader and pony trainer for the mining company.

He worked out of a small 2-foot by 4-foot office with a sturdy swivel chair as its only furnishing. Harnesses, tools and surgical instruments hung from hooks on the wall.

Jenkins lived close by in a small house that showed his affection for horses. A merry-go-round pony was mounted on its pole in his front yard and pony bells served as his doorbell.

He left for work each morning at 4 a.m., walking down the hill to his small office. By 5 a.m., he was at work feeding all of the ponies and by 6:40 a.m., he would be harnessing the ponies and leading them to the mine where they would haul coal cars from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

“Unlike ponies that are kept underground all their lives in deep-pit mines, the Crellin ponies never contract the blindness that constant darkness brings,” O’Rourke wrote.

Despite keeping their sight, the ponies still worked more than 400 feet underground. Ponies were used because they could work in low, narrow spaces. This meant that the mine shafts didn’t need to be as wide as they have needed to be if small engines had been used to move the coal out of the mine.

The ponies worked hard in the mines. A 550-pound pony could pull a 2200-pound coal car loaded with two tones of coal. Jenkins preferred ponies for this work because they didn’t have to duck in the low-ceiling shafts as horses would have to do and their shorter height gave them a better angle to lean forward and pull the load. He was also partial to Welsh ponies for the work because he said they had greater stamina.

The ponies needed stamina, too. Besides having to pull such heavy loads, they might pull up to 50 such loads a day, though most days it less.

“They’re like high-strung men. They feel their responsibility, and they show it,” Jenkins said.

The ponies and Jenkins worked six days a week. When he was off on a buying trip for more ponies, an assistant would work his shift. However, Jenkins always made sure to check on the ponies when he returned.

“Should any of them ever show welts or whip mark, he says: ‘Better watch-there’s gonna be a fit throwed around here. We don’t want these little fellas all boogered up,’” O’Rourke wrote.

Part of this care came because Jenkins truly loved his ponies, but he was also protecting the mine’s investment. Jenkins could buy an untrained pony for $250, but once it was trained, it was worth $1000. Keeping the ponies healthy also ensured many productive work years. A pony could start hauling coal at age three and continue until it was 25.

To see more of my Western Maryland history articles, click here.

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